Two months after the governments of Serbia and Kosovo had reached their first-ever agreement towards normalizing relations in April, 15 students in Arcadia’s International Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) program sat down with Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi to discuss this historic shift.
“These negotiations were not at all easy,” reflected Prime Minister Thaçi, a former guerilla leader who has participated in every negotiation between the two countries during the last 15 years and has been meeting monthly with the Serbian prime minister to work on implementing the plan. “We are taking on our responsibilities to build the state of Kosovo on the basis of civic democracy.”
This sentiment—a multiethnic and democratic Kosovo—has emerged out of the ethnic dispute over Kosovo that culminated with a NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 and Kosovo’s declaration of independence in February 2008, which has been recognized by the U.S. and most of the European Union (E.U.) but is rejected by Serbia, Russia, China, and five other E.U. members.
For three years, adjunct professor Alex N. Grigorev has led students in the International Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) program at Arcadia University to the fractured region of the Western Balkans. This field study trip, central to the IPCR course Conflict, Governance, and State-Building, allowed students an up-close look into an area still in crisis.
“For 10 days students saw the physical, human, and political destruction,” Grigorev said. “They see the parallel institutions maintained by Kosovo Serbs, including a divided city in the north with two municipal administrations. They see the conflict that still continues.”
However, the trip was not merely about looking. Students engaged with key politicians at a pivotal time in Serbia and Kosovo’s history, when giant steps toward final resolution of the Kosovo conflict were being implemented. Moreover, Grigorev has helped to remedy a shortage of scholars on Kosovo in Serbia, equipping a new generation of Serbian students with his peace and conflict resolution curriculum and encouraging networking between his U.S. and the Serbian students.
Real-world reaction to in-class projects
Issues of state-building, post-conflict governance, power sharing, and minority integration came alive for the students while abroad, after learning about conflict resolution during a semester-long course at Arcadia’s campus, prior to traveling to Serbia and Kosovo. Instead of a typical research paper, the students write a policy paper for Grigorev’s class recommending solutions to some of the unresolved problems in Kosovo. Grigorev required students to evaluate their policy papers with the officials, U.S. and European diplomats, and local conflict resolution professionals they encountered during the field study trip, including Prime Minister Thaçi and Vice President of the Serbian Parliament Gordana Čomić.
For Grigorev, a Balkans specialist who has worked to organize talks between leaders of various ethnic groups and governments in the region for the past 17 years, this real-world review process aligns perfectly with his goals for his students, saying “I want students to find out if their policies are acceptable or not directly from people living through the conflict.”
Former U.S. Army Officer William K. Kuhn ’14M, whose paper on integrating Serb policemen into Kosovo’s police force was selected for national publication this summer by the U.S. Army Peacekeeping & Stability Operations Institute, where Kuhn interned, said his favorite part of the trip was “meeting with government officials in Kosovo, asking questions, and testing out our policy ideas.”
Krystin Garcia ’14M, another participant in the course, is now an intern at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kosovo working at the department for policy planning.
Preparing more than just Arcadia students
In Serbia, where Kosovo is one of the most important domestic and foreign policy issues, there is a critical shortage of experts on Kosovo, Grigorev said. However, this shortage is an issue Grigorev is helping to address.
In fact, his efforts to create scholars stateside who are sensitive to the historical, cultural, and practical aspects of the conflict garnered the attention of Jadranka Jelinčić, the executive director of Open Society Foundation Serbia, part of a global network established by financier and philanthropist George Soros aimed at building vibrant and tolerant democracies with governments that are accountable to their citizens.
“You are preparing specialists,” Jelinčić told Grigorev, regarding his work at Arcadia, and she immediately sought to duplicate Grigorev’s course in Belgrade to create an opportunity for Serbian students to learn about politics in Kosovo, as well as key concepts introduced in the IPCR course.
This past spring, Jelinčić’s efforts proved to be fruitful when seven students in Serbia completed a course modeled after Grigorev’s curriculum. Grigorev was in Belgrade in March as their guest lecturer, and the Open Society Foundation Serbia awarded a $5,000 grant to fund an additional three-day stay in Belgrade for Grigorev and his students during their IPCR field study trip and $15,000 for the course for the Serbian students. The extended itinerary allowed Arcadia students to hear lectures from prominent Serbian professors and spend time with peers before heading across the border to Kosovo.
“Before, we didn’t have anybody else of their own age, but now Arcadia students have a cohort to interact with when we are in Serbia,” said Grigorev, whose future plans for the course include adding Albanian students from Kosovo to the group and expanding beyond the Balkans and into case studies of other interethnic conflicts. “It is my hope that one day an Arcadia graduate will be the one to write a policy proposal that will change things on the ground.”
Photo by Austin Swank ’14