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Kosovo celebrates ten years of its declaration of independence

Ⓒ AFP – Armend NIMANI – | A young Kosovar, disguised as a police officer, brandishes the flag of his country on February 16 in Pristina, on the eve of the independence celebrations.

Kosovo celebrates ten years of its declaration of independence on Saturday, a day of national pride for the Albanian Kosovars, even if their sovereignty remains rejected by the Serbs.

For several days, the yellow and blue colors of the flag cover Pristina, decked for a weekend of celebrations including in the evening a concert of the child of the country, the British pop star Rita Ora.

As a baby, her family left Kosovo in 1991, subject to the repression imposed by Serbia on her Albanian province whose president Slobodan Milosevic had removed the status of autonomy.

In 1998, a conflict broke out between the Serbian forces and the KLA, the Kosovar Albanian independence rebellion.

The conflict, which will kill 13,000 people, will end in 1999 after 11 weeks of NATO air strikes, led by the United States to force Belgrade to withdraw the Kosovo army and police. After this withdrawal, a UN mission and a NATO force are deployed in Kosovo.

Ⓒ AFP – Armend NIMANI – | Kosovar and Albanian flags in a street in Pristina, 16 February.

On February 17, 2008, in a perfectly prepared sequence with Washington and several European capitals, the Kosovar deputies proclaimed independence to the great displeasure of Belgrade.

“For all of us, as a people, it was a happy moment,” said Kosovar President Hashim Thaçi, who was the head of the KLA.

– The refusal of the Serbs –

For the last day of school on Friday, the country’s teachers were instructed to describe to their students “the many years efforts of the people of Kosovo to gain its freedom and independence”.

The children of the Serb minority, which weighs about 120,000 people out of 1.8 million inhabitants, have obviously not received the same speech.

The two communities do not mix very much. The separation is striking in the city of Mitrovica, where everyone lives on both sides of the Ibar River, the Serbs in the north and the Albanian Kosovars in the south.

The former still reject independence and their allegiance goes to Belgrade.

With Moscow’s support, Serbia is successfully opposing Kosovo’s admission to the UN. Its independence has been recognized by 115 countries. But ten years after its proclamation, it is still not officially recognized by nearly 80 countries including Russia, China, India, Indonesia or Brazil.

Ⓒ AFP – Iris ROYER DE VERICOURT – | Chronology of the independence of the former Yugoslav republics

The European Union, of which five countries do not recognize the independence of Kosovo, has made the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina a condition for the continuation of their path towards integration. But this dialogue, started in 2011, has stalled for two years.

“Serbia will not recognize Kosovo and will not recognize it, for example, in order to become a member of the EU,” warned Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin this week.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is however more ambiguous, while Hashim Thaci assures that he wants to reach an agreement by 2018.

Referring to the end of 2019, the head of the EU’s diplomacy, Federica Mogherini, said she was “optimistic with realism”.

– Pandora’s box –

In Belgrade, officials are talking about mezzo voce the possibility of redrawing borders.

But Western chancelleries are hostile to this scenario, anxious to see a Pandora’s box open in a region where inter-ethnic tensions remain alive, nearly twenty years after the end of the bloody wars that led to the explosion of the former Yugoslavia. Kosovo is “indivisible”, said Hashim Thaçi recently.

US President Donald Trump sent a message of encouragement: “There is still work to be done, but we applaud your progress.”

In the past year, however, relations have seemed to be tense between Pristina and Westerners.

In particular, they warned Pristina against the willingness of Kosovan deputies to remove a tribunal of international magistrates to try war crimes that may have been committed by former KLA commanders. Commanders who are still in command of Kosovo.

Another black cloud, a carpet economy, with one third of the population and half of unemployed youth.

Many people dream of joining the more than 700,000 members of the Kosovar diaspora, mostly settled in Germany and Switzerland, whose foreign exchange is, with international aid, crucial in Kosovo.

For them, the challenge for the next few months is to obtain visa liberalization by the EU. To satisfy them, Brussels has asked for progress in the fight against corruption that remains endemic.

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