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21 April 2024

Girl named Independence turns 10 with divided Kosovo

Photo: AFP


On February 17, 2008, Kosovo's parliament unanimously endorsed a declaration of independence from Serbia.

The same day a baby girl was born: Her family named her Pavaresia, the Albanian word for "independence".

But 10 years on from that historic day, Pavaresia is representative of her country's youth: she says she has "never met" the children of Kosovo's Serb minority who live nearby.

In her village of Sllovi (Slovinje in Serbian), almost all 3,000 residents are Albanian - the predominant ethnicity in Kosovo.

Just four kilometres away lies the small ethnic Serb village of Dobrotin.

But the two communities "only share the road", said Pavaresia's uncle Besim Sopa, 38.

He recalls that in 1999, Serbian forces killed 38 Albanians in their village, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) south of the capital Pristina.

Such atrocities, committed during the 1998-1999 war pitting Kosovo's Albanian rebels against Serbs under Belgrade's control, bred grievances that linger deep in the young country's psyche.

Albanian and Serb children of Pavaresia's generation go to separate schools. She and her 30 or so classmates are taught in the Albanian language, while Dobrotin's youngsters are taught a different curriculum in Serbian.

Blessing from Bush

Pavaresia's mother Lumturije Sopa, 34, recalls how her little girl was born "at the very moment" that the unilateral declaration of independence was read out.

But as Kosovo prepares to celebrate the 10th anniversary of that milestone, it is still fighting for acceptance among the international community.

Supported by the United States and most European Union members, it has won recognition from more than 110 countries - but not from Serbia or Russia. It is not a United Nations member state.

Ahead of the anniversary, Pavaresia sent a letter to former US president George W. Bush - considered a hero by Kosovo Albanians for immediately recognising their independence - asking him to attend the celebrations in Pristina.

"I hope we will meet someday. God bless you and your family and Kosovo," Bush wrote back.

Today in her comfortable family home, Pavaresia browses through an illustrated encyclopedia, an eighth-birthday present from the chief of Pristina's maternity ward where she was born.

The youngster was aged five when she realised the importance of her "double birthday".

Sitting quietly, with her long hair carefully combed, she is used to talking to journalists.

"I feel like a celebrity," she said.

Otherwise, she is like any other child. She is not sure if she wants to be a teacher or a doctor when she grows up. She likes the animated Disney film "Frozen", which she reenacts with her friends.

'Difficult conditions'

Pavaresia is "an excellent pupil... able to talk about all the subjects", said her teacher Mimoza Kryeziu, 26.

But the teacher says she must work "in difficult conditions".

Pavaresia only attends class in the afternoon and her younger brother, eight-year-old Orges, goes in the morning.

Europe's youngest nation state is also one of its poorest. Kosovo cannot afford full-day education for its children.

The annual budget for education is 55 million euros for 370,000 students and 23,000 teachers.

Pavaresia likes her school and hopes that in ten more years her country "will be beautiful and developed".

She would like to study in the United States, but afterwards return to Kosovo.

Maybe she will have foreign friends, she said. "But Serbs, I don't think so."