Posted by: Alex MacGregor | April 20, 2010

A Kosovo Sidetrack

A little geographic fact had been nagging us since we had gotten to Skopje: the border with Kosovo is only about 20 miles away, and buses run back and forth to its capital numerous times per day. We had talked about just taking a day trip into Kosovo to check it out, but after being shocked by Skopje’s hotel prices, we decided to head north to cheaper Prištinë (or Pristina), the capital, for a night or so.

After a couple quick hours on the bus, which included the easiest border crossing of our entire trip (we didn’t even have to get up from our seats!), we were in the hectic capital of one of the world’s youngest countries.

We soon learned that newly-independent Kosovo is the poorest country in Europe. It’s much wealthier than most of Africa, where per capita incomes are only a few hundred dollars a year in many countries, but people in Kosovo make only a fraction of what Macedonians make on the other side of the border.

One consequence of this is the roads. Not only are the streets bad, but the sidewalks are basically non-existent, and what few sidewalks do exist are completely covered up with parked cars. In order to walk around, you always have to dart into and out of the street in an effort to dodge the cars racing past.

After doing battle with the surface streets, walking down the pedestrian promenade is a totally refreshing experience.

Also, the electrical connections are as sketchy as the electricity itself.

But despite the problems, Kosovo celebrates its independence from Serbia, which the world began recognizing in fits and starts in 2008–an event commemorated with this independence monument.

Kosovo is about 90% Albanian ethnicity. But unlike nearby Albania, it was part of Yugoslavia during the Cold War years. When Yugoslavia fell, most of the other Yugoslavian states eventually gained autonomy or outright independence–think Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and so forth. But as Yugoslavia shrunk down to become little more than present-day Serbia, Kosovo remained under its direct control. Revolts ensued, and Serbia retaliated.

In 1999, president Slobodan Milošević led a drive to “cleanse” Kosovo of its Albanian population. Hundreds of thousands fled into Albania and Macedonia, and war broke out. Eventually, the UN took control of Kosovo’s defense as it took the status of an autonomous Serbian state.

In the bitter aftermath, Kosovo’s Albanian population destroyed any symbols of Serbia that they could, like this Orthodox church in Prištinë. A major role of the UN’s mission became, somewhat paradoxically, protecting the Serb minority in Kosovo from the ethnic Albanian majority.

This remains the case in post-independence Kosovo. Most developed nations–notably the US–have recognized Kosovo’s independence, but as of 2010 Serbia still bitterly contests it and the nations are enemies. In beleaguered Kosovo, Serbia is every politician’s favorite scapegoat, right or wrong.

Bill Clinton is something of a hero in Kosovo, and there is no shortage of American flags flapping alongside flags of Albania and Kosovo. George W Bush is very well-liked too–not the case in too many other countries.

We decided to take in some of Prištinë’s main sites, which is not a difficult task because there aren’t that many sites to begin with.

The very strange-looking library at Prištinë University.

The National Museum

Not even the national museum is free from tension with Serbia!

The exterior of the mosque had beautifully-painted domes, but, like with so many mosques, we were unable to enter. Sometimes mosques are just locked up and closed, sometimes there are unclear indicators of what customs need to be followed, and sometimes we get an unshakable feeling of unwelcome from people outside. In this instance, the mosque was being renovated.

The market.

A few of Prištinë’s old Ottoman buildings survived the onslaught of ugly concrete things built during the Yugoslavian era. Now they sit unnoticed, surrounded by the chaos of traffic and construction.

Even if Prištinë’s attractions won’t be drawing tour groups over from Western Europe anytime soon, it might be worth making the trip for the tasty pots of stewed veggies and great fruit juice, as Caroline can attest!


  1. […] Whether it’s stopping off in Monaco for a couple frustrating hours or crossing into Kosovo just because, border crossing excursions–even rather pointless ones–are for some reason always on […]

  2. […] love to see up-close but probably never will. It’s so strange, given all the perhaps ill-advised things we’ve done, that I can’t bring myself to simply walk ten minutes down a […]

  3. […] Zimbabwe certainly felt like one; the short bus trip from sedate Macedonia to shambolic Kosovo was […]

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