Kosovar-Albanians Celebrate New Independence Kosovo, the former province of Yugoslavia has declared independence, stirring both enthusiasm and controversy around the world. Three Kosovar-Albanians discuss the meaning of independence and what lies ahead for the new Balkan country.
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Kosovar-Albanians Celebrate New Independence

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Kosovar-Albanians Celebrate New Independence

Kosovar-Albanians Celebrate New Independence

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I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up: The unplanned pregnancy becomes a critical success on the big screen. But how do the movies match up with real life? But first: Maps may not show it yet but a new country appeared over the weekend. Kosovo, a former province of Yugoslavia, (unintelligible) to declare its independence from Serbia this past Sunday. The U.S. and many European union members officially recognized the new Republic of Kosovo. But both Serbia and Russia condemned the act and called for an emergency meeting of U.N. Security Counsel.

The decision for Kosovo to declare its independence comes a decade after a bloody war with Serbia that claimed 10,000 lives. The province has been under U.N. protection since. But we wanted to hear first hand from Kosovars about how they feel about this significant step. So joining us here in the studio today are Alban Pruthi, a native of Jakova, Artan Ajazaj from Chizren, and Edona Pacarada- she's from Prestina. And they are all Kosovo-Albanians who came to study and work in the Washington, D.C. area. Welcome. Thank you all so much for joining us.

Mr. ALBAN PRUTHI: Thank you.

Ms. EDONA PACARADA: Thank you.

Mr. ARTAN AJAZAJ: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: Well, let me first just ask each of you, how does it feel? Idona?

Ms. PACARADA: It feels great. It's a feeling that cannot really be described. Close to perfection.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Artan?

Mr. AJAZAJ: Well it's a unique feeling for all of us. It's something that we kind of never believed we were going to witness. And I think that all of us have been so excited, and I think we've showed with the way we celebrate it.

MARTIN: Alban, were…

Mr. PRUTHI: I personally am thrilled. This has enabled me to end the state of feeling stateless. And now I am just thrilled that I have a country. I belong to a country, and I can call myself a Kosovar.

MARTIN: You didn't feel you had a country before?


MARTIN: Why is that?

Mr. PRUTHI: Because I've traveled a lot, and I've had to carry a Yugoslav passport and a (unintelligible) travel document. And I think that now having to carry the passport of the Republic of Kosovo makes me feel that I do belong and I do have a country.

MARTIN: Clarify again for me the passport. What does your passport say?

Mr. PRUTHI: Like some of the Kosovo people have - still have the Serbian passport, and most of the people have actually the United Nations travel document.

MARTIN: United Nations Mission in Kosovo?

Mr. PRUTHI: Yes.

MARTIN: Was it hard to be away from home on such a momentous day?

Mr. PRUTHI: For me, yes. But considering that I was in Washington, D.C. in the country that has done so much for us, I felt proud to be here.

MARTIN: Artan you were saying that you did not believe this day would ever come. Why did you say that?

Mr. AJAZAJ: Well, going back like probably around 15 years, when Yugoslavia fell apart and then Kosovo stripped of its autonomy, and then Melosovich established all its forces over Kosovo. So looking at it from that perspective and I remember like today when we used to talk and we would miss so many of the practical things like, for example, we didn't go to real school buildings because we weren't allowed to. We went to houses, which were simulated into schools. And then I used to play basketball, so we weren't allowed to enter the city's sports facilities, but we would always go and play in some elementary schools. And from that perspective, we always had the dream of not only going back to schools, but also become independent of kind of being able to self-govern ourselves.

MARTIN: I think it would be helpful if you were to help Americans who don't remember this - all of you lived through the war - what that was like for you, because I think that Americans of a certain age remember Yugoslavia as a place that was multiethnic - that it did function as kind of a multiethnic - it wasn't a democracy, but functioned as a sort of as a functional multiethnic state even though it was a communist country. So if you could just tell us what the war was like for you. How you experienced it and…

Ms. PACARADA: Well, at the time of the war, I was 16 and I've been in Prestina the whole time. I didn't go out. I was not kicked out of my house, if I should say it like that. I don't know. I can describe my state as being numb for three months. It was a state of suspense. You never knew what happened. You never expected who would come to your door. It was a very bad feeling, actually, because you never knew if the next day you're going to to be there, or God knows where you're going be. So it was not a good thing.

MARTIN: Artan was this your situation - many people were following the situation in Ghana now, where people are being sort of targeted based on their ethnic group. Was this how you experienced it? Was it a situation where you felt vulnerable because of what you are because people knew your identity or…

Mr. AJAZAJ: Clearly, I think that was the case, I mean, because it was — everything was planned and organized. It started with the villages. Most of the people from the villages were made to leave their homes, and then it spread out into the cities as well. Alban city suffered a lot. And I was in Kosovo for a month, and then at one point I left. And when we left at the border, they even took our documents as a sign of losing our identity, or something like that.

MARTIN: Alban?

Mr. PRUTHI: The things how we vote, I can't call it a war, but I'd rather say a conflict, because like to have a war you have two sides, equal being aggressively toward each other. So it's rather hard to explain to someone. You experience it, of course, like your life is threatened. You also start thinking why is this happening? Especially if you believe in peace and like if you think that peace should be given a chance. And it's very painful. My hometown, for example, like a lot of people that I've grown up with, they're not anymore with us or like parts of the city, they were damaged and destroyed like with fire. And now they have been rebuilt, but still, you can sense that these things have been rebuild and they are not as they used to be. So that was quite painful. And, I mean, I have seen those things in a movie. And having the chance to experience them, it makes even more difficult to explain to someone like, that I've gone through these experiences.

MARTIN: Do you feel, is it bittersweet in a way, what you're experiencing now with independence? Is it something that you feel that was achieved only after a very great deal of suffering?

Mr. PRUTHI: I mean, it's unfortunate that, for example, the dissolution of Yugoslavia had to take such a bad turn. I so wish that, for example, these peoples of different nationalities and ethnicities would have come to an agreement and that the populace nationalists wouldn't have taken in charge. So it's pathetic, I would say. I so wish that all these wars and all these conflicts would have not happened. And we wouldn't have been 10 years back or like 15 years back, because although Yugoslavia was a semi-socialist country, we still had some like elements and values that, say, other Western societies had.

MARTIN: Well, sure, and it was stable enough to host the Olympics, you know, for example. It was a country that I think a lot of people visited because of the Olympics.

Mr. PRUTHI: So we do have, like, memories of good life. Like I personally am the last generation of Tito's pioneers, and, of course, there's a little bit of nostalgia. But we knew that it was an artificial state. We knew that after the Cold War, things had changed. But there wasn't much appetite on part of the actors involved both domestically and internationally, to sort of force a more practical and peaceful solution.

MARTIN: If you are just joining us, I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News, and we're speaking with three Kosovar Albanians about the Kosovo's newly declared independence. I was looking at the new flag. It's blue. It has Kosovo's territory in the middle, and there are six white starts on top. What do the stars stand for, Artan?

Mr. AJAZAJ: The stars on the flag stand for the people living in Kosovo. One of the stars represent us, the Kosovar Albanians, and then there's another five stars representing the communities living in Kosovo, the Kosovo Serbs, Bosniacs, Turks, a community known as Garani in Kosovo, and also the Roma community, what's known as gypsies. (unintelligible)

MARTIN: Oh. And so the intention is to show to the world that there was the intention to be a multiethnic democracy, even though I think Albanians are something like 90 percent of the population.

Mr. AJAZAJ: Exactly, Albanians constitute like 90 percent of the population, but the international community and our government, I think they have tried to be very cautious with how the state of Kosovo would be represented. The constitution of Kosovo, it's still being drafted, but the first thing that has said, that Kosovo is the country of all its citizens without defining.

MARTIN: And Edona I wanted to ask you, since you stayed there through the war, do you think it is going to be possible for Kosovo to remain a multiethnic democracy, given all of the hostility that was stirred up during the war? As we say over the weekend, that there were some sort of border crossings in the north, which is I believe where the Serbian population is centered, that were burned in protest of the votes. Do you think it's going to be - is it realistic to think that Kosovo can remain multiethnic?

Ms. PACARADA: Absolutely. It will take time. I'm not saying that it's going to happen tomorrow. But I feel that people of Kosovo will get used and should get used to living with other ethnicities. All the countries in the world live in a multiethnic environment. So I believe Kosovo will reach that stage, too.

MARTIN: How do you understand the feelings of the former Serbian neighbors - or your Serbian neighbors who are so angry about this? How do you explain that? How do you understand it?

Ms. PACARADA: Well, I guess they view Kosovo differently. They feel that we actually are taking part of their territory, their land.

MARTIN: It's also my understanding that there are some major religious sites for the Serbian Orthodox in Kosovo. Alban, is that right?

Mr. PRUTHI: Well, yes. I mean, Kosovo has been sort of like a place where a lot of migrations have taken place, and like you have all these religious sites. Besides, like, the Orthodox churches, you have also like Catholic churches, and you have other like religious, like mosques.

But, like, getting back to your question to Idona, I personally like that, unfortunately, the Kosovar Serbs have been manipulated by the Belgrade and -for their nationalistic needs. And I think that if they're smart and they make use of this compromise, independence that has come, I think they can be better off, and this will put an end to a really very nasty conflict that has been there and just move forward.

MARTIN: Can you move forward, given everything you saw, given everything you've experienced yourself?

Mr. PRUTHI: I personally, yes…

MARTIN: I mean, knowing that you had friends killed, family members killed, your youth very much damaged by the war?

Mr. PRUTHI: Definitely, definitely. I'm a terrible optimist, like I believe that things can get better. And, of course, once the little issues that exist between the communities are settled and they make peace with their past, they can move forward.

MARTIN: Artan, Kosovo, the Republic of Kosovo, does face some real challenges, not the least of which is hostility from its neighbor, which is Serbia.

Mr. AJAZAJ: I think that people have to start looking forward in this particular case. I think that the most feasible solution and the most practical solution in Kosovo's case had to be independence. So I understand the bitter feelings of the Serbs from their side, but I think they have to remember what has happened in the recent past.

And also, in Serbia, there's still a big support for the nationalistic, radical parties as well, but also maybe now more than 50 percent are looking towards European Union, and they understand that they would be better off of joining the EU than choosing some other choice, basically.

MARTIN: I see. So what are you all hearing from your families? Edona, have you been able to talk to people back home since the big day, and what are they saying?

Ms. PACARADA: Everybody was celebrating, so we didn't talk as much. Everybody's happy and excited.

MARTIN: Any fear at all about the road ahead?

Ms. PACARADA: Well, yeah. Everybody knows that there will be hardships because we are a new state, after all, but everybody's so excited and happy and willing to work towards achieving a better future.

MARTIN: Alban, what about you? What are hearing from your family?

Mr. PRUTHI: Like for my family, personally, it was like they're happy, but at the same time, it was a moment of reflection and just looking back and, like, thinking about all the people, remembering all the people that we lost and thinking how happy they would have been knowing that they're going to have the chance to live free, in freedom.

So, but in general, everybody was happy, and we were quite comforting to each other. And, of course, I personally know that there will be challenges and this honeymoon of celebrations is going to come to an end, but I think the Kosovars are ready to face the challenges. But I can just use a small example, like for example, immediately after the NATO, like, ceased its bombing because the Serbian government decided to withdraw its troops, like Albanians immediately went back home. Although, like for example, the territories were not cleared of mines and everything.

So I think there's a strong connection of people with their place, and they're ready to face any challenges. And I think that Kosovars are very hard-working people, and provided we embrace good values and sort of cherish each other, things can get better.

MARTIN: I was going to ask about this. All three of you now live in the United States, some of you working, some of you are studying. Has this declaration of independence changed your plans for the future?

Mr. PRUTHI: Well, as I said before, like, it feels great that I have a state now, and my specialization is in international affairs and economics, and I can aspire in a foreign service. And I can aspire that I can join my foreign service and make my contribution to my country.

But on the other hand, I've always been thrilled by people who have had the chance to live abroad and, like, be in different places. So I have this problem of not being able to stick to one place. So I see myself traveling in different places. And, of course, it also feels great that tomorrow, if I ever have kids or a family, then at least my kids will know that they have their own country, and they can feel that they belong to this country.

MARTIN: Edona, what about you?

Ms. PACARADA: Well, I'm still studying now, my first year. My plan was to go back home. So now I will definitely go back home after I finish my school. My plans didn't change a lot.

MARTIN: What are you going to do?

Ms. PACARADA: Well, I study finance, so I think when I go back home, there's a lot of opportunities to work in this area.

MARTIN: So I could be looking at a future minister of finance? I can say I knew you when.

Ms. PACARADA: Oh, maybe.

(Soundbite of giggling)

MARTIN: Maybe. She's like maybe I'll talk to you. I don't know. Could be.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Artan, what about you? I know you're an international banker.

Mr. AJAZAJ: I think that everybody's so excited about what has happened, like we've been celebrating so much. We're generally very optimistic people, and I think this entire thing has made us think twice about going back, actually, right away, because we know that now there's going to be opportunities, and so on and so forth.

We also know on the other side there's lots of challenges. So from my perspective, I would ideally like to maybe gain some more practical experience that the U.S. brings to all of us and that can be applicable back at home.

MARTIN: Well, good luck to all of you. Alban Pruti, Aratan Ayazai and Idona Pretorata. They are all Kosovar Albanians who came to study and work in the U.S., and they joined me here in our studio in Washington. Thank you all so much for speaking with us, and congratulations.

Mr. PRUTHI: You're more than welcome, and if I could use this opportunity to thank the United States and its people for all the support and help they have given us. We're very grateful, and we hope we won't disappoint them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PACARADA: Thank you very much for having us here.

Mr. AJAZAJ: Thank you.

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