In the first podcast, for www.kosovotrustbuilding.com, we discussed language and language rights in Kosovo. Our interlocutor on this inexhaustible topic was Veljko Samardzic from the Center for Social Initiatives – who is the man behind the idea of the VocUp language learning platform.
In the last round of calls for applications for Albanian and Serbian language courses within this platform, over 700 applications were received.
“If we take this number of 750 applications, in a period when you have tensions in Kosovo and for five days 750 people come to you eager to learn the language of their neighbors, who understand that they need the language, who find the rational reason, satisfaction, some love in that, then we realize that we live in two parallel realities, one is – needs, and the other is – public narrative”, said Samardzic.
“The figure of 60,000 people who have used our site more than 400,000 times shows that people need to communicate, and we just want to give them what politicians and institutions have not given,” he added, stating that they want to give opportunity for communities in Kosovo to learn the languages of their neighbors leaving politics aside:
“We have never tried to convince anyone they need to learn a language; we leave it to users.”
For Samardzic, nothing is interesting for observing political relations between communities, such as language.
“If you do not respect someone’s language, then you, as an institution, as a community, send the message that these people are not welcome. That is why I always pay special attention to the importance and responsibility of every official who, regardless of some real problems, enforces the law. Law on language rights should not be considered less important,” he said.
Speaking about the attitude of institutions towards language rights and the usage of the Serbian language – as one of the official languages in Kosovo, he says that the position of institutions has changed in line with changes in the government in Pristina.
“Of course, there is a human factor, sometimes objective reasons, but let’s be honest, when you go to an institution, where someone talks with you in a pleasant way when they apologize and say, please wait; we will somehow solve the fact that we do not have an interpreter, that there is not enough of us working, that we do not train translators. In that way, you feel different if you get a certain kind of apology, and you will almost get over that disrespect of the law than if someone brazenly says, ‘no, learn the language and come again’. Institutions are obliged to enforce this law as much as they are compelled to enforce any other law, and I do not accept that this is a second-order law”, he added
On the other hand, he explains that there is almost no institution that can be said to have total respect for the language law:
“Some I understand, some I don’t understand, and let’s make one thing clear, respecting the law is both respecting Serbian in Pristina and respecting Albanian in Mitrovica.”
In our conversation, we also discussed the research conducted by the Center for Social Initiatives in 2018. The questions concerned the influence of language on relations between communities, their perception of security, their intention to learn or not to learn the language of their neighbors.
“What was a bigger surprise, when we asked the respondents from the Serbian community, whether their knowledge of Albanian would influence greater interaction with Albanians, i.e., when we asked – would they go to Albanian-majority areas more often – the answer that surprised us was NO. This means that language is a barrier and that language is not the only barrier. We have to work hard, we have chosen language as an obvious, easily defined problem, it is important to talk about it, but there are many nuances behind it to normalize our lives” – said our interlocutor.
“Last year, we asked our course participants, people who are convinced that they need the language, people who are learning the language, what they think is the biggest problem in integration. What surprised us (religious differences at the level of statistical error, political differences no more than 5-6%), the two main reasons being a different attitude towards the past and a lack of understanding of language. You see that our attitude towards the past is different, but I see the connection between these two main causes; without communication, we can’t even talk about our sad past” – Samardzic added.