Protests on the street in Iraq remind me of Kosovo. Thousands of people are out on the streets demanding water and electricity, the essential commodities that should be available to every society that wants them. But if things there follow the same path they did in Kosovo, Iraqis need not hold their breath. Four years after the war, Kosovo still suffers from these very same problems. My last two days there were almost unbearable. KEK (Kosova Electric Company) suddenly changed the schedule for rationing electricity. I am only repeating what locals told me — they claim there is a schedule for the power cuts, but internationals have never heard of such a thing. In any case, the alleged schedule went as follows: one hour of electricity, and six hours off. I wish that had been the schedule, actually, but it didn’t really follow that pattern. We were forced to leave the office early because our most powerful generators ran out of fuel; coffee shops everywhere closed and our lifeline was thus cut off; there were few internet cafes, all of them packed with bored teenagers; and, of course, record high temperatures made the whole experience even more exciting.
The sight on the streets was disturbingly amusing. It was no different than any other time we had power cuts, but these days the chaos and hazard were prolonged. There were no streetlights to organize the traffic, resulting in highly congested intersections that pedestrians had to carefully assess before attempting to cross the street. As usual, the city hummed with the usual buzz of hundreds of generators. On the bright side, though, the CD street vendors that line the sidewalks across town couldn’t blast Turkish and Albanian pop at excessive volumes. This offered the only relief, along with the ice-cold water that still managed to reach our apartment on its usual schizophrenic schedule. It was a good substitute for an early morning, “wake-up” coffee.
Life goes on in Pristina in this very same way, day after day and season after season. Winters go by with longer power cuts, a situation that my Venezuelan-tempered body cannot imagine. There are no ATM machines which allow you to access bank accounts outside of Kosovo and no credit cards are accepted anywhere. Bank queues are out of this world in the one bank that sells and cashes travellers’ checks, the direct result of a single office in Pristina with thousands of clients and an incompetent staff of three that never once managed to figure out my passport number (it is clearly printed on the top of every single one of its pages).
Yet, there are no Kosovars out on the streets protesting or demanding these precious commodities. And when UN staff members think of the prospect of moving to an Afghanistan or an Iraq, most of them are worried and displeased. For all its problems and inefficiencies, Kosovo can be a charming place. People are warm and friendly, and helpful whenever they can be (which is rarely, unfortunately). They make you take off your shoes before entering the house and offer you cute, comfortable slippers instead. They know how to make coffee and love to drink it in pleasant cafes all over town, they give you free dessert sometimes in restaurants, and they make wonderful white cow’s milk cheese. They sell extremely cheap burned CD’s everywhere that cater to all tastes and they treat their guests wonderfully. They also like Venezuelan soap operas and many of them fearlessly practice their newly acquired Spanish skills with anyone who will listen and understand them. The country itself has some beautiful scenery to offer, including waterfalls, mountains, valleys, etc, all within a two-hour drive, at most.
I wonder if Kosovars wouldn’t be better off if they decided to go out and protest, to publicly express what they all maintain in private conversations. Or maybe they would be better off if they learned to be less accepting of their inefficiencies and more demanding of their leaders and future generations, especially if they want the international community to take them seriously. Nobody knows the recipe for fixing Kosovo, but I hope it manages to keep moving forward; it would be a waste to see such a place remain stagnated, or worse yet, to fall into another violent situation. I wish all Kosovars the best of luck.
Posted By Claudia Zambra (Kosovo)
Posted Aug 23rd, 2003