Welcome to Pristina!

Mirësevini në Prishtinë! That's an Albanian welcome to Pristina!

I arrived in Kosovo one week ago, and I am already captivated by its rich history and vibrant people. I am living and working in Pristina, the capital and largest city. The official languages of Kosovo are Albanian and Serbian, but Turkish, Bosnian, and Roma are also recognized and used in official capacities at the municipal level, a reflection of Kosovo's multiethnic character.

Perhaps my favorite part of Kosovo so far has been meeting and getting to know the people I will be working with at CLARD. At the headquarters here in Pristina, it is usually just four of us in the office: Anton, Edona, Nedzad, and now me. They have all been very welcoming and we have bonded during frequent visits to the café downstairs for an espresso. My new colleagues remind me it is not good to be in the office all day, and because coffee culture is a very important part of day-to-day life in Kosovo, the café is a popular place for office meetings, work breaks, discussions of pop culture and current events, and everything in between. They proudly claim that Kosovo's espresso, cappuccinos, and macchiatos are the best in the world, saying even the Italians are jealous--I will let you be the judge. Overall, it is abundantly clear that they are passionate about their work, proud of their heritage, and hopeful for Kosovo's future.

This week, I have been reading and researching Kosovo's constitution to get a better understanding of the governmental structure and national values instituted during Kosovo's post-Communist transition from autonomous region of Serbia to independent European nation. For those who are unfamiliar with Europe's newest country, here is a bit of context. Kosovo is located in southeastern Europe and shares borders with Serbia, North Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro. Kosovo was once ruled by the Ottoman Empire, during which time Islam spread throughout the region, especially among the ethnic Albanians. Kosovo was then incorporated into Serbia, later Yugoslavia, and interethnic, interreligious tensions between Kosovo's predominantly Muslim Albanians and primarily Eastern Orthodox Serbs began to intensify.

Many Americans are familiar with the violent conflict that erupted from these tensions during the 1990s, following years of Serbian persecution of Kosovar Albanians and their repeated attempts to break away from Serbia. This conflict garnered widespread international attention, and NATO forces stepped in to end the aggression in 1999. The UN then established an interim administrative mission in Kosovo to aid its transition, and Kosovo formally declared independence from Serbia in 2008. While the United States and many EU countries recognized Kosovo's independence, Serbia and several others did not; today, many countries still do not recognize Kosovo as an independent nation.

In reading Kosovo's constitution, I find these values interwoven throughout: separation of powers with interbranch checks and balances, utmost respect for ethnic and gender equality, and prioritization of human rights and freedoms for every individual. The constitution alludes to the apparent influence of western democratic principles like those purported in the United States, as well as those exhibited by European parliamentary republics common in EU countries. However, the constitution also reflects overarching characteristics and precepts unique to Kosovo, drawn from its conflicted history and desired future. For instance, every governmental body and process is designed to reflect, incorporate, and respect the vast ethnic diversity of Kosovar communities--majority and minorities alike--whose members are granted explicit right to "express, maintain, and develop their culture and preserve the essential elements of their identity, namely religion, language, traditions, and culture." Similarly, the constitution guarantees that standards and norms of international law and agreements are directly applicable even though Kosovo did not sign such conventions; it is the only country to treat international instruments in this way.

This week, I also got to accompany Anton to a conference at one of the hotels in Pristina. The conference was a roundtable discussion between the President of the Supreme Court, district judges, lawyers, professors, officials from the US Embassy, and representatives from NGOs like CLARD regarding the value of reforming and implementing criminal sentencing guidelines. The discussion of punitive policy covered theoretical and practical, positive and negative, past and present, and it was inspiring to see people from all sides of an issue coming together to speak candidly with each other. In the end, several attendees adjured the judiciary that the modality of the sentencing guidelines was inconsequential if judges did not implement the guidelines in their decisions, that having a perfect rulebook on paper meant nothing if justice was not done in practice.

That is all for now, friends, but I will be back next week with updates on CLARD's campaign against domestic and gender-based violence. For now, I think it is time for a coffee.