Between December 2103 and April 2014, I made two trips to Kosovo, and travelled widely around, what was at the time, the second newest country in the world after South Sudan. The country declared independence from the Republic of Serbia in February 2008, a move which the Court of International Justice ruled didn’t violate international law.
The Kosovo war took place between Feb 1998 and June 1999, fought between Yugoslav and Serb forces, under Slobodan Milosović, and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). It ended after NATO intervened with significant air support, resulting in Milsović withdrawing and KFOR – Nato-led peace keeping forces – entering the country.
Simplistically, the war was fought between Orthodox Christian Serbs and Montenegrins and Muslim Albanian Kosovans, the majority in the country. Both sides committed atrocities and most people were caught up in harrowing occurrences, loosing family members, homes and hope.
During my trips, I took many photos of people, usually with their permission, and one thing that stood out, more than any other, was their eyes. Eyes that showed pain and suffering, and had likely seen things one should never see and hoped never to see again.
Many of these people witnessed killings, rape, homes and villages burned and degradation as low as any human can go; all this in the name of sovereignty and religion; one an excuse for the other.
The economy’s virtually non existent, with unemployment averaging 30% amongst those able to work, and at its peak, in the early 2000’s, was almost 60%.
Life here is harsh, especially in outlying cities and towns, which has made Muslim youth ripe for radicalisation, and the country’s become a fertile recruiting ground for Wahabbi’s, with Saudi and Qatari funding. Like any fragile new country, it’s susceptible to, and rife with, corruption, from the government and politicians downwards, and there’s a thriving black market of counterfeit consumer goods, weapons smuggling and drugs.
The man above, sits all day in front of hundred’s of packets of cigarettes stacked high, expressionless and for the most part, motionless, the hardship of his life engrained on his face, every line telling a story of pain and perhaps personal loss. None of these people know what the future of their fragile country will be; a country still not recognised by some others, including China, Russia and Spain.
This man is a watch seller and repairer in Pristina central market. A tough life, braving the elements, especially the harsh winters, selling bits and pieces to passers by for little money, but work nevertheless. Again, the eyes belay horrors witnessed in the atrocities carried out by Milosavic and the Serbs in the 1990’s.
Many ex-members of the KLA helped form, and are now part of, the Kosovo police force. This policeman allowed me to take his photograph and again the eyes are what fascinated me most.