Divided They Stand

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SPLIT DECISION: "No negotiations, self-determination!" slogans reject any dealings with the Serbs

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As the diplomatic wrangling over Kosovo's status revs up, Kurti's message has grown more vociferous: he wants Albanians to reject any U.N. negotiations with Serbia, since he is convinced Belgrade "has plans to take over Kosovo again." In June, Kurti's group began stenciling Pristina's walls with a simple motto: "Jo negociata, vetevendosje!" (No negotiations, self-determination!) The phrase now appears on hundreds of walls in almost every corner of Kosovo. Kurti shrugs off critics, saying that a deal with Serbia "would mean a solution that is not in the will of the people."

But most Kosovo Albanians are eager to start independence talks. Café workers, postal clerks and homemakers in Pristina say they are willing to put their faith in Western diplomats to deliver their freedom. Pristina publicly proclaims Albanian gratitude for the role the U.S. played in ending Serb rule six years ago. The road leading downtown from the airport has been renamed Bill Clinton Boulevard, and a sprawling apartment complex displays a giant mural of the former U.S. President, smiling and waving. Even if Ivanovic and Kurti have tapped into the fear and fury of their constituents, young Albanians in the capital seem ready to move on. Many of those who escaped to be educated abroad have filtered home, and the go-getters represent a rich vein of talent for a new nation.

"The possibilities are endless," says Petrit Selimi, a 26-year-old who has come back to help build the country after spending seven years in Oslo. Selimi says he hopes to enter politics in an independent Kosovo one day. Meanwhile, he darts between appointments with business clients and advertisers, appears on TV talk shows, and dines with Western diplomats who are intrigued by his modern views.

Selimi began his political career in 1993, when he was 14. He founded a youth organization called the Postpessimists, which brought together Serb and Albanian teenagers to discuss their joint future at a time when conflict between their communities was heating up. Selimi's slight build and guileless blue eyes seem slightly incongruous for a man with such political smarts and a gift for translating big ideas into concrete action. At 17, when Serbia banned the Albanian curriculum, he went to Norway to complete high school and earn a university degree in urban planning, before returning last year to his hometown of Pristina. He quickly started political and commercial projects aimed at transforming Kosovo into a prosperous, multiethnic nation. He is now working with several internationally funded nonprofit organizations and educational institutions, including a technical academy to train young computer engineers. "We could be like Bangalore in India," he says, "with all our returnees starting high-tech companies."

Now that status talks are about to begin, Selimi has been meeting discreetly with like-minded Serbs in Belgrade in a quiet campaign to prevent their politicians from obstructing an independence deal. He plans to publish position papers with practical solutions to contentious issues, including property claims, minority rights and the return of Serb refugees.

In July, Selimi was named ceo of a new Pristina newspaper Express, which was dreamed up by investors and journalists on the patio of Strip Depot café, which he owns. The hard-hitting tabloid is dedicated to investigating government corruption and organized crime, and it is already a must-read for many politicians. The paper's influence could well grow when Selimi begins publishing a weekly Serbian-language edition pitched directly at Kosovo Serbs. He hopes the newspaper will help create a sense of belonging that will encourage them to remain a part of an independent Kosovo. "Right now the Serbs are reading Belgrade papers," he says, "propaganda that tells them to leave."

To Albanians like Selimi, Kurti's protests seem another futile relic of the past. Instead, Selimi says, people should be planning practical steps to create a new independent nation open to all communities. Maybe then, Oliver Ivanovic's son Janko will finally meet a real-live Albanian.

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