Serb deputies coming to Kosovo Parliament in armored vehicles

Fr. Sava (Janjic) on the upcoming municipal elections in Kosovo and Metohija


Serbs demand that Kosovo institutions be returned within framework of UN Resolution 1244

With the approach of local elections in Kosovo and Metohija, many Kosovo Serbs are uncertain whether to vote in a Province where the Serb community during the past three years has lived under extremely difficult conditions, deprived of basic human rights and freedoms. Last year the Kosovo Serbs agreed to vote in parliamentary elections despite the unfavorable situation, hoping this would offer them the opportunity to improve their living conditions and give their constructive contribution to the building of Kosovo and Metohija democracy within the framework of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as foreseen by UN Security Council Resolution 1244. A year later, the Serbs are bitterly disappointed. Serb deputies in the Kosovo Parliament have pointed out many times that the Albanian majority simply outvotes almost all of their proposals and refuses to allow them any means of improving the living conditions of Serbs and other minorities. Actually the Serbs quickly realized that the Kosovo Albanians see the transitional UN-sponsored institutions as the road to independence for the Province, something the Serb community strongly opposes. The Return (Povratak) Coalition, which holds 20 seats in the Parliament, defined as one its priorities the initiation of the process of return for more than 200,000 expelled Serbs and Roma who fled Kosovo after the end of the war in 1999. The return of displaced persons to their homes is a universal right guaranteed not only by Resolution 1244 but by all relevant human rights charters. That is why Kosovo Serbs justifiably believe that this problem cannot be the target of manipulation or arbitrary decisions. Despite this, the Albanian community persistently continues to create serious obstacles to the return of the displaced, which is one of the main reasons why during the course of this year only a few hundred of the expelled have returned. They continue to live in total isolation in their small enclaves under the military protection of KFOR.

Even the Serb parliamentary deputies lack freedom of movement and travel by armored police vehicles to parliamentary sessions. Randjel Nojkic, a member of the Return Coalition, was deeply insulted when the chairman of the transportation committee, a Kosovo Albanian, ejected him from a meeting because he complained that materials in Serbian had not been prepared for the Serb deputies. Whenever international representatives are not supervising parliamentary committee meetings, the Albanians treat the Serbs with scorn and refuse to allow them to freely express their opinions, the Serb representatives complain.

The Albanians deputies regularly protest whenever their Serb colleagues use the traditional name of the Province - Kosovo and Metohija. They frequently make deafening noise at the mention of the word Metohija even though the Serbs are forced to tolerate a whole series of new geographical names for towns and streets from which every association with centuries-old Serbian culture and history has been erased. For example, a town in the north of the Province, Leposavic, which is inhabited exclusively by Serbs, is referred to by Albanian politicians and media as Albanik. Kamenica has become Dardana, Obilic – Kastriot, Glogovac – Drenas, Podujevo – Besijana, Istok – Burim and Suva Reka – Teranda. Topographic names originating in the 12th century which survived five centuries of Ottoman rule are disappearing overnight in a process of aggressive Albanization of the Province.

Serb representatives – decorations of nonexistent multiethnicity

The situation is equally bad at the level of the local municipal administration. The Serbs who have been appointed members of municipal assemblies by the head of the UN Mission after local elections three years ago serve as decorations of a non-existent multiethnicity, claim Kosovo leaders. UNMIK representatives regularly boast that Serbs participate in local administration in normal fashion but this claim in the majority of cases is far from the truth. Actually, the great majority Serbs from the enclaves do not even have free access to the administration in towns which are under Albanian control because the UN Mission and KFOR have not yet created basic conditions for freedom of movement and safe access to public institutions. Because of this Serbs asked no less than two years ago for local offices in municipalities where they live where they could obtain necessary documents and identity cards. However, these offices quickly became symbolic branch offices for providing social services to the so-called minorities. Serbs recently proposed the decentralization of large municipalities (Pristina municipality alone has a population of half a million) in order to provide easier access to the administration for the at-risk population, especially the Serbs. However UNMIK again has failed to show readiness to do anything in this respect and persistently continues to reject the Serb decentralization program. Kosovo Serbs see this inflexible position as the chief obstacle to participation in the upcoming elections.

The recent attack by a Kosovo Albanian mob on Serb pensioners who were brought by UN police to the city of Pec to regulate their pensions demonstrates very clearly it is wrong to insist on Serbs receiving their administrative services in Albanian areas where there is no basic security and freedom of movement. Persistently bringing Serbs into environments dominated by enmity and ethnic discrimination, in the opinion of many Serbs, especially the elderly, is immoral and conducting such live experiments leads only to new incidents and a deterioration of already poor interethnic relations. This is another reason why Serbs need their own administration in areas where they live which would will link Serb inhabited areas at the regional and Kosovo levels and enable the long term survival of the Serb community and the preservation of its language, culture, language and identity.

Abuse of institutions for ethnic Albanian agenda

Kosovo Serbs are embittered by the behavior of the Kosovo Government and its representatives. Prime Minister Rexhepi and President Rugova, the official representatives of all Kosovo and Metohija citizens, publicly act as propagators of exclusively Albanian interests, especially in front of foreign officials, and actively use so-called multiethnic institutions to openly lobby for Kosovo independence. Of course, every citizen has the right to freely express his or her views but the highest public officials cannot flagrantly abuse their terms in office to the detriment of the interests of one part of Kosovo's citizens. Such behavior on the part of leading Albanian politicians is increasingly convincing the Serbs that institutions are being used as a springboard for the creation of a monoethnic Albanian society which is in complete contradiction with UN Resolution 1244 and the European integration processes. While it is true that in the last few months there have been changes in the rhetorics as a rule words are not followed by concrete deeds and the new rhetorics serves more as a means of generating a false image of the democratic process in Kosovo and Metohija before the Western media. Although the Kosovo Government regularly condemns every act of violence against Serbs, Albanian political leaders through their followers at the local level continue incite violence and obstruct police investigations by intimidating witnesses. Serb deputies in the Kosovo Parliament have already pointed out the fact that many former members of the KLA have entrenched themselves in the new Kosovo institutions and are using them as a cover for continuing their illegal activities. The Serb people increasingly feel that the pattern of discrimination has only changed its outward appearance because now Albanian extremists are avoiding open forms of violence as much as possible while making increasing use of institutions to isolate the Serb community as much as possible and convince the remaining Serbs to leave the Province. On the other hand, every attempt by Serbs to take advantage of public institutions to advance their interests is met with defeat because of the lack of appropriate mechanisms to prevent outvoting and marginalization, and the passing of decisions discriminatory toward the Serb community.

Institutions must be returned within the framework of Resolution 1244

All these facts are influencing the Kosovo Serbs to continue to seek solutions to their problems in Belgrade rather than in Pristina, the provincial capital. The Serb community participated in the Serbian presidential elections in order to demonstrate in which country they live and want to remain. Deeply disillusioned by the UN Mission and new institutions dominated by Albanians, the Kosovo Serbs believe that no one can deny them the moral right to seek more concrete protection of the fundamental ethnic, cultural and human interests so obviously denied them within the framework of institutions currently being built under sponsorship by the UN Mission. In the opinion of local Serbs Kosovo and Metohija is increasingly being tailored to the needs of only one ethnic group. Serb leaders feel that they do not have the moral right to participate in institutions which are working on the destruction of their people. which they feel are denied to them in the UN administered Province. This is why Kosovo Serbs are now justifiably raising their voices and demanding urgent and radical changes in UNMIK policies in order to bring the process of building democratic institutions back within the framework of UN Resolution 1244. The latest proposal for decentralization of the Province has the very goal of creating a more favorable framework in which all communities will be able to realize their interests in the best possible way. That is why this is one of the key conditions for participation in the local elections for the Kosovo Serbs. Eventual nonparticipation in the elections, which is quite certain if the UN Mission continues to remain deaf to Serb proposals and suggestions, will not be an attempt to undermine the process of building institutions but first and foremost an expression of protest by a community which in cannot realize its basic interests and protect itself from complete disappearance from this region through existing institutions.

Fr. Sava (Janjic)
Serbian Orthodox Church
Diocese of Raska and Prizren

Three years after the war - no freedom of movement for Serbs
a confoy of Serbs visiting Holy Archangels monastery near Prizren, summer 2002

Figures do not lie - Kosovo's cities remain monoethnic
Increasing ethnic violence and discrimination prevent returns