Thursday, January 31, 2008

Pristina Municipality Begins Culling Dogs

Pristina Municipality in conjunction with Hortikultura started a culling campaign against stray dogs at midnight on 29 January.  The campaign is expected to last several nights and an estimated 700 dogs in Pristina municipality are expected to be killed.  It's very sad that the local government doesn't invest money in the dog shelter located near the airport.  I would think it would be a much more humane and effective way to deal with the stray problem in Kosovo.

MTCowgirl's Interesting Articles/Commentary...
Other Kosovo News...
  • Albin Kurti detained (again) for failing to show up for trial
  • Thaci says Kosovo has a "prevention plan" for independence
  • UN Secretary-General says Kosovo is EU issue
  • Thaci says independence "within days" of Serbian elections...(wait, didn't he say something about just days last week???  I think I want to become a bookie and take bets on when Kosovo will declare independence.  The person who correctly guesses would win a lot but I'd make a killing on all the wrong predictions!).  He also says that Kosovo won't wait for independence
  • Justice has failed in Kosovo according to Amnesty International

Monday, January 28, 2008

Wrapping Up the Clothing & Toy Drive

Yesterday, Dj Vegas & Friends wrapped up the Charity Clothing & Toy Drive in Vitina.  Overall, going out and being involved in the distribution of the aid was very rewarding and sometimes frustrating.  I have great respect for people that work on programs for sustainability or distribute aid on a regular basis.  Be on the lookout for Christmas in July with Dj Vegas & Friends because if the UN continues through the summer, I'm planning on striking out again with food, clothing, and toys for vulnerable children in Kosovo!  And a special thank you to everyone who went out with me to distribute!!!

MTCowgirl's Interesting Articles...
Other Kosovo News...

Friday, January 25, 2008

Independence Within Days???

Both Kosovo's PM Thaci and President Sedjiu have been in the media saying that Kosovo's declaration of independence will happen within days.  Meanwhile NATO has boosted its troops levels in anticipation of the declaration and the Kosovo Police Service (KPS) has prepared an operational plan called Operation Status.
The EU is debating whether or not Marija Serifovic, winner of last year's Eurovision Song Contest, will be allowed to continue as an EU intercultural ambassador due to her alleged ties to Serbian ultranationalists.

Russia has stated that it will not send troops as a show of force should Kosovo unilaterally declare independence.

The EU is considering sending the first batch of police officers to Kosovo before independence is declared (better do it quick though if it will be within days!) however due to objections by Cyprus the plan may not be approved.  Next week the EU is to take a decision about where or not to sign an accord with Serbia for EU accession.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Explosion in Dragodan

Last night around 1930 CET there was an explosion in Dragodan that injured four people in a dispute between two Albanian families.  I actually heard the explosion as I was going into the house after dinner but I didn't think it was anywhere close...perhaps the sound was muffled by the other buildings.  Shooting was also reported in the area and AK-47 rounds found at the scene.  According to a friend, the explosion was towards the bottom of Dragodan but on the left side (going up) rather than the right side of the hill where most of the offices and houses are located.  It seems that it was a busy weekend for KPS because in two unrelated incidents two officers were assaulted in the Pristina region when intervening between feuding families.
This weekend was the first round of elections in Serbia and this morning the ultra-nationalists lead the polls.  Serbia's electoral commission also confirmed the official ban of UK and US observers from election monitoring.

MTCowgirl's Interesting Articles
Other Kosovo News

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Charity Quiz Night!

Dj Vegas & Friends at the Phoenix Bar - 8:30pm!!! Charity Quiz tonight to raise money for Dj Vegas' Charity Clothing & Toy Drive!!!
As the Haradinaj trial wraps up, prosecutors have asked for a sentence of 25 years for Ramush and his other two co-defendants...this kind of busts up the rumor that he had been released but there still may be some truth to the rumormill that politicians are interfering with the International Criminal Court.  With closing statements due to conclude in the next week or two, signs have popped up all over Pristina saying "Ramush we need you here now".  I've been trying to get a good photo but normally there is a stoplight or power pole in the way of a clear shot from the car.

Living in Kosovo is often interesting and sometimes it is difficult to wrap your head around the Kosovar way of thinking.  Those of us who have lived here some time have lots of experiences and stories we can take back with us to tell our grandchildren later on about "when I was with the UN in Kosovo back in..."!  I'm reminded of this today due to a rather funny experience that one of my colleagues had this morning.  The power is always an interesting...phenomenon (guess that is the right way to put it!) Pristina.  Often a phase (there are three phases in most houses) will go out either due to wiring problems or KEK shutting it off for repairs.  Today one of the phases in my friend's flat was off so he went to go check the fuse box which is normally the first thing you have to check in Kosovo when there is something wrong with the power.  Often the fuses will blow because the power level dips.  Anyways, when my friend gets to the fuse box he discovered that someone had actually stolen the fuse along with the holder!  (how wild is that to steal a fuse from someone???)

It's a phenomenon (my word for the day I guess!) that'd I'd like to call Kosovo Kleptomania.  Basically if it isn't too big or bolted down, eventually someone will come along and steal it.  At the UN Mission HQ, building maintenance had to move a light and replace another because someone was coming each and every night and stealing the light bulb.  They ended up moving one light closer to the ceiling so someone couldn't stand on a chair and reach it...and the other one had to be replaced with an encased florescent bulb!  Other things like toilet paper, air fresheners, and paper towels also regularly disappear from the UN bathrooms.  I remember when I brought a couple nice air fresheners to our office because the bathrooms were smelly...the cleaning staff asked me if it was alright to lock them up over the weekend because they were afraid someone would come take them.  Eventually they were left out and disappeared...

Kosovo Related News...
MTCowgirl's Interesting Articles...
  • Vermont watches Kosovo independence, state wants to secede from the US and hopes Kosovo will show them the way (how wild is that???)
  • Kosovo independence would not contribute to Balkan stability according to a political scientist
  • SRSG sings praises on freedom of movement while remaining evasive on investigation...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Illegal Woodcutters Rampage...

This one is just too good to pass up so here's the story...a couple days ago a report came in to KPS that seven known Albanian illegal woodcutters tied up and assaulted four Albanian employees of the Forestry Department.  The illegal woodcutters allegedly bound and beat the Forestry employees with axes and chairs before fleeing the scene.  The victims of the assault sustained various injuries which were treated at a local hospital and the attackers were detained in conjunction with the investigation.  How wild is that???

On Thursday, 18 January, Dj Vegas & Friends will be at the Phoenix Bar to raise donations for the Dj Vegas Charity Clothing & Toy Drive.  While I was hoping to have the fundraising and distribution done already, the Ministry of Labor & Social Welfare has been a bit slow in identifying the families in need and we are still waiting on them to correct the lists they gave us of the vulnerable pupils.  I don't remember if I mentioned but a couple of the lists had only a pupil's name & age but when the family showed up we discovered that there were younger or older children in the family that also needed aid, so I asked the DCA to request the Ministry to correct the list and we have been waiting ever since.  But thankfully the Phoenix Bar has graciously agreed to donate the proceeds from the Thursday night quiz to the drive (details below!)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Happy Orthodox New Year!

Happy Orthodox New Year!  We celebrated in style with a big dinner party at Ciao Restaurant in Caglavica.  We ate and danced to Serbian music well past 1am...which was bad considering that none of us had the day off the following day!  I never actually realized that New Years was celebrated late by the Orthodox but it does make sense considering Christmas is on 7 January! 

Unfortunately I didn't get my New Year off to a good start as I ended up with food poisoning over the weekend from eating sushi in Pristina.  I managed to last about 1 1/2 hours after dinner before I started paying homage to the porcelain gods.  By T-5 hours (or maybe it should be S for Sushi?) S-5 hours, I was only getting worse and basically wanted to die right then & there on my bathroom floor which I discovered was very comfortably heated and okay to sleep on!  S-16 hours I still couldn't hold down anything, my body even rejected plain bottled water!  Finally S-26 hours I actually started to feel hungry and was able to hold down my first meal since eating the infamous sushi.  But still even two full days after eating the sushi my stomach still isn't 100% recovered which is kind of scary!

A Ministry of Labor and Welfare vehicle with four Albanian passengers was blown up at approximately 1330 hours, seriously injuring one of the occupants.  A KPS spokesperson verified that the explosion was caused by a hand grenade.  It is not known if the government vehicle was the intended target or what was the motive.

MTCowgirl's Interesting Articles (So with the new year upon us, I will again say that these articles do not reflect my personal opinion but after reading them, I did find the articles interesting so I want to share them.  Besides, you should always try to see things from different perspectives.  After all if you want to make an argument for or against something it's best to see what opinions are out there!)
Other Kosovo News (Regular News Articles about what's going on in Kosovo)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Haradinaj Released Because of Politics?

Rumor has reached MTCowgirl that former Kosovo PM Ramush Haradinaj was ordered to be released from the Hague and all charges to be dropped due to "political reasons".  While so far I haven't found any news reports (the chance of this hitting the headlines is slim given the chance for criticism of the decision) the news came from an extremely reliable source and MTCowgirl is inclined to believe the information to be true...but you do never know!  In late December, Ramush and another Kosovar on trial at the Hague were released for the winter break and France's Le Monde took a scathing look at the release.
Other Kosovo news is that the US and Germany are planning to recognize Kosovo's declaration of independence according to a "senior European official" who of course remains anonymous.  The quote that I like in the article is "The cake has been baked, because the Americans have promised Kosovo independence"...that's a great line, I'll have to use it sometime :)

Other Kosovo News...
MTCowgirl's Interesting Articles...these articles are more commentary/editorial and not checked for accuracy!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Slush Fest

Well, over the weekend the temperatures started climbing, the fuel unfroze, and the snow melted.  Now what was a beautiful winter wonderland is now a slushy disaster...just waiting to ruin the back of those freshly laundered pants! 
There are questions about the EU possibly tempting Kosovo with aid in exchange for less than complete independence.  The idea is that Kosovo truly cannot be independent because it relies so heavily on foreign investment, particularly the EU, and in exchange for continuing the support the EU wants to take a supervisory role.  At the beginning of January, Slovenia took over the presidency of the EU and placed Kosovo as a priority for 2008.  In fact, Slovenia hopes that a solution for Kosovo is found before the end of its presidency in June.

What does the phrase spiritual cradle of Serbia really mean?  An interesting article found in Balkan Analysis explores the term that is often mentioned in media but never really explained.  The article also looks into how one organization is seeking to educate and preserve.

With winter upon us, there have been severe power outages in C-areas prompting cries of electrical discrimination along ethnic lines.  Over the past few days, the power seems to go for an hour or two in Pristina which most is categorized as A-area so it is likely that C-areas are seeing 2:4 (on:off) or even 1:5.  Having experienced living in a C-area in the dead of winter I know that it is difficult to keep the house warm and overall living difficult unless you have a generator and a wood stove.

I found it interesting when speaking to an Albanian about the power situation and whether or not he believed Thaci could come through on his promise of 24/7 power once elected, he naturally believed that things would change but the thing that really caught my attention was that he blamed the UN for all the power outages.  To my knowledge, the power plant is actually overseen by a local ministry and managed by an independent company for the past several years.  My jokingly tossed back reply was that it was okay to blame the UN for all the problems in Kosovo now and then the EU when it comes in but eventually the local government and its people will need to start taking responsibility for the continuing problems in Kosovo (another common joke is that if the US was going to bomb Kosovo the one thing above all else that should have bombed was the power plant).

I think back to the phrase "people only change when they want to change" and wonder if the same can be kind of applied to the situation in Kosovo...maybe that the situation in Kosovo will only change if the people really are willing to work at changing the situation.  Now it is easy to blame someone else and hope that they will fix the problem...but maybe it would be better for the local populus to roll up their sleeves and force their politicians to fix the issues that they really care about.  After all, what good is independence if you don't have a job, the electricity and water is off, and your life never improves despite all the promises?

Friday, January 4, 2008

Speed Racer

I expected a response this morning when I floored the accelerator but again this year the UN is plagued with low-quality diesel problems (water in the diesel freezes & clogs the filter).  You would think that the lesson was learnt last year when the temperatures dropped into the double-digit negatives but rather it seems that it would take a ton of bricks falling from a considerable height in order for the point to get through that they need to make sure that they switch to higher quality fuel during the cold winter months.  Compared to many of the other UN vehicles on the streets I was Speed Racer as I passed them going a whopping 40kph!  Man, I was flying with my accelerator pushed to the floor and my engine revving up to an impressive 1500rpms (Yippee).  It basically took forever to get out to TSS as all the local traffic passed and gave me a dirty looks for going so slow :)
Besides having difficulty with the fuel, I don't think anyone has come to plow my street for more than a week now.  I did see a snowplow at the bottom of Dragodan earlier this week but I guess with all the snow they haven't had enough time or people to take care of all the heavily used roads in Pristina.  It can and is fairly interesting to nearly slide down one of the hills in Dragodan sideways in a 4-wheel drive due to the slick build-up of snow and ice :)

It's again time to do the waddle walk!  The waddle walk is an art form that I have mastered since arriving in Kosovo and is performed ritually every winter.  It consists of waddling much like a duck when you walk on the sidewalks in an effort not to lose your balance and fall on front of everyone.  The concept of shoveling the sidewalks in front of businesses or on main pedestrian areas is unknown to Kosovars so you end up trudging (sorry, waddling!) through the built-up dirty slush-snow.  Crossing the street is also interesting as vehicles in one lane will often stop to let you pass and when the guy in the other lane tries whipping by (and you freeze like a deer in the headlights) he ends up sliding to a stop mere meters away from you (thank goodness for anti-lock brakes I guess!)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Mother Theresa - What's the Deal?

I came across a fun article titled 50 Cent, emergency generators and contraband tobacco, a blog-type article from Cafe Babel.  Not all the information is correct in their articles (Mother Theresa has been under construction for 4 months, not years) but for the most part I think they have captured the spirit of Pristina pretty well!  I'm interested to see what else comes out of Cafe Babel :)
Thinking of  the recent renovation of Mother Theresa where the government decided to close off one of the main downtown arterials and make it a pedestrian walkway forever condemning the city's citizens to be stuck in bumper to bumper traffic when attempting to do business in the downtown area...I along with many of the local population have to ask "what's the deal?"  In speaking with local friends, many are beyond disgusted with the local government's payout of more than a million and half euros to export granite from China and create the walkway.

Then there is radioactive granite debate which still rages.  The story is that the granite that was imported (and you have to ask why they chose to import rather than use the plentiful granite/marble supplies in the Balkans and further stimulate their own economy!) from China has radioactive levels that are above the norm and above what is considered safe for the people living in the streets surrounding the walkway.
So first the government screws up traffic, then they import granite when it's available locally and pay a lot of money for it, and finally the imported granite turns up to be radioactive???  Seems like it just wasn't meant to be...especially since there are rumors that all the renovations will be torn up due to the radioactive nature of the granite.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

Despite the expectations of possibly being gone by the end of the year, it appears that I will be spending another full winter in Kosovo.  And what a winter it is turning out to be!  There has been lots of snow, it's cold...and while I will complain that I'm miserably cold (years in Las Vegas spoiled my Montana winter temperament!) I'm very happy to see the amount of snowfall we've had because that means the water reservoirs will be replenished in the spring and hopefully there will not be the same concern in the coming summer that Kosovo will run out of water supplies!
Kosovo started New Year's celebrations with a bang...literally!  An explosive device was placed in front of the door of the Commercial Bank in Dragash and caused considerable damage to the building.  It is thought that the incident was more criminally than ethnically motivated...probably more like someone thinking about a smash & grab rather than targeting a Serbian bank.  However, there are reports that on New Year's Day there have been several attacks on Serbian homes in North Mitrovica.  One house was set on fire and seven others were stoned according to the Serbian Coordination Office