Exploring Pristina

Exploring Pristina

Since I was in North Macedonia, I was right next door to Kosovo, Europe’s youngest country. So I thought I’d have a look.

After a little under four hours from Skopje, the bus pulled over and the driver announced ‘Pristina’. It was early evening, dark and snowing steadily, and it seemed like the bus had stopped at a completely random location. No signs, no buildings. I needed convincing. ‘Pristina?’ I asked the driver as he slung my backpack at me from underneath the bus. ‘Pristina,’ he replied. Standing with my bags in the dark and snow, I wondered where the bus termimal was. I wondered where I was.

There was an odd looking building in the distance beyond a busy road, so I struck out for it. As I got closer I was pleased to find that it was indeed the bus terminal, and relieved to get inside out of the snow. I wondered why the bus had parked so far away. It was that time of evening when those less fortunate are looking for shelter, and inside the terminal there was an air of desperation. The occupants turned to stare at me as I entered, which happens most of the time anyway, but I was particularly conscious of it as I walked past the rows of seats. The only bloke who didn’t stare was the one walking in circles, clicking and muttering to himself.

I had nothing in my wallet but a few Macedonian dinars, and needed an ATM. There wasn’t one in the terminal, so I went back out into the snow to look for a cab that would take a card. There wasn’t one of those either, but the cabbie agreed to stop at a ‘Bank-O-Mat’ on the way to my accomodation. Not only did the driver not accept cards, but he also had bugger all change, so when we arrived at the acccomodation I was in a pickle. The owner of the apartment came out and met us, took my money into a nearby shop and returned with some change. Very decent of him. I was relieved to have arrived.

I spent the next couple of days walking around Pristina, trying to get a feel for this small, nascent country.

Brutalist architecture was big in the former Eastern Bloc and Yugoslavia, where a sense of aesthetic was habitually sacrificed in favour of practicality and austerity. Interestingly, the name doesn’t come from the harsh, stark nature of the structures, but rather from the French béton brut meaning ‘raw concrete’. Still, I reckon either interpretation of the name works just fine. Pristina was not spared from Brutarch, and has the dubious honour of containing what is arguably one of the most visually confronting, unsettling and grotesque buildings on the planet. The National Library is an horrific architectual abomination, which looks like an imprisoned building. Adding to the dystopian feel of the place was the rundown and vandalised exterior.

Who thought that was a good idea?
National Library of Kosovo, exploring Pristina

‘Main Force Patrol to Gosling One. Main Force Patrol to Gosling One…’

Bill Clinton Statue exploring Pristina

After experiencing the National Library of Horror I was in need of a little pick-me-up, and what better way to get it than from Bill Clinton’s winning smile? The Kosovans love The Clint, and credit him with the NATO air strikes that ended the independence war with Serbia.

‘Hey Jim!’ ‘Oh g’day Bill!’

Bill Clinton portrait Kosovo

On Bill Clinton Boulevard you can find Prinstina’s Bill Clinton Statue, depicting Bill’s winning grin in brass, beneath a super large portrait of Bill.

I actually met Bill Clinton once, after he had left public office. He came to my work, and I remember him as a quietly spoken bloke who lacked a sense of personal space (some readers may not find this surprising). I mean, Australia’s a big country, yet when Bill spoke to me he leant in so close to my ear I thought he was going to kiss me.

Anway, getting back to Kosovo, the nation was born in 2008, and the appropriately named Newborn Monument celebrates this occasion. There may not be a great deal to it, but it certainly gets the message across.

Newborn monument exploring Pristina
‘Gimme an N! Gimme and E! etc.

Watching the Kosovo conflict unfold from Australia was a pretty confusing affair. I have to admit I never really understood it, so in an effort to rectify this I went to the Kosovo Museum.

Albanian folk instruments

The Kosovo Museum contained a collection of Albanian folk instruments, including this cool horn and reed set-up

Albanian folk group

I also found out where Devo have been hiding since the 80s

Unfortunately for me all the Museum’s interpretive signs were in Albanian, but I stuck at the task and toured the exhibits and learned a few things along the way.

Copy of the Kosovo Declaration of Independence, and flags of the countries that recognised the new nation

The history of the conflict with Serbia still remained a mystery so I had to watch some doccos* about it when I got back to the apartment.

Spomenik exploring Pristina

The former Yugoslavia is littered with spomeniki (memorials). These installations commemorate the struggle against occupation during WWII, and the emergence of socialist Yugoslavia. They are invariably brutalist, mostly weird, and have a 1960s space age The Jetsons feel about them. Pristina’s example, Monument to Brotherhood and Unity, is a cracker.

The artist designed the memorial to represent Montenegrans, Serbians and Albanians living in harmony. Sadly, in this case, life didn’t imitate art.

I enjoyed visiting Pristina, but after a few days it was time to move on again. Turns out leaving Kosovo wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought.

*Australian slang meaning ‘documentaries’

Find out more about Kosovo here

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