In declaring independence, Kosovo’s prime minister, Hashim Thaci, a former leader of the guerrilla force that just over 10 years ago began an armed rebellion against Serbian domination, struck a note of reconciliation. Addressing Parliament in both Albanian and Serbian, he pledged to protect the rights of Kosovo’s Serbian minority.
“I feel the heartbeat of our ancestors,” he said. “We, the leaders of our people, democratically elected, through this declaration proclaim Kosovo an independent and sovereign state.”
Kosovo, a desperately poor, predominantly Muslim landlocked territory of two million, has been a United Nations protectorate since 1999, policed by 16,000 NATO troops. Its unemployment rate is about 60 percent and average monthly wage is $250.
Electricity is so undependable that lights go out in the capital several times a day. Corruption is rife and human trafficking threatens to entrench a lawless state on Europe’s doorstep.
Ethnic Albanians from as far away as the United States poured into Pristina over the weekend, braving freezing temperatures and heavy snow to dance in frenzied jubilation. Beating drums, waving Albanian flags and throwing firecrackers, they chanted: “Independence! Independence! We are free at last!”
A 100-foot-long birthday cake was installed on Pristina’s main boulevard.
In an outpouring of adulation for the United States, the architect of NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign against Serbian forces under President Slobodan Milosevic, revelers unfurled giant American flags, carried posters of former President Bill Clinton and chanted, “Thank you, U.S.A.” and “God bless America.”
-Kosovo Declares Its Independence From Serbia