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Culture

Kosovo, Europe's cultural ghetto

By definition, art breaks down boundaries. But for artists from Kosovo, there are social and political borders that cannot be overcome. Strict visa requirements are isolating them from the international art scene.

His office, a small room in the basement, is located on a side street not far from the city center. The window hardly lets any light in and a fan moves the hot air back and forth. Large posters, photos and magazines are stacked up around the room.

Rrezeart Galica is a 31-year-old graphic designer who lives and works in Pristina. He's known here for making posters with simple but powerful slogans. His protagonists are the international organizations stationed in his country. And his theme is their political failures.

Poster protest

Galica shows the flier advertising the exhibition he had in Berlin at the beginning of the year. "That's a poster with the words 'No more.' I wrote the letters using 39 visas. I called up friends and acquaintances and asked them to scan their visas and send them to me," explained Galica.

Rrezerat Galica's 'No More' poster

Rrezerat Galica used copies of visas to make this poster

He positioned the word "rejected" on a few places over the text to represent everyone who wasn't so lucky with their travel plans. "I want to show with this work how isolated we are from the rest of the world; we want to be able to freely go to Europe."

"No More" is a work borne of anger and experience. A year ago, a gallery in France wanted to exhibit some of his works. Everything was planned; the flight and hotel were booked, the posters had been printed and Galica had written his opening speech. But his visa application was denied.

The political reality

"The young Europeans" is Kosovo's official image slogan. And the country is indeed very young, having declared its independence from Serbia just five years ago. But Kosovars hardly feel like Europeans. Five EU member states have still not officially recognized Kosovo as a country. Internationally, South Sudan, which declared its independence just last year, has been recognized by more countries than Kosovo.

Artwork in Pristina reading 'Newborn'

'Newborn' - art with a message in downtown Pristina

Visa restrictions have been eased for all other Southern European countries except Kosovo, though Brussels and Pristina began talks this year over laxer visa laws and the responsible EU commissioner presented a plan of action in June. According to the plan, Pristina first has to reform its fight against organized crime and corruption, strengthen basic rights in the country and improve data protection, to name just a few of the stipulations.

Political dependence

"It's really frustrating when you come from Kosovo but want to belong to the world. You're isolated and feel like you're not a part of things and the world makes it clear that you don't belong - every time to express your wish to be a citizen of the world," said the young Kosovar film director Blerta Zegiri.

She's made a name for herself beyond Kosovo's borders. Her current film, "The Return," tells the story of a man who goes missing during the war in Kosovo and returns to his family after spending four years in a Serbian prison.

Blerta Zeqiri

Blerta Zeqiri's films are shown around the world

The film was an international success for Zegiri. It was shown at the Sundance Film Festival and she was able to personally present it at another event in London. But that's not always the case, said the director: "I recently could have gone to a film festival in Canada, but it didn't work out. The visa was delayed and by the time I finally got it, the festival was over."

"The Return" is currently playing all over the world. It wouldn't make sense for her to apply for a visa to all the countries showing her film, said Zegiri - especially not to countries that don't even recognize Kosovo's sovereignty. "I could have attended a festival in Russia, but that didn't work because I'm from Kosovo and Russia doesn't recognize Kosovo. That's really unfortunate."

Placing blame

Unlike Galica, Zegiri doesn't blame the international organizations. "I'm fully aware that we don't fulfill the standards and conditions. We have a lot of problems to solve here. We have laws, but they aren't implemented," she said. Zegiri added that she could understand why the Europeans don't yet view Kosovo as part of their community: "Not yet."

Rrezeart Galica and his 'EUSEX' poster

Rrezeart Galica takes the international community to task

Galica, on the other hand, continues to fault the international community with the problems in Kosovo. "This work is called 'EUSEX' and is a parody on the acronym for the EU mission in Kosovo, EULEX, which has failed in my opinion," said the artist. "The only thing that the 'internationals' have boosted since they've been here is prostitution."

Just a few weeks ago, the government in Pristina delivered a report to the European Commission on progress made in implementing the stipulations for visa liberalization. The document has not been made public, but experts estimate that negotiations will continue for several more years.

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