Unrecognizable Kosovo

Yesterday I spent the day in Kosovo, from early morning until 6:00 pm.

Entering northern Kosovska Mitrovica I had the feeling that I was part of a CNN news video — everything looks just like it has on the news.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find what appears to be a relatively normal life there:  little shops with interesting goods, open air greengrocers with artistically arranged peppers and tomatoes, cafes serving typical-looking customers, drinking coffee, smoking, lazily chatting, and people on the go on the streets…going to work, shopping, stopping to talk to someone they met on the street.  One would hardly be able to tell that this part of Mitrovica is a war-weary zone where people are still under direct threat from the Albanians just on the other side of the bridge dividing Mitrovica into two ethnic halves.

Passing over that same bridge our minivan was pulled over and we were kept waiting while  our driver’s papers were examined by the Albanians in charge there — just a bit of muscle flexing on their part because there was nothing to hold him for.  It was then that I saw the first couple of international soldiers who were standing there at the same spot, doing who knows what….perhaps merely giving weight to the authority of the Albanians acting as officials.  I had seen one KFOR vehicle almost immediately after entering the Serbian part of Mitrovica, but the soldiers were few and far between.

Arriving in Gracanica, I was taken aback at how hectic and bustling the place was.  Traffic immediately in front of the monastery is very fast and constantly moving.  You can take your life into your hands trying to cross the narrow street to go through the monastery gates.  But inside the gates, one is in another world.  A monastic world, with the chaos left behind.  We had a parastos for my dad there.  Father Arandjel held a beautiful service for us.

Soon afterwards we visited the cemetery in Caglavica to remind ourselves about our ancestors who had fought against so much during their lifetimes and survived, when Serbian culture and the Serbian people triumphed over many evils.  This time, though, I fear they have lost the battle.  Everywhere, including the village of Caglavica, there is evidence of Albanian domination and discrimination against Serbs.  As I write this, Albanians are infiltrating this Serbian village with the obvious intention of taking it over and driving out the Serbs who have lived there for dozens of generations.  And even those who have stood up, stood firm, and refused to leave their family land right through today are now thinking again, demoralized, dejected, and ready…almost ready…to give up.  Powers such as the Turks, the Fascists and the Communists could not bring the Serbs of Caglavica to their knees, but Albanians supported by the great powers of the West have accomplished what even Hitler couldn’t do…and now Hitler’s work is almost done.  I imagine he is having a good chuckle somewhere, considering how his former enemies have completed one of his specific goals — stealing Kosovo from the Serbs and handing it over to the Albanians.

Kosovo is thriving on the surface, but upon closer inspection one finds that the only construction, other than private Albanian houses that are littered all over the landscape, is apartment blocks and roads.  This indicates what we already know, that more and more outside officials will be coming and moving around Kosovo to maintain the facade that Kosovo is an independent state, when, in fact, it is incapable of either supporting or administering itself.

I hadn’t seen Kosovo for many years, and this visit has taken away my desire to see it again any time soon.  Kosovo today is the opposite of the culturally rich place it once was.  Today it is a soulless, unkempt place…shallow…gaudy and, sadly,….ugly.


Everyday Belgrade

A normal weekday in Belgrade, the weather still overcast with occasional drizzle, but the streets are lively.  This city is an eclectic mixture of classical architecture and modern, upbeat cafes that could be straight out of Manhattan or San Francisco.  Young and old are on the sidewalks, stopping at the kiosks for a newspaper, a magazine, a packet of cigarettes (oh, yes, they still smoke like fiends, but it’s getting better — nowadays you can find “no smoking” areas in cafes).

Belgrade bustles with activty, every few seconds another tram or bus passes by.  The smell of coffee and pastries or pizza or traditional cheese pies or fruit pies greet you every few hundred yards.  Most places are teaming with customers.  It’s an up and coming city…well, Belgrade always was, but somehow it is now even more so.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there is now an underground railway in this city — very modern and clean, very cool, and quite deep underground as you go down the escalators.  This subway system will take you to Pancevo or toward Smederevska Palanka.

The St. Sava Church being built in Belgrade is an amazing sight to behold.  It is enormous and wonderous inside.  Still unfinished, the building’s basic structure is there, as are the very tall windows and the impressive altars.  It is quite evident that it will be an almost other-wordly place when it is completed and that it is large enough to hold thousands of worshippers at one time.  As impressive as it is even now, it is bound to be very inspiring once completed.

Beautiful Rainy Belgrade

Belgrade is lovely in the rain.  The locals might not think so while getting wet, but I found it attractive despite the weather.