10 years of independence naturally seems to be a reason to celebrate for Kosovo. However, after all these years of huge international intervention and state building efforts, many people are still waiting to live normal lives.
I asked some of Kosovo’s citizens about life in Europe’s youngest country – on the political normalization dialogues, on progress reports of international organizations or the EU and on the momentous celebration of the country’s anniversary.
Meet a young man living in the capital, Prishtina, and a young woman from the disputed North of Kosovo.
Ismail, 21 years old, studies archeology at the University of Prishtina and works in a hostel.
«Since the independence, for me personally, nothing has changed when I think of my relation to politics and my government. I try to do some good and take an active part in everything that is going on around me. I always try to push for better times.
I guess, my life in the past ten years was easier than lives of most people here who struggle with very low incomes. The war further worsened political and economic shortcomings and the government fails to support activities which would lead to a positive transition. Territorial disputes with neighboring countries aren’t solved, yet, which leads to a modern-time isolation of our country. We are still not able to join many global organizations, among them UNESCO. This leads to a bitter taste, the taste of thinking about a life outside of Kosovo.
But for now, I live in Prishtina. I moved to the capital when I started my bachelor studies in archeology. Ever since, I took on a diversity of jobs to pay my rent and support my well-being, which was not always easy. Now, I work in a hostel in Prishtina. At the same time, I’m finishing my bachelor’s degree. I’m already looking forward to continue my studies somewhere else in Europe. The problem is, that our Kosovar passport doesn’t allow us to travel to and within the Schengen-Zone. We all need visas.
It is unfair to live in a country that has so much to offer but all of it is cancelled or broken by either the disastrous political or economic circumstances. The idea of positive change and success could still depend on ordinary Kosovars. But I believe that people have plenty of materialistic obsessions, instead, for properties of any kind: cars, houses, gadgets.
The future will probably look brighter. At least I hope it will. It would be nice if we all started to embrace ideas that strengthen our multicultural society as a healthy habitat. We shouldn’t lose ourselves in nationalist or religious propaganda. For sure, better education and employment environments can contribute to positive changes in this regard. I wish for a sensitization within society towards backwards directed policies and norms that make our everyday live uncomfortable. Sexual harassment is one of the issues of which I hope society will deal with to stop it.
I wish I could live in a place where I am not counted as a tax paying machine, but rather as a citizen who can do anything and everything for the well-being of the society she or he lives in. I want to contribute and engage, be it economically or culturally. So yes, I am already looking for a place to study, work, and establish my life, elsewhere than Kosovo. »
Mev is volunteer and activist in her mid-twenties. She lives in the North of Kosovo, where some of the municipalities with Serb majorities are, and the divided city of Mitrovica. Serbs live in the north, Albanians in the southern part of Mitrovica. The two areas are connected with bridges over the river Ibar, one of them got its «fame» by being the most disputed one, the symbol of the divide.
«Compressing 10 years in a few sentences is going to be a difficult task. It is somewhat overwhelming to think of a decade and so many endeavours gone by. When looking back, I could either view things with a negative attitude or a positive one. I am saying this because it is actually very crucial when it comes to Kosovo, it’s all about the people and their attitudes, and their bubbles of positivity and negativity. One might say «let’s be realistic». Personally, I am not sure, however, if the notion «realistic» can still be used when it comes to Kosovo.
Presently, it’s been more than a month that we are having power cuts. Even now while writing these lines, the battery of my laptop is about to die. Yesterday morning I was occupied with cleaning the fridge and throwing away food because there was no electricity for too long. The reason why there are power cuts I can see right outside my window – they are fixing the utility poles, replacing the old ones. Still, it would have been nice and necessary if the responsible people informed us about the situation beforehand. And, I don’t really know if I want electricity when I know that there are people suffocating from the pollution. And on top of that, a new power plant is going to be added to their misery, soon. So, we don’t need the latest electronic devices when we can’t use them, we don’t need the latest car models when the roads are in a terrible state, we don’t need highways to connect to us with other countries, when I cannot even move from one place to the other within to the country.
After the war, Kosovo had a «year zero» situation and we, the inhabitants of this area, had the chance to start over. In my opinion, most of people’s energy, resources and investments have been spent in wrong directions. However, there are people who despite all the wrong-goings keep on walking and working – and that’s the only option. The willpower should have been concentrated in education and schools. By now, we could have had generations with the right mind-set, equipped with knowledge. Instead, we have had experiment over experiment, forever in transition – which is a way of learning but lasts longer then the knowledgeable option.
I was fourteen when Kosovo became independent. These ten years of the country’s independency have been my personal struggle of independence too. Parallel to Kosovo, I was trying out different things and spread my energy in so many directions. A bit chaotic and hectic, with so many things to do, so many things to get done, so many things to fix. I and Kosovo should have been more selfish in the aspect of self-growth. Instead of being so outside-, west-, modern-, and European- oriented, Kosovo should have kept the gaze within and be, first of all, people-oriented, nature-oriented.
Rediscovering ourselves, nourishing our minds, reintroducing social values – this is what we need.
In these 10 years, I wish I had, and these are still my wishes, a city library with many books and resources, a place to swim, a place to play tennis, a place to learn new crafts, plastic- free options, a school which offers education for my sister with Down Syndrome, a physics laboratory in my school, a clean river, a waste management, a functional career centre, a no-smoking policy which is respected everywhere, an art gallery, no nepotism, selection based on merit, a university with more studying options, a better health system, nature preservation, freedom of movement, no fear, caring, forgiveness and love.
Lately, I had the chance to go to Scotland for a six month volunteer placement. Most of the people I met had no idea where or what Kosovo is. Some said something about a war. It was a pleasure to be the first Kosovar for many people there to meet, though a bit confusing: How can you be Albanian and Kosovar at the same time? Anyways, inevitably, I would end up telling them about all the good things that are happening, because there are a lot of positive and progressive things happening indeed. We have great musicians, artists, organizations and creative start-ups, bars, businesses that are thriving.
This experience taught me something, or better to say, made me re-realise that people in Vietnam, Germany, Finland, Scotland, England, Poland, Spain, America, Australia have struggles as well. Hence I ceased to feel alone in my and our struggle. »
I met my interviewees while visiting Kosovo during the past five and a half years, some of them I know since the first day I set foot in this country, some of them I just met once or recently.
I want to thank the four of them for sharing their stories, for talking, skyping and writing.
Their stories stand for many more people who all face similar realities which make it hard to call everyday life «normal».
A peace agreement and a declaration of independence I indeed find reasons to celebrate. At the same time, we should bear in mind that they don’t solve all problems of a post-war country at once. And so, won’t a further approach to the EU. Normalizing and improving living conditions, social and economic conditions can be a daily struggle that stretches out far beyond ministry buildings, conference halls and tables where politicians, diplomats, the international community and negotiators meet and for whom, too often, these struggles are very far away.
I wish Kosovo and its people all the best, every single day.
Aleksandra Hiltmann ist 30 Jahre alt, wohnt in Zürich, hat Politik- und Medienwissenschaften an der Universität Zürich studiert, bereist seit über 5 Jahren den Balkan und hat 2017 6 Monate in Pristina gelebt (Botschaftspraktikum). Nach einem Radiostage bei SRF 4 News macht sie derzeit ein Reportagen-Praktikum bei der annabelle.
Image: by Aleksandra Hiltmann, Upper line: Driving in Afrim’s taxi. Lower line: The village of Plemetina, 15 kilometers from the capital Prishtina.