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Kosovo in Capital Tussle Over Nameless Streets

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Pristina is preparing to give identities to more than 100 nameless roads, but some of the proposed picks are causing controversy.

By Petrit Collaku

The group U2 may not have had Pristina in mind when they sang “Where the Streets Have no Name” – but the song certainly applies to Kosovo’s capital, where 150 new streets remain without names as a result of rapid urban sprawl.

Now a municipal commission is getting ready to prepare a new slate of street names, but it’s not a process lacking controversy.

Kosovo
Kosovo

When Mayor Isa Mustafa proposed to name one street after Albanian media mogul Dritan Hoxha, who died in 2008 car accident, some assembly members savaged the move.

The Mayor said Hoxha deserved a street of his own because he had united all Albanians under one single media umbrella, which hadn’t been done before.

But members of the city assembly vocally disagreed, saying Hoxha was a morally dubious figure who had died along with a woman purported to be his mistress.

The attacks on the mayor’s attempt to name a street are just one example of the potential troubles Pristina faces in trying to give its roads new identities.

Fehmi Rexhepi, who heads the commission charged with naming streets, said the list of proposed names would be ready by September, when the assembly could debate and approve it.

Rexhepi, a University of Pristina history professor, says one problem is the shortage of important Kosovo personalities. The city’s 477 named streets have already used up most of the well-known names.

The commission is looking for new Albanian, Kosovar and international notables for inspiration.

“The majority of streets will have names from Kosovo, then Albania and then from the international stage, just as we did in 2001,” Rexhepi told Balkan Insight, referring to the last time the city renamed streets.

Among those already on the list are Zekeria Cana, a historian and activist and Mehmet Gjevori, author of an Albanian spelling book in Kosovo.

Rexhepi says he fears that his commission will come under political pressure.

For instance, the daily newspaper, Bota Sot, says it wants a street named after their late, politically divisive journalist, Bardhyl Ajeti, who was shot dead in 2005.

“We expect some pressure from political parties because they will be pushing for their own people,” Rexhepi said, noting that everyone from parties to NGOs and ordinary citizens can propose names.

Renaming Once Again:

Pristina’s streets have changed names frequently in recent years, as regimes have come and gone.

After Serbia scrapped Kosovo’s autonomy and cracked down on ethnic Albanians in the 1990s, it changed many street names in 1995 to honour Serbian heroes and nationalists.

Following the end of Kosovo’s independence war’s in 1999, Kosovo’s new interim government changed the street names again – this time to fighters from the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.

The newly installed United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, then added to the confusion by refusing to recognise the new names.

After the first free elections in Kosovo in October 2000, a commission for naming streets was formed and in May 2001, a complete list was drawn up, this time including Serb names designed to please the country’s biggest ethnic minority.

Pristina’s “Zagreb” Street, named after the Croatian capital, is one such street that has changed its name repeatedly.

In 1995, it was renamed “Kninska”, after Knin, capital of a breakaway Serbian statelet in Croatia. In 1999, the street was renamed “Bushatasit”, but in 2001 it was renamed “Zagreb” once again.

Today, several streets and boulevards in Pristina bear the names of American politicians who supported Kosovo’s struggle for independence, including former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Pristina also has 11 streets named after Serbs, Croats and Bosnians noted for their work in literature, the sciences and Albanian language studies.

Balkan Insight

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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