The very small and relatively new nation of Kosovo passed an important symbolic milestone this summer when it won an Olympic gold medal -- in women's judo, in case you were wondering. The gold medal is a a bright spot amid dark times, as Jules Suzdaltsev reports in today's Seeker Daily report.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008 after a series of regional wars so violent that NATO was forced to intervene. Previous to this, Kosovo was a part of Serbia, which was in turn a part Yugoslavia, until that country fell apart after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In fact, the area now known as Kosovo has been in perpetual crisis for decades. It was the poorest region of Yugoslavia for generations and, economically, little has changed since it declared independence. Kosovo's GDP is a mere $6.3 billion -- very small by international standards -- while unemployment is at around 31 percent. Among younger Kosovars, that number is closer to 60 percent. For some minority groups in the region, unemployment has been as high as 90% in recent years.
RELATED: What Are the World's Newest Countries?
Politically, Kosovo has still more problems. Its former ruling country, Serbia, has refused to acknowledge Kosovo's sovereignty. That wouldn't be too big a problem, except that Russia is a major Serbian ally. Although Kosovo has garnered support for recognition from more than half of the United Nations member states, Russia has repeatedly vetoed proposals to admit Kosovo to the U.N.
On the bright side, Kosovo is making some progress toward joining the European Union, which does not require international recognition or full sovereignty. Negotiations are ongoing, but one issue is proving to be a significant obstacle: In recent years, Kosovo has become a veritable breeding ground for ISIS fighters. The country has the highest per-capita rate of foreign fighters in all of Europe.
Despite all this, the vast majority of Kosovars are trying hard to leave behind their history of violence and tragedy. Victory and recognition at the Olympics is at least a small step forward.
-- Glenn McDonald
PBS: A Kosovo Chronology
New York Times: Kosovo Declares its Independence from Serbia
The Guardian: Aid Has Failed to End Kosovo's Crippling Unemployment. Is there a Solution?