In 1999, an ethnic and religious conflict was playing out at the doorstep of Europe. Albanian fighters belonging to the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) were battling for a land of their own in Kosovo, a region then officially controlled by the Serbian-led regime in Belgrade.
The Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's response was furious and violent and culminated in mass graves and refugees. But there are allegations that atrocities were committed by the Albanians as well.
Kosovo's bitter past is well known: the vast scale of the genocide and the subsequent fight for independence in 1999. We got through the democratic transition and, in 2008, Kosovo declared its independence. Today Kosovo is an autonomous country, and it has a clear goal: to integrate into the EU and NATO .... Our vision is that Kosovo in the near future will have a seat at the UN as a state.
Kosovo's current prime minister, Hashim Thaci, who once led the KLA, says: "As a leader of [the] Kosovo Liberation Army we fought not because we wanted war but because it was a necessity in order to ensure freedom and independence. In any case it didn't mean we hated Serbia. It was, in fact, a resistance towards Serbia's presence in Kosovo."
After many failed attempts to reach a peace deal, NATO planes initiated an intense bombing campaign against Serb forces in the spring. The result was a hand over of parts of Kosovo to UN administration.
But the Albanians did not relinquish their goal of a sovereign Kosovo and, in 2008, they declared independence.
About 100 countries quickly recognised Kosovo, but Serbia and its main political backer, Russia, did not.
Since then tensions have persisted between Serbs and Albanians, particularly in northern Kosovo, where many Serbs still live.
This year, however, witnessed a major breakthrough. Led by the European Union's foreign affairs commissioner Catherine Ashton a deal was signed by Kosovo and Serbia saying each side will do nothing to prevent the other from joining the EU.
"Until now we have negotiated 10 logistical agreements. A year ago we didn’t even shake hands when the prime minister of Kosovo and prime minister of Serbia were meeting in events organised by the UN or the EU...We have achieved technical agreements which are being implemented and work...This agreement is historical," Thaci says, adding: "Baroness Catherine Ashton deserves credit for initiating the peaceful dialogue between two former enemies so the focus was how to move on from the past and not remain victims of the past, and not cling to any sort of nostalgia about the past. I knew who I was facing but I felt that it was my responsibility towards Kosovo's citizens to eventually achieve peace."
Both nations acknowledged each other's existence in a very direct and public way. But Kosovo still some way to go to secure all the instruments and symbols of statehood. It is still not a member of the United Nations.
This week, on Talk to Al Jazeera, we sit down with Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci to talk about overcoming ethnic conflict and dealing with what was once his actual sworn enemy.
Source: Al Jazeera