One Day in Pristina, Kosovo

Community Highlights Europe One Day in Pristina, Kosovo

In 2015, I zigzagged my way across the Balkans, an area devastated by war and destruction in the not too distant past. Finding myself in Nis, in the south of Serbia, I decided to take the bus to Pristina in Kosovo. This decision was much to the distaste of Serbians friends, shaking their heads, urging me not to go, it was dangerous. The ongoing friction between the countries, with Serbia’s continued refusal to recognise Kosovo’s independence, further tainted by propaganda, underpinned the scorn directed towards the nation and its people. I went anyway, stayed a week and glad I did not take the advice.

The immediate cause of the conflict was Slobodan Milosevic and his oppression of the ethnic Albanians, inhabitants for the preceding decade. It was there, in Pristina, I met a young woman embracing feminism and individual identity, in a country slowly coming to grips with its recent tragic history. I met Ana on asking for directions to the ‘Newborn’ sculpture, a symbol of the new Kosovo. She was free that afternoon and offered to accompany me around town. Ana stood out from the crowd, sporting black dreadlocks, complete with several piercings and a sleeve of tattoos, in a city where modesty abounds.

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[center]Kid's at Newborn - the design is renewed every year
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Turned out she was a 19-year-old art student. Ana not only shaped her own unique style, her creativity was shared, tattooing and piercing others who craved self-expression. She was setting a trend, inspiring other young Kosovars to break the mold and embrace individuality. Walking around the city, it was obvious, Ana was pretty popular, hugging friends while introducing me.

She was itching to take me to the lesser known ‘Heroinat’ monument. Embedded with 60,000 coins, in honour of the same number of women raped during the 16-month conflict between 1998 and 99.

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She led me to parts of the city tucked away down alleyways off the main drag. We trawled charity shops searching for the quirky clothes, she often alters before stepping out with panache. Next stop was the Central Market. Thriving with folk in the search for fresh produce and anything else they needed. I even found a Kosovo fridge magnet, at the back of a dusty old stall.

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The ubiquitous paprika

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We stopped in an old traditional tea house, trying to drink from tiny glasses, too scalding hot to pick up with our fingers. She quietly urged me to look around, the tea house was clearly the domain of men and despite the looks of disapproval, Ana did not care. Being used to it, as she faced criticism daily, due to her appearance and lifestyle, in what was a conservative Muslim society.

As the call for prayer echoed over the city, she spoke about her elderly neighbours yelling 'you will rot in hell' when passing her on the street. Since she laughed telling the story, I had the sense she felt quite proud and any condemnation would only serve to make her rebel even further against the grain.

She spoke fondly of her mum, a Social Worker, who she thanked for her sound value base. The frustrations shared with Ana, about the severe lack of legal protection for women in the country, led her to campaign alongside her mum. Rates of violence against women and children, were said to be frighteningly high in Kosovo.

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Theodora, another lovely woman I met

Her mum was key in setting up the ‘Shelter for Women & Children’, in Pristina, providing refuge and advice. Ana believed the country had a prevailing patriarchal mindset and difficult economic situations, a combination that increased violence, and trapped women/children in abusive households. Acknowledging domestic violence as a global pandemic, Ana believed that many older Kosovar women as a culture, accepted violence as part of the marriage contract. Although not perfect, women fleeing abuse in the UK can at the very least, access housing and welfare benefits; whereas if a Kosovar women wants to leave and has no personal income, she is trapped.

Along with her mum and other local women, they were raising awareness in the community, domestic violence was not only wrong, but a crime. As well as trying to remove the stigma, that goes along with speaking out and reporting to the police. Women were coming forward, slowly but steadily, for advice or to seek scarce refuge space. Together they were advocating for the right to be treated with dignity and to speak for themselves, being undermined by men in their families as well as by men in public spaces.

As the day came to an end, I was reminded of Ana's urgency to show me the ‘Heroinat' monument and explain its significance. I was so glad she did. Being from Scotland where services responding to gender-based violence are more developed; meeting this young women volunteering at the grass roots level, at the very beginning of the lengthy, complex process of effecting change, in a society entrenched with misogyny, has remained with me

My one regret about that day is when I wrote Ana's e-mail address, I must have copied a letter or digit wrong, and have no way to contact her. But if ever I go back to Pristina, I am sure I will find her, after all she stands out from the crowd, in more ways than one.

This featured blog entry was written by katieshevlin62 from the blog One Day in Pristina, Kosovo.
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By katieshevlin62

Posted Fri, Apr 24, 2020 | Kosovo | Comments