Research for Hannah and Hanna in Dreamland

26 October 15
Fly into Pristina airport at 6.00pm. The 45 minute ride to Hotel Parlament in the centre of Pristina costs only 13 euros. The hotel is clean and simple and 100 yards from the parliament building. The only thing that recalls the former Yugoslavia is the low wattage of the lighting- that, and the strong smell of wood smoke in the night air. It’s thirty years since I was in this part of the world and this is my first visit to Kosovo.

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I read my old Rough Guide to Yugoslavia (1986) before I left England, quite a historical document now. Its ‘Introduction to Kosovo’ opens:

‘Although a province of Serbia, Kosovo is less explored, more politically unstable and immeasurably poorer than just about anywhere else in Yugoslavia.’

It goes on to say about Pristina:

‘…along the main street are sky-scraping banks, the gleaming new Grand Hotel and a space-age university library. The standing joke among Albanians (85% of the population) is that the one thing that these buildings have in common is lack of what they’re supposed to have: the banks have no money, the library has no books and the hotel rarely puts up any guests. Stroll around the old town and you’ll immediately see why people are bitter. A miserable shambles of mud shacks and broken-down terraces, its cracked and subsiding facades look as if they’ve just (and only just) survived an earthquake. Children crawl through the streets in rags, beggars sit resigned to their fate and in the market lean peasants perch on crates to sell handfuls of spring onions. Vast injections of cash haven’t changed these people’s lives, and Pristina is a sad indictment of Belgrade’s lack of concern and sensitivity for Kosovo as a whole.’

Well, it got a whole lot worse before it got better.

From 1990, Serbia applied increasing pressure on the majority Albanian population in Kosovo. Albanian Kosovans lost their rights to education, welfare and to employment. In 1998, Milosevic, the president of Serbia, unleashed a bombing campaign with the strategic aim of taking over the entire state of Kosovo and making it part of a greater Serbia. During this time, a large number of Kosovan teenagers were sent to the UK or USA to work, safe from the extreme discrimination/apartheid that was now rife at home. Many 40 year olds that you meet now in Kosovo received their education in the houses of neighbours where teachers set up temporary schools because all Albanian secondary school pupils were banned from attending their now almost empty local schools. During the war, almost a million ethnic Albanians fled Kosovo. Britain under Tony Blair initiated the intervention that stopped the Serbs. To this day, Kosovans love and respect Britain and the USA for their part in the country’s liberation. There is a boulevard named after Tony Blair and, nearby, a huge statue of Bill Clinton.

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