Despite Serbia's ire, province may declare independence as soon as Sunday.
Albanians here have craved independence for nine long years of loud tearoom debates. Now with a declaration expected as soon as Sunday, Kosovo officials hope independence from Serbia will be so quiet it will scarcely be noticed.
The hallmark phrase repeated by Prime Minister Hashim Thaci to local mayors all week is "independence with dignity." This means no bacchanalian outbursts, no in-your-face waving of Albanian flags around Serb enclaves, no mass rallies – nothing to provoke the incidents that officials here think Belgrade would like to see.
Popular expectations in the breakaway province are being scaled back by officials – that independence can magically solve all the difficulties of this sensitive Balkan flash point that has been overseen by the United Nations since 1999.
"You only get a chance to declare independence once, so you need to do it right," says Louis Sell, a former US diplomat with Balkan experience.
Kosovo's independence closes a chapter of grief and genocide in the Balkans dating from 1992. Analysts concerned about a "domino effect" of a bloody re-ordering of ethnic borders see Kosovo's peaceful evolution as a test for EU and US resolve in southern Europe. But the province's independence is bitterly opposed by Serbia, which enjoys at least rhetorical backing from Russia.
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