This week was full of excitement; increased tensions with Serbia, budget approvals at work, and a weekend trip to Peja!
This week was a tough one for Serbian-Kosovar relations. My coworkers (and many other Kosovars I spoke to) were particularly upset with the Serbian government this week. Both Serbia and Kosovo must mend their relationship (meaning in large part that Serbia must recognize Kosovo as an independent nation) in order to gain EU membership, however there are frequent events that dissolve any forward momentum. This week, food stores and restaurants in northern Kosovo closed as a protest against the 100% tariff Kosovo has imposed on goods imported from Serbia. The anti-Kosovo rhetoric that emerged (from Serbia) was that the Kosovo government was perpetuating a humanitarian crisis in the north. The stores reopened after a few days, but the Prime Minister of Kosovo was forced to publicly address this completely manufactured "crisis" and even sent a contingent to sell food in the north of Kosovo to be absolutely sure that no one was suffering.
Additionally, the European Broadcasting Union voted against membership for Kosovo, in what is widely recognized as a politically-motivated move (stemming in part from Serbian lobbying). Kosovars here are particularly frustrated that this means Kosovo cannot participate in the Eurovision song contest even though the country has already proven it produces Easters (think Dua Lipa and Rita Ora). These two issues are the latest in a string of obstacles preventing any kind of diplomatic unity and peace between Kosovo and Serbia. To many living here, it feels like the international community demands reconciliation between the two countries but is only vaguely supportive of the process. Many countries have recognized Kosovo as an independent nation, but there are many (most importantly in Europe) who have not. People I talk to remain hopeful, but every time Serbia attempts to undermine Kosovo's development it feels like the goal of EU membership just moves that much further away.
The NGOs and civil society can only do so much to better the country domestically; as long as Kosovo and Serbia are at odds, Kosovo does not stand a chance for EU membership. Through work, I have been getting the chance to meet the younger generation of Kosovar leaders. The young lawyers I met this week cannot help but feel that those in power are remnants of the Kosovo War. The atrocities suffered by Kosovars at the hands of Serbian forces (many people I talk to have their own, very personal accounts of beatings and arrests) will never be forgotten, nor should they be. The list of war crimes is long, and those criminals are very much alive and remain unpunished. However, Kosovar citizens want development which leaves no choice but resolution with Serbia. A nearly impossible task.
CLARD did receive some good news this week; funding has finally come through for a number of projects. The funds were expected last week from the EU but have been stalled for a long time (my coworkers tell me that this is not irregular). A large portion of the funds is for a project addressing and redesigning oversight of appointments within the judicial system in partnership with the Kosovo Bar Association. My boss tells me that he wants my help as the project begins to move forward in its fledgling stages. Hopefully for me this means that the NGO "slow season" will not be quite so slow after all!
This week we have been hit with an even greater heat wave than the last, with temperatures in the mid-90s. Like many European cities, Pristina is relatively limited when it comes to air conditions, so everyone tries their best to stay in the shade and move as little as humanly possible. In order to escape the city, I headed up to Peja for a little bit of fresh air! Peja is a city nestled in the Rugova Valley, about 1.5 hours away from Pristina with incredible views of the surrounding mountains.
I hopped on the bus on Saturday morning (only 4 Euros) and made the quick journey. After checking into my beautiful hotel, I ate some lunch and wandered around Peja's notorious bazaar. It was massive! Storefront after storefront after stand after stand! Everything from gold jewelry to fruit!
One of the many (many) streets that make up the Peja Bazaar:
After walking through the bazaar and the historic downtown, I took the thirty minute walk out to Patriarchate of Péc. This is a fully-functioning Serbian Orthodox Monastery established in the 13th century, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To get in, I had to show my passport to the Kosovo Police Officers stationed at the entrance to the monastery's 300 meter driveway (because it is technically Serbian-owned). The views from the monastery itself were incredible, and inside its gigantic stone walls it was an oasis of flowers and fruit trees. I was the only tourist there, and was able to wander through the four churches on site without interruption. It is a relatively small compound, but the ancient paintings, artifacts, and natural scenery were breathtaking!
After taking in the monastery, I had a traditional dinner back in town with local Rugova Valley cheese and veal! I took the bus back to Pristina today, and feel rejuvenated and ready for my next work week.
A photo from inside the monastery walls:
The view of the Rugova Valley from right outside the monastery:
A view from downtown Peja, which lies on a riverbank:
The sunset view from my hotel: