Leonard Cohen's graveyard voice wafts out of the bar to the inky dark of the pavement where the cement is broken, where the street lights don't shine, where the thin, thin youth of Pristina strides past in its threes and fours: "Nothing left to do when you know that you've been taken/ Nothing left to do when you're begging for a crumb/ Nothing left to do when you got to go on waiting/ Waiting for the miracle to come..."
Kosovo has been living in limbo for nearly eight years now, since the end of the war: waiting for the miracle to come, for the future to start. It is as ready as it will ever be.
I have just come from meeting one of the many human dynamos with which the Kosovo capital is thickly populated: Berat Buzhala, the 31-year-old editor of Gazeta Express, one of nine daily papers with which this would-be nation of around two million is lavishly served. He was one of the people who set it up, after the staff deserted a previous title en masse when it became obvious that the proprietor was calling the tune. The editor's long working day is drawing to a close; the adrenalin steams off him like sweat.
"What's your splash?" I ask. He throws a tabloid paper down on the table: the front page is filled with a picture of Anton Berisha, the man given the task of appointing a company to run a second mobile phone network for Kosovo, to offer competition to the present, exorbitantly expensive monopoly. After he made his announcement a hitman went after him with a pistol: he dodged the bullet and was awarded two squad cars full of police and a personal bodyguard. Next time they tried with a mortar - missed again. But when the (false) rumour spread that they had kidnapped his daughter, he fled the country with his family.
Organised crime, Russian style, is a Kosovo problem, and it is a result of years of living in limbo. Armoured personnel carriers from Nato's Kosovo Force (K-For) still grind along the narrow, potholed roads quite redundantly, eight years after the violence came to a halt. But problems that you cannot address with a tank have been proliferating all the while. A legal system that does not function, first and foremost - with all the consequences that flow from that.
"We have a mountain of problems," says Mr Buzhala, "and nobody wants to solve them. Politicians are used to living in limbo, they've had it this way for eight years now, they're used to not taking responsibility for anything: the provisional government passes the buck to Unmik [United Nations Mission in Kosovo], Unmik passes it back to the politicians. Politicians like it this way, they will be happy for it to continue. I blame the political leaders for failing to build trust between the Serbian and Albanian communities.
"Because it was not their first priority - that was to get rich."
Limbo means that Kosovo's 90 per cent Albanian population has yet to win its independence while Serbia has not budged on its insistence that Kosovo is a province of Serbia, and the semi-mythical heartland of the Serbians to boot. The new Serbian constitution actually states that Kosovo has no right to secede - even though it is blindingly obvious to anyone travelling around the place that the status quo changed permanently with the war.
In pursuit of its claims on Kosovo, Serbia has continued to subsidise the Serb communities and the local Serb governments that rule in Serb enclaves.
The price Serbs pay for the subsidies is loyalty to the Belgrade party line, to the fiction that Kosovo remains part of Serbia. Thus relations between the communities are frozen in a state of permanent estrangement.
Mitrovica, for example, a gritty mining city in the north, some 24 miles from the Serbian border, is divided down the middle, like Mostar in Bosnia. As in Mostar the river is the dividing line, and the bridge, one of many hideous relics of Yugoslavian modernism, is a no-man's-land, patrolled by K-For and crossed only by people with international credentials. To the north are the Serbs, to the south the Albanians. Divisions forged in the brutality of civil war, with bloody expulsions on both sides, have hardened into an ugly normality.
Miranda, an Albanian, took me to see. She was born and raised in a multi-ethnic community - Albanians, Turks, Serbs, Roma - in north Mitrovica, in a house built on a hill overlooking the city centre with a sloping green garden and a white picket fence. Driving up from Pristina, we stop on the way and she borrows the car of a friend with international licence plates, enabling her to cross the bridge. We drive over the bridge, up through the main shopping street crowded with shops occupying prefabricated metal kiosks, up through residential streets where house after house is still in ruins, destroyed by the communal frenzy.
Nobody would call the town beautiful or charming but for Miranda it is the land of lost content. "When I'm here I am where I spent my childhood, my school was here, I went out with my friends ... I just love this place, it's perfect." Childhood memories and flashes of wartime horror alternate as we drive around. "That burnt-out house - the girl who lived there was in America when they destroyed it. On the walls they wrote, 'American bitch, come back if you dare'."
When the ethnic cleansing of Mitrovica began in 1998, she lived in the family home with her brother and sister and parents. Her father died in his fifties of a stomach disease brought on, she is sure, by the stress of crossing the bridge through roadblocks manned by thugs every day to go to work - three times he was beaten. Then her mother fled, finally it was just Miranda and her sister. "In the end we were kicked out of the house in the middle of the night, during a curfew." They fled to the south of the city, where she has lived since. The house is now occupied by Serbs.
Miranda works for a Scandinavian NGO in the town, where one of her colleagues is Deyan, a young Serb with black hair over his shoulders. His story mirrors hers: he lived with his family in a Serb enclave south of the river, a peaceful, green spot a couple of miles outside the town, and incessant attacks by Albanians drove them out during the war. A vast French army barracks now stands between the enclave and the city, and the houses of the enclave were rebuilt soon after the conflict stopped. "But nobody's living there now," he said. "The bus to and from the city was stoned and shot at. People travelled in their own cars until one was ambushed and two people were killed. After that the only transport was a K-For truck, one per week."
The last residents gave up and moved north. Now the enclave is abandoned.
"It's obvious that the Albanians and the Serbs in Mitrovica cannot live together," says Zeljko Tvrdisic, a Serb who runs a radio station in the same block as Miranda's NGO. And the same is true in much of Kosovo today.
In the southern town of Shterpce, for example, a Serb-majority area where the American NGO Mercy Corps is helping build a village school for both communities, the Serbian CEO, Radica Janicevic, is all smiles until the question of the future is raised. "A one-sided solution to the problem," says Ms Janicevic - meaning independence - "and people will leave their homes. Yes, all may move to Serbia, though perhaps not all at once." She was saying, diplomats and others intimated later, what Belgrade required her to say, refusing to concede a jot or a tittle to the Albanian claim on Kosovo. Bitterness and rancour and suspicion are inevitable after a civil war, just as they were inevitable and are still present in Bosnia.
But the continual prolonging of the state of uncertainty over what happens to Kosovo next makes efforts at reconciliation stillborn. The milk of human kindness curdles. And there is so much to be done to make this place work.
The legacy of eight years of dysfunctional international supervision is everywhere. The justice system scarcely functions: the old one folded and died when Slobodan Milosevic wrenched out Kosovo's main wiring in the vicious run-up to war, disabling the aged but more-or-less functioning socialist systems that had kept the place ticking over. Because there is no fear of legal retribution, only 20 per cent of people pay local taxes, 30 per cent of electricity is stolen, buildings are thrown up all over the country without planning permission because there is no one to say stop.
The government rejoices in the name of PISG, Provisional Institutions of Self Government, and because its remit may last a week, or a month, or (God forbid) another year or two, it has no remit and no stomach for the tasks of building a robust little state that can outface the organised criminals and impose its will. And the longer the uncertainty prevails, the more daunting the task will become.
Bujar Bukoshi, a surgeon by profession, was a founder of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the party which under Ibrahim Rugova put the Kosovars' claim to independence on the world's agenda. Suave and articulate, he is one of the people whose presence in Pristina gives one a measure of hope for the future. But he is bleak about the immediate prospects.
"Of course there is no other way except independence," he says. "And my impression is that this is the final phase. Independence as an issue is terminated. But I am concerned with what happens after independence. A huge amount of problems have accumulated in the past eight years. And we have a very bad government, a very scandalous government, they are thieves and rogues."
He enumerates the problems: a ruinous economy, imports running at 95 per cent, exports at 5 per cent or less; "the highest jobless rate in south-east Europe", unofficially said to be around 70 per cent. "We have a very frustrated youth. More than 60 per cent of the population is under 25, yearly we have a small army of young people who are frustrated, who don't see their own future. And the first and last condition is to get the rule of law: there is no rule of law in Kosovo. We need Europe's best prosecutors and judges to put some very problematic people in jail. Because as long as they will have a say in this country there is a big question mark over Kosovo."
But question marks, along with auto graveyards, unfinished new buildings and young people, are among the things that Kosovo has in abundance. A constitution? A flag? A political system? All these must emerge from the present limbo. And fast.
With a population that is 90 per cent ethnic Albanian, this province in southern Serbia is the site of a long-running dispute between the nominal Serbian government and the region's Albanian residents. These tensions culminated in the 1999 conflict, when Serbia was bombed by Nato after launching a campaign of ethnic cleansing driving a million people out of Kosovo and killing 12,000. Although Kosovo remained a part of Serbia when the fighting stopped, Serbian governance in the province became virtually non-existent, and the region was placed under UN administration. A framework was set up under which the region would be controlled by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (Unmik), and local Provisional Institutions of Self-Government, with Nato forces maintaining the ceasefire.
This state of limbo has remained for over eight years. In this temporary world more than two thirds of Kosovans are unemployed, the economy relies almost entirely on international handouts and the blame is passed regularly from local politicians to Unmik or Nato, and back again.
Tensions, in a province with the highest proportion of people under 25 in Europe, periodically spill over into violence and a decision on its final status is thought by most observers to be long overdue.