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Kosovo: KFOR Turns to Rebuilding Culture

  • Jolyon Naegele

In a third installment on life in Kosovo a year after the war, RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele focuses on efforts to rebuild schools and houses. He surveyed the damage in the countryside from a military helicopter and spoke with NATO officials in the western city of Pec, where a multinational brigade of peacekeepers has rebuilt a music school among other projects.

Pec, Kosovo; 10 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Skimming the treetops of the most heavily war-damaged parts of Kosovo -- Drenica and Dukagjin -- aboard a KFOR helicopter, the extent of the Serb-wrought destruction in the countryside is all too apparent.

The devastation is greater than it appears from ground level. The progress of reconstruction in isolated hill communities lags considerably behind that in more accessible communities. Isolated areas tend to have older, traditional cottages, many of which are totally gutted by fire and irreparable.

In the cities, destruction was largely limited to NATO's aerial bombardment of military targets -- army bases and communications centers -- and Serbian torching of Albanian businesses and places of worship.

In the western city of Pec (eds: Peje in Albanian), the Serbs destroyed the main mosque, the adjacent bazaar, and several stone kula residences of the town's wealthiest families, while NATO destroyed army barracks and an army-occupied factory on the city's outskirts.

Pec is headquarters for KFOR's Italian-led Multinational Brigade West, which includes units from Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Argentina. The brigade has its own four-man humanitarian projects team and -- together with the Italian government and Italian non-governmental organizations -- is heavily involved in the rebuilding effort there.

Portuguese brigade member Major Albano Figueiredo says his group has made some progress in restoring the city's cultural and educational facilities. He is especially proud of efforts to rebuild the music school, which was gutted during the war: "The building was in a very damaged condition and now, as you can see, the kids could have a place for lessons about music and also the city has a place to develop cultural events. Please come in and see the new conditions of the building.

Thirteen-year-old Vjosa Nimani plays an exercise by Johann Sebastian Bach on an old Czech piano in the freshly repaired and painted main hall of the music school. She starting studying piano four years ago. The fighting and Albanian exodus from Kosovo prevented Vjosa from being able to play the piano for a year, but for the past six months, she has been playing again.

Figueiredo says KFOR and the United Nations administration in the province, UNMIK, are now putting together funds to purchase musical instruments for the pupils.

He says the school is important for the children of Pec, because in his words, "they need to maintain their culture, to have some extra activity to give them the opportunity to express their feelings and to forget the hard times they had in the past."

The KFOR team has also completed rebuilding the facade of a kindergarten that was damaged by fire. An Italian NGO renovated the interior and donated rugs and furniture. The NGO also installed parquet floors and replaced windows and doors.

The kindergarten looks much like any kindergarten in the Western world -- except for the presence of a wood-burning stove, a symbol of Kosovo's enduring energy crisis.

A third project is building an extension to an old folks' home to enable nuns, followers of Mother Teresa, to serve hot lunches to homeless people. The extension also functions as an after-school-gathering place for Albanian and Romany teenagers to meet and sing.

Since Pec is headquarters to thousands of Italian soldiers, it is perhaps understandable that Italian pop songs are making inroads in a society more traditionally attuned to eastern music. Our correspondent reports the younger residents of Pec don't seem to mind this infusion of culture at all.