KOSOVO 2.0 PEOPLE/POLITICS/SOCIETY/ARTS/CULTURE #2 WINTER 2011/2012
CORR UPTION OUR CROOKED STATE CORRUPTION FOR DUMMIES BRIBING TO THE FINISH LINE CRUISE THE VILLAGE CIRCUIT KOSOVO: € 3,- ELSEWHERE: € 6,-/ $ 8,-
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR BESA LUCI
— ABOUT A WEEK BEFORE CLOSING THIS ISSUE, I took a law student friend up on her offer to visit some of the photocopy shops around her school. With her guidance, I made a few purchases: a 1-euro handout with review questions for “Criminal Law,” a 70-cent script for “Administrative Laws” and a 30-cent test for “Constitutional Law.” Then for 15 cents, I managed to turn the 30-cent test into what is called a “40 percent copy,” an incredibly small item with an even smaller font that enables students to use them as cheat sheets and pass by unnoticed. That University of Prishtina students choose to prepare for exams through condensed scripts or handouts, rather than by reading textbooks, shows laziness. And that private businesses, which are seen as a means to economic and social prosperity, remain unchecked in their questionable practices, that’s something more problematic: corruption (see “Privatization’s false promise,” Page 61). Going to the trouble of making copies for academic achievement speaks to a larger hurdle facing this country: A system has been created where survival depends on a practice of cheating and corruption, where everyone is constantly looking to cut corners. Education is just a part of it, but it offers an interesting entry point to revealing the extent of the interdependence among nepotism, and financial and political embezzlement. Just this past November, the municipal public procurement in the city of Peja proved beyond a reasonable doubt that eight officials of the Faculty of Applied Business Science and 37 former students had falsified official documents, accepted bribes, unlawfully registered and graduated hundreds of students, falsified grades and many more offenses. As a result, media reported that the Kosovo state budget was “damaged” for nearly 1 million euro. But what this report and the language of reporting on corruption leave undisclosed is that Kosovo’s budget is the money of its citizens, and when “the budget is damaged,” in fact, we are damaged. Essentially, the taxes we pay are being abused. In Kosovo, meritocracy has ceased, or, rather, it does not exist. While corruption in all its forms is a worldwide phenomenon, what has seemingly become particular for Kosovo is a promotion of the idea that nothing can be achieved without having or knowing which strings to pull, or, as it’s said in Albanian, a ki lidhje? As such, incentive is lost at the start. Students get trapped as political parties battle to spread and secure control in decision-making positions from lower to higher educational structures. Meanwhile, Kosovo is establishing a youth base with a low quality of educational inputs and low civic participation, inept to face the challenges that lie ahead. We decided to dedicate most of our second issue to corrup-
tion because its pervasiveness in daily public discourse has omitted responsibility and accountability and it has muddled our roles as citizens. A great example of this muddling became apparent to me at a presentation in Prishtina about social-media tools that fight corruption, including Bribespot.com (see “Userdriven tools take corruption fight online,” Page 50), which allows users to submit location-based bribe reports online, thus mapping out corruption. A young man in his early 20s questioned the efficiency of such tools to monitor corruption by saying that in Kosovo, this would provide a guide about where to go to get stuff done “quickly.” The increased number of stories on corruption published annually is measured as increased public awareness; international donor availability of funds for civil society corruption-monitoring projects is confused for genuine incentive from the ground up; politicians trivially claiming a sincere and robust approach to eliminating corruption make headlines, while they rarely face real consequences for their own transgressions; international supervisory organizations point out to how corruption has become a major obstacle to Kosovo’s Euro-Atlantic integration efforts, but pick and choose when to become silent and when to scold. In this issue, we try to assemble the puzzle pieces, stories and experiences from diverse corners of the world, while trying to point to the intersections — between India’s drug industry and Kosovo’s pharmaceutical practices, the Afghan war zone and Kosovo’s northern interventions, awareness-raising in Bulgaria and the tale of the Balkan Robin Hood via Montenegro — while locating justice engagement in Kosovo (see our cover story, “No one to blame when everyone is at fault,” Page 34). Going back to education, the public as well as many of the private universities in Kosovo are largely perceived as having been transformed into machines that delay response to unemployment. With about 9,000 students accepted annually just to the University of Prishtina, young people come to lack motivation and only pursue a diploma, predisposing Kosovo to creating an educated generation, but one ill-prepared for the current (almost nonexistent) labor market. In November, Prishtina daily Koha Ditore reported that the University of Prishtina paid 1.5 million euro in salaries just for October, out of the total 15.6 million-euro budget. Members of the upper management (rectors, deans, etc.) received sums from 2,000 to almost 7,000 euro for their “extracurricular” activities at the university, such as sitting at Ph.D. committee meetings and working groups. In public and private sectors, it appears that corruption has become the norm rather than the exception. It’s no wonder students are earning their degrees at the copy machine. — K
KOSOVOTWOPOINTZERO MAGAZINE CORRUPTION â€” #2 2011/2012
09 YOUR GUIDE TO CORRUPTION Follow our good friend Corruption through his life and read a step-by-step guide to overcoming his advances.
CORRUPTION FOR DUMMIES.
THE GRAY AREA
Lawlessness rules the unclaimed north between Kosovo and Serbia.
BUSING THROUGH CORRUPTION Participants in the 16,000-kilometer Mongol Rally discover that bribery is as essential as gas.
COVER STORY: CORRUPTION IN ALL CORNERS The seeds of scandal have risen to become the fundamental pillars of Kosovo.
WEB OF CORRUPTION Bribe- and graft-reporting online tools work in India and other countries. What about in Kosovo?
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CULTURAL CONUNDRUM Politics, personalities are chipping away at arts institutions.
THE NEW KILLER DRUGS Heroin production drops, but prescription narcotic use rises up in a deadly shift.
THE PRIVATIZATION DEBACLE
Reclassifying public and socially owned enterprises in Kosovo hasn't been as smooth as imagined.
SPEND A DAY IN PRISHTINA We take you inside the city on a pleasure-filled mission for the best the capital has to offer.
THE WAR WE DON'T KNOW Reporting from Afghanistan is hard; reporting the truth in a time of war is harder.
XXHOURS KOSOVO 2.0
AND MORE... 92
PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST Rron Qena's works inspire and inform while never falling victim to common perception.
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
REVISITING A MOVEMENT'S ROOTS
BY THE NUMBERS: KOSOVO'S BANKING SYSTEM
LIMAJ CASE IN SPOTLIGHT
54 58 83
JOIN US, ACROSS KOSOVO 2.0 offers a photo guide to getting around, from village to village.
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Besa Luci explains the thinking behind the Corruption issue. Nonviolence rose up in response to Milosevic's cruel reign. Take an in-depth look at financial statistics in our infographic. Disgraced former transport minister has come to symbolize the trying fight against corruption.
INTEGRITY COMES AT A COST Fighting corruption isn't easy, especially for Balkan civil society organizations.
INSIDE THE MIND OF CORRUPTION Robin Hood? Not in the former Yugoslavia.
KOSOVARS IN A WAR ZONE Afghanistan can be a great place to work, minus the constant dangers.
REVIEW: 'KANGE E VENE'
THE CORE OF PRISHTINA'S MUSIC SCENE
Genc Salihu's latest album demands a refined ear. Rock 'n' roll is more than the sum of its instruments, says musician Genc Salihu.
KOSOVO'S CORRUPTION COSTS Editorial: The pillars of power will continue to be plagued by illegal acts, but we must stand and fight.
NO ONE TO BLAME WHEN EVERYONE IS AT FAULT IN KOSOVO, RESPONSIBILITY FOR CORRUPTION IS AS ELUSIVE AS THE MECHANISMS TO FIGHT IT ARE IMPOTENT TEXT BY SADIE LUETMER / PHOTOS BY ATDHE MULLA
— There were conflicting accounts of Maliqi’s dismissal: Some said he had quit; others said it was deemed best by higher authorities. But Maliqi took his case public quickly, appearing on TV to state in certain terms that he did not choose to be relieved of his command.
—WHEN I MET RESHAT MALIQI he was clad in a windbreaker and jeans, a humble contrast to the crisp uniforms I’d found pictured in my research. He spoke with a deeply furrowed brow, his rounded shoulders hunched over his elbows, fingers agitating on a table in a dimly lit pizza parlor at the bottom of Prishtina’s Sunny Hill. Maliqi told me that nearly two weeks earlier, while he still ran the Kosovo Police Service as general director, he was having coffee with a neighbor in this very spot when his daughter phoned. “Are you watching TV?” she asked, according to Maliqi. “They’re saying the prime minister has decided to remove you from the position of general director.” “Maybe that’s a joke,” he replied. It wasn’t. News of Maliqi’s demotion came on the night of July 25, as Kosovo police commandos undertook an operation to seize control of two border-crossings in the disputed north of the country and enforce a trade embargo on Serbia. The action in the predom-
inantly Serb region triggered a wave of unrest, during which a sniper fatally shot a police officer. Maliqi had taken part in the planning earlier that year, but had serious disagreements — most notably with Prime Minister Hashim Thaci — with how to carry it out. He believed in the idea of Kosovo asserting its sovereignty over the power vacuum present in the north, but he sensed that to take Border Gates 1 and 31 with Kosovar forces alone was unlikely to be successful. He had instead proposed to go public and notify all parties involved (including Serbia) that the mission was going to take place. “For what reason to keep that in secret?” According to Maliqi, he’d met with KFOR and EULEX on the matter, though not divulging details of the mission. Maliqi said that in the meetings, while EULEX was resistant, KFOR offered support. Yet despite any diplomatic headway there may have been to be had, Thaci wanted to go it alone, Maliqi said, with nothing in his way. Ultimately, Kosovo’s top police official was taken out of the loop on perhaps the most sensitive and dangerous mission the Kosovo Police
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Service had ever undertaken. “He did as he wanted,” Maliqi said of Thaci. A DEMOTION STEEPED IN POLITICS There were conflicting accounts of Maliqi’s dismissal: Some said he had quit; others said it was deemed best by higher authorities. But Maliqi took his case public quickly, appearing on TV to state in certain terms that he did not choose to be relieved of his command. Maliqi had been cordial and professional when we arranged the interview over the phone. I remember being mildly surprised as I searched out the pizza parlor he suggested; it was dark and informal, but popular. I started delicately with my questions, conscious of small groups eating quietly at nearby tables, but Maliqi’s frustration was palpable. It quickly became evident he was there to share the missing details that glared harshly from his angle of reflection; clearly from his view, he’d been left in the cold staring back at himself on the darkly tinted side of the glass. I put down my coffee for a moment. “Why?” I asked. 7
— Maliqi’s situation isn’t an anomaly. Elbowing out public servants that don’t serve the interests of a ruling administration is an all-too-common story, and not just in Kosovo.
“Without any reason,” Maliqi said. “That is all. Without any explanation, without any, any rights.” Three days after Maliqi unceremoniously discovered his termination he submitted an appeal to the office of the prime minister requesting justification. Maliqi said the official response, citing a section of Kosovo law, suggested that he had requested his own removal. He hadn’t. For some time after this, Maliqi and I spoke about what might have instigated his removal from office. He had begun the year by proposing to shuffle around people in the Kosovo Police leadership. Among them was Kadri Arifi, a political crony of Thaci’s and a known member of the Informative Service of Kosovo, SHIK, the Kosovo Liberation Army security structure. SHIK formally disbanded in 2008, but its members remain well represented in senior government positions. Arifi was to be moved from his position as head of the Organized Crime Pillar to the Administration Pillar. This, Maliqi said, elicited a vocal reaction from the prime minister. He agreed to the move, but in a meeting in March among Maliqi, Minister 8
of Internal Affairs Bajram Rexhepi, Prime Minister Thaci and Thaci’s assistant, Maliqi said the prime minister threatened him over the decision. According to Maliqi, Thaci menacingly told him that he would move Arifi, but that Arifi was his friend, and as the prime minister he had the power to remove Maliqi. “He was not happy,” Maliqi said. The prime minister also told Maliqi that he’d never liked him: He’d only appointed him because Maliqi was given strong backing from the United States. In 2008, two years before his appointment, Maliqi said that members of Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo and allies colluded to place him under a bogus three-month investigation over a traffic stop in order to keep him out of the running for the original post-independence appointment of the general director. Maliqi also described a number of other reforms he had been adamant about implementing in the past year, including a rank and position program intended to streamline the promotional process, extract political influence and slim down the number of highly paid top officials. His punishing termination came just as he was to carry out a planned leadership swap, and then leave on a vacation to Turkey with his wife. Instead he received a call requesting, presumably falsely, that he cancel and stick around. He was told over the phone by the minister of internal affairs that
RESHAT MALIQI MALIQI WAS DISMISSED FROM HIS POST AS THE GENERAL DIRECTOR OF THE KOSOVO POLICE SERVICE. HOW WAS HE FIRED? “WITHOUT ANY REASON,” MALIQI SAID. “THAT IS ALL. WITHOUT ANY EXPLANATION, WITHOUT ANY, ANY RIGHTS.”
the prime minister wanted him around for important official business; it was a few nights later that his daughter told him he’d lost the job. Maliqi’s résumé is thick with education and policing experience, but it’s thin on political connections. He maintained a good relationship with his EULEX colleagues, on both his word and that of a highly ranked EULEX policing official. Maliqi said he was simply dangerous. “They see me as a real threat to organized crime and corruption,” Maliqi said. “That is the main problem, the main reason why they move me also, now, from that position … because I attempt to cut the political influence from outside.” THE WIDE REACH OF CORRUPTION’S TENTACLES Maliqi’s situation isn’t an anomaly. Elbowing out public servants that don’t serve the interests of a ruling administration is an all-too-common story, and not just in Kosovo. Notably, my interview with Maliqi came at an opportune time for him to make provocative statements: being on the losing end stings. And I also didn’t get Thaci’s side of the story. Maliqi has since been reassigned as director of strategic planning for politics and legal affairs. Maliqi’s fate, however, can be placed among a larger systemic problem that seems only to be worsening. In a twist of irony, Kosovo, as the destination of two of the most extensive international missions ever deployed (the latest being EULEX), finds itself plagued by a virulent and persistent undercurrent of corruption. Every road forward, it seems, is hindered by this unsettling issue. Leaky budgets suspiciously diminish, officials issue massive tenders seemingly oblivious to more competitive bids, money and goods change hands along back roads, and foreign investors back away cold-footed at the prospect of risky business. Voices of reform within the media and administration are silenced, moved or removed. Money for such necessities as education and
— “They see me as a real threat to organized crime and corruption.” RESHAT MALIQI, FORMER GENERAL DIRECTOR, KOSOVO POLICE SERVICE #2 CORRUPTION WINTER 2011/2012
— It seems to be no secret to anyone that cronyism, corruption and connections with organized crime run through all levels of business and administration in Kosovo.
MINISTER OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS BAJRAM REXHEPI SAYS MALIQI WAS DISMISSED BECAUSE HIS REPLACEMENT WAS SIMPLY MORE OPERATIONAL. MALIQI, TO BE SURE, DISAGREES WITH THIS ASSESSMENT.
infrastructure is tight as it stands; with the little there is slithering away from the public good, progress can appear impossible. Despite EULEX’s namesake, rule of law and the lack thereof has climbed the ladder of threats to Kosovo’s future and seems to be getting dangerously close to the top. Maliqi’s story may sound suspiciously innocent, but either way it’s hard to see his termination as a clean affair, given the context. Only a few weeks later, my friend and colleague Susie Taylor interviewed Minister of Internal Affairs Bajram Rexhepi. His comment on Maliqi was benign: The replacement, Shpend Maxhuni, is simply more operational, he said. Rexhepi claimed he had originally recommended his appointment over Maliqi in 2010. Yet during the lunch Rexhepi indulged in a rather casual style of chat, perhaps reflecting poorly on his own political character in conversation with a journalist. After a warm exchange with another Tiffany’s restaurant customer, and subsequently a free lunch, he chuckled, “That is just respect, not corruption, don’t worry.” Later on, in full view of the recorder, he made some friendly offers: perhaps arrangements for a weekend away in Albania or Monte10
negro — accommodations “for the elite,” where he stays, of course — or a nice place to stay in Mitrovica and an escort around the city. It seems to be no secret to anyone that cronyism, corruption and connections with organized crime run through all levels of business and administration in Kosovo. Story after story has blown up in the media, of the rumored, of the accused, the searched, the investigated. Allegations of criminal consorting in the top echelons of party leadership began well before the provisional government was even assembled, and they have continued to resurface throughout the past 12 years.
BAJRAM REXHEPI KOSOVO’S MINISTER OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS SAID MALIQI'S REPLACEMENT, SHPEND MAXHUNI, WAS A MORE OPERATIONAL POLICE COMMANDER.
Shady politicking like that which booted Maliqi from office is part of a larger scheme of impunity, spurred on by the profitable opportunities that arise from rampant fraud and financial irresponsibility. Money seems to be disappearing between the cracks everywhere you look, and everybody is pointing fingers. Whatever form or sector the pervasive corruption problem takes on, from Maliqi’s job to a leaky tender, all cases seem to share a marked lack of recourse. Impunity rules among the upper rank of politicians; cases that enter the courts end up convoluted and frequently fade away with little closure; and it seems the great majority are simply never brought to light. As an outsider reporting in Kosovo, I tried to figure out what was oiling these troubles. But as I scrambled up my learning curve on this issue, I found myself chewing daily at the breakfast table on a frustrating game of the chicken and the egg. Powerful networks of corruption seep resources and institutional viability, and they disable the very developments needed to eradicate the problems that render people vulnerable. It seemed high time for a judicial remedy on behalf of the greater public, but despite a
massive international presence and 12 years of flaunted institution building, avenues of substantial recourse have yet to be realized. I began to wonder how one could build this needed tower of justice with no bedrock beneath, and what if the person laying the mortar has invested in a promising season of loose bricks? PRESSING FOR ACCOUNTABILITY Armend Mazreku is not an imposing figure. As a self-proclaimed student of philosophy, he looks the part. But soft spoken or not, his convictions aren’t lightweight. He’s a policy analyst at Levizja FOL (Speak up! Movement), a Prishtina NGO promoting institutional accountability, transparency and civic participation. I met Mazreku by accident in July; his face-full of microphones on Mother Teresa Boulevard caught my attention and I found myself clicking my camera shutter from the back of the crowd as he confidently announced Levizja FOL’s crowning of “Miss Korrupsion” and two runners-up. The satirical jig was a creative public stunt using humor to shed light on some of the most pressing threats to a healthy democracy; the Kosovo Judiciary was named second runner-up, behind only the crowned victor, the Kosovo Government. The state-owned power company, the Kosovo Energy Corp., and Post and Telecom of Kosovo tied for third. Justice in Kosovo is a multifaceted problem, and given all the hands involved there’s a lot of responsibility to pass around. The international missions are conscious of criticisms and overstayed mandates, and they increasingly publicize their intentions to step back and transfer more responsibilities to Kosovo. Yet after 12 years of institution building, the local justice system remains one of the weakest public institutions post-independence and has received some stinging commentary, not just from Levizja FOL. Groups like Transparency International, the International Crisis Group and the U.S.
ARMEND MAZREKU, A POLICY ANALYST AT LEVIZJA FOL (SPEAK UP! MOVEMENT), MAY BE SOFT–SPOKEN, BUT HIS CONVICTIONS CARRY A LOT OF WEIGHT IN THE CIRCLES OF PEOPLE WHO TAKE ON CORRUPTION.
— “It’s very interesting, you know, when government officials speak of corruption, you get an impression that corruption belongs to another world. That we are transcendent of it … it belongs not to this planet. They want to look outside the government for corruption, but they will never find it because corruption is inside the government.” State Department Human Rights Reports all rate the judiciary’s performance poorly, and lament its contribution to lawlessness in Kosovo.
ARMEND MAZREKU MAZREKU DOESN’T HIDE HIS OUTSPOKENNESS ABOUT KOSOVO CORRUPTION.
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There were myriad issues to overcome in the justice system after the conflict. Under Slobodan Milosevic’s regime, bar exams were refused to Albanians, and come 1999 there was a serious shortage of trained lawyers and judges; those that had worked under the Serbian regime were stigmatized as having colluded with the enemy. There is a need for facilities, better witness protection programs and institutional transparency. Low salaries for judiciary employees continue to make courts vulnerable to corruption in their duties. On top of this, a slew of new legislation was needed to lay a legal base for criminal and civil suits related to public mismanagement and corruption. Now 11
the bulk of recommendations are directed at the executive branch and assembly. Structural needs for improving judicial functions ultimately require legislative action and increased investment. Later in the afternoon, after the crowning ceremony, I spoke with Mazreku on the deck of Dit’ e Nat’ coffee shop. I asked him what inspired
— “I can’t say now, because it’s eight months. For eight months, you can change nothing in the horrible situation of our judiciary system. But, you know, maybe we have much more hope that things are going to change.”
the comic performance from Levizja FOL, and he explained they feel it’s important to creatively draw attention to these issues and get the public involved and in the loop on holding the government accountable. “You should not understand that it’s just a satire and people will laugh with it and so on, but as a protest, as a kind of revolt that we want to convey to Kosovar officials, but also to the people of Kosovo,” Mazreku said. “And I think this was the main part of the performance. The idea is to attract the attention of the public more, because it’s very hard. It’s very hard considering the fact that the government tries to influence the media.” There is a great deal of showy speech on such hot-button issues as corruption, but when it comes to carrying out changes, officials like pass off responsibility, Mazreku said. After taking office, Prime Minister Thaci loudly proclaimed his anti-corruption agenda and singled out the judiciary as one of the most corrupted institutions in Kosovo. “But when you ask him, ‘What are you doing about corruption?’ he says, ‘Well it’s not my responsibility; it’s the responsibility of the judicial system,” Mazreku said, laughing. “It’s very interesting, you know, when government officials speak of corruption, you get an impression that corruption belongs to another world. That we are transcendent of it … it belongs not to this planet. They want to look outside the government for
SELVIJE BAJRAMI THE REPORTER HAS COVERED THE JUDICIAL BEAT FOR SIX YEARS FOR THE DAILY ZERI. SHE HAS WATCHED THE SYSTEM EVOLVE AND REPORTED ON SOME OF ITS MOST FRUSTRATING PARTS.
corruption, but they will never find it because corruption is inside the government.” Thus we see signs for the first entry ramp onto this roundabout of impunity: As long as a stronger judiciary represents a threat to the power players, it is difficult to generate genuine political will. The judicial system is just beginning to grasp at independence. As an institution in the interim government, the judiciary was first placed directly under the authority of the special representative to the secretary general, or SRSG, in 2001 under a joint Judicial and Prosecutorial Council. Since then it has been slowly expanded and incrementally transferred under Kosovar authority, though EULEX still retains jurisdiction over high-level and sensitive cases. During this slow process, the local judiciary has been able to perform only at varying degrees of independence and has remained vulnerable to pressures from within the executive. As frustratingly late as they’ve come, however, there have recently been significant efforts to improve the judiciary’s functioning. The law on the courts, which came into effect in January, finally increased judiciary salaries, some by an applauded 100 percent. Greater budgetary independence has also been afforded to the public prosecutor’s office. (Hasan Preteni, director of the Anti Corruption Agency, says this potentially could create the first real glimmer of an independent prosecutor’s office.) Efforts have been made to instate more thorough education and qualification programs for judges and lawyers, and the Kosovo Justice Council also recently finished a large “vetting” program. In a 2010 report, the Kosovo Institute for Research and Development, KIPRED, applauded the reforms and expressed high hopes for their future effects, but not everyone is so convinced. Selvije Bajrami, a journalist currently writing for the Kosovo daily newspaper Zeri, has been covering the judicial beat for almost six years. She has watched the system evolve,
— “More than 800 names have gone through the prosecutor’s office, but no big cases come out.”
HASAN PRETENI, DIRECTOR OF THE ANTI CORRUPTION AGENCY, MAKES IT KNOWN THAT HE WISHES THE BIGGEST PLAYERS WOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR ILLEGAL ACTIONS.
including the transition from UNMIK to EULEX, and reported on some of its most frustrating parts. I asked Bajrami about the recent reforms, and whether they would serve their purpose; her response was mixed. The vetting process, she said, was poorly designed, allowing judges in two examination groups to collude. While in the process, the vetting further slowed the already swamped court system, and may not have filtered out the best practitioners in the end. “I know some good judges who are not judges anymore,” Bajrami said. Overall, she has grown impatient with the lingering systemic issues in the court system, “Of course it’s post-conflict, but it’s not reason (enough) to have this judiciary system that we have now.” Still, she’s not entirely pessimistic. In her view, some of the efforts to bolster the education of judges and lawyers are slowly building a larger and more qualified staff, and salary boosts will likely make a big difference. “I can’t say now, because it’s eight months,” she said. “For eight months, you can change nothing in the horrible situation of our judiciary system. But, you know, maybe we have much more hope that things are going to change.”
But like Bajrami, the public seems to be growing weary of impunity, and the institutional response continues to lack unity. United Nations Development Program statistics released in a 2010 Public Pulse report show a recent discouraging decline in levels of satisfaction and trust in the judiciary system among the Kosovar public. In September, the Kosovo Justice Council released an action paper in response, but it seems more focused on deflecting criticism than planning solutions. While responsibly recognizing that the transparency and accurate reporting needed to keep the public informed are lacking, the paper simultaneously insinuates that survey
HASAN PRETENI PRETENI SAYS, “IT’S VERY DIFFICULT TO FIGHT THE LINK BETWEEN THE ACT AND THE PROPERTIES. WE SEE EVERY DAY THAT PEOPLE BECOME RICH DURING THE NIGHT. KOSOVO IS A VERY SMALL PLACE.”
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responses reflect an inaccurate perception of corruption induced by media and hearsay. It also addresses the somewhat strained relationship that exists between the Anti Corruption Agency (ACA) and the judiciary, complaining that Preteni’s public complaints are misrepresentative. Preteni has voiced frustration that ACA reports frequently get denied by the prosecutor’s office, but the KJC claims that the majority of the reports are insufficient for prosecutor use. When I met with Preteni in his office, he offered a few insights on the shortcomings of justice. The Anti Corruption Agency’s mandate came into force in 2006, a new independent body to process and investigate corruption complaints and accusations. When I originally heard the name, I imagined a brawny organization, a bulwark against the powerful crimes that be, housed in one of the tall, shiny buildings jutting up from some Prishtina street. I checked my map twice but found the ACA building on the southwestern hill well above downtown, tucked into a homey building and surrounded by a bright green lawn studded with small gardens. On a yearly budget of about 500,000 euro (compared with the 13
HEAD OF UNMIK, SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE SECURITY COUNCIL (SRSG) SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO (BRAZIL) DATES SERVED: JUNE 11, 1999, TO JULY 14, 1999
HEAD(S) OF UNMIK, SPECIAL
De Mello served for an initial period of two months as the first UNMIK administrator of Kosovo. Although short, his mission was one of the most difficult. In an interview with PBS, he said that rebuilding Kosovo wasn’t an immediate problem as “the reconstruction of the social fabric, the reconstruction of trust and confidence between those communities certainly will take longer. The wounds were very deep, and it will take quite some time to heal them. But that is what the United Nations and the international military presence are there to make happen. Just don’t expect that to happen overnight.” De Mello was killed in the Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad in 2003, while serving in the U.N. mission to Iraq.
BERNARD KOUCHNER (FRANCE) DATES SERVED: JULY 15, 1999, TO JAN. 12, 2001 During his 18 months of service in Kosovo, Kouchner led the efforts to create a new civil administration and political system and rebuild the economy shattered by the 1999 Kosovo war. It was during this period that legal ambiguities over the United Nation’s mandate and its cooperation with Kosovar institutions commenced. Arta Ante in her book “State Building and Development: Two sides of the same coin? Exploring the case of Kosovo” shares an anecdote about Kouchner, who supposedly had said, “Every morning, I read Resolution 1244 and try to make sense of it.”
Balkans. Holkeri served as SRSG for less than a year, resigning for health reasons. Western diplomats have been critical of his performance in Kosovo, as well. In the words of a Western diplomat, the illness provided a logical and respectable way out, as people did not believe Holkeri would last long. Holkeri died August 7, 2011, thus becoming the second SRSG to pass away.
SOREN JESSEN-PETERSEN (DENMARK) DATES SERVED: AUG. 16, 2004, TO JUNE 30, 2006 According to UNDP’s Early Warning Report findings, Jessen-Petersen managed to increase people’s satisfaction with the work of SRSG to 80 percent, compared to the 30 percent level of his predecessor. Jessen-Petersen had as a priority to commence discussions on Kosovo’s final status. He focused on rule of law, minority issues and the decentralization process. He was highly critical of Belgrade authorities. In a public statement in reaction to Belgrade’s attempts to dissuade Kosovo Serbs from voting in Kosovo’s 2004 elections, he declared: “Only those who take action to overcome isolation can change the present to a better future.” In 2010, in a co-authored op-ed, he classified Kosovo’s independence as one of the most remarkable successes in the Balkans, alongside issues such as the fall of Milosevic.
JOACHIM RUCKER (GERMANY) DATES SERVED: SEPT. 1, 2006, TO JUNE 20, 2008 HANS HAEKKERUP (DENMARK) DATES SERVED: JAN.13, 2001, TO DEC. 31, 2001 Kosovar newspapers would come to decribe Haekkerup as “the wrong man at the wrong place.” A bunch of nonaffirmative epithets have been used to describe him and his administration, including “controversial,” “conservative,” “unmotivated,” “passive” and “biased.” In an UNMIK performance list of 2004, Haekkerup was at the bottom of the then-five SRSGs. The “cold and autistic Dane,” as Kosovars would often describe him, will be remembered through a highly criticized agreement that he signed with Sebria, known as the Haekkerup-Covic agreement. The local leadership believed the agreement, which reaffirmed territorial integrity of Yugoslavia and prevented declaration of independence, was detrimental and dangerous for the future of Kosovo and the region. Soon after, Haekkerup resigned his post, a largely welcomed act from Kosovar Albanians.
MICHAEL STEINER (GERMANY) DATES SERVED: FEB. 14, 2002, TO JULY 8, 2003 As the first German to run a European protectorate, Steiner arrived in Kosovo with the mission “to set the train in motion.” This meant the transfer of authorities from UNMIK to the elected interim government, but – as he would declare – “carefully and step by step.” He was referring to what would later become an official UNMIK mantra – standards before status. This policy set a number of benchmarks before proceeding to discussions over Kosovo’s final status. Many Kosovar analysts saw it as a way of buying time. As a result, it transformed into “Standards for Kosovo,” which put them en par with status. Steiner left Kosovo after 18 months of service. Some criticized him of an autocratic leadership; others acknowledged his straightforward, independent and rigorous character.
HARRI HERMANI HOLKERI (FINLAND) DATES SERVED: AUG. 25, 2003, TO JUNE 11, 2004
Before becoming SRSG, Rucker was the deputy special representative and head of the economic reconstruction component in UNMIK. He was not new to the Balkans, having worked in Bosnia for the Office of the High Representative in Sarajevo. Rucker’s mandate coincided with the declaration of independence in February 2007, which put him in discomfort. Russia’s ambassador to the U.N. described one of his appearances as a “sermon” advocating “outright independence” for Kosovo.
LAMBERTO ZANNIER (ITALY) DATES SERVED: JUNE 20, 2008, TO JULY 1, 2011 Zannier will be remembered for trying to restore UNMIK’s credibility after independence, but Kosovo’s leadership would have a different message for him. Kosovo’s president and prime minister expressed a readiness to meet Zannier, but solely to tell him that UNMIK’s mission was over, and that UNMIK was no longer welcomed to engage in further political or institutional arrangements. He encountered many difficulties in trying to articulate the six-point plan of UNSG for Kosovo Ð a plan that reconfigured UNMIK and deployed a European police-and-justice mission in Kosovo. Kosovo’s leadership opposed the plan on the grounds that it would dilute the authority of independent Kosovo institutions. He remained firm, stating that “UNMIK, under the mandate of UNSC 1244 will continue to facilitate regional cooperation and to address minority community concerns.”
FARID ZARIF (AFGHANISTAN) DATES SERVED: JULY 2011 TO PRESENT Zarif is the second non-European diplomat, after de Mello, appointed to lead UNMIK. He comes from Afghanistan and has an impressive career in diplomatic service in positions inside and outside Afghanistan. Zarif is the current head of UNMIK; he is quite anonymous to Kosovars and describes the situation in Kosovo as “unpredictable.”
Holkeri was largely perceived as lacking charisma and of having a low-key pragmatism in his political career. Derided in the Kosovar press as “Harry Potter,” he managed to bring both sides to the negotiating table for the first direct talks since the end of the war, only to earn the wrath of each. He claimed that he was paying the price of his impartiality, although he admitted he had no previous experience with the
1.5 billion euro projected in the next Kosovo government budget) and a staff of 35, the agency is relatively small, given the task at hand. Its limited scope of capabilities coupled with the quantity of tips and complaints they receive could leave the agency somewhat innocuous, without a healthy working relationship with police and prosecutors. Preteni has found it an uphill battle. Much like Mazreku, Preteni feels strongly that the big players must be held accountable to address corruption in Kosovo. KJC accusations aside, the agency is only authorized to carry out preliminary investigations; they can’t be expected to deliver airtight files to the prosecution. Preteni also related a widely expressed sentiment: “It’s very difficult to fight the link between the act and the properties. We see every day that people become rich during the night. Kosovo is a very small place.” He said they need more aggressive legislation that allows them to not only demand a paper trail to audit asset accumulation, but to back it up with a toothy threat of repossession: a bold request. Political will, Preteni said, continues to remain the hitch to assembling such a corruption-fighting toolkit. He is aware that his public assertions about tackling high-level corruption might be antithetical to the interests of the very people he is asking to make the laws. “The base of everything is political will,” he said. “Good or bad, depends on political will. If the people in the high position have political will, it is not difficult to do the job. … We have the institutions, Kosovo doesn’t lack institutions, we have all of them. We have the police, we have the Anti-Corruption Agency, tax agency, customs, judge, everything. We have everything … political will, political will, political will.” Despite barriers, the agency has managed to contribute to the corruption fight. Early last year, they received a complaint from a construction company owner in Gjakova
AFTER A CONSTRUCTION COMPANY OWNER IN GJAKOVA REPORTED THAT HE WAS BLOCKED OUT OF A GOVERNMENT CONTRACT BECAUSE HE DIDN’T PAY A 15 PERCENT “ACCESS FEE,” THE KOSOVO ANTICORRUPTION AGENCY FORWARDED THE CASE TO EULEX.
claiming he was being unfairly blocked from a public tender. The man said that the Transport Ministry was requesting he pay an “access fee” that amounted to about 15 percent of the entire value of the tender, effectively making it off limits for him. The ACA met with the man several times before forwarding a file to EULEX, contributing to the eventual office and home searches of the thenM i n i s t e r o f Tr a n s p o r t a n d Telecommunications, Fatmir Limaj. But the Limaj case is emblematic of Preteni’s frustrations with the institutional partnerships that are necessary to make the ACA’s work relevant; a public firestorm followed by silence. Preteni is tired of watching his agency work hard, only to see the work slip away with no follow-up by partners in the justice system. “More than 800 names have gone
through the prosecutor’s office, but no big cases come out,” he said. Sometimes they submit a case, and then see a flurry of activity in the media only days later. “Why are you telling journalists what is in the file now? There can be no investigation, then. Then we know they’ve given up,” Preteni blurted in frustration. Although a memorandum of understanding signed between the prosecutor’s office and ACA in 2010 received recognition by some civil society groups, it’s not clear whether working relations have significantly improved. Still, Preteni believes the salary hikes for judges and prosecutors and the heightened budget independence has the potential to help a great deal. He expressed an impressively patient stance in this regard toward the local systems. “I thought, they are not established, they are not independent, they
“The base of everything is political will. Good or bad, depends on political will. If the people in the high position have political will, it is not difficult to do the job.” HASAN PRETENI
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EULEX YVES DE KERMABON (FRANCE) DATES SERVED: FEBRUARY 2008 TO SEPT. 22, 2010 Coming from a military serving in the KFOR command in 2004 and 2005, de Kermabon assumed one of the most complex civilian missions in Kosovo. The EULEX Mission, deployed throughout Kosovo, began operations in December 2008 and became fully operational in April 2009. As the head of nearly 3,000 employees, the retired general’s mandate was to improve the rule of law in Kosovo, specifically in the fields of justice, police and customs. His mission received harsh criticism, especially with regard to its “status neutral” approach. Two major concerns raised by Kosovars concerned the operational ability when employing such an approach and the dilemma regarding actual neutrality of “status-neutrality.”
XAVIER BOUT DE MARNHAC (FRANCE) DATES SERVED: OCT.15, 2010, TO PRESENT Similar to his predecessor, de Marnhac came from a military background and served in the KFOR command in 2004 and 2005. Challenges to EULEX remained the same as it moved slow; the mission was labeled “a shining symbol of incompetence.” Besides from its deployment, operational ability and status challenges, EULEX showed incompetence again when Kosovo police forces’ action in July 2011 to take control of the two border posts in the north. An International Crisis Group report on the situation in the north concludes that “Kosovo no longer believes that the international community, especially the EU and its rule-of-law mission (EULEX), will give the north back.”
ICO PIETER FEITH (NETHERLANDS) DATES SERVED: 2008 TO PRESENT Feith started his mission in a double-hatted institution, simultaneously holding the position of the ICR and EUSR, the first deriving from Ahtisaari Plan (CSP) while the latter from the a EU Council of Ministers decision. Currently, he operates only in his capacity as ICR and is responsible for supervising the implementation of the CSP. He has two priority areas of supervision, decentralization and religious and cultural heritage. Although described as supervisory, his mandate clearly exceeds this role. Few days before his arrival to Kosovo and right after his appointment, a Western journalist described him as “a mighty man who can abolish laws and fire officials.”
BAJRAM REXHEPI, PRIME MINISTER OF KOSOVO, PDK DATES SERVED: MARCH 2002 TO OCTOBER 2004 Rexhepi’s government-first priority was Kosovo’s independence and international recognition. He was the West’s favorite leader and got credit for helping end the March 2004 riots in Mitrovica Ð the first large-scale violent event between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs after 1999. These events marked a turning point in Kosovo’s recent history, as the unstable foundations of four-and-a-half years of gradual progress in Kosovo buckled and gave way. Thus, the International Crisis Group, an independent international organization, immediately suggested the international community to adopt new policies on final status and socioeconomic development. Rexhepi was the front-runner in attempts to articulate that the status quo would not hold. The March 2004 riots were just as much evidence of frustration with the unresolved status and poor economic conditions. The end of Rexhepi’s mandate marked the beginning of a new attitude of the international community toward Kosovo’s final status.
RAMUSH HARADINAJ, PRIME MINSTER OF KOSOVO, AAK DATES SERVED: DECEMBER 2004 TO MARCH 2005 After only four months of serving as prime minister, Haradinaj resigned because of an indictment by the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague. The former KLA commander was known for his personal commitment to running the government. He put in long hours, demanded the same of his team, made rounds of ministry departments and demanded results. According to an international diplomat, his proactive approach toward the implementation of the “Standards for Kosovo” resulted in a “massive and fundamental change” in government performance. “I have been called upon to make yet another sacrifice,” he said before leaving Prishtina for The Hague.
BAJRAM KOSUMI, PRIME MINISTER OF KOSOVO, AAK DATES SERVED: MARCH 2005 TO MARCH 2006 In September 2005, Kosumi paid 200,000 euro for a private jet to return him home from a vacation in Turkey. After great media coverage and pressure, he said a close friend had covered the expense. The incident paved the way for suspicions regarding his integrity as the country’s prime minister. He was highly criticized of corruption and alleged nepotism. Kosumi lacked political power within his political party; he is remembered for failing to get a grasp of his coalition government composed of powerful, influential ministers. He resigned in March 2006, right before the internationally supervised Prishtina-Belgrade future status talks Ð under the package of dismissal for two top Kosovo officials (Kosumi and former Parliament Speaker Nexhat Daci).
FATMIR SEJDIU, PRESIDENT OF KOSOVO, LDK DATES SERVED: FEBRUARY 2006 TO SEPTEMBER 2010
KOSOVO IBRAHIM RUGOVA, PRESIDENT OF KOSOVO, LDK DATES SERVED: MARCH 2002 TO SEPTEMBER 2005 Rugova was drawn into politics in 1989 after being elected head of the Kosovo Writers’ Union. During the 1990s, he led the Albanian opposition to Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic regime. After an unprecedented victory in the first post-war elections in Kosovo, Rugova's party finally agreed to a power-sharing deal with the other main Albanian parties. He became Kosovo’s first post-war president, while the former field surgeon of the KLA, Bajram Rexhepi PDK, was elected prime minister. Known as the “Ghandi of the Balkans,” Rugova had been leading the Kosovo Albanian negotiating team in the status talks. His death in 2006 was seen as a tragic moment for the future of Kosovo, especially referring to the talks on Kosovo’s future status. 16
Sejdiu did not see his presidential term to an end as the Constitutional Court ruled him in violation of the constitution for serving as both largely ceremonial head of state and leader of political party, LDK. He was Kosovo’s second president, replacing the iconic leader Ibrahim Rugova. Sejdiu led the Kosovo Albanian negotiation team at the U.N.-sponsored 2006 status talks. His term coincided with the declaration of independence in February 2008. After loosing the presidency, Sejdiu aimed for a political recovery as party leader for another term. He lost that battle, as well, to the then-Prishrina mayor at the LDK congress.
— “I think the first thing the international community should do is they need to publicly not back up these politicians; they have been doing it since the end of the war.” LORIK BAJRAMI, COHU ANTI–CORRUPTION ORGANIZATION
will not investigate the cases. Yet,” he said of Kosovo’s own institutions. In the meantime, Preteni decided to focus on communication with the tall, blue, shiny pillars of EULEX. But that proved to be just as disappointing. The ACA has forwarded more than 40 cases to EULEX, but they have pursued only three and have yet to make any landmark rulings. Of the Limaj case, he said it was handled poorly; despite a great deal of public huffing and puffing last year after the EULEX police raid in his offices and home for the biggest EULEX investigation into a two-year corruption probe linked to a 700 million euro highway project. Now, discussion on corruption charges seems to have petered out, though Limaj remains in the news over new war crimes charges. A recent constitutional court ruling clarifying that deputies do not enjoy immunity may instigate a trial, or re-raise the corruption charges. A EULEX spokesman, Nicholas Hawton, clarified this month to Balkan Insight that the war crimes arrest warrant, issued in March, remains valid, but his media statement wasn’t exactly rousing: “We’re digesting and considering what has been reported, and we take note that the judgment does not become effective until pub-
lication in the Official Gazette.” Overall, Preteni says EULEX is too slow moving, and it continuously delays investigations and charges for frivolous or unseen reasons. Eventually, after so many delays, EULEX officials then sometimes claim the cases are too old and have become obsolete or uninvestigatable. “OK, a few big cases started, but no decisions. They are not efficient. Next year, later, later, if you have evidence, if you have proof, why wait? Start with the case. We have 50 cases. Why not start with one?” The level of frustration with EULEX is rising; few of the people I interviewed left the subject untouched. Bajrami, too, expressed impatience at the continuous delays. To her, it’s “illogical” that such a mission with a 165 million-euro budget in its last fiscal year should cite problems like translation as inhibiting factors to case completion. She, too, sees the Limaj case as another short-lived public performance. Bajrami has been conducting a research project on the mission, and in an interview she conducted with former EULEX Chief Prosecutor Johannes van Vreeswijk, she asked what happened with the corruption investigation, why it seems to have faded out. She tossed her hands up as she related his shallow, but official, response: “‘I was thinking things would go in a different way, but they changed’ … and he accepted some mistakes they have made over the case.” She said he cited technical and structural problems, such as transla-
LORIK BAJRAMI THE MEMBER OF THE ANTI-CORRUPTION ORGANIZATION COHU, BELIEVES THAT THE JUSTICE SECTOR WAS INTENTIONALLY CREATED WEAK BY INTERNATIONAL MISSIONS.
#2 CORRUPTION WINTER 2011/2012
tors, and the fact that EULEX police are only under six-month contracts. Every six months, the force spends a tremendous amount of time cluing in new people on old evidence and events, reliving the investigation of the same complicated case. The local judiciary is weak, and Kosovars have plenty of criticism for it. But given the daunting systemic barriers to improving its capacity to address corruption, it seems this ought to be where an unprecedentedly large and powerful Rule of Law mission might be handy. The apparent and continuing impotence of the international missions to tackle corruption is beyond disappointing, and not just because they’re not exactly hammering out the cases themselves. As Bajrami pointed out, they’ve had a big hand to play from the beginning in fostering the present situation of the justice system at large. “They have big executive powers,” she said of EULEX. “And when we ask why they haven’t brought results on this issue and that issue, they say, ‘We need time to work on this, time to work on that. … We have much more of a mandate to monitor, mentor and advise Kosovar institutions,’ but … our institutions are the same for many years now; they haven’t changed since EULEX arrived here.” Lorik Bajrami, a member of the Prishtina-based anti-corruption organization Cohu and who is not related to Selvije Barjami, believes that the justice sector was intentionally created weak by international missions. “I think the first thing the international community should do is they need to publicly not back up these politicians; they have been doing it since the end of the war,” he said. “These corrupt politicians are their puppets, they made them, and they are feeding them. Without the internationals, they have no ground, no base on where to stand. … They need to stop selecting specific individuals, specific cases, while leaving the others left untouched, and they need to 17
focus on building these democratic institutions.” His position is blunt, and when he speaks his voice is resolute and impassioned, even with an underlying angry edge, but it’s hard to fault him. Upon examination, recent history doesn’t offer a great counter argument. The international officials have their politics, too, and not always to the benefit of Kosovo at large.
AGIM CEKU, PRIME MINISTER OF KOSOVO, PSD DATES SERVED: MARCH 2006 TO JANUARY 2008 Head of the then-Kosovo Protection Corps, Ceku was formally nominated as Prime Minister after Kosumis’ short term. Ceku’s military background — he served in the Yugoslav and later Croat Army — had many believe he would substantially improve Kosovo. At the time, widespread corruption in the public sphere and the pressing status talks were the two hot issues. The former army general was not able to reproduce his military successes in politics. He is leading the social democrats of Kosovo and has won a single seat in parliament as part of a wide coalition.
A SHAKY FOUNDATION COURTESY OF THE U.N. After the 1999 war, Kosovo’s undetermined status was waved through with United Nations Resolution 1244. The resulting mission, UNMIK, had large executive powers, and a great deal of authority in the initial construction of Kosovar governance: UNMIK knew the ins and outs of who held power, inside and outside the government. It was in this atmosphere that UNMIK claimed to be building up rule of law and an independent judiciary, both by planting seeds for the Kosovar judicial branch and by carrying out their “Pillar 1” duties of Policing and Justice. Considering some of their behavior, however, it became hard to take the internationals’ commitment seriously. Indicting and prosecuting power players, especially those who might be hailed as war heroes after a tremendously painful struggle for freedom, is definitely a dicey matter. In that sense, international missions could be spared some sympathy. However, a complete failure to keep tabs on a character like Thaci — dubbed “Snake” during his time as a the political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army — is hard to defend. And early on in reconstruction, international officials made it increasingly clear that both their reputation and cozy, influential relationships came before teaming up to carry out objectives. Despite UNMIK’s power and mandates, it quickly became fashionable to hail the responsibility and expectations afforded to the fresh-faced Kosovar government, especially as
BEHGJET PACOLLI, PRESIDENT OF KOSOVO, AKR DATES SERVED: FEB. 22, 2011, TO APRIL 4, 2011 Pacolli might have entered the list of shortest-serving presidents in the world. Considered the richest person in Kosovo, he insisted on the president’s seat while in negotiation with leading PDK over government structure. The political compromise produced a president who was ruled unconstitutional after only a month because of improper parliamentary voting procedures. Pacolli is not remembered for any substantial work during his short presidential mandate but mostly for the media’s published images of text messages showing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell advising him during the Parliamentary government voting.
JAKUP KRASNIQI, ACTING PRESIDENT OF KOSOVO, PDK DATES SERVED: APRIL 4, 2011, TO APRIL 7, 2011 The long-term Parliament speaker (currently serving his second straight mandate), Krasniqi has taken the office of the president twice without being elected. Both of his speaker mandates coincided with the constitutional court decisions to terminate the presidential terms of Sejdiu and Pacolli. Consequently, Krasniqi became the acting president of Kosovo, but was highly careful in his operations under the capacity.
ATIFETE JAHJAGA, PRESIDENT OF KOSOVO DATES SERVED: APRIL 7, 2011, TO PRESENT Jahjaga is the first woman to take on one of the highest positions, both local and international, in post-war Kosovo. Many believe she has broken expectation of a corrupt and criminalized Kosovar leader. Jahjaga, herself, was a compromise solution, following a political deadlock over the election of the new president after Pacolli’s expulsion from the office. She has gathered in her Cabinet the most prominent civil society and media personalities. In addition, she is backed by the international community, especially the European Union, and is considered one of the most serious candidates to run in the upcoming direct presidential elections.
HASHIM THACI, PRIME MINISTER OF KOSOVO DATES SERVED: JANUARY 2008 TO PRESENT The former KLA leader was elected prime minister in January 2008, a few weeks before Kosovo’s independence and after an entire political career in opposition. Thaci enjoyed his position in the first few months of an independent Kosovo, until the euphoria began to die down and disappointment with the overall socioeconomic situation began to increase. He gained a second term after sending the country into early, extraordinary elections in December 2010. Corruption has become the buzzword from opposition and civil society during both Thaci governments, although his central electoral motto has been “zero tolerance to corruption.”
THE UNITED NATIONS MISSION IN KOSOVO, UNMIK, HAD LARGE EXECUTIVE POWERS AND A GREAT DEAL OF AUTHORITY IN THE INITIAL CONSTRUCTION OF KOSOVAR GOVERNANCE.
the U.N. mission began sustaining scathing criticisms. By 2003, the mission’s head, Special Representative of the Secretary-General Michael Steiner, was creating distance between UNMIK and the Kosovar Provisional Institutions of Self Government (PISG). He voiced concerns about the corruption in the government, and encouraged citizens to express zero tolerance for any “connections with this underworld” among public officials, according to an UNMIK news release from January 2003. Yet it wouldn’t be until 2005 that UNMIK would create the Kosovo Judicial Council and Ministry of Justice in order to transfer control of the judiciary to the Kosovar government. Clearly it was still within the mandate of UNMIK to be in tune with government officials’ connections to organized crime, as well as the fact that they continuously propped up some of the most relevant suspects. In 2010, former SRSG Soren Jessen Peterson appeared on “Life in Kosovo,” the main current affairs show on public broadcaster RTK, with disturbing admissions from his time in office from August 2004 to June 2006.
“I know we were ready to act on some very serious cases of corruption,” he said. “And it is a fact, regrettable, that when you are ready to act there is a lot of interference. … I would get calls from countries, who were aware that we were in the process of moving forward on something, expressing serious concern… (that) it would be a threat to stability. I don’t think it is. I think it is a threat to stability if you do not act.” In fact, Peterson himself left UNMIK after a dubious corruption case surrounding the Prishtina airport. He was accused of downplaying the affair, and, ironically, received a vocal thrashing by “Snake” himself. “Kosovo cannot be an independent state and at the same time led by a mafia. … Investors are also likely to run away from an insecure place with structural corruption at the heart of its institution,” Thaci said in a response to the affair. Of course, UNMIK and all its dysfunction was supposed to phase out, with EULEX rendering an improved effort. But the criticisms from people like Mazreku, Bajrami, Preteni and others do not ring hollow. For a recent example, take the shady circumstances surrounding the demotion of Maliqi, an official who reportedly maintained good relations with EULEX. A week and a half after the move, a EULEX employee pointed out to me that they hadn’t even released a formal statement on the action, in support, acceptance or protest. Policing is a competency for which EULEX is still obliged to carry out a fairly rigorous level of “monitoring, mentoring and advising.” So where were they?
As Preteni and I wrapped up the hour in his office, I asked him to distill a priority list of actions that needed to be taken to begin getting a hold of the endemic corruption in Kosovo. He reinforced his request for legislation and investment, but voiced, too, that the international community is still needed to prosecute high-level corruption cases, that despite the recent improvements local prosecutors simply aren’t capable of hooking the big fish. I asked him why that was the case; what if the salaries were higher? Do they need different prosecutors? But halfway through my question he began to shake his head. The big fish, Preteni said, have been swimming too long. He confirmed my assertion that it might be a personal security issue for prosecutors, but that there was more to it than that. He describes a cultural barrier, a lasting hierarchy that still keeps the top leaders off limits, especially those from the KLA. In the past 10 years they have only grown in power, and, in retrospect, not without the aid of the international community. AN INSIDE LOOK AT EULEX The high-ranking EULEX official waited for me and my two colleagues at a pleasant restaurant booth on Mother Teresa Boulevard. The man greeted us warmly, asking how our time in Kosovo was going and what it was that he could help us with. I pulled out my recorder and requested his permission to flip the switch, but he politely declined. He preferred to be honest with us, he responded, in exchange for anonymity and not recording. We began tentatively probing
Preteni describes a cultural barrier, a lasting hierarchy that still keeps the top leaders off limits, especially those from the KLA. In the past 10 years they have only grown in power, and, in retrospect, not without the aid of the international community.
#2 CORRUPTION WINTER 2011/2012
FATMIR LIMAJ, THE FORMER MINISTER OF TRANSPORT AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS KNOWN FOR HIS HIGHWAY PROJECTS, IS ACCUSED OF CORRUPTION AND WAR CRIMES.
THE CREDIBILITY OF EULEX HINGES ON LIMAJ CASE EULEX, the European Union’s rule of law mission to Kosovo, faces a crucial test in the final six months of its legal mandate: Its biggest public corruption case targets Fatmir Limaj, the former transport minister who was once one of the most powerful government officials in Kosovo. By the end of April, prosecutors must present the yearand-a-half-old case so it can be decided if there’s enough evidence for Limaj — a member of the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo who was once considered the right-hand man of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci — to be charged with money laundering, organized crime, embezzlement, fraud and bribery in connection with his role at the ministry. Limaj garnered praise as a government minister because of his extensive road-building endeavors, including preparations for the most expensive highway project in Kosovo, the Vermice-Merdare stretch of the Kosovar-Albanian highway. Many also see him as a hero from his time as a commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army, but that legacy, too, is clouded as Limaj is on trial on charges of war crimes. The investigations into Limaj came at the peak of his career and were the most sensational news in Kosovo since independence in 2008. The story took a dramatic turn when EULEX’s teams, including the special unit against economic crime, Guardia di Finanza, raided the Ministry of Trans-
port and Telecommunications building and properties belonging to Limaj on April 28, 2010. The images of masked EULEX officers entering the ministry shattered the myth of an untouchable Limaj. The thenminister, who previously had been acquitted of war crimes charges at The Hague, had established himself as an indispensable pillar of Kosovo’s government. But the case ignited hopes among the public that public corruption might be investigated seriously. Some went as far as to unofficially rename Prishtina’s main square after Johannes Van Vreeswijk, then the chief prosecutor of EULEX. Van Vreeswijk, confident of the investigations’ ultimate success, told the daily newspaper Koha Ditore that corrupt individuals should start “sweating.” But a year and a half later, charges against Limaj have yet to materialize. They’ve only succeeded in keeping him out of the current government. The case that was supposed to be a shining symbol for the fight against corruption has instead come to symbolize the failures of EULEX. Van Vreeswijk is no longer part of EULEX, but other mission officials maintain that the investigations into Limaj continues. One of the main witnesses in the case, Mehmet Shkodra, died in an accident in Austria. As of November, Limaj continued to be confined under house arrest.
about recent events and about EULEX, whose doors had otherwise remained shut to our inquiries. As we timidly approached controversial subjects, however, aware of his noteworthy rank, the man’s kind eyes began to dance and a sardonic smile crept up the corners of his mouth. “What do you think the international institutions need to do, to move forward, I mean, to be effective, at this point?” I inquired. Despite being a foreigner working in the mission, his response was swift: Truthfully, we should just leave. The mission is designed poorly, he said. What exactly was the planning team doing for two years before launching EULEX? What keeps states from developing and where does corruption happen? Privatization, land appropriation, transactions. We know this. Why had it taken the mission so long to catch on to financial investigations? Seventy-five percent of the entire Kosovo budget relies on import customs duties. Why are these flows of money paid so little attention, stacked underneath gallant-sounding public priorities? Why? Because the great majority of the mission lacks cultural awareness, and few spend immersion time with Kosovars or seem to invest any significant length of time or commitment into Kosovo beyond their comfortable paychecks or diplomatic career advancements. His blatant disillusionment with the mission, with his own job, was astonishing to me at first. Or maybe it was just his honesty. Even so, he delivered his answers calmly, almost nonchalantly, strewed as they were with sharp edges. As the conversation gathered momentum, he began to push us, like a teacher, asking us the questions. Who owns this business, that building? How exactly did that hotel across from the airport pop up when all the land in the area had been appropriated from farmers for public use? Perhaps the largest base of EULEX’s mandate today, in almost all
institutional settings, emphasizes the infamous “MMA” activities: monitoring, mentoring and advising. The man, however, scoffed at this. What does it look like to monitor? To mentor? You can’t do so by scanning weekly memos. You’ve got to be there, in the offices, looking over shoulders, attending meetings, discussing the important and difficult matters. In reality, he said, this rarely happens. He shared an anecdote. This year, the Kosovo police gave a public review of their work over the past six months. A visiting reporter inquired if she could attend, and a Kosovo police officer organizing the event shrugged, commenting that it would all be in Albanian. Surprised, the reporter asked, “Well what will all the EULEX people do?” And there came the silence, because there weren’t any there. The officer professionally declined to comment on areas in which he lacked experience or expertise, including on the justice system itself, but his insights on the level of organized crime and the internal narrative and practices of international institutions were telling. Much of what ought to be considered evidence appears to be slipping through the cracks of a nightmarish bureaucratic mess that no one particularly wants to own. The transfer from UNMIK to EULEX is neither in progress nor complete, but rather seems to remain a black hole that swallows cases, files, evidence and practice. Under UNMIK, the officer told us, all employees received a circulation of businesses known to be backed by criminals or organizedcrime networks; bars, restaurants and other businesses to avoid attending and supporting. With the transfer from UNMIK and EULEX this list seems to have faded into the chaos, he no longer receives them. Now, foreign officials can be seen singing karaoke on the stage of one such bar on Friday nights, a bar in a building owned by what the man dubbed “the biggest criminal in the North of Ko-
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— “What do you think the international institutions need to do, to move forward, I mean, to be effective, at this point?” I inquired. Despite being a foreigner working in the mission, his response was swift: Truthfully, we should just leave. sovo.” While the establishment is run by civilians, drinks and meals furnish rent fees paid to the dubious owner. We met with the officer again later in our trip, after I had spoken with Maliqi. I questioned him about the event, queried as to his opinion of why it happened the way it did. He, too, responded with Arifi’s name, corroborating Maliqi’s suspicions. Maliqi found himself on Prime Minister Thaci’s list, the officer said. But after a short pause and a mischievous look, he ventured further. Plus, Maxhuni, the new Kosovo police head, will be much easier to control. According to the official, Maxhuni’s brother-in-law was arrested a few years ago on theft charges abroad, and then subsequently ordered released the same day. Maliqi doesn’t have to listen, he said from across the table, but Maxhuni does. Perhaps this is the definition of operational. — K Sadie Luetmer is a U.S.-based freelance journalist and documentary photographer. She is co-creator of the new-media project The Soulside Out with fellow Kosovo 2.0 contributor Susan Taylor. The two, along with Jeff Jorve, spent July and August reporting throughout Kosovo for Soulside Out and The American Interest foreign policy journal. For more, go to http://thesoulsideout.org. 21
JULY 31, 2011, 10:04 P.M.
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MAY 17, 2011, 12:34 P.M.
BRNO-BOHUNICE, CZECH REPUBLIC,
What happened senior consultant asked for bribe (8000Czk) before operation of an acute brain stroke. SEPT. 27, 2011, 11:16 P.M.
VERBANIA VERBANO, ITALY
What happened Police June 8, 2011, 10:09 p.m.
P S E B I R B
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May 18, 2011, 9:47 a.m.
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Aug. 26, 2011, 12:26 p.m.
What happened To skip the customs fee.
USER-DRIVEN TOOLS TAKE CORRUPTION FIGHT ONLINE WEBSITES EMPOWER ORDINARY TO PEOPLE REPORT BRIBES
July 27, 2011, 7:58 a.m.
VILNIUS 10007, LITHUANIA
TEXT BY CYRUS FARIVAR
What happened childbirth
Aug. 12, 2011, 12:18 p.m.
What happened Tuve que regalar varios trajes para conseguir contratos con la administración. May 18, 2011, 8:08 a.m.
What happened 3 tax auditors asked for 1000 euro from a company owner on 2 separate occasions in order to report minimum noncompliance.
AUG. 3, 2011, 8:13 P.M.
M O C
What happened Chinese borderguards at Horgos took bribe just fot bordercrossing of tourist group from Ukraine.There were two lists of people, 100 yuan each. 14/06/2011 May 26, 2011, 8:12 a.m.
. T O Police/Military
What happened parking in a forbidden place
— AT THE END OF SEPTEMBER, AN INDIAN IN NEW DELHI ATTEMPTED TO GET A NEW PASSPORT. “When I reached the rendezvous I found it wasn't (the bureaucrat’s) office, just some place where he was meeting other people for verifying their passport,” the Indian wrote. “He told us all to join him in his car, then he would tell us what was wrong with the address proof we were presenting. At the end of the each conversation he would just say, ‘All this is just fine, but you are smart enough to understand what is required to get things done.’ Everyone paid up.” As it turned out, getting things done required 1,000 Indian rupees, or about 15 euro. This story and thousands like it can be found on http://ipaidabribe.com. In August 2010, an Indian activist group, the Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy, founded the site, which allows Indians to submit anonymous reports of everyday corruption. People can submit small testimonials of how much, where and when they paid a bribe. (There’s also a section of the site called “I didn’t pay a bribe,” which describes instances where people refused to hand over their cash. Not surprisingly, this part of the website is much smaller.)
Since the site’s start, there have been 16,000 reports, 84 percent of which are “I paid a bribe,” said one of the site’s creators, T.R. Raghunandan. The burgeoning tech city of Bangalore, alone, has nearly 4,000 self-reported incidents of corruption. “I think it’s a little early to say, but it might show a little bit of a change,” he said. “We have been cautioning people that we cannot outsource this to a messiah. Their own individual behavior has changed even if it might cost great inconvenience. Our stand is that citizens have to change their own behavior.” #2 CORRUPTION WINTER 2011/2012
Since the site’s start, there have been 16,000 reports, 84 percent of which are “I paid a bribe.”
Ipaidabribe.com is one of the best-known of the websites from Europe and Asia that have sprung up as a way to combat realworld corruption, online. The European Commission’s AntiFraud Office, OLAF, even has its own site, too, founded in March 2010. Users submitted an average of 10 messages per week during the site’s first 11 months of operation, OLAF spokesperson Pavel Borkovec wrote in an email to Kosovo 2.0. Half of the roughly 440 messages OLAF received in that period were fraud-related and under the office’s jurisdiction. “This is significant because information submitted in this way has already prompted the opening of several cases which are now under investigation,” Borkovec wrote. “To put these figures into a wider perspective, in 2009 OLAF received in total 969 pieces of information and opened 230 new cases in the same year.” Last summer in China, two new sites, www.ibribery.com and www.522phone.com, emerged, apparently inspired by the Indian example, although they seem to be blocked and are often made inaccessible by Chinese authorities. This year, a group of Lithuanian, Estonian and Finnish developers met one another at a startup weekend in Estonia. They independently came up with a similar idea, dubbing it Bribespot, a website and smartphone app that allows users to “check in” to incidents of corruption. Those events are then plotted on a Google Map. As of press time, the site had no reports from Kosovo and just a handful for neighboring Albania and Serbia. “Corruption is not as big of a problem as it used to be, but there are still instances of it around,” said one of the site’s founders, Artas Bartas, who spoke to Deutsche Welle radio this year. 23
“So we thought, thinking exclusively about the Baltic countries and Eastern Europe … maybe we could solve the problem of corruption by producing some kind of technology for these smartphones.” ARTAS BARTAS, BRIBESPOT CO-FOUNDER
M .CO IBE BR
“And at the same time, we have all these smartphones and adoption rate are skyrocketing in the Baltic States right now,” he continued. “So we thought, thinking exclusively about the Baltic countries and Eastern Europe – the region where you have some corruption and you also have a spread of smartphones – maybe we could solve the problem of corruption by producing some kind of technology for these smartphones.”
According to corruption research, however, these countries – India, China and Lithuania – are all not nearly as corrupt as Kosovo. According to the most recent figures from Transparency International, a Berlin-based nonprofit organization, Kosovo ranks 110 of 178, tied with Gabon, Benin, Bolivia, Indonesia and the Solomon Islands. By comparison, India ranks 87, China 78 and Lithuania 46, just above Bahrain. Kosovo appears to be a country plagued by corruption, but it seems rife for opportunities for locals to use online tools to speak out. Late last year, the Kosova Democratic Institute reported in a survey that 73 percent of respondents in Kosovo believe that the level of corruption has increased since 2007, while only 8 percent believe it has decreased.
“(It’s a contest to create) social media tools, given the Kosovo context, to fight corruption,” said Alexis Franke, a program officer in the governance program at UNDP Kosovo in Prishtina. “It has to be an innovative idea, not just copying what already exists.” Franke highlighted that the tools must take into consideration that Internet access is not universal across the country, and that such platforms as Twitter are not being widely used. The UNDP, in conjunction with representatives from OLAF and the Association of Professional Journalists of Kosovo, will convene a panel to judge the applicants. A winner is set to be announced Dec. 9, the United Nations International AntiCorruption Day. Though sites like these are well-intentioned, it is hard to know what kind of effect they are having on tangible corruption fighting.
But domestically, there are efforts afoot to tackle corruption anew.
“I think it’s the very early days with all these projects,” said Dieter Zinnbauer, a program manager at Transparency International. “There are a lot of experiments to see what kind of experience we’re capturing with this. I think, in principle, it’s a development of a good idea.” — K
Kosovo’s United Nations Development Office announced Nov. 17 that it would be organizing a contest to develop a new anti-corruption social media tool. The contest is open to Kosovo citizens, with an award and a cash prize of up to €1,000.
Cyrus Farivar is an American technology journalist based in Germany. His book, “The Internet of Elsewhere” (www.internetofelsewhere.com), was published in 2011.
PROJECT 04 PRISHTINAâ€™S GREAT HAMAM
Built in the 15th century, the Great Hamam of Prishtina is one of the most important historical sights in Prishtina. It was an essential part of the 1460 Mbreti Mosque, also known as the Fatih Mosque or Xhamia e Madhe. Purpose: Restore the years of neglect and destruction and turn it into a cultural venue.
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Budget: The Municipality of Prishtina divided the restoration budget in three phases. Beginning in 2007, 80,000 euro was set aside for the first phase, 30,000 euro for the second phase, and 100,000 euro for the third phase, in 2010. The third phase hasnâ€™t begun because no one has applied for the tender. 2011: Deserted. (PHOTO BY ATDHE MULLA) 25
ON THE ROAD WE TAKE YOU ON A JOURNEY FULL OF TWISTS AND TURNS, FROM BLACK MADONNA TO RED RAKIA, TO EXPLORE THE OFTEN UNEXPECTED DELIGHTS OF THE BEAUTIFUL PATCHWORK THAT IS KOSOVO. BUCKLE UP, AND ENJOY. TEXT BY IRMIN VAN DER MEIJDEN PHOTOS BY MAJLINDA HOXHA
NOVO BRDO DECAN
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OPOJA BETWEEN THE EASTERN RIDGE OF THE SHARR MOUNTAINS, WHERE THE BREZOVICA SKI RESORT AND THE FAR-SOUTHERN GORA AREA, LIES OPOJA, A SPARSELY SETTLED HIGHLAND NEAR THE MACEDONIAN BORDER. THIS RUGGED REGION HAS 18 ALBANIAN VILLAGES; ITS WALKING TRAILS THROUGH FOREST-RICH MOUNTAIN SLOPES MAKE IT AN ULTIMATE HIKING SPOT.
RETURN HOME After working in sewers in Germany for 30 years, Xhemil Selimi returned to Kosovo in early 2000. Selimi enjoys working in the fields. He’s also hospitable. "It is late," he says. "If you need a sleeping place, you’re very welcome in my house. I will provide you with food, a place to wash yourself and a bed to sleep on.”
AGRICULTURE’S PULL Bellobrad is east of the Opoja river. About 1,250 people live in the community, which primarily is used as a gateway to other villages. Most residents are self-employed, making a living through agriculture. Children in the surrounding region attend its primary school, which was built in 1962, initially as a house for municipal staff members. School Principal Elez Elezi says that once in high school, Bellobrad’s youths have to travel 10 kilometers to neighboring Dragash. THE VILLAGE’S CORE The first sign of life upon entering the village of Zym is a large restaurant and banquet hall, Familje Dasma. It’s decorated in the spirit of the many weddings it hosts. Owner Selvet Qollopeku returned to Kosovo in 2000 after working 13 years in Switzerland. He’s among many Kosovars living abroad who returned home after he war ended in 1999.
THE VIEW FROM ABOVE The mountainous area behind Zapllushe features traditional mountain houses and a restaurant.
FAMILIES SPREAD OUT People in Bersane and Bellobrad have turned their homes into small businesses — from neatly decorated clothing boutiques selling old-fashioned dresses, shops selling garden tools to minimarkets and hairdressing salons. These shops enable residents to make fewer treks to the nearest major city, Prizren, which is more than an hour’s drive away. At least half of the families of the village, however, have someone also working abroad: 319 people are now living and working abroad, and 19 families have also migrated within the country mainly to Prizren and Prishtina (74 kilometers away) for work.
TENDING TO THE HERD Thirteen-year-old Arif Kolloni tends to his 200-strong sheep herd, whose wool his family sells. Albert Spahiu, 17, lives in the village of Zaplluxhe, the last settlement on the road, nestled between green alpine meadows. The view from high-up reveals a chaotic patchwork of stone, cane and plastic roofs, decorated houses and small farms. Zapllushe is a good start for walking trips, though the climb is strenuous
GETTING THERE (from Prishtina) BY CAR: leave the city at the big roundabout, and go uphill toward Prizren. From Prizren, follow Dragash, which is the central point to reach the other villages. BY BUS: Buses to Dragash leave at 12:50 p.m., 2:45 p.m. and 8:10 p.m. daily from Prishtina’s bus station.
FLUSH WITH BLUSH
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GRACANICA GRACANICA, ONE OF THE BIGGER PREDOMINATELY SERBIAN COMMUNITIES IN KOSOVO, IS KNOWN FOR ITS BEAUTIFUL ORTHODOX MONASTERY WITH THE CITY’S NAMESAKE. BUT ITS YOUNG POPULATION IS EXPERIENCING AN AWAKENING, TOO, IN A PLACE THAT DEFIES EXPECTATIONS.
CREATIVITY COMES OF AGE Artist Milisav Sarac of Fushe Kosova (Kosovo Polje) frequents the center, which connects young Serbian artists across Kosovo. A graduate in sculpture from Fushe Kosova University of Arts, Sarac travels to Gracanica to work on his art with fellow students.
RAISING THE BAR Underneath the art center, Dzingis is the only bar in town featuring alternative and jazz. It organizes live concerts and music nights. “If there are young people that want to play or organize a party here, they can, we are very open for everything,” says Milos Tomic, one of the owners. “They are able to use the bar and the sound system free of charge.”
KITCHEN COMPANIONS In Gracanica, which is 85 percent Serb, ethnic divisions have loosened in recent years. At the burek shop Pekara Buba, an Albanian is in charge of baking, while his Serbian friend handles the cash register.
IN BLOOM Serbian homeowners often place an arch made of paper flowers around their garden porches, which signifies the marriage of a family member. Some hold on to their arches long after wedding celebrations have ended.
CROWNING ACHIEVEMENTS For quite some time, Gracanica offered little to its youths. That is until a group of young activists opened the Alternative Youth Cultural Center last fall. The center has an open art studio with a lithography press and facilities for painting, drawing and graphics. It offers bands and musicians a space to learn, teach and practice. The center also organizes frequent exhibitions. Last October, it opened the exhibition “Women’s Colony,” featuring 10 young female artists.
TIME TO JAM Gracanica’s main attraction is its Serbian Orthodox monastery, built in 1321 under king Stefan Nemanjic. The church holds a services twice a day, 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. The monastery makes homemade products including wine, jam and honey. This provides a living for the nuns, who work the land behind the church.
GETTING THERE (from Prishtina) BY CAR: Leave the city at the big roundabout south of the center, and go uphill toward Prizren. At the commercial area, take the first road on the right, which curls under the main road, to the left. Continue on this road until Gracanica is reached.
TIME TO GET DOWN The same building accommodates the Student Support Center, which organizes diverse classes ranging from English to salsa dance lessons. Youngsters frequent the lessons. About 10,000 people live in Gracancia, including about 2,200 young people enrolled in primary and secondary schools.
BY BUS: Buses to Gjilan stop in Gracanica. They depart every 20 minutes from 7:20 a.m. until 8:20 p.m., with several gaps during the day, from Prishtina’s bus station. The ride to Gracanica is about 20 minutes. LEARNING TOGETHER
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NOVO BRDO NOVO BRDO IS IN A WIDE AND ROLLING HIGHLAND, OVERGROWN WITH BRUSH AND GRASS, WHERE A STEEP HILL SEEMS TO HAVE ITS OWN STONE RUINS. JUST A STONE’S THROW FROM PRISHTINA, THIS SEEMINGLY ABANDONED AREA WAS A VIBRANT ECONOMIC MINING CENTER DURING BYZANTINE AND OTTOMAN TIMES, WITH MORE THAN 40,000 INHABITANTS. THE REMNANTS OF THIS TIME ARE UNIQUE, IN PARTICULAR THE WELL-KEPT NOVO BRDO FORTRESS, AS A PROTECTED CULTURAL HERITAGE SITE.
OASIS ON A HILL Black signs throughout Novo Brdo lead to Villa Kalaja, a small, romantic oasis on top of a hill with three chalets. They were built by Arsim Vllasalihu out of mud and wood, together with a restaurant that somewhat resembles the castle that the area overlooks on the other side of the valley. Upon request, Arsim will cook a fresh lamb in his wood stove, but be sure to make a reservation. The chalets cost 25 euro per night, including electricity and heating, but only one of the small houses has a real stove, which is recommended for long and cozy winter nights. Reservations can be made through the tourist center or the owner, Agim Vllasaliu, + 377 (0) 44 419 249.
BEAUTY IN RUINS The St. Nicholas or St. Friday cathedral was once the largest church in Novo Brdo. It was built in the 14th century, destroyed and rebuilt in the 15th century. Although today the cathedral is merely a ruin, it provides a brilliant view of the fortress, mosque and tyrbe. Two tombs are beside the church. One was for the burial of priests, the other for the priests’ belongings. By taking away stones, Fitim reveals a deep hole with bones and a skull.
REDEFINING ROCK Former Prishtina rocker Fitim Bunjaku runs Novo Brdo’s main regional tourist center. Novo Brdo was a ninth-century Roman settlement, and its economical importance was based on its silver and gold mines. The old mine shafts can still be found in the hills.
THE GRAVE HOUSE Down from the castle appears the old Turkish grave house, the Tyrbe, built in the 16th century for Mehmet the Elder, an Ottoman solider reputed for his bravery. It is now an unprotected, tiny hut with a tomb inside covered by a green plaid with Arabic letters. In May, the Tyrbe attracts a stream of visitors who believe that flipping its roof tiles will secure them a happy marriage. Bunjaku, the guide, says young people gather there to celebrate St. Gorge’s day. This celebration, independent of any tile flipping, has resultied in many marriages, Bunjaku says.
A FORTRESS STILL STANDS Archaeologists say the first fortress structures arose from early mining activity. The fortress was built in the 13th century during the Byzantine Empire. When the Ottomans conquered the area, the castle was fortified. The site, 1,124 meters above sea level, offered an excellent defensive position and today is a place to visit for great views.
NEIGHBORHOOD JOINT The Kuftara Kod Cara in Prekovce is not more than an oddly decorated kiosk with two tables, where villagers meet for a beer or two. Be sure not to miss the massive pljeskavica, the Balkan equivalent of a hamburger, served with cabbage salad, onions and spiced pickled peppers, which all goes down well with a beer.
A HOUSE OF PRAYER The Mosque of Osman Efendia was built in 1758, across the Tyrbe, the old Turkish grave house. Only its minaret remains, and a smaller mosque was built in 1970 to replace it. This mosque is still used as a house of prayer. GET ON THE ROAD Fifteen families in the area have set up a communal-type tourism system. Visitors can taste traditional food for about 5 euro and sleep in their houses for 13 euro a night in the winter and 11 euro a night in the summer. One of these houses is about a five-minute drive from the tourist center. Bedri Vllasaliuâ€™s family also rents out bikes for day trips for 10 euro a day. For details, contact the tourist center at +377 (0) 44 132 158 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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GETTING THERE (from Prishtina)
MINING THE PAST Gold and silver was mined in Novo Brdo for the manufacture of ornaments, silver spoons and gold and silver coins. The Byzantine Empire hired miners from Saxony, Germany, who worked the mines throughout the centuries. These days, the mines mostly have zinc and lead.
BY CAR: Leave the city at the big roundabout south of the center and go uphill toward Prizren. At the commercial area, take the first road on the right, which curls under the main road to the left, toward Gracanica. Continue after Gracanica, past the Badovc lake on the left, and keep on the road until the signs point you to turn left at Artane, how Novo Brdo is known in Albanian. BY BUS: Buses to Novo Brdo leave Prishtinaâ€™s bus station from at 7:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
VITI VITI AND ITS SURROUNDING VILLAGES ARE A PATCHWORK OF SERBIAN, CROATIAN AND ALBANIAN COMMUNITIES WITH INTERTWINING RELIGIONS AND CULTURES. THE CATHOLIC INFLUENCE IN THIS AREA IS SIGNIFICANT. LETNICE, A VILLAGE NEAR THE MACEDONIAN BORDER, IS HOME TO A BLACK MADONNA STATUE. IT ATTRACTS PILGRIMS FROM ALL OVER THE REGION, BECAUSE THE STATUE IS BELIEVED TO BRING MIRACLES.
BRICKS FROM 1846 The village of Shtubell, on a steep slope going up to Letnicë, is home to many Catholic Albanians. Stone houses dot the hills, where the many aging walls create an appearance similar to rural Italy or France. Arben Gjoni, a devoted Catholic Albanian from Shtubell, tells how the 1846 church and the adjacent small museum were devoted to Domikel Travoluzi, a priest and writer. Travoluzi was influential in developing the Gheg dialect of the Albanian language. He was a protector of the Albanian villagers, who came to Kosovo from Miredita, Albania, to escape forced conversion to Islam under 19th-century Ottoman rule.
GETTING THERE (from Prishtina) BY CAR: Leave the city at the big roundabout, and go uphill toward Skopje. After Ferizaj, take a left toward Viti. The road is in poor condition, so drive carefully.
SWEEPING UP THE RESIDENTS The church is an important part of village life, and it’s planning to help reconstruct burned buildings in the main square. Young women do their part to help the church by keeping it clean.
BY BUS: Buses to Ferizaj leave every 15 minutes starting at 6:15 a.m. and run until 8:30 p.m. From Ferizaj, continue onto Viti for direct buses at 7 a.m., 9 a.m., 11:50 a.m., 2 p.m., 2:15 p.m. and 7 p.m.
THE PILGRIMAGE Once a year, on Aug. 14 and 15, 30,000 to 40,000 pilgrims visit Letnica’s Zoja e Crna Gores for a 400-year-old Black Madonna statue that is believed to have a miraculous power to cure the sick. The pilgrimage is important to the area economy, says priest Don Kriste Gjergji.
TIME TO DISH On the outskirts of the city center, Restaurant Lindi serves tasty, good-looking dishes. The chicken is well-roasted, yet tender; the same goes for the veal cutlets that come with a simple salad and fresh-baked buns. The waiters are attentive and fast, and their sheqer pare, or sugar money, dessert served by the house is as syrupy and sweet as it’s supposed to be.
A SIMPLE LIFE Gjergj Zefi takes care of the land surrounding the church and feeds the pigs. In October, he distills rakia made from plums harvested from the church garden that have been fermenting since August in a kettle. Zefi distills the rakia twice so it can reach more than 40 percent alcohol and is ready to be served to pilgrims.
AROUND THE WATER The ark-shaped Adriatiku restaurant sits behind the church, above an artificial water basin. The basin is said to teem with fresh fish during the summers.
PASSING THROUGH The way to Letnice passes through the predominately Serbian village of Vrbovac. The tiny Orthodox Sveti Dimitrije church is worth a visit. Be sure to walk down the road from the church toward the village school, as a enormous socialist realist wall painting honors the school teachers as the bearers of civilization in Cyrillic letters.
AFTER THE DIASPORA Letnice was a mainly Croat village until the 1990s, But since 6,000 Croats left during Slobodan Milosevic’s regime, only 45 remain. Paulina Lencica is one of them. She’s known for providing the village with good Croatian sljivovica.
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BAKING BONANZA Restaurant Te Shushtë is near the basin of the Morave river, in a small valley between the hills. It’s perfect for eating out in summer. The cheese is homemade, the traditionally baked bread is dense but tasty, but it is the farmlike ambiance and the natural beauty that make the place worth a visit.