A land of palimpsest

Diellëza Tahiri
5 min readDec 14, 2022

Kosovo as a country with a troubled past, has undergone a series of transformations over the past decades. Different ethnical, political, social, and economic factors as well as complex historical events in Balkans as a region in southeast Europe, have caused erratic, fluid and unpredictable development of territories, landscapes, cities, and infrastructures. The palimpsest as used by André Corboz, mainly describes polysemic cultural landscapes experienced by processes of new layers constructed over time (Corboz, 1983). Kosovo in this case, can be considered an example of a constant palimpsest, and not only in terms of land and its cultural change, but also in terms of social multi-layered processes, built into a blurry and foggy mindset of people of Kosovo in modern day.

Map of Kosovo showing infrastructures and territories of urban and rural areas (source: A Slow City by Dielleza Tahiri, 2022)

It is a relatively broad but interesting matter to study on the ethnical issue in Balkans, in Kosovo and particularly the Albanian people. The centuries long processes of war and constant invasions by diverse usurpers, led to major changes and transitions in terms of education, religion, culture, traditions, politics, economy, and heritage (Elsie, 2004). Undoubtedly, the most difficult thing to change has always been ethnicity and cultural heritage. The Albanians therefore are known to be subjects of shifting religion, political and cultural influences for centuries but not the ethnicity (Malcolm, 1998). Consequently, this caused serious confusions about what is heritage and culture for us? And how can we define our identity?

The last war of 1998–1999 however, as still being a fresh wound to the people of Kosovo, had huge effects in mentality, beliefs, and well-being. A sense of confusion, fear and uncertainty combined with greed, corruption and commercialism is very evident even today, 23 years after the war. It is rather interesting to observe the post-war period in Kosovo, especially after Kosovo became an independent state in 2008. Due to individual interests of the political parties and state leaders, the governance driven projects stimulated a rapid development of the main cities which resulted in uncontrolled urban growth, prone to corruption and crime in many aspects of development, particularly in terms of architecture, urban planning, territories, landscapes, environment, and heritage. Lack of proper education and scientific research is evidently concerning when it comes to addressing important issues and long term planning. Immediately after the war, in 2000, more than 2000 illegal buildings were documented in Prishtina, the capital. Rexhep Luci, an Albanian official architect, together with the UN organisations, proposed drafting a visionary urban plan for the capital which included urban parks and public spaces along with vertical growing of the city. The initiative to demolish illegal buildings unfortunately was stopped after the architect was shot dead in a “mafia” killing (Shahini and IKS, 2006). This shocking event, although not commonly known, somewhat impacted many future generations of official architects and urbanists to not oppose corruption, but rather be part of it. Inevitably, due to UN initiatives in Kosovo, the urban development plans were to be completed and followed accordingly. Apart from Prishtina, which had the first urban development plan in 2004, other cities were rather late in planning, hardly drafting any proper plan.

The main tools used, specifically in planning of cities today are Zoning Maps, which are predominantly prone to corruption and individual interests of political parties. Driven by challenges of governance, large industries and trade companies, cities in Kosovo in the past 10 years have expanded immensely. Thousands of new businesses, numerous new infrastructures, different major transformations in city centres of housing and commerce as well as continuous degradation of historic buildings, heritage sites, natural environment, and water pollution, have been present and layered in a dispersedly manner throughout the country in the last decade. On the other hand, the demographic data show rather irregular patterns of population increase and decrease over the years. According to ASK-Kosovo Agency of Statistics (Agjencia e Statistikave të Kosovës, 2001), the population of Kosovo estimated in 2021 is 1.873 million and it’s not expected a particularly high increase of numbers in the future, although the number of births is relatively high each year. This data inconsistency is a result of constant emigration, a phenomenon that has been happening in Kosovo for decades. Nevertheless, the people living outside Kosovo usually tend to invest in their cities in Kosovo and maintain an ongoing bond with their homeland. Therefore, the irrelevance between people and urban growth seems to make more sense considering this phenomenon. Moreover, a gradual change of families to adapt in the new contemporary social trends, urges young adults, young families to move out of their home into new housing units of residential complexes in the city, as well as large movement of people from rural to urban areas, creates the need for new businesses and new housing to emerge, commercial and recreational activities to be introduced. Hence many cities are almost being merged with villages, and nearby cities, notably the eastern part of Kosovo, also known as Kosovo Field (al: Fusha e Kosovës). This region is composed of four main “metropolises”, Prishtina, Mitrovica, Ferizaj and Gjilan. Apart from Gjilan, the three are connected by railway and highway systems which pass to North Macedonia in the south and Serbia in the North. It has become clearly apparent that the territories between Prishtina-Ferizaj-Gjilan, form a strip of expansion at the urbanized areas, a possible conurbation urban model to be expected in the future (Hall, 2014). However, this expansion with its peripheries and with its “sprawl” (Berger, 2006), resulting also in the loss of a clear and recognizable limit separating the city from the countryside, is not something new in the history of urbanism (Secchi, 2003). This issue has been debated ever since deindustrialization of the European modern city in the mid-20th century. Urban growth as a concept raises a lot of questions related to contemporary metapolises or also known as mega-cities, cities of stratifications and merging of several planes and layers. The situation of Kosovo Field, can be debated on future studies as a functional megacity model, where the main cities will cooperate instead of just competing with one another, like the case of the old Randstad and the new Deltametropool, the Flemish Diamond, Ruhr, etc.

Map of urban growth in Kosovo Field Region (source: A Slow City by Dielleza Tahiri, 2022)

REFERENCES:

Corboz, A.(1983).The land as Palimpsest. In Diogenes, vol.31, Issue121. ISSN: 1467–7695.

Elsie, R. (2004). Historical Dictionary of Kosova.
United Kingdom: Scarecrow Press; Second Edition: 2011. ISBN:9780810872318

Malcolm, N. (1998). Kosovo: A Short History. United Kingdom: Papermac. ISBN:9780330412247

Shahini, B.,IKS & ESI. (2006).Vizionet utopike: Dështimet e qeverisjes në kryeqytetin e Kosovës.Iniciativa Kosovare për Stabilitet (IKS).
Available at
https://iksweb.org/vizionet-utopike/ (Accessed in 19 May 2022)

Agjencia e Statistikave të Kosovës.(2021).Vjetari Statistikor i Republikës së Kosovës 2021. Kosovo:Pjetër Bogdani. ISBN:9789951227278

Hall, P. (2014). Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design Since 1880. Germany: Wiley. ISBN: 9780631232520

Berger, A. (2006). Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America. United Kingdom: Princeton Architectural Press. ISBN: 9781568987132.

Secchi, B. (2003). The form of the city. In Planum. The Journal of Urbanism, n. 7, vol.2. Available at http://www.planum.net/diary-11-the-form-of-the-city-bernardo-secchi (Accessed in 20 May 2022)

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