It is hard to believe now but it has been just 19 years since N.A.T.O warplanes from the U.S and European counties bombed a Europan capital city. The year was 1999 and the city was Belgrade.
The break up of Yugoslavia
After WW2 a federation of 6 socialists republics was put together in the Balkans. Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Slovenia. These became known as Yugoslavia. Kosovo was an autonomous province of Serbia.
General Tito kept this unlikely alliance together up to when he died in 1980. Soon after Titos death old nationalist issues quickly reappear and one by one they declared independence much to the annoyance of the biggest state Serbia. A number of high profile conflicts broke out between Serbia and its neighbours. Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina the most high profile.
The war between Serbia and Kosova
Peace eventually broke out between Serbia and most of the other federations but the relationship between Serbia and Kosova was a bit more complicated. Serbia saw Kosovo as historically part of Serbia. Kosovo has a majority Albanian population who make up 95% of the population and the main religion is Islamic.
Once Kosovo made moves to be independent of Serbia the Serbian army moved into Kosovo
NATO bombing of Serbia
After sometime NATO entered the conflict on the side of Kosovo. An air campaign by NATO warplanes saw the bombing of key military budlings and key bridges in Serbia. Eventually, Serbia withdrew from Kosovo and the NATO-led KFOR peace force entered Kosovo. At its height over 50,000 KFOR troops were in Kosovo. Today it is less than 5,000.
The Russians in Pristina Airport.
One of the rarely remembered incidents of the Kosovo war is a potential world war 3 flashpoint between Russia and NATO forces. At the time Russia was still in turmoil after the collapse of communism ten years earlier. Russian President Boris Yeltsin was upset that NATO had bombed a fellow Slavic country Serbia. During the Serbian pullout, they had arranged for 250 Russian troops that were on peacekeeping duties in Bosnia to move into Serbia. Rumour had it that they were heading to the Kosovian capital Pristina Airport. Pictures of Russian troops getting ready to board military planes in Russia was shown on Russian T.V.
To get to Kosovo they needed to flyover former communist allies Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary’s airspace. Initially, permission was given. These 3 countries at the time had ambitions to be in N.A.T.O so American pressure resulted in the flyover permission been withdrawn.
So the world held its breath and Russia did not get a foothold in this part of Europe so soon after the collapse of communism Interestingly the United States does. Camp Bondsteel is a U.S led N.A.T.O facility in Kosovo. Many questions have been asked as to why it is still there more than 18 years since the conflict with Serbia has finished. Kosovo’s independence was not recognised by the Council of Europe. Because of this, the camp is not bound by the Committee of Prevention of Torture. To date, the camp has not allowed any visits from the CPT. The base has been used as a detention centre and has been called a mini Guantanamo Bay.
Prizren city Kosovo
So I decided to go to Prizren Kosovo for a weekend. So many of these Balkin countries are very near each other. Skopje the capital of Macedonia where I am staying for a month is just 20km from the Kosovan border. Skopje to Prizren is less than 100km away.
Skopje Bus station
Bus from Skopje to Prizren
So 100km is not that bad. I paid in local currency what came to 16 Euro for a return ticket at Skopje bus station. There are 2 buses a day between Skopje and Prizren except for the weekends when there is just 1 bus between Skopje and Prizren. I reckoned the bus from Skopje to Prizren would take 2 hours. 3 hours 40 minutes later the bus arrived in Prizren Kosovo. The actual border crossing took only 20 minutes. The road is what would be called in most countries called a minor road. The good news is that I could see construction of a major Kosovo motorway underway. Once compleated it will go from the capital Pristine to the border with Albania.
Once I shook off the unexpected long bus journey off I quickly became happy with my decision to go to Prizren for the weekend. Prizren is said to be the most attractive city in Kosovo. I did not see much in the way of any hangover from the communist days. Very little in the way of grim grey buildings. I threw my bag on my 15 euro as day hotel bed and made my way into the historic area of Prizren. It was a Saturday night and it was packed with a great mix of young and old. People drinking beer or coffee. The towns river the Prizren Bistrica cuts through the old town and the place is full of bars, restaurants and coffee houses and live music.
Prizren Historic area
Where are you from Kosovo style
Anyone that reads my blogs knows my dislike of the 4 words where are you from. To date, 100% of the time I have been asked where are you from it means give me money. In Prizren when I had a coffee I was asked where are you from. When having a beer where are you from. In a shop where are you from. I am shocked. Everywhere I went to Prizren people asked and actually wanted to know where I was from. What was I doing in Prizren? Did I like it? The Kosovans in Prizren were some of the nicest friendliest people I have met for a long time.
On Sunday morning I climbed up the hill with a hangover from my 1 euro a beer the night before to Kalaja Fortress Prizren. It was well worth it for the spectacular view of the city. I would advise anyone to look at visiting Kosovo even if it just for getting to talk to the Kosovans. They are a young country and seem to go out of their way to be helpful and friendly to visitors. It is probably a good time to visit before mass tourism takes hold.
Mosque Prizren Kosovo
Main attractions of Prizren Kosovo
Kalaja Fortress Prizren – Worth a walk up the hill for the great view
Sinan Pasha Mosque – The main mosque in the historic area.
Albanian Leauge of Prizren Museum– This political organisation was founded in Prizren Kosovo.
Bars coffee shops and restaurants – For me, the towns main square where people socialise mainly at night is the main attraction. There is a great vibe an energy to this place.
Even though it is not part of the E.U yet Kosovo has adopted the Euro as its currency. ATMs also distribute the Euro but be warned the ATMs charge a 5 euro transaction fee so bring your euros with you. Compared to most other European countries Kosovo is extremely cheap.
Over 90% of Kosovans want the country to join the E.U. Recently Spain has made some objections as some in Catalonia may see a Kosovan entry into the E.U as similar to a Catalan entry to the E.U should it separate from Spain. 10 years on from officially declaring independence Kosovo seems to be as far away as ever to get to join the E.U. It may be a blessing in disguise. After what I saw in Bulgaria how the country has lost 25% of its population since 1990. The vast majority of them young people. Kosovo has the youngest population under 25 in Europe. Over 50% of them are unemployed. I am sure given the freedom they will leave if they can see a better life. I think the European Union needs to come up with some plan to help new countries join but make it attractive for their young people also to stay and see a future in their own country.
This week’s Vlog is a short video from Prizren Kosovo. Click here to check it out.
From BEER to eternity
Well, that 0.65 cent beer in Bulgaria is proving to be a tough mark to break. I am beginning to think Bulgaria is the ground zero of the worlds cheapest beer. Europes cheapest beer for sure. I think it will be in Bulgaria the 0.65 cent beer will be broken.
In the meantime, I am happy to report that cheap beer is available also in Kosovo. In Prizren, I enjoyed a 500 ml bottle of the local Peja beer for 1 euro and a draft pint for 1.50 euro. Both were in what I would call upmarket establishments and packed a punch.
Join me on my journey.
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