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In close cooperation with municipal officials, citizens, civil society organisations, and religious communities, the European Union has been investing in renovation, beautification and rehabilitation of selected sites across Kosovo. The aim of this initiative led by the EU and UNDP is to raise awareness about cultural diversity, and encourage citizens to protect and preserve their cultural heritage. There is as well a strong youth and women’s engagement component which supports economic development through re-imagining of cultural heritage as means of economic empowerment.
During the first phase of the project – from February 2016 to April 2017 - more than 150 young people from different ethnical background designed their own solutions for the protection and promotion of cultural heritage. Through six innovation workshops called “Re-imagining Cultural Heritage”, using design thinking technique, they developed ideas for activities promoting cultural heritage.
Through participatory planning, municipal officials, religious communities and the police participated in a dialogue which resulted in the rehabilitation, reconstruction and protection of 18 cultural and religious sites, in five multi-ethnic municipalities (Rahovec/Orahovac, Gjilan/Gnjilane, Ferizaj/Uroševac, Kamenica and Lipjan/Lipljan). These include mosques, churches, cemeteries, museums, a bell tower and a chapel – seven of which are listed cultural heritage sites. This contributed to an improved interaction among almost 20,000 local citizens.
In Kamenica, the priest of Serbian Orthodox Church St. Nicholas, Dragiša Jerenić, says that this is one of the rare municipalities in Kosovo where Albanian, Serbian and Roma population live together, instead of living next to each other. The EU assistance contributed to the renovation of three sites in this town – the Town park reconstruction, Haxhi Gani Sermaxhaj Mosque renovation and the upgrade of St. Nicholas Church’s entire yard. “One should see the renovated Town Park where kids from all different communities play together, [or] visit the Friday’s market and see how people work and live together here,” Jerenić says. Bejtullah Hashani, the imam of Islamic community of Kosovo, appreciates the help of EU in renovating the local mosque and agrees that such projects help inter-ethnic relations.
About 60 km west of Kamenica, in Lipjan/Lipljan, through the same project, a yard of the town Mulla Sherif Ahmeti Mosque has been upgraded as well as a Muslim cemetery. The project also included the renovation of the Serbian Orthodox Church St. Flora and Laura. Head of the Islamic community in Lipjan/Lipljan, Xhevdet Bytyqi, and mosque’s imam, Skender Mehmeti, agree that such projects contribute to good neighbourly relations. “This was a really good investment and very welcomed by the community,” Bytyqi said. "This project made tolerance very visible, which also existed from times before. It proved that we are dedicated to tolerance and cooperation”.
Building on these positive experiences, the EU has now recommitted its support to helping reconciliation in Kosovo. Over the next eighteen months, the project will expand the activities to include a wider geographical scope and an increased engagement of the local civil society. Mytaher Haskuka, the Mayor of Prizren, committed his municipality’s full support: “Prizren is like a fresh breeze in today’s world of copy-paste cities and the preservation and restoration of cultural heritage is an investment in preserving coexistence.”
The project is taking place in the course of the European Year for Cultural Heritage through which the European Union celebrates the diverse cultural heritage at European, national, regional and local levels throughout 2018. “Cultural diversity is an integral part of the values of the EU”, Natalyia Apostolova, Head of EU Office in Kosovo / EU Special Representative said while presenting the project in Lumbardhi Cinema in Prizren. “Many activities foreseen here aim to draw communities closer together on the basis of the common heritage they share and to develop local capacities for protecting and preserving cultural heritage, particularly through engaging women and young people". Financed by the EU’s Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP), the 2 million Euro project will focus on renovation, beautification and rehabilitation of selected sites and will raise awareness about cultural diversity while encouraging citizens to protect and preserve cultural heritage.