Newborn: Private, public, or somewhere in between?

This blog originally appeared on Kosovo 2.0. Link here (available in Albanian, English,  and Serbian). 

It’s the first public monument visitors tend to notice in Prishtina; unveiled on February 17, 2008, the landmark spells out the word “Newborn” in capital block letters. The Ogilvy Prishtina marketing agency, headed by Fisnik Ismaili, was the party that made Newborn happen with the financial assistance of the Government of Kosovo, among others. On the night of its unveiling, President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci were invited to sign their names on the monument. Thousands of signatures of Kosovo citizens followed, and even Kosovars living abroad called their relatives to ask them to write their names on the sculpture. Newborn has been a landmark of post-independence Kosovo, a recipient of various design awards and an internationally recognized visual marker of this country.

Since then, however, the story of Newborn has been one of governmental neglect and, for the past two years, an annual bout of controversy regarding Ismaili’s initiatives to repaint the monument. Between 2008 and 2013, the monument was untouched. By the time the Newborn’s fifth anniversary came around, though, Newborn was looking a little the worse for wear, and the thousands of signatures on the monument almost completely covered its original yellow surface.

On the eve of February 17, 2013, a governmental committee responsible for Kosovo’s annual independence celebrations decided to paint over the signatures without consulting either the monument’s creators or the public. In response, Ismaili put out a call on his Facebook page, asking for volunteers to paint Newborn with the flags of countries that recognized Kosovo (with five empty spaces for the EU countries that still hadn’t). One hundred and fifty volunteers painted the monument over the course of a few days, with even more coming out to celebrate on Independence Day.

This year, the repainting of Newborn is again the subject of debate. The newest concept put forth by Ismaili involves painting the monument in camouflage colors in order to commemorate the liberation war of the KLA and NATO in 1999. It’s unclear if the government has any plans for the repainting — or maintenance — of the monument this year. The commentary and news articles surrounding this latest “military” incarnation of Newborn range from exclamations of excitement to those of horror. Its supporters want the KLA and NATO’s contributions to Kosovo’s liberation to be celebrated, and its detractors worry about the martial character that camouflage colors will give to the monument (for comparison’s sake, the monument’s original yellow was intended to symbolize new hope, a metaphorical sunrise after darkness).

It’s worth debating exactly how the Newborn monument should be managed, and clearing up how it should be maintained, and by whom. Should the government decide what it looks like every year? Should Ogilvy? Is it possible to create a process that allows the public to both submit and decide on new ideas?

What are your thoughts on how Newborn should be reincarnated every year? Or should it be left in its original form?

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