Friday, September 21, 2012

West Nile Virus Strikes Kosovo - Local News from Kosovo

The mosquito-born West Nile Virus has claimed its first victim this past week and another two suspected deaths are being investigated as being related to the virus in Kosovo.  The disease which is making a debut for the first time in the Balkans claimed three victims in Serbia last month where there were at least 35 confirmed cases.  While up to 80% of infected persons will not suffer any symptoms, extreme cases of the virus can lead the swelling of the brain tissue, coma, and eventual death.  For those that do contract the virus, common symptoms mirror that of the regular flu.


Now to the local news, this week there has been a large focus on the proposed travel of a large delegation from the Kosovo Government to the US for the UN Assembly meeting which would require 200-300,000 Euros from the limited Kosovo budget.  The proposal and cost of sending such a large delegation (20-30 people) to the UN has been met with large skepticism by the opposition parties in the press.

Announced in the news today after reports earlier in the week of being spotted in Kosovo, Naser Kelmendi, who is on the US blacklist, was arrested by Kosovo Police on Thursday (20 September).  Kelmendi, who is a Bosnian citizen, is reported to be one of the biggest drug bosses in the Balkans.

The results of the Kosovo census have been revealed.  Excluding municipalities in the north of Kosovo who refused to take part in the census, the population of Kosovo has been declared to be 1,739,825 inhabitants.  The last known official count of the population of Kosovo was held in 1981 with 1.5 million persons.  In 1991, Albanians boycotted the census and the population was estimated to be 1.9 million.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Kosovo Granted Full Sovereignty

Last Friday, the Kosovo Parliament passed legislation officially ending supervised independence.  Members of the International Steering Group on Monday declared Kosovo fully independent.  Even with the end of supervised independence, the Kosovo parliament officially approved the extension of the mandate of EULEX through 2014 and the Deputy KFOR commander stated that NATO troops would remain in Kosovo for another 5-7 years.

With the end of supervised independence, many have been asking "what's next" or "what does it mean" and perhaps most importantly, Is Kosovo ready and what are the remaining challenges

In other news, Serbian war crimes prosecutors say that they have a witness to the alleged organ trafficking by the KLA.  In an interview on Serbian TV on Monday, the witness described removing the heart of a Serbian captive and how he was trained in organ harvesting.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

UN Secretary-General Visits Kosovo - Vetevendosje Strikes

Today the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki Moon of South Korea, will visit Kosovo.  This is the first high-level visit from the United Nations since Kofi Annan visited in 1999.  As preparations were underway for the visit, Vetevendosje paid a visit to the UNMIK Mission HQ to spray-paint the word "Fair" after the word UN near the main entrance of the compound.


Monday, July 9, 2012

The Worrying Kosovo Infant Mortality Rate

International and Kosovo health officials are concerned about the rate of infant mortality in Kosovo despite it dropping over the past 10 years.  The rate is still higher than it should be with 17.1 deaths in 1000 births.

The lack of a true proper healthcare system and other factors such as poverty and education all contribute to the higher infant mortality rate in Kosovo.  

We recently witnessed how frustrating dealing with the public hospital in Pristina can be when a friend of ours gave birth to a baby boy with a serious congenial heart defect that should have been detected by the gynecologist during pregnancy, a mistake that has infuriated the neonatologist at the Pristina Hospital.  Because of the failure of the prenatal doctor identifying the heart defect, we have been struggling for two weeks to find a charity to assist sending the baby to another country and pay for the 150,000 Euro operation that will help to save the little boy's life as the medical treatment cannot be found in Kosovo.  Luckily an Italian charity has come through and our friend's baby had surgery this morning in Tirana, Albania where an Italian doctor traveled to perform the operation.

Update - 12 July 2012 - I am saddened to report that despite receiving the much needed surgery in Tirana, our friend's baby passed away in the early hours of the morning.  It is extremely frustrating to think that had the prenatal doctor identified the heart defect as it should have been and the medical care he needed been available in Kosovo he may still be with us today.  It took more than two weeks to be able to get the baby into the desperately needed surgery because of funding and travel considerations and I can't help but keep thinking that it was two weeks too long.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Supervised Independence of Kosovo to End in September 2012

Yesterday, the International Steering Group for Kosovo agreed to end the supervised independence of Kosovo in September.  The steering group is made up of 23 European countries, the United States, and Turkey.  The Steering Group said that Kosovo had made significant steps to implementing the Comprehensive Settlement Proposal (CSP) which included laws for cultural and religion heritage protections and community rights. 

What does the end of Supervised Independence mean for Kosovo?  Well, the International Civilian Office (ICO), headed by Peter Feith, which hold executive authority to oversee independence will be closed down in September.  The European Rule of Law Mission (EULEX), KFOR (NATO's Kosovo Force) and UNMIK will still remain in Kosovo. 

In other news, Italian Member of Parliament Pino Arlacchi has sent a series of questions to the European Commission on the progress of EULEX investigations who stated that UNMIK and EULEX "has something to hide".  Arlacchi has been requesting status reports on 11 cases handed over to EULEX from UNMIK which cited criminal conduct involving more than 60 million Euros related to the privatization of Kosovo's electricity. 

Also, the sale of Post & Telcomm Kosovo (PTK) has restarted after it was stopped last year amid allegations of corruption and harmful contracts.  The sale is in the pre-qualification stage where companies can express interest in purchasing the company.  The Kosovo budget greatly relies on the sale of PTK which is expected to bring in between 300-600 million Euros.

Friday, June 29, 2012

House Hunting in Pristina

This past week has been extremely frustrating as we searched for a new house in Pristina.  Being a family in Kosovo, we had special considerations (extra bedroom for the kiddies, bathtub for bathtime, no neighbors uptairs/downstairs to bother if the kiddies are noisy) that proved to be rather difficult to fulfill in our price range according to the three different rental agencies we tried to work with this week. 

First the websites proved to be the old bait-and-switch tactic where houses were advertised that had already been rented many moons ago or the price changed due to ridiculous reason (well, the price listed is if you live upstairs in the three bedrooms and the landlord lives downstairs in the kitchen, living room, and bathroom.  Huh?!)

Then when outlining our requirements for the number of rooms, bathtub, and maximum price, basically everything was ignored.  One rental agency showed us houses that were double to quadruple our price range but assured us that we should just go look at the houses and they were sure the landlords would negotiate down because the houses had been listed for a long time (some for more than two years empty!)  Basically that didn't happen.  The one house we viewed that was double our price, the guy was happy to negotiate down but certainly not to half his asking price (even if the house has been empty for 1.5 years). 

And lastly, in searching on our own and through the rental agencies, we found that almost none of the houses we looked at had "House for Rent" signs.  It was almost impossible to know that the houses were available for rent.  The exception to this is the Dragodan neighborhood where nearly every second or third house has a sign.

Some people swear by using a rental agency because it saves them time and effort.  We found that we wasted days of our time by using the agencies.  However, if you are searching for a house and would like to use an agency, here are a couple that I would suggest (if not only to get an idea of what's on the market).  We finally ended up finding a house through "a friend who knew someone who had a friend that was looking to rent" and found exactly what we were looking for :)

Rental Agencies in Pristina
  • Capital Ring (www.ringks.com)
  • Omega Real Estate (www.omega-ks.com)

Many Injuries as Serbs clash with Kosovo Police - Fist Fight in Kosovo Parliament

Yesterday marked St. Vitus (Vivodan) celebration for Serbians and it was estimated that more than 50 people were injured between clashes between Serbian celebrants and Kosovo Police.  The Kosovo Police reportedly deported several buses of young, drunk Serbians traveling to Gazimenstan for the celebrations.  After crossing the border, the youths began to throw stones at the Kosovo Police and reportedly also fired shots.  32 Kosovo Police were treated for injuries and 20 Serbs were seen for injuries.

In a separate incident, a bus carrying Serbians was stoned and a Molotov cocktail was thrown at it as it passed on the highway through Pristina.  I actually got to see the still smoking Molotov cocktail as it smoldered in the road near Hotel Victory on the Pristina-Skopje highway.  My inital reaction was "why is that beer bottle burning?" and the next thought was "holy crap, that's what a Molotov cocktail looks like!"

In a totally unrelated incident, Vetevendosje and PDK members of parliament engaged in two separate fistfights in the Kosovo Parliament Building yesterday over SHIK.  At this time no charges have been filed but if medical reports are provided, criminal charges can be filed according to the Pristina Municipal Prosecutor.

Yesterday, the Kosovo Police denied the entry of the Serbian Kosovo Minister, Bodganovic, due to his support for parallel structures in the North of Kosovo.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Head of Kosovo Privatization Agency Commits Violent Suicide - UNMIK to close UAM Office in North

The head of the Kosovo Privatization Agency, Dino Asanaj, violently stabbed himself to death according to local and European Union officials.  Following the death of Asanaj, there was speculation of murder and then suicide after reports of a note being left accusing the Zeri newspaper and two Kosovo businessmen of ruining his and his families lives over allegations of corruption.  The autopsy reports confirming death by suicide were met with much disbelief and accusations of a cover-up due to the violent nature of the death, at least 11 different stab wounds. 

In other news, after the announcement that the Kosovo government would open an office in the North of Kosovo and subsequently requested UNMIK to close its office, UNMIK has agreed to close down the office but not in the two week time-frame suggested by the Kosovo government.  UNMIK will gradually close down the office over a three month period and work on turning over documents to the Kosovo government.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

KFOR Clashes with Serbs in North - EULEX Mandate Extended to 2014

On Friday, 1 June, KFOR clashed with Serb demonstrators in the North of Kosovo when KFOR attempted to remove a barricade.  Four Serbs and two German KFOR soldiers were injured in the clashes.  KFOR responded with live fire after coming under fire in addition to using tear gas and rubber bullets.  Following the clash, the Serbian Headquarters for Emergency Situations in the North stated that it would not allow EULEX members to travel in the North while the spokesperson for the outgoing Serbian government said that the decision to cooperate with EULEX will be taken by the incoming Serbian government. 

In other news, it was announced today that the mandate of EULEX will be extended until 14 June 2014.  The initial budget for 2012-2013 is Euro 111 Million.  The mission is currently undergoing a reconfiguration over the summer for an overall reduction of 25% of its staff with an increased focus on justice and customs.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Nationalist Wins Serbian Elections - Former KLA Trains Syrian Rebels?

The Nationalist candidate, Tomislav Nikolic,  for Serbian President won the second round of elections on Sunday, beating out pro-European Boris Tadic.  While Nikolic has re-invented himself as being more pro-European lately, he has stated that Serbia would not join the European Union if recognition of Kosovo was made a condition of membership.

In other news, Serbia and Russia have greatly criticized recent reports that Syrian rebels have been receiving training and assistance from former Kosovo Liberation Army officials in Kosovo.  Kosovo's Foreign Minister has denied that any training had been planned and that only diplomatic contacts had been established with the Syrian resistance.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Local News from Kosovo

A quick summary of some of the hot topics in local Kosovo news for the past week...

Serbia Holds General Elections in Kosovo
Probably the biggest story in the local news has been the upcoming Serbian general elections that OSCE has agreed to help facilitate.  The US Ambassador, Christopher Dell, has stated that the elections are a good example of how neighboring countries can cooperate but warned that any local Serbian elections would be illegitimate.  Tensions remain high over the elections and the Minister of Serbian Secret Services has warned of the potential for violence against Serbs.

Kosovo Press Boycotts Government on Law on Press Freedom
Many of the local newspapers left the spot normally reserved for government politics blank in protest on a law passed by the Kosovo parliament that is heavily criticized as restricting the freedom of the press.  

Citizens urged to conserve water
People are being urged to begin conserving water as the weather begins to heat up.   The water authority warns that if people do not begin conserving water that the shortage will become more pronounced and there will be more cuts during the hot summer months.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

NATO Deploys More Troops Ahead of Serbian Elections

Last week, NATO deployed an additional 700 soldiers to KFOR ahead of Serbian parliamentary elections.  In addition to the increase in the number of soldiers, NATO has expressed concern over the operational capabilities of EULEX due to logistical problems in the North which has required NATO to take on duties not normally assigned to the peacekeeping force.  Tensions remain high in the North of Kosovo after the bombing by alleged Serbian extremists and the beating of an elderly Serbian man

OSCE has announced that it will assist with the disputed Serbian general and parliamentary elections scheduled for 6 May.  Recently Kosovo authorities have been seizing election materials and arresting those in possession of the materials.  OSCE will now escort the materials along with EULEX and help facilitate the elections with mobile voting stations.


Trial Panel Acquits Defendants in Klecka Case

The four remaining defendants in the Klecka trial, including former Transport Minister Fatmir Limaj, were acquitted this morning by a trial panel in the Pristina District Court.  It is expected that the EULEX prosecutor, Salustro, will file an appeal to the acquittal.

In other news, the Hague is holding a status conference today on the retrial of former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj.  Last week the prosecution completed their portion of the trial and it was not expected that the defense would call any witnesses.  Haradinaj and two other defendants were called back to the first retrial in the history of the Hague tribunals on 6 of 37 counts of war crimes due to the difficulty of the prosecution to secure witness statements in the first trial. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Tensions High in Kosovo

Tensions continue to escalate in Kosovo following the explosion that killed an Albanian man, the beating of a Serbian man, and then the shooting of a Serbian in the North. 

Albanians reportedly began arming themselves for protection while the Kosovo government and international organizations called for calm.  Deputy PM Hajredin Kuci called for an intervention in the North similar to that of July 2011 which led to blockades of EULEX and KFOR in the North but Serbia criticized the statement as inflammatory and warned that it would just further tensions.  KFOR is said to be monitoring the Kosovo Police's special riot unit (ROSU) in anticipation that there would be a police action Thursday or Friday.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Explosion Kills One in North Mitrovica

An explosion outside an apartment in North Mitrovica's mixed neighborhood of Three Towers killed one Albanian man, Selver Haradinaj, and injured four of his children and wife on Sunday.  Called a terrorist act and condemned by the Kosovo government, the explosion has heightened the tension that has already been high in the disputed North of Kosovo.  In an alleged "response" to the killing of Hardinaj, three Albanians are said to have beaten a Serbian man who was returning home to the mixed village of Suvidoll.

Tensions have already been high between Albanians and Serbs since the announcement of Serbian elections in the North and the stoning of a Serbian convoy carrying members of the negotiating team in Pristina earlier in the week.  No one was injured in the stoning but material damage was done to two of the vehicles in the convoy.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Local News from Kosovo

Crime seems to be a big topic in the local news these days from the arrest of the anti-corruption prosecutor to the Klecka trial to an investigation being opened into former President Pacolli.

Prosecution will not present new evidence or revise indictment in Klecka Trial
A letter from EULEX prosecutor, Charles Hardaway, to the court has stated that the prosecution will not present any new evidence and will not revise the indictment as requested by the panel after its dismissal of the Witness X evidence.  The letter also requests the panel to reverse the decision on the admissibility of the evidence of Agim Zogaj.  In addition to the letter, a few days ago, EULEX prosecution requested that Limaj and the other remaining defendants be placed under house arrest citing flight risk and witness intimidation.


EULEX Conducting 90 Investigations into Organized Crime
EULEX Spokesperson Nicholas Hawthorne has stated that EULEX is currently conducting more than 90 investigations into corruption and organized crime.  So far, EULEX has concluded a total of 46 cases but details of the results are not mentioned.  While Hawthorne said that he would not provide any information on specific cases, perhaps the most widely known investigation is the MTPT, Ministry of Transport, Post and Telecomms, involving former Minister Fatmir Limaj, to which EULEX has until 23 April to issue an indictment before their time runs out.  Another case that recently emerged is that of the head of the anti-corruption task force who was arrested a few days ago under suspicion of accepting bribes to drop charges.

Anti-Corruption Agency Launches Investigation into Behgjet Pacolli
A law exists on Kosovo books to prevent a conflict of interest between business and politics.  Called the "Law on Preventing Conflict of Interest in Exercising Public Function" (Nr.04/L-051), the law essentially prevents politicians from being involved in business.  It has long been rumored that along with the various recognitions that Pacolli has gotten for Kosovo's independence, he also has been making business deals with companies in those countries.  One of the latest, Nigeria, is the alleged reason for the start of the investigation where Pacolli signed a business deal for a company called SEAGAS.  No details of the case will be made until the proceedings are finalized.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Arrested for...Corruption?!

The head of the anti-corruption task force, Nazmi Mustafa, created by Kosovo PM Haschim Thaci has been arrested on suspicion of accepting bribes in exchange for dropping corruption charges along with two other task force members.

I was traveling last week and didn't have the chance to pounce on this interesting local news..so here it is...

Mayor of Ferizaj Sentenced to Jail Time, Resigns, Extraordinary Elections Announced
The Supreme Court of Kosovo sentenced the mayor of Ferizaj, Bajrush Xhemajli, to two and half years in jail for a traffic accident that left one person dead and injured several others.  Following his resignation, Kosovo President Jahjaga announced extraordinary elections to be held on 29 April for a new mayor.

Reciprocal Arrests?

Last week, five Serbs were arrested for transporting election material into Kosovo by the KPS.  A few days ago, Serbian police allegedly crossed the boundary into Kosovo and arrested two KPS officers who were allegedly 130 meters within Kosovo (I say allegedly because the investigation into what really happened is ongoing and the political rhetoric is high.)  However, Serbia released the KPS officers to EULEX on Monday, 02 April.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Klecka Trial - Update

A bit more news has come out about the dismissal of the testimony of Witness X, Agim Zogaj, this afternoon.  Following the testimony being thrown out by the panel of judges, the defendants were released from detention.  The nine defendants were arrested in March 2011 whereas Fatmir Limaj was placed under house arrest last fall.

It is still not known if the case will proceed as most sources say that a decision will be taken in the next few days however in Radio Kosova it is said that the prosecutor, Salustro, is not going to drop the case and will try to prosecute on other written evidence.

Breaking News - Klecka Trial

Breaking news this morning out of Kosovo...

The testimony of the Klecka prosecution's star witness Witness "X", Agim Zogaj, has been thrown out by the court.  Information is limited at this time but reportedly the decision was made minutes after the court proceedings began this morning.

It is not known if the prosecution will continue its case without the testimony of Zogaj.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Local News from Kosovo

Edita Tahiri Draws Fire over Expenditures
Edita Tahiri, Deputy Prime Minister and Lead Negotiator for Kosovo, has drawn fire and calls for her resignation following the spending of 50,000 Euros for 36 female staff members to take a three-day trip to Tirana in celebration of International Women's Day.  In addition to the travel expenses, the women also received a daily stipend of 209 Euros, nearly a month's salary for many people in Kosovo.

Grand Hotel Woes Continue
Last week I wrote about the problems that Grand Hotel was facing with employees not receiving wages.  Shortly afterwards, it was announced that the Kosovo Privatization Agency was considering to withdraw the agreement with the current owner and put the hotel up for bidding again.  Now, Limak Company, who runs the Pristina International Airport, reportedly has expressed interest in the hotel.


KEK Announces Increase in Prices
Kosovo Electric Company has raised the ire of many consumers by announcing a rate increase of 23% starting 1 April.  Already consumers have been complaining about the increase in bills from January to February when the worst of the winter weather hit Kosovo.  The regulatory agency that oversees KEK threatened to fine the company if they stuck with the rate increase and proposed to instead increase the rate at 7.6%.

The number of beggars increases
Honestly it is a yearly phenomenon but this is the first year that I can recall any local news source paying attention to the number of beggars increasing when the weather started warming up.

I have long advocated giving the street beggars, particularly children, items that cannot be "taken away" from them like candy bars, drinks, anything besides money although both Troy and I have recently broken our own rules by "adopting" a few Roma children and their mother who regularly beg near our offices.  It isn't much but they are always appreciative of the couple of Euros we give them over the course of the week and the occasional candy bar we buy from the nearby supermarkets when we see them out.

Serbia to Hold Elections in Kosovo

Serbia has announced that it will hold local municipal and parliamentary elections in the North of Kosovo in May.  The issue has become a hot topic for debate in the media.  Serbia says that it is their right under UN Security Council resolution 1244 to hold the elections while Kosovo says the elections are a violation of the integrity of Kosovo.

But then today, Serbia appeared to give into international pressure against the elections and President Boris Tadic has stated that Kosovo will be excluded from the national parliamentary elections but that local municipal elections will still be held in areas where the elected officials have reached the end of their term.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Local News from Kosovo

Being in Kosovo, I have the chance to browse through the local newspapers and pick up news items that most would never see.  If I can find the time, each week I would like to try to have one blog titled "Local News from Kosovo" quickly giving a blurb about what I have found interesting over the week in the Kosovo news.  So to steal the line from Ryan Seacrest "dim the lights and here we go"...

F Mobile refuses to sign contract with Ministry of Economic Development
The mobile phone company, F Mobile, has refused to sign a contract with the Ministry of Economic Development after winning the tender.  F Mobile has defended their refusal to sign the contract on the grounds that the Ministry would require the illegal importation of Apple iPhone 4S by the contract.  

Grand Hotel Fails to Pay Employees
The employees of the Grand Hotel in Pristina have threatened to go on strike after the owners have failed to pay salaries for the past eight months.  The employees have reached the agreement that if they do not receive payment by 12 March, they will "block" the hotel until they are paid.

In addition to the back wages owed to the employees, it is reported that Thermakos, a supplier of central heating, has turned off the heating to the Grand Hotel after its unpaid debt reached 82,000 Euros.

Ferizaj Municipality Purchases 82,000 Euros worth of vehicles
The Kosovo government has a limited budget and has long been criticized for purchasing luxury vehicles, spending massive amounts of money on telephone & services, and basically allowing government officials to treat the Kosovo budget like their own little petty cash fund.


Now, the Head of the Ferizaj municipality, Bajrush Xhemajli, has come under fire for spending 82,000 Euros on vehicles in a time that the Kosovo government has been instructed to reduce spending.

8 March -  International Women's Day
Thousands of women and girls gathered for a peaceful demonstration in Pristina for a variety of issues on International Women's Day.

The main focus was to raise awareness for women's rights and against domestic violence which is a common yet ignored part of Kosovo society.

A network of NGOs and the Women's Alliance for Kosovo called for accelerating the trial process of Ramush Haradinaj.  Haradinaj is currently standing trial again in the Hague after being previously acquitted due to lack of evidence.  The first charges were filed against him seven years ago on 8 March.

Kosovo Government Prepares to Privatize Brezovica
The Kosovo Government has taken steps to begin the privatization process of the Brezovica resort area in addition to plans to create a new Brezovica area. 

A conference to gather interest for investment in the new ski resort area which is planned to be adjacent to the current ski resort is planned in 2012 although no date has yet been decided.  The master plan for the new resort is to have it be much bigger (reported to be 5X) than Mavrovo in Macedonia (which would absolutely thrill this snowboarder!)  The plan also includes to have slopes for beginners (lacking at the current resort which has only two black runs) as well as runs for experts.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Municipal Officials Arrested & Serbian Elections in North

Four officials from the Vushtrri/Vuńćitrn municipality were arrested yesterday following an investigation into illegal property seizures, abuse of office, and organized crime.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has agreed to a standby loan for Kosovo after suspending loans last year after a payraise to the public sector by PM Haschim Thaci.  The loan worth US$141 million is designed to help Kosovo attract foreign investors.

Following the announcement of Serbia's candidate status in the European Union, Serbs in the North of Kosovo blocked the movement of EULEX.  Today, it has been reported that the blockade has ended and EULEX has announced that they have freedom of movement again.

A major news item has been the announcement that Serbia is considering running local and parliamentary elections in the North of Kosovo.  The elections, expected to be held in April or May, are designed to cover the "entire territory of Serbia, Kosovo included". 


MTCowgirl's Kosovo News

MTCowgirl's Interesting News/Commentary Articles

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Footnotes, Diaries, and Politicial Mudslinging

Some of the biggest news coming out of Kosovo recently has been the agreement reached between Serbia and Kosovo on how Kosovo will be represented in international organizations.  The compromise reaches removes the phrase "Republic of" before Kosovo and puts an asterisk following with a footnote stating ""This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSC 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence."  And with that, UNMIK has stated that it shall only attend regional conferences "if necessary".

However, the footnote is not the only focus lately in the local media.  Two big issues that the international coverage has failed to pick up on has been the continuation of the Klecka war crimes trial and the political mudslinging between the Kosovo political parties that I thought I would get to miss this election year!  The articles I will link to are from local news sources in Albanian but Google Translate does the job if you need a translation :)

So the Klecka Trial...it's basically in the news almost every day here.  I have mentioned it a few times before but here is a bit of an update.  The defense attorneys continue to question the admissibility of the diary of Witness X, Agim Zogaj.  Questions have been raised over the fact that Zogaj only signed statements in English, a language he reportedly did not master, and no Albanian translation of the statements was provided to him.  Further to the requests regarding the prosecutor, Salustro, it has been reported that the defense has sent a request to the Head of EULEX to request the lifting of his immunity to answer questions about allegations in Witness X's diary that he was threatened by Salustro.

Ah political mudslinging!!!  You would almost think that you were in the US during election season but let's not forget that Kosovo should soon be gearing up for presidential elections in the next year or so!  It seems to have started with political disagreements about accepting the footnote which was seen by many Kosovo politicians to diminish the Declaration of Independence.  Following very public disagreements in parliament and the media, it is reported that the US Ambassador, Christopher Dell, called two of the largest parties, LDK and Vetevendosje, anti-American and anti-European.  Then Thaci gave a speech in Lipjan where he said that if Ibrahim Rugova saw LDK he would weep and if Ramush Haradinaj saw AAK he would laugh at the current leadership.  Naturally the parties have came back and called Thaci everything from irresponsible to a poor leader.

Taste of Home

Recently, we discovered a taste of home in the Tusido Cafe located on the lower level of the Pristina Football Stadium.  The first time we walked into the restaurant, Alan Jackson was blaring over the sound system via a satellite radio station.  We then proceeded to gobble down Buffalo Chicken sandwich wraps that reminded us of being back home.  One menu item that we can't wait to try are the Buffalo Wings.  Based on the chicken served in the wrap, the wings are the spicy tidbits of chicken we are used to being served back home in the US.  And while we haven't tried the breakfast yet I hope to get down there one morning as they offer skillet breakfasts and pancakes.

A pet peeve of mine, restaurant bathrooms, proved not to be an issue with the super clean and tasteful decor of the bathrooms at Tusido.  While the smoking section does impede on the non-smoking section, we didn't find that we left the restaurant reeking of cigarettes, a huge plus in Pristina!

Stop by the location at the Pristina FC Stadium, visit online, or give them a call at 038 233 666

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Long, Hard Winter

This winter has been heralded as the worst winter in more than 60 years.  With record snowfalls, sub-zero temperatures, and avalanches it has been a long, hard winter for those in Kosovo.  A few weeks ago it was said that some 150 villages had basically been cut off from the rest of the world as roads were impassible.  Southeast European Times has a neat little photo essay highlighting the difficulty of winter in Kosovo villages.

On 10 February, an avalanche buried the village of Restelica.  Amazingly a 5-year-old girl was pulled out from under 10 meters (33 feet) of snow that killed nine other members of her family including her parents.

MTCowgirl's Kosovo News

It has been a while so here is MTCowgirl's Interesting News/Commentary...
As usual, these articles do not reflect personal opinion but were found to be "interesting"

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Kosovo Celebrates 4th Anniversary of Declaration of Independence

The daily wonders of life with a baby often get in the way and I have been slightly remiss in my postings lately.  I missed blogging about the 4th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in Kosovo when it was ongoing.  Most of my local friends lament about why the Kosovo politicians and their Western backers couldn't have waited a few more months until the weather was better but that didn't stop the indoor celebrations!

As usual, the day of celebration was met with articles about the challenges that remain ahead.  Another major focus was the results of the Serb-led referendum in the North (where the result was pretty much predicted before voting even began) where Serbs rejected the Kosovo government.  Even Vetevendosje's leader, Albin Kurti, did not seem to be in a festive mood this Independence Day stating that the only people that would be celebrating would be the government officials who became rich by "working as politicians during the day and as businessmen at night". 

The really big news however is the agreement between Kosovo and Serbia on two "key" issues: border management and Kosovo representation in international conferences.  And with the agreement has come an increased chance that Serbia will begin European Union accession discussions as they have now been recommended for candidate status.  Despite the proclamation by Kosovo PM, Haschim Thaci, that Serbia had recognized Kosovo's independence, the Head of the Serbian delegation for negotiations has declared that Serbia will never recognize Kosovo as an independent state.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Klecka Trial Resumes

After a break for the holidays, the Klecka war crimes trial started again this past Monday with much of the focus on former Transport Minister, Fatmir Limaj.  His defense team has raised issues about former judge, now lead prosecutor in the case, Maurizio Salustro, who is accused of threatening the prosecution's star witness known as "Witness X" who committed suicide last September in Germany.  The defense has also requested that Salustro be removed from the case.  EULEX today denied both requests stating that there was no legal basis for Salustro's removal and backing Salustro's statement that his status as an international staff member gives him immunity against prosecution (I'm no lawyer but it seems to me that prosecution and being called as a witness are two different things! As Limaj's lawyer points out, yes immunity from prosecution but not from questioning)
In an article on the progress of EULEX, which claims to be doing just fine, the EUobserver notes that the problem of organized crime continues to dog EULEX with no major "players" ever being indicted four years after the mission announced operational capacity.

The International Civilian Office (ICO) has appointed a new head of office, Samuel Zbogar, to replace Peter Feith.  Zbogar will continue to act as the Slovenian Foreign Minister as well as being the EU High Representative in Kosovo.  In an interview, Zbogar sees the greatest challenge to be the relations between Albanian and Serbian communities and states that the tensions in the north are of the highest priority.

It has been a while but here are some of MTCowgirl's Interesting News Articles/Commentary on Kosovo!  As usual, the disclaimer is that these articles do not necessarily reflect personal opinion but pose an interesting viewpoint on Kosovo.

KEK in State of Emergency

With a week of below 0 temperatures (both C and F!) and last week's heavy snow, KEK has declared a state of emergency and put their crews on 24 hour standby as electricity supplies wane.  In addition to problems producing enough electricity due to the weather, KEK is struggling against restrictions on imports imposed by Serbia.

Last night, with one phase of power to the house completely off, we had two hours of power and then two-three hours without power.  Thankfully with well insulated walls, the temperature didn't dip too far but there was a chill to the air in our house.  This morning KEK has been out with a crane truck in our neighborhood, hopefully to fix the problem with the one phase that is out (if I remember correctly, there are three different phases of power.  How the house is built depends on which phases the house uses, one, two, or all three).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Digging Out

After many a winter in Kosovo, I have to say that I can't remember one where there has been so much snow in a short period of time!  In the past two days, Kosovo has received a couple feet of snow with high winds which has whipped the snow into drifts that come up to my waist (not difficult when you are only 5'4").

The biggest complaint by far has not been the power situation, which in our neighborhood on the outskirts of town near Film City has been fairly constant with the occasional one hour outage, but rather the lack of snowplows clearing the roads in Pristina.  The responsibility for plowing the roads lies with the municipality and the mayor of Pristina, Isa Mustafa, has been getting hit pretty hard with criticism on the local news channels for leaving people stranded.

But the upside to all the snow in Pristina is that there is a ton of snow in Brezovica and the skiing is likely to last well into the spring this year after a dismal season last year.  The conditions on the mountain can be checked from IPKO's Brezovica webcam.

To give an idea of how much snow there has been, check out this fantastic photo from Snow Njeri :)

Downtown Pristina - Newborn Sign


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Vetevendosje Clashes with Police

Kosovo Police clashed with Vetevendosje demonstrators as the Self-Determination Group gathered to block two Kosovo borders, protesting reciprocity measures against Serbia, on Saturday, 14 January.  Many people were injured, reportedly Vetevendosje leader Albin Kurti, as protestors hurled rocks at the police and the police responded with pepper spray, water cannons, and tear gas.  More than 140 people were arrested and around 50 people, mostly police, were injured during the protest.

After the protests concluded, the blame game began with Kosovo politicians criticizing Vetevendosje's methods and Vetevendosje accussing the police of brutality and Prime Minister Haschim Thaci of encouraging the crackdown.  Protesting the use of force against the Vetevendosje demonstartion, 50 NGOs gathered outside the Kosovo government building today.

Many have criticized Vetevendosje's actions likening them to intimidation used in the 1999 war and the EU Rapporteur for the Western Balkans calls them a "provocation promoting isolation "

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year

It has been a while since I posted...so here's a quick catch-up!  Plus Happy New Year!  This year will mark 11 years of being in Kosovo.  Many laugh at the notion but I truly do call Kosovo home.  Some have called me crazy after ranting about how bad it is in Kosovo when they find out just how long I have been here...but honestly, they have no idea what bad is in Kosovo.  I am glad to say "Kosovo, you've done good" in the incredible amount of progress I have seen since hitting the ground in July 2001.  Granted there is still a ways to go but I am thrilled that Kosovo has managed to rebuild and grow!

Kosovo, KFOR, and the Serbs continue their back and forth over the roadblocks in the North.  No real viable solution seems to be in sight despite Serbia telling the Kosovo Serbs to remove the barricades and their assurances that freedom of movement will be established. 

In mid-December, a Russian aid convoy captured headlines when it was stopped by EULEX customs officials when entering Kosovo.  EULEX said the convoy would either have to accept an escort, a move seen to get EULEX, KFOR, and Kosovo police past the still present Serb barricades, or pass through a Pristina controlled border point.  A few days later the convoy would be allowed to pass with an EULEX escort.

More than a year after losing his job due to corruption charges, the Director of Kosovo's Central Bank, Hashim Rexhepi, was cleared of all five charges levied against him by EULEX in what was widely criticized as a politically motivated case.