I originally planned to visit more of Kosovo than just Pristina, but as it turned out I didn’t have the time, due to having to make a mad dash across multiple countries to meet my mother in Turkey. And I feel like I made the wrong decision in spending my day-and-a-half in Pristina.
Pristina is the most lifeless and grey city I’ve visited on my travels without a doubt. It’s also the least attractive, having a post-apocalyptic feel with its broken buildings and barbed wire fences, treeless parks and graffiti-covered walls. It felt a little sci-fi. From what I’ve heard about the city from other travelers I’m hazarding that my experience was in a large part due to the fact that I was there in late December when it’s freezing cold and the city is a colourless network of muddy sludge and dirty snow. I wouldn’t want to discount either the tumultuous recent history of the country, but I had the impression that in the summer the city would have a little bit more to offer. Where other cities I’ve visited are made ever more beautiful in the winter snows, Pristina goes the other way.
Ok, so there’s still a little beauty to be found. It’s just not the type you find elsewhere in Europe.
I wished I’d instead visited another part of Kosovo, somewhere that there would be things to do and places to see. As it was, the only official ‘sightseeing’ that I did, aside from wandering the streets for hours, was visit the Kosovo Museum.
The building housing the museum was undergoing renovations, so there was no peace and quiet to be had in the museum – despite that I was the only visitor. The museum houses a number of fascinating archaeological artefacts representing the earliest occupations of the area and had excellent English information. What I found most interesting however – and most sad – was the fact that much of the museum is given over to pleas to the Serbian government to return almost one thousand artefacts it ‘borrowed’ from the museum in early 1998, before, to put it mildly, things went a little sour.
The issue of Kosovo’s independence is such a touchy subject in Kosovo, Serbia and Albania, and every person I spoke to about it in all three countries had eloquent and emotional arguments for or against Kosovo’s independence. I’d naively thought at first ‘What’s the big deal? Why does Serbia care so much about retaining Kosovo – a province where Serbs are a small minority?’ I learned that it wasn’t so simple, but I cannot claim to understand all the emotions and intensity of feelings on each side. As an outsider, I guess I find it all a little crazy and confusing as hell, all this the fighting over a tiny scrap of land. And when cities and regions are inextricably entwined with national identity and religious identity… I can only hope that someone with some common sense will step forward and figure out a way to make everyone happy. More naivety! Why can’t everyone just be friends! I found it difficult in this region to reconcile the wonderful people I met – in all three countries with an emotional investment in the Kosovo situation – with their very nationalistic and aggressive opinions towards their opponents. It probably doesn’t help that I really don’t get nationalism, or that I’m Australian and have no experience – or vested interest – similar to that of the people of Kosovo, Albania or Serbia in that respect.
So the moral to the story of the Kosovo National Museum is that even ancient artefacts are all caught up in politics in that part of the world.
I did enjoy wandering the streets of Pristina. Despite the inclement weather and the drabness of the city, I liked some of the crazy architecture. One of the main streets had Santa strolling up and down, while kids let off firecrackers that sounded like machine guns. There are a number of small Ottoman style mosques that are in great need of restoration, and lots of little bakeries selling delicious lamb-filled pastries that I couldn’t help but gorge myself on.
Like most of South-Eastern Europe, I’d like to revisit Kosovo in better weather. When I was taking the bus from Tirana to Pristina, I met a lovely local woman who lamented that I’d made the mistake of coming to her country at this time of year, telling me that I’d come at the worst possible time and when the city was at its worst. A Muslim, she told me of the beautiful medieval Serbian Orthodox churches in other parts of Kosovo that I simply must visit, and of the landscape, and of local festivals and food and culture. So that settles it, I thought – I’ll put Kosovo back on the to-do list [which is getting longer by the minute], but at a nicer time of year.
Plus, I liked the graffiti on those old grey buildings. And I’ve never, ever seen so many pro-America and especially pro-George W. Bush sentiments expressed anywhere.