(By Dirk Jan van Egmond)
War devastates a society. It ruins houses, interrupts daily life and displaces people from their homes. Just as wildfire wipes away a forest as it once was, post-conflict societies will never be the same. A forest will always be scarred by the occurrence of a wildfire. At the same time, however, new fertile soil is created, supporting the growth of new plants and trees. After a war, people have to move on, even though they might be severely scarred by what happened. While the past can be considered a burden for a post-conflict society, ten days of experiencing Kosovan daily life also showed me that conflict sometimes creates new fertile soil. The devastating wars of the 1990s certainly left their marks and they still impact many aspects of society. At the same time, the rather young population in Kosovo appears confident to build a prosperous and peaceful future. This current transitional state of Kosovo offered me the exceptional opportunity to experience the beauty of a post-conflict society.
Those who live in a post-conflict country have to be creative. How to get around when public transport is not guaranteed? The citizens of Pristina found a way. For just 50 cents per person, one can carpool within and around the Kosovan capital. Just stand near a bus stop and raise your hand and you will be taken to your destination. Seatbelts and hands-free calling are problems for the future. This carpooling business also offers solutions for other post-conflict discomforts. It represents a modest source of income for those who are unemployed, and many Kosovans are unemployed, and it offers a cheap and swift mode of transportation for those who do have a job.
Kosovo wants to be part of the world and everyone who visits Kosovo will notice. European and American flags often wave next to the, EU-inspired, Kosovan flag. Conversation with the locals will teach you that multiple Kosovans love the United States, maybe to a frightening extent; and that many Kosovan citizens dream of being a member of the big EU-family and to be able to travel to other places once visas do not form an obstacle anymore.
Some advice: when staying in Kosovo, it is not that crucial to learn Albanian or Serbian, as many Kosovans speak the language of the country they lived in during the war as a refugee. Although Kosovans stayed in many different countries during the wars of the 1990s, Switzerland, Germany and Australia seem to be the most prevalent resorts. For this reason, knowledge of German, English and occasionally French will allow you to get around in many parts of the country.
Kosovo’s pursuit to be part of the world also becomes apparent in its effort to represent itself to international visitors. Esthetics, understandably, does not enjoy priority in (re)building homes. Restaurants and bars, however, are often in perfect condition. Maybe even so perfect that it causes you, as a visitor, to feel guilty when looking at the simple and seemingly unfinished homes of many Kosovans. In the well-maintained restaurants, waiters are still a bit clumsy, but will do their absolute best to make sure you will not see the bottom of your wineglass.
Kosovo’s wish to move on and to become a strong and independent Balkan country is supported by Kosovo’s rather young population (about 50% of the population is under the age of 25). This translates into Pristina being a lively student city with a vibrant nightlife. Consequently, you will often hear the claim that Kosovo is probably the “youngest” country in the world.
The Newborn monument in the center of Pristina reminds each visitor of how Kosovo wishes to represent itself: as a new country that rose from the ashes of its devastating past and that is ready to move on to a brighter and more peaceful future. Although there are still many obstacles to overcome, it seems that all the conditions are in place for Kosovo to become a strong and prosperous Balkan country. My advice thus is to be fast to visit Kosovo and to enjoy all the beauties only a post-conflict society can offer you.