This is the first time I've been back to Kosovo since it became independent. That in itself is quite a thrill: go back a few years and I was reporting from here for the BBC as it inched closer to a settled final status. The fact that some of us had our passports stamped and others didn't when we arrived at the airport last night was a reminder that Kosovo still has work to do in convincing the whole world - and even the EU27 - that it exists as a fully independent state.
We're here for the Germia Hill conference, which ECFR has organised jointly with the Kosovan MFA. The event has just begun two floors down from my hotel room, with a swarm of local TV cameras and dozens of polticians, officials and experts discussing how the multipolar world (and its problems) is affecting this South Eastern corner of Europe.
There's a lot that is genuinely impressive here. In the four or five years since I last visited there is a real wealth of new buildings in the centre of Pristina, including a terrific and atmospheric subterranean bar where we ignored sleep for a few hours yesterday evening, and this spanking new hotel (which needs to be seen to be believed), the 'Swiss Diamond'.
As ever, however, it doesn't take long before the harder side of life becomes obvious. The UN compound and the OSCE building are still pretty much as I remember them (at least from the outside), and beyond the swanky new bars it's obvious that life remains pretty damned hard for most Kosovans. My colleague Pirro and I spoke to a few locals both in the market and outside the university. The declaration of independence was significant, but the hardships of making a living and dreaming of a viable future are still major concerns - perhaps moreso now that the national issue seems settled.
That, of course, is fairly standard fair across Europe at the moment, but here it is at a much more fundamental level. Even if they continue raising themselves up and manage extraordinary growth rates, it will take an enormous amount of time before the average Kosovan will have the material wealth of their apparently-beleagured European colleagues in the EU27. That could also be a strength - arguably the former communist EU members are the ones least in trouble at the moment: they know real poverty, what it has taken to reach where they are now, and they have never taken it for granted. That is also true for Kosovo, and that is surely what the people in this historically troubled corner of Europe could teach the rest of us. It should be an interesting two days.
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