'The Albanians craved recognition of their identity and their culture'

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'The Albanians craved recognition of their identity and their culture'


Frank remembers the Albanian need to establish cultural recognition and identity.


Frank Gaynor


Trinity College Dublin




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Frank Gaynor

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Work and Employment


Life Story

Spatial Coverage

Kosovo, Europe

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In both Pristina and Prizren I worked with Albanians and US staff. We had no contact with Serbs; they lived in small enclaves protected by KFOR. When a man walking down the main street of Pristina was suspected of being a Serb he was pounced on by a mob and killed. When I asked one of my Albanian colleagues about this hatred of Serbs he said: 'Frank, if you saw a couple of Serbs cutting your friend to pieces with a chainsaw I think you would also hate them'. The Albanians craved recognition of their identity and their culture. They are proud of their language and literature, their music and folklore. For 500 years they were ruled by the Ottoman Empire, and more recently by the Serbs. Under Serb rule Albanians were allowed to walk on only one side of the main street in Pristina. In many cases Serb and Albanian children used to enter primary school through the same main gate. Once inside the gate the Serb children turned right into classrooms where they were taught a Serb curriculum by Serb teachers speaking the Serb language. The Albanian children turned left into other classrooms where they received an Albanian education. This was called integrated education. I was reminded a couple of times that this was not too different from the Catholic - Protestant divide in education in Northern Ireland. With the departure of the Serb forces in June 1999 the Albanians celebrated international recognition of their identity. This soon turned sour when some NGO and UNMIK staff seemed to see the Albanians as some kind of second class citizens. Many NGO staff members had rushed from different parts of Africa to help the Kosovo refugees. Nothing annoyed the Albanians more than to think that they were being treated like Africans. The message they wanted to get across was what we referred to as TINA TINA TIE - This Is Not Africa, This Is Not America, This Is Europe. During the first couple of months I enjoyed listening to my Albanian colleagues as they recalled being forced out of Kosovo, and their time in refugee camps. Traditionally in refugee crises situations UNICEF has played an important role in trying to re - unite family members. In the case of the Kosovo refugees, for the first time mobile phones kept family members in contact. It was estimated that the Kosovo refugees had access to 10,000 mobile phones. I had never used a mobile phone before going to Kosovo. My Albanian colleagues smiled politely as they watched me talking into a mobile as though it were a landline. Many Albanians looked back with nostalgia at the way of life they enjoyed in the former Yugoslavia, when they had easy access to employment, housing, health and education, and freedom to travel outside Kosovo. They resented the changes that UNMIK saw as necessary to enable Kosovo catch up with the rest of Europe. The men wished to hold on to their male dominated society. University staff members were keener to recreate the past than to adapt to the realities of a changing society. There was tension between the urban dwellers and the villagers. During the war many villagers fled from the violence in rural areas into the cities where they continued with some of their village ways. They threw waste out the windows of their apartments. The village men forced girls to have sex and were surprised when they were accused of rape. My Albanian colleagues put their own spin on everything: all acts of violence were carried out by Serb agents; Albanians did no wrong. Telling the truth was never a priority. Returning favours was a way of life. One colleague who had included me in social outings with his friends became angry when I refused to get financially involved in a joint venture with him. From day one I seemed to have difficulty working with the US staff members. They came across as arrogant and naミマve. They had their own preconceived notions, and made little attempt to empathise with the Albanians. Their use and abuse of the English language, which at first I took to be an on - going joke, left me fully prepared for the verbal gymnastics of George W Bush. When a few of us got together to talk about our work it was called a 'summit'. When the more senior staff from Pristina and Prizren offices got together it was called a 'Mega Management Meeting'. Forward planning always took place in 'The War Room'. I did not seem to fit into any line of management and was frequently out of the loop when decisions, that I would be responsible for implementing, were made. I met with Kate and told her that I was about to resign from my role as director of education, but that I was prepared to stay on as advisor to the programme. Kate was keen for me to stay, and Trocaire approved the change. From then on I began to feel that I was actually making some contribution. In response to a complaint from a head teacher I made the one hour journey from Prizren to his school, which was in a remote rural area. As we talked he pointed towards a small forest area in the distance where he, along with the rest of the villagers, had spent six months hiding from the Serb forces. Only two buildings in the village had survived the looting and burning. The roof of his school had been damaged and CRS had agreed to assist in repairing the damage. He said that CRS staff, who had come to deliver roofing materials, had reprimanded him for the slow progress in repairing the roof. He said they shouted at him, threw the materials on the ground and drove off. He found the whole incident very offensive. I went to his house and listened to him talk about the war while we both drank some raki. He thanked me for spending time with him. On subsequent visits he welcomed me as a friend he could trust. During my second year in Kosovo I worked on moving the focus of the CRS education programme from repairing schools towards what was happening within the classrooms, aiming at quality teaching and learning. I also made some good contacts for the programme in Ireland. Despite the early mention of millions of dollars being available for CRS Kosovo very little money came the way of the education programme. The Pristina office continued to work with roughly the same school committees that it had been working with before the NATO bombing. Surprisingly, in 2000 money was made available for a delegation of 15 from CRS Kosovo to attend the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) annual convention in Baltimore Convention Centre. I travelled with this delegation. 12,000 delegates attended the convention. We were there to update likely CRS supporters on the work of CRS Kosovo. Our impact inside the Convention Centre was slight. Away from the convention we had an enjoyable few days. We had a very interesting look around Baltimore Inner Harbour. We attended a baseball match where the near capacity crowd was in constant motion carrying burgers, cans of coke and buckets of popcorn. There was constant loud booming music. Large screens told us when to stand up and stretch, when to cheer, and when to sit down. The sporting thrills bypassed me, and the whole show came to a sudden end when a player bowled incorrectly. That will probably remain my only baseball experience. When we met with school parents' representatives we sat in front of two overweight black ladies who were unintentionally very entertaining. Their deep - south accents and expressions had me convinced that I was looking at some small town stage production. We visited a youth centre and a high school on the outskirts of Washington DC. In this locality we found a high percentage of fairly recent arrivals from Central America. The youths were all from difficult home backgrounds. In the school there were armed guards patrolling the corridors and checking everyone entering and leaving the school grounds. On the morning of our departure, while others went shopping, I travelled by train to Washington DC and did a very interesting tour of Capitol Hill. My outstanding memory from that morning is of walking through Arlington cemetery and standing by the graves of President Kennedy and his brother Bobby. In August of that year CRS held its regional annual meeting in Split, which is the second largest city in Croatia - obesity is not a problem in this city of beautiful people. The weather was perfect and I took the opportunity to explore parts of this popular holiday destination on the eastern shore of the Adriatic. The seafront is a very pleasant place to wander around, but the most interesting attraction is Diocletian's Palace in the centre of the city. It was built by the Roman emperor Diocletian in 305 AD, and is the most complete remains of a Roman palace in the world. It is fascinating to walk through the narrow passage ways, up and down stone stairs, past homes, pubs, restaurants, shops and open entertainment areas - all within the palace walls.


Irish Research Council for Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (IRCHSS)

Research Coordinator/P.I.

Dr Kathleen McTiernan (Trinity College Dublin)

Senior Research Associate

Dr Deirdre O'Donnell (Trinity College Dublin)


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