"Dispatches from Europe" Blog Contest

Are you planning on traveleling to the European Union this summer? Submit a post to be featured on our Across the Pond blog and win prizes!

Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic Blogs

The third Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class traveled to the Arctic Circle in summer 2014. Check out their blog entries from this summer!

Ringing the Bells at the Banner of Peace

Landscape Architecture Doctoral candidate Caroline Wisler reflects on her travels to Bulgaria.

Zach Grotovsky's Summer 2013: 14 Cities, 15 Weeks, One Long Adventure

University of Illinois graduate student in Germanic Literatures and Languages Zach Grotovsky documents his travels throughout Eastern Europe in the summer of 2013.

Polar Bears

The Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class spotted polar bears in Norway!

Peaceful Opposition in Izmir

MAEUS student Levi Armlovich describes his experiences with the protests in Izmir, Turkey.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Prishtina's Two Towers

by Chris Jackson

A recently converted pedestrian promenade, Mother Teresa Boulevard is at the center of the Kosovar capitol of Prishtina.  It’s the site of summer festivals, musical performances, and nightly throngs of pedestrians.  Named for Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, born Anjeza Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in nearby Skopje, the boulevard is lined at street level with cafes, nightlife, and shops, and apartments above.  While much of the architecture is historic, including some eerie reminders of the communist regime, modern structures are beginning to appear.  The all glass German Banka Ekonomike stands beside the restored Swiss Diamond Hotel, and at the other end the Albanian fast food joint Kolonat stands beneath an oversized sign and the chain’s McDonald’s-esque emblem.  However the real conflict of the historical and the modern is in Prishtina’s two towers, at either end of Mother Teresa.

At the north end, standing tall over the statues of Albanian hero Skanderbeg and Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova, is the blue glass beacon of modernity that is the government building of Kosovo.  It towers over older government installations, and today houses the 120-member national assembly, as well as the office of the Prime Minister, Mr. Hashim Thaci, and his cabinet of 22 ministers.  Despite its prominence, the massive modern structure is not a beacon of liberal democracy in the modernizing post-war Kosovo.  It houses a government under constant scrutiny, the members of which have and continue to stand trial for corruption and war crimes.  A government so cracked and divided along party affiliations and wartime allegiances that it currently sits in limbo, unable to form following June snap elections.

And the tower’s foot sits a reminder of the war more overt and sobering than the guerilla politicians still guiding the country 15 years on.  A video screen displays the faces and biographical information of those still missing from the Milosevic government’s ethnic cleansing campaign of the 1990s.

To the north, where Mother Teresa Boulevard dissipates into four lanes of traffic, opposite the Kalashnikov-wielding statue of Kosovo Liberation Army martyr Zahir Pajaziti, stands the Grand Hotel Prishtina.  Today, only operating a couple of the thirteen floors of guestrooms, the skin-colored concrete block of a tower stands as a monument to all of Kosovo’s troubles: the communist past, the war, and the current economic plight.

Built during the golden years of Kosovo autonomy (following the 1974 constitutional reform and being wiped out by the anti-bureaucratic revolution of 1989), the Grand Hotel Prishtina was a hotspot during the communist years.  It played host to visiting dignitaries and businessmen as well as all sorts of engagements in its many ballrooms.  Though it remained largely unscathed throughout out the minimal fighting in Prishtina and NATO bombing campaign in 1998-99, the Grand Hotel was home to the infamously brutal instruments of ethnic cleansing, the paramilitary force known as Arkan’s Tigers.  Today, the Grand Hotel, like many of the larger industries in Kosovo is locked in a legal battle over privatization.  With only a couple functioning floors of unflattering guestrooms, a new though usually vacant bar in the lobby, and an overgrown back terrace, the Grand Hotel Prishtina, now stands as a monument to corruption and failed privatization in post-war Kosovo.

Pink Tanks and Rotten Cakes: A Research Trip to Prague

by Jenelle Davis
The Pink Tank in the Military Technical Museum Lešany, 2014
Photo Credit: Jenelle Davis

This past summer I spent a month in Prague conducting research for the chapter of my dissertation in art history that investigates the life of a memorial in the Czech Republic post-1945 to the present. I arrived to the beautiful city armed with a small but formidable list of email addresses and phone numbers of local curators, artists and art historians from which, I hoped, I could conjure a few meetings and forge some new connections. What resulted from my efforts went wildly beyond my expectations. The trip proved immensely successful, even if some of the information I garnered was not at all what I expected.

My overarching aim was to meet David Černý, a contemporary Czech artist (or trouble maker depending who you’re talking to) whose action against a monument (or act of vandalism, also depending on who your speaking to) is the focus of a substantial part of my research. In 1991, Černý and a group of fellow art students covered the Monument to Soviet Tank Crews, a tank on a raised platform, with pink paint as an act of rebellion against the lasting Soviet legacy in Czechoslovakia and the failure of the new democratic government to convene a public discussion about the monument’s fate after the Velvet Revolution. My more realistic aspirations for the trip was to be in Prague by May 8 to see the commemorations for Victory Day at the former site of the memorial and to visit the Pink Tank where it now lives in a military museum outside of Prague (and yes, it is still Pink!).

The remnants of the “pink tank cake” and other original materials
brought over to the artist’s studio in a shopping cart. 2014
Photo Credit: Jenelle Davis
Incredibly, one morning I woke up to find an email in my inbox from Černý himself instructing me to call him so that we can find a time to meet! Apparently the curators at his art space, the Meet Factory, appreciated my determination and candor and prodded Černý to get in contact with me. We ended up hitting it off and I was invited back to visit his studio and go through an enormous amount of invaluable original materials including police reports, articles, letters, postcards and even a (rotting) cake made in the shape of the tank! It was astounding, and quite fun for both of us as Černý mentioned he hadn’t even thought about these materials for years.

The story of the tank, and my interest in it, doesn’t end with the initial act; there’s a fascinating continuation to it. On July 1, 2011, on the twentieth anniversary of the Warsaw Treaty’s demise, the pink tank returned to Prague on a palette, floating down the Vltava River. Its return was made at the behest of a ‘anti-totalitarianism’ organization, OPONA. The media portrayed this return of the tank as being quite a seminal event, and so I’ve been presenting this event as such in my written work. But what I found out during meetings with a few local artists surprised me. Not only was the public blasé about the return of the tank (and ambivalent about Černý for that matter) but I also realized that both Černý and OPONA were being bankrolled by the right-leaning political party TOP09. Not that this was a secret, per se, but the insight about the way contemporary politics were mirroring and also rejecting soviet era policies as relayed to me by locals puts a really interesting spin on this project that I wasn’t able to garner through secondhand sources. This problematizes the quaint, easy ending I envisioned to for this chapter and I couldn’t be happier with the opportunity to follow the trajectory this presents.

This trip was supported by a European Union Center Graduate Student Research Travel Grant and a travel stipend from the Program in Jewish Culture and Society, without which, this trip would not have been possible. I am sincerely grateful for the funding!