In Britain, bright young things do internships and occupy things, complaining that the world is against them. In Kosovo they become deputy foreign minister. Okay, that might be stretching it a bit, but when I first met Petrit Selimi my first reaction was, “Damn, what have I done with my life?” Selimi, who is in his early thirties, is a whirlwind of dynamism and debt crisis wisdom, and the hope of Europe’s newest country (although Spain and Slovakia might not agree with me on that last point).
He has the unenviable task of fashioning a viable country out of what was a chunk of Yugoslavia, then Serbia. It has also been a United Nations protectorate, before that a war zone, and before that—going a long way back, but for Serbia and Kosovo this bit matters—it was the cradle of Serbian civilisation, and the site where the Turks defeated of a Serbian-led coalition in 1389.
On my first visit, the Field of Blackbirds, as the battlefield is known, seemed to me a rather unremarkable field of ploughed mud and plastic bags, rustling about in the lignite-laced wind. But then if you were a Kosovar, one of the nearly 90 per cent ethnic Albanian majority, why would you go all National Trust on a site that lies at the heart of many of your recent problems?
Those problems persist. The UN compound still dominates, just where I remember it, and if you throw a crumpled-up plastic bag in any central street you have a 50/50 chance of hitting a chunky white NGO jeep. The main road to the north is blocked at the point where the population becomes majority ethnic Serb, and the unemployment rate would make an Occupy protester choke on their roll-up. There is optimism, but when that comes in the shape of better links to one of Europe’s most troubled countries, Albania, you know there is work to be done.
Even walking in the streets of Pristina (between the excellent bars) can be dangerous, with the murder of crows in each tree splattering pavement and pedestrians alike with crap with the abandon of a winged gang of Jackson Pollocks. Market traders, surrounded by national football shirts (not recognised by Uefa), heaps of supersized vegetables and parts…