Saturday, September 10, 2011

Kosovo, Europe's youngest country

Cruising past a set of enormous and empty factories marked yet another relatively uneventful border crossing, this time into Kosovo. Kosovo is Europe's youngest country; internationally recognized in 2008.

Exceptionally regular readers will recall that I was, in fact, in Belgrade for most of Tuesday January 7th 2008, which is, coincidentally, Serbian Orthodox Christmas. On that day I noticed a lot of graffiti which said variations of 'Kosovo is Serbian forever'. I also ate lunch at a McDonalds restaurant in the center of town.

Kosovo is a region which is seen by Serbs as the cradle of Serbian culture, and is the site of monasteries, monuments, and graves. About a hundred years ago, Albanian migration rendered Serbs a minority in the region. During wars in the 1990s (featured in the movie "Behind Enemy Lines") Serbia attacked Albanians in the region (and vice versa), until Clinton authorized a NATO strike on Belgrade, forestalling an attempted genocide.

About four weeks after my visit to Belgrade, Kosovo seceded from Serbia, and the McDonalds was torched by an angry crowd.

Today, the political situation has stabilized to the point that travelers might only encounter entrance stamp shenanigans with certain border crossings.

Against this backdrop we drove on a reasonably smooth road to the capital, Prishtina. Upon arrival, bus schedules out forced us to choose; half an hour or 24 hours in the city?

We set off up Bill Clinton boulevard towards the city center. About half way there we saw his statue as well as a three story high picture of him. We walked up the rather nice center plaza and found a guesthouse in which to stay. That evening we availed ourselves of superior purchasing power through fine dining, and J continued his sojourn through the world of Balkans beer.

Next morning we ventured to the Route 66 Diner opposite the UNMIK headquarters in the New Born part of town. I ate a half-pound 'fatburger' in another (unsuccessful) attempt to stop getting skinnier as we watched an endless procession of UN 4WDs cruising past.

We spent the rest of the day wandering through various neighborhoods. Highlights include the university campus with an architecturally interesting library and a barbwired shell of a church, and a series of nice mosques and monuments in the northern end of town, between which hung photos of the more than 3000 people still missing since the war in 1999.

On our way out of town we saw a big concrete church adorned with banners of Agnes Bojaxhiu, also known as Mother Theresa. She was a Christian Albanian born in what is now Macedonia, but that didn't stop the international airport in (mostly Muslim) Tirana being named after her!

We made it to the bus station with minutes to spare, availed ourselves of a strong contender for 'world's worst bathroom', and took our seats.

We managed to find the bus equivalent of an 'exit row' with stupendous amounts of legroom. This extra space allowed room for swarms of mosquitos to descend in perfect formation through the stagnant, stifling atmosphere, while our remaining senses were assaulted by a loop tape of terrible, terrible local music videos.

As the bus ground up a picturesque mountain range towards the Montenegrin border, we were rewarded with a spectacular sunset. An interesting day.

UDPATE: Photos.

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