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February 27 2014

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February 14 2014

A Visitor Describes How it Feels to be Mugged by Bulgarian Police

Central Bus Station Sofia. Photo by Nikola Gruev, published on Wikipedia under CC-BY license.

Central Bus Station in Sofia. Photo by Nikola Gruev, used under Creative Commons-BY license.

Political scientist and blogger Anastas Vangeli described his experience of extortion by Bulgarian policemen on his way from Macedonia to Poland, in a Facebook post. On February 9, 2014, two armed officers “detained” him at a secluded area of the main bus station in Sofia, until he gave them some money. In conclusion, he wrote:

This was probably one of the most disappointing experiences in my lifetime. What added to the disappointment, however, were the comments and the double victimization by people when I told them this happened:

  • I was asking for it since I look “like a foreigner” and rich
  • I was asking for it since I was bragging with my China books and looked rich
  • I was supposed to know and expect this kind of things
  • I was supposed to hold my grounds better, e.g. not let them take me to a room, not let them get my money
  • I am supposed not to complain, as this stuff happens every day and I am not special

These are all statements that not speak only of the reality of omnipresent corruption and abuse of office and power, but about the complete lack of empathy, or even consciousness that one day it might be you. Moreover, it is an indicator that people have given up the hope that things will change; but also the responsibility that they should contribute to such change. At the end of the day, the state holds the monopoly of the use of force; I was mugged by those who are supposed to protect me (even though I don’t have a Bulgarian passport – no pun intended). So all kinds of relativizing comments are completely out of place on this.

These reactions are consistent with one of the key characteristics of “backsliding from democracy,” exposed at the Seventh Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy, held in Lima, in October 2012:

“…corruption becomes so widespread that citizens accept is as a norm.”

People commenting (in various languages) on Vangeli's Facebook post about the incident reminisced that such a “toll for foreigners” was common Bulgarian police practice during the dismal 1990s – but that they had not expected its resurgence in this day and age. Some of the commenters related similar experiences from other countries, from Russia to Kenya. Activist Besim Nebiu wrote:

Notice how they immediately asked you if you have a flight to catch at the airport. That gave them the ‘upper hand’ in dealing with you. A friend of mine who lives in Kenya, once wrote a blog post, in which he describes how corrupt police have “opportunity cost” (8 hours shifts in which they try to maximize revenue). They usually avoid “difficult customers,” so any strategy of acting dumb and not too upset should work, after 15 minutes, they give up on you, and move to someone easier to deal with.

Special Winter uniform of Bulgarian Border Police. Source: Ministry of Interior.

Special Winter uniform of Bulgarian Border Police presented [bg] on the website of Ministry of Interior Affairs. According to the victim, the officers in question wore green and carried badges of common police (“Ohranitelna Politsiya”), which according to the Ministry wears dark blue uniforms.

Bulgarian blogger Komitata translated Vangeli's post within his post [bg] titled “They Protect Us and It's No Theater,” which includes opinions about the local context of wasted state resources on questionable police actions praised by the relevant minister:

Системата на МВР не е реформирана. Предното неслужебно правителство положи големи усилия, но поради липса на решителност и политическа воля, реформите останаха скромни и далеч не необратими.

The system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is not reformed. The previous government invested great efforts, but due to lack of decisiveness and political will, the reforms remain modest and far from irreversible.

In his post, Komitata also referred to Twitter discussion [bg] in which Bulgarians ask whether the police have the right to search them at the bus station, and pointed to information on citizen rights during police searches [bg].

PHOTOS: Saigon in the Past 50 Years

The Saigoneer features several photos published by the French Consulate in Saigon, Vietnam that highlight the changes that took place in the city between 1955 and 2005.

February 12 2014

VIDEOS: Argentina's Melting Pot of Culinary Traditions

[All links lead to Spanish-language sites unless otherwise noted.]

The diverse migratory flows that have reached Argentina from the 1880′s and until now contributed to the richness and variety of the typical [en] cuisine in the country.

The various ‘ferias de colectividades’ (cultural fairs) that take place throughout Argentina are good illustrations of this. In these fairs we can witness not only a display of each community's traditions, folkloric dances, beauty pageants and souvenirs but also their traditional dishes. For instance, during the Fiesta de Colectividades in the city of Rosario that takes place every year, a varied menu is offered representing the multiple communities (Latin, European and Asian) that compose the Argentinian society. In this video, we can see how typical Paraguayan food is prepared and sold during that same fair in Rosario.


On Facebook, the page Encuentro Anual de Colectividades (Annual Gathering of Communities) shows some dishes that will be sold during the 2014 program in the city of Alta Gracia [es]. The city, located in the Córdoba province, is quite famous because it is where the revolutionary Che Guevara [en] lived for 12 years.

Imagen de la página de facebook Encuentro Anual de Colectividades

Photo posted on the Facebook Page of the Encuentro Anual de Colectividades event

Every September, the Misiones province [en] also celebrates its traditional Fiesta Nacional del Inmigrante (National Feast of the Immigrant). For the occasion, the Polish community, among other migrant groups, cooks Kursak Polski na Royezaj, better known as Polish chicken.

Ingredientes
1 pollo
1 cebolla grande
2 ajo puerro
1 morrón rojo mediano
1 morrón verde mediano
200 gramos crema de leche
200 gramos champiñones
sal y pimienta

Preparación de la salsa
Picar la cebolla bien fina, rehogar con una cucharada de aceite, agregar los morrones cortados en daditos, agregar el ajo puerro picado muy fino. Revolver muy bien, agregar crema de leche y los champignones.
Cocinar durante cinco minutos, agregar sal y pimienta a gusto.
Optativo nuez moscada.
Si queda muy espesa la salsa agregar leche para suavizar. Servir acompañado con pollo a la parrilla o al horno

Ingredients

1 Chicken

1 Large Onion

2 Leeks

1 Medium Red Pepper

1 Medium Green Pepper

200 g. Cream

200 g. Mushrooms

Salt and Pepper

Preparation of the sauce

Chop the onions very finely. Fry lightly with one tbsp of oil. Add the peppers after they've been diced followed by the leeks finely cut. Stir well. Add the cream and mushrooms.

Cook for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can also add some nutmeg if you wish. If sauce gets too thick, add some milk. Serve with grilled or roast chicken.

In addition there are community-specific celebrations, such as the one by the Volga Germans [en], who settled mostly in the province of Entre Ríos. The Volga Germans lived in the region of southeastern European Russia, close to the Volga river [en]. They came to Argentina in 1878 and preserved their traditions as well as their language. Cuisine is naturally at the heart of these traditions. This video produced by the Asociación Argentina de Descendientes de Alemanes del Volga (Argentinian Association of the Volga Germans Descendants) demonstrates how to prepare a Kreppel:


There also many restaurants serving foreign food. The Croatian community in Argentina, for instance, keeps its culinary traditions with restaurants like Dobar Tek, offering a rich Croatian menu. This video shows the “art” of preparing an apple strudel.


The Armenian community is also quite influential in Argentina. Romina Boyadjian suggests the 5 best dishes in Armenian cuisine while pointing out that the Community in the diaspora has reinvented the typical dishes:

Algo curioso es que la comida armenia que se come en Argentina es muy distinta a la que se consume en Armenia. Esto tiene que ver con las reinvenciones que hacen los diferentes pueblos al partir de su tierra natal, las costumbres que traen consigo y lo que termina siendo valorado en la nueva comunidad. Hay comidas que acá se consideran típicas y que allá apenas se conocen.

It's quite intriguing that the Armenian cuisine we eat in Argentina is quite different from the one actually consumed in Armenia. This has to do with the reinventions done by the different populations based on their homeland, the traditions that they bring and what ends up being valued in the new community.  Some dishes are considered traditional yet they are barely known there (in Armenia).

One of the cities symbolizing the Jewish immigration to Argentina is Moisés Ville [en], established by the first immigrants who reached the country. On the YouTube account of the initiative Señal Santa Fe we can see the city and get to know how traditions are preserved through well-known dishes such as the strudel or the Knish [en] among others:


But which dish was quickly adopted by immigrants upon their arrival to the country? The asado [en] without any doubt, especially because the majority of the newcomers were peasants and meat was quite cheap. The Club Argentino de Asadores a la Estaca (Argetinian Club of Rotisseurs) has some photos for you to enjoy.

Asado a la Estaca - Imagen. Laura Schneider

Asado – Photo by Laura Schneider

February 11 2014

“Dreamlike Kyrgyzstan” As Seen by a Photographer

Kloop.kg presents [ru] a collection of photos from “dreamlike Kyrgyzstan” by Russian photographer Danil Korzhonov.

Image from kloop.kg, used with permission.

Image from kloop.kg, used with permission.

February 10 2014

Guyana, U.S.A.: Aviation Security Threat?

Two blogs are reporting that the US has issued a security alert to its citizens about an ‘unconfirmed threat’ to flights from Guyana. Netizens are also sharing the news via Facebook.

February 09 2014

Discovering Malagasy Diverse Street Food

Koba, a snack from Madagascar, made from peanuts, brown sugar and rice flour - Public Domain

Koba, a snack from Madagascar, made from peanuts, brown sugar and rice flour – Public Domain

Malagasy cuisine is a mix of its many diverse influences from Asian, African and European migrants that have settled in the Island. It makes for a rich culinary experience, as seen from its multitude of snacks and street foods. Hanta Ramanatsoa highlights some of those on her facebook page, la cuisine de Madagascar (Malagasy Cuisine). Here is a sample of the street foods and snacks photos shared on her page [mg]:

 

Public Buses Return To Cambodia’s Capital


Promotional poster of the Phnom Penh bus trial.

Phnom Penh residents in Cambodia have one month to ride public buses which is part of an experiment to re-introduce public buses in the country’s capital in order to reduce traffic congestion.

Phnom Penh has one million motorbikes (motorcycle taxi or motodup) and 300,000 cars but this expanding urban hub surprisingly doesn’t have a mass transportation system.

The Phnom Penh governor hopes the one-month trial which will end on March 4 will help convince Cambodians to use public buses:

…the purpose of this pilot project is to reduce traffic accidents and traffic congestion as well as to change the Cambodians’ habit from using personal cars to public buses.

Public buses were first deployed in 2001 but the program lasted for only two months because of lack of government subsidies and passenger interest. Aside from riding the motor taxis, Phnom Penh residents also use the popular tuktuks.

Abigail Gilbert sees several benefits of using the bus:

The last public bus trial, more than 10 years ago, was not popular, as locals preferred the door to door service of the two-wheeled variety. This new City Bus trial, partly funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, will discover if attitudes have changed. There are some clear benefits for visitors to the city, including the icy air-con, the impossibility of bag snatching, a set fare, and a clearly marked route.

Phnom Penh resident and prominent blogger Tharum Bun welcomes the arrival of the buses:

We’ve talked a lot about traffic jam, too many motorcycles and vehicles, and no public transportation. Starting early this February, the bus will run on Monivong Boulevard. It’s an opportunity for most of us, who are willing to get back on the bus.

But Tharum learned that some motor taxi drivers are worried about the impact of the buses on their livelihood:

The motor taxi driver told me that he’s worried about this this public transportation as he’s got only one source of income.

The trial will involve 10 buses running every day from 5:30am until 8:30pm.

Many Phnom Penh residents were excited about the bus trial and they quickly posted photos of the public buses on Twitter:

*Thumbnail used is from @KhiriCambodia

February 07 2014

The French Expatriate Perspective on France's Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

Total of french citizens abroad as compiled by the Foreign Affairs Ministry - Public Domain

Total of French citizens abroad by continent as compiled by the Foreign Affairs Ministry – Public Domain

The immigration debate has increasingly polarized public opinion in France over the past few years. The rise of the far right, such as the National Front party, in recent elections catalyzed an anti-immigration rhetoric that seems to permeate into the more moderate conservative parties. The most notorious stories involved the “pain au chocolat” [fr] (chocolate croissants) affair, in which the leader of the opposition JF Copé stated that he was distraught knowing that children in some districts get harassed by Muslim youngsters [fr] for eating chocolate croissants during Ramadan.

The push for more restrictive immigration policies that would limit unqualified (without high school diploma) candidates to migrate to France has found echoes [fr] in the current progressive government. In fact, a book published by philosopher Alain Finkelkraut called “L'idendité malheureuse” (The Unhappy Identity) attempts to justify imposing more strict regulations on immigration in order to protect the French identity [fr]:

Les autochtones ont perdu le statut de référent culturel qui était le leur dans les périodes précédentes de l’immigration. Ils ne sont plus prescripteurs. Quand ils voient se multiplier les conversions à l’islam, ils se demandent où ils habitent. Ils n’ont pas bougé, mais tout a changé autour d’eux. […] Plus l’immigration augmente et plus le territoire se fragmente.

The “original” French people have lost the status of cultural reference, a status they held in earlier periods of immigration. They are no longer the normative reference. When they see increased conversions to Islam, they wonder where they live. They have not moved, yet everything has changed around them. [...] The more immigration increases, the more the nation becomes fragmented.

Frederic Martel, director of IRIS, a research institute on international relations, explains why Finkelkraut's discourse is misguided [fr]: 

 Il y a, c’est certain, une forte anxiété dans la France d’aujourd’hui. Mais pourquoi caricaturer tous les «étrangers» comme s’ils ne voulaient ni s’intégrer ni accepter le passé de la France? Que sait-il des Français de deuxième et troisième génération? De leur langue, de leur culture? De l’énergie créatrice des quartiers? [...] L’identité française, pourtant, n’est pas malheureuse. Elle bouge, elle change, elle se cherche, elle fait des allers-retours avec son passé. Et tous ceux qui pensent qu’exalter «l’identité nationale» permettrait de sortir des difficultés sociales et économiques que nous traversons se trompent.

There is certainly a lot of anxiety in France today. But why caricature all foreigners as if they do not want to fit in nor accept the history of France? What does [Finkelkraut] know of France's second and third generation of immigrants? Their language and their culture? The creative energy they bring to their neighborhoods? [...] The French identity is not an unhappy one.”It moves, it changes, it goes forward, backward towards the past, then forward again. Anyone who thinks that exalting  ”national identity” would solve our social and economic challenges is just kidding themselves.

The natural counterpoint to the rising anti-immigration policies is the fact that there is a rising number of French citizens who have chosen to live abroad. Christian Lemaitre from think tank Français-Etranger (French Abroad) points out that the total number of French citizens outside of France is quite important and might be larger [fr] than the official total shared by the French Foreign Affairs Department: 

En dix ans, la population française établie hors des frontières se serait accrue de 40% soit une augmentation de 3 à 4% par an et un total de plus de 2 millions de Français installés à l'étranger. Estimation seulement car l'inscription au registre mondial n'est pas obligatoire. Le think tank francais-etranger.org pense que ce chiffre serait beaucoup plus proche de 3 milions. Pourquoi sont-ils partis ? 65% des expatriés affirment rechercher une nouvelle expérience professionnelle et près du tiers, une augmentation de revenus. Le désir de découvrir un nouveau pays est évoqué devant les motivations professionnelles ou linguistiques.

In ten years, the French population abroad have seen an increase of 40 percent, an increase of 3 to 4 percent per year, and a total of more than two million French now live abroad. This is only an estimate because sign up in the consulate's register is not mandatory. The think tank French-etranger.org thinks that number would be much closer to three million people. Why have they left France? 65 percent of expatriates say that they were looking for new work experience and nearly a third of them wanted a better income. The desire to discover a new country is also mentioned first, before any professional or linguistic motivations.

Indeed, the viewpoint on immigration differs when seen from French citizens outside France. 

In fact, despite the popular belief that French citizens living abroad were mostly conservatives, their votes have increasingly leaned towards the left in the past decade. Cécile Dehesdin [fr] explains:

Depuis 1981, elle a gagné plus de vingt points chez les Français de l'étranger, et l'écart avec son score national y était de moins d'un point en 2007 (46,01% contre 46,94%)  

Since 1981, [the left] has won more than 20 points in French from abroad voting and the gap with the national score there was less than one point in 2007 (46.01 percent against 46.94 percent). 

Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam, an analyst, adds [fr]:

C’est un public qui est plutôt au centre-droit qu’à droite et pas du tout à l’extrême-droite, plutôt droite humaniste que Droite populaire, et l’écart avec la gauche est de moins en moins important

This is a voting group that is more center-right and right, but not attracted at all to far-right views; it is rather leaning towards progressive right than radical right, and the gap with the left has become less and less important

Additionally, the experience of living abroad seem to have given many French citizens a different perspective. Etoile66, in Toronto, opines [fr]:

Ma France pourrait regarder vers ces pays où les habitants parlent plusieurs langues sans aucun problème et circulent à l'aise dans le monde, alors qu'elle a dressé ses habitants à avoir peur de ce qu'ils appellent la “mondialisation”. La peur ressentie pas bon nombre de mes compatriotes devant “l'étranger” en général et la “mondialisation” en particulier, ne serait plus s'ils avaient confiance en eux. Celui qui a confiance n'a pas peur de l'autre ni de l'étranger, ni du monde, bien au contraire, il échange dans le respect mutuel. 

The France I want to see should look to those countries where people speak different languages ​​without any problems and move at ease in the world. So far, France has only taught its people to be afraid of what they call “globalization”. The fear felt by many of my countrymen of “foreigners” in general and “globalization” in particular, would vanish if they had confidence in themselves. People who have self-confidence do not fear the “other”, “foreigners”, nor the world. On the contrary, they interact with them with mutual respect.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

Uruguayan ‘Asado', Much More Than Just a Barbecue

asado4

Photo published by Jorge Alonzo on Flickr, under Creative Commons licence (CC BY-SA 2.0)

When we think of Uruguayan cuisine, one iconic dish always comes to mind: the ‘asado‘, or barbecue. But this is more than just a traditional dish, it represents the country's whole identity.

This dish is an icon of Uruguayan and Argentine tradition par excellence, acting as a social linchpin, as one of the most strongly rooted customs and as a symbol of friendship. No-one, or nearly no-one, prepares a barbecue for themselves alone. The barbecue is a reason to meet, an excuse for a get-together, to bring together those who are separated for whatever reason.

On Vimeo, Geoff Stellfox shares a brief video of a traditional Uruguayan ‘asado':

The ‘asado’ is also a cause of rivalry between opposite shores of the Río de la Plata. Both Argentines and Uruguayans boast of having the best barbecue in a debate as varied as there are palates in the world.

The daily newspaper El País [es] comments:

Los argentinos dicen que son ellos los que hacen el mejor asado, a veces nos reconocen que tenemos mejor carne (excepto el bife de chorizo que es argentino por unanimidad), nos matamos por la mejor receta del chimichurri, nos reímos de los mexicanos que cocinan a la llama y descalificamos a los porteños que cocinan con carbón.

The Argentines claim that they are the ones who make the best barbecue, they do occasionally admit that we have better meat (except the ‘bife de chorizo’ which is Argentine by definition), we batter each other over the best recipe for ‘chimichurri‘ [a special sauce for the meat], we laugh at the Mexicans who cook in the flame and we dismiss the Porteños who cook using charcoal.

When we speak of the barbecue, we are not necessarily referring to a mere lump of cooked meat, but rather to all the paraphernalia which surrounds it, the different kinds of meat and vegetables so that everybody feels included, whether they are meat-eaters or vegetarian. The fire which brings people together and protects them also has a central role, as it has done since the dawn of humanity.

In the absence of a grill, many households have substituted the typical grilled barbecue [es] for the oven-baked barbecue in their daily cooking. This option is considered a second-best by connoisseurs of the ‘asado', but it is easier to work in to the daily life of Uruguayan families. In order to simplify the dish's preparation still further, the well-known chef Sergio Puglia [es] even suggests a barbecue with salsa criolla [es] made in the microwave on his website.

xczxc

Photo published by Bruno Maestrini on Flickr, under Creative Commons licence (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The role of the barbecuer -'asador’ in Spanish- is fundamental to this social event, transforming them into the architect of the feast and to a certain extent, into a master of ceremonies. The barbecuer is the one who takes the lead in this dish, the one who manages the timing and signals when and how to savour their work. The skill of the barbecuer determines the quality of the barbecue and if they are successful, they will receive praise and applause. However, if they get it wrong they will be the target of taunts and reprimands, until they manage to redeem themselves with another barbecue which meets expectations.

The traditional midday barbecue held on construction sites constitutes another iconic moment in the life of the dish. This is a ritual for construction workers who gather to eat together, regain strength to continue working and strengthen the brotherly bonds which make it easier to work and live together during these tough working days.

xcvzxczx

Photo published by Nae on Flickr, under Creative Commons licence (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Besides the traditions and the friendship, there is also a veil of mystery surrounding a good ‘asado'. Each barbecuer has their secrets and their own particular way of preparing the meat, which gives each barbecue its unique and unrepeatable taste. Even if these secrets were to be revealed, it would still be impossible to repeat as the barbecue is much more than just a dish, it is a magical moment to be shared.

In Uruguay, but above all in Montevideo, the majority of gastronomic venues are specialised barbecues [es] or they have the barbecue as an option on their menu.

The daily newspaper El Observador [es] visited one of these venues to reveal the secrets for making the best Uruguayan ‘asado’ [es]:

Chinese Cuisine Documentary ‘Bite of China’ a Visual Feast

Chinese scholar Lin Yutang once defined “men's happiness” as: 

娶一个日本女人做太太;找一个法国女人谈恋爱;雇一个中国人当厨师、找一个英国管家料理家政。

Marrying a Japanese wife, having a French lover, hiring a Chinese cook, employing a British butler.

Needless to say, Chinese cuisine is one of aspects of Chinese culture that people are most proud of. It is also an important part of daily life. Archaeologist and scholar K.C. Chang observed that “Chinese people are especially preoccupied with food” and that “food is at the center of, or at least it accompanies or symbolizes, many social interactions.”

However, the beauty and mystery of Chinese food was never well explained or greatly appreciated on an artistic level even within China until the premiere of a seven-part documentary series on China’s food culture called “A Bite of China” (literally translated as “China on the Tip of the Tongue”) produced by state broadcaster China Central TV in May 2012. The series gives a visual introduction to China's rich culinary tradition and wide regional variety by showing basic local ingredients, cooking methods and local food specialties and customs. Chinese cuisine goes back to basics in the series: old women looking for matsutake mushrooms on pathless mountainsides, a fisherman catching barracuda for supper, a group of farmers collecting lotus roots from a muddy river in the winter. 

Poster of

Poster for the documentary series “A Bite of China”

Thirty of the country's most respected filmmakers worked for more than a year filming the seven 50-minute episodes. They shot throughout the country, from frozen lakes to bamboo forests. 

The documentary became an instant hit and a trending topic on Chinese social media. Many think it's the best documentary ever produced in China due to its beautiful visual effects and the powerful nostalgia it invokes. It became so popular that the second season was launched in January 2013 and is scheduled for release in 2014. It's likely to be China’s most anticipated sequel of 2014. There are plans to screen ”A Bite of China” in 20 countries including Germany and the United States, but at the moment the show is only available on YouTube

After watching the first season, many netizens commented on leading social network website douban, saying the documentary's significance is more than just the food itself: It's a tour of beautiful places in China and a story of Chinese people:

bug君跪求逆袭: 作为一个吃货,生长在地大物博的中国是人生最美好的事!

As a foodie, it's such a blessing to be born in China, a place of abundant resources.

去他的肥肉!!: 拍得相当不错,这不仅仅是食物的故事,也是人的故事。

A great documentary. This is not just about food, but also stories of people.

老尘 : 原来在华夏内地还有这么多充满文化意味的地方没有去

I didn't know there are so many cultural places I have never been to in China.

Some also think the documentary serves as great soft power:

掉队的猪  爱国主义教育就得这么搞!

Patriotism should be taught this way

However, some were sad that this way of life is slowly evaporating in modern China due to industrialization and environmental pollution: 

阿轩  美食也是一种行将消逝传统,多少有些沉重。

Cuisine is a disappearing tradition, [when I think about this] my heart feels a little heavy. 

February 05 2014

Forget What You Know About Visiting Kosovo

A trip to Kosovo nowadays would convince anyone that this country, far from its sometimes negative reputation, has indeed a lot to offer. According to the World Bank data, more than 70 percent of Kosovo's population is under 35 years old, which surely explains the fact that on the flight this Global Voices author made to the country's capital Prishtina, half of the passengers were under 10 years old. This makes for quite the start to an unusual holidays!

Kosovo youth, while having to deal with terrible unemployment rates of 55.3 percent, manage to energize the country and push the rough memories of war further and further away. US blogger Adventurous Kate comments how first-time visitors feel:

It’s my first time in Kosovo, and I don’t know what to expect. Just the mention of “Kosovo” in America brings to mind an image of war, of death, of ethnic cleansing, of bombs. Even though this took place more than a decade ago, I’m wondering just what kinds of scars the country will bear.

Far off from the scars, what strikes the freshly arrived visitor most are Prishtina's incredible cafés. Everyone should experience the taste of a perfect macchiato on a sunny and well-designed terrace, looking over the frenetic errands of passersby. It certainly is not a legend that the coffee there sometimes tastes even better than an Italian one – we apologize to our Italian friends for this, but it must be said!

Enjoying a latte macchiato at the Shipja e Vjetër café in Prishtina

Enjoying a latte macchiato at the Shipja e Vjetër café in Prishtina

The Dit' e Nat' café celebrating the Irish poet Yeats

The Dit’ e Nat’ café celebrating the Irish poet Yeats

Although it might be true that Prishtina's architecture, mostly grey and anarchic buildings, is not its main attraction, the city is buoyant in its attitude and style. Its walls are full of graffiti and other forms of street art; the soul of the city appears on them an open book to visitors.

“I love colors” and “I love flowers” appear very frequently on the walls of the city, mostly in the saddest parts.

The claims not to forget the leaders of the Kosovo independance are visible here and there.

Urban art urging people not to forget the leaders of Kosovo's independence are visible here and there.

Creative details are available on every corner.

Creative details are available on every corner in Kosovo.

Kosovo's people seem to look more towards the future than stay stuck in the past praising war heroes or pacifist icons of Kosovo's battle for independence from Serbia, like Ibrahim Rugova. Kosovo, now the newest nation in Europe, was historically a part of Serbia and previously Yugoslavia. The 1998-99 Kosovo War was fought between the forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, made up by Serbia and Montenegro at the time, and the Kosovo rebel group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), with military air support from NATO, after 10 years of non-violent resistance from the civil society of Kosovo.

Although portraits of Ibrahim Rugova, the first president of newly independent Kosovo, as well as of the leaders of the armed resistance are visible here and there, the general impression to the newcomer is that today's actors of Kosovo are building up their own models. Witnessing the elections in Kosovo from Prishtina in November 2013, Darmon Richter comments:

Newspaper stories about riot police and violent assaults in polling stations do nothing to give a sense of modern-day Kosovo, save for the few pockets of the country where race rivalry is still rife. In the city of Pristina, people crave recognition of their independence… but all in all, it's about as normal a city as you'll find anywhere in the Balkans.

In fact, with a reported 60% voting turnout nationwide, democracy almost seems to be working better here than it does in the UK.

In the center of Prishtina, Rugova is still there, but the colors are washed out.

In the center of Prishtina, street art bearing Kosovo's first President Ibrahim Rugova's image is still there, but the colors are washed out.

Somehow, Prishtina could appear as a “mini-Istanbul” in the sense that it is sitting quite balanced between a post-Ottoman and a Western European culture. Kim's travel blog, from an American and Korean perspective, underlines the surprising cosmopolitan atmosphere of the “city of love”:

After visiting Pristina, I truly understood why people had been calling Kosovo a fast developing and energetic country. You could see the new buildings coming up everywhere, and could see foreigners traveling (majorly European) around the city and there were many exciting restaurants available besides just Balkan foods (…). Although I did not see any Asian people at all, one of my friends informed me that he had seen four Japanese people touring around the city. I wish I was there to witness the ASIANS walking around the city, that would have been hilarious. We probably had exchanged strange looks thinking “what the hell are you doing here…?” haha

What comes out of it is, just like in the Turkish city of wonders, a fascinating mixture of traditional silver art craft shops, highly modern new cafés, a multitude of bakeries, some old mosques being rebuilt, and some churches left to rot. In the center you can see some incredible buildings like the Prishtina University library, which appears almost as an unidentified object in the middle of the communist architecture that inhabits the rest of the area. Kim's travel blog also mentions this building:

You could see many historical buildings around the city, and you could tell Kosovars were very proud of them. University of Pristina, the best one in Kosovo, was structured nicely. Also right next to the university, there is Pristina National Library, which was quite impressive and weirdly designed. My friend who currently works at University of Pristina had explained to me what the structure and the design was based on, but … of course this chicken head had forgotten about it. Maybe I will google and Wikipedia it later.

The magazine Kosovo 2.0, available in English, Albanian and Serbian, is the new brand of this educated, multilingual and very open, worldly society. Covering politics, arts, fashion, social debates, women and gender issues, Kosovar topics and global subjects, the magazine is available in print as well as online. Kosovo 2.0 also offers a selection of the latest sounds produced locally, mostly electro genres, which are available online : http://www.kosovotwopointzero.com/player. Enjoy the musical ride!

The flashy colors of a new way of life can not be ignored on the Pristhina walls.

The flashy colors of a new way of life can not be ignored on the Pristhina walls.

Prishtina is full of surprises for visitors from any origin. But as Kosovo is young, it is growing and changing very quickly. So do not lose any more time and, if you can, hop on the next plane or car and take a moment to discover this promising city and its joyful contradictions. If you are quick enough, there might still be a piece of cake there for you!

Tasty and creamy! Almost too much but not quite.

Tasty and creamy! Almost too much, but not quite.

All photographs in this post are by author Marie Bohner.
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