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Kosovo: Kosovars Stream Home For 'Historic' Weekend

By Albana Isufi --> New arrivals at Pristina's international airport on February 11 (AFP) PRISTINA -- Hamze Lladrovci had just one thing in mind before leaving Belgium and flying to Kosovo -- he wanted to be home when Kosovar authorities declare independence.

"I had some work to do in Europe, but I left everything behind in order to come here and celebrate," says Lladrovci, speaking outside Pristina's international airport. "I think it's going to be indescribable; this is a holy day for us. We have been waiting for it for a long time, and we're going to celebrate it together."

Officials in the ethnic-Albanian-majority province are expected to declare independence on February 17. The move is fraught with administrative uncertainties and the risk of future instability in the former Yugoslavia.

Many in the Balkans are looking to Kosovo with unease this weekend. But not Kosovars like Nysret Haxhidema, who took his holiday earlier than usual in order to fly in from Stuttgart for what he calls the "biggest party ever."

"I'm going to celebrate," he tells RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service. "We've been waiting for this day for so many years -- for centuries."

A Long Wait

Kosovo, which spent hundreds of years under Ottoman rule before coming under Serbian and Yugoslav control, has been administered by the United Nations since 1999, after a NATO bombing campaign forced Serbian troops to withdraw from the territory.

Although Serbia has vowed to stop short of violence in its response to Kosovo's independence declaration, it has indicated it will not recognize the new status. Other former Yugoslav republics have expressed worries that Belgrade may pressure them to follow suit, further destabilizing the Balkans.

Many details of Kosovo's new status, which will bring it under EU protection, have yet to be ironed out. That hasn't stopped authorities in the province from planning a 72-hour program of cultural events. More than 700 journalists have spilled into Kosovo to cover the story. Bars are already offering visitors free drinks.

Muhamet Topalli, carrying his luggage to the parking lot of the Pristina airport, returned for the weekend from Germany, where he has found temporary residence and works as a cook.

"I feel very good," he says, adding that he hopes Kosovar independence will work to the advantage of migrants like himself, and that he might someday soon enjoy better rights and protections in Germany if a Kosovar embassy is established.

Coming Home

The numbers of passengers traveling to Pristina has gone up in recent weeks as Kosovars and journalists flood into the province, says Skender Bucolli, a spokesman for the Pristina airport.

"Usually, February is an inactive month as far as passengers go," Bucolli says. "But this year there has been an increase by 26 percent. There was also an increase by 6 percent on the number of flights. All of it is due to the independence declaration."

There is even concern that travel agencies and airline companies may be seeking to exploit unfairly the sudden desire to return home.

Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci recently called on his fellow Kosovars to maintain current ticket prices and do everything possible to ease travel for any migrants who want to be in Kosovo for the independence declaration.

Kosovars aren't the only ones eager to witness the historic moment. Tafil Krasniqi is one of many citizens from Albania who have come to celebrate with their ethnic kin.

"I've come to Kosovo with a feeling of great joy, and I can hardly wait for independence. I have the sensation of being born again," Krasniqi says. "People of my blood are here. For me, Kosovo and Albania are the same; there is no joy greater than seeing the independence of Kosovo."

Some Kosovars may have hoped independence celebrations would include performances of a new national anthem. But that, along with many other details, remains to be worked out. Instead, the Kosovo Philharmonic is prepared to play the EU anthem, Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."

RFE/RL Balkan Report


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