Kosovo? Sounds familiar...tsk!
I confess. When I was invited to visit The American University at Kosovo, I had to find it on the European map. I knew little to nothing about the country. I seemed to recall that Kosovo was war torn in recent history. Clearly, it was imperative that I learn more about this tiny country with a population of just two million.
Kosovo is a disputed territory and partially recognized state in Southeast Europe. It declared independence from Serbia in February 2008 as the Republic of Kosovo. It's landlocked in the central Balkan Peninsula by Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Albania.
Its history of conflict goes back for centuries, like many countries in Europe. But, let's fast forward from the seventh century, when Kosovo became the center of the Serbian Empire, to recent history.
The Serbs, many of whom viewed Kosovo as their cultural heartland, instituted a new constitution in 1989, revoking Kosovo's autonomous status. Kosovo's Albanian leaders organized a referendeum in 1991 declaring Kosovo independent. Serbia undertook repressive measures against the Kosovo Albanians in the 1990s, provoking a Kosovo Albanian insurgency.
Beginning in 1998, Serbia conducted a brutal, counter-insurgency campaign that resulted in massacres and massive expulsions of ethnic Albanians. Some 800,000 ethnic Albanians were forced from their homes. After international attempts to mediate the conflict failed, a three-month NATO military operation against Serbia beginning in March 1999 forced the Serbs to agree to withdraw their military and police forces from Kosovo.
President Bill Clinton, with strong encouragement from Secretary of State Madaline Albright, was instrumental in working toward the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999) placing Kosovo under a transitional administration. On 17 February 2008, the Kosovo Assembly declared Kosovo independent.
Since then, over 100 countries have recognized Kosovo. However, at the time of this writing, Serbia has yet to recognize Kosovo as an independent entity. Yet, the two countries did normalized their relations in April of 2013.
My week-end trip to Pristina, capital of Kosovo, in late October, 2016, was chock full of activities, starting with my giving a presentation about my solo travels to University students, faculty and staff; touring Pristina, the capital city, and Prizren, a community a few meters to the south; eating great food at an Albania restaurant and also at a Serbian restaurant; and listening to terrific singers, belting folk music, accompanied by a violin and a guitar.
Most important; however, were the people. They love the United States. And, why not? America was instumental in stopping the genocide and saving lives...fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and neighbors. I was welcomed with huge smiles, strong hugs, and genuine warmth and admiration, simply because I was from America. It was truly overwhelming.
I will be returning to the American University in Pristina in the spring of 2017 to complete a year-long volunteer internship. I'm so honored.
Click HERE for photographs.