for National Geographic News
Despite Kosovo's much-heralded declaration of independence Sunday, the Balkan region's struggle for sovereignty is just beginning.
Europe's biggest powers and the United States quickly moved to recognize Kosovo as the world's newest country, but the news has encountered considerable opposition elsewhere.
Serbia, which still claims Kosovo as part of its territory, has denounced the declaration as illegal. Russia, China, and some European Union members—which are dealing with their own secession dilemmas—are also staunchly opposed to Kosovo's independence, arguing that it would fuel secessionist movements around the world.
Russia, for example, has vowed to veto any United Nations Security Council resolution providing for UN recognition of Kosovo as independent.
But Kosovo's bid meets certain important criteria: The majority of its people not only claim a territory, they control it with democratic institutions (supervised by the UN).
The declaration also has broad international support.
Historically, most independence bids that meet those criteria have been successful.
"The die is cast," said Marshall Harris, a senior policy advisor at an office of the law firm Alston and Bird in Washington, D.C.
"Kosovars have not only been waiting for this moment for years but have also been preparing for it for a long time," said Harris, who is a former U.S. State Department official and adviser to the government of Kosovo.
About 90 percent of the Balkan nation's two million people are ethnic Albanians. The remaining 10 percent are mainly Orthodox Christian Serbs.
Albanians say they are descendants of the ancient Illyrians, Kosovo's first inhabitants.
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