Tuesday, May 29, 2007

KFOR Destroys Thousands of Illegal Weapons

I was a bit preoccupied over the weekend with family business, but there was an interesting event at Camp Victory on the way to Gracanica.  KFOR destroyed approximately 4000 illegal weapons that had been seized during searches and checkpoints.  Many of the weapons would have made great museum pieces as WWI bolt-action rifles or mafia-style Tommy Guns were included in with the AK-47s and handguns.  It is sad that such historical pieces were destroyed, most probably could not be used safely.

It is estimated that there are some 40,000 illegal weapons in Kosovo.  That number includes everything from AK-47s to long-range sniper rifles illegally sent to Kosovo from the US.  Hand grenades and other UXOs are continually being found in fields and destroyed by KFOR.

In other news, I'm happy to announce that Kosova Airlines in partnership is Adriatic Eagle Air now has a direct flight from Pristina to New York- JFK for approximately 750 Euros round-trip.  Tickets can be booked online though their website or purchased at Reisburo Pristina near Illiria Hotel (and possibly across from OSCE).  The schedule appears to leave Pristina on Wednesday and return on Monday.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

People sometimes wonder what the hardest part of being in a mission is...the electricity, pollution, food, accommodation?  I'd have to say the hardest part of the mission doesn't have anything to do with living in Kosovo but rather the fact that you are hundreds or thousands of miles away from your family and friends.  For people with children, it is difficult if your child gets sick...even if it is just the flu...because normally you would be there to comfort them but now you have to do it over the phone (or maybe you won't even know about it until its over).  Or maybe you will miss important things like a baby's first step/word.
My grandmother passed away Friday evening in the US.  It was difficult to make the decision not to go home for the funeral services but due to the travel time, I would not have made it home in time for the services after getting emergency leave approved.  Instead, I will wait until a planned trip this summer to pay my respects.  But it is difficult to mourn a loved one from so far away and I'm not there to receive one of the many comforting hugs that my family are giving to each other.  I've been having trouble sleeping, too many thoughts on my mind about the woman who was so kind and loving toward me and reminiscing of all the fond memories I have of spending time with my grandma.  It is rather fitting that it was Memorial Day weekend, a time to remember our loved ones that have passed on before us.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Funky Fog

The weather has left much to be desired the past week or so.  After an afternoon of sun the sky will cloud over with some of the blackest clouds I've seen for a long time and there will be a sudden downpour of rain.  Today we were greeted with a blanket of funky fog.  It's not heavy but it is strange considering that it is almost the end of May.  Normal fog season is late fall or late winter.  The good news is that the weather will be clearing up and just partly cloudy toward the end of next week...so the beach volleyball tournament and BBQ should go off without a hitch!
Thinking of funky things, I came across an article about how Kosovo crazies have threatened the leader of the gay community in Kosovo.  I wouldn't put Kosovo up there in the rankings of tolerant places so it does not come as a surprise that the gay community has received death threats.  The article mentions that the local police (KPS - Kosovo Police Service) opened a flawed investigation...but by my own experiences, probably most of their investigations are flawed!

If you think about it, KPS really has only existed since the end of the war...and the program didn't begin right away.  The new police officers had to be trained in everything as most had no experience whatsoever in police work.  So really the most experienced police officer in Kosovo has what 7-8 years of experience???  A common complaint from international officers training KPS is that once they finish the 3-month police academy the KPS officers think they know everything about police work and don't want to listen to more experienced officers.  Anyone who has seen some of these guys direct traffic would know that they still have a lot to learn :o)

Add into that low wages, although consistent with the local averages, corruption is a problem.  I recall in 2000 when the UNMIK police used to tow illegally parked vehicles they had to go to a strict company rotation policy because off-duty KPS officers were riding with the tow companies and getting kickbacks from towing cars if they responded first.

Another problem is efficiency.  A simple example is in 2002 when I got Smokey a few of us pitched in to have one of the maintenance guys build us a big doghouse for the puppies.  It took two grown men to carry the darn thing and one weekend it disappeared from our backyard in the UN compound!  I went to UN Security to report the doghouse as stolen but because it was personal property they did not want to do anything.  That was okay, I told them, but the fact that they had a breach in security and didn't notice someone carrying a doghouse out of the compound was a bit alarming.  Then later that day a fellow colleague from IT asked me if I had given the doghouse to some local kids who had adopted one of the puppies because he had seen it on his way to work that day.  I asked him where it was and went to verify that our doghouse was with the kids...and it was.  So I went to the downtown police station to make a report and see if I could get an officer to go with me to recover the doghouse.  I filled out the report and then the person taking the paperwork said "thank you we'll contact you in a few months".  (A few months?!?!)  I explained that I knew where my stolen property was and that I just needed assistance in recovering it but the person told me that before they did anything they had to take my report and translate it into Albanian and Serbian.  Then they would investigate and contact me.  (Ummm, no investigation needed, I know where my property is!)  Being the pushy international that I am *hehe* I asked to speak to the station commander who just happened to be an American as well.  I explained the situation and he sent me to the house to recover the doghouse with two Albanian KPS officers who couldn't speak English so communication was interesting.  As it turns out, the kids thought it was okay for a group of them to climb over the wall of the UN compound and take the doghouse while no one was there.  As for UN Security doing anything about the breach well let's just say that we don't joke that they are un-security for nothing!!!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Thinking of Symbols...

It's funny that I decided to write about the Kosovo government's work on new state symbols because today I heard about how some Albanians in Kosovo are working on erecting a statue of Bill Clinton in Pristina.  Seen as a "savior of Kosovo" Kosovo-Albanians plan to put up a 10-foot statue of the former US president on the boulevard that bears his name.  Podujevo scupltor Izeir Mustafa will complete the bronze statue within the next week and Pristina authorities expect to install the statue sometime this summer.  Mustafa has also been commissioned to create a statue of British PM Tony Blair...the street bearing his name is some obscure little alley in Pristina.

Going further into the debate about the national symbols of Kosovo, BIRN discusses the attitudes over the national identity of Kosovar.  One would think that Albanians would be happy with the creation of their own state, Kosovo, but that is not the case...some are vehemently against the creation of a national flag as the only flag for them is the Albanian one (never mind that little fact that it actually belongs to another country!)  So if the Albanians are against the creation of the Kosovar national identity, where does it put the people residing in the soon-to-be newest country in Europe???

Again in BIRN, Balkan author Tim Judah takes a look at Kosovo Diplomacy in Suspended Animation.  Judah looks at the Russian position and explores some of the possible solutions that may come about.
Time features an article on the possible Russia veto of the Security Council resolution based on Ahtisaari's plan.  There are also a series of articles about Indonesia and the difficulties they are facing in making a decision.  As the largest Muslim country in the world, a great deal of the population of Indonesia want the country to support the Muslim Albanian's bid for independence but at the same time the government faces a dilemma as there are two provinces that have been trying to break away, Aceh and Papua.  It is expected that a vote will happen in the next several weeks on the US-EU resolution and that the resolution does not actually contain the word "independence" (like the Ahtisaari proposal) but instead it leads down a path towards independence.

Channel 4 News from the UK reports in their Kosovo: State of Denial about that while the fighting has stopped, the communities in Kosovo still remain far apart.  Going to Mala Krusha and N. Mitrovica, the report takes a look at how both communities have suffered the ravages of war and just how difficult it is to get the groups to not just live next to each other but live together.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Kosovo Negotiating Team Works on State Symbols

Members of the Kosovo Unity Team, a group of politicians and lawmakers who were involved in the negotiations with Serbia, have agreed to meet to discuss Kosovo's new state symbols.  Members of the group, particularly head of the group and opposition leader Veton Surroi, want to have state symbols in place when Kosovo gains independence.  However, Kosovo PM Ceku again has stated that independence is expected in "a matter of weeks" (a resolution is now expected by the end of June) and it is not realistic to expect national symbols to be adopted in that time period.  But Surroi and Hashim Thaci, another opposition leader in the unity team, believe that Kosovo will be able to agree on new state symbols on the day it gains independence. 
One of the reasons why the state symbols needs to be addressed is because after the 120-day transition period, the travel documents issued by UNMIK will no longer be valid and Kosovo will need to reissue documents to its citizens.  I imagine that the identity cards issued by UNMIK will also be invalid following the transition.  Ceku has said that the issue of symbols is delicate and requires political and civil consensus but the clock is ticking!

According to the Ahtisaari proposal, the state symbol must also reflect the multi-ethnic make-up of Kosovo...so the flag on the left will no longer be used to represent Kosovo.  I rather doubt that the flag will disappear from use though, it's likely that the Albanian population will continue to use it to represent their ethnic identity.  In contrast, it is interesting to see that Albanian movements in Serbia have developed a unique flag to represent their group.

The EU mission in the news as well.  Officials have reiterated that the EU mission cannot and will not exist unless there is a UN Security Council resolution.  Also, Turkey has blocked NATO-EU cooperation in the future mission in protest for treatment by the EU.  Turkey is a member of NATO but has so far had little progress in its EU ascension negotiations.  Turkey wants more say in EU common defense policy and wants to be consulted more on EU security policies.  Formal cooperation between NATO and the EU has been rocky due to political tensions between countries like Turkey, Cyprus, and Malta.  The two organizations rarely share intelligence or operational information.

NPR published an article that outlines how some Serbs feel about the looming decision about Kosovo.  The article looks at several different viewpoints and emphasizes the complexity of the situation.

Also, Macedonia is looking to Kosovo as ethnic problems continue between Macedonians and Albanians.  A small Albanian party has joined in with the Macedonian goverment after boycotting since January.  The larger Albanian party DUI, an offshoot of the rebel NLA who fought in the nearly civil war in 2000, are still refusing to participate in the government citing abuses by the Macedonians.  The one thing that I find interesting is that the name of the country is Macedonia but still some populations do not consider themselves as Macedonian but rather by Albanians, Roma, or whatever...that's an interesting outlook to say the least.  Would that be like me calling myself a "Montanan" or "Las Vegan" and not American???  It kind of speaks to me as people do not want to identify themselves as patriots of the country they live in...  Not discussed in the article are fears that independence for Kosovo will cause further problems in Macedonia.  The Albanian minority is currently at around 20% of the population and is highly concentrated near the Kosovo border and in certain sections of Skopje (like the Old Town).  It is thought that Albanians in the border areas in Macedonia and Preshevo will attempt to break-off and join Kosovo...even though politicians from Kosovo and Albania say there will not be a "Greater Albania" they have can't control movements in those areas if people want to inflame tensions...but as most things in the Balkans, we'll just have to wait and see!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Independence Delayed???

In his weekly radio address, Kosovo PM Agim Ceku has stated that "Independence will not happen this month, but in June".  Just a few weeks ago, Ceku said that Kosovo would be independent by the end of May.    It is not uncommon for Kosovo politicians to promise independence by a certain date and then retract those statements.  Ceku's predecessor Kosumi had promised independence in June 2006.  Ceku has also toned down some of his unilateral declaration rhetoric and is now saying that Kosovo will not declare independence following a Russia veto until it has consulted with its allies in the US and EU.
The UN has overthrown a decision by the local government concerning building a protective wall around a church in Pec/Peja.  The local government ordered the work on the wall because the church allegedly did not receive permission to build.  The SRSG, Joachim Rueker, issued an executive order that the work can continue until the dispute is resolved.  The patriarchate of Pec stated that the wall is needed to protect the church and its inhabitants as the Italian troops and their sandbags would not stay forever.  In response to the SRSG's executive order, around 30 Vetevendosje activists attempted to march to the patriarchy but were stopped by police.

In other news, in Macedonia an ethnic-Albanian who worked for the Ministry of Justice was arrested for attempting to smuggle three Kosovo- Albanians across the border into Greece.  Menduh Kuci, a courier from the Tetevo branch of the ministry agreed to transport three K-Albanians to the Greek border in exchange for a payment of 130 Euros.  Because Kuci took a wrong turn, he was arrested at the Macedonian-Serbian border (he went north instead of south!) He reportedly mistook the border crossing for a toll-booth and showed his government ID card to pass the "toll".  The K-Albanians were deported as they were in Macedonia illegally.

On 2 June, the Sports Committee is going to hold a Beach Volleyball and BBQ at TSS.  Look on Lotus Notes and the Intranet for more details.  You can get a registration form online or at one of the Pristina UNWind Gyms.  Oh, and let me welcome the new American Civpol contingent to Kosovo :o)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Catching Up

I've been quiet this week as I've been on vacation and trying to just kick back and relax instead of running around like mad as I usually do.  Most of my vacations end up with me coming back to Kosovo and being thankful as I can finally put my feet up and rest *hehe*  But this vacation, it was just me, Gil Grissom, and Horatio Caine...yes, I've been catching up on CSI: Las Vegas and Miami :)  I got back in time to catch my new favorite cable TV show in Kosovo as well, the US crime drama "Criminal Minds"...so basically I've been camped out in front of the TV a lot :)
Anyways, MTCowgirl's Kosovo Update...
The US has stated that it will not make moves for unilateral recognition of Kosovo and that Washington is going to continue pursuing a resolution in the Security Council.  These statements from Daniel Fried (I'm sure he pronounces it "Freed" but I prefer "Fried" which sometimes I thought his brain must be partly for the statements he has made in the past on Kosovo...but I digress!) came after talks between Russia and the US about various issues; the two biggest issues being the US' proposed missile defense systems in Eastern Europe and Kosovo's status.

Kosovo PM Agim Ceku has made statements that Kosovo would be independent by the end of the month but then several PMs before him made similar promises which never were fulfilled.  Ceku also has stated that independence is the "only solution" that would guarantee stability and peace in the Balkans (a veiled threat if I've ever seen one!)  <soapbox>Ceku was on the Interpol Wanted List for war crimes in Croatia until some higher-ups in the UN convinced them to take him off the list.  The circumstances still are very suspicious and  Ceku seems to be too much of a thug than politician.  Ceku's continued threats of unilateral declarations of independence when a Security Council resolution is close just seem to be a waste of breath and effort.  I really wish he would get off his little independence bandwagon and actually start working on making things better for the citizens of Kosovo!</soapbox>

Monday, May 14, 2007

NATO Drone Crashes Into House

A NATO unmanned spy plane (drone) crashed into a house near Suva Reka, slightly injuring a child.  There was little damage to the house according to KPS spokesperson, Veton Elshani.
NATO is also investigating a female Swedish KFOR soldier for leaking classified NATO and UN documents to the man she was dating in Kosovo.  The man identified only as "X" reportedly worked as an interpreter for UNMIK before disappearing last year after being questioned by NATO.  It is not know if X was affliated with any government or organization but he received thousands of classified documents from his Swedish girlfriend and other sources.

In the news, the US and EU have been urged by the International Crisis Group (ICG) to consider making revisions to the Kosovo resolution circulated last Friday that will include Russia's suggested Envoy for Minorities and a moratorium of two-years before Kosovo can apply for UN membership.  Meanwhile, Condeleezza Rice's visit with Russia's Vladimir Putin has resulted in an agreement that both countries need to tone down their rhetoric.  Kosovo remains a sticking point in relations with the US strongly pushing for a resolution by the end of May and Russia insisting that the solution must be agreeable to Serbia.

Barely beating the May 14th deadline for the formation of a government, three pro-Western parties agreed to to form a coalition.  The Serbian parliament has until midnight today to approve the new cabinet or elections will be called.  If you have been reading a few days prior, Radical member Nickolic was elected as parliament speaker.  The new coalition between the coalition parties called for his immediate resignation which is odd since Kostunica originally supported the election but perhaps it was all a political game in order to scare Tadic into forming a government that met Kostunica's demands.  There are still questions about how long the coalition government will last due to differences in party lines over the importance of Kosovo and EU ascension and only time will tell.

USA Today featured an opinion commentary on the rocky road that Kosovo faces after independence which is right on the money (pun intended...har-har) about the economic problems and corruption that the government must deal with in order to move forward.

<soapbox>If the government fails to address the economic problems and corruption, life in Kosovo will not improve and there will continue to be civil unrest, but rather than demonstrating for independence people will demonstrate about the lack of jobs, corruption, and rampant social/economic problems.  Rarely do the Kosovo politicans address any of the social or economic problems they will face when (and it does seem to be more of a when rather than if now) they win independence from Serbia.  I have the sinking feeling that when Kosovo becomes independence the politicians will suddenly wake up and go 'holy crap' when they start looking at all the problems they face.

There seems to be a misconception that the international community will continue pouring millions and millions of Euros into Kosovo and the economy will continue to be supported.  But if you start breaking down and thinking things over, it's not going to be so easy.  Take a look at the figures of how many people will be in the EU mission.  The numbers are between 1500 and 2000 civilians and police.  UNMIK employees around 2000 local civilians to work in the mission!  On top of that, there are a couple thousand internationals working for the UN under the different pillars!  The restaurants and landlords are going to see a sharp decline in the number of customers who demand their services.  </soapbox>

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Serbia Wins Eurovision

After scores of entries into the Eurovision Song Contest (under the names Yugoslavia and then Serbia-Montenegro), Serbia triumphed in Europe's largest song contest on Saturday.  The ballad "The Prayer" sung by Marija Serifovic scored high marks, finishing more than 30 points ahead of second-place Ukraine who entered a cross-dressing transvestite comedian into the contest.  Around 30,000 fans gathered to greet the new national hero on Sunday when she returned to Belgrade and there were small celebrations in North Mitrovica almost immediately following the announcement that Serbia won. 
For those who don't know much about Eurovision, each year the contest is held in the previous winner's country.  Since Serbia won in 2007, the 2008 contest will be held in Belgrade.  In 2006, a band called Lordi singing "Hard Rock Hallelujah" from Finland won so in 2007 the contest was held in Helsinki.  In 2005, the contest was held in Athens after Helena Paparizou won with the song "My Number One" in Ukraine.  And before that, "Wild Dance" singer Ruslana won the contest in Istanbul in 2004...so you probably get the point...but just to show how long I've been following the contest, Sertab Erener won the contest in 2003 with "Everyway That I Can" which was a big hit in the clubs after the contest...I can recall the good ol' days of the Irish Pub dancing to the song at 2am :o)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Taxi Drivers in Kosovo, A Rare Breed

Okay, so taxi drivers everywhere in the world are special but sometimes it's amusing just how special they really are.  Taking taxis in Kosovo can be relaxing and luxurious (where else in the world do they have Mercedes-Benz taxis?!) or a praying-to-God-for-safe-delivery experience.  One of my colleagues had the misfortune of the latter of the two the other day when he was unable to find one of his normal drivers by the Grand Hotel.  Climbing into one of the company-affiliated taxis, he gave his directions and they were off.  The driver pealed out of the parking spot nearly plowing over a couple pedestrians and continued to weave in and out of traffic lanes practically managing to pass every single vehicle within a five kilometer radius.  If a vehicle happened to be in the way or he saw a nice looking girl walking along the road, he used his horn to express his feelings of impatience or delight.  Luckily my friend and the taxi managed to arrive at the destination safely and as my friend scrambled out, he got a good look at the driver and committed his face to memory in an effort to never have that experience again :o)
Other fun experiences in Kosovo with taxis really depend on the driver and whether or not the taxi is with a company.  If you are seeking adventure, I recommend going with a taxi driver without a meter and not part of a company.  Sometimes you will be lucky but many times you will have a great travel experience to share with your grandchildren later on!  As part of your story, you can tell about how after you climbed in the taxi, you noticed that the driver could not start the vehicle due to a lack of a car key and was trying to spark the wires together (just like in the movies) to get the car started.  After failing to do so after a few minutes of trying, the driver finally gets his buddies at the taxi stand to give you a push-start and off you go, vowing never to take that taxi driver again even if he is parked outside your house!  My wicked sense of humor, nope...it's true and one of those special "back when I was in Kosovo" stories!

In the news...beep, beep, da-ba, beep...MTCowgirl's Daily Kosovo Update (that's rather catchy and oh, yeah, I'm in a weather-is-great-and-it's-Friday mood!) :o) 
Okay, so coming back to the news...

Albin Kurti, leader of Vetevendosje (Self-Determination Group), has been released from prison but was immediately placed under house arrested by the request of the prosecutor.  Kurti has been in prison since 10 February when two Vetevendosje demonstrators were killed by rubber bullets fired by Romanian riot police.  Kurti faced charges for inciting violence and endangering lives.  His first sentence of 30-days was extended.  While Kutri was in prison, his deputy Glauk Konjufca has taken charge but failed to bring in the same numbers as the charismatic Kurti.  Other than his Self-Determination activities, Kurti is well-known as a student activist against Serbian policies in Kosovo and was imprisoned in Serbia for some time during the war.

A Kosovo-Albanian man who left Kosovo in 2004 after alleged chastisement and harassment for his refusal to fight in the 1999 war has been stranded in Canada for the past two years.  Ardian Koshi was refused refugee status in 2004 but was unable to return to Kosovo due to a lack of valid documents.  Since he has no UNMIK-issued travel documents and the documents can only be obtained in Kosovo, Koshi has been trying to get deported from Canada for almost a year but so far has failed to return to Kosovo where he left his wife and child.

And the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research featured an article that argues against Ahtisaari's plan.  The authors call the plan "un-fair, un-intellectual, and un-viable" and sort through problems with the international strategy and Kosovo's leadership.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tiffany's Has Re-Opened???

I heard that Tiffany Restaurant back by the Sports Stadium is open again.  If it is, I am soooo happy as it is the restaurant to get traditional Balkan food!  Dining there was always a three-hour event starting with fresh baked flat breads with a plate of yummy dipping sauces.  Then you could get a huge bowl of fresh green salad drizzled in olive oil.  After polishing off the salad, it was time for the main courses of which my favorites were the rice with mushrooms, elbasan, and the grilled meat.  There was never a menu at Tiffany's but there was always bread, salad, and grilled meats...staples of the Balkan diet :)  My mouth is already watering and my belt is groaning at the thought of going back!

Oh, I almost forgot, I've done a little update on my restaurant guide with updated phone numbers.  I've discovered a great little bakery in Dardania that sells fresh cinnamon rolls, cakes, croissants, and all sorts of other yummy treats!  It is called Joni and you can find it at the end of Dardania Tunnel.  If you go through the tunnel from near the Bill Clinton poster to the end and turn right, you'll find the bakery in the row of shops on the left side of the road towards the end.

Kosovo Albanians Involved in Terror Plot in the US

Hitting the news yesterday is of course the story of Fort Dix in the US and the four Albanians from Kosovo who wished to go on a killing spree and "kill as many soldiers as possible".  The catchy phrase of "Jihad in Jersey" has emerged as the news reports and over-reports about the break-up of a non-terrorist-organization-affiliated group of misfits who gave a DVD of jihad messages to a video store clerk to duplicate who in turn alerted authorities.  However, one important point not widely mentioned in the news print is that the video showed ten men in the video but only six were arrested.

One of the accused has been described as a "sniper in Kosovo" which may mean that he was a former member of the KLA.  An interesting little fact is that Fort Dix was the home to some 4000 Kosovo Albanian refugees during the war.  Later it emerged that one of the suspects, Agron Abdullahu, was a refugee that came to Fort Dix.  Sedar Tatar, a suspect born in Turkey, allegedly knew the layout of the base due to delivering pizzas there although his father denied the deliveries.

The cousin, Elez Duka, of the three Albanian brothers (Dritan, Shain, and Eljvir Duka) from Kosovo said that the charges were ridiculous and denied that the brothers could have been involved in such a plot.  Elez even goes as far to suggest that "I expect an apology" as for a community of 15,000 cannot believe that one of their own would be involved in a terrorism plot in the US because "we were always thankful to America for its support during the wars in Kosovo and Macedonia".  Of course, a point that should be mentioned is that none of the brothers were actually in Kosovo during the 1999 war as they all entered the US some 20-years ago and overstayed their visas.  Another relative Ramiz Duka however stated that changes were visible in the brothers starting about three years ago.  The brothers reportedly began to lecture other Muslims about Islam and strained familial relations to the point where the brothers stopped associating with the rest of the family in America.

It will be interesting to see the information as it comes forward as for some time now, critics have been saying that extremist Islam has been taking a foothold in the Balkans and that White Al-Queda (or Islamic terrorism) is becoming more of a threat.  There have been several recent news stories about Wahabis and terrorist training camps being raided in Serbia.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Possible Resolutions Circulated in Security Council

The US and EU have released part of a proposal on Kosovo with 13 points of a possible resolution in an informal meeting of the Security Council at the French UN Mission.  The points include endorsement of Ahtisaari's plan as well as mentioning "urgent necessity" of refugee returns.  The new proposal would replace most of the points in the current UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and set new guidelines for setting standards for minority rights.  The authors of the proposal have stated that they are enacting the measures in Kosovo despite Belgrade's objections because the "violence and repression of the 1990's" creates a special case.

Meanwhile, Russia has also circulated a proposal that suggests a withdrawal of UNMIK and the establishment of an international civilian mission with the UN Security Council in charge of civilian and military operations.  The proposal makes no mention of independence and states that there has been insufficient progress made in reaching standards set by the international community.

Who is going to vote for or against the plan?  There is some news about how some of the non-permanent members may vote.  A senior fellow at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) had urged Indonesia in the Jakarta Post to vote against Ahtisaari's proposal not simply because of the argument of territorial integrity but rather as to not bow to the influence of the US and EU.  The head of the Kosovo negotiating team is hoping that South Africa will vote in favor of the plan as he believes that it will compel Ghana and Congo to also vote for Ahtisaari's plan.

An article in the International Herald Tribune briefly touches on the old slogan "Standards before Status" where Kosovo was to demonstrate progress towards achieving eight standards such as freedom of movement, promoting economic development, protecting minorities, and ensuring rule of law.  The old mantra was scrapped after international diplomats began to realize that they might have to wait a long time for the Kosovo government to meet the standards due to widespread corruption, deep divides between the communities, and a poor economic outlook.

The Serbian parliament has elected "Radical" leader Tomislav Nikolic to be speaker yesterday.  Western leaders fear that nationalism is gaining strength and Serbia may turn inward and away from European integration.  The EU is urging the formation of a pro-EU government between acting President Tadic and former-PM Kostunica.  If no coalition is formed by the 14th, Tadic will have no choice but to call for new elections.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

More than Half of Kosovo Population Wants to Leave & Children in Kosovo

A report by UNDP on youth issues comes as no surprise when they report that more than half of the young population of Kosovo wish to emigrate.  Start out with very low wages and high unemployment rates (unofficially 70%, officially 50% depending on your sources) and then add into the equation high levels of corruption and nepotism and the result is youths losing hope that they have a good future in store in Kosovo.  If you consider that nearly half of the population also falls into the category of youths (15-29 years of age) the Kosovo government faces a serious problem that youths do not want to participate or even live in Kosovo.  And ethnicity doesn't matter, the problem is across the board for everyone.
In a sign that things are improving for Kosovo youths in the area of education, the University of Iowa has signed a three-year memorandum of understanding in the areas of archeology, geographic information systems, and human osteology.  In addition to this new exchange between the US and Kosovo, there also is the American University of Kosovo which is linked to Rochester Institute of Technology.

When people ask me what I think about bringing their children to Kosovo...I find it difficult to answer the question.  There are certainly factors that need to be considered such as the pollution and access to quality health care.  In addition, there have been serious outbreaks of meningitis which is something to consider since it effects children the most.  Plus there are few parks for children to play in and the local children have a tendency to be turned out onto the streets to play.  However, with that said, I know of several expats who brought their children from infants to elementary age to come live in Kosovo to keep the family together.  Many have a stay-at-home parent so I don't know if there are any actual organized daycares in Kosovo.  I have seen private advertisements from internationals who are looking for a babysitter/care provider for their children so there may not be any daycare centers available outside the schools.

For those that are planning on bringing their children, there are some international schools targeted towards education of expatriate children.  Below you can find some of the international elementary and secondary schools in Kosovo offering education in English.
  • One of the most "famous" is the American School of Kosovo which offers education between the ages of 4-18 under NAAS (Northwest Association of Accredited Schools).  Tuition is approximately 4200 Euros a year.
  • The International Learning Group runs a school in Sunny Hill, targeted to expatriate children.  Classes from pre-school to grade 6 are offered by ILG. 
  • Employing native English speaking teachers, Quality Schools International operates a non-profit education center through age 13 in the Dragodan neighborhood.
  • Located a bit out of Pristina on the way to Gracanica, the Gulistan Education Center or International School of Pristina is found.  While ISP has no website, more information is available by email or telephone (038 516791/2/3).

Monday, May 7, 2007

Paramilitary Serbs Form Militia to Save Kosovo

A paramilitary group in Serbia has formed a militia called "Guard of Tzar Lazar" over the weekend in an effort to "save Kosovo" from becoming independent.  A swearing-in ceremony was held in Krusevac but several members of the militia were arrested by Serbian Secret Service.  The leader of the new militia, Zeljko Vasiljevic, said that there are approximately 5000 members willing to join the militia and that "those who have been through previous wars would like to shoulder the burden of Kosovo".

Details have emerged that over the weekend an international working under UNMIK was robbed and beaten in a public park in Pristina.  The staff member is in stable condition in the French KFOR hospital.  There isn't much information available yet but it is an interesting case as this is really the first serious mugging of an international that I have heard about.  There have been other cases where bags were snatched and consquently a person was injured from the force of the bag being torn away but this weekend's case is something new.

The fact-finding mission to Kosovo by members of the Security Council reportedly "undermines quick independence plan".  Countries such as Indonesia, China, South Africa, Congo, and Ghana in addition to Russia will likely give support to continuing talks between Serbian and Kosovo Albanian authorities.  However, Kosovo PM Agim Ceku is still making statements that Kosovo will be independent within a few weeks making many think that the Albanian government is preparing to unilaterally declare independence and seek recognition from countries that have been pushing to adopt Ahtisaari's plan.  US officials have already stated many times that the US will recognize Kosovo if it does declare independence unilaterally bringing questions about the strength of the Albanian lobby groups in Kosovo and contributions made to US politicians.  But Germany has stated that it is opposed to any declarations of independence as long as the issue remains with the Security Council.

Serb politicians failed to form a coalition over the weekend leading many to believe that there will be a shift towards nationalism.  No party gathered enough seats to have a majority without forming a coalition and the more pro-Western parties so far have failed to reach an agreement.  Right now, the "radicals" hold 81 seats while acting President Tadic's party holds 64 and former PM Kostunica has 47 seats.  Following the ousting of Milosevic, Kostunica was the politician greatly supported by the West but over time he has been coming closer to what the West has labeled "radical" in his views on Kosovo and EU ascension.

In the news, an article titled "The Coming Chaos in Kosovo" takes a look at what Kosovo might become if independent -- a crime-ridden mafia-controlled thug state.  While in "On a Blue Note in Kosovo" Time takes a look at the current ethnic tensions in Mitrovica.  Christian Science Monitor published an opinion commentary stating that partition is a better plan for Kosovo that what Ahtisaari proposed based on international law.  In the National Interest an article argues that Kosovo needs multilateral approach and warns that the US' support for unilateral independence can cause serious problems in US foreign relations.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Smokey, the Neighborhood Star

Well, after a long while of children throwing things at me and Smokey while we are out walking some of the neighborhood kids are finally starting to warm up to having a dog around.  The situation for children is disturbing to those of us who are from more developed places where children play in yards with swing sets or have large grassy parks in which to play.  But there is little to none of that in Kosovo and the children play in the streets, thankfully avoiding traffic to a large degree but it still makes me nervous at times when I come home and they are out playing!  But I digress, back to the spazmutt...
The kids are now coming up to Smokey as he's trying to go to the bathroom and patting his head or back...sometimes giving his tail a gentle pull.  Luckily Smokey is so into finding things to pee on, he hardly pays any attention to the kids.  Every once in a while when he decides to change directions the kids shriek and scatter in all directions...they still seem to think that he'll go from happily peeing into some aggressive, slobbering monster bent on eating small children.  But I think that seeing me, a woman, out walking a dog has been a good education for the neighborhood children...now they know that not all dogs are aggressive and scary :)

But the new landlady (who is great and getting me fat off her excellent stuffed peppers!) is still pretty terrified of Smokey and won't even come upstairs onto our terrace without asking if Smokey is secured.  She has told us that she is very afraid of dogs so I wonder if she didn't have a bad experience after the war with one of the packs of dogs.  Lately there has been a pack of dogs running around the neighborhood at night barking but the biggest problem for me has been the blasted cats ripping up the garbage in the yard (dogs can't get in because of the fence) and when my shoes were muddy one of the darn things marked my shoes *gross*  The cats also have been getting into pretty impressive cat fights around dusk and you can hear them yowling and screeching all up and down the street.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Kosovo PM Expects Independence Declaration in May

Kosovo PM Agim Ceku has stated that he expects a declaration of independence from Serbia by the end of May.  Some neighboring countries and the US have stated that they would recognize Kosovo as a state if it unilaterally declared independence if the UN Security Council failed to approve Ahtisaari's plan for supervised independence.  However, no vote is expected in the SC until at least June.  Thoughts are that the international community will request Ceku to put off the declaration until the SC decision to prevent setting a precedent for recognizing ethnic-majority areas unilaterally declaring independence (such as Kurdistan in Iraq). 
Meanwhile, the head of the UN fact-finding mission briefed the Security Council on the deep divide in Kosovo over the Ahtisaari proposal.  The mission found that while Albanians are confident about the future under Ahtisaari's proposal the Serb communities are largely apprehensive and that the creation of a multi-ethnic society would require sustained efforts by the Kosovo government.  The words "commitment and readiness" were used to describe the Kosovo politicians conveyed messages about building the said multi-ethnic society which seems to indicate that little progress has been made so far to bridge the gaps between the two communities.  So far the Serbian community has largely boycotted involvement in Kosovo politics and continued strong ties with Belgrade.  The Albanian community seems to function as if it was already independent and have been charging forward with development of everything from multi-story shopping centers to petrol stations (I believe the average was one every kilometer or two in Kosovo!)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Kosovo To Open 14 Embassies

The Kosovo government is planning to open 14 embassies in Europe and the US following the approval of independence according to a statement from the Prime Minister's office.  Embassies will be opened in the US, UK, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, France, and Macedonia in addition to offices in the EU and UN.  With an estimated budget of just seven (7) million Euros, the newly created ministry of foreign affairs will have its work cut out for it as relatively no one has experience in foreign service with embassies as Kosovo has never in history been its own state.  The government is hoping to send approximately 30 people to a diplomatic school in Austria but critics question whether or not a cram-session of studying diplomacy will be enough and if the corruption that exists in the current government will continue in Kosovo's foreign service.
There was a peaceful march in support of Ramush Haradinaj in Pristina with approximately 600 people.  Several members of the government and Ramush's AAK party were present at the march.  There have been a few marches around Kosovo in recent weeks and posters with his picture and the words "Me Ramushin" (With Ramush) all around Kosovo since March when he returned to answer war crimes charges in the Hague.  Haradinaj was indicted in 2003 along with two other KLA associates for 37 different crimes.  Many of the Albanians do not believe that their "freedom fighters" should face charges for anything that happened during the fighting, in fact signs stated "Freedom for Liberators" during today's march in Pristina.   An article in the Chicago Tribune does a good job of outlining how complex the Haradinaj case is and how Kosovo politics have played a role.

Politicians in Serbia are alarmed and issuing warnings to Serbs in Kosovo who are planning on forming a militia.  The militia would reportedly take up arms to prevent Kosovo's secession and would be made up of volunteers from Yugoslavia's past conflicts.  Two groups, the United Serbian People's Movement and Serbian Veteran's Movement, are planning to swear in the first company of the militia on the 5th of May.  Officials, politicians, and the media have all expressed concern over the militia's formation and stated that it may "backfire against Serbia" however that they understood the reason for the militia's formation.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Kosovo, the EPA's Nightmare

It is tradition in Kosovo for Labour Day to burn tires.  The tradition of making fires for the 1st of May dates back nearly 2000 years according to friends.  The tire burning goes back to old Yugoslavia under Tito.  The festivities usually begin the evening of the 30th so when I went home on Monday, the air was filled with thick black smoke and the fire department was responding to two large fires in the garbage dump at the top of Dragodan.  Obilic was also pumping out a putrid black smoke that made some of us wonder if they were burning tires in the power plant instead of coal!  I have some pictures that I just need to download of the fires and Obilic...I'm sure if I sent them to an EPA officer, the person would faint at the idea of the pollution :o)
For the two fires near my house, KPS and the fire department responded but probably after discovering that the fires were intentionally set by celebrators both left and the fires continued burning.  However in Podujevo, five Albanians were arrested for assaulting four KPS officers and trying to prevent firefighters from extinguishing their fires.