February 17, 2008 was a great day for the majority of the population of Kosovo.
The authorities in Pristina declared independence from Serbia after two decades of fighting.
Victory over the Serbian forces under the command of the late Slobodan Milosevic was followed by political backing from the United States and the European Union.
Kosovo’s independence is recognised by 63 of the 192 countries of the United Nations General Assembly. Despite pressure from Brussels, five countries in the 27-nation EU bloc still refuse to recognise the new state.
Spain has been a strong ally for Serbia in the fight against Kosovan independence, support Belgrade has nurtured alongside that of Russia and China. From December 1st the International Court of Justice in The Hague will consider the legality of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence.
Ethnic Albanians make up about 90% of the population. Some 100,000 Serbs remain following a post-war exodus. The Serb minority lives in separate areas watched over by NATO peacekeepers.
Ethnic tensions remain high but the presence of international forces have brought relative calm since Independence. On the ground are 1600 members of EULEX, the EU’s civil arm and some 14,000 Kosovo Force troops, representing the military strength of NATO.
But independence has not led to prosperity. Almost half the population is unemployed, most of them young people, and annual income per capita is a meagre 1,800 euros.
The stagnating conditions promote the emigration of elites. Kosovo suffers from inadequate training for technical manpower.
It depends on external budget support, hampering small trade and construction activities that are vital in a country struggling to compete with neighbouring economies.