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Serbs boycott as Kosovo celebrates 10 years of independence

One of the poorest regions in Europe, the disputed territory has taken a first step to joining the EU in a bid to bolster the economic well-being of its citizens

Kosovars watch Pristina-born British singer Rita Ora perform on one of dozens of big screens that was set up to watch a free concert celebration of the Kosovo’s 10th anniversary in the capital on Feb. 17, 2018. The show, which ended with a massive fireworks display, was headlined by Ora who is considered an icon in Kosovo.

Cody Punter is a Canadian photojournalist who started documenting life in Kosovo in the lead up to the country's 10th anniversary late last year. He is particularly interested in how Europe's newest country is carving out its national identity and fighting for international recognition against the backdrop of a brutal conflict and an increasingly polarized European Union.

Young people from remote Albanian and Serbian villages walk through the hills of Germia just outside of Pristina during a camp intended to encourage reconciliation between Kosovo’s two main ethnic groups. The camps are run by Nazmi Hasanramaj, who was one of the first three Kosovars to climb Mount Everest in 2017.
Cody Punter/The Globe and Mail

The Kosovo assembly, or parliament, convened in a special session on Sunday to celebrate the territory's 10 years of independence – a ceremony boycotted by ethnic Serb lawmakers.

Speaker Kadri Veseli pledged that "the second decade of independence would be focused on the economic well-being of Kosovo's citizens."

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A traditional Albanian dance group visits the home of former KLA leader Adem Jashari, which has been preserved as a national monument, on the 10th anniversary of Kosovo’s independence. On Saturday hundreds of people came from all over the country to pay their respects to the bullet-ridden house in Prekaz where Jashari and more than 50 of his family members were killed by a Serbian onslaught at the onset of the war.
Cody Punter/The Globe and Mail

The second day of celebrations continued with a parade of military and police forces and a state reception.

In Feb. 17, 2008, Kosovo's parliament unilaterally declared independence from Serbia nine years after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization conducted a 78-day air strike campaign against Serbia to stop a bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanians.

People use cellphones to light up a nightclub in Pristina during a power outage on Dec. 1, 2017. Kosovo, which sits on the fifth largest supply of ignite coal in the world, has it’s power generated almost entirely by two ageing and unreliable coal power plants. In early 2018, the local government banned cars in downtown Pristina to help combat poor air quality. Although they have been reduced in recent years, power outages were estimated to contribute 300 million euros in private sector losses in 2016.
Cody Punter/The Globe and Mail

Kosovo, one of poorest regions in Europe, has taken a first step to European Union membership by signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement. But the territory faces serious challenges besides its relations with Serbia, including establishing the rule of law and fighting high unemployment, corruption and organized crime.

Kosovo is recognized by 117 countries, including the United States and most Western powers, but Serbia still sees Kosovo as part of its own territory and has the support of Russia and China.

A day earlier in Serbia's capital, Belgrade, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said Kosovo's independence remains fragile and won't be concluded without an agreement with Serbia.

Members of the Kosovo Security Forces take part in a training exercise in a destroyed village, abandoned since the war. Kosovo’s government wants to turn the security force into a national army, but the move has received significant pushback from NATO and the United States. The government has recently made an effort to try and integrate more minorities into the force. At the end of November, the homes of two Serbian members of the KSF in the heavily-Serb populated north of the country were targeted by a grenade attack.
Cody Punter/The Globe and Mail

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