That’s what we said when we inadvertently checked out of Montenegro & found ourselves at the gate to Serbia. Knowing that it doesn’t recognise Kosovo we returned to the Monetenegro exit and begged and pleaded to be let back in so we could drive 40kms to the gate to Kosovo. The Montenegrian Policia obliged, damned the “politico” of the area and we were soon on our way. Sorry Serbia, but we’ve been there, done that – even met the Deputy PM of the country during our traverse of 2005. Kosovo holds much more interest for us on this trip.
So down out of the hills and on to the plains of Kosovo at last. Off out east we head and then into view comes the capital Prishtina – but it’s shrouded in thunder clouds and lightning – so we shelter on a service station forecourt for an hour to miss the worst of it. Back into the traffic and it’s now rush hour and total gridlock – we weave in and out all the way down Bill Clinton Boulevard, and it feels like for another hour that my GPS just says “East on Bill Clinton”. Was thinking what Hillary might think of that, when we came up behind the Monyca bus and my mind moved on.
The Kosovo conflict was mainly after the Croatian and Bosnian ones were wrapped up in 1995. Again it was against the Serb (and Montenegrin) forces but the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was backed by ground troops from Albania and air support from NATO. The same theme prevailed as in the two earlier conflicts, the desire for self-determination and not to swap one Federation (Yugoslavia) for another strident, fervent nationalistic-ridden successor. So this time there was no success for those whose lust for a Greater Serbia consumes them to such a degree that war crimes and abuse of human rights on a grand scale is “condition normal”.
The result after 18 months was that by 1999 Kosovo is the 7th post-Yugoslavia State – no matter what those pushing for a “Greater Serbia” want. And man are the folks of Kosovo happy about that, everywhere we go people here think of Bill Clinton as a god and that America is already great. His picture on billboards and American flags waving from rooftops can still be seen. Reminds me a lot of the Thatcher memorabilia that adorns Port Stanley in the Falklands.
But old animosities don’t die that easily do they? The Serbs are just over them there hills, the Barbarians remain at the gate. And importantly Putin is strongly opposed to Kosovo’s secession – he argues that it would set a precedent that makes it impossible to argue that the various ethnic groups of the North Caucuses cannot justify independence. So it’s an impasse – Serbia and Russia opposed, the West are the proponents. This remains another potential Balkan flash point.
The statistics say Kosovo is 95% Muslim but as in Bosnia, religious practice here is light, attendance at mosques meagre. This is a secular state, no theocracy.