Letter from Kosovo

Brezovica ski resort, Kosovo, summer 2000

Pristina, 2001 –

Summer is here and the longest day has just passed. The tourism season is in full swing – people leaving every day – and the amount of cleavage on display is highly distracting.

Our garden has lots of flowers, between the concrete paving which covers half the area. The neighbours enjoy sitting in it, whether or not we are there. It’s a Kosovo thing. Renting doesn’t seem to be accompanied by any sense the owner owes the occupier any privacy. You just become part of the family. I suppose we can’t complain as they do all the cleaning, gardening, folding and all that other stuff. Jan says it’s the nearest she has come to having a wife.

The Muezzin are now getting later in the morning and earlier in the evening with their first and last calls to the faithful. I’m not sure whether there is actually a Muezzin for every mosque or whether they’re all linked and there’s only one bloke making the noise in the one near our house and it’s transmitted to all the other mosques’ loud speakers. It’s also not at all clear that anyone actually leaps out of bed (currently at 0428) to join him in the first chant, nor turns up at 2220 for the last one. By midwinter they are at about 0630 and 1900 so that’s a bit more sociable. I don’t think the Mosques are heated though. Maybe the new ones the Saudis and the Mujahadeen aid teams (not kidding) are building will be.

The famous Pristina Hash House Harriers marked their 100th run with a quiet weekend at Brezovica, a small Serbian enclave and decrepit ski resort in the Shtrpce Valley, about an hour to the south west of Pristina. The natives are a bit sullen but they’re not too aggressive towards visitors. After all, visitors do come equipped with money and are reasonably friendly.

The Brezovica area is actually quite pretty. It’s just so depressingly run down and, of course, the locals are pretty well cooped up in the valley, with Albanian communities at either end. There are lots of cops and military to keep the peace, and a few NGOs and such to spend money on fixing up schools and health houses. Also the usual bunch of well-meaning UN people to help with municipal administration, wringing their hands over how dreadful it all is that people have to live this way. It is, of course, but some people seem to forget that Ole Slobo Milosevic was pretty keen on removing non-Serbs from areas just like this, and there are numerous burnt out farm houses in the area to testify to that. Way down deep I think that most of the people on both sides just want to get on with their lives, and with the other ethnic groups, but some of the hot heads are making it too difficult, and probably will for the next 100 years or so.

In areas like Brezovica there’s a new problem looming as the number of Albanian refugees from Macedonia increases. Macedonia is only a stone’s throw over the mountains from the Shtrpce Valley and many of the refugees have previous or continuing family connections in the area. They typically also have a family composition of more than six people (nine if there are three generations). So the place is starting to get a bit crowded and there is a bit of a risk that the minorities might get squeezed out. There are now over 72,000 refugees here, although numbers are moving down due to the recent “cease fire”.

The big news in the region recently, of course, was Ole Slobo’s dramatic departure from Belgrade to take up residence in a seaside resort town just outside the Hague, handy to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Since that happened there have been a few other developments. First of all, the Yugoslav Prime Minister, and most of the Montenegrin members of the Yugoslav Government, resigned in protest at his manner of departure. Not so much because they thought he was a real good bloke, but mainly because they thought the Serb Provincial Government had been a bit high handed in whipping him out the way they did, all for a measly $1.4 billion. I mean, Ole Slobs probably has more than that tucked away in some place or another. Anyway, this may mean that there will be a bit of instability for a while (for a change). It also probably means that the final nail in the coffin of Yugoslavia as a country, or what’s left of it, has just been hit fairly firmly on the head.

The Kosovars (the Albanian ones anyway) think all this is Christmas or Ramadan or something. They still believe that they are economically viable as an independent state, thus reinforcing, for some observers, quite how out of touch with reality they are. The biggest export is people and this is likely to continue for some time. Indeed it’s almost a reason to improve the education system so that the kids can compete for better jobs in the rest of Europe and the US or wherever they go. In the meantime, it will be a very slow process creating a decent environment for good investment and some growth in the production of exportable goods.

Anyway with Slobs gone – and possibly a couple of other likely lads in Bosnia and Croatia getting similar treatment – the locals think the road to independence has just been made easier. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that there might be a couple of local heroes of the war whose names might be on Carla Del Ponte’s list. This could be a bit embarrassing for the UN as it has been cosying up to a couple of these lads and they have a good chance of getting elected to the provisional government in November.

I noticed, too, that the two most likely suspects were at the rather good 4th of July party up at the American (non) Embassy last Wednesday. This was a good party, complete with fireworks. The (non) Ambassador was kind enough to announce that they were about to be let off, just in case anyone was a bit twitchy about that sort of noise. The large number of visible guards on the rooftops all around us were not looking at the fireworks, I noticed. Neither were all the blokes in the crowd with that funny bit of spaghetti growing out of their ears and talking into their left wrists.

Meanwhile, down south in  Macedonia the peasants are revolting (see refugees, above). Especially the Albanian minority ones, who are probably augmented by a few of the likely lads from the former Kosovo Liberation Army.

They are also almost certainly getting sustenance from another branch of the former KLA, now known as the Kosovo Protection Corps. The KPC thinks the word ‘protection’ in their name has the same meaning given to it by Al Capone. They call it their ‘donations policy’ and some people in the UN sought my advice on how to legalise it. (I did not make that last bit up.) Anyway, between the donations policy and having control of about one third of the petrol tankers in Kosovo (which can be used for transporting things that go bang), the KPC is well placed to help.

NATO and the EU are taking a dim view of the whole thing as the  Macedonians want to fight back with helicopter gun ships and tanks provided by God knows who and blast the living daylights out of the rebels, or at least the towns that harbour them. This is not good for the tourism industry as there are so many refugees on the roads you just can’t go anywhere. This has been seriously distressing for some UN employees in Kosovo who’ve been unable to get a white 4WD and drive it to Greece for the weekend, as they usually do, because the roads in Macedonia  are off limits. Now that the cease fire is six days old, only punctuated by the odd angry shot, travel restrictions to Thessaloniki and the airport have been lifted.

Cease fire or not, this could get serious and Javier Solana, the EU’s High Representative, and George Robertson, NATO’s Secretary General, have been heard to say it’s not the way to solve a squabble. Kofi Annan wrung his hands but then decided he didn’t need to do anything about it.

I’m not quite sure what the Albanians in Macedonia are rebelling against. Maybe it’s because they want the  Macedonian Government to make sure that Albanian is taught in all the schools, especially those where Albanians are in the majority. Maybe it is because they can’t figure out what St Cyril meant when he invented that funny alphabet the  Macedonians use. (I mean, whoever heard of spelling restaurant ‘PECTOPAH’.) Either way, it’s probably connected to their intention to remain exactly where they are – in Macedonia – but preserve all their important cultural traditions of insularity, intra-tribe marriage, low technology farming, smuggling and feudal society for another 100 or so years.

Before all this the Macedonians actually seemed to be trying to do the multiethnic thing a bit, but only so long as it didn’t interfere with their preservation of all government jobs for Macedonians (especially in the police and customs, the two with the best supplementary income opportunities).

Keep those post cards coming. (None have arrived so far.)


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