Kosovo Tackles Tough Questions of Religion and Conflict

Supporting Leaders

Kosovo Tackles Tough Questions of Religion and Conflict

03 Jul 2013

Garentina Kraja's adult life has been a mirror of Kosovo's recent history and the attempts of Europe's youngest country to build a new identity.

From a teenage war correspondent and refugee she is now a presidential adviser and teaches a university course about tolerance and resolving conflict, in a country sitting across political, religious and ethnic fault-lines.

Kosovo is still a country shaped by the brutal ethnic conflict that followed the disintegration of Yugoslavia - and where old spectres of ethnic violence returned to haunt modern Europe.

The course, taught at the University of Prishtina and the American University of Kosovo, is an original project in its own right, trying a different approach to tackling the toxic appeal of sectarianism and religious extremism.

It is the result of another figure who has woven in and out of her story - Tony Blair. She first saw him in a refugee camp in Macedonia in 1999, where she was sheltering with her family and thousands of other displaced ethnic Albanians.

The next unlikely meeting place was more than a decade later, when she was a student at Yale University. Having had her education "stolen away" by war, she had been invited to study in the United States.

And an international relations course at Yale was offered with the former UK prime minister as a lecturer. It had an unusual angle.

Mr Blair wanted to look at the role of religion in conflict, with the view that it had become a diplomatic blind spot. While it was common to analyse disputes in terms of ideology, economics and ethnic tensions, the role of religious belief was left to one side, a ghost in the mechanics of peacemaking.

Ms Kraja says she was "sceptical". Her family was Muslim, but she had grown up in a secular home, where religion was a marginal part of her identity.

But she says it made her think about the patterns of the conflict in Kosovo she had covered as a war correspondent and how religion had been "hijacked by different forces to further their own agendas. Religion didn't cause the war, it was about territory. But destroying a mosque or a church became a way of destroying a community's identity"...

Read this article by Sean Coughlan, BBC News education correspondent, in its entirety at BBC News.