The Colgate Scene
January 2002

Focusing on the other Europe

Theth Valley. Photo: Amy Rhoades

As a student at Edinburgh University in the late 1950s, I spent summers hitchhiking throughout Yugoslavia, camping all along the Adriatic before the coastal road was built. Our students need no longer gaze with curiosity from surrounding countries as I did, at isolated Albania.

My interest in `the other part of Europe' was sparked when my parents involved me, as an infant, in their surveys of maps to take my attention from nighttime bombing raids on London in World War II (or were they disguising the fact that they were actually following carefully the events of the day?). This interest was re-awakened on my brother's return from a visit to Yugoslavia in 1954 and his reports on the reconstruction of a country that had lost one-tenth of its population in the war. I realized that throughout my high school life, half of Europe had been completely ignored.

Since my first visit to the region in 1958, this other Europe has been the focus of my study and research and the source of many friendships as well as projects.

In the early 1980s, with the added dimension of my husband Nigel's peace studies focus, we formed close links (as had Colgate) with the Inter-University Center in the magnificent old walled town of Dubrovnik. It is here that we shall be taking the "Experience of Peace and War" peace studies study group for a week during spring 2002. This is a place where even in the early 1980s, East really could meet West (on non-aligned territory). My focus on the southernmost area of this region, specifically Albania, resulted from those early glimpses of the rugged country from the adjacent island of Corfu, from the surrounding high mountains in Montenegro and Kosov@*, from beautiful Lake Ohrid in Macedonia and, later (from 1989 onwards), my visits at least once a year there. Albania was Europe's most strictly ruled Stalinist country, forbidding entrance to all Americans until late in 1990.

As Yugoslavia fell apart during the 1990s, my focus became more compelling. Concerns for the peoples and countering the "ancient hatreds" arguments spurred my production of three books in that period (two have been republished), and also more active participation in what at first seemed a gigantic dream: a cross-border Balkans Peace Park. Thanks to the involvement of many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the areas of Albania, Montenegro and Kosov@, and innumerable people worldwide, this is now taking shape. Following up with visits more than once every year since 1989, I spent the summer of 2001 there, involved in a variety of activities.

My third book, Women Who Become Men: Albanian Sworn Virgins (Berg 2000, republished 2001), resulted from seven years' work discovering that old traditions have lived on through 50 years of communism into today. The book, selected for a top place in the awards of the Folklore Society, describes the phenomenon of gender change in families of this patriarchal society, where, if there is no male to head a family, a woman may take that role, thenceforward acknowledging lifelong celibacy, living as a man and performing only men's tasks. I met about 15 such remarkable women, after many had told me that such people no longer exist. With a young German woman film director, we made an eight-minute documentary on this topic for the Associated Press, released to 40 stations worldwide, though this AP weekly "Roving Report" has yet to be shown in the United States.

A UNHCR tent was home in the village of Drelaj in the Rugova Valley, Kosov@. Photo: Antonia Young Amy Rhoades '04, left, and Dana Bail '02 in the Theth Valley

Author Antonia Young
Based in Shkodra, northern Albania, I was able at the same time to appreciate the work of Dana Bail '02 and Amy Rhoades '04, who spent two months there working as interns with the NGO, IRSH (Young Intellectuals of Albania, Hope) as part of the Peace Park project. I traveled with them into a part of Europe's most spectacular, inaccessible and unspoiled mountain area, the Theth National Forest Park, where local NGOs are gradually coordinating small-scale ecotourism. The potential here is enormous: hiking, fishing, rock-climbing, speleology, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, mountain biking, swimming. There is some provision of accommodation, guides and interpreters, but no rental facilities. Furthermore, access (by over 30 miles of dirt road) is cut off for six months of the year either by landslide-causing torrential rains, or snow.

From Northern Albania, by various means of public transport (for only $11), I journeyed to Prishtina, taking with me the exhibition "Following the Kosovar Refugees," which we mounted in Case Library for six months during 2000 (and which has also been shown in Denmark, Albania and the United Kingdom: With assistance from the British Council, the exhibition was integrated into the two-week-long international Seminar on Language, Literature and Culture, where I was invited to present a paper on the Peace Park project. This also gave me the opportunity to participate in a concurrent language course and visits to Kosov@'s historic cities. Prizren, once the capital of Serbia, was the least-destroyed in the war of 1999, Gjakova/Djakovica, the worst hit (its 16th-century mosque, many others, and the old bazaar were all ruined, but are now being reconstructed in the old style). Near the Peace Park is Peje/Pe[[caron]]c, outside which still stands (under KFOR protection), the magnificent 14th-century monastery. Nearby is the home of the famed "Internet Monk," Father Sava, who protected Albanians during their horrendous treatment through the 1980s, and now protects Serbs from Albanian retaliation. I also spent time in the beautiful Drenica Valley (site of the worst massacres during 1998-99).

A Catholic cemetery -- crosses were forbidden for 23 years, during state-enforced atheisim. Photo: Elena von Lukowitz
Whilst in Prishtina, Eileen Derby '00 visited me. She has been in Kosov@ since she graduated (having taken our peace studies course "Crises in the Balkans" in her last semester). She first went as a volunteer with Balkan Sunflowers and now has a salaried job with a refugee agency working with Roma in Gjilan. She has learned to speak Roma and has even interpreted for Roma at conferences. We also met up with Kujtesa Bejtullahu (first known in this country when CNN interviewed her for her bravery and concern for the interaction of young people from all over the former Yugoslavia). Although accepted at Colgate, she is now in her second year at Stanford, on their accelerated program in international relations. She spent the summer working with a multi-ethnic group of youngsters in Kosov@.

The magnificent Rugova Valley adjoins the Shala Mountains of Albania and the Prokletija National Park of Montenegro (both potential Peace Park areas). It was here that I was taken up a ten-mile dirt road to camp in a UNHCR tent in a mountain village at the home (since his whole village was destroyed in 1999) of a young man who heads the ecological organization, Aquila (Eagle). I determined this as another suitable placement for next summer's Colgate internships (for which we have a number of applicants).

At the end of the seminar, returning to Shkodra, I was taken to the little village of Zogaj -- just beyond the now-derelict palace of King Zog (who fled the country at the time of the 1939 Italian invasion, never to return). Here we visited a women's rug weaving cooperative where they use the huge old abandoned looms from the Communist era and sell their handwork on consignment.

En route to the Theth National Forest Park in northern Albania. Photo: Antonia Young
IRSH members took me to visit several active NGOs operating in Montenegro. There are several strong co-operative links especially across and around the beautiful Shkodra Lake that is partly in Albania and partly in Montenegro. Several NGOs expressed interest in hosting Colgate interns.

Before returning to campus, I attended the Stability Pact Meeting for ecological concerns in Sarajevo (Bosnia), meeting some of the supporters for projects such as the Peace Park.

Thanks to a generous peace studies donor, we will be able to have Colgate interns working in the area this summer. How I should have appreciated such an opportunity in my own student days!

* Kosovo is the spelling for the formerly autonomus region of Serbia in Yugoslavia. Kosova is the spelling in the Albanian language. Kosov@ is the spelling adopted by the non-partisan English speaking world.

Antonia Young is a sociology/anthropology research associate and is active in peace studies. Last fall she served as an election monitor for the Assembly election in Kosov@, where the UN hopes to hand over governing authority to the people of the area.
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