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UNMIK Media Observer, July 29, Morning Edition

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• COVID – 19 report: 239 new cases, seven deaths (media)
• Government adopts new measures against COVID – 19 (media)
• PM advisor: If we continue like this, health system will collapse (media)
• EU: We have made it clear to Belgrade and Prishtina (media)
• Western Balkans partnership summit to be held today (media)
• Vetevendosje’s Haxhiu: New parliamentary elections very soon (Koha)
• Kosovo artist pulls out after biennial refuses to recognise his nationality (media)
• Halilaj: ‘I have always wanted to be a bird’ (Prishtina Insight)

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  • COVID – 19 report: 239 new cases, seven deaths (media)
  • Government adopts new measures against COVID – 19 (media)
  • PM advisor: If we continue like this, health system will collapse (media)
  • EU: We have made it clear to Belgrade and Prishtina (media)
  • Western Balkans partnership summit to be held today (media)
  • Vetevendosje’s Haxhiu: New parliamentary elections very soon (Koha)
  • Kosovo artist pulls out after biennial refuses to recognise his nationality (media)
  • Halilaj: ‘I have always wanted to be a bird’ (Prishtina Insight)

COVID – 19 report: 239 new cases, seven deaths (media)

239 new cases of COVID – 19 have been confirmed in the last 24 hours in Kosovo. Seven people have died from the virus in this period. The highest number of new cases is from the municipality of Prishtina (82). There are currently 3,841 active cases in Kosovo. The total number of deaths from the virus so far is 239. 102 patients have recovered from the virus in the last 24 hours.

Government adopts new measures against COVID – 19 (media)

All media reported on Tuesday evening that the Kosovo Government adopted a new set of measured aimed at preventing the further spread of the coronavirus. The measures provide that: Kosovo citizens will not be allowed movement outside their houses from 22:30 to 05:00 in the following municipalities: Prishtina, Prizren, Podujeva, Gjakova, Ferizaj, Lipjan, Gllogoc, Vushtrri, Mitrovica, Gjilan, Fushe Kosove and Shterpce. Nationals of Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina that want to enter Kosovo’s territory must have a negative COVID – 19 test. Kosovo’s citizens are obliged to wear facemasks outside their houses at all times and maintain a distance of two meters. Gatherings of more than five people and family parties are prohibited. Cultural and sports activities are prohibited. Fitness facilities, indoor swimming pools and individual sport activities are allowed. Restaurants and bars are allowed to work until 22:30. Religious ceremonies throughout Kosovo’s territory are also prohibited. The government did not adopt a previously proposed policy by which Kosovo citizens coming from Albania would either need to have a negative COVID – 19 test or self-isolate for seven days.

PM advisor: If we continue like this, health system will collapse (media)

An advisor to Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti, Visar Berisha, took to Facebook today to raise the alarm over the grave situation with COVID – 19 in the country. He argued that the epidemiological situation is very serious and that the hospital services will not hold for long. Criticising citizens that are resisting to respect the protective measures, Berisha said that if this approach continues “the health system will collapse!”

EU: We have made it clear to Belgrade and Prishtina (media)

The European Union has made it clear that Prishtina and Belgrade will not conclude separate or partial agreements, as happened earlier in Brussels. A comprehensive agreement will be signed only after the parties reach agreements on all outstanding issues.

EU spokeswoman Nabila Masrali said that the dialogue, which they are mediating, will end with a comprehensive agreement only when all problems between Prishtina and Belgrade are resolved, enough to sign the final agreement.

“The EU, as a mediator in the dialogue, will cooperate with the parties on the comprehensive normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, resolving all unresolved issues,” Masrali told Prishtina-based Gazeta Express.

“The European Union and all its member states expect that the parties will implement all agreements reached in the past. Unresolved issues in previous agreements will be resolved in parallel in the negotiations for a comprehensive agreement.”

Western Balkans partnership summit to be held today (media)

The Atlantic Council will host a Summit of leaders from the Western Balkans Six—Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia—as they agree on bold, practical actions to advance regional economic cooperation. These significant steps will help the region emerge from the devastating impact of COVID-19 with greater economic development opportunities.

The expected economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Balkans demand urgent regional action to avoid sustained economic stagnation and the potential instability that comes with it. These conclusions will demonstrate leaders’ commitment to foster economic growth by pursuing the free movement of goods, persons, and services across the region’s borders. The measure will also set in motion a significant plan for attracting foreign investment and accelerating the effective deployment of COVID-19 recovery funds.

Building on its efforts and extensive networks in Southeastern Europe, the Atlantic Council convenes this Western Balkans Partnership Summit to facilitate and promote concrete steps among the leaders toward regional economic cooperation that can stimulate post-COVID-19 economic recovery, boost the region’s long-term competitiveness, and strengthen its attractiveness for investors. Tangible measures agreed at the Summit—linked to and embedded in existing regional initiatives and dialogues—will send an important political message about the Western Balkans’ Euro-Atlantic future at a time of heightened uncertainty.

Vetevendosje’s Haxhiu: New parliamentary elections very soon (Koha)

Vetevendosje senior official and former Minister of Justice, said in an interview with KTV on Tuesday that Kosovo will very soon go to early parliamentary elections. She argued that the ruling coalition is faced with major problems and that it lacks the 61 votes in parliament.

Haxhiu said no law can be passed without the support of opposition MPs. “Considering the internal problems and the fragility of the ruling coalition, I am certain that the country will very soon go to early elections. It is apparent that there are problems within the ruling coalition … We are also seeing accusations from the AAK and NISMA against Prime Minister Hoti,” she added.

Kosovo artist pulls out after biennial refuses to recognise his nationality (media)

The artist Petrit Halilaj has withdrawn from the Belgrade Biennial after the organizers of the exhibition dithered over how to present his nationality in accompanying materials.

Halilaj is from Kosovo, and the biennial is organized and hosted by the Cultural Centre of Belgrade in Serbia, a country that does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state. He pulled out of the show after he was unable to agree with the organizers about how his country of origin would be named in the list of participating artists.

Halilaj, who is based in Berlin, has written an open letter detailing his experience with the exhibition, which is officially called the 58th October Salon: Belgrade Biennial.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and there is a fraught history between the two nations. During the Kosovo War of 1998–99, fought between the two nations, Halilaj himself was displaced and spent more than two years living in refugee camps. In his letter, Halilaj recalls how his and his family’s passports were destroyed, and refers to the conflict as a genocide.

“When I received the invitation to the Belgrade Biennial I was internally conflicted, but I also saw it as an opportunity to create a bridge, to open up a dialogue and to explore new paths of reconciliation through art,” Halilaj writes.

Curated by Ilaria Marotta and Andrea Baccin, this iteration was called “The Dreamers,” and Halilaj had planned to show a video called Shkrepetima (Flash of Light) resulting from a theater performance he staged in his home city of Runik in Kosovo, inside the ruins of the city’s House of Culture, which was destroyed during the conflict.

Organizers first omitted his country of origin from a document released in May. After he requested a correction, organizers introduced it with an asterisk, which Halilaj says “reiterates the refusal of Serbia to recognize Kosovo as an independent country.”

“The asterisk does not even begin to repair a century of oppression and genocide that Serbia has inflicted on Kosovo and it is painful to witness in the context of an art institution that may have a different understanding of the issue,” Halilaj writes.

Later, the institution ended up removing all mentions of the participating artists’ countries of origin, but Halilaj withdrew anyway out of fear that his work, which grapples with the plight of Kosovo’s multiethnic society, risked “being miscommunicated and misinterpreted, or even politically instrumentalized.”

The biennial is slated to open on October 16. Contacted by Artnet News, a spokesperson for the Cultural Center of Belgrade explained that as a public institution, it was obliged to follow Serbia’s official policy on Kosovo.

“As you know the official policy of the Republic of Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo as [an] independent country, so we as [a] public institution could not write [it] differently,” the spokesperson said.

“From the beginning of this unpleasant situation for Petrit Halilaj we were open for dialogue with the artist,” the show’s organizers said in a statement, adding that they hope he changes his mind and rejoins the exhibition.

They declined to elaborate on how they would deal with artists from Kosovo in the future.

Following Halilaj’s withdrawal, the organizers removed all cities and countries from the list of participating artists, which Halilaj says he hopes will be the biennial’s policy for future editions.

Halilaj: ‘I have always wanted to be a bird’ (Prishtina Insight)

Prishtina Insight spoke with artist Petrit Halilaj about love, identity, acceptance and belonging following the opening of his most recent exhibition, which is showing this month at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.

Bowerbirds are medium-sized colourful birds that live primarily in the rainforests of New Guinea and Australia, and are notable for their unique courtship ritual, in which the male of the species builds a ‘bower’ to attract mates.

The birds construct these bowers with tree branches, and decorate the interior with bright and colourful objects that they find in their surrounding environment, including shells, leaves, flowers, feathers, stones and fruit.

The male birds spend hours curating their collection inside the bower and wait for female birds to arrive and inspect their exhibits. Research has shown that the brighter and better looking the collections, the more female mates it attracts.

Kosovo born artist Petrit Halilaj has drawn inspiration from bowerbirds for his latest exhibition, which is entitled “To a raven and hurricanes that from unknown places bring back smells of humans in love,” and opened at the Museo Reina Sofia museum in Madrid on 16 July.

Invited, slightly in jest, by Manuel Borja-Villel, the museum’s curator and director, to produce “the piece of his life,” Halilaj built a beautiful bower inside the Palacio de Cristal at the museum.

He also intervened in the architecture of the Palacio de Cristal, opening the windows and putting up feeding areas, welcoming the birds that live in the nearby Retiro Park, as well as those who are migrating across the region.

“We opened the place for the birds to come in, and this gesture aims to blur the distinction between the interior and exterior,” states Halilaj, whose new exhibition is his first solo show in Spain. “But, it also speaks of the need to incorporate diversities – an act of openness that I wanted to address directly.”

Birds are not a new element for Halilaj to incorporate into his work, while he has also drawn inspiration from his childhood memories and the political and cultural tensions in Kosovo.

“Birds have always held a special place in my mind and my deeds,” he tells Prishtina Insight. “From the time of war between Kosovo and Serbia, when I lived as a refugee with my family, I looked at birds with a sense of hope. For me, they represented the freedom of movement that I lacked back then, but that I was desperately looking for.”

Halilaj tells Prishtina Insight that this fascination with birds stretches back even further, into childhood. “I have always been fascinated by birds, even before I was able to connect them with the idea of freedom,” he says. “Before the war, my drawings depicted exotic birds, species that I had never seen in Kosovo, which triggered my imagination by being so far away and different from anything I knew.”

“When the war started and we had to leave, my mother saved many of these drawings, digging a hole in the ground and hiding them there,” he continues. “Years later, when we were allowed to return, the drawings were still there. However, to me, the birds in the pictures had changed their meaning completely.”

The exhibition also hosts a work called History of a Hug, a sculpture of a human-sized white raven holding a piece of wood. Halilaj explains that the artwork has its roots in a particular moment of his family history, the wood an echo from his ancestry

“It was a tool, strumbullar in Albanian, used by my grandfather when he was working in the country, and the object he was holding when he learned his wife had given birth to their first child,” he says. “My grandfather was unable to express his immense joy in public, since this might have been interpreted as a sign of weakness in a patriarchal society, so instead he hugged the post. He hugged it so hard that he thought he might break it.”

According to the artist, the motif of the white raven also suggests diversity and resistance to change in the bid for acceptance. In this sense it is a metaphor of many things, including his homosexuality.

The exhibition also features an array of larger than life flowers decorating the bower, creations made using painted canvases affixed to delicate steel frameworks. The flowers are a collaborative effort with Halilaj’s partner and fellow artist Alvaro Urbano, and the plants and other installations chosen were intended to celebrate their union: forsythia, palm seeds, cherry blossom, poppies, carnations and lilies.

“Since Alvaro started to be involved in the exhibition, the flowers as artworks have shifted the whole energy of the show for me,” Halilaj explains. “The exhibition became a celebration of life and love, while also embracing the contradictions and the pain that comes together with love.”

According to Halilaj, the exhibition celebrates not just romantic love, but all forms of kinship, both among humans and between non-humans.

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