Friday, November 11, 2011

Trial of KLA Fighters Begins

The very publicized and widely debated trial of 10 KLA fighters has begun today with much of the focus on Fatmir Limaj.  Many of the articles fail to even mention the other nine defendants facing charges of war crimes, torture and murder of kidnapped civilians and paramilitaries in 1999.  All 10 defendants have plead not guilty to the charges. 

Limaj's defense has requested a delay of the trial until January citing the late presentation of evidence for examination by the prosecution.  Additionally, it is rumored that the trial is waiting for the forensic results for the death of Agim Zogaj, also known as Witness X, who was the prosecution's star witness until his alleged suicide in Germany. 

Yesterday, EULEX prosecutor Maurizio Salustro was reported to have interviewed Kosovo PM Haschim Thaci, one of the few former KLA commanders who have not faced war crimes charges, on the request of Limaj's defense team.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

One Serb Killed, Two Injured in Northern Kosovo

One Serb and two were injured in a clash on Wednesday evening in the north of Kosovo.  According to a statement from OSCE, one of the injured is reported to be a Kosovo police officer who responded to the initial shooting.  Stories on what happened are varying depending on the source.  Some say that the shooting is alleged to have taken place during a quarrel between Albanians and Serbs although it is unclear who did the shooting.  And other reports are that the shooting occured in response to a robbery when Serbs were trying to break into Albanian homes.

All international organizations and the governments of Serbia and Kosovo have condemned the shooting.  Serb residents and politicians are calling for a swift investigation into the incident by EULEX.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

KFOR Begins Removing Roadblocks

KFOR has confronted angry groups of Serbs in the North of Kosovo as they begin to remove barricades.  Using pepper spray, tear gas, and loudspeakers requesting the groups to disperse, KFOR has acted on the Serb's refusal to agree on removing the roadblocks which have been impeding movement of EULEX and KFOR in the North of Kosovo for the past three months.  Stating that the protestors were in a KFOR protected zone, people were warned to go home or else force could be used.

What's Important in Kosovo - Local News

Often there is a disparity between what the local newspapers write about and what appears in the international media.  Of course, the situation in the North of Kosovo is a hot topic but there is a lot of other issues of importance being discussed in Kosovo that don't even appear or only appear as a brief blip on the international radar.

Take for instance, news today about 27 different request for Kosovo PM Haschim Thaci to travel to Europe have been refused due to allegations of corruption (blip) or Fatmir Limaj's war crimes trial is scheduled to begin on 9 November (not reported).  Or maybe even more interesting, there are new allegations of corruption in the tendering process with a completely new Ministry of Transportation for road construction .

Another item appearing only as a blip in the international media has been the cancellation of planned privatization of PTK, Kosovo's Post and Telecomms, due to allegations of corruption.  The cancellation of the privatization has a very big impact on the economic situation of Kosovo as the proceeds from the sale were expected to fill budgetary gaps in the Kosovo government.  Now without the funds from the sale going into the government budget, it will be interesting to see how Kosovo will finance the planned budget which relied heavily on the sale of PTK. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

KFOR Warms Serbs to Remove Roadblocks

Two days ago on Monday KFOR reportedly was going to forcibly remove the roadblocks impeding movement in the North of Kosovo.  It was then announced that the mayor of the North had reached an agreement to remove the roadblocks themselves and KFOR extended the deadline until Tuesday but convoys were still stopped.  Yesterday it is reported that the schools in the North were closed and women/children were sent to reinforce the roadblocks to prevent their removal.  Today, Wednesday, KFOR has warned that the roadblocks should be removed or else KFOR will start removing them tomorrow. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Kosovo Serbs Dig In

Little it seems has changed in the north of Kosovo since the bloody protests that left 10 people injured last week.  Reports are that Kosovo Serbs are digging in, NATO will not investigate the actions of KFOR personnel, and EULEX is investigating the local population for allegedly trying to ram a vehicle through the KFOR barriers and other incidents.  The protestors continue to man barricades and reinforce roadblocks with a total of 18 barricades in the north.  The New York Times runs an interesting look at the situation of the Kosovo Serbs to join Kosovo and end their push for autonomy as international pressure strengthens and support from Belgrade has weakened.

Tuesday evening, the vehicle of a Serb interpreter working for EULEX was blown up outside the EU office in Mitrovica.  EULEX has condemned the attack and called it a "clear attempt at intimidation".

Yesterday, EULEX raided the Ministry of Internal Affairs whose head has been at odds with EULEX recently saying "God save us from EULEX" over allegations of corruption into tenders for supplying the Kosovo Police Service with equipment.  One ministry official, three businessmen, and two officials from the Kosovo Police Service.

Meanwhile, the death of Witness X, Agim Zogaj, was confirmed as a suicide by the German authorities.  The Zogaj family received the body on Saturday and was expected to hold a funeral in Prizren on the same day.  The family continues to blame EULEX, stating that they kidnapped him, and still questions if his death was actually suicide.  It is expected that the trial will proceed without the key witness and debate has ensued over whether or not EULEX will be able to use recorded testimony in the trial as the defense will not be afforded the opportunity to cross-examine the witness.  Another potential witness is reported to have informed EULEX that he is not willing to testify now due to safety reasons.  There have been calls for EULEX to review its witness protection although details of the protection afforded Zogaj has not been released by EULEX.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kosovo - The New Wine Destination?

Honestly, I must admit that some of my favorite wines come from the Balkans so it is no surprise to find an article that wonders if the next trendy wine destination is Kosovo.  Kosovo has produced inexpensive yet good quality wine for quite some time and it is wonderful to finally see Kosovo winemakers receive recognition.  While there are still obstacles for recognition of the quality and brands of Kosovo wine, I do not believe that it will take long for Kosovo wines to become favorites abroad especially once the customs issue has been addressed.

Free Albanian Lessons

After 5/10 years respectively of being in Kosovo, Troy and I signed up for free Albanian language lessons at Basement Bar in Pristina.  Both of us speak a smattering of conversational Albanian and can count to 10 but have always understood a lot more than we could actually speak.  Lessons are offered at different days of the week depending on your level.  Stop by at Rexhep Luci No 9-1 (Downtown Pristina) or give them a ring (049 151 000) if you are interested!

Witness in War Crimes Trial Found Dead

Agim Zogaj, aka Witness X, in the war crimes trial against Fatmir Limaj was found dead this morning in Germany.  Initial reports indicate that Zoga committed suicide but so far German authorities have not released a cause of death.

After yesterday's clash between Serbs and KFOR, the Serbian delegation has walked out of European Union sponosored talks in Belgium.  KFOR states that they fired tear gas and rubber bullets and that they came under fire and had pipe bombs thrown at them.  However Serbian witnesses and authorities say that KFOR provoked and used live ammunition against the demonstrators. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Serbs Clash with KFOR in North Kosovo

At approximately 1300hrs today, a group of Serb protestors clashed with KFOR at the Jarinje border crossing in the North of Kosovo.  KFOR reportedly responded to the demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets after coming under fire by rocks and guns.  Serbian media also states that KFOR used live ammunition and lists one of the injured as being in a coma and the other in serious condition.

It is reported that four (4) members of KFOR were injured and 10 Serb protestors were injured in the clash.  The peacekeepers were reportedly injured by makeshift pimp bombs were thrown at their position at the border and one soldier is said to be in critical condition.

Some Serb leaders are urging calm while a group of angry demonstrators attacked and damaged two police vehicles in the North and Serbia's Minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, is blaming KFOR for the violence .  EULEX and KFOR have deployed reinforcements to the south of the Ibar river.

Earlier today, KFOR used bulldozers to remove mounds of gravel placed as roadblocks in the North.  Demonstrators responded by recreating roadblocks in various areas.

In unrelated news, Romania, which has not recognized Kosovo's declaration of independence, has announced that it would be withdrawing its force from EULEX when their contingent members reach the end of their secondment.  Currently Romania contributes around 170 police officers and gendarmerie to EULEX.

Kosovo Constitutional Court Rules Against Diplomatic Immunity

The Kosovo Constitutional Court has ruled that Kosovo parliamentarians and government officials do not have diplomatic immunity in response to the EULEX request for clarification that was forwarded by PM Haschim Thaci.  Within 24 hours of the announcement of the court's decision, EULEX placed Fatmir Limaj under a 30-day house arrest in connection with war crimes charges filed earlier this year.  The date of the trial has not been set yet but it is rumored that the trial will begin on 17 October according to local media or late October according to EULEX.

The decision of the Constitutional Court has been criticized by various members of the Kosovo government as a threat to democracy and political maneuvering to get rid of competition in the run-up to the presidential elections next year.  Some Kosovo politicians worry that removing diplomatic immunity from parliamentarians will lead to less freedom as members of the government will fear retribution for speaking out against powerful politicians and have a negative impact on the working of the parliament because its members can be detained while the parliament is in session, as the case with the upcoming session which Fatmir Limaj will have to sit out due to his house arrest.  Other politicians say that it is a move by PM Thaci to create a police state. 

The war crimes trial of former PM Ramush Haradinaj is continuing after a three week break.  The court heard testimony from a protected witness, designated at Witness 077, who was reportedly a member of the FARK (Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo) who crossed into Kosovo from Albania.  The witness told the court that the Haradinaj, a commander in the KLA, told the FARK brigade to "go back where they came from" and alleges that five of the FARK members were taken and killed by the KLA.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Kosovo Prepares for Establishing Border Checkpoints in the North

Kosovo is preparing to establish border checkpoints in the North of Kosov tomorrow to implement the customs agreement brokered by the European Union.  Many roadblocks have been set-up in the north including a mound of gravel dumped on the main bridge in Mitrovica to block traffic.  Serbia is stating that the establishment of the border checkpoints will bring instability while Kosovo says that it has the right to establish rule of law in all of Kosovo.  NATO and other organizations are repeatedly urging everyone to stay calm as the tensions build.

The recognition of Kosovo has been in the news lately with Kosovo Foreign Minister Enver Hoxaj touring the Middle East and Deputy Prime Minister Pacolli in Africa.  Hoxaj states that Egypt will likely recognize Kosovo soon and that Arab countries are starting to warm up to the idea of recognizing Kosovo independence.  Meanwhile, Pacolli has announced that Nigeria recognized Kosovo two days ago and that he expects a recognition soon from South Africa.  Serbia has also been in the news saying that countries have begun to revoke their recognitions of Kosovo, including Oman and Guinea Bissu.  Serbia also says that another two countries have initiated the process to revoke Kosovo recognition but have not provided any names so far.  Lastly, an article in South East Asian News Agency explores the reasons why Pakistan should recognize Kosovo. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Two Kosovo Leaders Answer to War Crimes Charges

The long awaited re-trial of Ramush Haradinaj has begun in the Hague in late August.  Haradinaj and two other defendants are charged with six counts of war crimes.  The retrial is the first in the court's history and stems from the last minute appeal of the prosecution who were denied an extension in the last trial for more time to interview two witnesses. 

The case seems to mainly hinge on the testimony of Sevcet Kabashi and another witness designated only as "Witness X".  Kabashi appeared in Netherlands the day before the trial started and was arrested.  He is being held in the Hague and has separately plead guilty to contempt of court for refusing to testify.  When put on the stand Kabashi has repeatedly responded to the prosecutors that he cannot rememeber the details of previous statements or begins anti-tribunal rants.  With the prosecution failing to obtain testimony from Kabashi, one commentator wonders if the Haradinaj trial was over before it begun?

The other Kosovo leader facing renewed war crimes charges is Fatmir Limaj, who also is still under investigation by EULEX for corruption during his time as the Minister of Post, Telcomms, and Transport.  The charges are separate from the charges brought by the Hague for which he was acquitted in 2005.  Ten other defendants were arrested in early 2011 however Limaj has remained free due to questions about his immunity that stems from being a member of the Parliament.  The question for immunity has been forwarded to the Constitutional Court by Prime Minister Haschim Thaci who has been accussed of trying to eliminate potential political rivals as time nears for the presidential elections.  As SETimes explores, the indictment of Limaj has many political impacts for Kosovo.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Kosovo Goverment Bans Religion in Schools

As the holy month of Ramadan closed, in a move that has angered some, the Kosovo government voted against changing the ban on headscarves and a motion to add religious instructions in schools.  Kosovo while having a Muslim majority is secular with a strong separation of "church and state".

The confirmation of the headscarf ban will no doubt lead to more frustration and increasing anti-government rhetoric the demonstrators for establishing a landmark mosque in the center of Pristina who have been protesting the past few months.  The demonstrators point to the construction of the Catholic Cathedral in the center of town as a marginalization of the Muslim faithful as they do not have a large symbol of their faith (on a side note, the author has heard that the Vatican purchased the land where the cathedral has been built, it wasn't freely given by the Kosovo government.).  Although there are 22 mosques in Pristina, the group says that there is not enough room to accomodate the faithful and are demanding that the government allocate land for the construction of the mosque. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Northern Kosovo Explodes

Last Wednesday (20 July), the Kosovo government introduced a reciprocity ban on goods from Serbia as Serbia does not recognize goods with the Kosovo customs stamp.  Kosovo also implemented a 10% tax on goods from Bosnia & Herzegovina who has not yet recognized Kosovo's declaration of independence.  Serbia and B&H have complained to CEFTA and the European Union on the Kosovo ban saying that it is illegal.

Kosovo Police went into the North of Kosovo to begin enforcing the ban on Tuesday (26 July) and one Albanian police officer was fatally shot.  Ethnic Serbs set fire to the border checkpoints after EULEX police surrendered the borders to the mobs prompting harsh criticism of the mission for failure to establish rule of law in the North.  Serbs continue to protest the Kosovo government's actions by blocking the roads and preventing NATO troops from moving around in the North resulting in the use of helicopters to transport police and troops.  However NATO has taken over control of the two border checkpoints and established a military zone with the warning that the troops have authorization to fire upon anyone threatening property or persons.  European Union, EULEX, and US officials have expressed concern that Pristina acted unilaterally and did not consult them before taking action in the North which has been a flashpoint since the end of the war in 1999.

As KFOR has been withdrawing and reducing troop size due to "increased stability/security" in Kosovo recently, one wonders if KFOR will be able to enforce peace in Kosovo as the renewed violence threatens the stability of Kosovo.  Also, as the sparks fly, people are questioning who stands to gain something by the renewed tensions?  Another article explores how the European Union making a historic mistake is to blame for the continued problems in Kosovo.

Friday, July 1, 2011

EULEX Investigates and Indicts

EULEX has been busy conducting corruption invesigations and filing indictments.  Most recently, EULEX raided the Ministry of Communities and Returns in connection with an investigation into allegations of misappropriation and bribes. Both the ministry offices, a company called "Fimex", and two private homes were included in the raid.

EULEX has also indicted two PTK officials and three employees of the Dardaphone Company for abuse of authority and issuing damaging contracts just days before two companies were selected to participate in the privatization process.  In the same day, EULEX indicted the general director of Customs and another high ranking Customs official for the importation of a large amount of tobacco in 2008.

In another blow to the Kosovo government, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that they would be terminating the 108 Million Euro stand-by agreement because the Kosovo government had violated an agreement by raising wages for the public sector.  IMF also stated that Kosovo's finances were "severely off track" and the European Union warned Kosovo to exercise fiscal discipline.  In another blow, a report issued the the World Bank on doing business in Southeast Europe shows that Kosovo is the most difficult country in the region to start a business in which does not bode well for a country trying to attract foreign investors!

EULEX has also announced that it initiated and has closed an investigation into the former head of the International Civilian Office (ICO), Peter Feith, for abuse of authority regarding the appointment of the governor of the Kosovo Central Bank.  The allegations revolved around Feith exerting pressure on the panel to appoint the current governor to the position.

Kosovo Muslims Demand New Mosque

Approximately 300 Kosovo Muslims gathered in the streets of Pristina during Friday prayers to demonstrate their desire for a new mosque in the capital city.  The demonstrations and complaints have begun in earnest after the grand opening of the Mother Theresa Catholic Cathedral in downtown Pristina earlier this year.  The protestors say they do not have enough space in the existing mosques in Pristina (which are quite a few mosques which date back to Ottoman times) due to the growing number of practicing Muslims.

Thinking about growing, the results of the Kosovo census are out.  The census puts the number of people living in Kosovo at 1.7 million.  The census was boycotted by the Serb population which is estimated to be at 60,000 people.  The census also lists the population of Pristina as being 198,000 but does not include the number of the large expatriate community which resides in the capital.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

EULEX Quickly Losing Face

EULEX continues to have rocky relations with the local population and Kosovo citizens are quickly losing faith in the European Union's largest mission. A report by IPOL shows that the mission has been losing its crediblity with the local population and has dropped to its 2008 levels when the mission first deployed to Kosovo. Inactivity and ignorance were words used to describe the mission as Kosovo celebrated Europe Day on 10 May 2011. Even the head of the International Civilian Office, Peter Feith, has expressed his disappointment in EULEX during an interview with Kosovo paper Zeri.  The former chief of the Economic and Fiscal Affairs Unit in the International Civilian Office (ICO), Andrea Lorenzo Capussela, published an article in the Guardian titled "Eulex in Kosovo: A shining symbol of incompetence" and then was interviewed by Transitions Online about his criticism of the EULEX mission as being overrun with politicial agenda.

Following the EULEX arrests of ten former KLA fighters for war crimes and the non-arrest of former Minister Fatmir Limaj due to diplomatic immunity, the KLA veterans group has urged its members not to recognize the authority of EULEX. The group further has told its members not to respond to requests for interviews and cooperate as EULEX has been mistreating and violating the human rights of the recent detainees.  On the same subject, Fatmir Limaj was summoned to the EULEX prosecutor's office to give a statement as a suspect of war crimes.

EULEX continues to drag its heels in response to the much debated Marty report.  Officials from EULEX met with Marty and his team in late May in efforts to start a preliminary investigation.  Concerns over evidence and the protection of witnesses have lead to delays in transferring information from Marty to EULEX.  Serbia continues to insist that the investigation should happen under the supervision of the United Nations but the European Union has not supported the view.

Still Alive & Kicking - A Quick Political Catch-Up

I know it has been a while since I have blogged but I am still alive and kicking :)  In fact, I'm happy to report that the reason it has been so long since I last blogged is because Troy and I have been home in the US since the beginning of April and were blessed with the birth of our first child on 12 May 2011, a beautiful baby girl :)  A fairly good excuse for not blogging I suppose!  But no more excuses, a lot has been going on in Kosovo since I last wrote so I know there is no possible chance that I will cover it all but here's a go at it :)

After the Constitutional Court ruled that the election of Pacolli was not in accordance with the law, Kosovo elected its first female president on 6 April 2011, the little known Atifete Jahjaga.  Jahjaga, who is not aligned with any political parties, comes from the ranks of the Kosovo Police Service where she was one if not the highest ranking female police officers in the Balkans.  Jahjaga won the Kosovo parliament presidential election with the highest majority since late leader Ibrahim Rugova and voting only lasted one round, unlike the two failing rounds with Pacolli before his illegitimate election in the third round.

Kosovo and Serbia continue to hold European-sponsored talks on technical issues.  So far there seems to be little progress and Serbia insists that it still will not recognize an independent Kosovo.  On 12 May 2011, protestors from Vetevendosje clashed with Kosovo Police during a demonstration against the visit of the Serbian chief negotiator.  Police used tear gas to disperse the protestors who were throwing rocks and damaged several official vehicles during the demonstration.  Talk of partition has raised ire on both sides of the table and both vehemently reject the idea of splitting Kosovo.  In the meantime, while ethnic tensions have eased, life for minorities in Kosovo is still challenging.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Constitutional Court Rules Pacolli Election Illegal

A mere 35-days after being elected President, the Kosovo Constitutional Court released a ruling yesterday that the election violated the Kosovo Constitution.  The official verdict of the case has not been released yet and is expected to come out on Wednesday.  Without the verdict, it is not yet know if new elections will take place for the post or if Pacolli will be forced to step down from the post. 

In other news, corruption and organized crime has been big in the Kosovo headlines recently.  The Global Post published an article about how the international community, particularly the US, has ignored allegations of corruption and involvement in organized crime when it comes to Kosovo politicians, particularly Haschim Thaci.  In similar news, it seems that Haschim Thaci also could have difficulties traveling internationally due to the allegations as he must secure diplomatic visas which offer him immunity so that he is not arrested abroad.

And finally, there has been a rash of articles lately about the parallels and/or differences between the intervention in Kosovo in 1999 and the current intervention ongoing in Libya.  Here are a few articles for each viewpoint.

Libya & Kosovo

Thursday, March 17, 2011

EULEX Makes War Crimes Arrests

Yesterday, EULEX made a series of arrests for alleged war crimes committed by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army.  Former Transport Minister Fatmir Limaj is again in the headlines facing new charges of war crimes (he was acquitted by the Hague in 2005 of separate charges due to a lack of evidence).  Along with Limaj, the Kosovo Police commander in Prizren was also arrested.  Reportedly when EULEX police went to the police station to execute the arrest warrant, members of Kosovo Police prevented them from carrying out the arrest and some members of the EULEX team were "held hostage".  Krasniqi later surrendered to EULEX police after consultations with his lawyer.  As usual, the arrests have been deemed a "demonization" of the KLA and an attempt to blacken the name of Kosovo.

In other news, Kosovo President Pacolli has been busy during his first weeks in office.  He has asked NATO to assist training the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) which is expected someday to become the army of Kosovo.  He also is planning on trying to change Kosovo election law to allow the President to be elected by the population rather than the parliament.  Pacolli also has made a visit to the northern Kosovo border with the KFOR commander to show support for those working at the border areas. 

For some reason, the Kosovo media has been overwhelmingly negative about Pacolli's election and presidency but while talking with people on the ground there is wide support and lots of hope for his presidency.  Most seem impressed that he is donating his salary to poor families and using his own funds to pay his staff and make renovations in the President's house.  Plus not many people in Kosovo can claim credit to bringing 25 recognitions for Kosovo's independence as Pacolli can.  Giving a breath of fresh air to all the negative media, here is a look at the positives that Pacolli's presidency may bring Kosovo.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Kosovo & Serbia Start Technical Talks

Last week, Kosovo and Serbia started yet another round of technical talks, this time facilitated by the European Union.  Support for the talks in the Kosovo Assembly is mixed with some opposition parties totally against any kind of talks with Serbia.  A vote to support the talks narrowly passed in the Assembly a few days after the talks began.  So far news emerging from the talks is basically that Kosovo will not discuss status and Serbia will not recognize independence.  The International Crisis Group (ICG) did a cannonball into the Kosovo political pool by releasing a report suggesting autonomy for Northern Kosovo which Kosovo politicians quickly rejected as a violation of the territorial integrity (sound familar?). 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Kosovo Elects Assembly & President

Yesterday the Kosovo assembly elected Bexhet Pacolli to be President of Kosovo.  AKR announced that Pacolli had stepped down as party leader and from his party duties following the vote.  The voting took two rounds, plus a break requested by PDK, before Pacolli finally gathered enough votes to be elected president.  Both the Assembly speaker, Jakup Krasniqi, and Vetevendosje have criticized the PDK request for break to be unconstitutional however it was still allowed.  Leaders of AAK and Vetevendosje have vowed to do everything in their power to end the coalition before the four-year term is completed giving even more credence to the speculation that the new shaky coalition may not last through to the end of 2011.  There are rumors that another round of elections will be held in September but only time will tell if the PDK-AKR-Minority coalition is strong enough to weather the criticism and strong opposition.

In other Kosovo-related news, a massive brawl between rival Kosovo Albanian gangs broke out on 17 February in London's Trafalgar Square resulting in the stabbing of three persons and the arrest of 19.  Fights have been reportedly breaking out over the past three years since Kosovo declared independence. 

MTCowgirl's Kosovo News

Friday, February 18, 2011

Kosovo Celebrates 3rd Anniversary of Independence Declaration

Amid the spectacular firework display at 10:30pm, most of the international media focused on the challenges that face Kosovo as it enters into it's fourth year of declaring independence from Serbia.  As mentioned the other day, economic problems still plague Europe's newest country with only one of five people under the age of 25 having employment and 14% of the population living below the extreme poverty line.

There were many articles about how cold reality is setting in or how Kosovo is a state of failed expectations, but still those of us on the ground can't help but hold on to the hope that over time problems with corruption, the economic hardship, lack of higher education, and life itself will improve.  After all, like a baby, you have to learn how to crawl before you walk and while many had hoped that Kosovo would take off running after declaring independence, it is not fair to expect that things would miraculously change overnight or in just a couple of years.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Life in Kosovo

It has been a while since I've broken away from reporting on the boring old news in Kosovo and wrote simply about life in Kosovo.

The phrase "the more things change, the more they stay the same" truly applies to Kosovo.  It seems that the road construction will forever make our lives hell and we are condemned to wait in lines of traffic with KPS acting as human traffic signals or taking our lives in our own hands to dive out in the an intersection with no traffic signs/signals/common sense.  Despite the best intentions to make Kosovo a cleaner place by implementing environmental measures at Obilic, Kosovo is a dirty and dusty place with the smell of wood or the stench of coal in the air during the winter and tree-lined streets with bird-$hit covered cars underneath them.  But despite all this, I must confess that after 10 years in Kosovo, it is home and when (some friends say "if"!) I leave I will take away many happy memories and fantastic friendships!

There are a few places that I have to mention for those looking for a place to go for a nice meal.  The first is Taverna Toscana (044 890 678 located near the entrance to the US Embassy.  Serving up homemade pasta and some of the finest cuts of steak we have found in Pristina, the restaurant not only serves fantastic meals but very reasonably priced.  For those with a bottomless pit of a stomach, I can recommend taking the set dinner menu which consists of a soup, salad & appetizer, main course, and dessert!  You are guaranteed not to leave hungry or with an inch of space left in your stomach for more food!!!

The second place on my highly recommended list is Old Country House in the village of Benice e Eperme (044 656 054).  Serving traditional Kosovo dishes such as homemade bread with "long", a bread dipping mixture that is to die for, and tava, Old Country House is a great little getaway from the hustle and bustle of Pristina. 

PDK & AKR to form coalition

After weeks of wish-washing in the press about forming coalitions between PDK and other political parties, it appears that the coalition has finally been formed although the appointment of who will be president has still not been decided.  According to the latest news, PDK will form a coalition with Pacolli's AKR with the post of president going to Pacolli, although as leader of his party I can't help but wonder if he won't run into the same constitutional violation that Fatmir Sedijui had last year!  But I imagine that all that will be hashed out before he takes office...or at least you hope that they've paid attention and know that the constitution doesn't allow the leader of a political party to be the president.

The Marty report and political problems have cast a shadow over the third anniversary of Kosovo's declaration of independence which comes up tomorrow.  Some say that the situation in Kosovo is worse than it was when the declaration of independence was made as the political elite continue to get richer while the poor get poorer and little progress seems to have been made in the areas of education and economic growth.  In fact, two Vetevendosje activists were so unhappy with the state of the University of Pristina that they threw red paint on the director during a speech.  Consequently they were arrested and sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Leaks Allege that Kosovo PM Thaci is "big fish" in organized crime

It seems that the US government isn't the only body troubled with cable leaks lately.  Leaked NATO cables from Kosovo allege that outgoing (and probably incoming) Kosovo Prime Minister Haschim Thaci and the person described as the power behind him, Xhavit Haliti, have close ties with the Albanian mafia.  The leaked cables, referenced in an article by the UK's Guardian, come as the Council of Europe Parliament has begun its debates into the Dick Marty report regarding some of the same allegations of Thaci's involvement in organized crime and organ trafficking.  NATO/KFOR will reportedly look into how the cables were leaked to the newspaper.

In other NATO news, KFOR is expected to reduce its troop size by half by 1 March 2011 as security and stability in Kosovo has warranted a drawdown according to the NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen.

The election re-runs have finished and Thaci's PDK party has won the largest percentage of votes at 32.4% followed by Mustafa's LDK at 24.67%.  The re-election in Mitrovica resulted in an 11% lower voter turnout than in the December elections and only 10 Serbs voted in the mobile polling stations.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Kosovo Teen Captures Hearts on American Idol

Melinda Ademi, whose parents immigrated to the US as war refugees using the Green Card Lottery, captured hearts on the first night of auditions of American Idol, Season 10.  Belting out "If I Ain't Got You", Melinda was given three yes-es to move on to Hollywood week.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Back in the Saddle

It has been a while since I here is the latest and greatest from Kosovo.

EULEX & The North - After deploying to the north of Kosovo at the beginning of January, EULEX has now declared the north of Kosovo a danger zone for their staff following the beating of some of its staff.  Outgoing Kosovo Interior Minister, Bajram Rexhepi, has in turn requested EULEX to withdraw from the north and allow KFOR and KPS to provide security if the EU mission cannot.

The "Marty" Report - Issued by Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty, the report digs into the accusations of human organ trafficking by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during and immediately after the war in Kosovo.  Outgoing Kosovo PM Haschim Thaci, who reportedly was named in the report, has called the report "monstrous slander" and threatened to sue.  According to local media, Thaci also stated that he would publish the names of so-called collaborators who provided evidence to the Council of Europe.  The Council of Europe Parliament is scheduled to debate the report on 24-25 January.  According to UNMIK SRSG Lamberto Zannier, ICTY had previously investigated the matter but was unable to come up with enough evidence to open the case.  Now the matter falls to EULEX to investigate the matter but so far requests for evidence from the Council of Europe and Marty have not produced any results.

Elections - Problems with fraud and corruption marred the Kosovo elections on 12 December resulting the re-voting in several different places.  The re-voting will wrap up this weekend in Mitrovica where Vetevendosje made a complaint of fraud.  Currently the vote tallies place the political parties in the following order:  Thaci's PDK, Mustafa's LDK, Kurti's Vetevendosje, and Haradinaj's AAK.  Talks about a coalition government continue as no political party has secured a majority vote alone.  The most talk has been about a PDK-AAK coalition although initial reports following the elections were that none of the other political parties except Pacolli's AKR were interested in forming any kind of coalition with PDK.