Kit Macdonald visits Prishtina to explore its deep electronic roots and to meet the venues, promoters and artists keeping the scene alive.
Eventually, the convoy of floats moves from its meeting point and begins to inch up one of the city's main thoroughfares. An MC on the lead float starts to whip up the assembled "party people" with exhortations that would be familiar the world over. Then comes a flurry of reminders of this party's extraordinary context. "Thank you KFOR, thank you!" the MC yells in English, referring to the Nato-led peacekeeping Kosovo Force. A roar goes up as the mic passes to a man wearing a large orange and black felt hat. "Shout is going out to KFOR, UN and all others who helped, thank you all, thank you!" Cheers and whoops fill the air, and with exquisite timing, an American flag heaves into view, hoisted by the crowd dancing on the float behind. The camera pans over a long line of white SUVs with "UN" printed on the passenger doors in long, thin black letters. Passersby wave and cheer at the convoy, and cars and buses headed in the other direction honk their horns in celebration.
Prishtina's first Love Parade took place just 86 days after the end of a horrifying 16-month war that threatened to wipe out or permanently displace the ethnic Albanians who comprise around 90 percent of Kosovo's population. The seminal misfortune of Kosovo in the 1990s was to be the place seen by Serbian nationalists as their "Jerusalem" at a time when an ever more extreme and thuggish brand of nationalism was on the rise in Belgrade. Mythology around the Battle Of Kosovo in 1389, in which Ottoman invaders defeated Serbian forces, has for centuries imbued Kosovo with "sacred land" status in Serbian nationalist ideology. Ethnic Serbs had left Kosovo, which from 1992 on was a southwestern province of a Yugoslavian rump state consisting of Serbia and Montenegro, in droves during the 1980s. The new leader in Belgrade, Slobodan Milošević, made reversing this trend a top priority, revoking Kosovo's political autonomy under communism in 1989 and introducing an apartheid-style system of open discrimination against the Kosovo-Albanian majority.
Armed resistance to Belgrade bubbled sporadically for years, but in 1995 the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) launched an insurgency against Milošević's security forces, and in February 1998, full-scale war broke out. Atrocities multiplied (a small but significant percentage of them committed by the KLA) and a refugee crisis rapidly developed. Between 1.2 million and 1.45 million Kosovo-Albanians—the vast majority of the Kosovo-Albanian population—were displaced to refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania. In spring 1999, Nato began bombing targets in Serbia and Serbian forces inside Kosovo, and 78 days after the intervention, Milošević withdrew under the Kumanovo Agreement, which put Kosovo under temporary UN administration. The days from June 10th to 12th 1999 marked Kosovo's de facto separation from Serbia, and just four years after the Bosnian War, another genocide in the Balkans was averted.
The Love Parade in Prishtina 12 weeks later isn't the most important thing that's happened in electronic music in postwar Kosovo. But watching the video from that day, it felt as though a lot could be divined about the country's connection with electronic music from thousands of its citizens choosing to celebrate survival itself with a techno party. Anxious not to exaggerate the event's significance, I asked Oda Haliti, a prominent Prishtina DJ and human rights activist, for her take.
"It was exactly as it looks and feels on the video," she said, delighted that I had happened upon this little piece of her country's history. "No exaggeration, we had been saved from being wiped out. We were so humble, thankful and super happy, and the way a lot of people in Prishtina wanted to celebrate was with a big party, united, with electronic music. It still makes me emotional to watch it."
Just over two decades after the 1999 Love Parade, in November 2019, I sat in a taxi inching up the same traffic-clogged stretch of road I had seen in the video. I was on my way into town from Adem Jashari airport, one of many pieces of infrastructure in Kosovo named after fallen heroes of the KLA. The 1999 Love Parade's starting point is now home to "Newborn," a monument spelling that word out in English in huge, colourful letters, unveiled on February 17th, 2008, the day Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia. A bust of Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton's Secretary Of State during the war, is a few steps up the road, which is now named Luan Haradinaj Street, after another KLA martyr. Bill Clinton Boulevard is a couple of minutes south, the centrepiece of which is a giant statue of the 42nd US President, waving and wearing a benign, fatherly smile. Another street is named after the UK's prime minister at the time—a number of Kosovan boys born in the wake of the war were famously given the first name "Tonibler."