Kosovo celebrates decade of independence, challenges ahead
PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo is celebrating 10 years of independence from Serbia in two-day festivities that started Saturday amid reminders of the obstacles to the country’s full acceptance.
President Hashim Thaci said during a panel at the Munich Security Conference that his country’s decade-long history was “a story of success,” but he lamented the European Union’s lack of unity over Kosovo’s status as a membership candidate.
“We are not yet a member of the U.N., while our journey to the EU is far too complicated,” Thaci said.
Five of the 28 EU member countries haven’t recognized Kosovo’s independence. Thaci said through an interpreter that “if there were unity in the EU for Kosovo ... I’m convinced that the state of Kosovo would be a more sustainable and stable country.”
“Kosovo is the most pro-European, pro-American and pro-Western state in the Balkans. We are proud of this fact,” he asserted.
Kosovo is recognized by 117 countries, including the U.S. and most Western powers, and has joined about 200 international organizations.
Serbia, which for centuries has considered Kosovo the cradle of its civilization, still sees it as part of its own territory and has the support of Russia and China.
In Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said Kosovo’s independence remains fragile and won’t be concluded without an agreement with Serbia.
“This is one unsuccessful experiment,” Dacic insisted. “This is violence against Serbia, violence against international legal order.”
Kosovo declared independence on Feb. 17, 2008, nine years after NATO conducted a 78-day airstrike campaign against Serbia to stop a bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanians.
The main independence ceremony is taking place on Sunday, when Thaci and Foreign Minister Behgjet Pacolli are due back in Kosovo.
British singer Rita Ora, who was born in Kosovo as Rita Sahatciu and left the country with her family a year later, headlined a concert in Pristina.
At a news conference before the show, Ora said she was more nervous than when she performed at the Oscars.
Ora, fellow British singer Dua Lipa, American singer Bebe Rexha and two-time world judo champion Majlinda Kelmendi are seen as Kosovo’s best ambassadors.
In Mitrovica, the center of the Serb-dominated part of northern Kosovo, posters declaring “10 years of the occupation of Kosovo and Metohija” were put up in many places, the Kosovapress in Albania reported.
Walls in the city were covered with graffiti, the Serbian flag and a sign reading in Serbian, “Kosovo is Serbia - Crimea is Russia.”
“Unfortunately, the Serb community has not made up their mind yet about this independence. Neither is Belgrade certain how they see the status of Kosovo,” Mitrovica resident Branislav Krstic said.
Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, and Jovana Gec in Belgrade contributed.