Czech Archbishop opens Kosovo centre for disabled - Albanian and Serb

The Czech Republic has distinguished itself abroad for its military contribution to international peacekeeping operations in the Balkans. But less well known are the country's many humanitarian missions in the region. On Tuesday the Archbishop of Olomouc, Jan Graubner, opened a new humanitarian centre in the town of Gnjilane in Kosovo, which rose from the ashes of a local school. The centre was built and financed by the Czech Catholic Charity and the Czech government, and as the Charity's Jan Oulik explained to Radio Prague's Rob Cameron, it will serve a number of purposes:

"The building will be home to three organisations - an association for people with hearing difficulties, an association for the blind, and a local charity called Gnjilane. But as well as serving as the headquarters of these three organisations, the building will also be a centre distributing humanitarian equipment to the disabled, run by the Gnjilane charity. And on top of that the building will also be there to help refugees from Macedonia, of whom there are some 10,000 living in Gnjilane."

Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanian population is predominantly Muslim - its dwindling Orthodox Serb community lives in segregated areas, protected by NATO troops. We asked Mr Oulik whether the Christian-run centre would be open to all faiths:

"My feeling is that this project, which as you say is run by a Christian, Catholic organisation, will be there to help anyone, regardless of their faith. At least that's what we've been trying to do since the beginning of the whole Balkan conflict - help disabled people on both sides of the conflict, from all ethnic and religious groups. We don't differentiate between Catholics, Muslims or members of the Orthodox Church - what we care about is whether or not they need our help."

Mr Oulik told us that in his opinion there were no major obstacles for a Christian organisation operating in a predominantly Muslim environment. More important than religious differences, he said, was how the work of organisations such as his were perceived by the local community.

"I don't know that the difference in faith is in fact an obstacle. I think that faith isn't the most important thing. What's important is how the local people view the humanitarian organisations and charities, whether they're accommodating towards them or not. And I think that in Kosovo they are. Perhaps I can quote Archbishop Graubner, who opened the centre on Tuesday: 'This is the first time I've visited a predominantly Muslim part of the world. I have the impression that Kosovo is different from the Arab world, in that people here are open to Christianity in its Catholic form.' That's what Archbishop Graubner said, and I think in general what's important is how the people accept organisations such as ours, rather than the religious differences that divide us."