AIM: start

THU, 26 APR 2001 01:16:13 GMT

Minority Rights and the Status of Kosovo

AIM Pristina, April 14, 2001

"The position of ethnic minorities in Kosovo is still far from acceptable," said representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) after a report on the position of minorities in the October 2000-February 2001 period was published. The head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, Ambassador Daan Everts said "the news in this Report is that there is no good news." Although before last October there was a rather "acceptable" period as far as the position of ethnic minorities in Kosovo was concerned, things again started to deteriorate. The murder of four members of the Ashkalia community in central Kosovo who were trying to return to their homes, marked a new escalation of violence which ended with the explosion of a remote detonated bomb, killing at least 10 Serbs traveling on a bus at the village of Merdare, municipality of Podujevo, on the administrative boundary separating Kosovo from the rest of Serbia.

Such a state of affairs faced all the sides involved in Kosovo with the dilemma of what to do next. Ambassador Everts claims that the issue -- the safety of all ethnic and minority communities in Kosovo -- cannot be resolved through military and police means, but that other forms of action and other security arrangements should be sought. The report was published just when a round table organized under the auspices of the New York-based Project for Ethnic Relations was ending in Pristina, in which representatives of all ethnic communities took part. The main topic was the Albanians' relation with their neighbors. The moderator of the gathering and the chairman of the Project, Allain Kassof, met for the nth time with representatives of the Serbs and the Albanians in an attempt to find possible ways of establishing trust between them.

In April 1997, about a year before the war in Kosovo broke out, Kassof invited representatives of the Kosovo Albanians and the Serbian opposition of the time to an informal meeting in New York. Four years later Kassof says that the events of 1999, the war, and great psychological and moral damage have created a situation in which one can only speak of renewing relations between the Albanians and the Serbs and, if this is possible at all, in entirely changed conditions. It is clear to him that the Albanians will not accept returning to a Serb-dominated federation and, according to him, the question now is how this cooperation project will work for the Serbs living in Kosovo and those willing to return. This, in his view, requires certain changes, mostly on the Albanian side. First of all a strong declaration by Kosovo's leaders, including Ibrahim Rugova and Hashim Thaci, is needed, saying that Serbs will be welcomed and protected not only in their enclaves, but inside Kosovo society as a whole. This, however, would not suffice, because this approach would have to oblige the population as well. Official Belgrade would also have to adopt a new approach and send a clear signal to the local Serb population. Someone in Belgrade should finally accept reality and what has happened in Kosovo. On the other hand, local Serbs should also send a signal that they are ready to accept the newly-created conditions. Nothing similar has yet happened and this, according to Kassof, is one of the reasons why there is still uncertainty in Kosovo in regard to the possibility of co-existence.

Still, things are not as black as they appear. A year ago the first gathering devoted to Albanians and their neighbors was held in Budapest. It was the first meeting of Albanian and Serb representatives after the war, and both sides then expressed their "readiness" for finding an acceptable solution to their problems which would not be a return to status quo. At the next meeting, held in Athens, the debate became more concrete, and the latest one, organized in Pristina, brought up the Kosovo chapter, dealing mostly with creating the necessary conditions and debating ways to convince the Serbs to participate in general elections. The participants said it would be a major psychological step for them and a great encouragement for all who wish for a new Kosovo to be formed. This, however, will not resolve the status of Kosovo, or the status of the Serbs living in it, although it would be a step toward a better-defined future. Kassof believes there is a readiness on both sides to do what is needed and right, but that they do not know how to go about it. They are limited by their mentality, their recent history, and the uncertainty of what the future will bring. But, according to him, "they are already saying what they should be saying, and that is a very important step. The problem now is how to transform this goodwill into concrete action."

Kosovo Albanian representatives are convinced that determining the final status of Kosovo would resolve all difficulties and problems in inter-ethnic relations. International diplomats and analysts, however, believe that the opposite is true. Kassof agrees with the latter and says that before determining the final status of Kosovo, inter-ethnic relations should be resolved. This is more so because the international community would be more prepared to take any direction if multi-ethnic harmony in Kosovo is ensured. The more seeking a resolution to the problem it put off, the longer it will take to find a definite solution to the future status of Kosovo, stressed Kassof.

Besnik Bala