Monday, December 26, 2005

Kosovo fieldwork: Kosovan independence; north Mitrovica riot

Kosovo fieldwork notes extracts

Early in the afternoon of the 24th of July 2005, I crossed the bridge back from north Mitrovica to south Mitrovice. That evening, I had coffee with internationals, when we started talking about the riot that had erupted in north Mitrovica and ended discussing Kosovan independence. At 11.10pm, still panicking after the news I'd heard at dinner, I recorded that:

"I'm really confused now. I just don't know who to believe or what to think. If I'd stayed just a few hours longer in the north - maybe just a few minutes longer - I would've been trapped, locked down with the rest of the enclave. If I'd been outside, encumbered with my full pack or", I pondered, "taking photos of cultural, historical and religious sites - and political graffiti - when the rioting and shooting started, I'd've been fucked."

I observed that, "I seem to be wasting all of my luck on this trip. I left London a few days before their bombings; I arrived in Prishtina a few days after their bombings; I arrived in Prizren during a bomb scare; and today, I left north Mitrovica just before it rioted and shooting(s) started."

"What's more", I made a point of recording, "I only learned of this because I jokingly asked some fellow English speakers - two OSCE [Operation for Security and Cooperation in Europe], two UN [United Nations] - if there'd been any news today, 'whether the British police had shot somebody innocent just because they had a tan'. I started to talk to them when they invited me to join them for coffee after telling me the place I'd been until early this afternoon broke out into a riot... early this afternoon."

"I don't know who to believe - the OSCE staff were dismissing talk of any - even eventual - independence and rejecting the notion of UN membership for Kosovo (for Serbia then, if Kosovo won't get its independence) until long after 2012."

"All the previous talk had been of independence by the end of this year and EU [European Union] membership by the end of the decade. Mitrovica OSCE and UN staff disagree with Prishtina CoE [Council of Europe] and UNMIK [United Nations Interim Administration Mission In Kosovo] staff."

"They did give me contact details for a local cultural heritage expert, so I'm going to e-mail him and two others, as well as sending an e-mail update to everyone at home, reassuring them in case the BBC bothers to report this, though I'm sure it won't."

"I still have to write up my notes on a few previous experiences! Maybe I'll do that tonight as I don't sleep, then have a lie-in, before seeing if the bridge is open to go to talk to another local expert."

As I had predicted, I was unable to sleep at 2.25am on the 25th of July 2005 and recorded that, "I was still panicking once I'd found an open internet cafe and passed a cursory street corner security check".

After working through the ways I could spend my remaining time - which were surprisingly few, because I entered Kosovo through the Macedonia-Kosovo border and was therefore considered an illegal immigrant by the Government of Serbia and Montenegro - I noted that, "the OSCE and UN staff were so calm, so dismissive of the 'rioting and shooting'."

I observed that, "I'd like to think it's because they're given minute-by-minute updates and can get armed protection at a moment's notice and because they were (and I think stay) in the south, but it may not be that."

I asked myself, "how many riots are there, how many shootings, that just don't get reported?... Should I accept that I will be okay - will I be okay - if I work here?" Although they were stating the obvious, I still thought it was worth recording that, "the UN and OSCE staff agreed (with each other)" that, "as one of the OSCE staff voiced, 'heritage is really sensitive here, heritage is the most sensitive thing here'."

"As the other member of OSCE staff continued, 'whenever you're talking about heritage, you're talking about identity, you're rewriting the past' and as that determines individual and communal 'property rights', which 'are the most sensitive issue' influenced by heritage work, heritage and property rights - and heritage property rights - are 'heavily politicised'; lucky they pointed that out."

While I understood the established internationals' desire to educate the new internationals - in this case me - it did frustrate me. I asked myself, "why do people always feel it necessary to point out the obvious to me?" Reminded of moments in which I'd made verbal slips - including historical inaccuracies - I complained that, "this is where inferiority complexes and embarrassing attempts to preclude the statements of the obvious's commissions come from!"

I considered that "maybe they're safe - and comfortable with it - because they're doing [a] desk job in a secure building in a calm area; maybe I'd be unsafe - and uncomfortable with it - because I'd be doing a field job at an insecure site in an unstable environment".

I continued, "maybe I'd be okay and protected if I got a consultancy or internship with one of the administrative institutions, though my research might be practically hampered by those constraints (I would win institutional access, but lose public participation)..."

"Well, as the muezzin finally sounds, calming me, I should finally write up all of the things I've been meaning to for days now... then I'll finish the 'practicalisation' - or, actually, implementation in English - of my proposal."

"While I remember, I should note that the OSCE (human rights division) staff echoed German KFOR's dismissal of American recognition of Kosovan independence, protesting that, 'it's way too early - have you seen this place!? - it would just be stupid'."

Referring to the disastrous Iraq war, they argued that, "'they don't even need to earn any brownie points here...', stating that 'the international community isn't ready to accept it yet' and that 'America can't recognise it on its own', though piecemeal recognition is how the other former Yugoslav states emerged."

Correcting myself, I jotted down that, "the Roma didn't 'effectively [close] their road to me' as I wrote at 9.05pm on 17th July 2005; there really was no thing to see and no way to get back to Prizren town centre from there, which is nice."

Capturing one of the casual encounters I had had, I wrote that, "the cleaner who shouted loudly at me in the hope that volume itself would translate Albanian into English (which I wrote about at 12.55am on 20th July 2005), later approached me, visibly agitated, asking me if she'd done something wrong and if I had a problem with her, so I promised her it was just that 'I worked late, I slept late', so I wasn't compus mentus when she was talking to me."

"One contact, who works for an anti-poverty NGO, was a lovely person, but thought that 'humans aren't naturally multicultural - different civilisations don't naturally coexist - that's a recent phenomenon - society's most important project is that of teaching people to live together' (I met him on the morning of 17th July 2005 (and wrote it up at 9.05pm))."

"He did accept my point when I said that 'people did live together before though - the former Yugoslavia's a great example of that - the cultural heritage attests to that - that's precisely why it had to be destroyed - because it demonstrated that the different communities could [live] - that they had - lived together'."

"When I went to Decan then Peje on the 20th July 2005 (written about at 1.25am on 21st July 2005), as my photos show, what I thought, significantly, was called the Hotel Metropol, but that, equally significantly, was actually called the Hotel Metohija, had had its sign smashed so only the 'Hotel Met' remained legible."

"When I did speak to Prizren's archaeologists [whose names I have changed] (on 18th July 2005, written about or noted at 2.35pm), I was entertained by Hassan, Mohammed and Yusuf and another whose name I never got told."

"Mohammed started saying how 'Yusuf, in English, Yosef [Joseph]!'... Hassan (playfully) took offence at [it] (while Yusuf/Yosef/Joseph stood quietly). When Mohammed started teasing Hassan, saying 'Yusuf in English, Yosef - Hassan no - pure Muslim, pure Muslim, Yosef? No', Mohammed retorted to Hassan, derisively, casting his hand at him, '"pure" Muslim...'."

"I tried to explain, 'Yusuf from England, Yosef, Yusuf in England, Yusuf go to England, Yusuf', but couldn't quite communicate it". (What I has been trying to explain was that the English form of the name was Yosef - Joseph - but that someone with another form of the name would be addressed by that name, not by the translated English form.) I resorted to (friendlily) dismissing Mohammed's allegations, saying that 'nothing is pure, nothing' (which Hassan 'approved' of)."

Some of the things "left to catch up on, then, from 9.05pm, 17th July 2005", were:

  • "a discussion of the 'practical restrictions of and reflections on working in a conflict zone'";
  • "a detailing of the visit to Archangel Monastery"; and
  • "the exploration of the practical actions I could take that'd contribute to my research".
I noted that the practical considerations would "probably benefit from me waiting 'til I escape Mitrovica - north and south - anyway - especially if I'm going to argue for slanting my work towards one particular aspect of it, or at least away from one - or away from one place."

At 9.25am on the 26th of July 2005, I scribbled, "nuances and costs: [Dzenana Karup-Drusko's] 'magnificent mosques for hungry people'".

At 10.50am, I wrote down, "constitution of culture: constructed, polyvalent, multivocal, partial coincidence of identity and interest... overlapping, self-contradicting, or rather, other-self-identity-contradicting (c.f. Orthodox Christian Albanians, Albanian construction of Serbness and Albanianness and Albanian nationalism - and Serb construction of Albanianness and Serbness and Serb nationalism - and exclusion of Orthodox Christian Albanians from 'Serbian' Orthodox Christian sites, etc.)."

At 4.30pm, I wrote out, "constitution of culture: local ethnicisation or localisation of symbols, for example, Albanians' 'Albanianisation' of the two-headed eagle (apparently) present in Decani Monastery's architecture (though I was refused access by the Serbian Orthodox Church priests and am therefore unable to verify this), which is actually found in many 'cultures', many communities' visual cultures".

Participants have been afforded anonymity (unless they were acting in an official capacity and unless they waived the right to anonymity explicitly). Formatting has been changed to make it easy to read in a blog.

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