Kosovo Faces Challenges After Declaring Freedom

Serbian students wave flags during a protest in downtown Belgrade. i i

Serbian students wave flags during a protest against Kosovo's independence in downtown Belgrade on Monday. Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images
Serbian students wave flags during a protest in downtown Belgrade.

Serbian students wave flags during a protest against Kosovo's independence in downtown Belgrade on Monday.

Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Sunday, a decade after a bloody separatist war. Thousands of people celebrated in the streets.

However, Serbia immediately declared the new state illegal, as did Russia, which demanded an emergency meeting of the United Nations to proclaim the declaration "null and void."

Late into Sunday night, the cold skies of Pristina crackled with the sound of fireworks, alternating with celebratory gunfire. The new Kosovo flag was revealed: a map of Kosovo on a blue background with six stars — a reference to the minorities living alongside the 2 million ethnic Albanians.

Respect for minority rights was the underlying theme of the declaration of independence that Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, a former guerrilla leader, read out at an extraordinary session of the Kosovo parliament.

Throughout the day, emotions were intense. Music and car horns echoed through the streets. Thousands of people strolled along Mother Teresa Boulevard, waving Albanian national flags and cheering to the sound of a constant drum beat.

Besa Berani, 30, was overjoyed. "Now I feel good for my future," she said. "When it comes to my children, I know that my children will be born in a state, for example. They will have much better life than I do, I hope and I believe, so it's a great, great emotion."

The new state faces huge challenges. It's overpopulated and mired in poverty. The jobless rate is close to 70 percent and 20 percent of Kosovo's gross national product comes from the presence of international civilians and the 16,000-strong NATO peacekeeping force.

Nevertheless, Shpresa Syla, a young ethnic Albanian woman, believes independence will solve all economic problems.

"When they wake up in the morning, they will know where to go, you know, to support their family," she said. "Not like wake up in the morning and hold their head like 'what's going to happen, how am I going to feed our kids, our families?'"

But in the enclaves where the remaining 100,000 Serbs live, the mood was glum. In the divided city of Mitrovica, hand grenades were thrown at buildings of the United Nations and European Union, apparently without causing serious damage.

Earlier, Belgrade officials came to reassure Kosovo Serbs that they will not be abandoned and Serbian government offices will be set up in Mitrovica.

In Belgrade, demonstrators stoned the U.S. Embassy in protest against Kosovo's secession, breaking some windows.

There is division even within the EU, which will send a civilian mission to supervise Kosovo's transition to statehood. Several members have separatist movements of their own and fear Kosovo's succession could trigger a domino effect.

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