Alternative Law Journal
I have just celebrated surviving my first four months in Pristina. I am employed as a Legal Officer advising the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, who is the head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). UNMIK's job is to administer the region and pro mote the establishment of substantial authority of the Kosovo people. For a born and bred Perth girl, this place has been quite an experience. If I had ever wanted to visit a place that is ugly, dirty and smelly, where the air is thick, brown and toxic, where the power goes off every couple of hours, the people drive like maniacs and the streets are just potholes, then my new home and the capital of Kosovo, Pristina, would have to be top of the list.
When arriving in November I flew in from Zurich over the Alps. Looking down from the plane, the air was so crystal clear you could see the little towns and the cars on the roads. Then the plane banked around and headed towards a smudge of dirty brown smoke. Pristina is in that dirty brown haze. There are too many people and too many cars and not enough water, electricity, parking spaces or fresh air in Pristina. The electricity generators here bum very low grade coal and are situated just out of Pristina, which sits in a valley, so the smoke just drifts across and sits here. Between the haze, the smoke from fires and the cigarette smoke (everyone smokes, every where) I don't think I have felt clean since I got here.
Kosovo is a province of what was previously known as Serbia, and has been administered by UNMIK since 1999. It is located in south-eastern Europe and bordered by Albania, Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The population is somewhere over 1.8 million people and 90% of these people are Albanian and Muslim. The capital, Pristina, is not at all as I imagined a European city to be. The electricity operates on a four hours on, two hours off roster, candlelight is considered essential rather than romantic and it is not unusual to tum on the tap and find no water for hours at a time. Traffic is best described as absolute chaos. The air is gritty and filthy and we are told not to brush our teeth in the water, let alone attempt to drink it. There appears to have been no such thing as building codes or health or safety regulations in Pristina. Every building looks as though it was built by some mad Communist regime in the 1960s-windows don't fit, doors don't close, stairways go nowhere and upper floor doors open to non-existent balconies.
But this is apparently Club Med compared to what it was just a few years ago. A colleague was telling me that when he arrived in 1999 he landed in Skopje in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (the Kosovo airport had been destroyed) and he was bussed across the border which milled with thousands of refugees. My colleague arrived in Pristina at night and, at that time there was no electricity at all. The streets were filled with people standing around giant bonfires and the UN building was surrounded by barbed wire. He had come from New York and said it was like arriving in hell.
But complaints aside, Mission life is a great experience. For us single girls, there are lots of young, gorgeous international soldiers and militia to look at. The international staff are all very sociable because, quite frankly, there is no point in going home to a dark, cold apartment when you can sit in a restaurant or cafe with a generator. Also, this being a non-family Mission, we are all far from our loved ones. I feel safer here than I would in Northbridge or Kings Cross on a Saturday night but I think it helps that I share an apartment with a man who carries a gun for a living. It is amazing how quickly you get used to nonchalantly pushing it to one side when it is left on the coffee table!
The role of UNMIK here in Kosovo is unprecedented in both scope and structural complexity. No other UN Mission had ever been designed to allow other multilateral organisations to be full partners under UN leadership. Since May 2001 there are four 'pillars' under UNMIK's leadership. Pillar I (Police and Justice) and Pillar II (Civil Administration), are under the direct leadership of the UN. Pillar III (Democratisation and Institution Building) is led by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Pillar IV (Reconstruction and Economic Development) is led by the European Union. The work my office does is very interesting and my colleagues are good fun. There is a fellow Australian in the office as well as a couple of Americans and British, Russian, Indian, Maltese, French, Portuguese and German lawyers. Most of the stuff they give me to do I have never dealt with before, but you do learn very quickly here! The hours are long and they work us hard, but they pay us enough to live in Pristina very comfortably and still be able to afford to get away every couple of months and put money in the bank. I find I get quite a kick out of saying I live in Europe but the real thrill is having in put into laws and procedures that address a clear need and in witnessing them being put into action.
Kim Hudson is a Legal Officer with the Qffice of The Legal Adviser, UNMIK, Pristina.
© 2003 Kim Hudson