Almost independent, Kosovo seeks flag, anthem

By Shaban Buza
Friday, February 2, 2007; 1:31 PM

PRISTINA, Serbia (Reuters) - Kosovo could soon be Europe's newest independent state, but the Albanian majority in Serbia's breakaway province still has to decide on a name, a flag and an anthem.

Will the country be called Kosovo, the name in English and Serbian, or Kosova, as the Albanians call it?.

"The country should be called the Republic of Kosova and its citizens would be proud to be called 'Kosovars', because that's the name that resonates to their heart and soul,"' said law professor Hajredin Kuci.

The flag, though, might be a problem.

The province has proudly flown Albania's red-and-black double-headed eagle flag since 1999, when NATO bombs expelled Serb troops accused of atrocities while fighting a two-year separatist war with Albanian guerillas.

But a United Nations plan on the future, unveiled on Friday, says Kosovo must have new symbols to reflect the multi-ethnic character of a province that is also home to 100,000 Serbs and other minorities.

"As everything else in Kosovo, the flag issue arouses high emotions," said Agron Bajrami, editor of top-selling Kosovo daily Koha Ditore.

"People must understand why a new flag and symbols are needed, that a state identity will not erode ethnic identity."

The Albanian national flag was banned in Yugoslavia from 1945 to the late 1960s. A later amendment including a communist star could only be flown alongside the Yugoslav flag.

It became synonymous with Kosovo Albanian identity through the armed struggle of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the main guerrilla group operating in Kosovo in the late 1990s.

Muhamet Hamiti, adviser to Kosovo president Fatmir Sejdiu, said symbols and a flag had not be chosen yet. But a flag designed by Ibrahim Rugova, Kosovo's late president who was a poet, is a front-runner.

His design was a blue-red-yellow and black flag, with a circle in the middle enclosing a double-headed black eagle under a yellow six-point star, with a crest bearing the name Dardania, a pre-Slav place name for the wider Kosovo area.

The name Dardania did not take off among Kosovars but his flag is still seen as a possible by his supporters.

Rugova, who died in January 2006, also tried his hand at a national anthem, to replace the Albanian 'United around the flag', now the only anthem used in Kosovo.

But his suggestion -- 'When the war-cry descends on Kosovo' -- that rhapsodises about past resistance in 'a land full of martyrs' is not popular and is unlikely to be adopted.

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