Fear and Rumors in Kosovo

“If my grandmother knows Kosovo is a country… everyone knows Kosovo is a country”  Flekitza repeats in an attempt to help me understand what is going on in the Serbian community of Kosovo.  In her home city in Kosovo, public school teachers get pay checks from the Serbian government, which are substantially larger the the salary Kosovo pays them.  A confusing situation that you’ll hear me get lost in several times as Flekitza explains how even her university diploma is now considered worthless, as jobs do not recognize what was then officially a Serbian University. The list of obstacles would be enough to make a person quit and run off to a country where things make more sense, but instead she is dedicated to making a life in Prishtina, together with her Albanian partner. A Serbian-Albanian-Kosovar love story that many people, including family, are not willing to accept.  “Who cares what people think.. I certainly don’t”…. in this podcast I spend time getting to know Flekitza’s story, her family, her problems as an ethnic Serbian of struggling Kosovo, and her love of radio.  An extra-ordinary individual living in some mind-boggling circumstances.

The Youth of Kosovo

Victory Pose
Victory! – Photo by SWPrishtina on flickr

Gent Thaçi is a rare bird in Kosovo, even he would admit it.  At 17 years old he devotes most of his energy to making Kosovo a better place, specifically through the cause of Free Software.  He knows not everyone understands and he is interested in engaging people, regardless of age or ethnic background, about what may very well help them in the workplace and at home in the already difficult reality for this struggling nation.

While sitting in a corner of an Albanian tavern Gent and I recorded this discussion, as I asked not only about what life is like for teenagers and young adults in Kosovo but also about relations between ethnic groups.  We manage to touch on the past, present, and foreseeable future when it comes to work, family, and conflict resolution.  Even when  Gent doesn’t know the answer to my various questions, he doesn’t pretend to know, but reminds us of what surely becomes clear- he is open and listening to anyone with a good idea.

After listening, you can also follow Gent on Twitter

Brain Gain and Starting Up in Kosovo

Photo by SWPrishtina

Çelik Nimani is well aware of the difficulties his young country faces.  He is also well aware of the tremendous creativity and potential that can be found here as well as throughout the international Kosovar diaspora.  His goal is to help unleash that potential with a resounding call for everyone to get involved, take initiative, and be the change the nation needs to see.  He’s not just a business man, he’s an ideas guy who enjoys being inspired just as much as he himself inspires.

In this podcast we get into how to reach people in Kosovo, to motivate them, to wake up those who are in a depression or feeling powerless. We discuss resources and what this nation has to offer the world.  You would think being able to choose your country on a form would be a given, but thats not the case in Kosovo – we discuss this issue.  From education to entrepreneurs, this program takes the series on Kosovo to the next level, to where the mainstream media rarely invests the time and energy, and where you can hear the details of this immense challenge from the people who are living them everyday.

çelik Nimani on twitter

His LinkedIn profile

Distance in Your Mind

There are places where one can travel to in this world where you feel distant and an outsider.  Makes sense of course, you are an outsider.  But here in Prishtina, time and time again, people who I’ve never met before make me feel like I am their neighbor and they’ve been expecting to see me.  Perhaps it is the large number of foreigners who are here working as part of the development and security world. Or maybe it is simply that Kosovars are all over the world and sometimes, they return home for good.  Whatever the reason, you’ll rarely meet someone who  gets wide eyed if you mention New York or Paris, these cities are part of their vocabulary and in some cases, a familiar part of their lives.

It all makes for a strange and alluring atmosphere; wander into a café and one friend will introduce you to another. Before you know it, a conversation that transcends borders and the conventional small-talk erupts.  They will want to meet up again, as often is possible, they will make time for you, don’t worry. No topic seems off the table. Even those probably tired and repetitive visitor questions about the country and its significant list of problems. Its no problem here, we can talk about it, we can even talk about problems in a far away land, no country or context is too distant.

Surely it is an old song. I came to Kosovo and made some fantastic friends that I shall seek to see again and surely never forget . I’ve said that of so many countries I doubt anyone takes it seriously. But this is no polite travel note, this is a seasoned veteran traveller telling it like it is in his experience. The world may often forget about Kosovo these days, but here in Prishtina, Kosovo is very much a part of the great big world.

This Bus Goes to Kosovo

The border crossing looks new and partly unfinished. In different corners there are exposed wires and lamp fixtures that will probably soon find their permanent place.  It is the middle of the afternoon on a quite holiday afternoon, the border guard in his nice new blue jacket and pants saunters onto the bus looking at each person’s passport.  As he approaches a few other western passengers seated in from of me, I notice the nice blue patch on his arm featuring the yellow outline of the country, “Its your first time in Kosovo?” he asks each of us, “Just visiting?”

The whole process takes less then a minute and soon we’re passed the customs area, passed the 4 construction workers staring at an open hole in the ground, and back on the two lane highway.  The mountains here are steep and drenched in red, yellow and orange autumn colors.  Occasionally we pass a little hamlet and I notice a newly completed bridge or road, even the lonely single track railroad seems to have been recently renovated.  As we drive into the heart of this infamous part of the world, I can’t stop thinking of how much it reminds me of mining country in Eastern Pennsylvania.

The towns we passed may have some new pieces of construction, but they don’t look like happy places.  The typical unfinished houses look vacant and what becomes even more clear as we get nearer to Prishtina, is that there is an overabundance of empty office space in Kosovo. One after another we pass shiny new warehouses and storefronts that look abandoned before they could ever be occupied.  This one would probably be good for selling tractors, that one over there looks more like a furniture outlet, neither has a single sign of life.  We drive on slowly, passed the Greek KFOR military base, the speed limit reads 60kmph, I find myself thinking of how different this place is from my dear Portugal, where no one respects such speed limits on country roads.

The beautifully vast and empty horizon finally changes after what seems like an hour, there is clearly a city up ahead, and I think it is Prishtina.  The two lane highway becomes 4 shiny new lanes, and the slow pace speeds up some.  On either side of the road its a mix of motels of small scale commercial operations.  Each one making heavy use of the following flags in this order: Albanian, Kosovar, American, followed by a hodgepodge of European Union  member state flags.  The favorite seems to be the French followed closely by the German flag.  “Made in Germany” several of the advertisements for machine parts along the road read in smaller print.  Pulling into the quiet bus station and it seems like the entire city could be on vacation. “Prishtina is quiet” is the first uncontrollable conclusion I make in my head.  I could not have been more wrong.

ctrp363 Traveling the Former Yugoslavia

to Sarajevo / by flickr member martijn.munneke

Emmanuel and Kyle of 2600 are experienced world travelers who specialize in going where other people never want or think to.  Last year they set off to travel though ALL the former Yugoslav states (and Albania). From trains to buses to taxi’s in the middle of nowhere, their trip was full of unpredictable moments of joy and confusion, much of which could be heard on their radio program.

During the latest edition of the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin, Emmanuel and Kyle joined me to record this extended podcast to retail the story of their travels and the lessons learned.