One of my last meetings was with a Minister of the Kosovar government, and I was struck by a couple of things. One was that the Minister was pretty young. Younger than me, and I'd be a young-ish minister most places. People say he got to be a Minister because he was a brave fighter in the KLA, back in the guerrilla war of 1996-99. That may not seem like a great criterion for running a big chunk of the government, but you don't want to tell that to the Kosovars. ...Actually, that's unfair. A large minority of Kosovars do think that bravery in the independence struggle should not be the most important qualification for government office. But Kosovar society is pretty clannish, and the war forged very intense loyalties. Especially among those who fought in the early days, when the KLA was small and the struggle seemed almost hopeless. Anyway. I was also struck by the decor of the Minister's office. It was totally dominated by two things: -- An enormous blowup photo of Adem Jashari, and -- A prominently displayed picture of Bill Clinton. I've mentioned that Kosovars love Americans, right? Let me add: they really love Bill Clinton. * * * * * Pristina seems pretty socially liberal. Young people of both sexes dress fashionably. Couples walk arm in arm. I'm told that in the summer, young women walk around with miniskirts, bare midriffs, heels... the whole Balkan hooker-chic thing. (Not that I'm paying attention.) The Albanians are nominally Islamic, but everyone drinks beer and every restaurant serves pork dishes. In ten days, I think I saw maybe three women wearing the head-scarf. Still, there were a couple of things that distinguished Pristina from Belgrade or Bucharest.
One was the relative absence of porn. I think I saw a few Playboys, but otherwise I just didn't notice much. (Again, not that I was paying attention.) Either it's kept behind the counter, like in some conservative parts of the US, or it's simply not there. This is very different from other Balkan capitals, where porn is ubiquitous and displayed openly on every single newsstand. Another came on my last day, when I stopped in a cafe (the 'Bulevardi', just across the street from the Grand) that had a "no kissing" sign. Really. It had a picture of a man and a woman about to kiss, and an X through it, and a sign that said (approximate translation) "family establishment -- please show respect". * * * * * -- Pristina Airport is tiny but modern and clean. Check-in and security are efficient and up-to-date. It's served by a couple of big airlines (Austrian Air, British Airways) plus a bunch of regional ones: Malev from Hungary, Adria from Slovenia, Air Albania. (The slogan of Air Albania is "Fly With Love". I don't know why this pleases me, but it does.) The Balkans utterly lack a regional air hub. To fly from any Balkan capital to another Balkan capital, you probably have to go far out of your way. Case in point: I flew from Kosovo to Bucharest through Vienna. Less than 500 miles as the crow flies, 1200 or so with the plane. There should be a hub, and it should be Belgrade. It's perfectly located, and Serbia has the technical expertise and personnel to run a major airport. Unfortunately, Milosevic screwed this up for many years to come, maybe forever. Pristina... well, it's also got a pretty good location. I have to wonder if they have the chops to run a major regional airport, though. They do pretty well with their little airport, but they'd have to expand it five- or ten-fold, and that would be no small thing. * * * * * How you know your Kosovar taxi driver likes you: as you get out of the taxi at the airport (it's a 30 minute ride from the hotel, remember), he gives you a receipt for 5 Euros more than you paid him. See, that way, you can charge your company for 5 Euros more, and pocket the difference! No, don't ask what he's doing. He doesn't expect any money. He's doing it because you're American! And he likes you! Why are you looking at him like that?