Suggested by the OSCE’s Dialogue Academy as a way to inaugurate the establishment of a new digital platform fostering the exchange of different types of visual art and cooperation regarding women solidarity, solidarity in general and women empowerment with “togetherness” as a central topic, the last panel of discussions held on Monday under DokuTalks brought together Marija Jovanović, Lana Nikolić, Eroll Bilibani, Alba Jakupi, Anja Jokić, Gent Thaçi, Olivera Mitić, and Katarina Čežek to talk about what together really means.

Marija Jovanović, the moderator of the talk, opened the discussion with the well-known anecdote of a stick that is very easy to break alone, and as soon as he is put in a bundle together with other sticks, it is impossible to cause damage. However, togetherness being the keyword, there is a need to explore other undertones of the notion outside of the physical world.

While sharing thoughts on what togetherness means based on experiences, for Gent Thaçi, social activist and community organizer of Termokiss, being together was one of the main reasons that led to the creation of Prishtina’s most beloved civic and social center. Not wanting to expect change from political institutions, the community took the initiative to change one of the area’s abandoned buildings and make it functional. This inspiring project was brought to life four years ago when Toestand’s crew from
Belgium transformed Termokiss’s vacant urban space using recyclable materials. The team aims to give power to the people by allowing them to make a change in the community, whereas bringing different ideas into one place, means that different people can be part of the so-called community. Amongst other things, everyone’s wish is to build a local identity with the help of an interdisciplinary approach (meeting, action, creation), and eventually creating a revolutionary state in Prishtina that has as a starting point the needed space for everyone to meet and create new ideas.

Anja Jokić and Alba Jakupi’s experience in creating the Academy of Language and Culture has its origin on them meeting as part of the OSCE Dialogue Academy in Austria in 2018, where they had the chance to develop different projects. Inspired by personal motivations to make their friendship go forward by learning more about one another, their idea was to bring together Albanian and Serbian youngsters in one place to learn from each other, first how to speak each other’s language and share elements from their culture. While the skepticism of both parties regarding one another was omnipresent, it was the feeling of togetherness that glued us together during the process, Jokić says. The Academy of Language and Culture was held in Prizren and much to everyone’s surprise, what started as a 10-day project, turned out to give life to a new network of youngsters that are still connected despite the distance.

For Eroll Bilibani and DokuFest, all the collaboration works that have been carried out were meant to impact people with togetherness. To begin with, DokuFest in itself started as a nice act of togetherness, when a group of people with love for the city of Prizren and the cinema, felt the urge to change the surrounding hostile environment and pursued their vision. 19 years later, DokuFest is still operating on the values of togetherness, and on top of that has created additional values that have been gradually built
during the years through the work focused on young people, exchanging ideas, and bringing both ideas and people together. Another important act of togetherness, Bilibani says, was the 2014 initiative to join forces with all the CS organizations of Kosovo to protect Lumbardhi cinema from privatization. Now that the cinema is deemed a cultural heritage site, it is important to understand what joining forces and being together can mean. Following DokuFest’s agenda, in mid-September will kick off a joint-project with Belgrade’s Slobodna Zona, called “How Do I See You?” and aims to bring together young people from Kosovo and Serbia to find common elements rather than differences, break barriers and prejudices, and to express creatively through storytelling tools. Doing things together is one of the most powerful things, Bilibani says, and it should be encouraged to get out of one’s comfort zone, as opposed to media exaggerations. For example, the regional film school ACTive is a platform for young filmmakers to tell stories, but they have to find a way to do that in groups. Creating together also means to foster inspiration stories for the younger generations to come.

To the question of what were some difficulties that were encountered while organizing the events, Eroll highlights how overcoming the prejudices means that everything becomes easy. For the events concerning minor groups, one of the biggest problems is that parents have to decide for the children, which creates a situation that is impossible to manage. In some cases, he says, Kosovo has been portrayed by the media as an unsafe space to travel to, therefore media literacy is another important element that should be taken into consideration, altogether with the youngsters’ development through exchanging.

Asked on how do to engage with communities that do not want to listen (and also do not share the same common goals, as well as interests), Lana Nikolić values tolerance and open-mindedness that could lead to finding certain solidarity. Eroll accepts that it is difficult to reach all communities, and this is why DokuFest started working in schools while using documentary films and storytelling as literature and tool for critical thinking. The main focus, he says, is young people’s ability to absorb complex issues and their analytical thinking skills. Gent notes how Termokiss is based on listening and sharing, with their organizational structure even lacking hierarchy. As long as the space is open, Thaçi says, it is also open to discussion. We keep in mind to always come up with conclusions and community-based decisions and respect the rules to give everyone a safe space to talk and share.

During the discussion, OSCE Dialogue Academy announced the open call for creative submissions on the subject of Virtual Togertheness, which accepts every kind of visual art centered on how to bring to life the notion of togetherness.

By Enxhi Noni