WEST LONG BRANCH — Like her three-year-old republic and many of the 1.8 million people who live there, Kosovo’s president, Atifete Jahjaga, is young, just 36 years old, and working hard to let the world know that her country is determined to stay on its path of independence.
The first woman to head a country in today’s Balkan region, Jahjaga delivered a lecture at Monmouth University Tuesday in which she recalled the strife between Albanian Muslims and the Christian Serbs that tore Kosovo asunder.
She spoke of over a century of oppression that the Kosovo people lived under but then gained some freedom as an autonomous Serbian province under Josip Broz Tito’s rule.
When Slobodan Milosevic came to power in Serbia, he abolished those gained freedoms, committed atrocities, denied human rights.
and forced Albanian Muslims out of Kosovo to be replaced with Christian Serbs.
NATO intervened, launching its air campaign in 1999, and provided some breathing space for a new Kosovo to take hold. Kosovo was placed under United Nations administration and the Albanian Muslims returned. In 2008, Kosovo declared itself a republic.
Eighty-five countries have recognized Kosovo so far and Jahjaga said she and other leaders are working to gain greater acceptance in the European Union, the United Nations and other world organizations.
She appeared at the lecture with Christopher Dell, who was appointed U.S. ambassador to Kosovo in 2009, and is related to a staff member at Monmouth University.
He made Jahjaga’s visit as well as his own to the school possible during a four-day visit that includes meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, D.C.
‘Good news story’
“Kosovo is a good news story, not a bad news story,” Dell said.
“It is a country looking for its home in a common European space. … I believe she (Jahjaga) represents a future that a Muslim country can show that Islamic and western values can coexist.’’
He said Jahjaga, who had worked her way up to be deputy director of the Kosovo police, had agreed to serve her country as president last April after two immediate predecessors were removed in four months time.
Perhaps most importantly, Jahjaga said her republic wants to normalize relations with Serbia and has reached a number of agreements on issues remaining from the war years.
She cited reforms under way to improve education and eradicate corruption and organized crime.
“While my people have gone through trying times, we too will survive,” she said, likening Kosovo’s journey building a country to America’s early days.
The lecture was sponsored by the university’s School of Social Work and Institute for Global Understanding.