Kosovo in Perspective
I’m very lucky to do the work that I do. I am also very lucky to be able to write and perform my own music. At midnight last night I flew back into Manchester through the Bonfire Night firework haze. The last time I went to Kosovo was five days after the vote to leave the European Union. I was training management and export consultants on how to trade with the EU, and Iceland had beaten England the previous evening. I had predicted both of those things and apparently if I was a betting man I could have won €50,000. I don’t bet.
On that visit I stayed in (at best) an average quality UN approved hotel in the middle of Pristina, and it felt like I was its only guest. The Chinese-made double shower unit with all the bells and whistles you could possibly not want (including a radio that seemed only to play Albanian folk music), actually didn’t work. Not at all. However I really could not be arsed re-packing all my clothes and moving rooms so I stuck it out for the three days I spent there. I started writing this as I waited in Munich Airport for nearly 8 hours for my Pristina connection. As the flight time approached the gate became swamped with Chinese travellers who were perhaps going to Pristina to maintain or repair all the non-functional ‘his and her’ shower units?
My colleague for three days of training delivery is a fantastic guy from Skopje over the border in Macedonia. It is the second time we have worked together so after the initial greetings and programme we turned to thoughts of having a beer later and where we were each staying in the city. The conversation quickly turned to his frustration with a Chinese-made shower, and its ability only to play Albanian folk music! Meanwhile at my superior hotel in a part of town unaccustomed to hotels, I found that once again I was having problems with my shower. Its temperature settings appeared to be Quite Cold, Cold, and Fucking Cold. Then I noticed a red pull chord and immediately an alarm sounded!
Kalin rolled up outside the lobby at 8:30am on Saturday morning. As I sat waiting in the lobby, I saw three Kosovan men battling with what looked like a trolley of broken pallets. They were the only people on the streets at that time in this down at heel but wonderful city. I watched as they struggled to keep the thing upright until they disappeared into the distance. We later observed these same three Kosovans battling not with a trolley but balancing the broken pallets on a wheelbarrow. They crossed the road in front of us and took their precarious load between two decorative gate columns, whereupon both the barrow and its dilapidated load collapsed. What struck me was the contrast. We suits on our way to the office to be important compared with the three workers struggling with inadequate equipment to deliver their substandard load, for what purpose we could only speculate: physical evidence of a widening social gulf even between those who have a modest something and those who really do have nothing. And then there are rich people who avoid and evade tax.
With Kosovo there is the additional perception of danger to throw into the equation. There are still conflicts around the place and the whole Balkan region struggles with political stability, but Pristina is a safe, vibrant city with one of the warmest populations you will ever meet. Kosovans are genuinely tired of being associated with a war that happened 20 years ago, raw though it still may be in a number of the delegates lives. These are positive, intelligent people with a work ethic and language skills that put our own to shame, and a hunger for knowledge and a deep wish to leave those troubled times behind.
One of the training delegates has produced a genius system for finding up to date and accurate data about EU countries, so I gave him some time to demonstrate what it could do. As he was disconnecting his machine he told me he also played guitar and liked to sing Albanian folk songs. He asked me if I had heard of a particular massacre that happened in Kosovo back in the war years. I said I’d heard of several but could not be sure of that one. Three of his uncles were apparently taken away and killed along with many other friends and villagers. At first I didn’t know how to react because this lovely thirty-something guy was welling up, and so was I. How could I possibly understand what that had done to his family? After a short silence I thanked him for sharing such a difficult story, and the conversation switched back to talking about music. There is a wonderful conclusion to this story so keep looking in.