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.

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