Kosovo's parliament declared the disputed territory a nation on Sunday, mounting a historic bid to become an "independent and democratic state" backed by the United States and European allies but bitterly contested by Serbia and Russia.
Serbia immediately denounced the declaration as illegal. Russia also rejected it, demanding an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
U.S. President George W. Bush said the U.S. would work to prevent violence after the declaration. The European Union (EU) appealed for calm, mindful of the risk that the declaration could plunge the turbulent Balkans back into instability.
(Related: "Yugoslavia Name Change No Surprise to Geographers" [February 14, 2003].)
"Kosovo is a republic—an independent, democratic and sovereign state," Kosovo's parliament speaker Jakup Krasniqi said as the chamber burst into applause.
Across the capital, Pristina, revelers danced in the streets, fired guns into the air, and waved red and black Albanian flags in jubilation at the birth of what may soon be widely recognized as the world's newest country.
Sunday's declaration was carefully orchestrated with the U.S. and key European powers, and Kosovo was counting on swift international recognition, which could come as early as Monday, when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels, Belgium.
But by sidestepping the UN and appealing directly to the U.S. and other nations for recognition, Kosovo set up a showdown with Serbia—outraged at the imminent loss of its territory—and Russia, which warned that it would set a dangerous precedent for separatist groups worldwide.
Ethnic, Religious Divisions
Ninety percent of Kosovo's two million people are ethnic Albanian—most of them secular Muslims—and they see no reason to stay joined to the rest of Christian Orthodox Serbia.
Krasniqi, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, and President Fatmir Sejdiu signed the declaration, which was scripted on parchment, before the unveiling of a new national crest and a flag: a bright blue banner featuring a golden map of Kosovo and six stars, one for each of its main ethnic groups.