Pristina is the capital city of Kosovo, a small republic in south east Europe that lies just south of Serbia, the country that most vigorously disputes Kosovo’s legitimacy having once ruled over it as a semi-autonomous province. Walking through the streets brings a few hazards. But this is not because the city has particularly high crime. Most residents consider the city very safe . No, the danger comes from navigating the various obstacles, many of which do have criminal origins.
The first difficulty is getting past parked cars. These aren’t just parked on the edge of the pavements, but completely block the route and are the main reason its generally easier just to walk in the road (which no one seems to mind). There are regulations against illegal parking, but authorities are generally reluctant to enforce them. Presumably this is because the public would be unlikely to accept being fined for these misdemeanours given that the city simply can’t provide commuters with sufficient parking facilities and has a relatively poor public transport infrastructure.
The second difficulty is navigating the crevices and puddles where pavements are poorly maintained (note, there aren’t always pavements in any case). Here, the government’s financial constraints are an important factor. Kosovo’s wealth is not really known but international estimates place the province as the poorest in Europe, with average incomes per head of around €2,000. But residents also point out that corruption has allowed contractors to build sub-standard infrastructure in Kosovo. They complain that road surfaces are much thinner than stated in government contracts, leading to quick decay – and a former Transport Minister is being investigated for alleged fraud.
The third difficulty is rather more bizarre. Missing manhole covers. Walking around at night in the city, you have to watch your step or risk falling into sewers. Agim Gashi (no relation!) is the city’s Director of Public Services. He states “how many manhole have we replaced in the town and how many continue to be stolen? I am just angry that we have to go back to the same projects and spend the money again”.
Despite poverty, most Kosovans are highly law-abiding citizens. But people’s willingness to steal manhole covers suggests that what constitutes “a good haul” in Kosovo is clearly different from in more prosperous nations. Here in the UK, there are plenty of bizarre thefts – but manhole covers are pretty safe. Instead, high value commodities – including copper and lead – have often been targeted by imaginative crooks. Famously, there was quite a craze for stealing lead from church roofs some decades back. And UK’s network rail has highlighted that people are now stealing copper from railtracks at an alarming rate: indeed, they estimate that such thefts will cost them over £15 million per year by 2014. So Kosovo’s steel thefts are not so unusual really. Thefts may be delaying UK commuters as well as Kosovan pedestrians.