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Log Cabins for Peace

    “Our presence in the Kosovo was supercool; hospitality was simply fabulous.” You can still feel the enthusiasm when Nadja Laumann talks about her time in Peja. She travelled to this place in the midst of the “Rugova Mountains”, that share the name of the defunct president of the Kosovo, to participate in a workcamp from the 23rd of July to the 3rd of August, together with other young and adult people from Lahnstein and accompanied by the SS.CC. brothers Wolfgang Jungheim and Ludger Widmaier.
    Together with young people from the youth centre of Peja's catholic parish, we finished to construct four log cabins at the side of a chapel in the mountains that will serve to children and young people for meetings and encounters. The young people painted the log cabins, put the nails into the roof and arranged the wooden floors.
    The contact with the catholic parish of Peja is rooted in Fr. Wolfgang's work with refugees and exiled people. It was him, who invited various Kosovarian young people to Lahnstein for the previous meeting to the World Youth Day (in Cologne). With this meeting began a collaboration with mutual visits between the catholic parishes of Lahnstein and Peja. Besides other initiatives, also the idea of the construction of the log cabins in the mountains was developed, in order to create a place of meeting for young people of the different ethnic and religious groups. Thus during a whole year, the communities of Lahnstein and Peja planned, collected donations for the needed materials, invited interested people for the workcamp and the journey. Finally, a group of seven young and seven adult people was formed who prSome Kosovarians and Germans who attended the meeting in Lahnsteinepared themselves in various meetings to this journey by car and bus crossing Austria, Hungary, Serbia until Peja in the Kosovo; in a country where the consequences of the war are still visible and tangible, and a lot of experts fear that the failure of negotiations about the future legal status could lead rapidly to new violent conflicts that are at this moment hindered by a strong military presence.
    In this country below a UNO administration and still, following international law, belonging to Serbia, some 90% of the population are Kosovarian Albanians, nearly all of them Muslims, some 7% are orthodox Serbs, and some 5% belong to other minorities such as the “Roma” (Balkan Gypsies). In the region of Peja – some 180.000 people live in the city and its surroundings – only 1% of the Kosovarian Albanians are catholic.
    Two experiences impressed me particularly on this journey. Peja is a young and developing city that will be able to take profit – if the country receives a politically ensured status – from the beautiful countryside and the growing tourism. At the time, we saw at the entrance of the market with oriental ambience some children beggars belonging to the Roma ethnic minority. They were clearly suffering by malnutrition. - On the other hand, I had a conversation with a young man who experienced the war and talked to me about an aerial warstrike. He and his wife were dining in the upper floor of a building. Through the window, they saw the plane arriving, and the young man threw himself over his wife to protect her. When they got up, the glasses of the window were spread over the place and all the people, with the only exception of them, have died. - A moving testimony of the war; it made me remember, that the majority of death in the Kosovo were not victims of a foreign army, but they were killed by people who have been their neighbours.
    For Catholics, the situation in the Kosovo, at this moment is not very complicated. The relationship between Catholics and Muslims seem to be good. Even though, one can feel sometimes a kind of mistrust. The Christians are a very small minority, and the relationship between Christians and Muslims has become tense at a world scale level since the president of the USA is leading a war against terror with arguments simulating a Christian attitude. The Kosovarian Muslims are open to the world and they are Europeans. The Muslim women usually don't wear a veil and they don't use clothes that differ seriously from western European standards. Sometimes you may see on the roads some men with long beards and women with veils. They told me they were Wahhabites – an Islamic group original and financed from Saudi-Arabia and that is known by their fundamentalist attitude.
    The relationship of the Catholic Church with the orthodox Serbs has become seriously worse through the war. On the entrance to the city of Peja, you find the orthodox monastery of Pec. It's a nuns' monastery and it is guarded by KFOR troupes. The catholic sisters, who received us in their house, told us that the catholic and orthodox religious women used to meet and communicate regularly before the war of 1999. Since the war, the Serbian nuns would not wish any more these meetings. Obviously they mistrust to the Kosovarian and catholic Albanians.
    The people of Peja have been very friendly to us. A lot of people were surprised that we went there as the peace seemed to be still fragThe animals in Kosovo mainly live on the streets (picture by Lasse Siefert)ile. The mistrust between the ethnic groups has profound roots. The Kosovo-Albanian majority wants the independence from Serbia. They can't imagine any more to be again an Autonomous Province of Serbia. They hope for independence and a way of development together with the European Community. The Serbians and the other minorities precisely fear this independence. They fear that the majority will oppress and expel them.

    Face to the oppression of the Kosovo-Albanian majority by Serbia and the still catastrophic economic situation – there is nearly no creation of richness, but most people live by money transfer, mainly from the European Community – this fear is not irrational. To find a just solution constructing future surely won't be easy.
    So, these meetings in the Kosovo helped me to rediscover the need to engage with peace. The log cabins in the Rugova Mountains will serve for children and young people of different ethnic and religious origin to meet each other. I hope that the catholic parish community of Peja will be able to sow an authentic peace. And I hope that we will be able, too, to engage with an authentic peace at home.
Fr. Ludger Widmaier ss.cc.
From the review  "Apostel", issue 3/2007