Monday, March 21, 2011

Three Days in Kosovo

When you hear, "Kosovo," (which I'm sure has happened in the past few days considering the media makes constant references to what went on there in '99 to the current situation in Libya) what comes to mind? For me it was scenes I vaguely recall from the news back before I gave a hoot about, or even understood, what was happening in the world beyond school and soccer practice. Most vividly I remember seeing the scenes of our planes dropping bombs somewhere and someone getting excited when Clinton was speaking. As I learned more about Kosovo in 2004 when it once again made an appearance in the news, I simply thought of Kosovo as a dangerous, off-limits, crazy place that I would, in all likeliness, never see. Yet here I am, sitting in Kotor, Montenegro still trying to wrap my head around how I just spent 3 days traveling through this strange place.

To begin, we took a bus that... well, I'm just glad we made it all the way to Mitrovica.
When we did finally make it to Mitrovica (Meat-row-vee-za... or something like that. I'm really awful with Slavic languages) it was dark and the streets at night are no place for someone as clumsy as I am. We entered the city on the Serbian side and Matt knew of a hotel on the Albanian side. Thus we walked along the dark, deserted streets of Mitrovica. At night when few people are out walking about there is a heavy cloud of eerie silence. As we crossed the bridge that divides the city I felt like I was being watched. Sure I may be paranoid at times but this feeling was legitimate. As you cross the bridge the eyes of NATO/EU/UN/Police forces are all focused on you. The bridge itself is like Mitrovica's limbo. Time seems to stand still until you make it to the other side.

The rules for crossing the bridge

It divides these two completely different worlds. One side speaks Serbian the other Albanian and it's difficult to imagine this city as a united entity.

Other parts of Mitrovica:

Desecration of a Serbian graveyard on the Albanian side of Mitrovica. 

Roma children.
There are a few similarities that tie the cities (that I visited at least) of Kosovo together. Bill Clinton, American flags, and action-star statues.

They aren't actually action stars but please, look at these statues and tell me you can't see them in the Matrix or some other slow-mo, big explosion, Hollywood action flick. 

Although I don't have a picture of it (because it's such a common occurrence I didn't even think to take a picture) there are American flags EVERYWHERE. As Matt explained to me: Kosovo (the Albanian sections... so most of it) fly these three flags and in this order: the Kosovo flag, the Albanian flag and the American flag. (Sorry Matt, but I'm stealing/borrowing your picture because it's so great).
Kosovo loves America. They will tell you so, and buy you Peja.

Although they love America, there is one American they hold in higher regards than any other: Former President Bill Clinton. The main drag in Pristina, the capitol of Kosovo, is Bill Clinton Boulevard. And on Bill Clinton Blvd. is a Bill Clinton statue. And big ol' Bill Clinton banner. There is also a Bill Clinton Boulevard in Peja... and I'm sure in many other cities. 

Fun story of the trip: on the bus from Mitrovica to Pristina we were lucky enough to have on-board entertainment. Endless videos of Kosovo's sweet techno-music scene. In the midst of these young, hip, auto-tuned teenagers was what can only be described as the greatest video of all time. I wish I had been thinking clearly at the time because I'm sure it's somewhere floating around the inter-webs. Alas, you will have to use your imagination as I describe it:
I looked up from the scenic Kosovo countryside when I thought I heard someone singing in English. What is this? I thought to myself. After a stream of hip music videos came this seemingly random video with a group of people dressed in what appeared to be traditional Albanian attire singing a chorus in English that said something along the lines of "America and Kosovo super friends" and "thank you U.S.A." I chuckled to myself, glanced over at Matt to make sure he was aware of this and then went back to watching the video. About 5 minutes into this 7 minute long song/music video where I was expecting to see scenes glorifying President Clinton, came instead George W. Bush. Of course this happened right after I took a sip of water and I proceeded to choke and almost spit all over the bus as the video continued to play this scene of Bush talking intertwined with this group of Albanian folk dancers/singers saying thank you America. What just happened? I think, at this point in history, Kosovo is the only (almost) country that is singing the praises of President G.W. Bush. I truly wish I could find this video for you guys. It was just... epic. 

I'll leave you all with this thought: During our 3 day trip Matt kept asking me, "What do you think of Kosovo?" and "How would you describe Kosovo?" At the time I could really only reply, "confusing?" because I wasn't really sure how to feel. But confusing is not enough. I was confused by Kosovo only because I let my preconceived notions about it being dangerous and tense cloud my perception. Now that I'm able to process, I would describe it as: tense, developing, and hopeful. Tense because there is still this feeling, especially in Mitrovica, that something could happen at any moment. The presence of foreign enforcement (NATO, the UN, etc.) is particularly helpful in maintaining that quiet tension. Developing: below is a picture of a slogan, "Kosovo: the young Europeans." They are a new country (or to some not even an independent state yet). They celebrated independence on February 17, 2008 and it is clear from the random scattering of new, modern buildings, that it is putting a great amount of effort into development. Finally, I don't think hopeful needs a lot of explanation. With development comes the hope that someday they wont need an intervening foreign presence and that all nations will be able to recognize the country of Kosovo. 

And I am hopeful that their beer will make it back to Seattle by the time I make it home. 
Seriously though. 


  1. I like how you ended up describing Kosovo, Brittany.