The Western Balkans crash-course!


Lýdia Chobotová

 At the start of October, I was invited to join the Strategic Analysis team on their road trip to North Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, and Montenegro. After an approximately 12-hour drive, we first arrived in Skopje at dawn we waited a long time at the border, which made me appreciate Schengen and the border control-free traveling even more.

„Lýdia, have you ever been in the Balkans?“ I replied, „No.“ Then you’re getting a Balkan crash-course!

Discovering Skopje’s Surprises & Scenic Views in Prishtina

As we were hungry from the long drive, we went to explore Skopje and get some local cuisine. I liked Skopje at night, the nicely lit streets and statues gave the city a charming vibe. The next day was low-key. After a meeting with one of our partners, I was able to explore the city more. Skopje is a charming city, but what surprised me was the city’s disorganised traffic, constant honking, and a lot of trash. It was a bit of a culture shock as I´m not used to it from Slovakia.

The most important event in Skopje was held on October 3rd. The National Symposium was held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia. The topic was countering hybrid threats and disinformation. After a fruitful event and more meetings for the Strategic Analysis team, we continued to Pristina, where we arrived at night.

 The next morning, the National Symposium took place in Pristina too. After it ended, the lunch was held at a hotel’s rooftop bar, so we got to see Pristina from the top. We also went to explore the city a bit more and then hurried straight to Tirana.

Tirana’s Culinary Delights, BunkArt 2 Museum & Baklava Celebration

I loved the tall Albanian mountains, especially during the sunset. It’s such a beautiful spectacle.

After the National Symposium in Tirana, which brought a very lively discussion and a lovely lunch with the participants, we went to explore the city. I really liked Skanderberg Square – the main plaza in Tirana. It was full of people, with the National Museum, the Opera, and a mosque around the square and with a view of the mountains in the distance – this truly is the center of Tirana. We also went to the BunkArt 2 museum, an underground bunker in the city center dedicated to the public persecution by the “Sigurimi” political police during the communist reign in Albania.

It was a very interesting museum and a humbling experience to learn about how the state enemies were persecuted, with a strong emphasis on not forgetting our pasts. This quote displayed there made me really think about our current world – “Progress depends on the ability to remember… Those who are unable to remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

Afterward, we had a wonderful seafood dinner in the city center and had a “baklava party” on the terrace of our hotel. After a long day, we retired to our beds to be fresh for our next destination – Budva, Montenegro.

To Be Secure Forum and Exploring Budva’s Charm

To Budva, we arrived in the afternoon, and after a quick change to formal clothes, we went to attend the 2 Be Secure Forum – a forum focused on the discussions regarding Balkan and global security and its threats, concerns and future. In the evening, we had a nice long walk to the Old Budva, where we explored the narrow streets of the old town. I really liked it there as I felt like I was walking in Italy – as I later learned the city was indeed built by the Italians.

The next day, we attended two panels in the 2 Be Secure Forum, and after that, we went to host our next National Symposium.

After the symposium ended, we went to catch the most attractive panel of the To Be Secure Forum – a panel with the Montenegrin president Jakov Milatović. The panel was very interesting as the President had to face hard-hitting questions about the still-not-formed Montenegrin government and his position on different security threats facing Montenegro. After a farewell lunch at the forum, we rested in our hotel rooms and in the evening, we went for a walk by the beach and a lovely fish dinner by the sea.

Spectacular Coastal Views on the Journey Home

The next morning was the day of our departure back home. We stopped in Dubrovnik, Croatia, for coffee and a walk through the old town. I really enjoyed it there as it was my first time visiting there also. Overall, the drive back home was very long – 15 hours, however, the views of the coastline we got to see were spectacular.

I want to express my utmost gratitude to the Strategic Analysis team for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful trip, which left me wanting to explore the Balkans more.

Thank you very much!

Lýdia Chobotová is a student of European Studies at Comenius University in Bratislava and an Intern within the Strategic Analysis  Young Leaders Programme.

Disclaimer: The author of the photos in this article is Lýdia Chobotová.

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