Thursday, April 14, 2016


A few weeks ago I visited a friend on a Fulbright in Kosovo, one of the most contentious pieces of land in the world. Serbia has yet to recognize Kosovo's independence, and it probably cannot join the EU before it does so. However, I don't see that happening anytime soon based on the uncompromising nature of Serbian/Kosovo nationalism evident from conversations I've had both five years ago and this year.

Some basics:
There are about 2 million people in Kosovo, more than 90% Albanian and ~4% Serbian. Like the rest of the Balkans, high unemployment, organized crime, and political corruption impede its transition to a capitalist democracy. Perhaps even more profound, though, are recent and vivid memories of war and ethnic cleansing, and the bitter, despondent indignation fixed to those openly discussed times.

I mentioned life-course epidemiology a couple of posts ago, and I think there's an ample evidence for it in Kosovo and the Balkan peninsula as a whole. No truth and reconciliation followed the Yugoslavs and Kosovo Wars and it's as if a toxin continue to poisons the thoughts and minds of those living here. Many locals with whom I spoke - those who lived through the wars of the '90s and those born in the aughts - seemed to carry a toxic stress that courses through society.They believe that the rest of Europe perceives Kosovo as second class, which, according to a local, spurs a number of Kosovo Albanians to treat Kosovo Serbs as second class citizens for a fleeting tryst with superiority.

Perhaps I'm just more attune to these issues than I was five years ago, but it certainly feels like tensions are rising throughout the Balkans. When I've asked Serbs, Bosnians, and Kosovars if they could imagine a war breaking out, they've all said "no," but some reached this conclusion reasoning that their weak governments and poor economies couldn't handle it. They don't deny the abounding animus and impulse to fight that still possesses a frightening number.

Many Serbs refer to Kosovo as Serbia's Jerusalem since it contains many of the oldest and most sacred Eastern Orthodox churches. After visiting I've realized how apt this analogy is. First of all, there's the completely unchangeable problem of too much history and too little land. Much like Israel and Palestine, it's impossible to imagine that these two people with radically different conceptions of themselves and of history can fully share a unified state. A few Albanian Kosovars told me that the Battle of Kosovo of 1389 -- when Serbs lost Kosovo to the Turks, later used in during Milosevic's "Field of Kosovo" speech in 1989 at the 600th anniversary of the Battle to galvanize the Serbs to fight for "Greater Serbia" -- never happened. They said bodies were never found and Serbs made it up to dramatize the importance of Kosovo in Serbian history. When I passed this belief onto Serbs, they laughed and piled on stereotypical insults about Kosovo Albanians.

Just a few days ago, a grenade was thrown before Serbian PM Vucic's election rally in Kosovo. This ongoing hostility has no foreseeable resolution that will appease all parties and seems bound to persist indefinitely.

Some photos:
Tito and his wife plastered on an exterior wall of a cafe beside a gas station/rest stop in Southern Serbia. My parents and I did an "escape the room" puzzle-solving, team-building game last fall in Belgrade called "Tito's Secret." The themed game was premised on Tito's philandering, yet the final code spelled out his wife's name. Despite his flaws, people here can't seem to help but praise and pine for him.

The bus from Belgrade to Kosovo featured this design on its side. You'll likely recognize all of most of these statues, but probably not the church to the left of the winding road. That's Sveti Sava, the world's second largest Eastern Orthodox church, located in Belgrade.

Typical Serbian plain with a faint shadow of Kopaonik (where I learned to ski 5 years ago!) in the background.

Sunset on the Nišava river:

Some of Kosovo's natural beauty:

Radac waterfall:

From the top of the waterfall:

Rugova gorge:

Gjakova city center

Patriarchate of Pec: a complex of Serbian Orthodox churches built in the 13th and 14th centuries. Because 
Kosovo Albanians have attempted to desecrate some monasteries in past years, it's under constant KFOR (Kosovo Force, a NATO-led peacekeeping force) protection:

Decani monastery, also guarded by KFOR, is another major Orthodox monastery initially established in the 13th century: 

The only painting, according to my tour guide, of Jesus with a sword:

Inside the monastery:

Inside a mosque, arabesque paintings that depict landscapes from Kosovo:

Kosovo's national library which often makes the cut on lists of the world's ugliest buildings: 

An unfinished Eastern Orthodox church in the middle of Priština besides a university building:

The famous Newborn monument: installed in 2008 to honor Kosovo's independence, each year it is repainted. This year's design features a blue sky with clouds wrapped in barbed wire:

A relatively new memorial dedicated to the Albanian and Serbian women who were sexually assaulted during the Kosovo War, "heroinat" meaning heroine in Albanian:

Statue of Bill Clinton, many Kosovar's favorite American. Nearby there's a women's clothing store named "Hilary."

Germia Park, a national park near Priština:

And a few photos from Niš, third largest city in Serbia where I lived for four months five years ago. A sign reading "Nis, Serbia: birthplace of Constantine the Great" -- the city's main claim to fame -- greets visitors as they enter the city by car.

A hammam (bathhouse) inside the fortress turned into a cafe:

From Niš's fortress looking out to the city:

From the same spot looking into the fortress:


  1. These are some interesting fact about kosovo, serbia, I didn't know about them before. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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