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 region...you 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.