L, a friend working in Kosovo, sent me her story of the Kosovo Independence day, a sequel to her previous post.
Sunday morning, Feb 17 2008.
Kosovo awakens to another cold day, covered in a mantle of snow. It might be its last day as a Serbian province. We have agreed to meet for brunch in the market, at what we call "Police Avenue", right in front of the Justice and Police Department. There are a lot of known faces, internationals, some with a hangover from the day before, taking re-hydration salts to recover and get ready for today, the big day..
On Nena Theresa Street, paved a few months ago, they've been preparing since the early morning. This is where the celebration's epicenter will take place. There is a stage and stalls sell everything: food, drinks, t-shirts (damn, I didn't get a chance to get mine) and fire crackers. The first laughs, first stories of the night before come out, of how our Serbian friends are holding up, of the news that we keep getting...
None of us have the hand-held radios with us. (it's just so big and the battery doesn't last at all!!), but we're really well-connected through our mobiles. At the moment the mobile network is working, so all is well... We're sending calming messages. "Tell your mother to call mine", we laugh... Yes, the fun begins, good times...
Little by little we all start showing up and the coffee shop's filled up! Just about everything is closed and no, the stores haven't stocked up... Most of the people spend their time cruising around. In Kosovo, how do they celebrate independence? By, beeping the car horn!!
M and I have to pick up MC at the airport... He lent us his car when he was away on vacation.. It was a real trek from the OSCE parking lot, where we even seem to have trouble getting out. We don't know if the road to the airport is blocked or not. They say the road to Skopje is closed as it goes through a Serbian enclave.
We pick up MC, who's wearing a short-sleeved shirt. We drop him off at his place. While he changes, we open a bottle of sparkling wine. Then, we start making our way to the center to meet with the colleagues. We leave the car parked and walk. The happy shooting starts. You can't imagine the amount of shooting... We cut through the football field, behind the UNMIK clinic and what once was the Serbian Secret Service building. It was was bombed by NATO and is been kept as-is to mark the end of the Serbian regime. And to remember what will never be again.. The AK47 machine guns keep on blasting. What a rush, I'm not sure why but it's fascinating.
The wind slices my face. If I stay on the street one more second I'll freeze. My fingers, my toes hurt. I jump at the heater in the restaurant, again in Police Avenue, just as the police replaces the old UNMIK police flag with the KPS (Kosovo Police Service) one... People clap their hands as the flag's being raised. We smile at each other. It's impossible not to feel like we're a part of it, not be infected by the excitement and celebrations. And the shootings continue.
Sunday, Feb 17 2008, 4 PM.
We decide to go drink rajkias. We'd promised the De-rada waiters that we'd pass by and say hi... We are regulars at the De-rada brasserie. It's close to home and they've got good wine. We closed the bar on a number of occasions. The chiquitos know us, and pamper us. J and L come to join us.. We switch from rajkia to wine. The TV is on and we watch the Assembly members sign the declaration, with Thaci at the back... When the last member signs, all hell breaks loose.. Flags, music, dancing, shouting. It's really hard for us not to dance, our hands, our arms, our legs, it all moves almost against our will. It is just like in the story of the Pied Piper, we finally give in... We keep bumping into more colleagues, the desire and excitement doesn't wane in this commotion intensified by the alcohol that runs through our veins. Laughter, hugs, dancing, shouting.
We're starving so we stop at home to refuel. In a split second, M and I have organized a dinner for eight, as in the background we can hear a melange of news (in Albanian) and football. Between all of the commotion, we hear a conversation on the handheld radio. Me, as usual, can't understand a thing so M gives her callsign and asks what is going on. Apparently, they've bombed the UN/EU building in Mitrovica and there's been two people injured at Nena Theresa street due to the happy shootings.
Next stop is D's house with a balcony overlooking Nena Theresa Street. Madre mia, the excitement! The music from the stage, people are pressed against each other due to the cold, and the happiness. The whole street is filled with flags. Firecrackers exploding. We start drinking gin and tonics, and once we're warm enough, we head down to the street again to be a part of the crowd! It's been a while we've been shoving the instructions and restrictions under the heavy rug of neutrality. We just "are" at this moment! We are just as concerned for the Serbs as we are for the Albanians, but we are people with feelings and we just can't stand at one side!
We've been in touch with North Mitrovica all day and there hasn't been a problem. All is calm, so we let ourselves go, enveloped in the warmth of the alcohol, the independence, the birth of a new nation (or as the pessimists say, the confirmation of dependency). We're enveloped in the knowing that we're forming part of history, of change, of being in the middle, of the fact that tomorrow everything will be different. We are smack at the epicenter. We dance. More firecrackers...
All of the sudden, Thaci appears on stage. We don't get to see him but the roaring the crowd says it all... Kosova free, "Erime Pavaresia", "UCK". I can't help but shout it as well. I don't think. I don't want to think. I let myself get swallowed in the passion. M, MC and I hug each other. D catches it on the video camera. The fire works start. We look all over the place, euphoric, excited, freezing but happy. The day is reaching its end.
We go home, I'm a little feverish. Once inside, I keep my coat on. More gin tonic and the TV in the background. We watch the repeats of the Assembly meeting, Thaci's speeches, the EU foreign ministers, Thaci, the streets. Chatting away, tired but satisfied. We've participated in the independence of others, of friends, colleagues, of people that we've come to help. Resolution 1244 has survived an earthquake. It was set up to put an end to a state of emergency, it was meant to be temporary and has survived eight years. The problem was no-one had the courage to take a decision seven years ago and now the people have taken the step. For them, the important thing is not to be a part of Serbia. Thaci has been repeatedly saying in his speech that the rights of all minorities will be respected and protected. This speech was imposed, of course, as a condition for what he has done. So if today we are where we are, it's because of all of us.
The international community also don't know how to were this is heading. Are we heading towards a 4th Balkan war? But isn't the EU here to provide an economic solution and take us all in. The EU wouldn't let a war happen, right? But the Serbian mayors of Kosovar municipalities have said today the EU is not the only power as long as Russia and Serbia are there. There's no turning back now, there was no turning back seven years ago but what is the vested interest? There are no natural resources in Kosovo, so it's not an Iraq or a Darfur. And it's not for a small piece of land to place an off-limits military base on. So what is it? It's a lack of interest, to ensure that attention is diverted to other issues. It's nothing and it's the decadent, rotten level our politics have reached....
Monday, Feb 18 2008.
Today, there's been a demonstration in North Mitrovica. All's calm. BBC focused for a couple of seconds on the Kosovo independence and return to the elections in Pakistan. Much more important? So far, Albania and Saudi Arabia have recognized Kosovo as an independent state.
We are back at the De-rada, with CH, MC and M, when a guy walks in and announces the EU's just recognized Kosova. Cheers, shouts, dancing and rajkia for everyone. Once more. Once more: "Kosovo is independent!"
Thanks again to "L" for the story and "E" for the editing.
Pictures courtesy AP (Visar Kryeziu, Darko Bandic, Dimitri Messinis)