As anticipated, a further wander through the city yesterday refined at bit farther my views of Kosovo’s capital city. Let’s just say the realities are not as, um, nice as they appeared from the car. Unfortunately I was just on a wander about with a couple other Americans, and so don’t have the benefit of a local’s insight into what I was seeing: What’s the cultural significance of these structures? What do the local population think about their appearance? By western standards things looked pretty grim, but someone who has lived here through the growth of the city and the conflicts of twenty years ago could probably tell me a lot about how it’s evolved. Maybe things now are booming and blossoming compared to the past? Unfortunately, I don’t know. So the things I’m going to show you have little context, and that’s my disclaimer.
Our wandering took us first abouft a half mile down the high street to the University. Now I was a bit excited, because I’d actually heard about this place, how in 1971 the foundation of an Albanian-language university in the Serb-dominated region was a huge cultural triumph, acknowledging Albanian needs and legitimacy. And besides, my roommate had read that they had an absolutely extraordinary library building – like I was going to pass up a chance to see that.
So we were walking down the street, and through the telephone wires I got a glimpse of an abandoned Orthodox Church. And what’s my motto? “I love a good ruin!” So off we went to have a closer look, when we came upon this sign:
Well, it looked like we found the university’s main quad. That’s the ruined church in the background, quietly crumbling away in a park that looks more like an abandoned lot, complete with stray dogs that slunk about panting and growling.
Unfortunately, I had a growing suspicion that the building in the background was going to be the library I’d heard about. A closer look at the church showed it to be a burned-out shell of a once beautiful building. The entire porch was blackened and scorched, and what once must have been plaster and mural frescoes had been stripped back to the bare bricks. An opening in the bars of the door led me to duck inside for a moment for a peek (and now I can just see my mom putting her head in her hands). Inside was covered with graffiti and scattered with broken glass and the remains of dozens of fires. And no, I didn’t get attacked by any lurking hobos, but the thought was definitely there, so I didn’t linger.
As I’ve said, I know nothing about why this building was being treated and neglected this way in the middle of the capital. The best theory I can come up with is that because orthodox christianity is the religion associated with Serbia, the active mistreatment and desecration of an Orthodox church probably has strong political implications. But that’s just a guess.
And it turns out that that shocking building in the background was the National Library of Kosovo, doubling as the Prishtina University library. Holy. Mother. Of. God.
The underlying structure, if you can picture it, is the blocky, aggressive construction known as the Brutalist style, for obvious reasons. Then at some point, deciding they didn’t care for this ugly style any more, they added these grilles and bubble-domes to “beautify” it. I’m not kidding.
Walking back through town, we came up agains a political rally that was so loud we could hear it from our hotel.
And finally we came across a statue erected in 2008 to celebrate the country’s new independence:
With a foamy cappuccino 🙂