Since I was in Balkans anyway, I decided to spend a day and take a look at the newest country in Europe – Kosovo.
I stepped on a bus at 9 AM and started going towards Kosovo. Pretty soon we were nearing the border because my phone changed carrier to a Kosovian one and Estonian Mobile Telephone (EMT) sent me an SMS: “Welcome to Monaco!”. Yes, Monaco. A country 1100 km from Kosovo. In a way I understand EMT. A few years ago Kosovo appeared on a map as a new country, now we also have South Sudan, in the near future perhaps Somaliland, Catalunya or Scotland. It must be very hard for EMT to stay on top of things with country names in these crazy times.
Border crossing went quickly and a minute after reaching Kosovo, bus driver started selling tickets to those people on the bus who did not have it yet. The currency used in Kosovo is euro. While we in Estonia held our breath to see if we fill all the criteria necessary to join eurozone, Kosovo (and Montenegro) just started using euro as their state currency without much thought. Perhaps they had not heard of Maastricht. On the other hand, in Macedonia it is illegal to use euro in transactions. In the past people tended to prefer it to local Dinar and there was a real danger euro becoming the de facto currency of the country. Thus it was forbidden to use it in transactions. And this is exactly the reason why bus driver started selling the tickets only when we’d made it to Kosovo already – that way he could charge euros (and only euros, as a matter of fact).
Approximately at 11 we made it to Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo. In Estonia people tend to associate Kosovo’s independance and breakup from Serbia with our own independece and breakup from Soviet Union. This comparison is fundamentally flawed. The nationality of Kosovars does not exist. The people living in Kosovo are albanians. And they consider themselves albanians. This also tells visually – albanian flags are very common in Prishtina, outnumbering Kosovar flags 10 to 1. Thus the more appropriate comparison with Estonia would be if the local russian community in north-east Estonia would break up and declare the Republic of East-Virumaa. That would be to Estonia what Kosovo is to Serbia.
The city is actually very nice. There are a lot of very nice cafeterias with beautiful venue and good quality coffee. The only downside to that is that it is still allowed to smoke indoors and indeed, people use that right profusely. Walking around in the city centre the place looks much like any western city, apart from the mosques here and there (albanians are muslims), some of them still in construction. The main street is named the Boulevard of Bill Clinton and there’s his statue as well. Bill Clinton (for his part in the independance of Kosovo) is the local Alexandre the Great.
It was pretty cold and snowing during the day I was there but it did not ruin the overall picture. Prishtina is a nice city and I’d strongly suggest everybody with at least some interest in history to visit it. For a little bit more perspective I suggest to read about Kosovo and Balkan war in the nineties. You can also find plenty of material on both in YouTube, there are several full movies on these subjects (before watching them turn attention who produced or paid for it). And do visit the country while there is still time. I would not be surprised at all if the country would dissappear from the maps some time in the future..