PRISTINA — Although some Western countries still refuse to recognize the new Albanian-majority state in the Balkans, the major powers — the US, the UK, Germany, and France — are backing the declaration of independence made by Prime Minister Hashim Thaci on Sunday, February 17, 2008. The former Yugoslav, and later Serb, province of Kosovo disappeared into history, and the Republic of Kosovo (or “Kosova” as the Albanians pronounce the name) came into being.
At street celebrations all afternoon and into the night after the declaration, backed by a unanimous vote by an extraordinary parliamentary session, the Kosovars drove noisy motorcades around Pristina’s central thoroughfares, honking wildly and brandishing Albanian and US flags. It is a marked contrast, then, to the usual agent-provocateur media images of enraged Muslims in Iran, Pakistan, the West Bank, burning the “stars and stripes” and chanting “Death to America.”
In fact, Islam, and religion generally, might be described as attenuated in former communist Eastern Europe because of the legacy of state-sponsored atheism in some cases and brutal repression in others. To Laura Krasniqi, a pharmacy student in Pristina, “faith is different from identity.” However, Fitora Rama, a student from Pristina, told IslamOnline.net (IOL), “We have to thank the US and the NATO — they have done so much for us here.”
However, the Kosovars have a humorously cynical view on international bureaucratic excesses. They often cite the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which ran the erstwhile province since 1999. The incoming European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) designed to replace the UNMIK does not seem to have a universal approval. In Pristina, some graffiti conflate the names UNMIK and EULEX with an x drawn through both.
The Serbs, backed by Russia, view the Western and international support for Kosovo as an illegal creation of a new state on the Serb soil. On Tuesday, February 19, two days after the declaration of independence, I witnessed a Serb rally protesting the declaration of independence in Mitrovica, a city divided between the Serbs and Albanians in northern Kosovo. They were shouting, “this [Kosovo] is a holy land for us; we will fight to keep it.” On Thursday, February 21, furious Serb protestors in Belgrade attacked and set fire to the US embassy after a defiant rhetoric from Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica riled up the 200,000-strong crowd.
At a 3-meter-high, 10-meter-long metallic lettering of the word newborn, a group of twentysomethings ignored the 10-below-zero winter chill and continued to drink and dance to Tupac Shakur’s “California Love,” with young couples holding hands in scenes more reminiscent of Berlin after the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989 than downtown Riyadh. Later, after a three-hour open-air concert, Pristina partied into the night, fuelled by the local beer Peja, with specially designed labels reading Kosova over a mixed background of the US and EU flags. The next morning, however, the dawn call to Prayer was a salutary reminder that this was, after all, a Muslim country.
It is worth mentioning here that around 50 percent of the Kosovars are thought to be under the age of 25. This youthful population of Kosovo appears to see its future with the West. Many youth seemed to be looking forward to Munich, London, New York, and Los Angeles, with Tupac Shakur’s “California Love” blaring across the streets on Sunday nights.
The 1999 NATO air operation that drove the Serb’s regular and paramilitary forces out of Kosovo left the province in a limbo. Since then, the onetime historical site of the Balkan defeat by the Ottomans in 1389 has remained a UN fiefdom until Thaci’s declaration.
The plucking of Kosovo out of what the Serbs regard as a national heartland has raised the ire of Serbia and its big brother Russia. Both countries share the same Eastern Orthodox Christian heritage, and Russia is once again jostling for a position on the global stage, backed by huge oil revenues and a stranglehold on gas supplies to western Europe. However, according to all the people interviewed by IOL in Pristina and Mitrovica, it remains “impossible” that any militancy could take root in Kosovo.
The US and EU perhaps see Kosovo as an opportunity to found a Muslim state under Western guidance in Europe. They portray this as an example to be emulated elsewhere in the Islamic World. However, Kosovo’s independence will remain curtailed in the foreseeable future with the presence of the EULEX. This latter is expected to replace the UNMIK. But such replacement would be illegitimate because Russia, with a UN veto, will not recognize independence of the province.From One Leash to Another
Although the presence of the European mission can rein in the real sovereignty claimed by Pristina, it is in many ways necessary. The former Yugoslav province has around 40-percent unemployment and a decrepit infrastructure. It is still unable to exploit its ample natural resources and is highly dependent on remittances and overseas aid.
The region is also reported to be a transit hub for humans trafficked to western Europe by global crime syndicates. Should that be true, the Western countries will not accept the new Balkan country to be a failed state.
Islam in this region has often taken a back seat to nationalism and Albanian clan culture, and that is why it is impossible that any militancy could take root in Kosovo, according to the Kosovars interviewed by IOL. However, one should never say never, as much the same applied to Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. But a recent survey discussed in the leftist Der Spiegel pointed out that a Saudi-funded mosque had boosted the appeal of a more traditional Islam in that secularized former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina which the opponents of Kosova’s independence may look at with a jaundiced eye.
For now, however, the denim-and-leather-clad Kosovars see things differently. As employment conditions become difficult in Kosovo, many job-seekers see their future with the EU. Amira Rama, 23, recently got engaged. She said, “We want it to be easier to travel to the West for jobs — now it is too difficult.”Show