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 war...it'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.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Attack at Petrol Station

Two Serbs working in a petrol station a few kilometers north of Mitrovica early this morning.  The two, aged 19 and 21, were injured during an attack with an automatic weapon.  The motive is still unclear as it has been confirmed that no money went missing during the attack.  There are few details available other than the incident occurred.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Rainy Spring Days

It has been an awful, rainy spring this year.  Compared to the previous four springs that I've been in Kosovo, I've never seen the cold and rain linger for so long.  It has been raining almost daily for at least the past three weeks.  The road in front of my house is like a rollercoaster.  You have to zigzag all over the place to avoid popping your tires in the mammoth car-eating sized potholes.  It is very obvious where the road re-pavement project ended in the Albanian village of Hajvali outside of Gracanica and where the old pavement begins.  There is a remarkable difference in the quality and I would say goes to show that there has been a bit of discrimination in public services.
There was a good article in the Baltimore Sun about how the international community has blotched up the intervention in Kosovo.  A solution to the problems does not seem like a very easy one.  I hold no envy for the international mediators of the status talks!

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Fourth Round of Talks - No Solution

The fourth round of status/decentralization talks between Serb and Albanian negotiators ended with again no agreement on how to solve the issue of ethnic municipalities in Kosovo.  The Serbian side is seeking to have 15 Serbian municipalities in addition to the existing five while the Albanian team is considering the creation of only three.  The next round of talks are scheduled to begin on May 23rd and will focus on the issues of religious and cultural sites and their protection.
In other news, it was reported on Saturday (6 May) that unknown persons opened fire on a vehicle carrying a Serbian priest, his wife, and the couple's 6-month and 3-year old children.  The vehicle belongs to the Rasko-Prizren monastery and was traveling through a prominently Albanian area on the road to the Sokolic monastery (near Mitrovica).  There were no injuries and the matter has been referred to KPS.