A contribution to Kosovo's reconstruction

January 14, 2000

A return to Kosovo before Christmas for seminars on student union democratisation at the University of Pristina provided the opportunity to deliver a state-of-the-art computer, printer and ancillaries from The THES and the University of Leeds for the university's new student centre.

The journey to the seminars, sponsored by the Student Unions of Europe and the Council of Europe, began on December 15 when The THES foreign editor arrived in Leeds at 4am to drive me and four exceptionally large boxes to Gatwick Airport to catch a plane to Skopje in Macedonia.

On landing, I was confronted by what must be one of the most chaotic airports in the world, with no luggage trolleys in sight. I met my contact and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe vehicle for our predicted two-hour drive to Pristina.

Three hours later we were only halfway, held up by queues of hundreds of articulated lorries stretching miles back at the Macedonian border. They were packed with aid items, including construction materials for homes needed to shelter thousands from the snow.

Travelling in an OSCE vehicle saved us a lot of hassle, notably the border guards' infamous levy on any goods, including aid, that cross into Kosovo.

My home for the week was the students' dormitories near the city centre, with occasional cold running water and electricity. However, I and other European student representatives were made incredibly welcome. When the seminars began on December 16 we were overwhelmed by the attendance and endless enthusiasm.

The electricity was continually being cut off, but the students' resourcefulness and determination (and a small generator) kept us going. On previous visits some of us had made friends. It was great to see them back at university enjoying a relatively normal life. We discussed democratisation, participation, transparency, accountability and all the attributes that make Europe's student unions truly representative. We worked hard in the day and partied hard in the evenings.

The closing ceremony on December 19, at which I delivered the computer, was attended by about 200 students. The union's acting president thanked The THES and the University of Leeds for their support and invited students to use the new facilities at the centre and the new computer.

We suggested the students use the computer to access information and prepare some of the projects from the seminars.

The recently re-opened centre is a focal point for student activity (they are preparing for elections in the near future) and also home to the student union.

It is somewhere students can socialise, talk about their recent experiences or catch up with friends they have not seen since the bombing campaign began in March 1999. It is also a place where those who did not make it are remembered.

During the week I saw that the help from the Kosova Action Society, The THES and the University of Leeds, as well as many other donors, has paid off. There are now computers in every faculty and, although there is no evidence that the reconstruction budget has been released yet, lectures are regular and well attended.

The trip home was made even more eventful when weather conditions forced the closure of the Macedonian border and the main road to Skopje was littered with overturned vehicles.

I hitched a ride on a Council of Europe Land Rover with a brave Kosovar driver who took to mountain roads which, as we skidded along, offered beautiful views of snow-covered peaks along with a near-death experience.

I was delivered to Skopje airport two minutes before departure - only to be held for almost five hours because our luggage did not quite "add up".

Monica Llamazares is president of the Kosova Action Society at Leeds University.

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