Monday, February 18, 2008

Kosovo: A New Muslim State Is Born In Europe

As Kosovo-a small, pro-West, secular and mostly Muslim state of 2 million people dominated by ethnic Albanians- declared its independence on February 18, the moment was pregnant with history. It reminded the world, in particular the Serbs and the Turks, of the Battle of Kosovo fought here in 1389, which pitted Prince Lazar of Serbia against Sultan Murad I of the Ottoman Empire both of whom lost their lives in this epic battle. Prince Lazar

In the end, the Turks prevailed and thus began five centuries of Turkish domination of the Serbs. While the Serbs claim Kosovo as the birthplace of the Serbian identity, the ethnic Albanians claim they are descendants of Ilyrians, Kosovo's first known inhabitants.
As the Kosovars celebrate their independence, they face many challenges beyond the weight of history.

Sultan Murad I

While they enjoy the backing of the United States and European Union, the Russians and the Serbs are irrevocably opposed to their unilateral declaration of independence. Kosovo suffered greatly under the Serb rule and it remains the poorest region of the former Yugoslavia, it inherits a shoddy infrastructure; a population of about two million, half under the age of 25; an unemployment rate above 50 percent; and a tax system that depends on custom duties for 60 percent of receipts. From roads and housing to schools, you name it and Kosovo needs it. Electricity production is so erratic, lights go out in the capital several times a day, while some villages have no electricity at all.

The good news for Kosovo is that the US and the major EU nations have recognized the new nation and indicated their willingness to help in rebuilding it. The World Bank has sponsored plans for a new power station fueled by Kosovo's plentiful lignite coal deposits. Four U.S. and European companies have submitted bids. The new plant, which will cost as much as $4 billion, won't be operational until 2014, however. The project's second phase, which would generate revenue by selling energy to neighboring countries, isn't scheduled to come on line until 2018.

While Kosovars have made great sacrifices to achieve independence, the hard work has just begun for them to build their nation's institutions and economy to emerge as a viable nation. Given their determination as demonstrated recently, I believe the Kosovars, with some help from the world, are quite capable of dealing with these challenges.

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