Kosovo: At dinner with the European Union’s Pieter Feith

O.K., a little explanation is needed at the outset: I didn’t actually have dinner with Pieter Feith, the European Union’s High Representative (read: Top Dog) in Kosovo. But in one of those weird coincidences that sometimes befall journalists, it happened that the two of us were dining in the same nearly empty restaurant in the Kosovo capital of Pristina last Friday night. So it sort of felt like it.

I was at Il Passatore, a wonderful (and unexpectedly authentic) Italian restaurant run by a gregarious woman named Antonella, which is found only after a meandering taxi ride full of left and rights, in a nook of a hidden parking lot some way out the city center.

A few diners were outside, but inside the place was deserted. Me and my dinner companion had the run of a small, three-table room near the main entrance.

When Feith entered, of course, I had no idea who he was other than Someone Important. But Pristina is awash with such people, all tooling around town in white Toyota 4Runners, all answering to one or another alphabet-soup organization or mission: OSCE, UNMIK, EULEX.

He clearly was a regular (the kitchen staff and Antonella herself lined up to offer hugs and greetings, everyone calling him Peter). It appeared that he was entertaining a group of journalists: There were a few from the Netherlands (where Feith is from), a German and a few French speakers. The party debated on where to sit before settling on the long table that dominated the room we were in.

“Unfortunate for you,” he said to me, noting the quiet of the place that had now disappeared.

“Don’t worry about it,” I replied.

Feith settled himself not at the head of the table, but squarely at its center. He promptly ordered wine. He assured his guests that Antonella could prepare them pretty much anything. He negotiated with her about getting regular supplies of prosciutto and parmigiana delivered to his home. Then he settled in for a few hours of essentially holding forth about the situation in Kosovo, the culpability of the Serbs, and the overall outlook for the region.

I know this because I am a terrible eavesdropper, especially when I have a hunch that I’m in the presence of someone notable. But besides knowing his first name, his obvious VIP stature and the idling UN 4Runner in the parking lot, I had no other clues about his identity. I did what any good journalist would have done: I went home and Googled him.Not that I would have asked for an interview right there, or even interrupted the table’s conversation to proffer my business card (though I probably would have). But I still felt like an opportunity was lost, and at a time when Feith should have plenty to say.

This Sunday, a day when Kosovo puts its constitution fully into force, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which has been administering Kosovo since 1999, formally hands over its reins to the so-called EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX). There are a lot of questions about what will actually happen after Sunday, about whether the UN will just up and leave (unlikely) or maintain a symbolic presence, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said recently. Even many of the diplomats working in Kosovo don’t know how things will go.

Feith, the top diplomat in Kosovo, will wield a lot of influence under EULEX. I won’t go so far as saying he’ll run the country (if you think Kosovo is truly independent, it’s not), but he’ll approve all legislation passed by Kosovo’s government and will have the power to fire government officials deemed not up to snuff. It is expected that some of the more difficult issues EULEX will help tackle is the right of return for Serbs driven from their homes by ethnic Albanians earlier this decade, and protecting the rights of the Serbs still in Kosovo.

So, alas, it would have been interesting to talk to Feith. But at least I know he’s partial to Italian provisions delivered straight from the Old Country, though this seems unlikely to come in handy some day.

Other than that, what I can say is that should you be unlucky enough to find yourself in Pristina, and are in search of a good meal, you won’t be disappointed by Il Passatore. Just hail a taxi; every driver knows the place.