Albana Shala on Tue, 12 Oct 1999 18:41:48 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Personal impressions from my working trip to Kosovo

Personal impressions from my working trip to Kosovo
Albana Shala

I have been dealing with Kosovo media since early 1998, but it was not
possible for me to travel to the country due to the visa issue. Holding an
Albanian passport made it impossible. Therefore this was my first trip to
Kosovo, precisely Prishtina, due to the fact that most of the media
projects are concentrated there, and out of the capital security falls
rapidly. I flied from Tirana to Prishtina with World Food Programme plane,
which offers its service to NGOs working the region. Still no air
companies fly to Prishtina. 

The streets were full of people, and until the early hours of the morning
I could listen sound of the music played near the only operative hotel in
Prishtina, hotel Grand. Hotel Grand, once owned and run by the Serbs, now
was run by people related to the so-called Provisional Government,
extremely polite and helpful. Though it keeps the five stars, at least
three of the stars have been falling with time and particularly during the
months of the war, in which Arkan guys, I was told used to run the place. 
Many of our media counterparts with whom I had meetings did not like to
use Hotel Grand facilities… ‘before we could hardly touch ground here, one
did only raise suspicion while waiting for a foreigner in the hall” –
explains Sanije Gashi, the editor in chief of Teuta the only independent
monthly magazine that exclusively deals with women’s issues. “For dogs and
Albanians there was no entry”. 

As I previously mentioned, neither under Enver Hoxha’s regime, nor during
the 90s could Albanians of Albania travel to Kosova. I have not seen the
‘ghost city’ as one Dutch official working in the country told me,
therefore most of my impressions are influenced by comparisons made with
the country I come from. The streets of Prishtina remind me of the streets
of Tirana, during 1991-1992, full of people, people who came in the
capital in order to find a new home, but people who have left homes for
very different reasons. For the first time after nearly 50 years,
Albanians of Albania could travel freely throughout their country;
Northerners soon called pejoratively “malok” or “shpellare” could finally
meet and talk with the Southerners. These encounters did not resemble
those folk festival celebrations usually organised in the birth town of
Hoxha. I remember the curious, hungry eyes, who quickly overrun shame and
took over aggressively the false quietness of the urbans; a defiant and
often openly aggressive encounter of individuals who did not wish anymore
to live together as “one - in unity, as under siege”, each of them in
search of a prosperous life. 

Many talk of ‘euphoria’ in Prishtina, I did not feel that. What I felt was
more the remainder of ‘self-containment’ - the key word used by many to
describe Kosovars of the 90s. (Not a single shooting was heard in
Prishtina on the day of demilitarisation). What I heard was Albanian music
played so loudly by recorders placed on the pavements, and what I saw were
many parked cars on the pavement. “This did not used to happen before in
our city” – told to me one of the old citizens of Prishtina. I saw people
who just wonder for hours in the streets, many disoriented, many in search
of a new home, in search of a job, in search of a telephone line that
works. I also witnessed the 24 hrs hunger strike of the relatives of the
ones that are still kept in prisons in Serbia. 

Yet apart from media, some of which Press Now supports, and whose
journalists consistently report, pointing sharply at what is happening and
what happened in the capital and throughout Kosovo, I could feel a certain
reluctance on the side of many to talk about what has happened during the
past months, how they managed to escape, and the border episodes.  “My
father goes daily to his village, with some help from the humanitarian
agencies, he is trying to put his house together, it was burned to the
ground” told me my friend Astrit. Not a single word more. They are even
more reluctant when I ask them about the Serbs that used to live in
Kosovo.  When I insist for an answer the reaction is like “let’s not open
up the wounds”. 

The only Serbs I met, in Hotel Grand, were Zvonko Tarke, a journalist
originally from Croatia, who together with his committed wife last July
started Radio Contact, an independent Serb-Albanian station. The station
was then closed down by the Serb regime, as soon as it started
broadcasting. Tarle does not live these days in Prishtina, but he is
thinking of coming back soon to restart again with the station. What
should not happen is that the station gets closed again. In order to
ensure that, in order to ensure that the ‘self-contained’, but homeless
Albanians from the rural areas do not take over the capital, to ensure
that Kosovo does not go down the road of anarchy (as 1997 Albania did),
KFOR, UNMIK, OSCE and international community have to be present there and
govern carefully Kosovo, for some time, in order to give to the people a
chance to heal, to substantiate their present and their hopes for an
independent future. 

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