Whoever travels to Pristina these days will discover a dynamic city that does not lack projects. The most relevant is the start in July of the Manifesta art biennial, which will undoubtedly be the event with the greatest global projection in the short history of Kosovo.
The traveler or the traveler will also find a youth willing to eat, if not the world, at least Europe. The problem is that the reluctance of some countries –especially Spain– to recognize what is a de facto state has these young people on a diet. Their careers are hampered by being born in this corner of the former Yugoslavia, where rigorously documented atrocities were committed by Serb militias only two decades ago.
When you arrive in Pristina, the first thing that strikes you is that many Kosovar artists and local Manifesta 14 collaborators fear that they will not be able to travel to Spain to participate in Manifesta 15 (based in Barcelona in 2024). Spain is one of the five EU countries that does not recognize Kosovar passports. The implicit reason is that doing so would set a precedent for an eventual independence of Catalonia. The problem does not affect Kosovars who hold another passport.
Some of the other EU states that have not recognized Kosovo (Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus) are softening their stance. The Kosovars with whom this newspaper has spoken explain that Greece already allows travel with some regularity. The added problem is that, as long as Madrid and the rest of the countries reluctant to Kosovar independence do not give their arm to twist, there will not be full recognition by the EU. Hence, it is also not possible to travel without obstacles to European countries that do recognize Kosovo.
The discourse that Spain has been holding is that this step will be taken when Pristina reaches an agreement with Serbia, which until now has refused to part with this territory. It should be noted that another reason delaying full recognition by the EU is the discrepancies with the Kosovar authorities regarding the process being carried out in The Hague against leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army. They are accused of crimes against humanity, while photos of defendants such as former President Hashim Thaçi are displayed in large sizes on the streets of Pristina.
The situation, when known in situ, is disconcerting. Anyone with a Spanish passport can enter Kosovo without problems. Moreover, the welcome is very friendly from a population that wants to open up to the world. But his interlocutors fear that they will not be able to return the visit.
This circumstance would be particularly unfortunate if it affected Manifesta, a biennial that has the vocation of weaving networks between the cities where it ends. In the current situation, that continuous line is threatened. Those affected would be some young people who feel second-class Europeans.
The Spanish Government does not share the idea that everything is decided. To questions from this newspaper, sources from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded yesterday that, when the time comes, all applications to enter Spain that are submitted will be evaluated. Sources consulted from the Ministry of Culture referred to the same idea.
Hana Qena and Lola Sylaj are two members of the Haveit Collective. They will perform at Manifesta 14 with a performance inspired by postpartum depression. They jokingly comment that there is always the possibility of entering Spain from France or Portugal, although they hope that before reaching that extreme some type of special visa will be issued. No one expects Spanish recognition in Kosovo in the short or medium term. And they know that there are few precedents for special visas, such as those that were given for the national team of their country to travel to Spain. But they do not lose the illusion.
“Why are we being punished like this, after everything we've been through here?” Sylaj asks. “The problem – she and Qena continue – is not only that we cannot travel to Spain, but that to go to the rest of Europe we have to continually request visas, and this prevents us from attending job offers that people of culture have outside of Kosovo . You depend on the good will of officials.”
It is a general complaint. Oda Haliti, DJ and contributor to Manifesta 14, explains that she had come to perform regularly on the European club circuit, including the prestigious Berghain in Berlin. She but she eventually settled in Pristina, where she now has difficulty traveling. "They don't always give you the visas you ask for, so it's impossible to schedule a work schedule, and in this city there is only one club and we all know each other". Oda would love to perform at the Sónar festival in 2024, the year of Barcelona.
Sitting at the same table, the artist Dardan Zhegrova, who will present his work in one of the most iconic venues of Manifesta 14, the Grand Hotel Prishtina, does not understand what sense it makes that the Catalan conflict ends up limiting his expectations of bringing his artistic manifestations to the rest of Europe.
The non-recognition of Kosovo by 95 of the 193 members of the United Nations suggests that this country with a majority Albanian population is a failed state. But, although it is true that the Serbian army maneuvers from time to time on the border and it is also evident that rural areas have a very precarious economy, Pristina (200,000 of the country's 1.8 million inhabitants) is exhibited as a city looking more to the future than to the past.
In the urban landscape of Pristina, the cranes outnumber the minarets. The construction boom is spectacular and out of control. Architect Bekim Ramku, director of the Kosovo Architectural Foundation, laments this circumstance. He would be in favor of regulating this growth with adequate urban planning. But, like any society rebuilding itself after a war, Kosovo is in a hurry to make up for lost time. Some of the money that flows into neighborhoods like the new business district comes from the diaspora, the hundreds of thousands of people who emigrated to countries like Germany or Switzerland and return every summer.
All the local collaborators of Manifesta and the Kosovar Albanian artists who will participate in the biennial criticize without exception that their passport is not considered valid to enter Spain. The organizers of Manifesta, with headquarters in Amsterdam, have taken good note of this circumstance, as well as the representative of the Barcelona City Council in the patronage of Manifesta 15, Eva Sòria, director of Innovation, Knowledge and Visual Arts.
Manifesta, beyond the hundred days that its biennials last, is an organism that stays alive for the rest of the year. At some point an exchange between Catalan and Kosovar artists could be scheduled, which would give rise to an uncomfortable diplomatic problem.