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Last Updated: Monday, 4 June 2007, 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK
Kosovo contest for state symbols
By Nick Thorpe
BBC News, Pristina, Kosovo

Flag of Albania, used by Albanians in Kosovo
Kosovo's Albanians currently use the Albanian flag
Starting today, the people of Kosovo have two weeks to come up with new state symbols, in a competition announced by the Kosovar government.

At 0800 sharp each morning, the commanding officer barks orders, the troops salute, and the Albanian flag, the black double-headed eagle, rises over Pristina.

The Albanian national anthem roars from the loudspeakers. This is the headquarters of the Kosovo Protection Corps, set up under UN auspices in September 1999.

The ceremony only takes three and a half minutes, but it is rich in symbolism.

The flag and the anthem are Albanian, in this 95% Albanian province.

Many of my generation sacrificed their lives for this flag... I could never love another flag
Kosovo Albanian man

But as Kosovo edges towards independence, Kosovo's international minders are doing all they can to make its minorities, first and foremost the Serbs, feel included.

According to Article 1 of UN mediator Martti Ahtisaari's comprehensive proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement: "Kosovo shall have its own, distinct, national symbols; including a flag, seal and anthem, reflecting its multi-ethnic character."

Under his proposal, the KPC is due to be disbanded, and replaced with a Kosovo Security Force, with less historical baggage. Many KPC members are former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighters.


The journey from Pristina to the Serb enclave of Gracanica only takes 10 minutes by car.

Serbian flag in Gracanica
Serbs in the Gracanica enclave proudly fly the Serbian tricolour

There is a lot of building going on in the meadows to the right of the road, and from the unfinished timber beams of one roof, the Albanian flag flutters proudly in a strong breeze.

Beyond, to the west, the mountains of Albania and Montenegro are clearly visible, still covered with patches of snow.

The team of workmen on the roof are unanimous in their attachment to the Albanian symbols.

"Many of my generation sacrificed their lives for this flag," said one man. "We grew up with it. We wouldn't want any other. I could never love another flag."

An older man, cutting beams with a chainsaw, agrees, but predicts that the people of Kosovo will be forced to give it up by the international community.

Who decides?

Further down the road in Gracanica, two boys are playing football next to a monument to Serb losses in World War I.

A large tricolour Serbian flag, also with a double-headed eagle, flies in the same breeze on one side of a model of the town's famous monastery.

Ancient goddess
An ancient goddess might serve as a politically neutral symbol

On the other side is the egg-shell blue flag of the UN.

"Unfortunately there isn't much rational thinking on either the Serbian or the Albanian side. And that is a big problem," says Rada Trajkovic, head of the local health clinic, and a member of the Serbian National Council in Kosovo.

"I don't think they will be able to agree on shared symbols. The international community should impose a flag. As they did in Bosnia."

Back in Pristina, Veton Surroi, veteran Kosovo Albanian commentator, and now head of his own party Ora (Hour), is more optimistic.

"I'm actually quite excited about the fact that we will open a competition for the symbols. We have to see how much creative capacity there is within the artistic community to present something that is a vision of the future."

Goddess potential

There has already been one exhibition of potential designs.

Kosovo map
These mainly alternate between variations of the Albanian black and red, and the Serbian tricolour, with a few others more neutral blues and whites, sometimes with the diamond-shaped map of Kosovo superimposed.

A more original idea is the Goddess on the Throne.

A small terracotta piece, beautifully preserved, she was unearthed near Pristina in 1960 - one of a number of important finds from the late Neolithic period, around 6,000 years old.

Other Neolithic objects uncovered in Kosovo are still in Belgrade, where they were being exhibited at the time of the Nato bombing in 1999.

But the goddess herself was returned, through the personal intervention of the then UN administrator, Michael Steiner.

On the second floor of the museum today is an exhibition dedicated to the KLA. The battle flags, guns, even a motorbike and a satellite phone used by the guerrillas.

On the ground floor is a very different atmosphere. The goddess stands, big-eyed, with a sharp, bird-like nose and hands on hips. There are small holes in her elbows, where it is believed feathers were once placed.

"This masterpiece of our collection symbolises the cult of fertility and the cult of worship of ancestors," says Arber Hadri, the museum director.

"It doesn't have any ethnic background."

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