Day 8: Priština

pristina Yesterday I spent most of the day sitting at the internet terminal at KIM in Čaglavica catching up on e-mail and updating and finishing posts from previous days on my laptop. In many ways this was a welcome break from the last few days that have been so productive but so completely full. Once the late afternoon rolled around, however, it was time to visit Priština.

One of the staff that I had met previously but with whom I had not yet traveled took me to see Kosovo’s capitol. Although he has lived all of his life in Kosovo Polje, many of his relatives lived in the city in better days. Like most of the Serbs of Kosovo, he has a surprisingly cheerful disposition despite all he has gone through. Even when he was showing me his relatives’ old apartment buildings and businesses, he did not convey even the slightest sense of resentment.

Our first stop was to the old Christian and Jewish cemetery which is situated across the highway from an old Serbian military base. Because of its close proximity, several of NATO’s smart bombs from 1999 landed instead inside the cemetery so there is considerable damage from this period. The cemetery also, however suffers from a great deal of wanton neglect with most of the headstones overgrown with weeds and trees that have sprouted over the last 10 years. More disturbing is to clear evidence that many of the graves have been looted by local thieves. Aside from pushing over headstones and tearing out fencing, lettering from monuments have been ripped off and, in a few gross instances, capstones of graves have been opened revealing rotting coffins below.

The Jewish section of the cemetery is located in the far corner nearest to the highway. At first glance it appears that this portion of the cemetery, while crumbling and neglected, is an isolated island of tranquil tall grass outside of the jungle that is growing in the main cemetery. The problem with this first image is that of the 30 or so graves which remain, easily quadruple that number have been entirely obliterated. The remaining graves have also been defaced and capstones have been crushed. While the destruction here is nothing like the overtly hateful desecrations I saw when visiting Poland 10 years ago, it is clear that the municipality of Priština would rather see this site built over and forgotten than respectfully maintained.

But enough gore. Our next stop was downtown where my host took me around the most important parts of the city. First stop was an enormous sports complex built in the 1980s that is the most recognizable symbol of the city. Hanging over its entrance is an enormous banner of Adem Jashari, one of the KLA’s chief commanders during the war. He is the same man featured on the “Bac, U Kry!” billboards all over Kosovo. Other sites of interest included a monument to Gjergj Skanderbeg, a famous medieval Albanian rebel against Ottoman rule (who some believe to of Serbian decent), the enormous Kosovo National Library, Priština University, the offices of the Government of Kosovo, the city’s central heating plant, the hospital, and the city sports stadium, all built during the communist era. For the most part, even the large buildings that house various international organizations including UNHCR, the EULEX police, and formerly UNMIK all date back to Yugoslavia. What new construction has occurred since 1999 appears to be confined to the wealthy suburbs on the hills above downtown including most international embassies.

To me, this reality was quite remarkable. One of the most often repeated themes found in western scholarly works on Kosovo is that the province suffered from extreme neglect by Belgrade, lagging behind the rest of the country in terms of investment, economic development, and social welfare. Yet, from my admittedly brief travels around Serbia, it seems to me that Priština is no less dingy a city than any of the other major cities in the country that sprung up after the Second World War. While the city’s stark communist era architecture is not very pretty, it seems to be a testament to massive infrastructural investment Belgrade poured into at least the capitol during Yugoslavia’s rule of this area. I think it is time to reopen the file on Yugoslav era Kosovo as I have a very hard time believing that what I have read in this regard is true.

Before leaving, we took some time to see the obligatory sites honoring the United States including Bill Clinton Boulevard and the Victory Hotel. The boulevard, like much of the rest of the city, is lined on both ends with communist era apartment buildings, shops, and bars. One building has a large poster of the former US president smiling and it bears the words “Welcome to Bill Clinton Boulevard” in English and Albanian. The Victory Hotel, which I have mentioned in earlier posts, is one of the newer buildings in Priština and has a small replica of the Statue of Liberty on the roof. From here we returned to Čaglavica and called it a day.

Today I will most likely be heading back to Belgrade. Hopefully I can catch a ride to Kosovska-Mitrovica and then take the bus back north. My plans for when I get back include figuring out where I will be staying for the next few days, getting in touch with a few journalists, and contacting Serbia’s major political parties to see if I can get a few more interviews. With still almost a month left to go in my trip, it has already been incredibly productive. I hope I can keep up the momentum.

12 Responses to Day 8: Priština

  1. XY says:

    First of all, you wrote the whole story based on the propaganda you collected from Cagllavica Serbs. It is Serb propaganda only to say Skanderbeg was of “Serb” descent. Second, what you’ve seen in Pristina-is not built from Belgrade. Instead, in the name of Kosovo, Belgrade took the money from Federation to invest in itself. Barely, 20% of that money reached Kosovo. The parole was: “Trepca (rich Kosovo mine) works-Belgrade is being built”. Belgrade regime used to take from Kosovo, not invest. Next time, meet the other side, balance the story and it will not look like Serb propaganda!

    • Alissa says:

      Hi XY–

      Who are you, if I may ask? I am currently in Prishtina, pursuing my doctoral research on 20th Century Kosovar Jewry…. You seem to have a lot of information at hand. 😉

      • Shlomo says:

        Miss/Ms. Alissa,
        I`m researcher of history of Jews in Kosovo and Metohija. If you`re still interested in topic you mentioned above, you can contact me by mail:
        If you finished your PhD thesis it would be more then nice to forward it to me. I`ll be very,very gratefull to you!
        Wishing you all the best,
        cordialy regards,
        Milos Damjanovic

  2. arielzellman says:

    XY, yes the story of Skanderbeg’s lineage may be Serbian propaganda, on par with Albanian claims that Milos Obilic was Albanian. The cultural appropriation of historical heroes is a common trope among all nationalists.

    Re: development in Pristina, it may be that the funds which payed for such development came from mining in the province (the most productive mines located north of the Ibar). That funds from natural resource development would be collected and then allocated and disbursed by Belgrade is a common feature of federal governance. That such funds were unfairly and disproportionally spent on the development of Belgrade itself is a complaint common to all regions outside the capital.

    However, Pristina is far from “underdeveloped” in the sense that it has infrastructure on par with or greater than many of the larger cities in Serbia. This infrastructure was almost entire developed under the period of communist rule, when Belgrade was the capital of Yugoslavia. These are facts, not propaganda.

  3. XY says:

    Again, The archives exists to prove what nationality was Skanderbeg. Don’t fall on Serb propaganda! There are NO archives to prove what nationality was Obilic. If you didn’t know Obilic is surname invented later by Serbs, the right name of the guy was Kopilic. See Noel Malkolm: Kosovo, short history. Albanians may claim he was Albanian, although he might have been Albanian or Hungarian, but not a Serb. The guys last name was changed to resemble the Serb word Obilje and to connect him with Serbs.

    AS for the investments-I think I know them better as I spent all my life in Kosovo. The developed republics, Slovenia and Croatia, gave money for the poor regions, Kosovo, Bosnia and Macedonia. That money never reached Kosovo. It ended in Belgrade. When Slovenia invested to built the Ljubljanska Banka (today OSCE building) in Pristina, Belgrade protested and for years articles and debates went on, saying Pristina doesn’t deserve such a modern building because it doesn’t match the town!!! I can assume the stories you were told in Caglavica! All I said is-listen to other side before going and saying in public things, you only heard of from one side.

  4. XY says:

    On last part of your comment: Don’t know which year you visited Pristina- whole quarters of Pristina, now modern ones, were built after 1999, so be careful! On the other hand, the old building such Youth Palace, National Library and similar were built with citizens (Pristina citizens paid taxes to build these building) money. Belgrade gave nothing!

  5. arielzellman says:

    XY, thank you for the interesting perspectives. Again, the point re: Skanderbeg and Obilic are irrelevant in the sense that historical figures are only as meaningful as people make them. My understanding is that very few *mainstream* Serbs or Albanians care to claim each others’ respective national heroes. Rather, in terms of Kosovo, they seem to care more about the macrohistory of the territory, which is clearly culturally contested.

    Re: investment, I visited both the “old quarter” and the more modern areas and mostly skipped the suburbs. The question re: the direction of tax dollars comes down to whether these monies were collected by and then redistributed by the provincial government in Pristina or the federal government in Belgrade. I would be quite interested in reading any data or sources you have in this respect.

  6. XY says:

    Sir, historical figures are meaningful for what they have done, not for as people make them. FYI-Albanians never claimed dinasty Karadjordje, it is Serb historians themselves to admit they are of Albanian origine. While, Serbs went so far as to claim even Mother Teresa.

    Investment- Your friends from KIM, (Vorgucic? Rakocevic? Ah, know them well) sent you to see the Serbian graveyard so you can touch their victimhood sense. If they wanted you to see Jews graveyard, well taken care from Albanians, they would have taken you in Taslixhe, where Jews graveyard is. Obviously, they didn’t wanted you to see that. The renovation of Jews graveyard took place after the war and it was led by Murteza Studenica, Head of Albanian-Jews Community here.
    Answer: The tax money was collected and distributed by provincial government. The money allocated by Federation to Kosovo, for the last time, was to be collected by Belgrade and as I said earlier mostly remained there and never ended in Kosovo. You can read data and you can directly contact Riinvest group: and ask professionals to explain you why Kosovo was poorest part of ex-Yu and check my story with them. Finally, be sure that I am not suprised what were the stories you heard from above mentioned people. These are the very same guys that walk in Pristina streets, have coffee in Albanian restaurants, speaking all the time in Serbian ( on what they have full rights) and than go back to the station and make stories about lack of freedom of movement for Serbs in Pristina.
    I am not trying to change your mind on anything! I only suggested you go there and see what the other side has to say. You can start from the Jews owned Bakery Odissey in Pristina downtown.
    Stay well!

  7. arielzellman says:

    XY, thank you again for your thoughts and for the link. I am not certain to which Serbian historians you are referring who claim they are of Albanian origin. Given that both groups have rather distinct cultures, languages, and national histories, this seems more than a bit implausible. To say that the Jewish cemetery was “renovated” is taking more than a bit of creative license. I will happily check data available from Riinvest. Best wishes and thank you for reading.

  8. XY says:

    The Jewish cemetry was cleaned up, fenced and stones put in their place-that is what “renovation” meant. They were in miserable situation before 1999.
    It would be interesting for you to search how Jewish are treated in Serbia and especially in Vojvodina. Similar as Albanians, if you know what I mean! Check Stromfrontwhite Forum Serbia and SF Europe-you will see what Serbs think of Jewish and Albanian people! Than, you will understand things better! Shalom and Goodby!

  9. arielzellman says:

    XY, if you are aware of any documentation which demonstrates that the cemetery was actually desecrated prior to 1999, I would be interested to see it. From my extensive contact with the Jewish community in Serbia, it seems to me that Jews have been treated rather well at least relative to many other locales in Eastern Europe.

    While anti-Semitism is certainly still prevalent in Serbia, this is true in much of Europe. It is also certainly true that there is more than a fair amount of anti-Albanian sentiment felt by Serbs. However, to use Stormfront as an exemplar of how Jews and Albanians are perceived by Serbs would be as ridiculous as to rely on UCK literature to ascertain Albanians’ views on other ethnicities.

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