by Danielle Tomson:
A group of young Kosovar government officials sip on local Peja beers at the Tirana Pub in Prishtina, Kosovo, as they discuss foreign affairs, Facebook, and a new nightclub, “Spray.” These government officials, most of whom are around 30 years old, have dedicated their lives to the daunting task of building an independent Kosovo after years of war.
After a brutal ethnic conflict in the 1990s followed by a period of transitional U.N. governance, Kosovo officially declared independence from Serbia in February of 2008. The country faces challenges both old and new: gaining enough recognition to join the U.N., fighting ethnic prejudices, forging an inclusive government, building a green economy, meeting the requirements to join the EU, and reducing dependence on international agencies, to name a few. Despite these obstacles, young Kosovars are returning to face challenges with optimism, energy, and business plans. Because most mobile refugees are young people, 60 percent of the Kosovar population today is estimated to be under the age of 30. Though many have had professional experience, none has run a state before.
One such returnee is Prindon Sadriu, a director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After working in Australia and interning in the United States for Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, Sadriu returned to Kosovo to work for the Ministry in July 2008. His task is to lobby countries and organizations around the world to recognize Kosovo as an independent state. Over Facebook chat, Sadriu wrote that “initially, it was difficult to adapt” to his new job; in just a few years, he had gone from an intern in the United States to a director in the Foreign Ministry of Kosovo.
To equip young leaders to deal with the outsized challenges they face on the job, the American University of Kosovo (AUK) offers a course in “professional studies.” According to William Wechsler, professor of law and public policy at the AUK, this course could just as well be titled “State-Building 101.” Conceived by USAID, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and the Kosovar government, the program is designed to strengthen the ability of the civil service to implement policy.
Courses offered include public budgeting, project management, a seminar in resource and infrastructure development, project finance, administrative law, and employee management. Participants come out with something resembling a public administration degree. Flamur Salihu, a professional studies student and senior officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explained that the course helped him “understand how the EU and other countries function legally” and what steps Kosovo needs take to “fulfill the criteria to become part of the EU.”
The professional studies course was advertised thoughout all of the ministries, and ministers referred particularly ambitious young staff members to the program. Participants must have a B.A. and demonstrate proficiency in English. Most are in their 30s, but ages range from 23 to 50. Initially, the student body was made up of Albanian Kosovars and one Turkish Kosovar, but a Serbian Kosovar has been accepted into the next cohort. The participants are a reflection of the population of Kosovo: multi-ethnic, religiously diverse, patriotic, and young.
Without a desire to help their country, these professionals would be unlikely to accept the long hours and low pay of government work. As some of the brightest and most ambitious of returning Kosovars, they could probably earn high salaries in the private sector but instead settle for wages of around 300 euros a month. Christopher Hall, president of AUK, said, “I am very impressed by the students, considering the reality of work in the Kosovo and other former communist countries. In the Balkans, bureaucracy is generally not held in great respect.” Many of these civil servants developed formidable skill sets working abroad; the professional studies class accelerates their development and helps them adjust to the unfamiliar task of running a new country.
These young people have an unprecedented chance to shape the policies and the governance of their country, and they have the attitude to match. Said 23-year-old Shpend Thaqi, student and head of secretariat for family, economy, housing, and population census: “Nothing we can accomplish comes without barriers, but we used to face and deal with barriers 100 times harder than this.” With this characteristic optimism, the youth of Kosovo are doing their best to help nurture a newborn country.
Danielle Tomson is a sophomore Sociology major in Saybrook College.