„Around six weeks after the NATO bombardment of Serbia had ceased, I arrived at Pristina airport in August 1999. I was going to work as “Coordinator for Print and Minority Media” at the OSCE’s department for “Media Affairs.” The plane from Vienna to Pristina was packed with prospective personnel for the OSCE, the EU and the UN. As I would soon find out these were the infamous “Internationals,” versus the “Locals,” the residents of Kosovo. As we drove through Pristina tanks still stood in front of most buildings. Albanian flags fluttered everywhere and men sold all kinds of UCK memorabilia at every corner.
The OSCE building resembled the Tower of Babel. The staff was recruited from the 55 OSCE member states. In the offices and the hallways staff members gathered to discuss, drink coffee and smoke. English is the working language at the OSCE, but here one heard all kinds of languages – German, French, Greek, Romanian, Spanish, Russian, Swedish, etc. The “Locals” in the building, mainly Kosovo-Albanians and a few Bosniacs and Serbs on the other hand observed one another suspiciously. Decades of conflict had left too many psychological scars in all of them.
I was full of idealism and anticipation about my assignments. After all, I had come to Kosovo as a journalist to help re-build a network of free media. Every day began with a staff meeting. The Head of Mission and the directors of all departments spoke at length about democratization, transparency, post-conflict-management, reconciliation, human rights, rule of law, freedom of the media and, of course, about the “Rules & Regs,” about all the rules and regulations that were supposed to organize daily life in the mission.
Only after a while did I realize that all the noble policy statements were used in an inflationary manner. All terms deteriorated to buzz words and slogans, which soon only a few among the staff took seriously. Besides their implementation was complicated by political requirements, personal attitudes, bureaucracy, laziness, indifference, sloppiness and incompetence. Moreover, many projects were conceived by people in far away European capitals who had absolutely no clue what the reality was like on the ground in Kosovo.
Many of these measures were simply absurd. Little by little, I also understood that many of my OSCE colleagues were in Kosovo for perfectly banal reasons: money, to overcome a divorce, to jazz up one’s CV or even to spend the weekends in nearby Thessaloniki on the beautiful Mediterranean coast. But the worst were the following two groups: naïve, unprofessional do-gooders and those who so far hadn’t handled their life in a meaningful way and were now supposed to lead a department, or even worse - a community.
In all fairness I have to say there were also exceptions. While organizing the distribution of independent newspapers from Belgrade to the Serb enclaves I met Plaka, a Bosniac who had spent the last years in Greece. A warmhearted person, with a great sense of humor. I called him „The Zorba of the Balkans. “He had common sense, cleverness and good ideas. With Plaka nothing was impossible. More than once, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish projects in the Serb enclaves without his help. I would have simply failed. But Plaka knew everyone and everyone knew Plaka.
He held no grudge against any ethnic group and was always up-to-date on the newest gossip. For him life in Kosovo wasn’t without danger either, even though as a Bosniac he was a Muslim, but his mother tongue was the Slavic Serbo-Croatian. So, every time he spoke in his mother tongue his life was in danger. At the time, Kosovar nationalism was widespread and everyone who publicly spoke a Slavic language and was overheard, was basically dead.
During my time at the OSCE in Kosovo, I lost my idealism about working for international organizations. Nevertheless, I think the many efforts could be worthwhile, if the structures within the mission, staff recruitment and project orientation were to be revised and reformed. The current peacekeeping measures certainly don’t do justice to either side, but provoke the worst in people – with exceptions, of course. Despite all the professional turbulence I also learned something about a kind of “Savoir vivre à la Balkan” at the time and spent two more years working for the OSCE mission in Sarajevo after my time in Kosovo."