Young Kosovars hope to shape newly declared state

Many educated, under-30 Kosovars are eager for the possibility of an independent country.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Working as a journalist by day and studying by candle at night, first-year law student Nora Hasani is committed to strengthening Kosovo's newly declared independence.

"It might sound very idealistic, but ... sometimes it's good to be in the system if you want to change something," says Ms. Hasani, who says Kosovo's weakest point is the judiciary. "If everyone were to leave Kosovo it would never work. Kosovo needs people who are willing to work hard and face all of these problems."

Hasani and young people like her are a beacon of hope amid the litter, decrepit economy, and constant power outages that obscure Kosovo's potential. Energetic, positive, and well-educated, you see them in the smart new Pristina bistro Odyssea.

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You see them in government offices. You see them working for themselves, or working for nongovernmental organizations. These are the Kosovars who realize that once the three-day independence party this week is over, there will big opportunities.

Like many under 30, Hasani plans to study abroad once she's finished with law school, and then return to Kosovo. Both higher and lower education here first suffered under the Serbian regime, then under the United Nations administration that has been here since 1999. Like many everyday issues – healthcare, travel documents, the telephone network – nearly nine years on from the NATO bombing that drove Serb forces from Kosovo and brought the UN administration in, education has yet to be sorted out. But when Kosovar Albanians go abroad to study, they tend to come back.

Dardan Stublla, for example, returned from studying in Britain and Austria to become an adviser to the Kosovo government's economics ministry. He lost his job after last fall's election, but the tall, self-assured 29-year-old says he's not interested at the moment in the job offers he's getting from abroad.

"I could get a few thousand euros [per month], but there's a point where personal interests don't count – independence is not the last step, it's the first step," he says over coffee in Pristina, the keys to his Mercedes on the table.

He criticizes those who would leave as ingrates, pointing out that American and British tax dollars footed the bill for the bombing campaign that drove the Serb police and military out of the province in 1999. "The whole world tries to help you, and you run away from your country?"

Mr. Stublla notes that more than 60 percent of Kosovo's population of 2 million are under the age of 30, and that half of those speak at least one foreign language. "It can be an advantage, but education is the key," he says, attributing Ireland's economic boom in the last decade to heavy investment in education in the 1980s and 1990s.

Around a garbage-strewn corner is a couch-filled cafe that's packed with the under-30 set.

Petrit Selimi opened Strip Depot several years ago with a bank loan at what he calls the "shark money" interest rate of 13 percent, typical for a high-risk place like Kosovo.

"This is just a hobby," says the 28-year-old, who has also helped start a newspaper, studied in Norway, and today works as an investment and risk management consultant and owns his own company.

"We're very entrepreneurial," Mr. Selimi says of his fellow Kosovar Albanians. Independence will finally mean more stability for foreign investors, and with education and investment, he says, Kosovo could take inspiration from places like high-tech Bangalore.

"It's easier to start when you start from scratch," he says of the province. "There's no electricity sometimes, and yes, it's dirty, but it's very energetic."

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