"Isn't Kosovo Serbia?" - are perplexed by many. No, it is not so now. Since 2008, the Republic of Kosovo has unilaterally declared Kosovo independence from Serbia. Despite the UN Security Council resolution, which legalized the Republic's status as an integral part of Serbia, some of the countries recognized the Autonomy of Kosovo on the following day. Declaration of Kosovo independence and the recognition or non-recognition of Kosovo by the states is only the tip of the political iceberg. It is an inconclusive link in the chain of events in Kosovo and Metohija's long-suffering native Serbian land. This is the historical name given to the territory located in the southeast of the Balkan Peninsula. The Kosovo war, which was triggered by the declaration of independence of the Republic in September 1991, was one of the most brutal and bloody conflicts in the Balkans in modern history. It involved not only the conflicting parties - the Yugoslav army, and the Kosovo Liberation Army. At the end of the 20th century, NATO began bombing Belgrade in 1999, due to another escalation of interethnic conflict. Russia was unable to stand aside. The events of that time are described in the film "The Balkan Line". The film was released on March 21, 2019, on the twentieth anniversary of the beginning of Belgrade's NATO bombing. What is happening in Kosovo and what you need to know if you plan a trip to this turbulent corner of the Balkans will be described in the review. It's hard to imagine anyone, with even a little knowledge of what the Republic of Kosovo is like, will decide to go there. It has no sea, the beauty of natural landscapes is unlikely to surprise much, and the cities' architecture is certainly not going to please. If you choose to travel to Kosovo, try to learn as much as it is possible about this part of the Balkans.
1. Where is Kosovo located?
Kosovo is one of the youngest territorial units in the Balkans. It is located in Southeast Europe and has borders with four countries: Serbia, Northern Macedonia, Montenegro, and Albania. With its primary opponent - Serbia, Kosovo has the longest borderline in the north and east of the country and the tensest relations. The Kosovo population of the finally unrecognized Republic for 2020 is 1810463. It continues to decrease due to the outflow of the country's residents, who migrate around the world in search of a better life. The capital of Kosovo is Pristina. The bulk of the Kosovo population of one of the poorest countries in Europe are Albanian people (88%); at the end of the XIX century, intensively began to settle the territory of Kosovo and Metohija. The second-largest ethnic group is the Serbs - the natives of these places, ironically and by politicians' conviction, who became outcasts on their land. That is why the Christian churches in the cradle of Serbian Orthodoxy are no longer honored here. Sadly, but it is a fact.
2. The central city of Kosovo
The capital of Kosovo - Pristina - unremarkable, grey, carrying in its guise the depressing notes of the old conglomerate, pre-war Serbian settlement with lighthouses and bright tiled roofs, and this city now claims to be the capital. The claimant, but, frankly, has little in common with it. Identical and gloomy new buildings, ruins of Yugoslavian period buildings, stabbed and desecrated Orthodox temples, and outright mud on the streets. This is how Pristina welcomes its guests today. The architecture of Pristina seems quite pretentious. And these are not only numerous monuments to the heroes of Albania. For example, the Pristina Library is shocking with its abundance of shaped grids and hemispherical domes, something reminiscent of the human brain. Completely entangled in the building, the grids create the impression of a spider web, which swept in anticipation of its victim. And all this splendor amid blatant poverty and mud. The idea of Croatian architect Andrija Mutniakovic was to create a unique object made of an alloy of modernism, Byzantine architecture, and traditional elements of Turkish baths. But as they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
3. The American footprint
The atmosphere of the cities of Kosovo is imbued with adoration and admiration for the United States. Yes, America is loved in Kosovo. It is especially visible in Pristina. Here, you can find American flags and symbols of the United States everywhere. The capital's central street is called Bill Clinton Boulevard. Against the background of grey, graffiti painted walls, and advertising banners stands the monument to the United States' 42nd President. The three-meter-high figure of the "savior" was erected to honor the Republic's deliverance from the "tyranny" of Serbs and the Yugoslav army. Another president, George W. Bush, apparently the younger one, has not been forgotten here because Kosovo's independence was recognized during his rule. The street with his name on it intersects Clinton Boulevard. Unfortunately, U.S. involvement in creating a free and happy life in Kosovo was limited to bombing Serbia and placement at the Camp Bondsteel military base near the town of Urosevac. Time passed, the euphoria of independence has passed, and the country was faced with unemployment and impoverishment. What seems to be happening in Kosovo now is of little concern to Western patrons. Although today it is clear that without sustained European Union investment and job creation, the Republic's economy will not survive.
4. Kosovo field
Why do Serbs' hearts hurt so much when they hear the word "Kosovo"? Why is it possible to see the inscription "Косово jе Србиjа" in every Serbian city? Everything is simple. Kosovo and Metohija have been ancestral Serbian lands since ancient times. Kosovo - the "land of blackbirds," was part of the Kosovo field, and Metohija - the "church land" occupied the rest of the territory. This historical area of Serbia contains the largest concentration of cultural and historical Orthodox monuments in Europe. Out of 1800 shrines in the region of Kosovo, the construction of 200 of them dates back to the XIV century. Kosovo Field - the honor and pain of the Serbia people - is 5 kilometers from Pristina. The Gazimestan Memorial, dedicated to the heroes of the Battle of Kosovo, is also erected here today. On June 15, 1389, a fateful battle between Serbs led by Lazar Hrebeljanovic and the Ottoman sultan Murad's army took place in the Kosovo field. Both leaders were killed in the fight, and most of their troops were defeated. For Serbia, it was a dark time of Ottoman rule. It lasted almost five centuries. Now this holy land for every Serb, along with the remains of Prince Lazarus, which were moved in the late XIV century in the monastery Ravanica, is in another state. In a country that does not try to preserve the memory of this event and, in every way, mock the Orthodox shrines.
5. History of the conflict
Defeat at the Battle of Kosovo had far-reaching consequences for the Serbia people. The result was not only a centuries-old Turkish yoke, from which the Serbs still managed to get rid of the late 19th century. Along with the decline of Serbian statehood, which began after the defeat in Kosovo, Albanian people began to settle in the native Slavic lands in the early 18th century. The sworn enemies of the Serbs not only faithfully served the Turkish masters but also converted to Islam. Long cohabitation of Serbs-Christians and Albanians-Muslims on the familiar territory did not reduce their mutual dislike. Each of the nations considered this land to be their own. Disagreements always existed, but at the end of the XX century, the conflict broke out with new force. With Albanian nationalists' support, Kosovo's independence supporters created their government headed by Ibrahim Rugova and started a guerrilla war with a terrorist bias. In 1996, the Kosovo Liberation Army was organized, which managed to control the Republic's territory. There was no question of subordination to the legitimate government of Yugoslavia. The Serbia population was systematically squeezed out and openly exterminated. The Kosovo war with variable intensity lasted more than ten years until in 2008, the Albanian parliament of Kosovo unilaterally declared the Republic's independence. To this day, ethnic tensions have maintained an explosive environment in Kosovo.
6. The film The Balkan Line
The film "The Balkan Line" was released in wide distribution on March 21, 2019, on the twentieth anniversary of NATO's aggression against the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Coalition planes ironed Belgrade, and in Kosovo unfolded no less dramatic events, threatening a new international conflict. The world was on the verge of World War II due to Russia's aggravation and the West's relations. Perhaps the most serious since the Caribbean crisis. The events of the joint Serbian-Russian film directed by Andrey Volgin unfold against the backdrop of NATO's aggressive actions to establish democracy in the SFRY. A covert operation to seize and hold the Slatina Airport in Kosovo and a march of Russian peacekeepers to Pristina formed the basis of a military drama fighter. It is possible to argue about the film's artistic value, about the plot's plausibility, about the role of actors - Russians and Serbs, among whom two Serbian film stars, Gojko Mitic and Milos Bicovic, who played one of the leading parts, stand out. One thing remains undisputed: the Russian peacekeepers' march on Pristina became a textbook example and broke all West patterns regarding Russia's role in world politics.
7. Two languages, two faiths
The Republic of Kosovo is a territory of entangled geopolitical and ethnic contradictions, which cannot be solved without infringement of one's rights today. Kosovo today is a mixture of antagonistic cultures, languages, traditions, and beliefs. Before the war, the Republic's Serbia population was between 30 and 40 percent of the total. The military conflict of the 90s forced many Serbs to leave their homes, but even today, Kosovo has a sufficient number of people of Serbian nationality and Orthodox faith. Most of them are concentrated in enclaves, the largest of which is northern Kosovo. It is autonomy within an autonomy. There are Serbian schools and hospitals, and local elections are held, with no connection to the Albanians. The most striking example of coexistence between Muslims and Orthodox Christian is Kosovo Mitrovica, divided by the Ibar River into the Serb and Albanian parts. Kosovo also has two official languages, Albanian and Serbian. These languages duplicate all signposts in the Republic. Often, locals paint over the name of the point in a Kosovo language they find unacceptable. By the way, it is very convenient for travelers: you can always understand exactly how to behave in this territory.
8. Mentality and morals
"Skippers" - this is Kosovars' self-name, residents of the Republic of Kosovo of Albanian origin. In translation, it means "children of the eagle". With such a proud name of the national majority of the Republic could have been argued. The Albanians behaved impropriate towards the shrines and cultural values of another nation. The pillaging and destruction of Orthodox monasteries and temples have become a norm of life in Kosovo. It doesn't matter whether it's a total dislike of the Serbs or fundamental ignorance. Barbarism at all times caused the civilized man nothing but contempt and anger. While the Albanians desecrate Christian temples with persistence, worthy of better use, there are monuments of the Christian nun Mother Teresa on almost every corner of the country. And this does not cause rejection of the advocates of the Muslim faith for the simple reason that the holy matron was an Albanian by birth. Everyone smokes in Kosovo and almost everywhere. However, as well as throughout the Balkans. They drink beer, plum, and crayfish, though they are not squeamish with Russian vodka. In remote areas away from the center, people live according to ancient ancestors' precepts, according to which even nowadays there is a practice of blood vengeance, and it is necessary to marry and be married only to "their." The birth rate in the Republic is much higher than in neighboring Serbia. A large number of children is the norm here. The Republic of Kosovo does not have Kosovo currency. The Kosovars have not yet invented it. Or maybe they are delighted with the euro. After all, Kosovo and its residents survive only thanks to the European Union's financial injections, the gifts of America, and the remittances of "rich" relatives. The latter managed to settle in Germany, France, or Austria. Since 2008, Kosovo has been printing its passports, with which residents can travel to countries that have recognized the new entity's independence.
As mentioned above, many unique Orthodox cultural monuments located in Kosovo have been destroyed. They were beaten, looted, stabbed, and burned. But still, something survived. Among the sights that survived or miraculously saved, God protected the most important ones: the High Dechany Monastery and the Grachanitsa Monastery. Grachanitsa Monastery was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List and is now guarded by NATO peacekeepers. The central city of the republic, Pristina, has nothing to see. Well, if only the capital of Kosovo can enchant with its urban landscape and Clinton's figure greeting the Kosovars with a wave of his hand. But you can go to Prizren, which is the second-largest city in Kosovo. Sightseeing Prizren Fortress of the XI century, the bridge over the river Bystrica and a walk in the city will pleasantly surprise. Two national parks stand out from the natural attractions: "Char Planina" near Prizren and "Prokletie," which is located on the territory of three countries - Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro.
10. How to get to Kosovo?
So, if you have decided to get to this land of discord, and you are not afraid of neither the harsh and bloody past of the Republic nor what is happening in Kosovo - welcome! But remember: for a traveler from Russia, this will not be an easy task. And all because Russia does not recognize Kosovo independence. There are two ways for Russian citizens to get into Kosovo legally:
- to apply for a Kosovo visa, which can be obtained now only through Istanbul;
- show a passport with open multiple Schengen visas at the border when entering Kosovo.
But it will be much easier to get out of Kosovo. The Republic of Kosovo borders four countries: Serbia, Northern Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro. You will get to any of them from Kosovo without problems. Any of them, but not directly to Serbia. In this case, you will have to lay a transit route through one of the countries bordering Serbia. And everywhere you go from Kosovo, you will be better and much more comfortable. For many years, the Kosovo war has left a mark not only in people's hearts but also in the cities, villages, and nature of the country. Watch the film "The Balkan Line", and you will realize that such wounds heal for a long time.