I am way overdue on my blog updates, so I will try my best to catch up my readers on the past two months. Since my semester will be ending in about two weeks, I figured it’s either now or never.

Posing for a picture at Mitrovica: on the other side of the rocks lies Serbia, where many Kosovo Albanians have never been.

My last blog indicated my pending trip to Kosovo, so I will start out by discussing my experience there.  Last semester while doing the International Law and Organizations Program at American University, I was introduced to the situation in Kosovo from an international law perspective. Back then, Kosovo to me was nothing more than the discussion we had in our class and the papers I wrote, so to actually go on the trip really brought the topics I had learned about to life.

I no longer had to argue for or against the statehood of Kosovo from literary research and a “he said/she said” perspective; now I could actually hear and talk to Kosovo Albanians as well as Kosovo Serbs, visit governmental and non-governmental organizations, walk on the land where wars took place and assess the situation for myself.  While my assessment is not fully developed by far, as I still have a lot to learn and would like to travel to Serbia to get a well-rounded assessment, I walked away with a few observations.

For those who do not know about the Kosovo War, it saturated the media in the 1990s when Serbs and ethnic Albanians fought for the Kosovo region. Although Serbs make up the minority in Kosovo, they consider it their own. The 1974 Yugoslav Constitution defined Kosovo’s status as an autonomous region of Serbia. However, when President Slobodan Milosevic took power, he made it his goal to deprive Kosovo of its independence, and this in turn led to uprisings by Kosovo Albanians. In 1999 the conflict escalated with Kosovo Albanians being severely persecuted and forcing a NATO involvement. After nearly a year of NATO airstrikes, Milosevic was forced to withdraw his troops and Kosovo was left under UN supervision.

Fast forward to 2008, Kosovo is still under UN supervision, but it has declared independence with Serbia, which obviously rejects its independence but most of the European Union countries accept.

In 2012, little has changed. Serbia still does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, and although the situation in the region has been largely controlled, tension still exists between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs. In the municipality of Mitrovica, which my classmates and I were fortunate enough to visit, a bridge divides Kosovo and Serbia.

Although the bridge is less than a couple minutes’ walk, I was astounded to meet Kosovo Albanian students who had grown up there their whole life, but had never walked across the bridge and have no clue what lies on the other side. In addition to the physical barrier, the division is apparent in the hearts and minds of the people. Either ethnic group would gladly open up and share their dissent for one another; however, to provide this kind of assessment overlooks the progress that has been made in the country.

Although my education has exposed me to Kosovo from the conflict and international law perspective, the image I walked away with is of a country that is rebuilding. In Prishtina, the capital city, there is a huge carved-out stone that bears the letters NEW BORN. And that is exactly what Kosovo is — a “state” in the process of rebuilding itself. A lot of construction is going on in Prishtina, along with a renewed sense of commitment to rebuild Kosovo into a peaceful and modern “nation.”

Besides soaking up the current and past history of Kosovo, during my week stay there, I also got to soak up some sun. After spending nearly four months in Copenhagen, where it is currently snowing and 28 degrees Fahrenheit, I couldn’t contain my excitement for the 70 degree weather in Kosovo. For the first time since August, I got to wear a dress, so I can’t say I didn’t try to advocate for a longer stay.

My classmates and I were flying back to Copenhagen on Friday, but since we had a layover in Vienna, we had planned to spend the weekend there along with three of my classmates. My classmates and I had an incredible time. The contrast between Kosovo and Vienna is quite daunting. After spending a week in a developing “country,” I was in complete awe of Vienna’s beauty. So clean, modern, and beautiful – it was the perfect way to end a week of travels!

My classmates and professor in a tiny village in the mountains of Peja, Kosovo, where we visited a family that has lived there for over 700 years.