This week at work was chock-full of meetings, conferences, and research! In addition to my normal work duties, I had to find the time to go down to the Pristina police station to obtain a "paper for work" (their words, not mine). This is only necessary for me to be extra, super sure I have covered all of my bases to be legally allowed to work here in Kosovo. CLARD interns have been fined in the past for not obtaining this magical document, and I would much rather put my euros towards macchiatos and adventures!
Unfortunately, this process ended up taking me about three hours (and multiple Ministry visits) which I chalk up to my inability to communicate effectively in Albanian (and bureaucracy in general). However, unlike a trip to the DMV in the States, every official and policeperson I spoke to greeted me excitedly (sometimes with a high-five) when they found out I was an American, and assured me repeatedly how welcome I will always be in Kosovo (and how disappointed they were that I am not staying longer than 11 weeks). I normally don't leave government offices feeling like I've made new friends, but this was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I am consistently in awe of how kind, welcoming, and generous the people of Kosovo are.
After straightening out my documentation, I was able to accompany my boss to a meeting with an Assemblywoman (the one that ran last week's conference) for a quick coffee. My boss and the Assemblywoman actually grew up together, so they had plenty to catch up on in addition to our work talk. This week, I also met the President of the Kosovo Bar Association, with whom we will likely be meeting again next week to discuss CLARD's (and specifically, my) involvement with a major project they are implementing regarding oversight of judges and prosecutors in Kosovo.
I am learning more about Kosovo each week, through conversations with the many people I meet, as well as through my own research. One of the biggest obstacles to development of the country is its isolation (primarily by the EU). This translates into one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe (30% according to news outlet Kosovo 2.0), difficulties traveling and obtaining visas, and an exodus of skilled citizens in their prime working years (once they get a visa) to other European countries. Germany in particular is a popular option, and many Kosovars have family there. This aligns with my experience trying to travel around the region; it is generally faster to drive (or take the bus) rather than fly, and when one finds a worthwhile flight, it is prohibitively expensive. Coupled with a struggling job market and a lack of statehood recognition by some EU member states, it can really feel like Kosovo is fighting an uphill battle.
My main research topic this week was a comparison between American and Kosovar legal aid systems. A few years ago, Kosovo passed the Law on Legal Aid, which provides an extensive overview of the legal aid structure; some requirements are vastly different than those in the United States. Here, at least on paper, basically everyone has the right to legal aid in both civil and criminal cases, as long as certain income and need based prerequisites are satisfied. I also compared the Kosovar legal aid system to the Benchmarking Toolkit prescribed by the EU, which is an specific and (relatively) straightforward set of criteria for what legal aid should look like in an EU member state. Kosovo has made great strides in this area, which is just one of the many obstacles in the path towards their EU membership.
My favorite event this week was a conference on child advocacy. Civil society members, policymakers, and international partners have been working for a long time on a comprehensive law that protects Kosovo's children, both inside government systems and out. This conference collected NGOs, lawyers, politicians, and other who have had a hand in the development of the law to discuss its final phase, which will be proposed (and hopefully passed) in the Kosovo Assembly later this month. The law has been written and is currently in its final form, but the difficult part has just begun. The drafters are concerned about the implementation of the law, as well as gaps in the proposed budget (which is where civil society and the politicians come in). One of the conference members explained to me that for all drafters of this nation's new (and independent) laws, it is incredibly important to not simply have rules on paper, but to make actual change and progress on the ground. I recognized many people from the conference last week, and my boss tells me that the government officials, NGOs, and legal professionals are a tight-knit community in Pristina. I am amazed to already have shaken hands with high ranking government and law enforcement officials, but my boss tells me this is nothing new. The fact that this nation is so small and new means that the people fighting for development have known each other since the beginning (some since childhood). This translates into unparalleled access to movers and shakers (and resources) but can also be a negative; Kosovo has a big corruption problem.
This week, I also discovered my favorite Kosovo food item (and came to the realization that I'll probably need to join the local gym). It is called "Burek sa Sirom" and is a phyllo dough pastry filled with salty cheese that is eaten almost daily by locals (and now, by me). My weekend was full of more exploration (and a lot of eating)! I tried an incredible new steakhouse right near my apartment; for an appetizer I ordered "peppers and cream" from the English menu. It sounded too intriguing to pass up. I was prepared for the worst, but it turned out to be a delicious combination of whole roasted peppers and melted cheese sauce, with plenty of bread of course!
I made the trek downtown once again on Sunday, and visited the National Museum of Kosovo. It has relics from ancient eras discovered in Kosovo, and also includes more modern exhibits on the liberation of the nation and the fight for independence. One of the most striking rooms contained Kosovo's Declaration of Independence as well the flag of every nation that recognizes Kosovo's independence. I was the only visitor, and received a comprehensive tour from the docent, which turned out to be very helpful because most of the signage was in Albanian. I capped off my day with a macchiato (of course) at my new favorite coffee shop, Dit' e Nat' (they allow dogs in their garden) and an early dinner!
Until next week!
A mosque in the middle of downtown Pristina:
The National Museum of Kosovo:
The flag room (there were too many to capture in one picture, and room for more!):
A special display for U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (Kosovo is building a statue of her here in Pristina):
A portrait of Mother Teresa made for the museum by a local Albanian artist, made of more than one million STAPLES:
Coffee at Dit' e Nat':