Elena Georgalla discovers Kosovo

View of Pristina

When asked what I think of Kosovo during my one-week stay there I would usually describe it as an extraordinary place. Nearly a utopic dystopia. Oxymoron? It is after all the land of paradoxes.

It is one of the world’s newborns, having gained its independence only in 2008, nine years after the Bosnian-Kosovan War and fragmentation of former Yugoslavia. The capital, Pristina, is a buzzing city of half a million people, where high-fenced EU and UN peace-keeping agencies stand next to the city’s numerous clubs and bars. Pristina is where taxi drivers tell you off if you dare put on your seatbelt and where it’s safer to smoke two packs of Marlboro’s a day than to cross the street. It is the place where Fridays are like Mondays, and Wednesdays are like Fridays and where everyone has beautiful hair and is not afraid to pay each other compliments. It might have something to do with the fact that Kosovo boasts Europe’s youngest population with nearly 50% of Kosovars under the age of 25. It might also be the Balkan love for life. You can feel it in the music, in people’s voices as they gather at the ubiquitous coffee shops of Pristina to enjoy sweet macchiato and Turkish mocha, to talk about the same things they talked about yesterday and to renew their date for the same place same time.

Kosovo is where Muslims celebrate Christmas and where the American dream is still alive. It is where electricity supply depends entirely on the willingness of people to pay their taxes and where there is no water between midnight and the early hours of the morning. It is where you can find a statue of Bill Clinton in the capital’s busiest boulevard and where the biggest building in the city is an unfinished Catholic Church. It is the country where the most popular snack is spinach burrek but nobody ever sells it, where there are more “Empire”-equivalents per square mile than there are houses and where you can feed seven people for as little as 16 euros, given of course that they all have beef. Kosovo is where the local beer, Peja, tastes better than Carlsberg and where any single raki shot is the size of a double. Where everyone hates corruption but nobody can escape it and where development is blocked by the need for institutions that support development. Despite a whopping 47% unemployment, Kosovo is where happiness is not measured in GDP and where hospitality is effortless, genuine and heart-warming. After all, this is the place where it’s considered rude to refuse a cigarette even if you don’t smoke and where everyone will hold your coat for you to help you put it on.

Pristhina is where it is physically impossible to form a proper line and where you work six days in a coffee shop in order to be able to pay for your coffee on the seventh day. It is where it’s both a curse and a blessing to be an international and where nearly half of the city’s hotels are unlicensed and the stars on their roofs are nothing but the lofty aspirations of their owners. Pristina is where life is sweet just because everyone knows that it is also fragile.

This is where I spend a week in January, in my beautiful, sweet Pristina where friendship is everything, where everyone wants to study Business and International Relations, where the streets are named after members of the American senate and where tomorrow’s always going to be a new day…

Elena Georgalla

Photo: Wikimedia Commons