Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

It's hard to believe that we are ringing in another new year in Kosovo. While I'm not actually in mission, I've marked five and a half years of my adult life there which is no small feat. But I do have to admit that in the time I have spent in Kosovo, I have seen many changes...and many for the better. I remember when I first arrived back in the summer of 2000, the water and power was almost constantly off with no regular schedule. But that has changed now and people are rewarded with power when they pay their bills. But things in Kosovo have also changed a bit for the worse, at least from an outsider's perspective. While trying to be European, the politics of Kosovo are strife with corruption and politicians in Pristina seem to ignore the plight of those outside the capital.

Also for several years now, certain groups of the Albanian population have been losing their patience with the pace of UNMIK in resolving the status issue. Those from democratic countries know that democracy does not come cheaply nor does it come quickly. In the US we are still perfecting our democracy with each election...and people in Kosovo can't expect that they can just *snap* and have an instantly working independent country. However, the impatience of the Albanian groups, especially Self-Determination, has created a feeling of unwelcome for many that makes some internationals unwilling to stay the course and continue working in Kosovo. I myself will stay in Kosovo at least until the end of June but I know many people who are leaving. Whether or not I stay past June does partly depend on the attitude of the local population in addition to the fate of UNMIK.

The SRC holds an annual party every year, usually to benefit charity.  This year the SRC held the annual party in conjunction with fundraising for HIV/AIDS education through the UN Health Clinic and other NGOs.  The SRSG Joachim Ruecker attended the event and posed for pictures with the fundraising group and members of the SRC.  From the pictures, you can see that SRSG Ruecker doesn't mind having a Peja beer every once in awhile.  It was a great honor for him to attend the event organized by the SRC and he was generous in making a contribution to our fundraising event along with the members of his staff :)

The fundraisers, a group of volunteers from the Health Clinic and around the UN, with the SRSG

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Status Decision Due in Spring 2007

Of course,it is no suprise now that the status decision has been delayed until 2007. However, the decision may not come as quickly as the Kosovo Albanians hope. The elections in Serbia are scheduled for January 21st and only after the elections are held will Ahtisaari reveal his proposal for the fate of Kosovo. Following that proposal to the UN Security Council, the Council itself must decide what action to take. Does the SC tell Serbia that they must give up Kosovo, a territority that they claim is an integral part of their country and heritage? Does the SC tell the unweilding Albanian majority in Kosovo that they must respect and remain under Serbian rule? All what if questions are being asked in the Balkans now. What if this, what if that? No one really knows what will happen but whatever does, it will have a huge impact not only on Kosovo but the surrounding countries.
The "radical" party in Serbia that politicians fear will take over the country should the status proposal be presented before the election is now stating that the UN or EU takes the Kosovo territory away from them, they will have no reason to continue negotiating to enter the European Union, especially should Kosovo be part of that union. Kosovo politicians are stating that they will be independent and part of the United Nations next year.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Large Weapons Cache Seized

A large weapons cache has been seized in central Kosovo by KFOR and KPS. Three Albanians, including a goverment official have been arrested in connection with the weapons. The government official was identified as Naim Bazaj, a senior advisor to the minister of labor. Bazaj and one of the other detainees are members of the AAK party, the political party of former Prime Minister Ramush Hardinaj who is accused of war crimes.
The seizure has been the largest in Kosovo since the end of the 1999 conflict. The weapons found included anti-aircraft guns, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank mines, rifles, and thousands of rounds of various types of ammunition.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Day from Hell

It has been one of those eternally bad days for me today.  The morning started off with a painful charlie-horse (severe cramp) in my calf.  After spending a few moments groaning in pain, I was up and ready to go. 
Went downtown to have lunch with some friends.  When I got back, my vehicle was clamped by Security who informed me that I had been involved in a hit & run accident.  News to me!  Anyways, looking at the pictures that were taken, it does appear that the tire of my vehicle rubbed against the bumper of a taxi who somehow ended up plowing into a road sign on a median.  What I figure happened is that the guy tried to squeeze past me while I was stopped at a crosswalk and rubbed against my tire, up onto the median because he wouldn't fit...and then looking to blame someone else besides his own stupidity.  I actually didn't realize that anything had happened as there was not impact to my vehicle...those big 4Runners are pretty hardy!  So anyways, accused of a hit & run so the procedure is that Security takes away my driver's license until they do their investigation.  Which means that I'm hard-pressed now to deliver the toys tomorrow to Lipjan for the toy-drive I've been doing for the past several weeks. 

Moving forward...after having the license taken away, I got dropped downtown again after work (since I'm not driving now).  I visited a couple friends and then took a taxi home from the Grand Hotel.  When I was getting out of the taxi, I got an SMS.  As the taxi drove off, I reached into my pocket but lo-and-behold, no mobile.  It must have fallen out of my pocket when I reached in to get the money.  Rush inside to borrow the landlord's phone...son informs me that they don't have one but we can go next door and use the grandfathers.  Great!  A couple minutes have passed since I got out of the taxi...the guy can't be too far!  I ring my phone.  It rings, rings, rings, rings and I get my voicemail.  I decide to walk downtown and see if I can find the guy again.  20 minutes pass and I'm downtown.  I stop by the Kukri/Phoenix to borrow a friend's phone but now I'm not available.  Someone has turned off my phone.  I go up to the Grand but I can't find the guy.  So now, my phone has been taken by some unscrupulous taxi driver.  I would have paid the guy to bring the phone back...he dropped me off right in front of the house so it's not like he didn't know where I live!

Now tomorrow I have to go the PTK to deactivate my old SIM card and have them reissue a new one.  The worst part of losing the phone isn't that I have to buy a new one but the fact that I lost all my friend's telephone numbers!  I'll be sending out an email to everyone to ask them to help me out and send their number to me again!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Kosovo: Eternally Dependant?

Part of the railway system in Kosovo last Friday was destroyed when a bridge exploded.  The Freedom of Movement train, primarily used by Serbs, was most likely the target of the blast but it did not reach the bridge before the blast.  Had the train reached the bridge, it would have fallen into the river below. 
Politicians are again in a frenzy of statements saying that Kosovo's status must be resolved quickly, blah, blah, blah.  There was an article in Reuters though titled "UN warns on Kosovo delays, Moscow sees blackmail" that outlines the differences in point of view within the Security Council and negotiation teams.  Of course, the Albanians want nothing short of independence and have threatened civil unrest should they not have their status decided soon.  The Serbian delegation from Belgrade has offered substantial autonomy but insists that Kosovo remain part of Serbia as the Serbs look on Kosovo as the birthplace of their culture.

The Guardian printed an article about a Serbian basketball team in Kosovo that has been playing against Albanians.  The players are from central Serbia rather than Kosovo as some believe that it is too big of a step to be taken at this time to have the Kosovo populations play against each other.
There was a good article on Kosovo in the Washington Post that asks questions about Kosovo and the politics of the peacekeeping mission.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Current President Elected Head of Party

President Fatmir Sejdiu was elected to head the LDK party, founded by late president Ibrahim Rugova.  According to governmental rules, Sejdiu cannot continue serving in both positions as party leader and president.  He must either decline the leadership position in LDK or resign as president. 
Meanwhile, reports are flowing in about armed men in black uniforms and masks operating illegal vehicle checkpoints in Kosovo.  The group was involved in a shootout last week with KPS officers and later identified themselves as the banned terrorist group Albanian National Army (ANA - English, ASKH in Albanian).  The UN identified ANA as a terrorist group in 2003.  Albanian politicians, such as former guerilla leader, PM Agim Ceku is condemning the group's actions and calling them "damaging" to the image and security of Kosovo.  NATO also acknowledged the group's existence and checkpoints but stated that incidents should not be blown out of proportion...whatever that means!  After the shootout with KPS, police returned to the scene and recovered ammunition and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Politically In-correct

Oh yeah!  I have had the song for quite some time now but I just found the video to the "Kosovo Song".  The song is hilarious but the video is way better :)  If I recall correctly, the guys that did the video got in a bit of trouble for being politically incorrect...but hey, lighten up and enjoy!
There also is a video from some American KFOR soldiers apparently stationed at Bondsteel that has some good footage of around Kosovo and the soldiers goofing off.  Again, it may offend those with delicate sensibilities...but if you aren't the type to easily get your panties in a bunch...enjoy!!!

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Pushing Fake Travel Documents in Kosovo

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network published an article about the illegal document peddling that goes on in Kosovo and surrounding countries.  The problem stems mostly from the inability of Albanians to travel to other countries using the UNMIK Travel Document as most countries require a visa.  With old ex-Yugoslav documents, people are able to easily travel to neighboring countries such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia without a visa. 
Meanwhile, Kosovo PM Ceku has been on a tour to promote independence in Kosovo.  He has visited Russia, Romania, and Croatia in the past weeks to try to build partnerships and gain support for an independent Kosovo.  The visit that received the most press was naturally his visit to Moscow which was dubbed "informal".  Russia is still holding to their statements that they will veto any move for independence in the Security Council and insists that any solution found must be acceptable to Serbia and Kosovo.  That's easier said than done with Albanians insisting on nothing short of independence and Serbia insisting that Kosovo remain part of Serbia.

And yesterday, five Albanians were arrested in connection with the violent demonstrations on 28 November where the government and UNMIK Mission HQ suffered damage.  The figures of how many demonstrators there were depends on the source.  Local media reports that there were 5000 people, UN Security stated that there were 4000, some international media says 3000, and one UNMIK police spokesperson said 2000 demonstrators.  While always difficult to judge the size of a crowd, from what I've seen and have been told, the crowd was around 3000-4000 maybe everyone should settle on the amount of 3500 :o)

Sunday, December 3, 2006


I have been violated!!!  No, don't go was only my house :o)  It is hard to explain but Western culture and Kosovo culture often clash.  Sometimes things happen that just take you by surprise because it just would never occur to you to do something like it.  Anyways, a couple weeks after I moved into my new flat in Dragodan, the landlord asked if his family could borrow the washing machine because theirs had broken.  Naturally I agreed, thinking that they would have theirs fixed in a week or so.  Nope, three months later the family is still using the washing machine in my place and now that the weather has turned cold, they have started to drape their pants, blankets, socks, and whatever else on the banister of my stairs. 
Then the central heating.  When I moved in, the rental agency guy joked that because my landlord installs central heating systems in houses, I was going to have the warmest house in all of Kosovo.  Yeah, right!  With temperatures dropping down to freezing at night, my landlord still hasn't turned on the heating.  I've asked him three times already when he was going to turn it on and each time I got the reply "in a couple of days".  Now I can't trust anything the guy says because evidently he was just blatantly lying to me over the past month and half as to when he was going to turn on the heating.  He also has promised all sorts of repairs to the flat that will be done over the weekends...but none have been started, let alone finished!

But that's not what I feel the most violated, this was a serious violation...the worst kind of violation that you could do to a computer person.  Sometime over the weekend while I was out shopping, one of the family came into my flat and used my computer without permission.  Now they didn't tell me that they had to use my computer, I found out myself when I went to go check my mail and discovered someone else's account on my computer.  Livid is the best description I can come up with as to how I felt at the moment.  Of course, the first thing I did was password protect my account so that if I go idle, it requires a password to get back into the system.  It is seriously beyond my belief that the family is comfortable walking into my flat and using my things!  Invasion of privacy in my book!!!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Back to Normal

Things are back to normal...mostly.  A lot of the shops were still closed this morning for some reason.  Yesterday afternoon was filled with excitement in Pristina, but elsewhere in Kosovo, Albanians celebrated Flag Day without incident.  A reported 10,000 Albanians gathered in Skenderaj to celebrate without any incidents reported.  There were other smaller celebrations around Kosovo. 
The worst event of a Flag Day past since the end of the conflict was in 1999 when two Serbs were killed by a crowd in Dardania.  A Serbian woman living in Ulpiana fell sick and the sister and husband wanted to take her to the Russian hospital in FKP.  They decided to drive through Dardania but were blocked by a huge mob of celebrating Albanians.  The mob dragged the trio out of the car and killed the sick woman and the husband.  The man received more than 30 gunshot wounds during the incident.  After dragging the trio out of the car, the mob turned over the vehicle (which carried old Serbian PR plates) and set it on fire.  KFOR was unable to quickly reach the scene due to the large number of people in the mob and is probably why the incident it turned deadly.

There was an interesting article called Kosovo: Calm Now, But Nervously Approaching Final Status.  It is a good read and surprisingly, I think the author has actually been to Pristina although he did get it's Bill Clinton Boulevard...much more pleasing to the ear!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Albanian Flag Day

2230 Hours:  Finally the "All Clear" has been given by Security for people to go back to Mission HQ.  Earlier people called to ask if it was okay and security said that things were calm around 1800hrs.  The official tally according to the UN is that the demonstration had 4000 people.  The demonstration was a combination of the Self-Determination group, students from the University of Prishtine, and the War Veterans Association.  The crowd chanted anti-negotation, anti-negotiation team, anti-decentralization, and of course, anti-UNMIK slogans during the demonstration.  Both the government building and UNMIK Mission HQ had windows broken out with bottles filled with red paint.  The crowd also managed to topple on of the concrete blocks that makes up a blast barrier in front of UNMIK MHQ.  The total damage is at 80 windows, 3 government vehicles, and a partridge in a pear tear (just kidding about the bird!) 
An interesting note that I found was that the gate to UNMIK MHQ was chained shut.  Now from reading, it appears that the protesters actually did the chaining.  During that time, the blast barrier was pulled down.  It was a rather smart tactic because no one inside the compound would have been able to see much and it would have taken them a couple minutes to respond once they found out because the main entrance was chained shut.

1700 Hours: Things are quiet now.  The radio has fallen silent so that means that Security is busy taking care of other problems.  The protestors reportedly tried to storm MHQ causing riot police to fire tear gas on the crowd.  So far we still haven't been told that it is okay to go downtown so we may camp out in the offices until we hear something.  Several of my colleagues work in a two block radius to MHQ so going home for them might not be easy if there are still crowds on the streets.  Even living up the hill in Dragodan, I'm ready for anything with my sleeping bag, a couple changes of clothing, and toothbrush.  I can easily camp out in my office for a couple days comfortably should anything major happen.

 1430 Hours:  The demonstration has begun.  UNMIK sent all the staff working downtown home at 1330 hours with the instruction that they were not to return until the "All Clear" has been given.  Wish I was still downtown so I could be off too! :o)  The demonstration is quite large, reported to be around 5000 people which is bigger than I expected.  But then they did bring a lot of people from outside town (I've heard rumors that the villagers are sometimes paid to come to the demonstrations...and some are paid to cause trouble).
The demonstration started at the Government Building where windows were smashed out by thrown rocks.  The crowd has now proceeded to UN Mission HQ and tried to destroy the blast barrier that sits on the street outside the gate in front of the main building.  Security is going crazy with announcements about movement restrictions every few minutes...makes me think that some staff members haven't been paying much attention to the previous warnings!

1000 Hours:  I won't call it Kosovo Flag Day because it really isn't.  Kosovo does not have a flag of its own yet.  The Albanians here are "borrowing" the flag of another country and politicians or the public cannot agree on what kind of flag they want for their own.  Kosovo should it become independent will probably become the first country without its own flag.  Each political party has its own idea what the flag should look like and just like the status negotiations, there is no compromise!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Mission Increases Security

UNMIK officials have officially announced that the mission was increasing security due to unspecific but serious threats against its personnel and property.  Stress-levels have been rising on the lead up to tomorrow's Flag Day mass protests in the streets of Pristina by the Self-Determination group and a recent spate of threats and tampering of UN vehicles (slashing tires or removing lug nuts). 
The Self-Determination group seems to have recruited young men of high-school age to plaster posters calling for the protests.  I drove past a couple groups that were hanging up posters around and they couldn't have been old enough to shave (maybe around 15-16 years-old).  From speaking to many of my local friends, they don't think there will be a very large turn-out as most of the population doesn't agree with the group's tactics.  There seemed to be popular support in the beginning but as I've seen, each protest seems to be with fewer and fewer people.  In fact the group seems to be losing quite a bit of respect lately and last week their headquarters was raided and Kurti was arrested for failing to show up in court to answer for previous civil disturbance charges

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Explosion Rocks Serbian School

An explosion ripped through a classroom in the village of Ropotovo minutes after the children had left the room.  Investigators believe that the explosion was caused by a hand grenade placed in a stove and that the incident was not ethnically motivated but rather due to conflicts over the management of the school.  There also is a question as to why the children were removed from the room before the explosion.  The instructor was conveniently late for the class so the students were transferred to another classroom minutes before the blast.  A KPS spokesman stated that three Serbian men were being held for questioning following the incident. 
In other news, the parliament of Albania has adopted a resolution calling for a quick resolution to Kosovo's status and recommending that independence be granted.  <soapbox>Cynically viewing the resolution...I guess the Albanian parliament doesn't have anything else to solve their own problems :-P  I can understand politicians in other countries making press statements but having the government actually spend time drafting a resolution on affairs in another country...that's a bit strange, don't you think?  It would be kind of like having Mexico pass a resolution saying that they think that California should be independent...or the US Congress passing a resolution saying that Canada should give up Quebec.  Yeah...that'd go over real well :o) </soapbox>

Monday, November 20, 2006

Self-Determination Leader Arrested

Albin Kurti of the Self-Determination group (Vetenvendosje in Albanian) was arrested yesterday by Kosovo police for failing to show up in court to answer charges of civil unrest.  In addition to recent protests against UNMIK and decentralization, the group has claimed responsibility for vandalizing UN vehicles by painting or putting stickers on the body or removing the lug nuts from the wheels.  The group is reportedly planning mass street demonstrations on 28 November calling for the parliament to unilaterally declare independence from Serbia.
Meanwhile, a report has been released stating that Kosovo needs to have a multi-ethnic defense force if granted independence.  The force of around 2500 would be responsible for national security and upon its creation, the UN-group suggests that the Kosovo Protection Corp (TMK in Albanian, KPC in English) is disbanded.  The report that was previewed at a recent forum hosted by the US Institute for Peace goes on to state that TMK members should not be barred from applying for positions in the new Kosovo force but that there should be no guarantees that they will be allowed to transition.  TMK currently has about 5000 "national guardsmen" and is nearly all Albanian.

And in the run-up to the first elections since the death of Rugova, internal party conflict is threatening to split the LDK (Democratic League of Kosovo) party.  The current president, who must resign if he takes the position, and the former speaker are both running campaigns to take over as leader of the party.  The internal conflict has created even further divisions in the party that was struggling to keep things together before Rugova's death.  In the last elections, LDK did not gather enough votes to rule alone so they had to form a coalition government.

And finally, the power!  In one word...BAD!  The new power schedule is 3:3 (three on - three off) in A-areas, 2:5 in B-areas, and 1:5 in C-areas.  Only two of the generators of both power plants are working and Kosovo is already importing nearly 70MW from outside.  With the temperatures still in the 40-50's, the colder part of the winter is looking pretty miserable for everyone in Kosovo.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Let the Games Begin!

It has long be forecasted that should the UN not give the Albanians what they want, the population would basically rise up and "bite the hand that feeds" them.  And while groups have been against UNMIK before, I think now things have gotten a bit more serious and troublesome.  Distributing flyers or putting toilets in front of the gate is fine...but now the Self-Determination group has threatened to put explosive devices on UN vehicles prompting Security to go crazy with warning staff members to check vehicles and some individuals are starting to tamper with the vehicles creating potentially deadly consequences. 
Also few days ago, the entire wheel of one of the UNMIK 4Runners came off while a staff member was driving.  After investigating the incident, it was discovered that the wheel had been tampered with and the bolts removed.  This coincides with another threat against UN vehicles where the Self-Determination Group said they would deflate tires and otherwise vandalize the vehicles (nothing new.)

Another recent activity of the Self-Determination Group has been in the Gnjilane region.  Members of the group have been stepping in front of moving UN vehicles forcing the drivers to apply emergency braking procedures and then either accosting the drivers or attempting to put stickers on the vehicles.  Reports are also coming that members of the group have been attempting to spit on international staff members while walking or driving.

This weekend I also noticed a new poster hanging up around Pristina.  Every once in a while for American holidays, a group hangs up posters to celebrate the holiday.  The new posters say "Thank you USA.  We <heart> You!  Happy Thanksgiving".  I can't think of anywhere else in the world that celebrates the US holidays like they do in Kosovo.  In fact, I think that we Americans should go on strike because the Kosovo-Albanians are celebrating three days of Thanksgiving and we only have one!

Monday, November 6, 2006

SG Annan admits status may not be resolved by end 2006

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, the highest official in the UN announced that there may be a delay in the decision for Kosovo's status.  This is the first admission by the UN that the status may be delayed.  Annan does go on to say that special envoy Ahtisaari's negotiations are expected to conclude but as we have seen so far, the negotiations are not likely to bring around any compromised status anytime soon.  This new statement from Annan coincides with statements made a few weeks ago by EU representatives that the status may not be resolved until early 2007.  The fear is that should Serbia lose Kosovo (15% of its territory) that ultra-nationalists will take over in the coming elections (scheduled for December).  An article in the International Tribune gives some extra insight as to why delaying the status decision is politically sound and a good decision.

Friday, November 3, 2006

Self Determination Group in Macedonia?

Posters from the Kurti's Self-Determination group have turned up on the windows of shops in Macedonia.  One would ask the question as to why the group that pushing for a referendum in Kosovo for independence would hang up signs in Macedonia?! The signs urge the boycott of Serbian products stating that the money made by companies is used to finance the army and police...which I guess leads on to the argument that the army and police abuse the citizens and continue from there.  Of course the Serbian police and army haven't been in Kosovo for the past seven years...but we won't go there :)
Looking back, I noticed that I forgot to mention the Self-Determination group's protest last Friday where they threw bags of ink over the UN fence at vehicles and left a toilet with a bow around it in front of the main gate.  The group also distributed anti-UNMIK, anti-1244, and anti-decentralization pamphlets that littered the street near the Kukri/Phoenix bar.  There was only about 50 people at this demonstration...I'm not sure if the group is losing interest or if the demonstrations are losing strength due to crackdowns by the KPS.  

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Winter Comes to Kosovo!

Old man winter has arrived in Kosovo.  This morning Smokey and I were greeted with big fluffy flakes of snow when we went outside for our morning walk.  It has continued to snow for the past several hours but it is so wet that none of it is sticking yet.  A white Kosovo is one of the most beautiful places because everything (trash, mud, dirt, everything) is covered with a bright white blanket of snow.  Then it is all ruined when traffic and people turn the pristine snow into a muddy slush that seems to follow you no matter where you go! 
So far the power has been pretty good.  I can't remember any power outages in the past two nights when the temperatures dropped down into the freezing zone...get the window scrappers out!  KEK says that the power is supposed to be 4:2 in A-areas but maybe the power consumption is not as high as anticipated.  I still feel the pain of those who live in C-areas that are still only with 1:5 (translates into 4 hours of power a DAY!)

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

"Damned Silly Thing" in the Balkans

There was a commentary in the Globe & Mail titled "Keep an eye on that 'damned silly thing' in Kosovo" by the former Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia.  It talks about the referendum in Serbia and the latest news that special representative Ahtisaari is getting ready to deliver (or has delivered) his report to the UN suggesting a roadmap for Kosovo for two years to statehood.  There continues to be conflicting statements made by EU and UN officials about the conclusion of the status talks.  EU officials want elections to be set in Serbia so that ultra-nationalists that are likely to gain support should Serbia lose Kosovo do not take over the country.  UN and US officials are pushing to conclude the status negotiations (which is quite a humorous title to what has mostly been like two kids playing tug-of-war with a favored toy) by the end of 2006.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!

Halloween in Kosovo is not much different that it is in the US.  Little ghouls and witches flood onto the streets in the search for sweets.  I saw fairy princesses and the favored costume for boys this year appeared to be Batman.  The thing that marks a considerable difference between Halloween in the US and Kosovo is the apparent lack of concern by parents and the local government as to the safety of children trick-or-treating at night.  Last night there were no street lights on in the city either due to power conservation or a lack of maintenance by the city.  This meant children were racing across darkened streets in the middle of traffic where drivers were hard pressed to see anything.  The second thing that greatly annoyed me was that parents were sending small children (6-8 years old) out on their own.  Never in my wildest dreams would I expect to see two little girls wandering out in the dark by themselves trick-or-treating! 
This quickly turns into a commentary on the lack of child protection and social programs for children that there are in Kosovo.  I regularly see children bouncing around the backseats of speeding vehicles in Kosovo without safety harnesses or even worse, leaning over the middle console of the vehicle to see how daddy is driving.  It boggles the mind to know that if something should happen and the parent breaks quickly that the child could quite easily end up going through the front windshield.  Yet the local law enforcement do nothing more than drink machiato in the cafes.

I am always urging people not to give money or buy things from the street children.  It is a abomination that these children are forced out on the street to sell peanuts, chewing gum, or Kleenex to whatever international takes pity on them.  Giving them money or buying something from them just reinforces their worth to their parents or guardian that the child can make a profit for them on the street and out they go again the next night.  I'm not saying don't take pity on the children...just don't give them money.  When it is cold, buy them a hot chocolate...or a coke during the summer.  Just don't give them anything that can be taken away by the slave-driver that sends them out to beg!

I often have to ask the question of how can we stand by with so many international organizations around and continue to let these children loose on the streets late at night?  It doesn't seem that protecting children or children's rights are high on anyone's agenda...but it should be as these children are the future of Kosovo!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Serbia Votes

The results are out on the referendum in Serbia that amended the constitution to include a portion declaring that Kosovo is an integral part of the country.  Kosovo PM Ceku is still saying that the constitutional amendment has no impact on the status negotiations but then he also thinks that the status would be resolved by the end of the year :)  The comment that the referendum "deserves no comment from us" shows a bit of the mindset of the people who are "negotiating" the status.  I wonder, if a referendum in Serbia deserves no comment and has no impact, would a referendum in Kosovo have the same type of response?

Following the conclusion of voting in Kosovo, there was a small celebration with about 1000 Serbs in north Mitrovica.  Approximately 150 Albanians gathered on the other side of the famous bridge which is still closed to all non-official traffic.

There was a reprint of an interesting article in the National Ledger comparing Bush's problems in Iraq to the Clinton-era and Kosovo.  A worthwhile read that shows that maybe there isn't such a big difference between Republican and Democratic administrations when it comes to foreign policy :)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Islamic Leaders call for Independence

In a rare venture into the political arena, Kosovo Islamic leaders have called for independence during the Bajram holiday.  The Islamic leaders normally do not involve themselves in politics as only a small percentage of the predominantly Muslim-professing Albanians actually practice the religion. 

Monday, October 23, 2006

Me Fat Bajram

Happy Bajram again.  It is again what I classify as the Muslim "Christmas".  A three-day celebration of the end of Ramadan, a month of fasting where Muslims are not to eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset, Bajram seems to be a time where everyone visits friends and family and life is good in Kosovo.  I presented my landlord and his family a small loaf of baked lemon cake and some dried fruits...they later knocked on the door to offer me some traditional burek and cake. 

Since it was a holiday, I decided to head down to Skopje with a colleague for a little afternoon shopping.  Pretty much everything in Kosovo except restaurants (and I'm not sure if all of them!) was closed for the day and the streets were quiet.  The border was absolutely packed going both ways when we headed back to Pristina in the afternoon.  It just shows that there are a lot of family or friend connections between Albanians living in Kosovo and those living in Macedonia.

Oh, and finally before I forget...I can't help but chuckle at the thought of it...but there is a new rap song out by an artist called Ento Enjgjujt called "Proud to be Albanian".  Pay close attention to when the map of the Balkans appears and a line is drawn around the might be shocked to see the various borders that the line crosses :)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Long, cold winter coming!

It is going to be a long cold winter in Kosovo.  KEK started implementing a new power schedule based on the ABC system where A-areas have 4:2 (that's 4 on, 2 off), B-areas have 2:4, and C-areas have a measly 1:5!  With the temperatures still decent during the daytime and only dropping down into the 40� degree range at night, I can only imagine what the power situation will be like when the weather really takes a plunge next month! 
For those still living in Gracanica, I really feel sorry.  If you calculate it, 1:5 means that you have a total of four hours of power each day.  It's hard to imagine how one could live like that...but been there, done that, got out!

You can always check the power situation on the KEK website if you are wondering what your schedule will be or how much power is being generated...or even how badly the power plant needs repair (only two of the generators in Kosovo are currently working!)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Corruption in Kosovo Government

An unpublished report from the ministry of economics and finance has called into question the amount of money that officials are spending on telephone calls, petrol, and entertainment expenses.  In a budget of around 700 million Euros per year, civil servants ate through approximately 8.3 million euros in just petrol and 2.5 million on mobile phones in the first half of 2006.  Analysts are cautioning that unless Kosovo officials start reining in their lavish lifestyle and the amount they are spending, Kosovo will have large deficits, scare away foreign investors, and the international community will no longer help to pay off the deficits.
In other news, EU officials have stated that the decision of Kosovo's status may be delayed weeks or even months.  The EU planning team for their mission has extended their mandate to March 2007.  Meanwhile while EU officials are saying the status decision may be delayed, UN officials are making statements that the status question will be resolved by the end of the year.  So who's really telling the truth?!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Nothing New...Except Nicole!

There is nothing much new going on in Kosovo.  There is still all the chatter about resolving the status by the end of the year.  The Kosovo PM Ceku is calling for an imposed solution if negotiations do not bring results by the end of the year.  Serbia is to hold elections on revising their constitution to include a phrase that states something to the effect of "Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia" which means that the UN would not be able to impose a solution as the organization cannot make any decisions that would violate the constitution of one of its member states.  It all makes for a messy situation, Albanians demanding nothing short of independence and Serbia insisting that there is only autonomy. 
The thing that has been making the news of late about Kosovo is a short visit by actress Nicole Kidman who is an UN goodwill ambassador for UNIFEM which focuses on women's rights around the world and in conflict areas.  Kidman met with local women, both Albanian and Serb, and heard how women are victimized in war and when they seek justice.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Internet Companies Compete!

The two big internet companies are competing hard for providing broadband internet service in the home for the many internationals that are interested.  For just under 10 Euros a month, both IPKO and Kujtesa are offering broadband internet service with VOIP, game servers, and cable TV. 
For around 25 Euros a month you can get a 1MBps connection with no download/upload limit and 50 channels of cable TV.  Someone like me that spends a lot of time downloading music will find the speed of this connection is the most acceptable.  With the standard level 256KBps connection that both Kujtesa & IPKO offer the connection is just too slow...and I have had continous problems with my connection cutting off with the new landlord's Kujtesa line.  I have requested him to switch to IPKO and upgrade tot he 1MBps line with me paying the difference in cost.

Also another good feature of IPKO's service is that there is no monthly fee.  You purchase refill cards just like for prepaid mobile phones and recharge your internet connection.  If you need more or less internet during a month, you can purchase the cards you need.  Or say you are going on vacation for a simply just recharge when you get back and don't pay while you are away!  Quite simple and cost-effective!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Smokey Goes to the Kennel

Smokey was off to the Kosovo Shelter today for a short stay while I am vacationing in Thailand.  Conveniently located near the airport, the shelter is boarding Smokey for a mere 5 Euros a day in a large outside kennel. 
Smokey has adjusted well to life in Dragodan.  The neighborhood kids are torn between being terrified and curious about my over-friendly and still a bit wild monster-mutt.  Some of the kids will come up when I am out walking him and give him a quick pat before running off squealing.  I guess it is good for both Smokey and the kids...Smokey gets used to more people than just me and the kids realize that not all dogs are vicious.  Although I do have to confess to a certain amount of amusement at the adults of the neighborhood, particularly the gangsta-wannabes and the security guards of the surrounding liaison offices.  Many of the adults will either cross the road or make a wide berth around us when I am out walking Smokey.  Earlier this week I shocked one Balkan Security guard to a standstill when an oncoming car forced us to go around a parked vehicle at the same time...the guy literally froze in place until we passed.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

5 Days, 4 Explosions

Yesterday, an explosion tore through a house in Kline/Klina injuring four Serbs, three of which were women.  This brings the total of explosions in Kosovo to four in the past five days.  Over the weekend there were three explosions in Ferizaj and Gjilane targeting Kosovo government officials or their vehicles.  The first explosion on Thursday was in Ferizaj, the second explosion in Gjilane on Friday (14th) night and was reportedly aimed at the Minister of Internal Affairs while the third explosion in Gjilane on Sunday night again targeted parked government vehicles.
In other news, the Serbian parliament has approved an amendment to their constitution stating that Kosovo is an integral part of the country.  This creates problems for the UN Security Council should they wish to impose a solution for Kosovo as the charter of the UN strictly states that the organization cannot make any decisions that would violate the constitution of any of the member states.  The news is full of articles about the final status of Kosovo.

The contact group has requested special envoy Ahtisaari to come up with a draft plan for a solution to the Kosovo problem.  Of course, basically everyone knows that the contact group is pushing for Kosovo to be independent so there is little doubt what the plan will contain.  The only question now is how with the international community force Serbia to come to their terms?  Will they threaten or promise EU membership in exchange?  Isolation from the world if they don't cave in?  Then the next question is, how will the international community make sure that minority rights are respected and Kosovo does not become a strictly Albanian state?  Will they threaten or promise EU membership in exchange for good behavior?

An Albanian member of parliament has stirred up a lot of trouble after making statements that Kosovo should be granted independence or else the citizens would revolt.  Following the grenade attack in Klina last night, UN officials are condemning the statement and warning ethnic Albanian leaders to watch their words.
The new SRSG has also stated that it will be part of his mission to ensure that the northern part of Kosovo does not secede from Kosovo.  Of course, the northern part can't really secede until Kosovo is independent so the statement seems a bit presumptuous to me but then who am I to question the big guys in suits? :o)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

New Accommodations!

I have completed my move from Gracanica to Pristina this weekend. I'm very happy with my new flat.  It is so comfortable with the exception of the German Shepard from across the street that likes to bark at night.  Smokey is being very well behaved and only barking every once in awhile in response.  He has also been allowing the neighborhood children to pet him...usually not paying much attention to them as he looks to mark every rock, electric pole, bush, and tall weed as his :)  I first brought him over on Friday when the moving truck brought the furniture over.  I think the move was a little traumatizing as he followed me everywhere (including the toilet) during the course of the weekend.
I hooked up to the internet last night so I'll be online from home now.  I'm thrilled because I also have cable TV so I can watch the music channels (I get MTV in German!) and download songs if I like them from iTunes :)  The landlord will be getting his money out the connection with me living in the flat!  *hehe*

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Moving to Pristina

It's official now...I am making the move to Pristina.  After five years of living in Gracanica, I will have power, water, and central heating during the winter.  It will be interesting not to suffer through the winter...coming home to turn on the generator, start a wood fire, and crawl under a mountain of blankets to keep warm.  I will probably be able to sleep in my bedroom instead of on the fold-out couch in the living room through the coldest parts of the winter.
I will be making a move to the Dragodan neighborhood of Pristina.  I found a good deal on a three-bedroom flat with a huge balcony with a great view of downtown Pristina.  I'm sure the call to prayer will echo up the hill to wake me up in the mornings *hehe*  That and the blackbirds are something that I will have to learn to deal with in the mornings when I make the move from the quiet surroundings of village life.

My new landlord seems nice and the flat appears to be well-maintained.  The flat is part of a larger house with a common entrance.  The landlord lives on the ground level and I have the top two levels to myself...I think.  I have a feeling that I may be sharing the washing machine and possibly the internet cabling.  I will have to check and see if having the landlord come into the flat will be a problem.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Kosova Airlines Launches Website & Power Cuts

Kosova Airlines has launched a new website that allows the booking of flights with payment via credit card.  The airline offers flights to different destinations in Switzerland and Germany for around 220 Euros round-trip.  During the summer the airline also charters flights to Egypt for travel agency Reisburo Prishtine. 
If you are experiencing problems with Vala 900 mobile phone service take your SIM card out of the phone, rub it for luck, and put it back in :)  Since Monday night a lot of people are complaining about the SMS service.  Messages are sent to other Vala numbers but the message is never received.  The problem seems to be continuing and even services like 551 which returns a message with the credit balance is not working.
The temperature took a plunge yesterday, sharply dropping from the 70-80's down into the 50's.  It seems that summer is officially over and I scrambled through my closet to find a sweater to wear this morning as the temperature was struggling to reach 60�F today.

Along with the dropping temperatures, KEK has taken Kosovo B offline for repairs resulting in more power outages for Gracanica. It is sad but Gracanica will probably be in a C-area for a long time.  KEK does not issue power bills within the limits of Gracanica but expects the citizens to pay for their power bill and have opened an office in downtown Gracanica.  Unlike any other electrical company in the world, KEK expects the citizens to read their own meters and tell the electric company how much power they used and pay for it.  I don't think that would fly in the US but here, why means that KEK doesn't have to hire people to read meters :P

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Explosion in North Mitro Injures 2 Internationals

An explosion, reported from a hand grenade, ripped through the Dolce Vita cafe in North Mitrovica on Saturday night injuring nine, including a British UN police officer and a "heavily pregnant" Danish woman.  KPS quickly responded and apprehended an ethnic Albanian teenager who was believed to be fleeing the scene.  Following the bomb blast, a few hundred Serbs gathered to protest the incident and a Albanian vehicle was stoned, injuring a 57-year old woman.  The Serb residents of Mitrovica are demanding that the main Ibar bridge, a symbol of the division between the two communities, be closed until the status of the province is decided. 
Serbian government officials are condemning statements made by UN Special Envoy Ahtisaari that essentially there is already a solution to Kosovo (independence) and that it only needs to be enforced.  Some Serbian officials are even declaring that Albanian extremists took Ahtisaari's comments to heart and the attack was a response.  It is rumored that the Serbian negotiation delegation may request for Ahtisaari to be replaced as the recent comments seem to take away his neutrality for negotiating the solution.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Serbian Schoolteacher Beat in Multiethnic Community

A Serbian schoolteacher was severely beaten by two Albanians in broad daylight yesterday.  Vuko Danilovic was escorting 30 children for OSCE's multiethnic community program in Decani when he was approached by two Albanians in the main square after buying ice-cream for the children.  The first man allegedly began cussing at Danilovic and started striking him.  The second soon joined in and beat Danilovic to the ground in an apparent ethnically-motivated attack.  Danilovic and the schoolchildren were taking part in an OSCE program aimed at bridging the gap between Albanians and Serbs who live in secluded enclaves.  After the attack, the schoolchildren, out of fear for their safety, and Danilovic, for medical treatment, were taken to Montenegro.  Danilovic is reported to have suffered severe bodily harm and is now deaf in one ear.
In other news, Albin Kurti and 64 members of the "Self-Determination" group were arrested yesterday after barring entry to the Assembly Building in protest against the UN Special Envoy Marttii Ahtisaari's visit to Pristina to meet with Albanian leaders.  Ahtisaari is visiting with leaders ahead of the next round of talks in the hopes that some progress can be made after repeated failures in talks on decentralization, minority rights, and protection of religious/cultural heritage.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

HLC Issues Statement Criticizing PM and TMK Commander

The Humanitarian Law Centre released a statement critizing PM Agim Ceku's visitation of convicted war criminal Selim Krasniqi after the 10 August conviction for war crimes.  Ceku reportedly also made a public statement that "Kosovo needs men like Selim Krasniqi".  The Centre also warned TMK commanding officer, Sulejman Selimi, that his visit to the convicted war criminals showed that the organization supported its members who were convicted of war crimes and does not contribute to the process of building democratic institutions. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Meningitis Outbreak Spreads

The outbreak of meningitis in Kosovo has spread to more than 400 reported cases.  High temperatures have fueled the outbreak according to local medical professionals who say that the water in Kosovo swimming pools is not as clean as it should be and that often the water in village wells is contaminated.  The outbreak in meningitis in Kosovo has been reported to be viral in nature, not bacterial, so the UNMIK Health Clinic is not recommending the vaccine as it would be ineffective against the disease anyways. 

Thursday, August 17, 2006

New SRSG Apppointed

Joachim Rucker, the current head of the economic reconstruction pillar, was appointed by Kofi Annan to be the sixth Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG - bet you always wondered what that meant!)  Rucker, a German, has also worked in Bosnia-Herzegovina and has overseen much of the privatization process in Kosovo in addition to battling the high unemployment rates.  Rucker believes that he will be the last SRSG to serve in the Kosovo mission and has already stated that partition of Kosovo is not an option.   
In other news, the Kosovo Police Service (KPS) have taken over from international police at the borders of Kosovo this week, except for the northern border with Serbia.  The northern border is still controlled by international officers and KFOR troops.  Nearly 500 international police officers have been deployed to the area north of Mitrovica to do what is called "enhancement" policing.  Basically it is community policing and is part of an effort to make the minority community feel safer.

The Washington Post printed an editorial about Greater Albania.  While rather one-sided there is some interesting questions raised about the politics of the region.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Passing of a Friend

It is with great sorrow that I inform those who have been in Kosovo that Muhamet Ribari passed away tonight at 22:00 hours after a battle with cancer.  Muhamet was undergoing treatment in hospital at Ausburg, Germany.  Muhamet worked at the UNMIK MHQ Gym as a receptionist and personal trainer since 2000.  He was an energetic and friendly person and will be sorely missed by all those that knew him.

Collection boxes placed in the Pristina UNWind Gyms helped raise 3700 Euros to aid his family pay medical bills and assist with the funeral arrangements.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Outbreak of Meningitis Confirmed & New Rumors about Bonita Water

An outbreak of Meningitis was confirmed today.  There are 70 children reportedly sick from the easily transferred illness known as the "kissing disease".  The UN Health Clinic has issued a pamphlet (spelled panphlet in the email *hehe*) about the illness and urged to take precautions.  While a vaccination exists, it is doubtful that many people in the mission have the vaccination unless it was compulsory for living in dorms at universities or likewise.
Also Bonita water is under investigation by the UN Health Clinic for suspected bacterial contamination.  The Kosovo water is rumored to be the source of 30-40 cases of illness at KFOR's Film City camp.  KFOR supposedly conducted a test of the water and found it to be contaminated.  The UN is independently testing before issuing any statements concerning the water.  This is not the first time the water was rumored to be contaminated.  Approximately four years ago, rumors circulated that testing indicated levels of human DNA in the water and an email was issued by the head of the World Health Organization.  The email was later retracted and an apology issued but still many people refuse to drink Bonita.  For me it is a matter of personal taste.  I don't like the way it tastes, or doesn't seems to have been processed so much that there is little to the water besides wetness.  Most of the people in my office like Rosa or Prolom water which is imported from Serbia or Zagori from Greece.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

KLA Commander and Associates Convicted of War Crimes

Today, KLA commander Selim Krasniqi and two of his associates were convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for the detention and beating of an Albanian alleged to have been collaborating with Serbs.  The crimes were said to have been committed between June and July 1998 in a prison setup in the basement of a school in the village of Drenovac. 
The UN went on alert in case the Albanian population did not take the verdict well.  PM Ceku had already made statements alluding that if a guilty verdict was given and the Albanian population demonstrated or violence broke out that the local government and KPS would not protect the UN as the defendants were "war heroes".  Fortunately, all was quiet after the verdicts were given.  Three convicted and sentenced, one acquitted, and one suspect was not found.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Minority Rights Group International Reports on Human/Minority Rights in Kosovo

"Nowhere in Europe is there such segregation as Kosovo. Thousands of people are still displaced and in camps. Nowhere else are there so many 'ethnically pure' towns and villages scattered across such a small province. Nowhere is there such a level of fear for so many minorities that they will be harassed simply for who they are. And perhaps nowhere else in Europe is at such a high risk of ethnic cleansing occurring in the near future - or even a risk of genocide." (MRGI, 2006). 
British-based Minority Rights Group International released a report on the failure of the international community to effectively secure or uphold human and minority rights in Kosovo.  The report explains how UNMIK, KFOR, and other international organizations failed to learn lessons from the past and failed to rely on the expertise of those in the organizations.  The report also discusses how the segregation, discrimination, and intimidation of minorities in Kosovo has become so entrenched in Kosovo that it practically is law.

Meanwhile, the latest round of talks again failed to produce many results.  The Kosovo Serb delegation did boycott the session on minority rights while the Belgrade delegation refused to discuss the issue as minority rights is directly tied to the final status.  The talks proceeded despite the request for postponement by Serbia.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Happy Dance

I am doing a happy dance since I returned from Greece Sunday night.  The water in my flat is finally fixed so that I don't scald myself whenever I try to take a shower!  Emin brought a plumber or person calling themselves a plumber over on Friday morning and they drilled into the wall to fix the pressure valve for the cold water.  Oh, so considerately, the plumber and Emin decided not to clean up the mess of drilling into the tile and bricks so the bottom of the bathtub was covered with bits of tile and brick dust when I got home.  I did a little hopping-mad dance for a couple of minutes but am overall happy that the water problem is fixed.  Whatever the water tank guys did when installing the new pipes and tank really messed up the water in my flat.  Then we discovered that the pressure valve was broken.  It has been a trial but I'm glad it's over now!  Now if I could just get the tiles put up, the house would be nice!
The Southeast European Times posted an article about Making Kosovo Sustainable which addresses the problems that Kosovo politicians will face if they are granted independence.  The article discusses how many politicians ignore the economic problems that will come from independence and focus solely on resolving the status...not what comes afterwards.

Another round of talks between Serbian and Albanian negotiators on decentralization began yesterday.  It is reported that the Kosovo Serbian delegation will boycott today's meeting set to focus on minority rights because they contend that as Kosovo is still part of Serbia, Serbians are not a minority.  The Belgrade portion of the Serb negotiation team will attend.  The UN chief envoy has demanded that both sides cooperate but to me it seems like telling two errant children to stop fighting.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Serbia Request Postponement for One Week

Serbia has requested to postpone the next round of talks for one week.  The talks were scheduled to start on the 7th.  Rumors are that Serbia would like to drop the issue of minority rights from the agenda of the next meeting.  So far, little progress has been made in regards to minority rights or protection of cultural/religious sites. 

In the news, the Wall Street Journal published an article arguing that Kosovo is not ready for independence.  Unfortunately the full-text of the article is not available unless you subscribe to their website.  The BBC posted an article today describing the anxious wait for the negotiations to finish.  It is one of the few articles I've come across that talks to both sides of the debate, Serbs & Albanians.

Of course, one thing that is often forgotten is that the Serbs are not the only minority that allegedly suffers from discrimination in Kosovo.  There are Turkish, Bosniak, and RAE communities in Kosovo that live in difficult circumstances.  The Turkish population finds itself in a quagmire as they technically did not chose a side during the conflict...neutrality did not sit well with the Albanian population.  The Bosniaks speak a dialect of Serbian that puts them at odds just because of their language, never mind the fact that they are Muslim (guess that means that religion isn't actually a problem!)  The Roma, Ashkalia, Egyptian (RAE) community lives in temporary housing for the past seven years, struggling to survive through flooding and fires in their temporary shelters.  Most of them lost their homes following the NATO bombing as celebrating mobs burned down homes in retribution for supposed wrongs committed by other communities.  Whatever the solution, compromised or forced, I do not foresee an easy time for minorities in Kosovo.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Ultranationalists in Serbia Speak Out

The leader of the Serbian Radical Party, an ultranationalist group in Serbia, stated that if Kosovo became independent Serbia would fight to get it back.  Far more conservative, Prime Minister Kostunica has stated that Serbia will not give up Kosovo in order to gain EU membership.  The next round of talks are scheduled for the 7-8th of August.  Mediators hope to focus on local reform and minority rights during the talks. 
In other news, the International Crisis Group has issued a report that states that Kosovo should have its own army if it gains independence.  The report has raised a great deal of debate on both sides as to why Kosovo should or shouldn't have an army.  ICG cites economic and stability factors for creating an army.  In addition to the creation of a Kosovo army, ICG calls for KFOR to remain in Kosovo after the status is resolved in order to ensure external protection (from Serbia maybe?!) and to a "lesser extent" internal stability.  ICG also says in their report that full demilitarization is not a practical idea and suggests an army of between 2-3000 personnel.

ICG also state that the army should be multi-ethnic (like KPC is supposed to be) but personally I think that it is wishful thinking on their part.  KPC (Kosovo Protection Corp or TMK in Albanian) is supposed to be multi-ethnic as well but they always are flying the Albanian flag outside their facilities...does that garner trust and cooperation with minorities?  I think not!  Granted KPC boasts that they are comprised of 7% minorities but go on to admit that they have had difficulty gaining the trust of the Serbian community.  To many, KPC basically became a legitimized version of the KLA, integrating many of the "freedom fighters" into the fold.  While integrating the fighters was part of the idea, mostly KPC was to serve as a sort of National Guard of Kosovo to serve in times of emergency/disasters.

While the next article is about Albania, it kind of gives you an idea about Kosovo as well because many of the people live the same way.  The description of how organized crime is very accurate.  While the article is full of humor and sarcasm, it is a very interesting read and partly true :)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Monster Dog

Smokey, the Monster Dog.  That's his new title.  It's summertime and there is a pack of wild dogs roaming around the neighborhood at night.  Smokey tries his hardest to defend the yard from the onslaught of canine marauders by barking non-stop through the night.  I try to be a good neighbor by stopping him but it doesn't do much because there are a bunch of dogs in the yard barking anyways. 

Because the power situation is bad, I closed the front balcony door to lessen the noise of the KPS generator across the street.  Smokey doesn't like that because the front balcony is his first line of defense.  So he bangs on the door handle until it goes down and steals through the door.  I usually put my desk chair in front of the handle to prevent him from going out so he starts to run from the door to the bed, staring me down as I try to sleep and challenging me to get up and let him outside.  Last night I lost the fight despite the fact that I left the back balcony door open for him to go outside.

I can't sleep while Smokey is outside barking at the wild dogs so I bring him inside the house and put on his muzzle.  It doesn't prevent him from barking or drinking water, it just makes it harder for him to get out a full aggressive Get-Out-Of-My-Yard bark.  I guess he didn't like that because this morning when I tossed my luggage in the car, I started noticing a strange but familiar smell.  Either marking his territory in the house or revenge for putting on the muzzle, Smokey peed all over the front of my dive gear bag.  Monster!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lights Out Again!

Last night the power went out for the entire night in most places all over Kosovo...again!  I haven't heard any reasons for the outage yet.  Downtown Pristina was without power for nine hours and Gracanica went without for over 12 hours.  Luckily the temperature has dropped a bit due to the storms that are passing through during the nights.  I think this must be KEK's way of proving me wrong for updating my Kosovo Tips and stating that there weren't many problems with the power and the schedule was basically 24/7 everywhere.  As soon as I updated the site, we started have problems and outages!!!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

No Handshakes & Big Thunderstorms

Direct talks between Serbia and Kosovo began on Monday (24th).  It all began with a rather cold note as Serbia's President Tadic and Kosovo's President Sejdiu not shaking hands.  Gosh, even Israel & Palestine shook hands in Washington D.C. but oh-no, not the Serbs and Albanians.  It shows just how difficult it will be to find a solution that is acceptable to everyone.  Still unwilling to compromise, Serbia is saying no to full-independence and Albanians are saying that independence is the only option they will consider.  There is no timetable yet for the negotiations, but one can be expected after high-level talks in the UN in late September.  Meanwhile, demonstrators from the "Self-Determination" group protested outside the Government Building still calling for a referendum and an end to all negotiations with Serbia. 

Last night was one of those special nights with large summertime thunderstorms.  Man, I just love sitting outside on my balcony with the metal railings, sitting in my metal legged chair, and putting my feet in a warm bucket of water *hehe*  Seriously, there is nothing more awesome than a summertime thunderstorm as it rolls up on Gracanica from the south over the fields.  The good thing about the summer storms is that they have a tendency to dump a bit of rain and that means I get more water the next day :)  The bad thing is that often the power goes out during the storm...I suspect that lightening rods are needed somewhere because it usually happens after a nearby strike.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Mafia Threatens Police Commissioner

The international police commission, Kai Vittrup, has admitted that he has received death threats from the mafia in Kosovo and that is the reason why his protection was recently stepped-up.  Vittrup also mentioned that his wife had left Kosovo as part of a joint decision.  This statement is interesting because Kosovo is classified as a non-family mission and family members are not supposed to be living here with staff or Civpols. 
A few studies have come out on the fact that the local economy will suffer greatly after the UN closes the mission.  UNMIK has spent 2.6 Billion Euros since the start of the mission in 1999.  One media report went as far to claim that independence would result in a total collapse of the local economy.  One of the problems identified is that should Serbia become hostile to an independent Kosovo, it would be difficult for the new Kosovo to export products or people because they would have to utilize roads through Serbia.  You can read the full EU Pillar report on UNMIK's Impact on the Economy.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bad Paint and Bucket Showers

It's been about two weeks since I returned but I forgot to mention some of the things that awaited me at home.  Earlier this spring, my landlord's son offered to paint the house since it hasn't been done in the past five years.  I agreed that it would be good and mentioned that I would be gone in June and that would be the ideal time for them to come.  So when I came back, I was greeted with banana yellow walls (not my first choice in colors) and paint splattered all over the furniture, floors, and my personal belongings (a huge drip of paint down the front of my TV was the clincher). 
I also left about 300 Euros for my landlord to purchase tile and put tile in the laundry room and bathroom.  The walls in the laundry room have molded over the years because the paint in the walls just soaks in the moisture from the dryer.  Lovely!  The tile in the bathroom is cracked and there are large holes where the hot water tank was removed....and put in the adjacent laundry room rather than in the shower.  That's a funny thing here.  You'll often find the hot water tank inside the shower, taking up half the room.  The locals don't seem to think to think much about getting electrocuted while taking a shower...might as well bring a really big hairdryer in the shower with you!  Anyways, after five weeks of vacation I came back and the tiles were sitting in the hallway.  And only half the tiles I had paid landlord's son informed me that the money I gave was enough to cover the tiles he bought and the painter/painters (which I was not supposed to pay for!)  So now I'm withholding the rent until the tiles are put up and taking 100 Euros from the total price because I'm no longer going to pay for the repairs to my place.  According to friends, I've been far too kind in taking care of the place and the rent I'm paying is more than I should...time to not be nice now, I guess.

I'm back to taking bucket showers.  With temperatures hitting the 90's now, the water pressure in my flat has dropped off to barely a trickle.  The landlord was supposed to install a water tank while I was gone too but that didn't get done either.  Supposedly it's being put in this weekend.  If not, I'll probably seriously consider moving to another place.  After five years, I'm getting a little frustrated with having to take a shower from a bucket when others have 24/7 water.  Why suffer when I don't have to???

There was a very interesting article today in the American Spectator about how the international community, especially the UN, US, and EU, have turned a blind eye to Kosovo.  The article discusses the problems that face a multi-ethnic Kosovo and some of the problems that need to be addressed.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

7th Round of Talks...Still No Consensus

The latest round of talks ended today again with no results on protection of religious and cultural heritage or decentralization.  Next Monday, there will be more talks with the hopes that the talks will progress from a technical level to one of politics. The negotiation teams again failed to agree on the number of Serbian municipalities.  Belgrade is pushing for 12 while Kosovo officials want only five.  Belgrade has stated that seven of the municipalities are non-negotiable whereas five can be compromised upon.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Lights Out Over Kosovo

Yesterday the power went out Kosovo-wide for nearly nine hours in most locations.  Gracanica was without power for 12 hours and then continued to have power outages throughout the night and today.  It is rumored that the Kosovo-B plant went down.  But there are also rumors in the local media that KEK (Kosovo Electric Kompany - or Krappy Electric Kompany as I like to call them!) has been selling power to Albania, Serbia, and Montenegro.  A KEK spokesperson denied those rumors stating that Kosovo-A was producing enough power to supply the province and they were not selling power but repaying power that is owed the neighboring countries (is that much different?!)  The spokesperson stated that it would take 13-14 hours before power stabalized but as we've seen, it is taking longer than that.  Local politicians, especially the Minister of Mining and Energy are blaming the problems on the mismanagement of KEK by Irish company ESBI.  It looks from the media reports that the ABC scheduling may return.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Mala Krusha War Crimes Trial Begins

The war crimes trial of six Serbian officials accused of committing war crimes in the village of Mala Krusha, where a UN convoy was attacked in late May, is set to begin this week in the Hague.   The prosecution is focusing partly on the events that occurred in the village of Mala Krusha in March 1999, the night after the NATO had begun.  105 men and boys were allegedly taken into a barn, shot and then the bodies burned by the Serbian military.  In addition to the events in Mala Krusha, the accused are facing charges on the deportation of 800,000 Albanians and the forcible transference, murder and persecution of thousands of Albanians.

Among those on trial is Milosevic's successor ex-President Milan Milutinovic,  ex-deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, and ex-army chief of staff Dragoljub Ojdanic..  The trial is expected to take nearly two years as both the prosecution and defense say that it will take at least one year for them to present their cases.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Six More Months and a Little Soapboxing :o)

Well, it looks like I will be spending at least another six months in Kosovo.  Yup, my contract has been extended...again *Woohoo!  Twirl my finger in excitement*  Actually, I'm not that disappointed to stay on until the end of the year.  Kosovo is considered to be the 5-star mission because of its location, better living conditions, and overall security.  I think that it may be time for me to consider moving on to another mission because there are times that I just can't stand being in Kosovo >:o)  So, pardon me while I get up on my little soap-box for this post...and please no's called sarcasm, get used to it or get a sense of humor :-P
I was on vacation for the past month, home in the US for a couple graduations and a reunion.  I was actually looking forward to coming back to Kosovo but quickly got over that on the way home from the airport.  I don't know what it is but the citizens of Kosovo are just annoying at times.

<soapbox...start your sense of humor or don't read any further!>The way they drive (careless, reckless, insane are a few adjectives that come to mind)...the concept of standing in line that seems to be beyond a level of comprehension...the simple act of bathing...there are many little things that seem normal that are lacking when one arrives in Kosovo.

I've mentioned driving a few times in my posts.  Boy, if you come to Kosovo are you in for a treat!  I don't know how many near-misses I've seen in my years here but it's quite scary.  You've got a mixture of people driving like they're on a Formula One track and others with a horse-drawn carts. Buffer zones don't exist here.  If you are leaving a safe distance between your car and the vehicle in front of you...nope, it's room for one more car...especially the guy who decided to pass a long line of cars without checking to look if there was oncoming traffic and has to whip in front of you before getting in a head-on collision :o)  It makes driving back home in the US oh-so more relaxing!

There are no lines per-se in Kosovo.  It's survival of the fittest...whoever pushes the most gets there first...looking out for numero uno!  Single-file, just forget about it.  Lines here are a mass grouping of people pushing their way in from the sides, middle, and wherever else they can push from.  I have found that a rolling suitcase makes for a great deterrent at the airport and is very helpful in preventing people from cutting in line...especially when you roll it over people's feet >:o)  Of course, a result of the pushing and shoving that a lot of people fail to realize is that when you push to be the first on the plane, you sit there the longest.  Or when you push off the plane, you often sit on the bus the longest and are the last off the bus!

It's summertime and I'm going to touch on that last point about the simple act of bathing.  Maybe it's a Balkan thing but when one comes from somewhere where bathing is a daily ritual, well it's just plain weird to pass someone on the street and be overwhelmed with the stench of seriously strong B.O. (body odor!)  It's not like there isn't indoor plumbing or water is expensive (a whooping 8.60 Euros per month, flat rate) but it just doesn't seem to be a concern for many people in Kosovo (and that is not limited to just one group of people's Kosovo-wide!) I know it has been a constant source of surprise for Americans who come to Kosovo that people don't bathe regularly here...I don't think I mentioned it before...but as the hottest months of summer approach, you notice it a little bit more!</soapbox>

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Serbian PM visits Kosovo

The Serbian Prime Minister made a historic visit today to Serbian enclaves for the Vidovdan (St. Vitus) celebrations.  This is only the second visit by the PM since the end of the war in 1999.  Members of the "Self-Determination" activist group attempted to blockade the road during the visit so the route was tightly secured by KPS and KFOR soldiers.  Reports are that 116 activists were arrested near Mitrovica on the road leading to Merdare border crossing.
There was an article in the China Post about the US engagement in Kosovo and how the US should plan to be in it for the long-haul in order to ensure stability in the region.  Many recent events are concerning analysts ranging from the recent independence of Montenegro to talks of referendums in Bosnia and the status negotiations in Kosovo.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Kosovo Politicians Tell Albanians in Macedonia to Behave

Leaders in Kosovo have issued statements calling for ethnic Albanians in Macedonia to end the violence that has marred the pre-elections in the neighboring country.  Almost 30 incidents of violence have been reported since the campaigning began a little over a week ago.  Agim Ceku, the PM, has also called for Kosovo Albanians to stay away from the internal politics of Macedonia.  During the near civil war in 2000 in Macedonia, many Kosovo Albanians crossed the border to help Macedonia's Albanians in their struggle for equal rights. 

Friday, June 9, 2006

KPS Break-up Demonstrations - 81 Arrested

The "Self-Determination" group's demonstration in front of the UNMIK Mission HQ has ended today after KPS (Kosovo Police Service) riot police intervened, arresting 90 people.  Nine people were released after discovering that they were minors.  For the past two days, the group has blocked the entrances to MHQ with sheer number of people and concrete barricades.  The protesters set up tents along Police Avenue and camped overnight on the main street of downtown Pristina.  Protesters are complaining now that the police used excessive force and state that dozens were injured when the police started making arrests around 0300CET.
The SRSG, Soren Jessen-Petersen, had described those in the "Self-Determination" group as being "lost people" who are not contributing to the peaceful, positive progress of Kosovo.  The Albanian Prime Minister, Agim Ceku, said that the protests only serve the enemies of Kosovo's independence.  The "Self-Determination" group in turn accuses the Albanian government officials of being puppets of the UN and continue to demand an immediate vote for independence (referendum), the annulment of UN Security Council Resolution 1244, and that UN leave Kosovo.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Anti-UNMIK Demonstrations in Downtown Pristina

The "Self-Determination" group held a demonstration in front of UNMIK's Mission HQ today starting at 12:00pm.  Trouble was expected from this group; they are the ones that throw eggs, vandalize cars and property.  The group continued their demonstration for over eight hours, decreasing in number from 700 to 200.  Demonstrations are expected to continue over the weekend.  UNMIK staff are on alert and have been advised to stay clear of the area.  The "Self-Determination" group does not believe in negotiating with Serbia on the status and want to hold a referendum for independence.  Unfortunately for the group, this is against the guidelines of UN Resolution 1244 as it violates the international idea of sovereignty of nations.
In other news, SRSG Soren Jessen-Petersen is set to resign from his office later this week.  Mr. Jessen-Petersen had indicated a wish to leave the Balkans as far back as June 2005 however with the status talks approaching, Kofi Annan stated that it would not be a good idea for a new SRSG to take over during the transition time.  In my humble and sarcastic opinion, I guess it's much better to abandon a newcomer to the status talks in the middle of the process :P

On the topic of minority rights, the international contact group has given the Kosovo government six months to implement 13 steps to improving minority and human rights in Kosovo.  Some of the steps include legislation on language and religious freedoms, police stations in minority areas for security, and setting aside money for returning refugees.

Also, UNHCR has confirmed the report of the contingency plan for the evacuation of minorities from Kosovo should problems arise if granted independence.  A spokesperson for UNHCR said that the plan is an obligation of the organization.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Serbs End Cooperation with Kosovo Government

There was great confusion over the move of Serbs to cut first, the news came out that the Serbs were going to cut ties with the UN mission...but according to the Serbs in northern Kosovo, it is only with the Kosovo government.  The Serbs say that they are cutting ties with the local government due to recent ethnic violence that they blame on Albanians.  All teachers and municipal employees are to give up their wages from the Kosovo government, they still are receiving wages from Belgrade.  Further, a state of emergency has been declared in four municipalities in northern Kosovo where there have been several recent attacks against Serbs.  On the 2nd, a 22-year-old Serbian was gunned down in an ambush as he was returning home from a party.  International Herald Tribune carried an article about the split while Southeastern European Times carries information about the reasons behind the move.
The UNMIK police commissioner has deployed 500 international police officers to the area north of Mitrovica in response to the accusations of the population and the recent violence.  KPS has also increased their numbers in the area.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

6th Round Score Nil-Nil

The sixth round of negotiations between Albanians and Serbs ended yesterday with no progress on economic issues such as privatization and social ownership.  Albanian negotiators want Serbia to pay individual and collective compensation back to the early 1990's for those dismissed for not being loyal to the republic from social enterprises.  Serbia again tried to put forth a "more than autonomy, less than independence" plan that was immediately rejected by Albanians. 
Today NATO announced that they were going to reopen a base in northern Kosovo.  Also on 31 May reports came out that UNHCR has a plan for Kosovo independence that includes what to do with the mass exodus of Serbs and other minorities from the area.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Delightful Night in Zvecan

Last night, I went up to Zvecan with a group of friends to a private restaurant near the cultural center and the famous "Ex Punto" nightclub.  We sat and drank raki and domestic wine for about an hour and then the feast was laid out on the table before us.  We started with appetizers of tarator salad, grilled green peppers, salted anchovies, tomatoes, homemade hard & soft cheese, homemade bread, and fresh vegetables.  About half an hour later, the next course arrived with a huge bowl of roast pork and potatoes, a platter of cooked sausages with beans and tomatoes, and finally a huge dish of moussakas (musakka).  Dinner lasted several hours between drinks, appetizers, and the main course and we were completely stuffed by the end of the night! 
The restaurant we went to was special in that you cannot just arrive and eat.  You have to call in advance and order the food.  There is no menu but I have a feeling no matter what they prepare, you won't leave unsatisfied.  We were all amazed as well when we received the bill for all the food and drinks.  Less than 10 euros a person for a true king's feast!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Inaccurate & Inflammatory Reporting

As I continue to read local media reports about the 25 May incident in Krushe e Vogel/Mala Krusa, I see a pattern emerging in the local media that often the information presented is inaccurate or just downright untrue.  Or maybe it's the people involved that aren't giving the real story.  Either way, it sad to see such large untruths being printed in the media.  At last count according to my information, 13 UNMIK vehicles were damaged and two UN staff received minor injuries.  I have not heard any information on damage to KPS vehicles or staff...who despite what the local Albanian media has stated were present and in force.
Untrue:  One of the local papers reported that the convoy was protecting Serbs that had lived in the village before and were being returned.  Koha Ditore featured an editorial that complains about the visit questioning how the UN can talk about security and standards when criminals and perpetrators of war crimes are permitted to move around.  The truth of the matter is that the two Serbs (yes, only two Serbs) are representatives of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) based in the Hague.

Fact or Fiction?  Villagers say that they recognized the Serb occupants of the vehicles as being from the village.  The organizer of the event, a older lady around 50 years old, escorted the group, including the lawyers, around the village for approximately 45 minutes before the convoy attempted to leave the village.  On video, she later stood in front of the vehicle with the two lawyers and demanded that they exit so the villagers could verify they were not from the village.  Talk about doing a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!
The next question I would ask would be, what if hypothetically the Serbs were from the village?  Would the Albanians villagers form a modern day lynching squad and exact the revenge they think they are due?  And then, wouldn't that in turn make them no better than the "perpetrators of war crimes" they were supposedly protesting?

Untrue:  A busload of school children got gassed with tear gas.  That's one of my favorite rumors because it is just so wildly untrue.  There were children injured, I believe the total count is 16, but I place the blame on their parents for allowing them to be there during the demonstration and encouraging them to lay down in front of the convoy's vehicles.  Demonstrations are no place for children and using children to protest adult politics is just the same as using them as soldiers in's just wrong in my book and the children actually should have been in school.

Untrue:  KPS only had one vehicle present and were not involved in the incident.  The truth is that the riot police that fired the tear gas were KPS officers.  The international officers protecting the two Serbs were busy driving away and avoiding getting the windows smashed out of the vehicles...and they don't carry tear gas.

Dream or Reality?  The villagers have made demands that the UN discuss visits with local politicians in the future.  I see serious problems with the security of individuals should that be the case but we'll just have to see what happens.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Serb Convoy Attacked

This morning around 1000CET a UN convoy escorting two Serbian lawyers assigned to ICTY was attacked by Albanians in a Krushe e Vogel/Mala Krusa, a village near Prizren.  The villagers blockaded the road with rocks and then by laying down in the road in order to stop the vehicles.  Then they began throwing rocks, bricks, pitchforks and whatever else was available at the convoy.  KPS riot police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd which resulted in several villagers being taken to the hospital for related injuries.  The road between Prizren and Djakovica is closed following the riot.  Three police officers and one language assistant were injured in the riot and several vehicles were damaged.
The SRSG later condemned the attack on the convoy stating that "it is important for the people of Kosovo to understand that their quest for justice can only be achieved through the course of justice, not by extra-judicial means".

The incident comes just hours after the UN has released a report stating that ethnically motivated crime is going down.  In the first three months of 2006, there were 19 ethnically motivated crimes compared to 72 in the same period in 2005.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Fifth Round of Talks - Some Progress

Finally there has been some progress in the fifth round of talks between Albanian and Serb negotiators.  While there are still some disagreement on the methods, both parties agreed that religious sites in Kosovo must be physically protected.  The UN envoy stressed that destroyed sites should be restored but there is disagreement on who is responsible for the bill.  Belgrade wants to be responsible for the reconstruction of Serb Orthodox sites.  The next round of talks is scheduled for 31 May and will focus on economics.  The UN envoy is reported to hope that the talks will include discussion on status by the end of July.  There is still great hope by the international contact group that the status will be resolved bye the end of 2006.
Following the referendum for independence in Montenegro, some groups in Kosovo are strengthening demands for "self determination", especially Albin Kurti's group who is responsible for vandalizing UNMIK vehicles and spray-painting logos throughout Kosovo.  Separatist movements from Spain to Eastern Europe are using the successful referendum as a soapbox in order to further their goals and Kosovo is no different.  In fact, several politicians have publicly complained about the lack of standards by the EU in allowing Montenegro to hold a referendum but not accepting the same elsewhere.

In addition to strengthening calls for a referendum, Kurti's group is calling for a boycott of all food and other products coming from Serbia.  The group claims that Serbia will be harmed and Kosovo will be aided by the boycott.  The group wants the boycott to last until Serbia releases Kosovo into independence, "recognizes the crimes its committed and pays rewards for the incurring damages".

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Kosovo, A Mix of Yesterday & Today

Kosovo is a strange mixture of yesterday and today.  It is not uncommon to see the latest model of Mercedes or BMW passing a horse-drawn cart or tractor on the highway.  I recall a couple years ago, KPS Traffic had an initiative to stop tractors traveling on the roads after dark without taillights but it seems that people just don't care about the danger they present to themselves or others and the practice of running around without taillights at night is still prevalent.
The old traditions aren't just limited to horse-drawn carts on the highway though.  I recently had a conversation with a young girl just finishing high school at one of the local businesses I frequent.  She wants to get her bellybutton pierced but according to her "now I have to ask my parents for permission and then I will have to ask my husband".  For the girl, this is just the way life is and her attitude seems to be one of who-am-I-to-question-it.