A Visit to Kosovo, by Ted Cookson

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by Ted Cookson
Published in December 2003


This month I have penned a few words about my short visit to Pristina, Kosovo 7-9 May 2003.  I flew inexpensively from Cairo to Pristina on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul.  Nothing can really compensate for the 8-hour layover in Istanbul on the northbound trip after not having slept the previous night unless perhaps one uses those hours in downtown Istanbul en route.  But at least the experience is made all the more pleasant by Istanbul's wonderful new airport terminal.

The rich agricultural lands near Pristina have been tilled continuously for some 6,000 years.  The Roman town of Ulpiana was built there upon an earlier settlement.  This was later fortified by Justinian in 518.  The present name of the city has evolved from "Justiniana" to "Istriana" to Pri + Istrina," today pronounced "Prish-tee'-na."  

With a population of some 600,000 in 1999, Pristina occupies a central point on the Kosovo plain.  Pristina is surrounded by low hills, and from the outskirts of town one can see snow-covered mountains in the distance.  Pristina contains a central core with some Ottoman buildings.  There are mosques built in the Turkish architectural tradition and a nineteenth century Ottoman clock tower.  Unfortunately the small collection of the Pristina Museum happened to be closed during the week of my visit. The museum is said to contain only a few objects now as the large archeological collection was looted by Serbian troops in 1999.

In that same year the central post office and police headquarters were both destroyed by NATO cruise missiles, probably fired from ships in the Adriatic.  A high rise building which contained the various Kosovo ministries was also devastated by the shock wave emanating from the nearby missile strike on the central post office.  Four years later, the rubble in that high rise was being stripped out by a European Union aid project so that the building could be reconstructed and re-used eventually.

Today Kosovo is administered by the United Nations.  The acronyms UNMIK (United Nations Mission in Kosovo) and KFOR (United Nations Kosovo Forces) are to be seen on buildings and vehicles all over Pristina.  Specifically, the United Nations is responsible for provision of assistance to Kosovo in the fields of police and justice and also in civil administration.  The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) provides assistance in transitional planning.  The European Union is charged with providing assistance to Kosovo in economic reconstruction.

In Pristina I was the guest of a friend who works in the reconstruction of public utilities.  As one might expect, there is some frustration felt between the various power spheres involved in development in Kosovo.  Such frustrations probably largely escape the public eye. 

In May 2003 my friend commented to me that the joke in the development community in Kosovo was that only if the United States really wanted to hurt Iraq would the U. S. allow the United Nations to become involved in reconstruction there.  Contrary to world opinion, expatriates involved in the Kosovo aid effort feel that in general the United Nations is too bureaucratic and unfocused.  In addition, too often the U. N. lacks an exit strategy. 

Prior to the recent conflict, Kosovo constituted an autonomous region of Yugoslavia.  Currently administrated by the United Nations, Kosovo is not a country as such.  This is important for such development issues as privatization which is all the rage nowadays, especially in Eastern Europe
.  If Kosovo is not a country, what will guarantee the rights of potential investors?  Who would want to risk investing his capital in Kosovo if it is not a country?

On another level, on the street in Pristina one can buy current popular music CD's for only 1.50 euros each and the latest computer software such as Windows XP, Encarta 2003, Photoshop 7.0 and McAfee Anti-virus 2003 for only 2.50 euros each.  The men selling these CD's explain that these programs are imported from
Russia, Bulgaria and Greece.  One's initial reaction is that this is theft of intellectual property.  However, it may be the case that at the moment there is no law on the books which prohibits such activity.  After all, Kosovo's laws are still in the process of codification.      

During my short visit to Pristina I also took an interesting excursion to the nearby town of Gracanica where there is a church built in 1321 by King Milutin of Serbia.  Originally there was a monastery too, but today only the church remains.  The church contains a series of frescoes which is said to be a masterpiece of medieval art.  Grananica is only a 15-minute drive from downtown Pristina, and a taxi will take a tourist there and back for as little as 15 euros.

ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 307 of the 315 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  ept@link.net.  Web site:  www.eptours.com


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