Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New Exposure project

We have been in Mitrovica for over 3 weeks now and our main project is drawing to a close. Our 12 participants are all young people from the town and its surrounding area, five of whom are Kosovan Serbs and seven who are Kosovan Albanians. As well as teaching them the basics of photography we have been introducing them to how photography can be used to tell a story or illuminate a certain issue. As we’re only here for 4 weeks we’ve had to move quickly, beginning with basic camera skills and getting them to think critically about how best to frame a shot in relation to what they are trying to express. Now each of our participants will be working on their own photostory about an issue in Mitrovica that interests or concerns them.
Many of them came up with more than one idea. Unsurprisingly a number of them wanted to do their project on Mitrovica as a divided town but the tension between the two communities has sadly restricted what they can do. Although some of the participants said they go to the other side regularly, the climate here is too tense to let them take photos on both sides of the river. We have spoken to professional photojournalists from the north and south of Mitrovica and each of them said that they have stopped working on the both sides of the river since the declaration of independence. If they feel it is too dangerous for them, then it is certainly too dangerous for our students.

The post-independence climate in Mitrovica has also governed how we have run the programme. Up until autumn of 2007 a local NGO called CBM ran photography classes with Serb and Albanian students. It also published a monthly magazine called M-Magazine which was made up from work by young people and journalists from the north and south of the town. Since the declaration of independence the magazine has stopped and we were told that having an ethnically mixed class would be almost impossible. Consequently we have had to run separate sessions for Serbs in the north of the town and Albanians in the south.
The main obstacle to running a mixed-ethnicity class was has not been from our participants. From our experience, and what we have been told, the problem seems to lie more in their parents and other adults. Most of our participants have expressed how much they dislike the divided nature of the town and would like it to return to the relatively more hopeful relationship between north and south which existed pre-declaration. However, there is still a difference of attitude towards the status of Kosovo between the young Serbs and the young Albanians which seems very difficult to reconcile. Of the young people I have spoken to in the south side many of them speak of the declaration as the point from which they must take pride in their nation and work hard to make it succeed. Their sense of responsibility for the future of their community is rooted in Kosovo as an independent state.

On the northern side, even the most mild mannered of our participants feels that his identity is Serbian before it is Kosovan. During one of our sessions the local college finished classes for the summer. The students celebrated by getting in their cars and driving around the town in a long convey, blaring their horns constantly. A number of them flew the Serbian flag from their windows. The politics which divides Mitrovica are never far away from the surface of people’s lives. Whereas there are man young people who want relationships to continue to improve, the town has been split further apart by the declaration. Independence may be a step forward for the region, but in Mitrovica it has been a definite step backwards for the relationship between the Albanian and Serb communities.

1 comment:

Sarah Bower said...

It's such a shame you haven't been able to do mixed classes. I remember when Belfast was divided along religious grounds, one of the things which helped heal the breach was when social and educational schemes were set up that both Protestant and Catholic kids could be involved in together. But well done, guys, it sounds like a really worthwhile month. Looking forward to seeing you.