- By Chrisella Sagers
Friday marked an important milestone for the Balkan region, as Kosovo marked the fourth anniversary of its unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia.
After the end of the Kosovo War in 1999 and the outing of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic’s forces through a NATO bombing campaign, the region was put under a UN transitional administration designed to keep the peace in the region torn apart by war until the status of Kosovo could be determined. Negotiations over this topic broke down in 2007, leading the ethnic Albanian-dominated government of Kosovo to declare independence from Serbia in 2008. Although Serbia challenged the move in the International Criminal Court, it was determined that the move broke no international laws.
The independence celebrations come just a few weeks after the announcement by the International Steering Group for Kosovo (ISG) — a group set up through the Ahtisaari Plan and designed to help the country with democratic development and promoting multi-ethnicity and the rule of law — saying that Kosovo had made such progress, that the end of the “supervised independence” could be seen this year, and hinted at the country’s future membership in the European Union.
The ISG-appointed International Civilian Representative for Kosovo, Dutch diplomat Pieter Feith, said in a news conference in January: “Together with my colleagues, we have given the young state of Kosovo a start in life. We have established the institutions, and now, from the end of this year onwards, Kosovo will be like any other European state.”
But all is not well in Kosovo. The majority of the country is ethnic Albanian, and President Atifete Jahjaga and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci even addressed celebratory crowds earlier today while standing on a platform decorated with Albanian flags; however, this discounts the numerous other ethnicities present in the country, especially the three provinces with majority Serb populations in the north of Kosovo whom have never approved of Kosovo’s independence from Serbia. In a two-day referendum earlier this week, Serbs of northern Kosovo overwhelmingly rejected the authority of the central government, with 99.7% of voters answering “no” in a symbolic referendum.
The vote will have little immediate impact on the politics of the country, but it does come as a blow to negotiations between the EU and Serbia over territory disputes. Positive results in the EU-sponsored talks between Belgrade and Pristina are one of the key conditions for Serbia’s EU membership bid, and although several agreements on the quality of life for all of Kosovo’s inhabitants have been reached (but not yet implemented), there have been no major breakthroughs in nearly a year of talks.