Thousands of people pass daily in front of the Grand Hotel in the centre of Prishtina. In a country of roughly two million people, deeply swaying to both the past and the future, about half of the population is under 25. In the capital, just over 21 years after the war and 13 years from the country’s Independence Day, the culture scene is blooming with so many alternative reinventions and development. The underground culture in old, forgotten buildings is a parallel line to what used to take place in oppressed Prishtina in the decades before the war, an age-old echo of the resistance of youth and young professionals, back then against oppression, mistreatment, and persecution by the Serbian rule, and now against hardships, hard limitations, and a myriad of obstacles. 

Different dimensions of the city’s quintessence can be felt in many spaces, be it the small, warm cafes, the many surprise sites where you’ll find guerilla street art, or the odd little bookshop or artisanal business you can stumble upon while walking around, Prishtina’s soul still resides in the overlooked abandoned spaces of modernist, often brutalist buildings that keep being reused by new youth initiatives. 

One of those spaces that has remained unused due to many untouchable factors is the Grand Hotel Prishtina, finished in 1978 and designed by Bashkim Fehmiu, one of the most iconic Kosovar architects, together with Dragan Kovacevic, an architect from Belgrade. The Grand Hotel nowadays feels grand only in memory and physical presence with its original façades, a part of which was changed in a failed prioritization of repairs. The interior feels like a labyrinth of green carpet hallways, dark wooden walls and doors, and old chandeliers which have now been paired with new LED spiral bulbs of a bluish light.

The impromptu team of young people that were a part of this small expedition to explore the halls, closed rooms, and the Tito suite were enthusiastic, albeit freezing in the abandoned gallery. A parallel to the life in Kosovo, this cold, limiting beauty awakens nostalgia in everyone, young and elderly. 

Hana Zeqa, the name behind Fight or Flight, a brand that skillfully brings together research, fashion, and technology, talks about how her collections are “inspired by urban lifestyle with elements from 90s minimalist and 80s Japanese avant-garde fashion, as well as ninjas.” To her, being a Kosovar means being a citizen of the world, “identified with an upbringing, history, and culture,” she says, intentionally leaving the political scene out. Having said that, she still sees Kosovo with an unclear identity in fashion, with a few fashion-oriented individuals but no elements that define the fashion culture, but thinks that the new generations will make a change and shape this identity, evolving out of the “basic, mainstream market that mainly provides evening gowns and wedding dresses, lacking independent labels or every-day-wear brands.” 


Talking about what being a Kosovar means to them, Erzë Pallaska, a fashion and lifestyle blogger and young architect from Prishtina, says that it evokes a rollercoaster of feelings. “Standing out, speaking up, and fighting for what is right, even if it means doing it in a seemingly endless loop”, are the words Blerina Muriqi, another young architect, uses to describe her feelings of being a young Kosovar. Their hopes and dreams are very present too. They show everything from the brutal reality to a wide-eyed dream of silver linings. Linda Suhodolli, well known also as Matale, a DJ from Prishtina, a highly talented nail artist and painter, focuses her hopes and dreams for Kosovo on a wish against the limited travel options and countless travel visa documents necessary, hoping that the youth here will one day be able to travel and explore as much as artists from other countries, and most importantly, participate in exhibitions and art projects or cooperate with other professionals. Though she mentions that to be professionally engaged in the art field in Kosovo is difficult and discouraging, she adds that maybe that was precisely what pushed her to shift her painting skills into a different medium, start her business, and due to her diligence and perseverance become one of the most well-known nail artists around. Meanwhile, Bardha Pallaska, a young student of medicine with a talent and passion for make-up, says that though she aims to become a successful surgeon, she also wants to raise the voices of other young women and girls in medicine against the gender inequality they face in their fields. 

Where Blerina hopes for her hard work to be acknowledged and applied as best as possible and Erza hopes to reach a point to help talented small businesses be seen by the world, Jon Gashi, a young, edgy model, and Allmir Suhodolli, a promising young actor, both are openly looking forward to being able to explore their fields outside of Kosovo to experience the working methods of various professionals and brands. Mirroring the reality of a recent event, “Hopes and dreams,” Blerina says, “if too often broken and unfulfilled, can turn into one of our biggest fears, the migration of youth,” fitting right in with Bardha’s words who said that she hopes this year brings Kosovo more political and economic stability, as well as open-mindedness and acceptance of different genders, sexual orientations, and backgrounds.

Their competitive qualities, friendliness, and kindness make these young people stand out as a gorgeous tiny sample of this vibrantly diverse generation in Prishtina. Their drive and innovation are admirable to say the least, and intensely inspiring. Through the struggles of finding themselves personally and within the industries they love, it is obvious they draw on their strength and the support of their loved ones to not tire of trying to make their dreams come true. Jon says he was always “the most stylish child in class”, which made him start to love modeling and then wants to pursue styling, and Erza with her intentionally reserved edginess wants to defy local standards and trends and make a name for the amazing alternativeness happening here. 

All these struggles have resulted in many lessons, often way more mature than their age, though still retaining that dreamy note. Linda says that she’s learnt that one does not always have to adjust to the norm and compromise one’s principles to achieve financial success, since sticking to it can be the biggest asset. In similar fashion, Allmir is confident from his experience that a big budget is not always necessary for a successful project. In her clear-cut words, Bardha adds that she has understood that though hard work, perseverance, and talent are very important, but so is luck and the circumstances one is in, two things that are very limited in Kosovo. Yet, as Blerina says, there are people that value your capabilities, capacity and skills, and who appreciate them which makes it that much easier to progress and grow.

Their competitive qualities, friendliness, and kindness make these young people stand out as a gorgeous tiny sample of this vibrantly diverse generation in Prishtina. Their drive and innovation are admirable to say the least, and intensely inspiring. Though of a different nature, struggles are still very overwhelmingly present in Kosovo, but the break in the clouds is there too. It rests with the people willing to make a difference.

Article written by Gentiana Pallaska


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