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7 Years After Kosovo's Independence, A Border Still Fraught With Tension


Europe's newest country is Kosovo. It gained independence from Serbia less than a decade ago with the help of U.S.-led NATO forces. The role of the U.S. in that struggle is still remembered by Kosovo. A statue of former president Bill Clinton even stands in the center of the capital, Pristina. Kosovo and Serbia have not yet reconciled, as NPR's Ari Shapiro discovered when he tried to go from one country to the other. Here's a page from his reporter's notebook.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Our car has taken us past farmers, fields and little villages as we go deep into rural Serbia towards the border with Kosovo. The problem is, even though Kosovo has been independent for seven years, Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as an independent country. So, getting across the border can be a little bit complicated, even today.

In Serbia's capital, Belgrade, you can buy T-shirts that say, Kosovo is Serbia. That captures the political view of our shaggy-haired, bearded driver. He is very attached to his country, including Kosovo, the part that broke away from Serbia with U.S. help.

UNIDENTIFIED DRIVER: (Speaking Serbian).

SHAPIRO: As we drive south, he waxes poetic about Serbia's ski resorts, the wineries and the monasteries. The roads to Kosovo are bumpy and poorly marked.

UNIDENTIFIED DRIVER: (Speaking Serbian).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Serbian).

SHAPIRO: Our driver stops every few miles to ask for directions. Eventually, he admits that the last time he took this route was in the 1990s when Yugoslavia still existed.

We bump along through misty forests, past wide lakes, and after five hours we come to the border that Serbia does not recognize as a border. Our driver asks us to take a picture of him standing at the entrance to Kosovo. He jokes that he'll look like a Chetnik, a Serbian nationalist fighter. This is the end of the line for him. My producer and I will cross the border by foot.

This border crossing looks like it was built in the last 10 years. There are two rough metal sheds. In each one, there's about three pods containing a border agent. One of the metal sheds is the Serbian border. The other metal shed is the Kosovo border.

The Serbian border agent says nothing as he stamps my U.S. passport and my producer Monika's Bulgarian passport. We walk a few yards through no-man's land, then the Kosovo border agent, in his booth, taps my passport on the window. He says, is this you? Then he smiles.

The Kosovo border guard just said my American passport is the best passport in the world.

MONIKA EVSTATIEVA: And he put it next to his heart.

SHAPIRO: He put it next to his heart. That's not something the Serbians did when I entered Serbia (laughter).

Ari Shapiro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.