Kosovo has marked the fifth anniversary of its secession from Serbia with a festive military parade in the capital and a pledge to seek full membership in Western institutions.
Sunday’s parade saw members of the Kosovo Security Force march through Pristina as big crowds lined the streets, which were decorated with the national flag and that of the United States, a key ally.
Addressing the event, Kosovo’s ceremonial President Atifete Jahjage said her nation is committed to an “everlasting friendship” with Washington and meeting the conditions for membership of the European Union and NATO alliance. She said also Pristina respects the sovereignty of other countries and expects them to do the same with Kosovo.
Western powers are among 98 countries that have recognized Kosovo as a state since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Those powers led a NATO air offensive that ousted Serbian forces from Kosovo in 1999, putting its ethnic Albanian majority on a path toward statehood. An International Steering Group of Kosovo’s allies ended their “supervision” of its independence last September.
Serbia rejects Kosovo’s secession, but recently agreed to a high-level dialogue aimed at improving relations between the two sides. The Serbian and Kosovar presidents held their first talks earlier this month, meeting in Brussels under E.U. mediation. More talks between their prime ministers are due to be held in Brussels on Tuesday.
The E.U. has pressured Serbia to cooperate with Kosovo as part of Belgrade’s bid to become a member of the 27-nation bloc.
Despite Sunday’s festivities, Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci acknowledged “much more” must be done to confront major challenges facing the young state of 1.8 million people, who are among the poorest in Europe.
Minority Serbs in northern Kosovo have refused to recognize Pristina’s authority or institutions. Another serious problem is unemployment, which stands at around 40 percent. Kosovo’s government also has struggled to deal with corruption and organized crime.
Among its notable achievements in recent years, Kosovo has become a member of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.