Travellers who want to try the unconventional will be fascinated by the newest country on earth: Republika e Kosovës, the Republic of Kosovo. Called Kosova by Albanians and Kosovo by Serbians and the international community, it has currently been recognized by 62 UN member states after declaring independence from Serbia on February 17th, 2008. This diamond-shaped country the size of Upper Bavaria promises not only history to walk in, but also valuable life lessons, unsuspected surprises and people tested by war, but filled with hope for the future.
by Martin Thormann
Being the stage of ethnic cleansing in 1999 during the Kosovo war, a lot has changed since then. Trying to summarize all the events that let to the human tragedy of 1999 is impossible within the scope of this article. To simply say it’s complicated, is still simplifying a complexity that cannot be simplified. Kosovo has always been the victim of foreign interests and the Kosovo War did not start in 1999 when pictures of fleeing Kosovo-Albanians suddenly appeared on our TV screens. Nor did it end in 1999, as the unrests between Albanians and Serbs of March 2004 showed. One could argue the whole conflict started in 1389 with the Battle of Kosovo, the rise of nationalism in the fading 19th century, 1913 with the Treaty of London, the death of Josip Broz Tito in 1980 or the subsequent rise of Slobodan Milošević to power during the late 1980s and 1990s which led to the oppression of the Albanian majority in Kosovo by the ruling Serbian political class.
The fact is that all these events played a major role in turning Kosovo into one of the most ethnically divided countries in the world with lots of unresolved conflicts as well as strong and persistent resentment on both sides of the ethnic spectrum. Yet this article does not intend to dig too much in the past, but draw a snapshot of the present and maybe even tries to give an outlook into the future. People lived and live in Kosovo, grew up, founded families and had jobs which is what journalists often forget when reporting about the situation there. It often seems that they equate Kosovo with a showcase of war and with that only. I recommend to read as many books about Kosovo as you can. Speak to people who live there and hear their story. There is not just one history of Kosovo, there are hundreds depending of who you want to read or listen to and believe. As we all know, history is written by the winners, so the truth is somewhere in the middle and you got to listen to the “loosers” as well. Nowhere is this more true than in Kosovo.
Kosovo is not your typical tourist destination. While you can find thousands of travel books about places like Amsterdam or say the Grand Canyon, Kosovo is very hidden from the forefront of international tourist destinations. There are only few books and maybe a dozen of helpful websites with information on where to go and what to see. In Kosovo you are not a tourist, you are required to be an explorer. Having the guidance of a local is priceless. Expect things to work out differently than you thought they would. There are no downloadable bus schedules, guided tours, signs pointing you to sights or tourist information centers. What you will find instead are people willing to go the extra mile to show you around and share their stories with you. What makes this place attractive and rich while being the poorest country in Europe, are its people, history and nature, but also its opposites, dissonances and tensions. One can sense that history is in the making and it will make you feel alive.
The easiest and cheapest way to enter Kosovo is by way of Alexander the Great International Airport near Skopje, Macedonia which is an hour drive from the Kosovian border. Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo, has an international airport, too, but tickets are more expensive, as Serbia denies flights to Kosovo to pass over their territory. The following photo story will give you a sense of what to expect, once you cross the border from the Europe as you know it into a place that has seen misery for decades and is now trying to get back on its feet …
(Photo: © Martin Thormann)