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Youth Art Groups Struggle To Build Cooperation Between Serbia, Kosovo

Will anyone turn up?
Will anyone turn up?
BELGRADE/PRAGUE -- No one ever said that building bridges is easy. Particularly when the chasm you are trying to span lies between Serbia and its former province, Kosovo.

The Serbian nationalist youth group Nashi has promised to demonstrate against the April 26 opening in Belgrade of a youth-art exhibition and conference because a Kosovar group called Kosovo 2.0 plans to participate.

The controversy comes on the heels of the April 22 opening of a ground-breaking joint exhibition of Kosovar and Serbian photographers partially sponsored by the European Union. Enthusiasm for that event was dampened because none of the Kosovar photographers attended, fearing that they would face harassment in Serbia.

"As a group of young people, we wanted to prove that the cooperation is possible," says Milana Sredojevic, president of the Belgrade-based Alpbach club and an organizer of the photography exhibition. "Unfortunately the group of photographers from Pristina is not with us today because they were afraid that they could be detained by police in Serbia, as some events of that type took place recently. It is proof how big the fear is."

She adds that "our desire is to change that."

"We want to build trust for all people in this area and that is how we will become part of Europe," Sredojevic says.

That harmonious vision, though, seems a long way in the future.

Jeton Neziraj, an ethnic-Albanian writer who lives in Pristina and writes a column called "Letters From a Traitor," explains that many see him as a traitor for cooperating with "the enemy." He says the old animosities that led to war and separation are still strongly felt.

"The postwar absurdities are still in place." Neziraj says. "As soon as you think that enough is enough and that we can cooperate as human beings, some group shows up, and it looks like they are stronger than us. But there are some signs that the climate is improving in Kosovo, and people are learning from the past. We know what the stereotypes of Serbia are in Kosovo or what they are of Kosovo in Serbia, and our task is to change that."

Written in Prague by Robert Coalson based on reporting by RFE/RL Balkan Service correspondent Iva Martinovic

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