11.08.2013. Along with Bosnia and Albania, Kosovo is a country which I had really looked forward to visiting in this trip. After 2 months of travelling, I finally crossed its friendly borders from Macedonia, welcomed with the widest of smiles from the border police. As I initially suspected, this young country doesn’t necessarily have much to see (or at least not now). But visitors expecting the usual tourist attractions is misguided. It is a country one arrives to feel, to learn and to understand.
The Republic of Kosovo declared its independence on 17 February 2008, effectively becoming the world’s second youngest country (only South Sudan is ‘younger’). Its path to independence was fraught with a war and casualties, and many challenges continue in present day, be it a struggling economy or gaining international recognition. Due to nations facing their own separatist problems, or having different interpretations of the international law, not all countries have recognised Kosovo as a country. As of June 2013, 103 countries out of 193 UN members have recognised Kosovo as an independent state.
Prishtina is Kosovo’s capital city, characterised by 2 main roads- the Bill Clinton and the Mother Theresa Boulevards. The former American president is a popular figure in Kosovo, having led the NATO forces during the Kosovo war in 1999 against the ex-Yugoslav forces. The latter is the main square and hub of Prishtina, lined with chic cafes and restaurants. Each night the whole of Prishtina seems to congregate at this square, giving it a sense of community which one can’t quite see any more in capital cities of the world.
My trip was highlighted by the people I met- be it the local vendors who walked up to me, shook my hands and invited me to take photographs of their wares; the drivers who gave me a friendly horn and a thumbs up as I point my camera at their beautiful old town; or the new local friends I made, who so graciously shared such tremendous insights to their country and introduced me to the city’s legendary night life. I was overwhelmed by the sheer friendliness of Kosovo’s people, a consistent feature of my time in the Balkans.
It was riveting to spend August 9, Singapore’s independence day in Kosovo. Looking at the success of my nation’s transformation from third world to a world class city in a mere 40 odd years; I can’t help but wish Kosovo the same, as it finds its young feet in the increasingly complex world, and hopefully along the way, to not lose sight of the heart and soul of its people.
As my new friend Gezim said, “Don’t just hear and read about Kosovo, come and have a look at it yourself.” I could not have say it any better myself.