PRISTINA — Kosovo’s new capital awoke to a city-wide hangover after its delirious denizens marked independence with an all-night city-wide party.
The muezzin’s dawn tannoy-call to prayer was a wake-up call reminder that Europe’s would-be newest state is a Muslim country.
But to see the boisterous celebrations rocking the capital streets on Sunday, after a special session of parliament called the Republic of Kosovo into being, it seems that the population looks west to New York and Los Angeles, rather than east to Mecca.
At a giant metallic sign reading ‘NEWBORN’ just down the street from the UN mission HQ in Pristina, at 11pm Sunday night saw hundreds of teenaged and 20-something Kosovars, male and female, drinking on the streets and dancing to Tupac Shakur’s California Love.
Here couples hold hands and show the same public affection as in most Western countries. The garb here is denim and leather, rather than burka and jellaba. All over Pristina are posters emblazoned ‘Thank You’ and addressed to the US and Britain, seen as the driving force behind the 1999 NATO intervention that drove out Slobodan Milosevic’s army and brutal paramilitaries, and paved the way for Sunday’s declaration.
With cars and buildings covered with stars and stripes, only second to the red and black Albanian flag, the “Death to America” chants associated with Muslim countries elsewhere are a world away from Pristina.
To Bardha Ajvazi, a student working part-time at the Hotel Plaza: “The US — and the western countries — were like an extra arm for us.”
She added: “Americans helped us get our freedom, and since then have helped the poor people here with financial assistance.”
More than 50% of the population is under 25 and unemployment is about 55%. This new country is highly dependent on donor subvention (about 35% of GDP) and needs political stability as a prerequisite for investment.
Kosova’s new republic is not yet viable as a stand-alone state. But that is for another day, and in the early hours of Monday morning, the heaving throngs in the Hotel Illiria, fuelled by Peja (Kosova’s local beer) danced cheek-by-jowl, wrapped in a mixture of Albanian, American and British flags, while outside the -15ºC chill was punctuated by firecrackers and Kalashnikov rounds.
Less visible so far is the new official Kosova flag, six gold stars and a similarly-hued silhouette of Kosova on a blue background, lifted from the flag of the EU hoping to send its 1,800-strong battery of lawyers and police, a continuation-of-sorts of the UN mission that ran Kosovo as a protectorate since 1999.
Although there is some ambivalence locally toward the incoming “EULEX” mission, locals are realistic about the need for continued western support.
Ajavzi comments: “The EU will hopefully continue the good side of international help, we know that we haven’t got the trained people to run our country yet.”
The “LEX” appellation refers to the old Latin word for law, harking back to the time when Kosova was a Roman province and, later, a Catholic stronghold, before the conquering Ottoman Turks made Albanians become Muslims.
But this Western heritage has not been forgotten. Though born in Skopje, Macedonia, Blessed Mother Teresa ranks alongside former Communist strongman Enver Hoxha as one of the most famous Albanians of the 20th Century.
Her life-size bronze likeness stands on Mother Teresa Street, the main boulevard in Pristina, and epicentre of yesterday’s celebrations.
The statue shows her resting a hand on the shoulder of a Calcutta street orphan, while the child looks up at the humanitarian as if for guidance. An apt symbol, in reverse, for the new Republic of Kosova, which will look to western support as it endures the birth-pangs of sovereignty and the diplomatic storm over recognition.Show