Focus Kosovo is published bimonthly by UNMIK Division of Public Information
Returns As The Way Ahead
Fr. Sava and Adem Demaci
Texts in Focus Kosovo

Serb refugees in Serbia request to go back to their homes in Kosovo
In the last three years UN mission and KFOR have failed to create basic security conditions
for the normal return of Serb IDP's and refugees

Fr. Sava (Janjic)

Creating conditions to allow the return of Kosovo's displaced citizens, especially non-Albanians, is one of the most serious challenges facing Kosovo today. Three years after the end of the war more than 280,000 citizens of Kosovo, mostly Serbs and Roma, still remain displaced in Serbia proper and in Montenegro, while an additional number of citizens is locally displaced in Kosovo, mostly within Serb enclaves.

The remaining Serb population, moreover, as well as smaller non-Albanian communities are still lacking basic human rights and freedoms despite the presence of UNMIK and KFOR. They mostly live within their protected enclaves without free access to essential public services. In certain areas of Kosovo a word in Serbian may be enough to get someone shot on the spot. The Serbian Orthodox Church in particular is facing many examples of open hostility and vandalism from Kosovo Albanians, most of whom are (at least nominally) Muslims. Christian cemeteries are still being desecrated while more than 100 Serb churches, destroyed after the war, remain in ruins. In short, freedom in Kosovo has not yet come for all its citizens. Indeed, at the moment Kosovo retains the dubious distinction of having the highest level of ethnic and religious discrimination in Europe.

In the past three years, the UN Mission in Kosovo has not done enough to create necessary conditions for returns. Immediately after the war extremists were allowed to persecute non-Albanians openly. Many homes and holy sites were destroyed and dozens of people were killed or abducted. These were serious mistakes that must now be rectified. The fact that Kosovo Serbs today can only live in safety and dignity within their enclaves is not a result of their self-isolation but of the prevailing intolerance that still exists on all levels of Albanian society.

Kosovo Albanians tend to justify such hostility as a consequence of the war, but the fact is that similar acts of intolerance were witnessed even in the 1980s. Now as before, Kosovo Albanian youths often throw rocks at the nuns in the Pec Monastery. Their threats to burn down the monastery are especially menacing, because the monastery suffered an arson attack in 1981. Visitors to other Serb holy places are regularly exposed to vulgarities. Even Serbian clergy were killed after the war; Father Hariton's body was found beheaded and mutilated.

Such behaviour tarnishes Kosovo's image in the eyes of the world and reduces its perpetrators to the same level as the former regime. Those who prey on the weak humiliate themselves, not their victims. This is especially true in the case of Serbian Orthodox monasteries, such as Decani, that offered refuge to Kosovo Albanians during the war. Bishop Artemije has repeatedly expressed regret for the suffering of Albanians. He condemned every act of violence, publicly condemning the Milosevic regime. But no Kosovo Albanian leader has ever publicly criticised the KLA, which is widely held responsible for post-war attacks on non-Albanian communities.

Kosovo Albanian leaders must take the lead in working to change the mentality of "collective blood revenge". The claim that "criminals cannot return" is an attempt to make arbitrary extra-judicial decisions. In practice this allows Kosovo Albanians the right to call anyone they dislike "a criminal". This mentality has to change and a modern judicial system must replace tribal laws. Only this will show that Kosovo is truly moving towards democracy and freedom.

Kosovo can never become truly multi-ethnic unless all its citizens are granted the same rights. Unfortunately, today many think that democratic rule means the repression of the minority by the majority. The right of displaced Kosovans, primarily Serbs and Romas, to return to their homes should not depend on the goodwill of the majority population; it is a fundamental right acknowledged by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and by UNSC Resolution 1244.

Integration of all Kosovan communities, regardless of their ethnicity and religion, will be possible only if everyone understands that the new Kosovo cannot belong to any single ethnic group. Kosovo is the home of holy sites and traditions belonging to different religious and ethnic groups and it should remain as such in future. Repudiating Kosovo's centuries-old mosaic by retailoring history could only serve to perpetuate division and discord. The propagation of a mono-ethnic myth would cement Kosovo's internal divisions for years to come. Europe does not need a new ethnic Albanian or Serb state in the Balkans. Integration based on equal respect for all ethnic traditions, languages, religions and cultural monuments is the only model that could bring Kosovo back to the fold of European civilisation where it belongs.

Multi-ethnicity cannot exist as long as there are ethnic enclaves. But enclaves will continue to exist as long as there is no integration on the basis of full and unbiased respect for human rights. The leading role in this process belongs to Kosovo's Albanian community, which is in the most favourable position to dictate the dynamics of this process. At the same time, non-Albanian communities should contribute by participating in Kosovo institutions and public services, wherever it is possible.
The return of displaced Kosovans to their homes remains the most important benchmark for the future of the region. If we can achieve progress in this field, we will have good reason to believe that Kosovo is moving towards democracy and the adoption of other European norms. If, on the other hand, Kosovo continues its slide toward mono-ethnicity, it will increasingly become an isolated island with the mainstream of European democratic and cultural development rushing past it.


*In the text we use an internationally accepted term “KOSOVO”, although the region is known by Serbs as “KOSOVO I METOHIJA”, which was also an official name of the province prior to June 1999. As an adjective we employ the English term “KOSOVAN” (like ItaliAN, AlbaniAN, SerbiAN) avoiding pureoly Albanian form "KOSOVAR" which in everyday use denotes EXCLUSIVELY Kosovo Albanians.

**Official information of the Belgrade Government – Program for the returns

Serb refugee wants to go back home to Kosovo