Every summer since 2010, dozens of men and women from around the world have gathered in Pristina, Kosovo, to talk about peace. Bosniaks and Croats, Serbs and Albanians, Americans and Ukrainians: for six weeks, they put aside their differences and choose to live, travel, work, and study together, all with a common goal of learning from the past in order to help ensure that such atrocities as the Kosovo War never happening again.
These individuals aren’t ambassadors or government officials. They don’t run non-profit organizations or rank as high-profile decision makers. They are students, and they are participating in RIT Kosovo (A.U.K)’s Peace and Conflict Summer Program.
The Peace and Conflict Summer Program (PCSP) began in 2010 as the A.U.K. Summer Program, the brainchild of William Wechsler. At the time, Wechsler, a counterterrorism and U.S. national security policy expert whose work history includes serving as deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combating terrorism, was a lecturer at A.U.K., and he wanted to find a way to use the school as a peacebuilding institute.
To accomplish that goal, Wechsler and A.U.K. staff members designed PCSP to extend over five weeks and consist of two modules, each consisting of three courses.
Module 1 was designated as the peacebuilding and development segment, designed to “attract European and American students interested in international relations, peace-building, post-conflict transformation, and global development.” Module 2 focused on European integration, and was “targeted at civil servants and civil-society activists from Kosovo and neighboring states in the western Balkans that are aspirants to membership of the European Union.”
In designing the modules and corresponding courses, the A.U.K. team focused on the following goals for PCSP:
- To provide a forum in which students can learn from theoreticians and veteran practitioners about the challenges of conflict prevention and post-conflict political, economic, and social development;
- To develop among participants a keen understanding of the challenges facing the states of the Western Balkans as they aspire to full integration into the European Union;
- To underline the importance of stability, the rule of law, the promotion of democratic practices, and sustainable economic development for rebuilding or creating societies and states that have endured violent conflicts and strive to participate actively and productively in regional and international political and economic life;
- To highlight innovative and collaborative approaches and policies for conflict prevention, management, and transformation that have been tested in the cockpits of recent conflicts such as the one in Kosovo between 1997 and 1999;
- To promote among participants the critical importance of developing and sustaining the strong political will without which the prevention or resolution of conflict and the building of a durable peace in post-conflict societies and states are impossible;
- To explore the underlying drivers of conflict with the aim of providing potential future political and military leaders as well as diplomats and journalists a deeper understanding of the sources of conflict;
- To provide a venue in which participants from the region and around the globe can establish contacts that in the future may be helpful in preventing conflict and promoting domestic, regional, and world peace in this century.
At the time of the first session of PCSP, the university had been open for seven years, the Kosovo War had ended a little over a decade earlier, and Kosovo had claimed independence from Serbia just two years earlier, on February 17, 2008. Where some might view such a condensed timeline as problematic or even dangerous with regard to inviting students to come to Kosovo to live and study together — especially students from recently warring countries — Dr. Mark Baskin, Ph.D., current PCSP director and professor of public policy and international relations at RIT Kosovo, says he considers the circumstances to be just right.
“Doing it in Kosovo makes a lot of sense,” Baskin explains. “It’s peaceful here — the students aren’t in any danger as they would be in, say, Syria or Afghanistan — but there are still unresolved issues to look at. Plus, Pristina in summer is a very pleasant place, and Kosovars are extremely friendly people.”
The PCSP proved to be a hit with students from around the world from the start, and has continued to be a success ever since. Over its run, 324 students have completed the program. Of these, 93 have been Kosovar Albanians, 20 have been Kosovar minorities, 24 have been from another Balkan country, and 129 have been from the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. The program has grown from spanning five weeks to six, and now includes a week-long regional study tour — either to Albania, Greece, and Macedonia; or to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia — academic courses taught by a host of distinguished, experienced practitioners and theorists; seminars; internships; meetings with officials; workshops; cultural events; and travel throughout Kosovo.
Participants of PCSP benefit far beyond just earning three credits per course from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. Friendships have formed between students of countries that were recently at war. Young adults who have never experienced the horrors of war have spoken with people their age who have endured bombing, starvation, and expulsion from their homes. Serbs and Albanians have joined in a common goal of further researching inter-ethnic relations and establishing NGOs in order to start small businesses together. It’s peacebuilding in action, and, as PCSP enters its eighth year, there’s no telling how far its impact will reach.