This could get real interesting….
PRISTINA, Serbia — Kosovo declared itself a nation on Sunday, mounting a brash and historic bid to become an “independent and democratic state” backed by the U.S. and key European allies but bitterly contested by Serbia and Russia.
“Kosovo is a republic — an independent, democratic and sovereign state,” parliament speaker Jakup Krasniqi said as the chamber burst into applause after a unanimous vote to approve the document.
Across the capital, Pristina, revelers danced in the streets, fired guns into the air, waved red and black Albanian flags and honked car horns in jubilation at the birth of the world’s newest country.
Krasniqi, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and President Fatmir Sejdiu signed the declaration, which was scripted on parchment, before the unveiling of a new national crest and a flag: a bright blue banner featuring a golden map of Kosovo and six stars, one for each of its main ethnic groups
Sunday’s declaration was carefully orchestrated with the U.S. and key European powers, and Kosovo was counting on swift international recognition that could come as early as Monday, when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels, Belgium.
By sidestepping the U.N. and appealing directly to the U.S. and other nations for recognition, Kosovo’s independence set up a showdown with Serbia — outraged at the imminent loss of its territory — and Russia, which warned that it would set a dangerous precedent for separatist groups worldwide.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Moscow supported Serbia’s “just demands to restore the country’s territorial integrity.”
And Serbia’s government minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, said Sunday that Serbia would increase its presence in the roughly 15 percent of Kosovo that is Serb-controlled — an apparent attempt to divide the province.
“From today onwards, Kosovo is proud, independent and free,” said Thaci, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which battled Serbian troops in a 1998-99 separatist war that claimed 10,000 lives. “We never lost faith in the dream that one day we would stand among the free nations of the world, and today we do.”
“Our hopes have never been higher,” he told the assembly during the ceremony, which was televised live nationwide. “Dreams are infinite, our challenges loom large, but nothing can deter us from moving forward to the greatness that history has reserved for us.”
Thaci pledged that the new nation would be “a democratic, multiethnic state” — an attempt to reach out to Serbs who consider Kosovo the cradle of their medieval culture and religion.
But he also had stern words for the Serbian government, which last week declared secession illegal and invalid, saying in the Serbian language: “Kosovo will never be ruled by Belgrade again.” Thaci also signed 192 separate letters to nations around the world — including Serbia — asking them to recognize Kosovo as a state.
Kosovo has formally remained a part of Serbia even though it has been administered by the U.N. and NATO since 1999, when NATO airstrikes ended former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic’s crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.
The province is still protected by 16,000 NATO-led peacekeepers, and the alliance boosted its patrols over the weekend in hopes of discouraging violence. International police, meanwhile, deployed to back up local forces in the tense north — and the European Union and NATO both called for restraint throughout the Balkans.
U.S. President George W. Bush said on a visit to Africa that the United States “will continue to work with our allies to the very best we can to make sure there’s no violence.”
“We are heartened by the fact that the Kosovo government has clearly proclaimed its willingness and its desire to support Serbian rights in Kosovo,” Bush said. “We also believe it’s in Serbia’s interest to be aligned with Europe and the Serbian people can know that they have a friend in America.”
……Spontaneous street celebrations broke out anew on Sunday, with giddy Kosovars waving Albanian and American flags, and thousands of ethnic Albanians streamed into Pristina from neighboring Macedonia.
In Albania, Prime Minister Sali Berisha said Kosovo’s independence would make the Balkans “freer and fairer” and end “the hegemony of one nation over others.”
Herein lies the ethnic/religious divisions:
Ninety percent of Kosovo’s 2 million people are ethnic Albanian — mostly nominal Muslims who are secular and eschew radical Islam — and they see no reason to stay joined to the rest of Christian Orthodox Serbia.
Croatians, not mentioned here by the way, are Catholic. When the Ottoman Empire extended into the Balkans, some coverted to Islam, and were considered traitors for doing so. The denominational differences caused a lot of tension over the years. The only thing that kept a lid on the pressure cooker was the Yugoslavian dictator Marshal Tito, who ruled with an iron fist. After the collapse of the Berlin Wall and subsequent dissolusion of Eastern Europe for the Soviet empire, all hell broke loose.
With Russia, a staunch Serbian ally, determined to block the bid, Kosovo looked to the U.S. and key European powers for swift recognition of its status as the continent’s newest nation. That recognition was likely to come Monday at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, arguing that independence without U.N. approval would set a dangerous precedent for “frozen conflicts” across the former Soviet Union and around the world, pressured the Security Council to intervene.
Serbia’s government ruled out any military response as part of its secret “action plan” drafted earlier this week as a response, but warned that it would downgrade relations with any foreign government that recognizes Kosovo’s independence.
NATO currently maintains around 16,000 peacekeepers in Kosovo, and the numbers are dwindling.
The European Union took over the peacekeeping duties in 2004, when SFOR officially handed over control. There are only a few hundred U.S. troops remaining in Bosnia.
At one time Al Qaeda used Bosnia and Albania as support bases for training, operations, and recruiting. With cooperation from countries across the Balkan region and effective intelligence assests, those operations were shut down.
Now that Kosovo has declared sovereignty, we’ll have to wait and see how Serbia reacts and if Putin decides to get more involved than just ‘appealing to the U.N.’