from the issue of February 28, 2008
Lesson in History
BY CHARLYNE BERENS, NEWS-EDITORIAL
Jerry Renaud remembers being in Kansas City the night the Royals won the World Series in 1985. People were all over the city's downtown, singing and shouting and celebrating.
But the weekend of Feb. 16 and 17 in Kosovo was "so different," the broadcasting professor said. "There was so much passion. People would break into chants, would break into songs. Everybody was hugging, kissing, crying."
|IN KOSOVO - Jerry Renaud, professor of broadcasting, stands in the midst of independence partying on the streets of Pristina, Kosovo, on Feb. 16. Renaud arrived on Feb. 16 to teach for two weeks at the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communication. Courtesy photo.
It was a new beginning for Kosovo. After a history that had entwined them for centuries with the Serbs and other ethnic groups within the former Yugoslavia, the Kosovars declared their independence from Serbia. A new nation was born. And Renaud was there to see it.
He arrived in Pristina on Feb. 16, prepared to teach classes in convergence and Web journalism for two weeks at the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communication. He found that the independence partying had already begun.
"We got three blocks from the hotel and got stuck in traffic," he said. "We almost couldn't move."
People were wall to wall, blocking all the streets in the city center, including Mother Teresa Avenue, the address of his hotel.
Once he'd checked in at the hotel, Renaud headed into the streets with Naser Miftari, who heads the print journalism program at the Kosovo Institute. They waded through people waving the Kosovo flag, the Stars and Stripes, the Union Jack.
"People were standing on top of cars, screaming, chanting, singing traditional folk songs," Renaud said. "It was pretty crazy."
|SIGNS OF THANKS - Posters in Pristina, Kosovo, thank nations and various organizations for their support. Jerry Renaud/Courtesy photo.
But it was going to get even more intense.
The celebrating started again Sunday at about 10 a.m., Renaud said, and continued to build. Soon, tens of thousands of people were gathered in the city center, anticipating an announcement from the "extraordinary session" of the parliament.
After the parliament voted unanimously for independence, the prime minister, Hashim Thaci, read the official declaration. Then he and the new nation's president both spoke to the crowd.
"Everybody went absolutely nuts," Renaud said.
Booths and tables along the streets offered free beer, free water and free Coke. An enormous cake appeared, and people lined up on the block to get a piece of the new nation's birthday cake.
All the speeches were amplified by loud speakers so that people blocks away could hear what was being said, including those at the Grand Hotel where Renaud was staying. Of course, the speeches were in Albanian, so Renaud spent the morning watching the proceedings on BBC World, taking advantage of the English translation.
Then he joined the ongoing celebrations in the street. From 8 to 11 p.m. Feb. 17, well-known musicians from Kosovo put on a free show on an outdoor stage.
"People knew the songs and were singing along," Renaud said, despite the sub-freezing temperatures.
The show was followed by a fireworks display - "and then everybody went into the bars."
By Feb. 18, things had calmed down a bit, although many businesses and schools were closed, including the Kosovo Institute. At that point, Renaud said, he hadn't seen any protests or any violence, although the Kosovars were well aware of Serbia and Russia's opposition to the declaration of independence.
Most of the threats running the other way - from Serbia toward Kosovo - were economic, Renaud said. Kosovo imports many of its goods and services from Serbia, including electrical power, and one of the most realistic threats may have been that Serbia would shut off Kosovo's lights.
"None of that has happened yet," Renaud said on Feb. 18, "but I think people are wary and a little apprehensive about it."
Kosovo, with a landmass about the size of Connecticut, is home to about 2 million people. At least 90 percent of them are ethnic Albanians, mainly secular Muslims, while Serbia is a predominantly Christian Orthodox nation.
Kosovo was one of the autonomous regions that made up Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito from the early 1940s through his death in 1980 and for most of the following decade. But in 1989, Slobodan Milosevic rescinded Kosovo's autonomy and sent troops to suppress civil disobedience. But the Kosovars never accepted Serbian rule. By the late 1990s, the Kosovo Liberation Army was waging guerilla warfare against the Serbian forces.
In 1999, NATO attacked Serbia by air. Milosevic retaliated by forcing hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians to flee their Kosovo homeland and killing thousands more. Eventually, Milosevic agreed to withdraw from Kosovo, and the United Nations set up an agency to administer the region.
Renaud saw some of those UN troops patrolling the streets of Pristina on Feb. 18 after Sunday's huge celebration.
The College of Journalism and Mass Communications' relationship with the Kosovo Institute, which grew out of an initiative by the Norwegian government, took Renaud and other faculty to Kosovo almost a year ago for several weeks of teaching. Barney McCoy was scheduled to go back for the first two weeks in March.
The Kosovo Institute's mission is to teach more Western-style journalism, Renaud said.
On Feb. 19, the Kosovo Institute reopened. Renaud has spent most of his time with students since.
One of the first projects assigned to the students was to interview each other about their reactions to the independence declaration.
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