Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Unmikistan

By nightfall, a heavy rain was indeed upon us. Not in Macedonia though, but in the territory which once constituted the autonomous province of Kosovo and whose citizens today carry blue passports issued by UNMIK, or “United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo” as the full name reads.

Following a series of highly debated articles in Dagens Nyheter by Maciej Zaremba, Gabriel and I decided to head north from Skopje.

After a long hour at the border post, the gate was finally raised, and with the green light our bus was allowed to continue its journey towards Pristina. Having witnessed the burgeoning affluence of Macedonia, especially around the highly scenic Lake Ohrid, we expected a sharp contrast on the other side. And of course, you do see how deep the scars go in this country, how many buildings that have been destroyed by conflict and loathing. But what is even more striking is the normality, the everyday security which the UN mission seems to have brought; children playing basketball in the streets, the latte macchiato under the trees, and the billboards advertising tripple-play (that is, broadband internet, tv and telephony in a single price plan).

Nonetheless, and especially considering that today is World Refugee Day, enormous difficulties remain. Unemployment is pervasive at around 40-50% of the labour force, 250 000 people are still refugees or displaced from the war, and corruption is endemic. And it is a tragedy everytime a great institution like the UN falls vicitim to nepotism, favoritism and mismanagement. All of which seems to have been widely practiced here in Kosovo.

Yet, it is unrealistic to expect improvements to be instantenous. It takes time to build a working democracy and a prosperous economy, and sometimes, haste can be an impediment in itself. Since the war in 1999, 30 billion euro has been spent in Kosovo, a land area about one-third the size of Nordrhein-Westfalen with no traditional industrial base. Even more problematic, the international presence has created a "mission economy" of its own with countless latte bars, "king burger"-restaurants (sic!) and internet cafés like this one. One day, when the UN eventually leaves, they will most likely leave behind a black hole. Even so, my own immediate (and obviously unscientific) assesment has to be a lot more optimistic than Zaremba's. This is a living city and I recommend everyone to come and visit it.

2 Comments:

Blogger anna weitz said...

Hej Rasmus. Hoppas ni inte svettats ihjäl. Kom precis själv hem från 4 dar i Pristina och jag håller absolut med. Grymt värt att besöka. Mitt i all absurditet sprudlar kreativiteten. Kommer absolut åka tillbaka snart...Trevlig fortsatt resa!

10:38 pm  
Blogger Anna Weitz said...

Hej Rasmus. Hoppas ni inte svettats ihjäl. Kom precis själv hem från 4 dar i Pristina och jag håller absolut med. Grymt värt att besöka. Mitt i all absurditet sprudlar kreativiteten. Kommer absolut åka tillbaka snart...Trevlig fortsatt resa!

12:09 am  

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