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Week of May 20, 2003

Program 0320


Shropshire Music Foundation | Transcript | MP3

Bridge to North Mitrovica | Transcript | MP3

Kosovo Reconstruction | Transcript | MP3

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

LIZ SHROPSHIRE: I decided to take the penny whistle and harmonicas with me so that they, the kids could own them, they could keep them in their pocket—nobody could take it away from them.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, Kosovo’s Pied Piper.

KEITH PORTER: In 1999 one Los Angeles music teacher traded in her big city life for war-torn Kosovo.

LIZ SHROPSHIRE: It’s just amazing. I never would have thought that, that all these lessons that my mom kept making me take as a kid, that all these things that I’d done would actually end up being something that, that I could use to, to bless, now, you know, thousands of kids.

PORTER: In this special edition of Common Ground, hear how music is changing the lives of thousands of children in the Balkans.

LIZ SHROPSHIRE: Music is amazing because music doesn’t just stay right at the front of your brain. Music goes all the way down in your soul.

MCHUGH: Liz Shropshire’s inspiring story—coming up next.

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Shropshire Music Foundation

Listen to This Segment: MP3

MCHUGH: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. With the brewing conflict in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan fresh in our minds it’s easy to forget NATO was fighting a war in Southeastern Europe less than four years ago. Last month, Kristin and I traveled to Kosovo to assess the post-conflict reconstruction efforts. Two hours from Kosovo’s bustling capital, Pristina, we found an amazing story of hope. Kristin has this exclusive profile of one American woman making a difference note by note.

[The sound of children singing She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain.]

MCHUGH: The sounds of children gleefully singing youthful favorites.

[The sound of children singing She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain.]

MCHUGH: But this is not a young music class in Middle America. These children are all victims of the war in Kosovo.

[The sound of children singing She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain.]

MCHUGH: Today, these ethnic Albanian children live with their families in Slovene Village—a transit shelter camp on the outskirts of the western Kosovo city of Gjakove. Three and a half years ago their singing was silenced.

[The sound of jet military aircraft, exploding bombs, and anti-aircraft fire.]

MCHUGH: In 1999 Slobodan Milosovic’s relentless 10-year drive to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of all Albanians and other non-Serbian minorities was brought to a violent end with a 78-day NATO-led military campaign.

[The sound of crying children and refugees on the move.]

MCHUGH: Ten thousand people died. Another 500,000 were left without homes. And at the height of the bombing campaign nearly 1 million people fled Kosovo, many ending up in squalid refugee camps in nearby Albania and Macedonia.

SHROPSHIRE: I was just really moved by this.

MCHUGH: The chaos in the Balkans struck a chord with Los Angeles composer and music teacher Liz Shropshire.

SHROPSHIRE: It was in April of 1999 and I was planning a trip to Austria. I was going to go backpacking for a month, when I heard an NPR report about the refugees from Kosovo who were leaving and walking into Albania. And they were, they were telling a story that actually I heard over and over and over again after I got here, from people that had had almost the exact same experience. Where they’d been in their village, the women and men were separated from each other, and the women and children were forced to walk to Albania and they weren’t allowed to even look back..

And I thought, you know, “I’m already planning to go to Europe. I’ve always wanted to go help someplace. I could just go to Albania and help in the camps.”

[The sound of a clacking keyboard in the background.]

MCHUGH: Unfamiliar with foreign aid work, Liz searched the Internet for humanitarian organizations responding to the Kosovo crisis. A few referrals later she found Balkan Sunflowers, a grassroots organization originally founded to help refugees of the war in Kosovo. The group aids people like Liz in setting up Kosovo reconstruction efforts.

SHROPSHIRE: So I went home and I was talking to my best friend and I said, “I don’t know what to do about this” And she said, “Liz, don’t be stupid. Don’t just go to go. Why don’t you go and do what you could do best. Why don’t you take a music program to these kids?”

MCHUGH: With just a few small donations and profits from church yard sales, Liz finalized her musical humanitarian relief plan.

SHROPSHIRE: So I ended up going with about $5,000 worth of musical instruments. I had four keyboards that were actually donated by my church. Five hundred pencils, a recording Walkman, a boom box, a hundred penny whistles, a hundred harmonicas. I decided to take the penny whistle and harmonicas with me so that they, the kids could own them, they could keep them in their pocket—nobody could take it away from them. It could just be theirs. It would be really easy to transport, something that they could very easily learn in the amount of time I would have there with them.

[The sound of children playing harmonicas.]

MCHUGH: Liz Shropshire grew up in a military family. As such she was always on the move and lived in a variety of places. After college she settled in Los Angeles. Liz shared her passion for music with as many people as possible. She taught emotionally disturbed children for half a decade and aided youth affected by the 1992 riots and the 1994 Northridge earthquake. But she says, nothing prepared her for what she was about to experience in Kosovo.

SHROPSHIRE: My plane ticket was going to Belgium and I had no idea how far Albania was from Belgium. I just thought I would take a train and it would be easy because it was all Europe. And it’s about as far as you can possibly get, from Belgium to Albania. And when I got to Albania the refugees, of course, had already returned, because I was going in August and the refugees had returned in July. So, but you couldn’t come right into Kosovo. You had to go into a neighboring country. So I flew in on a UN flight and my instruments didn’t arrive with me. They, they came separately because the flight wouldn’t take the instruments. I’d never done anything like this. Just going into Albania was enough of a shock for me. And then to come up here where everything was destroyed was, was quite a shock.

[The sound of barking dogs and yelling people.]

SHROPSHIRE: It was just a madhouse. Kids were sitting outside smoking. They were sitting inside smoking. They were running up and down the halls. And then I started teaching music and so I had penny whistle, harmonica, and drum class, and singing class.

[The sound of children singing, learning notes by singing basic scales.]

SHROPSHIRE: About the third day I was here, maybe even the second day, I just, I just thought, “This feels really right to be here. It feels more right than anything I’ve done for the last 10 years.” And I could do more good here than I could do anyplace else that I could imagine being right now.

[The sound of children singing, learning notes by singing basic scales.]

SHROPSHIRE: At the same time I was, I was doing this program in the school, I was also doing a program in one of the camps, one of the transit shelter camps. This was called The Brick Camp. It was a brick factory that the people had converted into a camp. They were kids who, who were pretty much in the worst possible condition you could be in. They’d not only lost their home but many of them had lost their home a couple of years before. So they’d been living in the mountains. They’d been hiding with their parents, even before they were forced to go to Albania and live as refugees there. And then they came back to nothing.

[The sound of children singing a Albania folk song, accompanied by guitar.]

MCHUGH: Liz’s trip was scheduled to last four weeks. She stayed for six.

[The sound of children singing a folk song, accompanied by guitar. Ms. Shropshire is interrupting the piece, giving the children specific music directions.]

SHROPSHIRE: This last week of my classes the kids just kept saying, “Liz, you can’t quit. You can’t, you can’t leave us. You just started. We’re getting into this. And you can’t leave us now.” So, so I promised them all that I would do everything I could to come back. And then I didn’t know when I would come back but that I would come back. And I thought I would go home, save my money up, and I would try to come back some time in the future. And then I went back to America and I was, I was kind of at a loss. I really felt like I was supposed to be here but I didn’t know in what capacity.

MCHUGH: Liz kept her promise. Back in the States she shared her story of her time in Kosovo through speaking engagements. Liz’s goal was to raise enough money to return. To her surprise, people responded. Soon she had a volunteer accountant, a pro bono lawyer, and nonprofit status. And so the Shropshire Music Foundation was born. True to its roots, the organization is a small web of volunteers scattered across the United States. A few, like her Web designer, Liz has never even met. All have aided her in returning to Kosovo.

SHROPSHIRE: And then I came back with, with a lot more instruments and based myself back in Gjakove, working these same kids that I’d worked with before. Plus we started expanding to work with a lot more kids.

[The sound of Yankee Doodle played on a penny whistle.]

SHROPSHIRE: Probably the biggest gift of all is to me that I get to do this. It’s, it’s just amazing. I never would have thought that, that all these lessons that my mom kept making me take as a kid, that all these things that I’d done would actually end up being something that, that I could use to, to bless, now, you know, thousands of kids.

[The sound of an Ani MoriNusesong played on a penny whistle.]

MCHUGH: Coming up, an evening of song and dance in Slovene Village. Plus, we’ll hear from people whose lives have been changed forever by Liz’s work. And, Liz shares her dreams for the future. This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[The sound of an Ani MoriNusesong played on a penny whistle.]

MCHUGH: In 1999, Los Angeles composer and music teacher Liz Shropshire traded in her big city life for war-ravaged Kosovo. Her mission was simple—help children forget the horrors of war, with music. And with little more than an airline ticket, 100 penny whistles and 100 harmonicas, Liz made her way to Gjakove, one of the hardest hit cities in western Kosovo. What started as a four-week humanitarian trip is now a lifetime passion to teach music as an instrument of peace.

[The sound of a truck rumbling to a stop.]

MCHUGH: Gjakove, nestled in the foothills of the North Albanian Mountains, lies just east of the Albanian border. Ninety-seven percent of its 60,000 residents are ethnic Albanians.

SHROPSHIRE: In Gjakove 50 percent of the children stayed the entire time during the NATO bombing. They weren’t—they either weren’t allowed to leave to go to Albania, or they, they had heard the stories about the girls being raped and the men being killed on the way out. And so their families chose to keep them here. Now, that’s 50 percent of the kids that stayed there But 100 percent of the children in Gjakove—100 percent of the children here—lost a family member in the war. So these kids in Gjakove and in the villages around, the things that they’ve seen and experienced are really horrific.

[Liz leads her class in playing Oh Susanna on their harmonicas.]

MCHUGH: Volunteer training is one of the hallmarks of Liz’s Shropshire Music Foundation. Once a week she trains interested local youth in the skills needed to run several Shropshire music programs. These volunteers, many of whom originally attended Liz’s classes as students, now assist her in teaching the art of singing, harmonica, and penny whistle throughout Gjakove.

[Liz leads a harmonica class, giving instructions to the students. Then the class begins to play the Alphabet Song on their harmonicas.]

SHROPSHIRE: I just am filled with so much love for these kids. I mean, they’re in high school. They could be, like their friends, just hanging out, just thinking about themselves. And instead not only, not only do they volunteer but they write lesson plans. They practice the instruments, they prepare themselves to be able to teach the kids. So they’re putting in all of this time outside of just even the volunteer time. First of all to learn their instrument. They have to put a lot of time in because they all have to learn how to play the penny whistle and the harmonica. And these kids are 14 years old. Not all of them. I mean we have, we have some, we have one boy that’s 20. But the others—or 21—but the, the others are 14 and 15 years old. And these kids are doing this. It’s, it’s amazing.

[Liz is leading her class of volunteer teachers, asking what song they want to play.]

MCHUGH: On this Tuesday, half a dozen local volunteers are gathered in Liz’s modest rented home in the heart of Gjakove to prepare for the weekly Slovene Village singing and harmonic class.

[The sound of children playing and talking.]

MCHUGH: The frenzied rush of cheering children as Liz’s jeep enters the compound signals the start of class.

SHROPSHIRE: Slovene Village was a newer camp. It’s like the Brick Camp. A transit shelter camp. They were pre-fab buildings and it’s, each building looks like a long trailer. And it has three rooms and a kitchen. And each family gets their room. And the room basically fits four bunk beds. That’s it. These are, these are pretty much your families that are the very worst off.

[The sound of children playing and talking.]

SHROPSHIRE: The camp kids are my favorite kids in Kosovo. You know, they’ve lost everything and yet you wouldn’t know it just from talking to ’em. They come into these music classes and they, they just get taken over by the music. I mean, you can see they are totally 100 percent into this music. And they love it. And they walk around the camp singing. If I see them someplace they’ll start singing one of the songs or they’ll say, “Hey, Lisa, come here!” And then they’ll, they’ll want to sing one of the songs, or if we do like a clapping game with the song they’ll want to do it with me.

[The sound of the children singing an “The Popcorn Song.”]

MCHUGH: Liz holds class in a sparsely furnished, stark white rectangular room in Slovene’s recreation center. On this evening, 17 boys and girls ranging in age from three to 21 sing their hearts out in the chilly makeshift classroom. Despite full power the room temperature never warms up. Children lucky enough to have a coat keep it on for the entire two-hour session.

[Liz, leading her class.]

SHROPSHIRE: The children in Slovene village are learning several songs in English, even though most of them speak no English. And although Liz has a solid working knowledge of the Albanian language she still conducts most of the class in her native tongue. Besi, another one of Liz’s volunteers, provides translation.

[The sound of Besi translating in the class between Albanian and English.]

MCHUGH: Liz has all the skills of a proper English nanny. The students sit up straight on command and rarely stray from her instructions. Even the youngest child, a blonde boy with natural Shirley Temple curls, manages to keep near perfect rhythm, even though his head is barely above the table. Liz’s spunky Mary Poppins style is the spoonful of sugar these children desperately need.

[The sound of children singing the song “Supercalifragilistic expialidocioius,” from the movie musical Mary Poppins in English, then in Albanian.]

SHROPSHIRE: It was just sort of a whim. I just had this song in my head. We just sang it for the kids. And I thought they would just laugh and think it was really funny but that they would never want to learn this. And I said, “Do you like it?” And they said “Yes!” And they said, “Please teach us this song.” So they learned this song in English. And just saying supercalifragilistic expialidocioius, I mean that took, you know, 10 minutes just to be able to say that song. And then they learned all the English verses. And they were just loving this song. So then they kept saying, “What does it mean? What does it mean?” So then I, then I started thinking “We’ve got to put this song into Albanian.” And now they love this song because they’re singing it in English and they’re singing it in Albanian.

[The sound of children singing the song “Supercalifragilistic expialidocioius,” from the movie musical Mary Poppins.]

SHROPSHIRE: We’re not just teaching kids how to sing some songs. We’re teaching them how to read rhythms, how to read notes, how to clap the rhythms. One of the first things that we do with the kids is that we teach them the whole note and half note and then we teach them to say “la” for four beats. So, so we’ll go, “la” [the sound of clapping], and they clap while they’re saying “la.” Just doing that simple exercise, they’re doing two things at the same time. They’re speaking and they’re counting. And they’re, and they’re aware that they’re doing two things at one time. Then you start introducing the actual notes that they’re playing. Now they’re, you’ve added another thing. Then, then you have them start blowing on an instrument. They’re doing another thing. By now they don’t know what they’re doing. All they know is that they’re having a really great time, but they’re using parts of their brains that they’ve never used before.

[The sound of the children singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight in Albanian.]

ESUF FIDORI: [via a translator] We learn songs and we learn how to play harmonica. I think she’s a great teacher. And she’s a really good friend.

MCHUGH: Tonight, 13-year-old Isoff Hidori enthusiastically and flawlessly executes the rhythm section of Liz’s rendition of The Lion Sleeps Tonight—a task that would have been impossible two years ago.

SHROPSHIRE: We call him “Lum.” That’s his nickname. And Lum used to be a really big problem. You didn’t want him in your class. You didn’t want him—you know, he just, he just would disrupt absolutely everything. But I loved this kid, you know. And, and when I’d go to the camp I would always go out of my way to just hug this kid and put my arm around and just tell him how good he was. Well, his behavior started getting first just to, just because it was me. But what’s exciting is that now it’s not just good for me; now he’s good in school. And this year he got elected class president.

MCHUGH: Lum’s mother Floria [sic] now considers Liz one of her best friends. She believes music is helping to heal her son’s soul.

FLORIA: [via a translator] I have three children, one daughter and two sons. All three are participating in Liz’s program. After the children come from the classes they’re really happy. They always talk about happy things. It’s a really good program because it’s the only program in the camp.

[The sound of the children singing Skip To My Lou, followed by applause.]

MCHUGH: The first hour of singing class ends with a frenzied rendition of Skip To My Lou. And after a few brief class photos several younger students scurry outside and the older pupils hurry back to their seats. With the first hour of class over, Liz hands the reigns to 21-year-old volunteer Burim Vraniqi. Burim, a handsome and well mannered ethnic Egyptian, leads the evening’s harmonica instruction.

[The sound of Burim teaching the class’s harmonic lessons, followed by the sounds of harmonica playing.]

MCHUGH: Prior to meeting Liz, Burim didn’t even know how to play the harmonica. Now, he can’t imagine life without it.

BURIM VRANIQI: You know, the music is something like magic. They didn’t have this, this activity before. I can see that they, they are changed a lot because like I said, before they, they always thinking about the war and talking about war and talking about the bad things. But now they are thinking about the music, how to learn, how to learn to play harmonica, how to learn the new song and how to sing this song. And they don’t have time now to talk about the war, ’cause they already forgot the wartime.

[The sound of Burim playing on harmonica Simon and Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair.]

SHROPSHIRE: Burim is probably the most natural teacher that I’ve ever seen. He is so patient with the children. I love watching him teach.

MCHUGH: Burim is one of Liz’s countless success stories. He is one of a handful of local ethnic Egyptian students heading to university classes next year. Burim plans to pursue a business degree but promises music will never stray far from his heart.

VRANIQI: How long, I am planning to be volunteer. If I can, I can be for all of my life. Yeah, I want to stay here. And help my people, too.

[The sound of a harmonica playing Simon and Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair.]

BELKIZE PENI: [via a translator] I am a teacher, a music teacher. With Liz’s training I’ve had a lot of success.

MCHUGH: Belkize Peni is a true believer. Belkize, shy and petite ethnic Albanian, lost her job as a music teacher in the mid-1990s as the Serbs segregated or closed schools throughout Kosovo. Thousands of ethnic Albanian and other non-Serb students were forced from their classrooms. Many ended up in makeshift home or neighborhood schools. And those who did attend class were often subjected to severe discrimination and violent reprisals. The situation left many teachers like Belkize with little confidence to instruct in post-conflict environment.

PENI: [via a translator] I was out of work for seven years. When I was offered a job I lost my self esteem. But Liz taught me the harmonica and the flute. Then I understood I was worth something. Now I’m really happy and have my self esteem back. Everywhere I go people like me now and love me because of the things I did for them.

MCHUGH: Belkize says this happiness extends to her students.

PENI: [via a translator] It was a really big change for kids in Kosovo because they had for the first time an instrument in their hand. All of the things they had in the war, that they’d seen in the war, they’d forgotten with the instruments.

[The sound of a harmonica playing “London Bridges” song.]

SHROPSHIRE: Well, this year again we were running low on funding. I was thinking, “Okay, maybe this year is our last year.” And right after I got here in May one of the local men—his kids were in my first classes—and he said, “Please don’t go. This is when we really need you.”

MCHUGH: Liz Shropshire has assisted more than 4,000 children in the Gjakove area since late 1999. And she has managed to do it all on her life savings and small donations.

SHROPSHIRE: We’ve never had more than $50,000 a year. I mean, $70,000 is our goal. Our goal used to be $100,000. We’ve narrowed it down to $70,000 but we’ve never raised more than $50,000. And this year we’ve probably only raised about $35,000 or $40,000. We’re pretty low budget. But we’re also, that’s also one of the great things about us. I mean, the money goes into the kid. It doesn’t go into anybody’s pocket. It just goes right here into bringing this program out for the kids.

MCHUGH: Every winter Liz packs up her Gjakove home and heads back to the US to launch another round of fundraising. While she is away her dedicated corps of volunteers keep the program up and running. All the while she dreams of the day she can expand her reach even further.

SHROPSHIRE: Our goal is to continue. We’ve got this great corps of local volunteers. And our goal is to eventually turn the program completely over to them and continue to fund the program, but they, they take over the program and run it and maybe I’ll come here, you know, one or two months out of the year to check on things, see how things are going. But hopefully by then we’re in another country doing the same thing.

[The sound of children singing She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain.]

SHROPSHIRE: Music is amazing because music doesn’t just stay right at the front of your brain. Music goes all the way down in your soul. And when you’re really making music, you’re really singing with all your heart or you’re really playing an instrument everything that you have in you is giving to that. It’s not just, it’s not just something that you’re doing intellectually. It’s, it’s everything about you.

[The sound of children singing She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain.]

SHROPSHIRE: For me personally, you know, when people say to me, “Oh, you’re such a good person for doing this,” and stuff, I just think, it’s just ridiculous. Because really this is, this is for me a dream come true. The fact that I get to do this is the most amazing thing for me. I, I can’t imagine my life anymore not doing this.

[The sound of children singing She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain, now in Albanian.]

MCHUGH: For Common Ground, I’m Kristin McHugh, Gjakove, Kosovo.

[The sound of children singing She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain, now in Albanian.]

PORTER: For more information on Liz Shropshire and the Shropshire Music Foundation visit her Web site at

[The sound of children singing She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain.]

PORTER: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

KEITH PORTER: There’s no way to forget that this area has recently gone through one of the worst wars that Europe saw in the last half of the twentieth century.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, an exclusive tour of Kosovo’s largest Serbian enclave.

[Musical interlude]

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Bridge to North Mitrovica

Listen to This Segment: MP3

MCHUGH: The war in Kosovo may have ended in 1999, but the wounds are still exposed in Northern Mitrovica.

PORTER: [reporting from northern Mitrovica, Kosovo] I’m looking down directly into the living rooms and kitchens and bedrooms of these homes. The roofs are gone; all of the interior is gone except for rubble, just piled up.

MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next. Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Kristin McHugh.

KEITH PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. In 1999, Slobodan Milosevic’s drive to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of all Albanians was crushed by a 78-day NATO-led bombing campaign. When it was over nearly one million Kosovar Albanians returned to Kosovo, and nearly all Serbs fled the region.

MCHUGH: Now, only 30,000 Serbs remain in the heart of Kosovo. Nearly all of them are isolated in Serb enclaves that require round-the-clock protection by NATO forces. The largest of these enclaves is in the city of Mitrovica. The river Ibar divides the city into a mostly Albanian southern half and a mostly Serbian northern half. Late last year, Keith and I had a rare tour of northern Mitrovica led by French members of NATO’s Kosovo Force, known as KFOR. Keith begins this exclusive report as we cross the heavily guarded Mitrovica Bridge into one of the most tension filled spots in Europe.

[The sound of a running truck engine.]

PORTER: [reporting from Mitrovica] We’re driving through Mitrovica in the back of a KFOR jeep being driven by our French guide. We’re along with our German KFOR press officer. Now we’re passing through a checkpoint of the Kosovo Protection Corps. So we’ve been waved on through the final checkpoint on the southern side.

[The sound of a running truck engine.]

PORTER: The bridge is a very modern looking bridge—flat, with lights across it.

[The sound of a running truck engine.]

PORTER: Now we’re out into the middle of the bridge. And there is really no other traffic. We passed one security vehicle going the other way. We just came across the northern part of the bridge. We’re now in northern Mitrovica. We passed one KFOR soldier.

KFOR SOLDIER: Here is the main street of North Mitrovica; it’s Rue Petra. The name is King Peter, is the meaning in Serb.

[The sound of a running truck engine.]

PORTER: We have a jeep following us, a French KFOR jeep with two soldiers in it.

[The sound of a running truck engine.]

PORTER: [Now narrating his report from the studio] For our first stop in northern Mitrovica our guides took us to one of several hills overlooking the city. This one is topped by a distinctive monument.

PORTER: [now reporting from northern Mitrovica, Kosovo] All right, now we’ve reached as far as we can go in the jeep and we’re going to get out and climb a little farther up the hill it looks like.

[The sound of a running truck engine, which slows and then stops. Then the sound of footsteps and talking.]

PORTER: There are very nice pine trees covering the sides of this hill.

[The sounds of footsteps.]

PORTER: All right. We’ve reached the top of the hill here, overlooking Mitrovica. I have a feeling that the military men are not breathing as hard as I am right now.

[The sound of wind blowing through the microphone.]

PORTER: As you can tell there’s a good breeze up here. The monument here at the top of the hill is enormous. I would say it’s probably 150, 200 feet tall. The pillars are, start out at perhaps 100 feet in circumference and then taper down to much smaller at the top, where they are supporting what looks like a, what was intended to look like some kind of a mine car. And it is perhaps 150 feet wide as well. The French call this monument, “Barbecue,” because it looks like a barbecue. And our guide tells us that the two pillars were to represent both the Albanians and the Serbians working together to build this country. Obviously this was a monument built before the war.

PORTER: [Now narrating his report from the studio] Our guide from French KFOR is Lieutenant Gail Trehin.

PORTER: [now interviewing Trehin in Mitrovica] You’ve been here a few months. But for me, when we crossed over things didn’t look all that different. It was, it was hard to tell that you’d crossed from one side to the other if you hadn’t gone over the bridge. Can you see big differences in the North and the South?

LIEUTENANT GAIL TREHIN: We see more ruins…

PORTER: More ruins?

TREHIN: Yes. In the North than in the South. There’s a lot of rebuilding in the South.

PORTER: A lot of rebuilding in the South—not so much in the North?

TREHIN: Yes. It looks like more poverty in the North than in the South.

PORTER: [reporting from northern Mitrovica, Kosovo] From right where I’m standing I can see one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight buildings all in a row that are missing parts of their roof. Some of them you can directly in to see that they are a shell. Our guide, Lieutenant Trehin, referred to these homes here as ruins, as we come back down the hill.

[The sound of a revving motorcycle engine in the background.

PORTER: And no doubt they are ruins. But what most people think of as ruins are not far away. If you look up the side of the very next hill, at the top of the hill, are the remains of a Turkish castle from the 13th or 14th century. So it’s obvious that this part of the world has been through an awful lot. It appears as if there are ancient ruins rising out of the modern day ruins as you look up at the hillsides here in northern Mitrovica.

[The sound of a car door opening and closing, then an engine starting and the vehicle being put into gear.]

PORTER: So after a short jeep ride we are now in the Albanian portion of northern Mitrovica. We see a health clinic here that’s been built and a school where Albanians go to school and it’s surrounded by heavy wire and fencing and it has a locked gate. The Serbs have their own school, a parallel structure.

[The sound of footsteps.]

PORTER: And so right here between the Serb and Albanian neighborhoods in northern Mitrovica there is a French company here, a French military company, about 30, who are housed right here. And their job is to provide security along this border between the neighborhoods.

TREHIN: They are here to secure [the] area. If there is a problem sometimes they provide trucks to take Albanians in the south part.


TREHIN: To escort them to the south part.

[The sound of a running truck engine, followed by traffic sounds.]

PORTER: We’re passing by a house here that’s just completely destroyed. No roof, nothing inside. Merely the shell of the house is still there. Still rubble piled up inside the building. It hasn’t even been cleaned out, let alone rebuilt. And there seem to be even more of those as we go through this part of Mitrovica.

[Traffic sounds]

PORTER: And then we pass by some other homes that are very neat. Rose garden by the side of this house; white brick; a very nice home. And of course everywhere, as in the rest of Kosovo, most houses seem to have a satellite dish as well.

[The engine turns off and a car door opens.]

PORTER: [Now narrating his report from the studio] Our next stop, the tallest building in northern Mitrovica, an apartment complex which still shows the signs of war.

[The sound of someone climbing stairs.]

PORTER: [Now reporting from the apartment building in northern Mitrovica] So the elevator, like most of the elevators we’ve seen in Kosovo, does not work. How tall is this building? How many floors?

TREHIN: How tall? I don’t know. It’s 10 floors.

PORTER: So this is a…

TREHIN: It is one of the tallest.

PORTER: So this is a 10-story building and there are people living from top to bottom?

TREHIN: Yes. No, not, not at the—we’re not sure. We think that maybe there are some people who are living on the top of the floors.

[The sound of someone climbing stairs.]

PORTER: As we go up the staircase, which is inside the building, you can see there are hoses, sometimes, just basic water hoses, that have been run up outside the building and then inside these windows.

[The sound of someone climbing stairs.]

PORTER: [with sounds of stair climbing and heavy breathing in between reports from each floor] We just crossed the fifth floor and I can still see the hoses going up. Now we’re about to the seventh floor and a couple of the hoses come inside the building at this point. Also an electrical cord that’s been running up all of the now eight stories, comes into the building. Here on the ninth floor I see one of the last hoses coming inside the building, goes across the ceiling, and then goes into a vent, disappearing into someone’s apartment. And here we are at the tenth floor. Here on the stairwell all of the windows are broken out.

TREHIN: Perhaps I think you have to press on the…

PORTER: Yes. It’s obvious that there are people living in the flats up here. The guide wasn’t sure. So go to the left here, what do we see?

TREHIN: This is one of the former anti-sniper area.

PORTER: Sniper or anti-sniper?

TREHIN: Anti-sniper. From the KFOR, KFOR places. When, because they can come, when they could check if there was some snipers in front of some, all of the tallest buildings, there were some anti-snipers like this.

PORTER: So right here we have a window, a smallish window, but it’s been filled almost completely with sandbags, leaving just a tiny slit of an opening. And if you look out from this vantage point you can see just about every spot in the city. We can easily see what is the East Bridge over the River Ibar. So this spot would be an ideal spot for an anti-sniper unit to stay.

PORTER: [now reporting from the building’s roof] So as we look out over the edge of the building here we can just see enormous destruction—houses that are just completely destroyed. You could almost forget that there was a war in this area if you stayed in the other parts of Kosovo, in Pristina, southern Mitrovica. But here in northern Mitrovica there’s no way to forget that this area has recently gone through one of the worst wars that Europe saw in the last half of the twentieth century. As I look as far as I can to my left I see some very small, ramshackle, lean-to cottages and very, very small buildings. And I’m told that that is a camp where Roma live—people that we often call gypsies—live in that camp.

As I look a little farther to the right I see some multifamily homes. Large structures, actually, but homes, where several families might live. And this is where we see so much destruction. There are homes that are just completely torn apart, right next to homes that have been completely rebuilt. I’m looking down directly into the living rooms and kitchens and bedrooms of these homes. The roofs are gone; all of the interior is gone except for rubble, just piled up.

As I look farther in this direction, off in the distance I can see that structure that the French called “The Barbecue,” the big monument to the mine industry that’s at the top of the hill that we visited just a moment ago.

PORTER: [now interviewing Lieutenant Trehin while they are on the rooftop] Seeing places like this and doing things like this, is that what you thought you would do when you joined the military?

TREHIN: Maybe I wasn’t, maybe ready to, to discover there’s such misery and poverty, like in the back of Europe. It’s so near from France.

PORTER: And sometimes I’m sure that people think that because you’re in the military and they see you in your uniform, you have a weapon, that you don’t have any feelings about the misery and poverty you see here.

TREHIN: We’re working for KFOR. I am military first. But I try to connect people with each other to provide help. It’s very hard, you know. We do our best.

[The sound of a running truck engine, then a back-up beeper.]

TREHIN: It’s common to see some people trying to find some food or some stuff in garbage. But this, the first time it’s very, very hard to bear. I’m not sure. It’s become a common feature. But it’s always hard to see.

[The truck engine is running again.]

PORTER: So here we’re on the northern side of the river, looking across to the south. And it’s clearly the biggest area of destruction that I’ve seen since we’ve been in Kosovo. There are two dozen, perhaps three dozen homes—what were homes here—each one just completely destroyed. In some cases all you see is the foundation and a pile of rubble. In other places you may see a few walls standing next to the rubble. And in a few places you may see the frame of the house still standing but the rest of it is just completely gone. This is an area where nothing has been rebuilt. And our guide tells us that this is where the Romas lived before the war and they were all driven out in one night—in one night in 1999, when they were driven from this spot and this destruction began.

[The sound of a running truck engine.]

PORTER: Well, we’re back in the jeep and we’re going over some rough roads here, heading into yet again another Serbian part here in northern Mitrovica. Passing through a KFOR checkpoint where there are one, two, three, four tanks covered up with tarps. Tractors, tanks, jeeps—they all share the road here.

TREHIN: You have some Mercedes, too.

PORTER: Some what?

TREHIN: Some Mercedes. Don’t forget Mercedes.

PORTER: [laughing] Yes, and there’s a Mercedes, also.

[The sound of traffic.]

PORTER: People often think of, what they know about northern Mitrovica and what they’ve read is that it’s a lawless area, that it’s somehow in a no-man’s land, that it’s not really part of Serbia anymore but it’s not part of the new Kosovo. But I think that what we see here is something a little different. That there in fact is law and order in northern Mitrovica. Do you agree?

TREHIN: Yes. Mitrovica is crystallized a lot of the problem, Kosovo’s problem. Because it’s a multi-ethnic area, because you have a town that’s separated in two, two parts. So it’s very hard. For people who live, living here, they are Serbian but, but they’ll always be Serbian of Kosovo.

PORTER: And now, after that winding, bumpy jeep ride we’re at the top of a hill overlooking Mitrovica and overlooking much of the countryside here. As you look around from this distance across the rolling hillside, across even the town of Mitrovica, divided by that river, it’s easy to forget that there was a war. The signs are not as apparent here. But there is one more scar here on this hillside. The story is that a French officer from the KFOR gathered bodies that were unidentified and brought them here to be buried in a multiethnic cemetery. It’s surrounded by coils of barbed wire. And so this cemetery here on the top of this beautiful hill with the fresh air and the breeze, is yet one more reminder that war has torn apart this area and that the scars will be here for a very, very long time.

[The door of the jeep opens and the engine begins running again.]

PORTER: Our visit to the northern part of Mitrovica has come to an end and we’re about to cross the bridge again, over the River Ibar. Here on the northern side there’s a stop sign and a single KFOR soldier. And he waves us on through.

[The sound of the jeep’s back-up beeper.]

PORTER: We’re standing here on the bridge, a very militarized area. It remains a lasting reminder that war is still a possibility here in southeastern Europe even as we begin the 21st century. Standing on the bridge separating northern Mitrovica from southern Mitrovica, I’m Keith Porter for Common Ground.

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Kosovo Reconstruction

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PORTER: The economic development problems in Kosovo can never be fully addressed until the region’s final political status is determined. Kosovo remains a trouble spot, where an uneasy peace is enforced by both the United Nations and NATO forces. Currently run as a UN protectorate, the small province is calling for the international community to grant it independence. The Bush Administration agrees with many European diplomats that the question of Kosovo’s status is too explosive an issue to deal with currently. But as Catherine Drew reports, regional experts who gathered at a Washington conference agreed that continuing uncertainty over Kosovo’s future status is damaging the fragile peace.

CATHERINE DREW: Technically, Kosovo makes up what is left of Yugoslavia, along with Serbia and Montenegro. But since the war ended in 1999, Kosovo has been under the complete control of the United Nations, while it waits for the UN Security Council to puzzle over whether Kosovo should become an independent nation, return to the Yugoslav federation, or find some other path.

[The sounds of a busy conference.]

DREW: Differences of opinion over Kosovo’s future were brought sharply into focus at a recent conference hosted by Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies. Around 100 people gathered to hear Kosovar Albanian political and civic leaders discuss the province’s future. They, in turn were keen to hear what members of the Bush Administration had to say about the question of Kosovo’s final status. This sentiment was captured in a question from Musa Daka, a member of the National Albanian American Council who had just returned from visiting family in Kosovo. He spoke to Donald Braum, who is Deputy Director for South Central European Affairs at the State Department.

MUSA DAKA: [questioning Mr. Braum] I would like to ask Mr. Braum same question that my nephew asked me. He said, “I’m the only one in Europe without citizenship, maybe the only one on the face of the earth.” Will you answer me sir, what or anybody in the panel, what should I say to my nephew, what kind of citizen he is?

DONALD BRAUM: [answering Mr. Daka] I’d say that he certainly is a citizen of Kosovo and he should put forth very strong efforts to develop, again, the institutions of Kosovo, the economy of Kosovo, to begin the process at his own independent level of reconciliation to the extent that he can.

DAKA: [responding to Mr. Braum] Thank you.

BRAUM: [answering Mr. Daka] And that this will help resolve the larger legal question of his status.

DREW: This message of patience was not one that the Kosovo Albanian visitors wanted to hear. However, Mr. Braum went on to say that the newly instituted government structures of Kosovo must prove they can govern the province before the question of independence is addressed.

BRAUM: Certainly we need to be thinking about final status, but it’s really not the time to begin discussing final status or actually even a road map to it. I think we’re going to know when the right time comes, when that time comes. But what we need to know now, is to continue to build the preconditions so that we can have a process for final status and we can have a discussion on that.

DREW: Mr. Braum says Pristina must begin a dialogue with Belgrade, while much more progress is needed on the return of Serb refugees driven from the province after the war. He says Kosovo needs to ensure it is a multiethnic society in practice, not just in principle. To some observers, the refusal of the US and the international community to begin to examine the issue of Kosovo’s final status is becoming detrimental to the province. Louis Sell, a Professor at the University of Maine and longtime expert on the Balkans region, says the international community must not put-off this issue for long.

LOUIS SELL: The failure to, at least to begin addressing the issue of final status is becoming itself destabilizing. Certainly there are destabilizing potentials for an independent Kosovo, but the failure, the refusal to even begin talking about it, I think, is now even more destabilizing than beginning the process, which will be difficult and at times could be potentially dangerous, but it needs to get underway.

DREW: Professor Sell says lack of movement on the final status question fosters fear and distrust on the part of the ethnic Albanians, while allowing Serbs to falsely believe they might return to power. This viewpoint has the support of Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel who is the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Albanian Issues Caucus on Capital Hill. The lawmaker said he is planning to introduce a resolution in the United States Congress in support of independence for Kosovo. Congressman Engel told the gathering he fears some European nations will try to appease Serbia, and that the US must be a champion for Kosovo’s independence.

US REPRESENTATIVE ELIOT ENGEL: If the United States pulls back, if the United States isn’t there to play a forceful role and say, “Independence is really the only solution,” I’m afraid that the consensus of Europe will not be realistic.

DREW: Congressman Engel says he hopes his congressional resolution will prompt the Bush administration to work along with Europe and the United Nations towards giving the people of Kosovo a secure and independent future. For Common Ground Radio, I’m Catherine Drew in Washington.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security

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