NEW YORK—As Kosovo celebrated ten years since declaring independence from Serbia this February, the country’s ambassador to the United States, Vlora Çitaku, spoke at NYU’s Center for European and Mediterranean Studies last week. In a meeting with faculty and students, she discussed the possibility of recognition from Serbia and the much-desired membership in the European Union.
“We’re two years younger than Twitter,” she joked, reflecting on the first decade of Kosovarian history. “Ten years of statehood taught us that independence and survival are not self-sufficient.” Çitaku praised her country’s freedom of speech, which she said is greater than in any country in the region. “This is the merit of our journalists.”
Yet, she noted that the country’s successes are not to be taken for granted: “We in the Balkans know that progress is easily reversible.”
Following decades of tensions, the Serbian army withdrew from the region after the Kosovo War in 1999. The United Nations then established a mission there, until Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008. More than a hundred states have recognized it, including the neighbors Albania, Montenegro, and Macedonia.
But Serbia and several other countries are yet to recognize it. The European Union cannot recognize its independence until all of its members do; Spain, Greece and Romania are among the EU members that need to make the step to allow to Union to proceed with the recognition.
“Kosovo is not going to disappear from the map. It cannot be a black hole in Europe,” said Çitaku, who thinks the EU missed an opportunity when it refused to recognize the new state in 2008. “The credibility of the EU is at stake. How can we expect it to be united and impactful on issues and challenges far more distant and complex than Kosovo’s story?”
Born in Pristina in 1980, Citaku served as deputy foreign minister, acting foreign minister and minister of European integration before becoming ambassador to the United States. During her talk at NYU, she praised the women in her country, from the former president Atifete Jahjaga to the judoka and Olympic medalist Majlinda Kelmendi. But she addressed also the issues in her country.
“It’s not a paradise,” she said. “We still have many challenges, institutional shortcomings, overcrowded classrooms.”
Youth unemployment is one of the most pressing issues the government is facing. Kosovo’s population is remarkably young, with about 70 percent of the population being under 30 years of age. More than half of those are currently jobless. “[The rate] is very high,” said Citaku when confronted about the topic. “The youth is an asset, but also a liability. So many young people enter the job market every year. Much more needs to be done.”
But the greatest challenge remains the effort toward a reconciliation with Serbia. Although it seems unlikely to happen in the near future, ambassador Citaku firmly believes that the answer lies in recognition. “The sooner Serbia recognizes Kosovo, the better it is,” she said, and then concluded, referring to the region as a whole: “We will be able to move forward only as a block—only together.”
Read the original article published in the New York Transatlantic.