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Independent Kosovo is One Year Old

On February 17, 2008, Kosovo became the newest country in the world by declaring independence from Serbia. The United States and most European Union countries recognized the new state whereas Serbia backed by Russia still opposes it. One year later there is reason for celebration, but also enduring challenges.

One year ago, ethnic Albanians danced in the streets and fired guns in the air to celebrate Kosovo's declared independence from Serbia.

A brutal civil war - between ethnic Albanians and Serbs - a decade earlier had killed ten thousand people

Kosovo's independence is being "supervised" by the European Union under a plan devised by Nobel laureate and former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari.

Charles Kupchan, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, has praise for the relatively peaceful passage to independence.

"A certain level of normalcy has begun to set in," Kupchan said, "in that arrangements have been made for the EU to play a greater role, for the U.N. to play less of a role and most European countries and the United States have recognized the independence of Kosovo".

Kosovo has been recognized by more than a quarter of the world's nations.

Russia and Serbia have refused to grant recognition. And they are not likely to change their minds.

"So that means that the country will remain in limbo for quite some time," Kupchan added, "[and] will not have a seat in the United Nations. It will not enjoy the full status sovereignty that many other countries enjoy. "

But Paul Williams, a professor at American University, says the people and the government of Kosovo have done a good job and should not feel their status is questionable.

"It may not be a member of the United Nations but Kosovo is a country and it has all the rights and all of the obligations of an independent state," he said.

Important challenges, however, lie ahead.

The United Nations, at Serbia's request, has asked the International Court of Justice to give an opinion on the legality of the independence declaration.

About 45 percent of Kosovo's people are living in poverty, according to the World Bank.

And relations between the overwhelming Albanian majority and the Serbian minority are almost non-existent. Serbians - at seven percent of the population - are mainly concentrated in the north, an area in effect under Belgrade's rule. Paul Williams says fear of partition is real.

"Allowing the soft partition of a newly independent state, now that would set a very dangerous and irresponsible precedent," Williams said. "And I think the Europeans and the Americans have to fully engage to stop that soft partition of Kosovo".

But with the global financial crisis and two wars facing the U.S., President Barack Obama is not likely to focus on Kosovo, at least not for now.