Wednesday 22 April
Attempting to travel from Skopje to Belgrade via Pristina isn’t a good idea. This is a region on tenterhooks, as the Serbian government still doesn’t properly recognise Kosovo as a legitimate country. Locals can come and go freely, but those sporting a different passport will most likely have difficulty crossing from Kosovo into Serbia and vice versa. My original plan to pass through Pristina on my way back to Belgrade then is dead in the water, and I opt for a day trip from Macedonia instead. It proves to be a sensible – albeit forced – decision.
Predominantly populated with Albanians, Kosovo has had it’s fair share of troubles. Towards the end of the Yugoslav wars, Albanian rebels began kicking up a storm against the ruling authorities, attacking Serbian law enforcement in Kosovo. It was only a matter of time before it got messy, and NATO stuck its nose in (rightly or wrongly – again), which resulted in numerous air strikes, including the bombing of Belgrade in 1999. A multitude of war crimes later perpetrated by all sides, and as far as I can glean, it’s all been tit-for-tat, he said/she said, playground tactics and chucking toys out of prams. “The leaders of the free world are just little boys throwing stones.”
Kosovo eventually declared itself independent from Serbia in 2008, but continues to garner mixed recognition from the international community. The UK recognises it, so I guess I do, and it’s nice to get a new flag sticker on my guitar. But we should dream of a world without borders.
It is safe to say therefore, that Pristina is a city in need of help. The mantle of capital thrust upon it, you get the sense that it doesn’t want the burden. Its hospitality might just be its only shining light, as even if the sun was blazing with glorious blue skies, the cities aesthetic would still leave a lot to be desired. I often balk at waxing negative about anywhere, (apart from London – I take great delight in lambasting that hole), but this collection of ramshackle high-rises, cranes and concrete is bleak. It needs a lot of love, and a lot of money pumping in if it’s to even come close to competing with its neighbours for vital tourist dollars.
You only have to visit the Pristina TripAdvisor page to paint a dreary picture of its attractions or lack thereof; and with extraordinary levels of anti-gay slogans and graffiti daubing the desolation, you realise that this place really does have a long way to go. Is it possible to polish a turd? With an uneasy peace and tensions remaining high, Kosovo might never get a chance to find out.