The endless procession of cars in front of the Croatian-Serbian border post is steadily growing. The waiting time is now two hours and the heat is unbearable. Almost all cars have Swiss, German, Austrian, Belgian or Dutch license plates. To pass the time, women and children walk in the roadside with the slow caravan. The main language is Albanian and there is laughter and drinking together from bottles of lukewarm water.
“We still have to cross two countries: Serbia and North Macedonia,” sighs the Swiss driver next to me through his opened window. “But then we‘ll be back home with the family in Kosovo!”
This is the wonderful scene that takes place on the Balkan motorways every year in the first week of August. Tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanians, living and working in Western Europe, then travel to their homeland where weddings are all about the whole month of August: their own or those of family members.
For the small Balkan country of Kosovo, where a war raged more than twenty years ago, the wedding season is, in addition to a significant source of income, also a major reunion of broken families. Because the Kosovars in Kosovo themselves have no way to go: they are not allowed to travel freely to Europe without a visa.
“First stop, as soon as we are in Kosovo, is a fashion store in Ferizaj,” says a Dutch person who is on her way with her Kosovo husband. “We have five weddings of my husband’s family members ahead of us. I still have to shop, because you‘re supposed to look spectacular.”
Once in Kosovo, protesty buildings loom in the roadside. They are the wedding halls of wedding chain Eleganti, a kind of wedding drive thru’s where young bridal couples are delivered with rented VIP limousines. And all over the street, the teasing shota sounds, the music that accompanies the wedding dance. Capital Pristina turns into a witch cauldron in August and the inhabitants take it for granted, because the wedding season guarantees a turnover for many hospitality entrepreneurs that they can live on for a year.
In his study in Pristina, Kosovo‘s Prime Minister Albin Kurti has to think for a moment. How many weddings does he have to attend this month? “There are a lot of them, I’ve lost count, I can only visit a few, because I‘m busy.”
Of course, he is pleased with the income that the visit of the diaspora (the Kosovars living outside Kosovo) brings. But, says Kurti, it is at the same time a “scandal” how Europe has turned its country into a kind of ghetto. Five countries in the European Union still do not recognize Kosovo as a sovereign country and Kosovars are still not allowed to travel to the EU without a visa. The door for Kosovo, which wants to join the EU in the long run, remains locked.
“It’s unfair,” says Kurti. “We now meet all the criteria for lifting that visa requirement. It is high time that the outside world showed respect for the good things we have achieved in Kosovo, such as improving the rule of law and our fight against corruption.”
Elton and Majlinda
Meanwhile, the Kosovars in that ‘ghetto’, as Kurti describes it, are making the most of it. Like ‘wedding realtor’ Shemsije Dërmaku. With her agency Grand Décor, she is known in Kosovo as the organizer of the most extravagant weddings.
One such wedding is that of a Swiss-Kosovar couple, in which no expense is spared:
“I take care of everything, from the location and the flowers to the clothes and the music.” Her best customers are the Swiss Kosovars. “Those are the richest.” That evening, Dërmaku is in charge of the party of Elton and Majlinda who traveled from Switzerland to Kosovo to celebrate their wedding with their Kosovar relatives.
Golden Imperial wedding palace, their location, is jam-packed when the shota band comes in after the first dish. The musicians produce a hurricane of drum sound and until midnight there is no one left to make themselves understood. Dërmaku watches with satisfaction. “Talking will come again later. At a Kosovo wedding, you have to dance until you drop.”