The beauty of people and communities connecting through language reverberated inside the walls of one of the oldest buildings in Kosovo's multilingual capital Prizren, during the city's 18th annual documentary film festival.
A high-profile panel on The True Importance of Multilingualism and Language Learning at Prizren's hamam followed the screening of an UNMIK-produced documentary short film that highlights stories of communities and individuals living the values of multilingualism on August 5.
The Minister of Local Government Administration Adrijana Hodžić told the audience of more than 100 that multilingualism was a value to be nurtured and should be used to overcome challenges that have arisen since the Kosovo conflict.
"To replace distrust with trust, to replace intolerance with coexistence, misunderstanding with understanding, to make diversity in traditions as our strength, not our weakness. All of this that I am talking about is one human, moral mission, but also a struggle for all of us to create the basic conditions for building a coexistence-oriented future."
Minister Hodžić's sentiments were echoed by the British Ambassador Ruairí O'Connell, who plainly told the audience "language is human connection".
Ambasaddor O'Connell reflected on the 20,000 people inside Kosovo who have downloaded the Albanian-Serbian language application VocUp, featured in the documentary and funded by IOM and the British Embassy.
"It is a simple fact: wanting to learn a language, what people are actually saying is that they want to be part of this society.”
Kosovo Language Commssioner Slaviša Mladenović said the documentary film illustrated the value of multilingualism and the opportunity it could provide in personal and business lives. However, he also reminded the audience how times had changed since Kosovo's more multilingual days.
"All of us who speak two or more local languages are slowly becoming a minority. The statistics are overwhelming, unfortunately. Only 27.3 percent of young Serbs and Albanians are ready to start learning the language of the environment at any time."
Prizren Mayor Mytaher Haskuka talked about the multilinguistic and multicultural identity of his city, which has four official languages - Albanian, Serbian, Bosniak and Turkish - and is considering adding Roma to the list after a recent request.
"I strongly believe that a person that speaks more languages, reads even the news with a more critical thinking, treats even problems with a different approach,” he said.
The need for language learning to be more freely available and part of formal educational channels was a point made by almost all panelists, while the Dean of the Faculty of Philology at University of Pristina Lindita Rugova shared with the audience details about the University’s continuous efforts to establish a Balkan Studies programme that would offer Balkan language courses at the Bachelor level.
The panel concluded with audience questions, including on the nature of multilingualism in a modern context and whether racism existed in relation to language in Kosovo. In response, Minister Hodžić said incidents existed in all communities but said identity is fluid and not singular: "I am Bosniak, I am Serbian, I am Albanian, Roma, Turkish and Egyptian - and I am proud of it."
The Prizren screening will be followed up by other screenings in municipalities throughout Kosovo in the coming months.