Travels through History: Journeys in the former Yugoslavia – Kosovo

This excerpt from the book about my travels in The Balkans

“My friends and I think that someone pays them to wear that clothing,” said the taxi driver, pointing at a woman wearing a burqa, “and it has only started in the last 18 months, 2 years. It is the same with the men growing the long beards, they are being paid to make the long beard. It is not traditional. That is what the Muslim women wear here,” he continued jabbing a nicotine-stained finger at another woman with a long, orangey-yellow scarf wrapped around her hair. She was also wearing a long-sleeved blouse and a baggy skirt, both in understated pastel shades. “Those long-bearded men are being paid to be radicals.” “Who would do that, which country would do that, which organisation would pay people to wear burqas and grow beards?” I asked sceptically. “It is Serbia, they are paying people a hundred Euros a month or more to make these statements, so they can cause unrest amongst the people and cause the people to doubt each other. But it won’t work, because they don’t know the Muslims, they don’t know we won’t fall out with each other, because there’s no jihad against fellow Muslims. It is not just to fight your brother, but it is just to fight against a different religion if the circumstances are right.”

Travels through History: Journeys in the former Yugoslavia – Macedonia

This excerpt from the book about my travels in The Balkans

Five hundred yards further on things started to get interesting. I saw a large equestrian statue on top of an enormous plinth. Even though the official name of this statue is “Warrior on a Horse”, when it was raised the Greeks were upset because they believed the Macedonians were making an unfair claim on Macedonia being the birthplace of Alexander. A strongly worded note from Athens to Skopje outlined the reasons for the Greek displeasure. Underneath rider and horse, a co-ordinated display of leaping water caught my attention. The word fountain doesn’t come close to describing the choreography of the jets as they played in tune with the classical music emanating from loudspeakers attached to nearby lamp standards. The music was Johann Strauss waltzes and extracts from Wagnerian operas such as “Ride of the Valkyries”.

Prizren in Kosovo

Prizren is the second largest city in Kosovo. In the old quarter there’s a stone bridge, or Ottoman bridge as it’s referred to in some guidebooks. If this conjures up images of Mostar for you then you will be in for a disappointment should you come here. The bridge is quite small although it has been wonderfully restored.

From a vantage point on the fort above the town, I counted 30 minarets in Prizren although I am sure there are more, The churches on the other hand are either locked, guarded by police, or surrounded by fences and razor wire. When I visited the Episcopal Church of St George in the centre, I was asked what I was doing by the police. This church was fire-bombed in 2004, so you can understand their presence. The Orthodox Church of the Virgin of Levisa on the other side of the river is still to be restored and is guarded by sharp metal instead of the police.

I have been treated in a very friendly way, but it seems as though Kosovans expect Macedonians here to speak Albanian and even ask them for money, if they are asked for directions. The prices are low  and extras such as bread and salad are provided free of charge for main meals. As many Albanian as Kosovan flags are flying around the city.