Kosovo or Kosova, is a country that is both the newest and one of the smallest states in Europe. It declared its independence in 2008 however approx half of the UN member states still do not recognize Kosovo as independent, particularly Serbia, the country from which Kosovo seceded, as well as Russia, a key ally of Serbia. The ongoing fight for independence, along with the sacrifices made during this journey, serves as the central attraction of Kosovo.
Kosovo was initially part of the Ottoman Empire. This lasted until the early 20th century and has left a deep mark on the country which explains why over 95% of today's Kosovars are Muslims. Following World War II, Kosovo became part of Yugoslavia. According to the constitution of the Tito-era Yugoslav federation, Kosovo was part of Serbia, the largest constituent entity, but it enjoyed a special status of semi-autonomy due to its predominantly Albanian population that remains true to this day.
However, ethnic tensions between Serbs and Kosovar Albanians persisted throughout this period. These tensions escalated after the death of Tito and the subsequent dissolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. As Kosovo increasingly sought greater autonomy and even independence, Serbia adamantly opposed such demands. Instead, Serbia resorted to violence, repression, and the erosion of Kosovo's previous autonomy, exacerbating the existing ethnic friction.
After enduring years of struggle, resulting in a significant war in 1998/99 that led to NATO's intervention, resolving the status of Kosovo remained an open question. Over a million Kosovars were displaced or fled the country (many to Germany and Switzerland). At the same time, non-Albanian residents, mostly but not only Serbs, were driven out of the province as well. Eventually Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence in February 2008, with the backing of the USA and most of Europe. Serbia has never recognized this, and northern parts of Kosovo that the new state also claimed for its territory remain inhabited by ethnic Serbs who retain close ties with Serbia, fly the Serbian flag, speak Serbian and use the Serbian currency.
And so the status of Kosovo remains somewhat volatile, even though Serbia grudgingly accepts Kosovan self-rule these days. Occasionally, tensions flare up again in or around Serbian enclaves and in the north. But compared to the wild 1990s, Kosovo has come a long way towards a peaceful status quo. And so Kosovo has opened up the country to tourism. Together with Albania, Kosovo has become a "secret" new hip destination. Travel to Kosovo, a landlocked country, is possible overland, mostly by bus from neighbouring North Macedonia, Albania or Montenegro. I took a bus to Kosovo from Macedonia, the Kosovan bus driver was constantly overtaking BMWs and mercedes cars, he also kept playing christmas songs (it was July).
Pristina has a certain run down feel to it. The capital city has a rich history dating back to Roman times. During Ottoman rule, the city flourished but much of the historic old town was demolished during a modernization program under Yugoslavia's rule, resulting in a reputation for being one of Europe's ugliest capital cities. International investment and the opening of a new international airport have contributed to Pristina's development and increased tourism. While the city may have a reputation for its aesthetics, the city center, with Skanderbeg Square, offers a pleasant atmosphere for visitors.
Prizren boasts a rich and diverse history that spans centuries. From its origins in the Roman era to its prominence during Ottoman rule, Prizren has preserved a remarkable cultural heritage. The city served as an important trading center along the Silk Road and flourished with the construction of mosques, churches, and Ottoman-style houses. Prizren's history is reflected in its architectural gems, such as the iconic Sinan Pasha Mosque and the medieval Kalaja Fortress. Exploring the well-preserved Old Town, one can immerse themselves in the charm of cobbled streets, traditional craft shops, and the vibrant Shadervan Square.