The population of Kosovo waited more than eight years for final status to be declared. During this time, their lives have been in limbo, jobs have become scarce and dismayed youth have struggled to find hope for their future within Kosovo. International agencies on the ground such as Mercy Corps, which has worked in Kosovo for 15 years, recognise that a successful transition is critical to enable the people of Kosovo to continue with much needed economic and social progress.
With independence now declared, Mercy Corps has captured a snapshot of how long-delayed status impacted the lives of people living in Kosovo. These individuals have survived years of instability, hardship and frustration and now, regardless of their sex, age or ethnicity, they are starting to unleash their hope for a positive, lasting change for the future.
The single parent — Zade Islamaj
As a single parent with only four years of primary education, life in Kosovo is hard for 33-year-old Zade Islamaj, a Roma who lives in the Istog/Istok Municipality. Together with her five children, she has been forced to live with her brother-in-law after her own house was burned down during the conflict in 1999. Her husband is missing, after leaving the family two years ago to find work and never coming home again. Zade remains jobless except for a small income she can earn through selling the milk from a dairy cow provided by Mercy Corps.
But Zade is hopeful now that Kosovo's status has been declared: "I hope that I will be able to find a job in Kosovo to support my children during their education, so that they do not have to leave school early like I did. I also hope I will have a house of my own again one day, and of course I continue to hope very much that my husband will one day come home to us."
The grandfather — Velibor Trajkovic
At the age of 77, Velibor lives in Novoberde/Novo Brdo, one of Kosovo's poorest municipalities. His small village contains only 30 households of Roma and Serbian Kosovars, with an average of eight people living in each house. Velibor lives in an old house, badly needing repair, with five other family members.
For 30 years, Velibor worked hard in the municipality as a magnesium miner but, when the mines were closed in 1994, the population was left on the edge of poverty with no employment opportunities. Since then, Velibor has been unable to get a job and has provided for his family by farming livestock, wheat, corn and hay that produces enough food for his family but only occasionally generates enough surplus to sell at the market for a small profit.
"People are very worried about lack of employment in Kosovo. I hope that the status declaration will keep our youth in Kosovo by creating more job opportunities," Velibor said. "My own son is a candidate for displacement to other western European countries if the situation does not improve, and I do not want him to leave. My hope is for foreign and private investors to help us keep our youth here with their families, where they belong."
The unemployed — Trajko Marinkovic
From 1993 to 1999, 39-year-old Trajko, a Serbian Kosovar, used to have his own company selling safety equipment to workers in Prishtine/Pristina city. But when violence erupted in 1999, Trajko and his wife had to close the business.
Today, Trajko still remains unemployed. His family's only income is from selling milk and cheese at the local market and farming on their land. Trajko did attempt to set up a glue making business, but due to the diminishing economy in Kosovo he was unable to secure any investments to start the business. Instead, he was forced to sell the glue machines and use the money to support his wife and three children.
He lives in a multi-ethnic village with 120 families, half of whom are Serbian Kosovar and half Albanian Kosovar. His community was helped by Mercy Corps to work with their municipality and build a new road for the village.
Trajko believes that his freedom of movement is limited and, since 1999, he has never returned to Prishtine/Pristina. "Delayed status resolution affected opportunities for all people in Kosovo, and everyone is psychologically stressed with this situation. The concerns associated with economic investments and planning of the future come second to the concerns we have for our own health."
The restaurant owner — Salih Demiralija
Salih Demiralija, 36, runs a small family-owned fast food restaurant in Peje/Pec, the westernmost city in Kosovo. As a Gorani, Salih welcomes every customer through the door of his modest restaurant, regardless of their ethnicity.
During the Kosovo conflict, Salih moved with his brother to Montenegro for safety where they sold cigarettes on the streets to make money. Since being reunited with their parents in Kosovo in 1999, they have all lived together in a small two roomed house.
Salih hopes that status determination will quickly improve the economy of Kosovo and foreign investment will provide much needed jobs for unemployed Kosovar youth.
"I hope that I will be able to employ youth, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds — everyone is welcome in my shop. I also want to expand the family business, which my father started, so that I can comfortably support my family in the future."
The Teenager — Sokol Kantanolli
At the age of 19 Sokol Kantanolli, an Albanian Kosovar, is one of the fortunate youth living in Kosovo because he is employed. After finishing school last year Sokol joined his mother and sister running the family-owned grocery shop in Peje/Pec. He is in the privileged position of being able to save money to go to Prishtine/Pristina University where he will be studying economics next year.
Sokol's father works in a private beer factory in Peje/Pec and, with their joint income, the family are able to afford to live in a new house with three separate rooms.
"I hope that status resolution will improve the educational system in Kosovo by providing better teaching and services for students at schools and universities. I am hopeful that when I am finished university the economic situation will be much better so that there are good job opportunities for me and so that my family's business can grow from strength to strength."
The entrepreneur — Fadil Abdullahu
Fadil Abdullahu is in a privileged and rare position. At the age of 44, he has a more successful business now than before the conflict in Kosovo.
Before the worst violence in 1999 Fadil, an Albanian Kosovar, bought and sold small amounts of flowers to make some money. During this period, he realised there was a lack of packaging available for producers in the region.
After the conflict, he set up his own business producing different sized paper bags suitable for holding a wide variety of products. Initially he began with three employees and today he has more than 10. With the help of Mercy Corps, he has been able to purchase a cutting machine so that he can increase the quantity and variety of bags he produces.
Fadil is married and his wife works in the city's post office. They are fortunate enough to earn enough income to live in a large house with eight rooms and brand new furniture. This is a luxury very few people in Kosovo can afford.
Despite his own successful business Fadil is appreciates that few people in Kosovo are in such a well-off situation.
"I hope that [status resolution] will put an end to the constant delays in Kosovo's economic growth and foreign investments. I think that many other businesses will be able to thrive again once independence is declared and, of course, I am hopeful that my own business will continue to grow and I can employ more people."