The New York Times
PARIS Ever since little Kosovo proclaimed itself an independent state five years ago, it has failed to win all the recognition it so craves. Neither the United Nations, which confers legitimacy, nor all the European Union, whose members are divided on the question, much less Serbia, from which Kosovo broke away, recognize the birth of a new European nation.
But after a campaign waged by an army of devoted Kosovars and strategically placed allies, Kosovo is hailing a grant of legitimacy by a new arbiter of national identity: Facebook.
Last month, Kosovo declared victory, after its officials said Facebook approved a number of changes, including giving users registering from the diamond-shaped area on the Balkan Peninsula the option to identify themselves as citizens of Kosovo, rather than the decidedly less attractive option for many there, Serbia. They can also use the Facebook function that allows users to check in on the website from locations within Kosovo, like a cinema or a bar.
It is not as if Kosovo has joined NATO. But in an era when accumulating likes may top a seat in the General Assembly, at least for many young opinion leaders online, Kosovos leadership is hailing a change on a social media site as a diplomatic coup worthy of Talleyrand.
Facebook has grown to 1.2 billion users in eight years, faster than the growth of Islam, Christianity and the Internet itself, said Petrit Selimi, Kosovos 34-year-old deputy foreign minister and the leader of the governments digital diplomacy.
He said that having Kosovo fully included on Facebook had been a priority, along with the still-elusive goals of having Kosovo compete in the Eurovision song contest and in the European Champions League in soccer. Being recognized on the soccer pitch and online has far greater resonance than some back room in Brussels, Mr. Selimi said.
It rallied citizens to write messages on Twitter and bombard Facebook with thousands of emails. Kosovar ministers said they also lobbied Facebook officials in Pristina, Kosovos capital, and enlisted Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, whose longstanding support of Kosovo led the country to name a street after him.
Mr. Selimi, the Kosovar deputy foreign minister, said he hoped Facebooks global reach would bolster Kosovos image. The country has a teetering economy and widespread corruption and remains associated with the brutal ethnic wars of the 1990s. The government recently held Instagram boot camps in Pristina to train people how to use social media to upload images of Kosovo such as medieval churches, new highways or its wine country.
As a prime minister of Kosovo, I found it difficult to accept that I have to declare myself as being from Serbia, Mr. Thaci said in an interview by telephone and email. Being listed by Facebook was like being recognized by a global economic superpower. It has enormous impact.