Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ticking Time Bomb?

One might wonder if they are sitting on a ticking time bomb in Kosovo.  The Finish Helsingin Samonat reports that impatience is growing in Kosovo and local residents who are interviewed seem upset both at local politicians and the UN.  The Vetevendosje group has set up some sort of effigy of Martii Ahtisaari (I believe by the government building...will try to visit and photograph!) and is preparing to demonstrate, possibly tossing rocks, at UN and government buildings.  The goal of the "Self-Determination" group is to prevent employees from doing their work.  While a spokesperson does say that they are not looking to harm anyone, with flying rocks and windows being smashed, it is likely that someone either innocent employee or demonstrator may be injured.  Additionally, Albin Kurti, leader of the Self-Determination group, is quoted as saying that he expects more bloodshed in Kosovo following the release of Ahtisaari's proposal.
The NGO Mercy Corps says that Kosovo's Future is looking bright but cautions that the status agreement must be implemented correctly or we risk the chance of returning to instability.

Meanwhile, countries from Russia to Finland are asking the question of what does Kosovo's independence mean to us?  In Finland, the question is of the independent Aland Islands...will their status need to be looked at again?  In the former Soviet Union, there are many break-away provinces and the issue of Chechnya (which Russia thinks is different than the others, meaning they support the breakup of other countries but not Russia.).

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Forgot to Update!

With the posting of today's article by AlertNet about SOS Kinderdorf's programs to help disadvantaged families in Kosovo I realized that I never updated you on the toy drive that I held before going home for the holidays in December! 
The toy drive went great.  Most of my colleagues and friends donated to the cause and we were able to fill a huge box (1.7m X 2m X 3m) with toys and clothing for children.  Due to an outbreak of meningitis in Magure, I was not able to make the donation to the social center in person but my friends in the DCA took the toys after I departed.  I am supposed to receive some pictures of the donation and I can't wait to see the smiles.  There is nothing quite like making a child smile :)

Before I left, I met with Fahrush Neziri, the director of the Pristina office of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.  Since there is only one orphanage in Kosovo (run by SOS Kinderdorf) according to the Ministry most of the orphaned children go to live with relatives or foster families.  The list of children that I received from the Pristina office had 56 children from the ages of 2-18 years of age that could use a bit of holiday cheer.  The morning before I left, I sent a large donation to the office to distribute to the children.  In addition to overseeing the placement of children with relatives or foster families, the Pristina office also operates a sort of meeting center where estranged parents can meet with their children in a neutral setting.  Outfitting the meeting center with toys for the children is my next goal in addition to continuing to help disadvantaged families with clothing and toys.

Back to SOS Kinderdorf!  This is one of my favorite charity organizations because I truly believe that they are the future and the key to ending conflicts around the world.  One thing that is sure to incite rage in MTCowgirl is the use of child soldiers, a personal cause of mine.  SOS Kinderdorf goes to many of the troubled places in the world and sets up shelters for abused or disadvantaged children.  In Kosovo, the organization runs a small orphanage (approximately 10-20 children) and now has opened two centers for disadvantaged families who are struggling to keep their families together after the end of the conflict.  The new program is designed to help families regardless of ethnicity and aimed at promoting awareness for creating a safe environment for orphaned, abandoned, or destitute children in Kosovo.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Why's Everyone Pickin' on Me? Banned from the PX?!

Today is one of those days where the words to that old song "Big bad Billy..." something-rather keeps playing in my head...the line I'm thinking of is where he says "why's everyone always pickin' on me?"  I decided to go check out a new "Etc" hipermarket that opened near Admin HQ this afternoon after lunch.  The market looked huge and is huge on the inside.  The location is complete with an Agora Pizzaria, probably a branch of the one that's next to Bella Vista downtown and hopefully serves up the same delicious pizzas!  But there was nothing really special about the market that distinguishes itself from all the other hipermarkets.  I think I'll actually stick to shopping at Era Citymarket because they still have one of the best selections of veggies and the butcher is decent (although I do still find myself going out to InterEx sometimes just for the meat!) 
The weird thing that happened at Etc. is that they do not allow women to carry in their handbags.  I had to surrender my bag to the the "purse police" at the entrance...of course, removing wallet, cell phone, radio, and appointment book (basically everything that was in the bag!) before handing it over to be locked up by the attendant.  But as I saw, not a single lady in the market was allowed to take their handbag into the store.  I can foresee that causing some problems...I know that I won't be going back because of it...I don't want to have to take everything I need from my bag and hand it over every time I need to go buy toilet paper!

The second thing that happened was that I had the misfortune of being kicked out of the American PX at Film City by two Italian MSU MPs.  Before today, there was never a problem with being an American and shopping in the PX...but for some reason there were MPs (who evidently have nothing better to do than check IDs in the PXs!) kicking people out.  Fortunately a friend was able to purchase the ranch dressing and batteries I needed (I'd die without my ranch!) before we retreated with our tails between our legs.  Guess I won't be going back there either!  Things are a-changing...guess there isn't the same sort of American camaraderie there used to be now that we're getting kicked out of our national PXs!

I've heard some rumors (and I do qualify the below statements as being rumors...not fact set in stone!) about UNMIK getting kicked out of the PXs.  One is that the new chief of staff, an American up at Film City, wants to yank any access that us civilians (say that with as much contempt as possible!) may have had in the past.  The other rumor is the reason why we were supposedly kicked out of Bondsteel after the change-over.  I heard that two Americans from Ferizaj went to Bondsteel around Thanksgiving and started cleaning off the shelves when the PX wasn't expecting a shipment for a couple more days.  The staff at the PX supposedly told the guys that they had to put stuff back and then the attitude came out.  If this is true, personally I'd like to find out who these two guys were and pay them a nice little visit to express my appreciation for screwing things up for all the other Americans in Kosovo!  We've had the privilege of being able to shop down at Bondsteel for the past 5 1/2 years that I've been in Kosovo but it only takes two inconsiderate, stupid jerks to mess things up for 300 other people who just want Pepsi and Tostitos! :oP

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Winter Arrives Late!

For all my friends who have complained about the lack of winter and snow...careful what you wish for! *grin*  Today started with a boring, cloudy morning and then the skies opened up!  There is a fresh white coat of snow that is coating everything.  It looks like winter has come but a bit late this year :)  I recall freezing my butt off in Gracanica around this time last year...but even now, for the past two weeks there has been 24/7 power there after several months of having a schedule of one on & five off.
Dj Vegas at the Phoenix?  Last night I was asked to dj at the Phoenix bar downtown.  Unfortunately my American police friends have to leave the bar at 10pm due to some stupid rumors about the owners going around and a new curfew.  Hopefully it will be a temporary restriction...I miss hanging out with my pals at the bar and I think it's one of the few places I can get away with slipping in some country music :o)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Ahtisaari Presents

As anticipated, special envoy Martii Ahtisaari presented his plan to the Contact Group today.  A copy of the report is rumored to have been leaked out and supposedly will be printed in the local papers tomorrow in Kosovo.  The "blueprint" is supposed to center around two issues: Kosovo's right to a future and the protection of minority rights.  It seems that the word "independence" has been left out of the proposal but still Kosovo would be allowed access to international organizations and the possibility of having some sort of security forces.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Patience is a virtue...

If one were to use the old clich├»¿½ "patience is a virtue" in the Balkans they might sound like a broken record.  With the Serbian elections just finished, press statements are flowing from all the international news agencies about how Serbia must quickly form a pro-EU/Western government, Kosovo Albanians are demanding immediate release of the proposal and stating that conditional independence is not what they were promised seven years ago (I beg to question, what exactly did they think they were promised and who did they think promised them anything?), and even Serbia's current President Tadic is saying that the pro-EU parties must put aside their differences and quickly form a government to shut out the "ultranationalist".
With threats of violence (even the term "war" has popped up) if Albanians are not granted some sort of independence this spring and the rumor of a mass exodus of Serbs if Kosovo is granted independence, it will be interesting to see what happens in the coming months.  Rumor still is that Ahtisaari will release some sort of document to the Contact Group on 26 January during a scheduled meeting and then the document will be officially released on 2 February to all.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Elections & Rugova

Today is election day in Serbia.  A chance for Serbs to turn away from the past according to Kosovo Albanian PM Agim Ceku or to show that they do not share the retrograde vision of extremists according to Michael Polt, the US ambassador to Belgrade .  Counts after the polls closed showed that the ultranationalist party of former President Slobodan Milosevic was winning as predicted, gathering somewhere around 28% of the votes with current President Boris Tadic's party winning around 22%, nearly double what was predicted. 
Today also marks the one year anniversary of the death of Ibrahim Rugova, former President of Kosovo and
peaceful activist for Albanians in Kosovo.  A crowd gathered in Pristina to commemorate his death and remember the man that was nicknamed "Gandhi of the Balkans".

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Smokey, the Crazy Stunt Dog

Smokey, the Crazy Stunt Dog! He has another title now! I had to put him on the upstairs balcony because he kept ripping the internet/TV cable out of its place on the downstairs balcony.  Yesterday was his second day on the big balcony overlooking Pristina and I thought he'd be happy with so much space to roam.  But lo-and-behold, when I walked outside to the front of the house, I saw Smokey peering over the roof of the garage, two stories up.  Somehow he managed to jump over the railing on the balcony and get up on the roof.  I went back inside to make sure he wasn't stuck and he was right there at the door to sneak inside.  I tossed his butt back out on the balcony and as soon as I got back downstairs and out front, he was again on the roof.  I hope no one in the neighborhood freaks out that there is a dog on my roof...but at least I don't have to reconnect my internet/TV cable when I get home tonight!
This morning it was the same deal but I took pictures for those that don't believe me!  Check out what's new with the Crazy Stunt Dog...peeking down at me from two stories up while I was getting in the car to go to work :)

PS.  I was vindicated and received my driver's license back yesterday!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Difference of Opinions

I mainly started this site to keep my family and friends up-to-date with what was happening around Kosovo and what it was like for an American to come overseas for the first time and jump head-first into an international working environment.  Now, besides giving personal information about living in Kosovo, I've started posting more links to news sources about the politics of Kosovo in addition to incorporating some guide-like material for some of my favorite restaurants and tips on what you should bring if you are coming on mission for the first time.
Most feedback that I get from the site is from people looking to see what it is like living in Kosovo or seeking advice on bringing visitors/family to Kosovo.  I do get the occasional "hate" email from someone who doesn't like my viewpoints but everyone is entitled to their opinion!  This website represents how I see living in Kosovo and some of my personal experiences in the past five and half years of working/living in the Pristina area. So for those that don't like what is written here, go ahead and email me but don't expect a response as I don't reply or waste my time with rudeness or attacks on my person.  I would be thrilled to hear from those that find the information useful and those that might know a place or two around Kosovo that I may have forgotten :)

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Three Seasons of Kosovo

There are three distinct seasons in Kosovo...ones that probably do not occur anywhere else in the world.  The seasons of Kosovo are dusty, muddy, and frozen.  There is no in between season...it just goes from one to the other.  Currently we are experiencing a long muddy season instead of the normal frozen season (where all the mud and water on the streets turns to ice).  The streets are covered with what I would like to dub as slime...in fact I think whoever made the Ghostbusters movies got their inspiration for Slimer by walking on the streets of Pristina :o)  After the muddy season, everything will dry out and we will enter the dusty season.  During this season there is no escaping the debris and dust that seems to constantly cover the streets of Kosovo.  No matter how many times the street sweepers (actually people not machines!) come by and pile up the dirt on the roads the roads are forever covered in a fine film of dust.  There's nothing you can do about it...it's just a way of life :)  In Kosovo those mud streaks up the back of your pants aren't an embarrassment, it's a fashion statement declaring "I walked outside today!  What did you do?"  Embrace it! Live it! Kosovo's Three Seasons! (I'm in a goofy mood today, can you tell?!)
I've added some new Kosovo photos to my album in the "Only in Kosovo" and "General" sections :)  For other pictures from around Kosovo, visit my pal's website Kosovo in Pictures.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Great Debate Continues

With increasing speculation of what special representative Ahtisaari will propose for the status of Kosovo in coming weeks, the rhetoric of what the world should do is raining down in the editorial sections of international new sources. 
The exact date of Ahtisaari's recommendation has not yet been decided but Kosovo PM Ceku is "confident" that the proposal will go before the Security Council at the end of February or beginning of March.  More and more, there seems to be agreement that Ahtisaari will propose some sort of conditional or supervised independence.  Meanwhile, Undersecretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns has stated that he believes that the entire status process will be concluded in April.

Former congressman and president of the Albanian American Civic League (which already indicates the position), Joe DioGuardi, writes that the new Secretary-General needs to be strong and that conditional independence is not acceptable.  An article by US presidential hopeful Joseph Biden in the Jan 2nd Financial Times garnered attention from the website antiwar.com.  Biden had stated that "Opponents to a new Kosovo must be stopped" and Balkan Express goes through his arguments to refute the claims borrowing lines from Macbeth that "It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing".
Axis Information & Analysis breaks down the upcoming Serbian elections, citing polls that give a good indication of what the results may be following 21 Jan.  The analysis begs the question of whether Serbia will turn to Kosovo or towards Europe following the elections.  From the Financial Times, MSN states "Radical tide could spell disaster for Serbia" and goes on to examine just how radical the radicals are in Serbia.  You might be surprised at what is found :)

Should Kosovo be granted independence, neighboring countries with Serbian populations are welcoming those that may want to leave.  Bosnian lawmaker Sadik Ahmetovic said that a number of Serbs could be moved from Kosovo to Bosnia following a deal between Belgrade and Banja Luka.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Police Seize Huge Haul of Cocaine

Macedonian customs officials seized a record 483kg of cocaine at the Blace Macedonia-Kosovo border. The haul is estimated to be worth some 46 million Euros but if it were processed by dealers on the streets, the value could have reached nearly 90million.  This record seizure is double the previous record of 220kgs in 2004 but follows much the same pattern.  The 2004 bust also came from Venezuela via Bar.  Macedonian TV channel A1 reported that the operation was conducted by ethnic Albanian, Cavilj Sabani, who is serving a 40-year sentence in Kosovo prison for smuggling cocaine.  Another possible suspect named was Stanislava Cocorvska-Poletan who is the owner of two front companies.  One that participated in the transfer of the drugs and another that was the designated purchaser of the "paint".

Reportedly, the Montenegrin police notified the Kosovo customs officials that the truck was suspicious.  Kosovo customs did not find anything but they alerted the Macedonian customs officials as the truck passed the Blace border and the cocaine was discovered in containers labeled as acrylic paint.  There were 882 such containers containing packets of cocaine in the truck.  Police tracking the source of the drugs have found that the cocaine shipped from Venezuela to Montenegro's port city of Bar.  From there it was loaded in a truck bearing Macedonian registration and driven by a Macedonian citizen through Kosovo.

Every year I try to go back and look through my Kosovo Tips for Newbies to see if anything is changed or needs updating.  As usual, some things have changed so I've updated the page with various information about living in Kosovo (particularly Pristina) and what one can expect and some tips on where you can shop or get a haircut :o)

Friday, January 5, 2007

Serbia Requests Postponement of Status

Serbian President Boris Tadic has requested the UN postpone it's revelation of special representative Ahtisaari's proposal for the status of Kosovo until a government is formed following the elections. Tadic stated that proposal may not be "very favorible for the Serb side" and that the formation of the governemnt should only take a couple of weeks. The elections are scheduled for the 21st and Ahtisaari is expected to make his announcement as early as the 26th. The revelation of Ahtisaari's plan was already postponed from the end of 2006 to after the Serbian elections in fears that a non-favorable solution for the Serbs would cause a rise in the popularity of ultra-nationalism in Serbia. Although the "radical" nationalist party in Serbia is already expected to win approximately 31% of the vote where other parties would take significantly smaller percentages of the vote. I seriously doubt that the month long delay has any real impact on the elections as there already has been plenty of talk by UN, EU, and contract group representatives stating basically that Kosovo should have some sort of conditional independence. Ahtisaari caused a great deal of anger in Serbia when he stated that Serbs were guilty as a nation for the occurences in Kosovo.
Following the elections, Ahtisaari will present the proposal to the Serbian and Kosovo authorities and I believe the Contact Group. After both sides have time to submit their input, Ahtisaari will take the proposal the Secretary General and then to the Security Council sometime in March. The road to finalizing the status will not be easy once the proposal is announced. A win-lose situation will not be acceptable and a win-win situation is very difficult to foresee. The UN has been hoping to complete liquidation of the mission by the end of 2007 and turn over authority in Kosovo to the local and EU representatives. We will see how things progress over the next few months!

In other news, the former director of the Pristina airport has been charged in a "bribes for jobs" scandal. One might recall that UNMIK was criticized by UN auditors, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), of failing to halt widespread fraud and corruption at the airport. SRSG at the time, Soren Jessen-Petersen, denied the claims stating that he did not have the authority to investigate the dealings at the airport. Back to the scandal though, Ian Woollett, the director between 2003-2005 is accused of accepting bribes from local businessmen in exchange for employment at the airport. Two employees were let go in May 2006 in connection with the scandal. The charges come at the conclusion of the two-year investigation following the criticism from OIOS.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Serb Family Attacked in Apparent Housing Dispute

A Kosovo Serb family trying to reclaim a building allegedly illegally occupied by an Albanian in Klina was attacked. KPS reports that they found 23 bullets and the attack appeared to be carried out using an AK-47 while the family was asleep. The family is trying to reclaim property in Klina that they claim is theirs and never was sold to the current Albanian residing in the location. The bottom floor of the property in question has been turned into a restaurant in addition to housing an office of the Self-Determination group. The Albanian occupying the property claims that he legally purchased the property in Montenegro, while the Serbian family claims that they never sold the building after fleeing Kosovo in 1999 in fear of attack.

The illegal occupation of minority homes is a large problem in Kosovo that both the UN agencies and local government continue to battle. Many refugees return to Kosovo to find that their homes or businesses are occupied by another individual that claims to have legal ownership. Approximately 60 Serbian families have returned to Klina to find their properties occupied by Albanians who claim to have legal paperwork for the ownership of the property. When one finds their property illegally occupied, they must file a report with the Kosovo Housing and Property Directorate in order to have the property returned. The Serbian family in Klina had just filed the needed paperwork the day of the attack which begs the question, what was the motivation for the attack?