The importance of exchange initiatives with Serbia

Usually when students talk about student exchanges they talk about going abroad. Students from the Balkans when talking about going abroad theyalways refer togoing somewhere outside the region, preferably to some EU countries or the USA, and for a period of a few months up to a few years. The motivation for participating in such programs is gaining a better education, opening up job and career possibilities, and broadening one’s own views. However, I believe that besides getting to know another Western culture and spending time in a Western country, we need to get to know our own country as well. By that I don’t mean just traveling to other places throughout your country, which is just as important, but also getting to know other ethnic communities that live there. Serbia, where I come from, has a great number of ethnic minorities, throughout the country. Unfortunately, the majority of Serbia’s citizens don’t know much about these communities, except for the fact that there are many of them. Luckily, someorganizations like the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Serbia organized a few exchanges between two communities that are still very much alienated from each other - the Albanian and the Serbian communities.

One of these projects was designed for students of Economics from Bujanovac, a city in the south of Serbia, located near the border with Kosovo. What’s interesting about this city is that it’s populated by both Albanians and Serbs. They live together in peace but the two communities, especially the young people, don’t interact with each other much. Two weeks ago, however, around twenty students from both ethnic communities had a chance to go on a trip to Belgrade, Subotica and Novi Sad. Knowing many of the organizers, they invited me to join them in their visit to the National Museum in Belgrade, as well as for dinner afterwards. The next day they continued their trip to Subotica, which is where the main department of the Faculty of Economics is.

Then, there wasan exchange project organized by the OSCE in mid-December 2018, this time for nine students of Albanian Studies at the University of Belgrade, including myself, who tooka trip to Bujanovac. There, we met with the students of the Faculty of Economics, as well as visited a high school and an elementary school. The goal of this three-day long program was to bring the two communities closer together and learn more about each other through workshops discussing the importance of bilingualism, as well as by socializing.

It’s interesting that most of the subjects the Albanian students at the Faculty of Economics have, are taught in Serbian, and that most of their professors are Serbs. One of them is Jelena Randjelovic who teaches them Serbian. She also works in the high school of Bujanovac. Even though the Albanian pupils learn Serbian since the first grade of elementary school, their program has been weak so far and they didn’t manage to improve their Serbian much. Jelena, however, found a way to teach them by learning Albanian herself, which made it easier for both her and them. So, during one of our meetings I told the students jokingly that Jelena often brags about how good of a professor she is but that I wanted to see it with my own eyes and hear them speak Serbian. Soon enough I was convinced that she made a brilliant job, since the pupils spoke Serbian quite well to my surprise.

This kind of project helped the young people get rid of their fears of going to other parts of their country where other ethnic communities live. Bujanovac wasthe perfect place for this event. To me, Bujanovac is almost like an experimental place that proves that Albanians and Serbs can co-exist. All the street signs, stores and institutions are written in both Serbian and Albanian. Some coffee shops in the city center are owned by Albanians, some by Serbs. Children of both communities share the same kindergarten. The tolerance and respect that the citizens of Bujanovac show towards each other is something that young people from all over Serbia should witness and look up to. It’s a great model of reconciliation and I often visit my friends that live there.

Author: Tomislav Perušić

Author: Tomislav Perušić

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Tomislav is a graduate of the High School of Economics in 2009 in Subotica, Serbia. Moreover, he continued his studies in Economics at the University of Zagreb, Croatia, from 2009 to 2011, while currently, he is studying Albanian Language, Literature and Culture at the University of Belgrade in Serbia. 

Tomislav’s experience in volunteering, working as a translator, correspondent and being an active member of society is enriching. He has worked as a correspondent for a Croatian newspaper in Subotica, Serbia, called “Hrvatska riječ” (Croatian word) since 2009. An activist of an NGO called Žene u crnom (Women in Black) in Belgrade, Serbia, and translator from Serbian to English and vice-versa since 2015.  

In addition, he has participated in numerous seminars for the Albanian language since 2016, as well as Links2 program organized by the Youth Initiative for Human Rights regarding Kosovo - Serbia dialogue, held in 2016 in Prishtina, Kosovo, and Belgrade, Serbia. Took part in Gender Studies Summer School in 2016 in Prishtina, Kosovo. 

Tomislav has knowledge and communicates in a number of languages such as: Serbian, Croatian, English, Albanian, Hungarian, Italian, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese. 

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