Since independence, Kosovo’s hardships remain

February 17th, 2009 - 8:50 am ICT by IANS  

Pristina, Feb 17 (DPA) Although the 90 percent Albanian majority in Kosovo unanimously sought and welcomed the declaration of independence from Serbia a year ago, by now many have realised that it takes much more than political statements to end hardship and turn lives around.

“My life hasn’t changed since independence … I’m still jobless. It turned out that stories how everything will improve with independence and about investors were just that - stories,” says Admir Llapashtica, a 25-year-old unemployed economist.

He is one of thousands of young people wasting time in Pristina cafes, crowded at any time of any day in any week. More than 40 percent of the two million Kosovo Albanians - who make up Europe’s youngest population - are unemployed.

With all the time at their hands and stripped of an economic perspective, the young and the unemployed sit around in places such as the downtown Pristina Morena cafe, the “place to be”.

Slowly sipping from his cup, Admir says that he is lucky, if not exactly happy: Allowed to stay with his parents, at least he does not have to take a menial job to support himself.

“Look at me - I’m 25 and jobless. Every day I ask my dad to give me 2 euros so I can go out to have coffee with friends,” he says. Admir’s father is a university professor, paid 300 euros a month.

He says he and many of his peers with an equally bleak outlook feel like “parasites” for whom the independence so far brought none of the promised economic prosperity.

“You need connections among bureaucrats to get a job,” another young man sitting in the cafe, Butrint Qorri, tosses in.

“We hoped that the international community would force Kosovo politicians to change the way they operate, to open the doors to really qualified people,” says Butrint, 27.

“But it is the same - it still matters only to which party you’re affiliated, not what skills you have and how much you can do,” he says.

A young doctor at the main Pristina hospital, Edona Ahmeti, faces the plight of Kosovo’s poor and sick every working day. The health sector, one of the new nation’s toughest problems, has not changed much since the 1999 conflict paved the way to independence.

“Almost a decade since the war, the sick still pay for a medical examination and for medicine they need,” she says. “We are a country without legally regulated social and health insurance.”

Anybody who falls ill must pay for treatment, which is a tall order for Kosovo’s poor - a vast majority. Hospital doctors often effectively smuggle poor patients in to treat them from surplus or forgotten medicine stock. “It is a disaster,” says Edona, 32.

Gazmend Miftari, a 31-year-old designer in the hotspot town Mitrovica, where Serbs in the north face off the Albanians in the south, also says he feels somewhat depleted after the independence euphoria passed.

“My wife and I work for state institutions. Out of the 500 euros we earn, we pay half for rent, 10 for communal services, 30-40 for power and so on,” he says.

“Add the food and other costs and you’ll see why I depend on help from my brother, who works in Switzerland,” Gazmend explains. “It will be better here, but now I know it will take time.”

Regardless, few politicians in Pristina take the time to dwell on the less than glorious economic facet of life in Kosovo.

“I know you can’t turn it around in one year, but I’m amazed at the fact that it has become worse, with all prices going up, but that nobody seems to care about that,” says Shaip Mustafa, 25.

Hard-pressed to keep his family going, he says he “isn’t a welfare case, but is afraid of becoming one in a few years”, unless things really change for the better.

At that, the situation in the Kosovo’s northern section, which is dominated by Serbs, is even less certain, as the population there sees not only poverty, but an uphill struggle in a bid to ward off the spreading of Pristina’s authority over their lives.

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