Reflections on ROLX in Kosovo

Victoria Hayes

Working with the Women’s Safety and Security Initiative in Kosovo has been a very interesting and educational experience for me.  I’ve truly enjoyed the work and feel that my work has been useful for both WSSI and myself.  Essentially, my job was to assist in preparing Kosovo’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking for 2008-2011.  My work included:

·        Researching relevant background documents on trafficking in human beings and violence against women in Kosovo and the greater South-East Europe region;

·        Analyzing Kosovo’s existing legal framework for combating human trafficking and producing a policy document with recommendations on the legal framework, including comparative analysis with the legal frameworks in other South-East European states, as well as European Union member-states;

·        Researching the execution of the Kosovo National Action Plan 2005-2007, identifying weaknesses and failures in its execution and providing recommendations and objectives for the 2008-2011 NAP, based on reports from Kosovo’s Civil Society, the United States Department of State’s 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report, and international organizations;

·        Compiling above-mentioned research and analysis to create an informational packet for distribution to the Working Groups that strategized on and drafted the 2088-2011 National Action Plan;

·        Attending the NAP Working Groups and additional relevant meetings; and

·        Proofreading and finalizing the English-language translation of the 2008-2011 National Action Plan submitted to the Kosovo Government.

First Impressions:

            When I first arrived in Kosovo, I was very surprised at how quickly everything happened, despite such a relaxed environment. My supervisor had arranged for a taxi to pick my boyfriend and I up from the airport and take us to our new apartment.  She had mentioned that she would arrange a taxi, but had not mentioned where it would be taking us.  I had assumed to the UNDP office, but instead we were taken to an apartment.  It took all of about 5 minutes to sign a lease for the apartment and move in.  The next day, I met with Nita Luci, WSSI’s Project Advisor, and Michael Warren, the Programme Specialist for UNDP’s Rule of Law Program, and we quickly signed all the forms I needed and then slowly enjoyed coffee and cigarettes for the next hour or so.  And that was that—everything was taken care of.  I soon learned that this is how everything works in Kosovo—the people seem to have a very casual laid-back attitude, but when there is a task to be accomplished, they kick into high gear until the task has been accomplished at which point the casual attitude can be resumed.

            I was impressed by how developed Pristina is, how easy it is for a foreigner to get around, and how difficult it is for a foreigner to try and learn Albanian.  I knew that Pristina was an international community, but was surprised none-the-less.  I was also surprised by just how much they love Americans here.  In previous travels I’ve never encountered blatant anti-Americanism, but I have also never encountered people wanting to shake my hand or give me a high-five simply because I was American, as I encountered in Kosovo.  The people struck me as incredibly friendly and intelligent and, although they often dwelled on their nation’s past difficulties, eager for Kosovo to really be its own nation.

Work Environment:

            Working in the Government Building initially seemed intimidating to me, but upon meeting WSSI’s Project Manager, Nazlie Bala, I realized that the atmosphere, at least within the WSSI office, was quite casual.  Nazlie introduced herself and told me that there is no hierarchy within the WSSI office and that I should consider her my colleague, and, hopefully, friend, rather than my boss.  Nita Luci, the Project Advisor, and Dafina Selimi, the Project Associate, had similar attitudes, making the office a very friendly environment.  The WSSI team really worked as a team with everyone cooperating and engaging with one another both professionally and socially.

            On slow days, the project team would leave the office to sit at a café, enjoying the coffee and the weather.  Because a lot of my work was researching and reading articles and reports, there was always more work I could be doing, and at the beginning I wasn’t sure if I should be taking relaxed hours like the rest of the office.  But, the long coffee and cigarette breaks were part of the Kosovo experience, and they were always a great opportunity for me to learn more about Kosovo’s history and culture in general.  Our conversations would range from abortion laws to views on homosexuality to gun laws, which really helped me to develop a better picture of both Kosovo today and Kosovo under the Yugoslav reign. 

My Work

            I could not have asked for better work assignments at WSSI.  My work consisted chiefly of researching, analyzing, and writing, which is exactly what I love to do.   WSSI was in charge of the technical support for the drafting of Kosovo’s 2008-2011 NAP and I was in charge of providing packets of information for the Working Groups that would draft the NAP.   Initially, I was not quite sure what I was supposed to be doing.  Nita asked me to write a document analyzing Kosovo’s laws related to human trafficking and why we need the laws.  Fair enough, but there were already reports from other agencies that had written about this too, so I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to write anything that was original.  Then I realized that I wasn’t expected to write anything unique; I was expected to put together a readable document compiling the analysis and recommendations from others and incorporating my own thoughts, so that the members of the Working Groups would have access to these ideas without, themselves, having to read through multiple documents.  Accordingly, I read through many reports, compiled their thoughts, incorporated my own, and included examples of legislation from other countries.

I liked the first document I produced, but was unsure if it was exactly what WSSI was looking for, so I sent a copy to Nita and asked for her thoughts.  Nita read it, loved it, and sent it off for translation.  (Another example of how fast things move here.  I had expected to get a critique from Nita and then improve my work before anything happened, but that is not really how it works here.)  Nita and Nazlie asked for my input on what other documents would be useful for the Working Groups.  My thoughts were that victim/witness protection was key, regulating media coverage was interesting but less important, and that charts on activities and progress of the previous NAP would be useful.  They agreed and I was free to work on these.  I realized that Nita and Nazlie planned to look over everything I produced, but that they trusted my judgment and expected me to just dive in and create a packet of useful information.  I enjoyed both the freedom and the responsibility that this gave me and undertook the task as though I was actually going to be writing the NAP, collecting as much relevant information as was possible to guide the process.

The Working Groups

            The Working Groups were the highlight of my summer because it gave me the opportunity to really see Kosovars in action.  Representatives from civil society, the police, border control, and the government spent 10 days in Durres, Albania, strategizing together to create the first draft of the new NAP.  It was great to see how involved everyone was and to hear the different perspectives on trafficking in Kosovo, how to combat it, and how to approach the drafting of the NAP.  In reality, there was a lot of chaos because so many of the participants came with their own ideas and agendas without much thought to the bigger picture.  This makes sense, of course, because, for example, why would a representative from a shelter for victims of trafficking have spent time thinking about the development of the overall NAP? 

            The representatives from the government and ministries, who are the ones who really have to take responsibility for the NAP, came with ideas about the bigger picture and developing the NAP, but they had to listen to what all the other participants said and let them develop the new NAP with just guidance from them.  It was exciting for me to have these representatives referring to the information I had put together for them and to see that they had the same idea as me: identify the failures from the previous NAP, work on improving them, and incorporate new ideas.  Most other people seemed to want to start from scratch.  I don’t think they actually wanted to start from scratch, but they just weren’t interested in looking at the previous NAP and instead wanted to simply promote their own ideas.  For me, hearing everyone’s thoughts and watching the chaos was exciting and interesting, but for the representatives of the ministries it was a headache.  After dinner each day, I usually spent a couple of hours talking with the ministry representatives who would laugh at me for calling the day “fun” and tease me for being an “academic.”  I agreed with their frustrations; of course, we needed to really focus on the NAP and not just everyone’s individual wishes, but, since the NAP wasn’t my responsibility, I was able to enjoy the chaos during the day because I was learning from it. 

            The Working Groups were divided into three groups:  Prevention, Protection, and Prosecution.  The Prosecution Group was the least chaotic because its members were organized and more respectful toward one another.  The head of the Trafficking in Human Beings Unit of the Kosovo Police Service really impressed me with his knowledge, input, and thoughts.  I think this group had to be the most organized because they are the group where cooperation and an action plan are the most necessary.  When it comes to prevention and protection, NGOs are going to continue their campaigns and work without an action plan because that is what on their own agenda; they just need to ensure funding for their work.  The police, border patrol, judges, and prosecutors, on the other hand, have the real responsibility of dealing with actual trafficking, which makes their strategizing and cooperation key.   I don’t mean to say that prevention and protection are less important, but it is easier for everyone to agree that, for example, there should be campaigns focused on educating girls about the risk of being trafficked and there should be shelters for the victims, than it is to agree on how the police and prosecutors should investigate and charge someone who is simultaneously a victim of trafficking and also a ringleader recruiting girls for trafficking. 

The Action Plan

            On July 31st, the Kosovo government approved the new NAP.  This was a great success for everyone who put their time and effort into the NAP, especially the WSSI team.  Although not every actor involved in the drafting was completely satisfied with the final result (either because they thought certain provision should or should not have been included or because they thought more time should have been put into the drafting), the NAP is a “living document” that will be updated continuously.  Everyone at the Working Groups were very committed to combating human trafficking and I am confident that they will continue in their efforts, making the NAP successful in achieving its goals and objectives. 

Final Thoughts

            Working in Kosovo has been very interesting because of Kosovo’s unique position as a newly independent state, albeit one under UN administration.  The international influence seems both positive and negative.  On the one hand, obviously, the international presence was necessary for Kosovo to establish itself as an independent nation.  On the other hand, the international presence seems to have caused a lot of apathy among Kosovars (I noticed this with university students, in particular) who don’t feel like they will ever truly have the opportunity to govern themselves and who feel disenfranchised by the approach that has been taken.  Plus, the confusion about who is actually in charge can cause problems.  The people I worked with seemed quite hopeful and quite excited about the Kosovar government taking ownership of Kosovo now.  Many people expressed hope that now that Kosovo is an actual state, many of the previous excuses for not working on infrastructure will fade and there will be more progress.

            My experience in Kosovo was limited to what is happening in Pristina, among basically the elite and the international community, who, of course, take the villages and the average Kosovars into consideration, but cannot really represent what the situation in the rest of Kosovo is.  Many of the internationals and many of the Kosovars who work with the international community seem to have different ideas about where Kosovo is development-wise, what is happening in Kosovo, and what is best for Kosovo, so I can only imagine that the further away you get from the UN administration-focused view of the country, the more the perspectives change. 

            I would like to see Kosovo less as a national Kosovo-Albanian state, but I understand that given the country’s past it is difficult for people, Albanian, Serbian, and others both in and out of the region, to refrain from viewing it as such.  It seems that it will be impossible to ever view Kosovo as anything but an Albanian nation, despite attempts to include minorities in the country’s activities.  I think a lot of these attempts are nothing more than words; in general, it did not appear that anyone was truly interested in including Serbians, or the Romas, Ashkalis, Egyptians, or any other minority group.  I say this because many people, who claimed that they would really like to see a better representations of the Serbian population in the government, police, etc., would attribute the lack of Serbians in these areas to laziness, stubbornness, or some other undesirable characteristic of the Serbians.  There is so much underlying anger on each side that even people who I considered extremely intelligent would make ethnically-biased comments about the Serbian population in Kosovo.

            Overall, I really enjoyed my experience and am quite hopeful about the future of Kosovo.  Everyone I worked with seemed extremely intelligent and dedicated toward their work, and even the university students who I met who felt disenfranchised still amazed me with their intelligence and their ideas about Kosovo’s situation.  It will definitely be interesting to see how Kosovo develops over time and I hope to be involved again in the future.