This was Kosovo less than two years ago:
Naturally, it would appeal to me to check a place like this out.
Now, I recognize that Kosovo is an obscure conflict to most Americans, even during the 78 days in 1999 when the United States was pummeling the place with bombs and cruise missiles.
So, I will recommend the following as the best book I have seen so far that will leave you with an understanding of the Kosovo War and Kosovo in general: Be Not Afraid, for You Have Sons in America: How a Brooklyn Roofer Helped Lure the U.S. into the Kosovo War by Stacy Sullivan, who covered the Balkans for Newsweek.
However, to provide the quick and dirty background for those of you that somehow do not have the book in front of you at this exact moment…
In Serbia, Milosevic had risen to power — and escaped the fate of other communist leaders in Eastern Europe — by fanning ethnic hatred. There was no greater such hatred than that between Serbs and Albanians. History had forced them together in the Yugoslav federation, with Kosovo a province inside the republic of Serbia. Serbs regarded Kosovo as their historical homeland, but on the ground in the province, Albanians outnumbered them nine to one. Albanians had long taken pride in harassing Serbs, forcing them to sell out and flee next door to Serbia.
Milosevic figured out that avenging Serb resentment over this harassment would cement his power. So he assured Serbs that Albanians would never beat them again. To that end, he created a brutal police state inside Kosovo that bullied and murdered Albanians. That, in turn, set off bullying and murderous retaliation by Albanians who slowly coalesced into the KLA.
The KLA then successfully sucked the United States and NATO into their nasty war. It was the most cynical and savage of public relations tricks. The KLA attacked and killed Serbian military and police, knowing full well that Milosevic would retaliate in a way that would nauseate the West.
And sure enough, it worked. Serb forces cut throats, gutted pregnant women, smashed the skulls of old men. The United States and Europe, guilty about their limpdick response to Milosevic’s war crimes in Bosnia, could not stomach it and quickly threatened to bomb, just as the KLA had hoped. Milosevic refused to back down, bombs fell, and Serbia lost the war. Before being forced out, Serb forces managed to destroy much of Kosovo and kill an estimated 10,000 people. Albanians then turned around and committed numerous revenge killings.
Milosevic is gone, but today’s Kosovo is far from being the best place to live. Impoverished, ill-governed and restive it has been all but forgotten by a world obsessed with terrorism and Afghanistan. The Balkans, though, have an enduringly toxic way of causing trouble that cannot be ignored.
Over the last decade Kosovo’s economy has suffered from political uncertainty and continuing ethnic hostility between Serbs and Albanians. Official figures say that 40% to 50% of the population is jobless, but the real situation could be even worse.
In many villages in Kosovo there are problems with electricity, running water and sewage. There are no regular buses, and hospitals and schools are few. Tens of thousands have already fled, and many more are considering it.
Nevertheless, the worst predictions of violence didn’t materialize after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, perhaps because the Serbian government views gaining EU membership as a key strategic goal. The government’s highest priority is progress toward European Union membership and Serbia would rather avoid tensions in Kosovo if they threatened to get in the way of that objective.
1) Between 1941 and 1945 Kosovo was incorporated into the Italian-occupied Greater Albania.
2) KFOR is an acronym for Kosovo Force, the NATO-led international force responsible for “establishing a safe and secure environment in Kosovo.”
3) In 1998, the U.S. State Department listed the KLA as a terrorist organization, and in 1999 the
hypocritical Republican Policy Committee of the U.S. Senate expressed its troubles with the “effective alliance” of the Clinton administration with the KLA due to “numerous reports from reputable unofficial sources that the KLA is closely involved with: the extensive Albanian crime network [and with] terrorist organizations motivated by the ideology of radical Islam, including assets of Iran and of the notorious Osama Bin Laden.”
Serbia does not officially recognize Kosovo as an independent state. So, I was unsure what to expect when driving from Serbia into Kosovo – or if Serbia would even acknowledge the border they officially refuse to accept. However, when we arrived at the border, Serbia did indeed have a checkpoint. A massive Serbian that resembled a well-armed bear glanced at my passport and then exclaimed, “Ahhh, you’re American.”
I thought of American bombers and cruise missiles hammering Serbia during the 1999 Kosovo War and prepared for a difficult session with the Serbian.
Instead he grinned, handed my passport back to me and casually waved us through.
Entering Kosovo from Serbia:
At the border into Kosovo they gave us a much harder time – carefully examining all of our paperwork, searching our car and asking a lot of questions – and on the drive to Pristina we were stopped at roadblocks every few miles to repeat the process we went through when initially entering Kosovo.
Arriving in Pristina, we soon discovered that comfortable accommodations were hard to come by. In fact, any kind of accommodations were hard to come by. The few hotels in town were overflowing with UN staff and NGO personnel. This set of circumstances has made the few hotel owners in Pristina quite wealthy as they are able to charge astronomical prices to customers that stay indefinitely and are immune to price considerations as their costs are merely expensed to the United Nations. Unfortunately, this monopolistic situation has allowed the hotel owners to make a mockery of customer service and to not bother with maintaining their hotels.
After chasing rumored hotels and driving in circles all around the city, we eventually ended up at the poorly named Grand Hotel. We’ve stayed in some pretty extraordinary places and so the broken elevator didn’t faze us, the shabby and dimly lit interior didn’t put us off, nor did the lack of air-conditioning or basic plumbing and not even the holes kicked in the walls could bring us down. 100 euros a night in one of the poorest countries in the world seemed a bit steep, but thanks to the UN and NATO that was the minimum going rate at all of the hotels.
Upon discovering that our door would not close, however, and we were told that none of the doors in the hotel would close properly, Eleonora asked if we could perhaps have a slight discount on the room rate. The manager on duty assured us that this would be fine and we would just have to talk to the manager on duty when we checked out.
When we went to check out…
“Hahahaha. He told you what? No, I’m sorry, that is quite impossible. Hahaha”
“No, no, no one in this establishment would have told you such a thing.”
“If you want to leave this country, you’ll give us everything we want.”
To reinforce this threat a gang of thugs appeared with heavy iron bars in their hands and communicated that for both our own good and the good of our car that it would be in our best interest to hand over our euros. Lest we forget their hospitality, we were escorted out to our car by the iron-wielding crew of thugs and given a
warm, friendly farewell that I won’t forget anytime soon.
As an interesting “oh by the way”… During the Kosovo War, some of the most-feared paramilitary units, such as Arkan and his Tigers, used the hotel as their base.
Interested in different points of view, we headed for one of the few Serbian enclaves remaining in Kosovo…
Gracanica is presently home to about 13,000 Kosovo Serbs and before the 1999 war, was a sleepy village built around a large agricultural collective and a home to Serb miners working in the nearby Kishnica mineral mines. As a result of the Kosovo War, however, Gracanica has developed into a satellite outpost of Pristina for the resident Serb community. Most of the approximately 30,000 Serbs who had lived in Pristina before 1999 left the town in just a few weeks, rightfully fearing reprisals from the returning Albanian population. Many left Kosovo altogether, never to return. But some, especially those with jobs working for the international community settled in Gracanica. With Serbian government funding, Gracanica was upgraded into a Serbian service center with Belgrade-financed health centers, university faculties linked to the Serb-language university in Mitrovica and Serb government outlets offering everything from Serbian passports to birth certificates to business registration.
Driving in you are reminded who is really running things in Kosovo… Fortunately, they no longer have the ring of security sealing off Gracanica from the rest of Kosovo to protect it from Albanian and Kosovar attacks (apparently the security cordon made traffic horrendous).
It’s funny, but the Serbian homes actually look, well, Serbian. Seriously. They have a distinctive look that sets them off from the homes in the rest of Kosovo:
Gracanica is covered with propaganda billboards like this one below, which must be difficult for the Serbs to stomach… Serbs leaving the region say Western countries are encouraging them to leave:
Note the Serbian flag being prominently displayed even though this is Kosovo:
Scenes of Gracanica:
In the heart of Gracanica is the Gracanica Monastery which is said to be a prime example of 14th-century Serb Orthodox art and late Byzantine architecture. It may be all that, but it is also a symbol and thus is a target for attack. That being the case, the grounds of the monastery are surrounded by miniature tank traps, razor wire and a battalion of Swedish troops:
And I haven’t seen a sign like this since Afghanistan:
The monastery was indeed an interesting building, especially considering that it was completed in 1322:
An Albanian prostitute was wandering the grounds of the monastery offering blowjobs to all of the men around. She was quite persistent with me, but I declined. I wish I had taken her picture though because she was quite lewd.
Inside the monastery:
Some of the very friendly Swedish troops guarding the facility:
Returning to Pristina, it’s difficult to not be disappointed when you crest the hills surrounding the city and see it as it really is – tattered and grimy… A nearby lignite-fired power plant (the primary electricity source for Kosovo) creates a persistent haze and fills the air with the smell of coal.
Following the start of NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia on March 24, 1999, widespread violence broke out in Pristina. Serbian forces shelled several districts and, in conjunction with paramilitaries, conducted large-scale expulsions of ethnic Albanians. Naturally, this was accompanied by widespread looting and destruction of Albanian properties. Many of those expelled were directed onto trains brought to Pristina’s main station for the express purpose of deporting them to the border of the Republic of Macedonia, where they were forced into exile.
Scenes of Pristina today – home to around 500,000 people:
Some of the damage from the war is still quite evident:
UN Headquarters in Pristina:
There are places in the world where the United States is still viewed quite positively – Kosovo is one of them:
Perhaps not surprisingly, Bill Clinton is particularly popular in Kosovo given his role in the initiation of NATO strikes against Serbia:
As I was taking this picture below a group of three teenagers was walking past me. One of them looked up at the American flag and said clearly, “God bless America.” It is rare enough to hear that statement in America these days, but to hear it from the lips of a cynical teenager overseas is unheard of. It demonstrated to me that the Bill Clinton statue and the American flags were more than just self-serving government initiatives, but sincerely reflected the sentiments of the Kosovar population at large.
Leaving Pristina one can see how quickly the city is spreading out over the plains:
Scenes of Kosovo:
Note the graves on the right – these are from the 1999 Kosovo War:
Some of the graves around this mosque were quite interesting – KLA fighters and others killed in the fighting:
Exiting Kosovo… KFOR troops and heavy security are very much present all around:
It will be interesting to see what happens with Kosovo when the UN, NGO, KFOR and NATO bubble deflates.
According to the United Nations, Kosovo has already become a major destination country for women and young girls trafficked into forced prostitution. According to Amnesty International, most women trafficked into Kosovo from abroad are from Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine.