“I work as a volunteer in an association of Tirana”
“Volunteer? Mmm … what …? “
“It is called EVS, is a European project, it can be carried out in several European countries, here in Albania, but also in Bosnia, Macedonia, Serbia …”
“Serbia… Serbs are bad”
“… Why do you think they are bad?”
“Because.. yes, they are bad”
I am in a sport center in rruga Don Bosko, not far away from the hostel where I have been living for the last 1 month with some of the other volunteers. My interlocutor is a cute little boy of roughly 12 years old, and we communicate thanks to a bit of Spanish that I learnt travelling.
His considerations, firm but not motivated give me the opportunity to reflect on what probably is the biggest challenge to be faced by a volunteer who works in the Balkans, in an association like Beyond Barriers: overcoming the lasting ethnic prejudices still common to many people. Since one of the objectives of the EVS is the promotion of European citizenship, me and the other volunteers, Italian and German, as member of Western Europe Countries should, in my opinion feel , somehow responsible for all the damage that our countries have caused in southeastern Europe, always been considered as a land of conquest. Nowadays, the wounds caused by the wars of the 90s have not yet healed and the Kosovo issue is far from being resolved. So NGOs such as BB, in collaboration with its counterparts in the other countries of the Balkans, take the responsibility to help through trainings and seminars on intercultural dialogue and brotherhood in a context in which institutions and certain political parties continue to ride nationalistic myths as the one of “Great Albania”. Many local volunteers I’ve talked to have great friends in the countries of the former Yugoslavia and this is an extremely positive fact which has been possible thanks to the work of ours and other associations.
Another good thing I found is that many high school students interviewed a few weeks ago as part of the promotion of volunteering and EVS have responded clearly and without delay to our questions and seem to understand the importance of exchange programs at the European level in the formation of an individual free from racial prejudice or of any other kind.
Still on the topic of European identity and citizenship, in the last weeks we worked on a questionnaire focused on the possibility of the entrance of Albania in the EU. On the way, we interviewed workers, students, merchants, and the most interesting finding to me was that many of them showed themselves critical about European integration, in particular on economical issues. This means that Europe is not seen uncritically as a paradise of well-being and a solution to any problem, as certain local politicians say, and that many issues such as work, environment, justice, are to be solved independently from the EU integration process.
As for me, I think that thanks to this short-term EVS I have fortified the belief that cooperation can be my job and that it’s worth knowing the world in first person instead of just reading about different Countries in books, let alone getting information from TV programs. All this then, if possible, while having fun… and discovering new realities for me is already having fun!
We have two weeks before returning home (Sardinia, to be clear!;)), so thanks to all the staff of Beyond Barriers, to the smiles of the children of Gurakuqi Special School, to all Albanians that from the Valbona mountains to the Ksamil islands have welcomed me as a brother in my travels.