About the Author: Christopher William Dell serves as U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo.
Upon completing my first year as U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo, what I have seen makes me more optimistic than ever about this young country's future. Kosovo, the world's newest democracy, is becoming a responsible player in the international community and making progress on achieving a brighter, Euro-Atlantic future for all of its citizens. Kosovo has changed a great deal since my first tour in Kosovo in 2001, making it easy to see how one could almost forget the tragic events of the late 1990s.
When I was previously in Pristina, the population was still reeling from the dark days of the '80s and '90s. The NATO military campaign to end Milosevic's widespread atrocities against civilians was over, but the people still had fresh wounds from losing loved ones. The smell of smoke still hung in the air, and the tension was palpable. The international community was engaged to help the people of Kosovo pick up the pieces of a shattered society. Kosovo Serbs and other minorities often suffered from reprisal attacks. We all had hope for a brighter future, but it was hard to see how we would reach a safe and secure environment in the Balkans, one where all communities could lead normal lives.
Today, just 10 years later, life is less tense after years of oppression and war. There is a real vitality in the air, the streets of Pristina are full of movement as people go about normal lives, and young people are everywhere, giving a real buzz and a vibrancy to this youngest of European capitals. Most importantly, the people are hopeful about their future. And, this is not only the case for Kosovo's majority population. Life has improved for all the minority communities, including Kosovo Serbs, as well. They are involved with local government in their communities and can move freely throughout the country. This was not the case during my last tour in Pristina, when Serbs had to travel with armed NATO escorts. Now, we can see a truly multi-ethnic democracy quickly developing in the heart of southeastern Europe.
Kosovo has achieved great progress in its first two years of independence. In the past year alone, Kosovo joined the World Bank and IMF; it successfully held its first municipal elections -- the first time Kosovo ran its own elections since the conflict; Kosovo and Macedonia completed the demarcation of their border; Kosovo established full diplomatic relations with Macedonia and Montenegro; great strides were made in building and strengthening institutions, such as the Constitutional Court; and the country is making progress on necessary reforms for its European Union integration process. The most remarkable change, however, was the decision by Kosovo's Serbs living in the southern three-quarters of the country to end the decade of frozen conflict in which they'd been living by turning out in record numbers to vote in their local elections. I think this is the most hopeful sign we've seen that the idea of a multi-ethnic Kosovo isn't an impossible dream but a growing reality for all its people.
Much hard work remains to be done before Kosovo can truly enjoy its freedom, but it's on its way. Our team at Embassy Pristina has been remarkably privileged to support the exciting emergence of a new country. Any American working there can't help but be struck by the parallels with the early days of our own Republic, when our forefathers created a new democracy, working to strengthen governing institutions, establish the rule of law, and fire up the engines of economic growth. And it's because we faced many of these same challenges in our early days that we will continue to stand next to Kosovo as it makes the difficult transition from the struggle for independence to the consolidation of a just government. What an honor and unique opportunity it is to help this young country as it sets out on the same journey that America embarked on more than 200 years ago.