Kosovo Marks Independence Day Amid Doom and Gloom
Seven years ago, on 17 February, the Parliament in Pristina unilaterally proclaimed Kosovo’s independence from Serbia.
Now, hopes for a better life have turned to bitterness as poverty and corruption stall the country's progress, LA Times commented in an article marking the anniversary.
On the first day after the proclamation of independence eight countries recognized Kosovo: Afghanistan, followed by the United States, France, Albania, Turkey, the UK, Australia and Senegal.
Up until now, Kosovo has been recognized by 108 countries - out of the 193 represented within the UN - including 23 of the 28 EU member states.
Serbia has never recognized Kosovo as an independent state but in April 2013 Belgrade and Pristina signed an EU-brokered agreement for normalization of relations, paving the way towards European integration for Serbia and Kosovo.
Hashim Thaci, Kosovo’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister,has said stability could only come to the Balkans after Serbia formally recognized the independence of Kosovo, but added that Pristina amd Belgrade must move forward to normalize their relations.
In an exclusive interview with Turkey’s English-language newspaper Today's Zaman on Monday Thaci said: “We cannot forget what was done in 1999, nor can the Balkans be fully stable until Serbia formally recognizes the independence of Kosovo. But with the historic Brussels Agreement, Serbia agreed to normalize relations by recognizing the reality on the ground and the absolute authority of the Kosovo government and constitution in the entire territory of Kosovo.”
In 1999, the war in Kosovo sent hundreds of thousands of Kosovars fleeing for their lives. Now, seeking to escape unemployment, poverty and lack of prospects, Kosovars are leaving for EU member states, particularly Germany.
According to Kosovo government sources, up to 30,000 people have fled Kosovo in the past two months. Some diplomats in Pristina, however, think 50,000 is a more realistic figure,while some media outlets claim it's even higher.
Kosovo government officials say that even the smaller number they know of is a cause for concern and is a heavy burden on Pristina. This has led Parliament in Kosovo to adopt a resolution on halting illegal migration and to request that the Kosovo government earmark EUR 40-50 M to create new jobs and solve social problems.
As one of the measures aimed at stemming the flow of migrants, the government decided earlier this month to set up a commission that would consider the possibility of writing off all of their debts to institutions and public enterprises created between 1999 and the end of 2008.
Kosovo Prime Minister Isa Mustafa said last week that the authorities were working on informing citizens that they cannot be granted asylum in the EU for economic reasons.
Besides being a sign of widespread “discontent with the governing elites in Europe's youngest, poorest and most isolated country,” the departures “threaten to export Kosovo's economic and social troubles beyond its borders,” according to AP.
The largest number of Kosovars have headed to Germany via Serbia and Hungary – the shorthest direct route - in the hope of settling there. Hungarian police say over 23,000 migrants have been detected crossing their border in 2015 alone, most of them coming from Kosovo. Other preferred destinations are Austria, Sweden and France.
To stem the flow, German border patrols have been deployed to secure the border between Serbia and Hungary and help with passport controls of people from Kosovo.
The official unemployment rate in Kosovo is around 30%, whereas according to unofficial data it is about 40%. Among those aged 15-24 the jobless rate is 56% which explains why this age group accounts for the biggest number of illegal migrants.
Kosovo is the only country in the Western Balkans without a visa-free regime with the EU. Coupled with an expansion of an agreement on the freedom of movement between Belgrade and Pristina, this has led to an increase in the number of Kosovar applications for Serbian passports. According to Serbia’s Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic,over 60,000 such applications had been received, EurActiv reported on Monday.
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