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Kosovo's Anthem Still Leaves Citizens At A Loss For Words

A young Kosovar boy dressed as a police officer holds Kosovar flags on the eve of the celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of Kosovo's independence, in Pristina on February 16.
A young Kosovar boy dressed as a police officer holds Kosovar flags on the eve of the celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of Kosovo's independence, in Pristina on February 16.

Hum, don't sing.

Because a decade after declaring independence following the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia, Kosovo's national anthem still has no lyrics.

It's not that Europe's youngest state hasn't taken steps to develop its own voice as it approaches its 10th birthday on February 17. It has.

But that progress has been stunted by simmering ethnic tensions and political bickering between the country's ethnic Albanian majority and ethnic Serb minority, leaving casualties, like words to the anthem, along the way.

"Our country is still not consolidated completely, so it is a problem to have lyrics at this phase while the state-building is still an ongoing process," says Mendi Mengjiqi, composer of Kosovo's instrumental national anthem, wanly titled Europe.

LISTEN: Kosovo's national anthem

A former province of Serbia, Kosovo declared independence in 2008 -- nearly a decade after the 1998-99 war that ended with NATO air strikes on Serbia that forced Belgrade to withdraw its troops from Kosovo to end a conflict that killed some 13,000 people.

Kosovo's 1.8 million population is more than 90 percent ethnic Albanians and about 5 percent Serbs.

There are some 5,000 NATO troops still stationed in Kosovo, which is recognized by 115 countries but not Serbia, Russia, China, or five of the European Union's 28 members.

Belgrade has accused Albania and Kosovo of seeking to create a "Greater Albania," while Kosovar Albanians oppose greater autonomy for Serb-dominated municipalities, saying that would give neighboring Serbia more influence.

Serbia considers Kosovo the cradle of its history and religion and the preamble to the Serbian Constitution describes Kosovo as an "integral part" of its territory.

Signs of just how quickly those simmering tensions can come to a boil come regularly in landlocked Kosovo.

Last month, Kosovar Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic was gunned down outside his office in the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica, a sore spot in the extended standoff between Belgrade and Pristina.

The killing, which remains unsolved, forced the postponement of already lagging European Union-sponsored talks between the two sides over the region's future.

Poor But Proud, Kosovo Marks 10 Years Of Independence
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"Kosovo's independence has become an irreversible fact, even if Serbia, Russia, and some other countries persist in their denial of reality," says Albert Rohan, an Austrian diplomat who served as UN deputy special envoy on Kosovo's future status.

"Hopefully, the EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina will bring about a gradual improvement in relations between Serbia and Kosovo, and their eventual accession to the EU will lead to the universal recognition of Kosovo's sovereignty," Rohan adds.

Knowing that peace in Kosovo may initially be built on separation, the country's parliament voted in 2008 in favor of Mengjiqi's composition after whittling down entries in a competition to a short list of three.

With no lyrics, the song was seen as respectful of Kosovo's multiethnic nature.

Mengjiqi tells RFE/RL that while he doesn't expect the anthem to be paired with lyrics anytime soon, one shouldn't undersell their importance.

The 59-year-old university professor also notes, slyly, that he actually has lyrics for the anthem but is saving them for the right time.

"What is important is the character of the anthem and what kind of a message it sends. The anthem that I composed has a human character; it doesn't consist of any military elements," he says.

"The version of the text I wrote is not against anyone, it's not against any ethnic group," he adds. "It glorifies the state in which we live in, which we are building. In some countries, the text is problematic because their population has different nationalities in large numbers."

Kosovo isn't alone in having an instrumental-only anthem. Spain, San Marino, and Bosnia-Herzegovina all face similar lyrical challenges.

Spain's La Marcha Real was written as music without words before it became the country's national anthem, while San Marino's anthem is based on a 10th-century chorale that never had official lyrics.

In neighboring Bosnia, the dispute over lyrics mirrors Kosovo's situation. Divided between ethnic Croats, Bosnian Muslims, and Serbs, some diplomats quip that Bosnia actually has four anthems: one official instrumental composition and separate nationalist versions for the three main groups composing the country.

"Kosovo's anthem should have a text. It's important because an anthem makes a country. It would show that Kosovo is a country," says Jetullah Beqiri, a retiree from the capital, Pristina.

Being part of a bigger community while standing out as its own nation has been a goal of Kosovo since it declared independence.

One of the country's main foreign policy goals has been integration with the European Union, including eventual membership in the bloc.

But at home, issues such as corruption and unemployment in one of Europe's poorest countries dominate daily conversation.

Flutura Abdullahu, a 32-year-old lawyer in Pristina, says an anthem with words will help unite all of the country's citizens and give them hope.

"Kosovo's anthem should have the lyrics because it would be more understandable, so that future generations, little children, understand it better," Abdullahu says.

"Given Kosovo's past and what people went through, the lyrics should consist of something that highlights the past but something that also has its eye on the future."

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