I decided to end my two week trip in Europe’s newest country, Kosovo. There is still much tension between Kosovo and Serbia, as Serbia still claims Kosovo to be part of its country. This is shown by the fact that one cannot enter Serbia for the first time if they are entering from the Kosovo border – they consider this an illegal entrance. I planned my trip to enter from Serbia to Kosovo on a bus from the two capitals, Belgrade to Pristina.
I arrived at the border on a 2/3 full bus at about 8pm. As we pulled up to the checkpoint, I noticed that it was snowing and that the cars had a thin covering of white snow on them. I then started looking around more. Whereas every other border patrol I had seen was permanent, this border was still set up as temporary. Every building was temporary, sitting on the concrete, as if it could be picked up and moved tomorrow. Only 108 countries in the world recognize Kosovo as an independent country, of those include the US, the UK, and most of the west. Kosovo claimed their independence in 2008.
As I walked around Pristina, I was most surprised to see the flying flags. Almost every time there was a Kosovo flag, there was also an Albanian flag and, many times, an American flag. Yes, they’re flying the Red, White, and Blue in Kosovo. Let’s just say that much appreciated the US’s help in gaining their independence. The most important leaders for this movement can be seen by their streets and the statues. I walked down Bob Dole Street and George Bush (Sr.) Boulevard. The best is taking a stroll down Bill Clinton Boulevard to see the Bill Clinton statue greeting traffic. Seeing these makes one realize how recent they have become a country. I’ve never seen another country fly the American flag, so it was fun to see this around the city.
To be honest, Pristina doesn’t have a whole lot to do for a visitor. They have a nice pedestrian street called Nena Tereza (Mother Teresa), a few mosques, a cathedral, a few strange communist buildings, and a market. Other than that, I didn’t find too much to do. I only spent two nights and a day and a half there, but I didn’t do much more than this. It was the coldest stop on my trip, as well, as temperatures hovered around 35 degrees.
I most enjoyed talking to people in Kosovo. People are curious about foreigners and were friendly and open. They are excited to be independent, although unemployment is up around 40-50%. It seems that the government was more military oriented. The same thing happened in Nicaragua after the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship; the coup didn’t actually know how to govern. I imagine the learning curve is steep but they are making progress.
From what I learned, Serbia’s main fear at the moment is that if they recognize Kosovo’s independence, Kosovo will immediately join Albania. Kosovo is made up of 92% ethnic Albanians, they speak Albanian, and obviously they feel more Albanian than anything else. I would imagine that this would turn out to be true, that Kosovo will try to join Albania. It would just make sense from an economic standpoint as well as cultural.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit other parts of Kosovo. Prizren is supposed to be a nicer city, although smaller, and there are supposed to be some other nice towns, as well. It was good to talk to people and learn more about the young country. However, there wasn’t a whole lot to do in Pristina, so I stayed just two nights and a day and a half. After this, I took a bus down to Skopje, Macedonia, and then another bus to Thessaloniki, Greece.
That was the end of my 15 day trip around the Balkans. I enjoyed skipping around from country to country, only visiting one place in each. Each country has its own unique history and vibe. A few of the places, like Kotor, Dubrovnik, and Sarajevo, are incredibly beautiful cities. Others, like Shkoder, Belgrade, and Pristina, have great energy with open people. Even though the conflicts in these countries are pretty recent, they’re all very safe countries and perfect for traveling. They’re inexpensive, interesting, easy to get around, and have good food. I can say that I took advantage of those 15 days and had a great time!