Kosovo Youth Artivism: Building Trust Through Painting and Coexistence

photos by Artan Maksutaj

19 Jan 2024

Kosovo Youth Artivism: Building Trust Through Painting and Coexistence

In the quaint town of Peja/Peć, a unique initiative has recently begun to promote coexistence by organizing field visits to heritage sites in the region. Supported by UNMIK, a local non-governmental organization called Agimi Izniq, under the thoughtful curation of Artan Maskutaj, utilizes art and cultural exploration to bridge the gaps between local communities, challenge deep-seated prejudices, and foster unity among Kosovo's diverse youth population.

Artan orchestrates carefully curated visits to cultural and religious heritage sites. His mission? To empower young minds from towns, rural areas, and often-overlooked returnees' sites across the Pejë/Peć Region, offering them a glimpse into the rich tapestry of Kosovo's cultural heritage. Using art as a medium for societal transformation, Artan aims to remove the barriers that have long divided local communities in Kosovo. From the cobblestone streets of the Old Bazar to the hallowed halls of the Visoki Dečani Monastery, he guides a diverse group of young individuals on a journey of self-discovery and collective understanding.

This project is a part of UNMIK’s Confidence Building initiatives, involving young people from Kosovo Albanian, Serb, and Roma communities. The Ethnologic Museum, the Bajrakli-Qarshi Mosque, and the Serbian Orthodox Church's Visoki Dečani Monastery served as the backdrop for a two-day multiethnic art colony in the picturesque Rugova Valley.

A secondary school history teacher from Deçan/Dečane encapsulated the essence of this cultural journey: "We need to get together to know one another so that we can live together. Activities like this help young people fight stereotypical narratives they may have about other communities or groups. Once you get to know each other, you can see when your ideas about them were mistaken."

Young people embrace diversity, hope for a better future

Artan believes that projects of this nature will contribute to confidence building, fostering coexistence between Kosovo's majority and non-majority communities, and ultimately paving the way for reconciliation between young Albanians and Serbs. In his view, the key to a harmonious future lies in working with the youth—they are, after all, the architects and the engineers of tomorrow.

The initiative comprises a series of meticulously planned multiethnic activities, from visits to each other's cultural heritage sites to art colonies, cleaning campaigns, traditional games, and educational lectures on sensitive topics like domestic violence and gender bullying. Through five sets of activities, 195 participants have already experienced the transformative power of shared cultural exploration.

Miljana, an 18-year-old final year Gymnasium student from Goraždevac/Gorazhdec, said it was nice to visit cultural heritage from which they can learn so much and jointly take part in artistic activities. “We manage to convey with art on paper everything that we could say with words! and the feeling is nice!”  

Participants’ journey with a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Visoki Dečani Monastery, Father Petar, the custodian of this cultural gem, shared his insight: "These visits are very significant for us. Young people who had never visited us before. They live only a few kilometers away from the Monastery. The moment they come here, prejudices disappear."