- 29 February 2008
- 14 February 2008
- 13 October 2010
Every time I am looking at the clouds I am wondering; What makes skies clear?
There are so many questions - so much to learn and so many things for me to see.
But every time I close my eyes I am hoping for just one thing:
that we may all live together - people, lakes and trees - in peace and harmony and unity.
The Rugova Valley is part of the mountain chain Alpet Shqiptare, covering western Kosovo, northern Albania and eastern Montenegro. The landscape is stunning but hard to get to. I had been lucky enough to get a ride up the mountain by car with Fatos, born and raised in the valley. I had noticed his characteristic looks on the way up the mountain - thick black hair, almost down to the shoulders, his eyes picking up every detail along the forest path as he drove his Suzuki jeep up the mountain.
- 20 November 2009
I had two invitations for Sunday 15 November. One was to monitor a polling station in Kosovo, the other was to speak about Kosovo at the Royal Geographical Society in London. It was probably vanity that made me choose the latter; as 45% of the Kosovar electorate made their way to the ballot box, I was talking about the villages of western Kosovo, and a volunteer project there offering English teaching, environmental education and the principles for sustainable tourism to the young people of Rugova.
With the people of Kosovo's day of choices in my mind, I ended my RGS presentation with a photograph of a young Kosovar boy I met in these mountains in the summer. "English teaching and thoughtful tourism can offer him more than money - it can bring him choice," I argued. "He will have a more realistic understanding of the world beyond this village, and this country, and increased freedom to decide what his future will be."
This week I have been reading a book which has given me plenty more to think about the political issues of choice in southeast Europe. '89: The unfinished revolution by BBC journalist, Nick Thorpe, www.reportagepress.com, is described by the author as being about 'the simple desire of ordinary people for the freedom to influence their own lives'. This desire manifested itself in 1989 in movements as varied as Estonia's 'Singing Revolution', the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Romanian Revolution - to all of which Thorpe was an eye-witness. His book takes these events, and others of 1989, including Milosevic's grotesque exploitation of the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, as a starting point for a wider exploration of the new world order and the lessons that can be learned from these twenty years of history. There was a frisson in reading this book on the day that Kosovars - Albanian and Serb - were going to the polls with the chance to create a new world, the way they wanted it.
Thorpe's narrative is powerful. He narrates his experience in the Belgrade Hyatt during the NATO bombing ("Arkan's coming up the stairs") and the publishing of his own face on radical Serbian TV with the instruction that if anyone saw this man they should kill him. He writes of visits to Kosovo in the 90s and the atmosphere of surveillance and fear he found there then. Sometimes the focus narrows from these big political moments issues to the private, fundamental battles, including a powerful chapter on the struggle for the right for women to give birth at home in Poland and Hungary, outlawed by the vested interest and male machinery of the hospital. The strength of the book is in the vignettes it offers: his conversations on 24 March 1999 with people in the streets of Belgrade - Will NATO bomb you? "'No way, they're too smart,' said a young businessman... 'No, they're too dumb...' said the bricklayers", or the man at the Hotel Grand on his Pristina visit in the '90s who sat at the next table with a microphone pointing at Thorpe's conversation with representatives from the Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms.
It's inspiring to feel the ways that Kosovo has moved on in the 20 years since the book's title, but this week with my eye on the internet for news of Kosovo's election results, there is also a sobering final analysis. Three pages from the end of the book, Thorpe mentions recent surveys of the skills of the young people of Central and Eastern Europe. The weaknesses found in the critical faculties of analysis rather than simply learning are a political as well as educational failing. "In the new democracies citizens feel weak, and as reluctant to challenge their elected rulers as they once were to challenge their unelected ones. The institutions of state get away with too much," Thorpe concludes. In Kosovo it is not the new leadership now in place in the municipalities, but the country's teachers who will determine the quality of democracy and the real choice available to that young boy from the mountains.
The author can be reached at elizabethgowing at hotmail dot com.
- 08 June 2009
- By Nicholas Swanson