Recently I was fortunate enough to take a weekend trip to Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia. Just a few hours and a border crossing south of Pristina by bus, Skopje is an eclectic city steeped in Mediterranean, Balkan, and Ottoman culture. Tourism seems to be a priority in Skopje as the downtown area has been completely redone in the neoclassical style, large museums have been established along the riverfront, statues have been erected all over downtown, and old bathhouses and caravanserais have been turned into galleries.
Down the hill from an old fortress across the Vardar River lies the open-air Turkish bazaar with its winding alleys lined by shops, cafés, and historical landmarks. Alexander the Great and his father, Philip of Macedon, are key figures to North Macedonians, giving each their own massive statue rising above the main square. Another notable figure is Mother Teresa, who was born in Skopje, and there is a small memorial house dedicated to her life, work, and memory. And towering above the city on Mount Vodno is the 217-foot Millennium Cross celebrating 2,000 years of Christianity in Skopje.
With the beginning of summer holidays for some of my colleagues, this week has been pretty quiet for me at CLARD. In continuation of my research on Kosovo’s postwar transition to independence, this week I looked into the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) situated at The Hague. Modeled much like the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the KSC is a court under Kosovo’s jurisdiction tasked with prosecuting war crimes allegedly committed by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA, or UÇK) between 1998-2000.
In addition to peacebuilding and institutional reform, a fundamental aspect of transitional justice is seeking redress for the victims and accountability for the perpetrators of human rights violations. But while this post-conflict justice is a critical part of growth and reconciliation, the KSC has become widely controversial, especially among Kosovar Albanians who are skeptical of its legitimacy and doubt its fairness. Although the KSC was ordained by the Kosovo Assembly, it was the result of extreme international political pressure, and I sometimes wonder how much politics might be getting in the way of real progress and justice.
In some ways, the KSC is yet another sign of Kosovo’s separation from the EU despite Kosovo’s commitment to European integration. It seems that other European countries cannot decide whether to welcome Kosovo as a European sister or to otherize Kosovo as a Balkan, or even a Muslim, neighbor. Kosovars are kept at arm’s length and do not enjoy freedom of movement with their European contemporaries, having to go to great lengths to secure travel visas and meet travel requirements to visit EU countries. Even the United States has an extensive and costly travel visa process despite the United States’s fundamental role in establishing and shaping Kosovo. Kosovars have many connections abroad, both historical and familial, and yet Kosovo remains largely isolated by political preconceptions and presuppositions, even from those countries that do recognize its independence.
That is all for now, friends, but I will be back next week for one final post.