Europe, Headlines

KOSOVO: Independent, But Not for All

Zoltán Dujisin

PRISTINA, Feb 18 2008 (IPS) - Kosovo has declared independence from Serbia amid ecstatic celebrations in capital Pristina – and questions over international recognition.

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashmin Thaci announced Kosovo’s birth as an independent state in parliament, and assured it will respect the rule of law, democratic standards and the rights of minorities.

Kosovo, a country of two million with a 92 percent ethnic Albanian population is also home to a 120,000 Serbian minority.

Thaci said “the independence of Kosovo marks the end of the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia,” to which Serbia is the successor state since 2003.

Serbia said it will never recognise the region’s independence, and said it would take all legal, diplomatic and peaceful steps at hand to stop a move that it said was imposed by the West.

“Today, this policy of force thinks that it has triumphed by establishing a false state. As long as the Serb people exist, Kosovo will be Serbia,” said Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. Serbians consider Kosovo, which they have known as the southern province of Serbia, the birthplace of their nation.

Pristina saw non-stop drumming, singing and fireworks, and waving of Albanian and U.S. flags. But in the divided city of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, which has a large Serb population, grenades were thrown at buildings hosting international organisations.

Kosovo Albanians seem aware that without recognition from key states their unilateral declaration of independence would be of little value, and they have made sure the world takes note of their determination.

Dressed in traditional Albanian style, or wearing anti-Serbian t-shirts, Albanians have called for at least the U.S. and some key EU states to recognise their breakaway move. If that recognition comes, a period of supervised independence by international organisations is likely to follow.

“It is still not real independence, we won’t have control over the state for a long time,” said Diellza Hamiti, a third year university student. But she sees enough reason to celebrate the first step towards her dream.

Others are more optimistic, and not afraid of Serbian counter-measures, which could include an economic embargo on a region that does not boast economic self-sufficiency.

“We don’t need Serbians, we have three other neighbours (Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro),” Avni Sopa, a Kosovo Albanian told IPS. “They can’t stop us now that we are independent.”

Western officials and analysts have argued that the violence unleashed by late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic in the region through the 1990s has taken away from Serbia any legitimacy to govern Kosovo. The violence led the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to intervene militarily in 1999.

Since then NATO has maintained a 16,000 strong presence in the region, and for this an overwhelming majority of Kosovar Albanians feel grateful to Western countries, above all the U.S.

“When a child is born it is weak,” local resident Visar Surroi told IPS. “But we have two fathers who are taking good care of us – Europe, and especially the U.S.”

EU countries face a dilemma as Serbia’s angry rhetoric indicates that it might now opt for Russia’s sphere of influence at the expense of following the EU integration lure.

In a recent conversation with IPS, Albanian parliament speaker Jozefina Topalli said she trusted that Kosovo’s independence would help Belgrade “become more realistic.”

The EU has announced a 3,000-strong policing mission for Kosovo, that Serbia and Russia claim is contrary to international law.

EU and U.S. officials have so far said only that the stability of the Balkans is of the utmost importance, and called for respecting the rights of the Serbian minority.

China, and the EU countries Greece, Cyprus and Romania, will probably not recognise Kosovo’s independence any time soon.

Russia has been in the forefront of opposing Kosovo’s independence, warning it will create a dangerous precedent for independence claims from regions within European countries.

Spokesperson of the Basque autonomous region in Spain Miren Azkarate has called Kosovo “a lesson in solving issues of belonging and identity in a peaceful and democratic way,” while leaders of the breakaway Abkhazian region in Georgia said Kosovo creates a precedent.

Russia and Serbia have called for an extraordinary meeting of the UN Security Council to try to reverse Kosovo’s independence, but Albanians seem indifferent to the likelihood that Kosovo will not be recognised at the UN level.

“The U.N. is dead, it’s proven it doesn’t work, what matters to us and our politicians is that America will recognise us,” said Dora, a young resident of Tirana.

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