Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Prishtina, Kosovo


"Kosovo and Albania are brother countries," a muscled Kosovian with the black falcon of Albania tattooed on his bicep explained to us, "Kosovo is 90% Albanian, and 10% percent other [Serbs] but they don't matter so it is 100% Albanian." In reality, the mix is more like 1:3 Serbs:Albanians.

The capital city Prishtina is surprisingly attractive. Young and healthy citizens stride through the walkable downtown with fashion sense otherwise laking in south-east Europe. In front of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, huge yellow metal block letters spell "NEWBORN"; the enthusiasm in the six-month-old capital is palatable. UN buildings occupy two blocks downtown and their white SUVs can be seen driving all over the city. In the surrounding rolling hills, where we are staying, NGO have taken over several townhouses. Multitudes of mosques add their 'missile silos' (prayer towers often looking like ICBM rockets) to the skyline for the ninety percent of Kosovo that is muslim.

From the balcony of the Velania Guesthouse the setting sun plays dramatically on hills covered with three and four story white buildings capped with the ubiquitous red tiles of the region. In essence, each Balkan nation state has been so similar that it is a wonder they can find so many things to argue over. In our discussions with Kosovo's outgoing men, they all underline their nation's tolerance for people of all nationalities and religions, "We hate no one."

There is no 'heart' to Prishtina, downtown sprawls over a few different locations; nevertheless the city is very walkable. Take a stroll down Bill Clinton Boulevard and admire Association Friends of USA's posters with a large picture of George W. Bush, "Thank you from the people of Kosovo". In some neighborhoods the posters remain but Bush has been defaced.

The architectural highlight is the National and University Library which looks like it landed from the distant future in 1971 and was then promptly neglected. Concrete cubes erratically intersect and stack together, each capped with a bulbous Bucky dome and then wrapped in jagged steel hexagons protruding a meter. The effect is stunning but elicits the response, "Why?"


The National Ethnographic Museum houses Illyrian artifacts dating back to 2000 b.c. Sadly, many of the display boxes are empty, raided by retreating Serbian military before Kosovo's independence. "Enough is enough" is the campaign slogan for retrieving the country's heritage. Only later did we learn that Orthodox monasteries were razed by the Muslim Albanians. In the Balkans, there are always two sides to the story and memories are long.

New Kosova Report for more information on the baby nation.