A little brief history lesson before we get started. I've never been much for the details of history, so to keep things simple, here are the basics: In the early 1990's, the Balkans, previously known as the Yugoslavia area, started to get broken into different countries because of different political conflict. Basically, different languages and sub-cultures were wanting their own space.
At the time, almost all of the Kosovo area was inhabited by people from Albania. But, Kosovo was within the Serbian borders, and the people wanted their independence. After much of the war had already happened, Bill Clinton declared State of Emergency on the Kosovo war in 1998. Joining forces with the UN and Nato, Kosovo was later removed from Serbian control, and given a new name and territory.
This involvement created a love for America. Bill Clinton has become a loved figure for all Albanian and Kosovo people. It's been said that there are framed images of him in their homes. I haven't seen this to confirm. But, in Kosovo, there is a statue of Bill Clinton. I didn't actually know about this until I left, so no photo :) Also, their main road is Boulevard Bill Klinton. I stayed right off Robert Doll (Bob Dole).
In Tirana, Albania, there was a street for NATO, Bill Clinton, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. I'm sure there were more, but they were spelled according to how the Albanian language pronounces the words.
From what I've learned, Albania is the only country in the Balkans that have the ability to get visas easily in America. This is something we take for granted. (Side Note: Americans can live in Albania for an entire year without a visa. We get 6 months in the UK. Albania gives us twice that!) Not only do most people in the balkans make 500 euro or less, 300 average in Montenegro, 200 average in Macedonia, etc, but also, places like Kosovo requires their citizens to purchase their transportation and accommodation before applying to get a travel visa. They already barely make money each month, but to buy everything before even knowing if you will be allowed to go. . . that's steep. American's have such a luxury to pick up and leave whenever we want with larger earning potential and have nobody ask questions at the border. On my way from Macedonia to Bulgaria, there was an Albanian guy who was getting a lot of problems from the custom officials at both borders. He was being asked multiple questions, and under an uncomfortable persona from the official. I was worried for him. There is still a lot of tension between the Serbian and Albanian people. When the same official reached me in the back of the bus, he simply saw the USA insignia on my passport, barely glanced at my photo, smiled, and turned around - moments after grilling the Albanian. It made me sick.
While I'm on the subject. You can't enter Serbia from Kosovo. Not that there is any public transportation, but if you try arriving by car, the Serbians won't recognize the Kosovo area, and will consider that you illegally entered the country without a stamp. They will require you to turn around, leave Kosovo, and enter Serbia using the border in either Montenegro, Macedonia, or Bulgaria. I've been told that if you have a Kosovo stamp on your passport when entering Serbia, chances are they will cross it out with a pen. I will be curious to see what happens when I go there in a few days.
Streets and buildings all around Pristina had remnants of the war. Little reminders of the hostility and tension of the Serbian & Kosovo war was all over. Pristina wasn't a pretty place to visit. Visually, it wasn't inspiring at all.
But, there were a few interesting points of interest..
First; The National Library of Kosovo on the University campus. It's one of the ugliest buildings on the planet. (Literally, look it up). I was told by someone that the metal fishing net was applied during the war, but I'm not sure if that's accurate. At the time, Serbian authorities fired the Albanian teachers, and expelled the Albanian students. They used it for their command center, and removed tons of Albanian books. It was used to house Bosnian and Croatian refugees as well. These walls have seen a lot.
Next, the Church of Christ the Saviour, Serbian Orthodox Church. The construction started in 1995 to spite the predominate Muslim community. It was built on the University of Pristina campus to make a statement about the Church and State. The church was never finished.
Next up, the LEGO. It's placed in the center of Pristina to symbolize how the EU can't be complete without the piece of Kosovo.
Lastly, NEWBORN is a monument that was installed in 2008 to celebrate Kosovo's independence
There was a 10 day exhibit in Pristina during my visit. It was a bone chilling exhibition on the Kosovo & Serbian war. I had the pleasure of meeting the photographer who spent several years building it. The project was inspired by his mother, a Jew that escaped the holocaust and was able to forgive and overcome the hatred of discrimination.
for Hanna, Future Stories from the Past
by: Willem Poelstra