After the war in Kosovo, Children on the Edge -- a non-profit I founded to aid children living in war-torn countries -- rebuilt a school in Cabra, Kosovo. Cabra, an ethnic Albanian village surrounded on all sides by ethnic Serb towns -- had been razed to the ground by Serbs during the war. Since the war, the Serbs and Albanians had been living in relative peace, until last week when Serb youths chased four ethnic Albanian boys from Cabra (who went to our school) into a river, where three drowned.
For the past few years, Cabra and the nearby Serb village of Zupce had been residing alongside each other peacefully. Zupce is also known well to Children on the Edge, as we helped refurbish their school.
Last Tuesday afternoon, four boys from Cabra who attended the school that that we built there,went out to play in the fields between Cabra and Zupce. Whilst playing the boys wandered into Serb territory near the Ibar river.
According to the story of the one surviving boy, Fitim, Serb villagers started shouting insults at them. The boys started to run and Serb youths started to chase them. Apparently the Serb boys also set dogs upon them. Fitim and his friends could not get to the bridge to cross back over onto the land belonging to their Albanian village, so they jumped
into the river.
Two boys -- Egzon and Avni were quickly swept away by the current. Fitim tried to save his younger brother, Florent, by carrying him on his back, but Florent eventually lost his grip and too was swept off by the current. Fitim is the only survivor.
The bodies of Egzon and Avni have been recovered and were buried Sunday. The body of Florent has still not been found. The funeral for the two boys was held yesterday in Cabra and thousands of people attended including the Prime Minister of Kosovo. The bodies were laid out in the school?s gym. Representatives from Children on the Edge attended the funeral and paid our condolences to the families. We knew the boys and their families well.
Kosovo is like a tinderbox and hatreds run deep. It is only a few years since Kosovar Albanians were ethnically cleansed by the Serbs and the wounds are still raw.
Unfortunately, this incident has fueled more violence and retribution on the streets of Kosovo. This time it is the other way round: Nationalist Albanians are using this incident as justification for their own campaigns to ethnically cleanse the area of Serbs.
As in Israel and elsewhere, the Balkans are home to ancient resentments and rivalries. Part of the inspiration for Children on the Edge and other efforts is to sow seeds of understanding among and between children. If we stop teaching our children to hold the same grudges we hold, if we refuse to teach them how to hate, if we encourage curiosity and compassion, future generations might have hope of finding a way out of the pointless, tragic cycle of violence and retribution. I encourage the people of Cabra to look on the deaths of these boys as an inspiration and opportunity to change the eye-for-an-eye traditions that took them.