It was once dubbed 'Serbian Constantinople,' but is now a hotbed of Albanian ambition - right in Europe's newest state
Issue 41-42, February-March 2010
by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff
It was a desecration. In the dead of night, somebody had placed a freshly severed pig's head at the door of the Muderis Ali Efendi mosque, one of the oldest and most visited mosques in Prizren. The Muslim Albanians decided to take their revenge on the usual suspects, the Catholic Albanians from the nearby church. Thus, between 1905 and 1908, the city experienced the notorious Three-Year Boycott of Catholic Shops.
It was only some time afterwards that it came to light that the Catholics had had nothing to do with this provocation. It had been planned by the rector of the Orthodox Church School, or Bogoslovija, a Serb named Petar Kostić, who wanted to set Albanian Muslim against Albanian Christian. For centuries, the Serbs in this city, and in Kosova as a whole, had been a minority, but these lands were of paramount importance to them. They were "Old Serbia," the place where their nation was born and had experienced its most glorious years in the 11th-14th centuries. Ironically, Prizren was the place where the Albanians' first national organisation had been founded some thirty years before the pig's head incident.
Prizren is the most picturesque and ethnically diverse city in Kosova, Europe's youngest state. Situated on the northern slopes of the Šar Mountains, Prizren overlooks the vast Kosova Plain and has all the features of an old Balkan city on the threshold of a new era. The fortress on the hilltop, which was successively Byzantine, Bulgarian, Serbian and Ottoman, is today a popular place for walks and is floodlit at night. The old part of the city is a jigsaw puzzle of Ottoman houses, mosques, workshops and hamams, or Turkish baths, mediaeval Serbian churches of all sizes and dilapidated public buildings in the worst traditions of Yugoslavian architecture. When Tito's federation flourished, Kosova was deliberately kept in economic isolation. It was the poorest region of Yugoslavia and the prefabricated blocks of flats, rank after rank with their neglected landscaping, begin right outside the old city centre. Since the 1999 Kosova War they have been flanked by newer, equally unsightly, blocks of flats, petrol stations, shopping and office centres and other signs of ambitious young Kosova.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers