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Etnicaly divided society - KFOR protects the Serb worshipers from the provoking Albanian crowd, Zociste Monastery, July 14th 2002

26 June 2002

The future of Kosovo and Metohia: the view from Belgrade

Nebojsa Covic

Everything about Kosovo is disputed – even its name. The deputy Prime Minister of Serbia, already active in restoring peace to the Presevo Valley in southern Serbia after a local insurgency by ethnic Albanians in 2001, outlines his government’s current thinking on the way forward for the troubled territory.


When we, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, came to power on 5 October 2000, we were determined to change the heavy burden of the past, to change it profoundly and for good. We have adopted the Law on Rights of Minorities and appointed a minority representative as the Federal Minister of ethnic groups and communities. We have established diplomatic relations with all our neighbours.

Dealing with the crisis in southern Serbia, confronted with arms, violence and extremism, we exercised prudence and solved the crisis peacefully, focusing on a number of confidence-building measures and cooperating closely with the international community. There is full freedom of movement in southern Serbia today.

We have established a multi-ethnic police force, withdrawn special forces as peace was restored, demilitarised the area, and we have concentrated on integrating our ethnic Albanian citizens into all levels of social, political and economic life. Of the total number of 12,500 displaced individuals, almost 10,000 Albanian refugees have already returned to this part of the country. Although a lot remains to be done, southern Serbia has proven to be a story of our joint success and inter-ethnic reconciliation.

Kosovo: aspiration and reality

In Kosovo and Metohia, whatever the final settlement might be, our desire is to have a strong and successful multi-ethnic society, like that in southern Serbia. If we are not successful in creating a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo, the resulting turmoil and dislocation will have a dramatic, negative impact on the political situation in Yugoslavia and in the region as a whole. If extremist groups are allowed to prevail, the real losers will be all the citizens of Kosovo.

Those same extremist groups that bomb buses carrying Serbs are also killing Kosovan Albanians who do not share their extremism. What sort of society will result if the extremists prevail? What sort of relationship can they expect to have with Serbia if they drive the Kosovo Serbs out of Kosovo? For Kosovo to survive and flourish economically, it must have a positive, constructive relationship with the rest of Yugoslavia. Otherwise, it will continue in perpetuity to rely on the generosity of the international community.

A blown up Serb bus
After the terrorist attack on a Serb civilian bus (Feb 17, 2001) in which 11 people were killed (two of them children) and 40 wounded

The reality is, unfortunately, profoundly different from what we all have been striving for. There are some real obstacles on the road and the situation is much worse than some internationals on the ground have been trying to present.

When the international troops entered Kosovo and Metohia on 12 June 1999, they ended the inexcusable persecution of ethnic Albanians, conceived and carried out by the Milosevic regime. It was a beginning of new life for the Albanians that for years they had longed for. At the same time, the inexcusable persecution and hardships began for ethnic Serbs, and those who have been courageous enough to stay at their hearths have had to suffer for sins they have never committed.

When Serbs travel in Kosovo and Metohia, they travel by buses that have no timetables. For the security of the passengers, the departure dates and times are unknown. So are arrival dates and times.

Deputies of the Serbian Coalition Povratak (Return) come to the Assembly of Kosovo and Metohia in armoured vehicles, with a heavy international security protection. When they arrive or how long they stay in Pristina depends not on them but on the whim of KFOR.

Officials of Serbia and Yugoslavia, the state that Kosovo and Metohia are part of, have to provide information on their travel to the province three days in advance. For it takes three days to carry out preparations, checks and complex security measures.

The human rights situation in Kosovo and Metohia is much worse than in other parts of post-conflict Yugoslavia. Unlike the ethnic groups in Bosnia, the Serbs of Kosovo have been given absolutely no assurances whatsoever that their language, culture, religion or way of life will definitely survive and flourish in Kosovo. Quite the contrary, everything really depends on the goodwill of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and on Nato’s military forces (KFOR) there, with no assurances about the future.

Two thirds of the total number of murders and abductions of Serbs and other non-Albanians in the province in the last four years have been committed since the international forces entered Kosovo and Metohia three years ago. There have been 5,800 attacks against Serbs and other minorities in the province; 1,138 people have been killed on their doorsteps, in their backyards, in their fields; 1,077 people have been abducted, 864 of whom are still missing. In most cases, these crimes have been committed by individuals who are well known to the families of the victims. In most cases, these crimes have been witnessed by other family members of the victims. Yet, we have seen no signs that Albanian perpetrators will be brought to justice.

Unforgivably, little has been done to clarify the fate of the 1,300 kidnapped and missing individuals.

Non-Albanian property has been neither protected nor preserved. In most cases, if it has not been totally destroyed, it has been usurped by ethnic Albanians. In a few cases, certain groups of ethnic Albanians have made enormous profit from renting this property – in some cases, even to international organisations!

A Serb beaten by Kosovo Albanians (from the archive of CIVPOL)

The mirage of progress

There are those who will tell you that the situation is ‘improving’ based on reports that show that there were fewer murders and fewer attacks on Serbs and other non-Albanians registered in the last year than in the year before. Don’t believe them. Serbs and other minorities have simply learned the rules of the game and how to stay out of harm’s way.

Serbs and other non-Albanians have been forced to live in enclaves and ghettos in order to survive. There is an apartment building in Pristina where the last remaining 110 Serbs live, a single apartment building. In 1999, there were 20,700 Serbs in Pristina. Today, this building is their last retreat that they seldom leave; 51 of them are children, including a one-year-old infant.

There have been no steps, even symbolic ones, to facilitate the return of 280,000 internally displaced persons and refugees to Kosovo and Metohia. In three years, only 125 individuals have been able to return home. In a recent poll, more than 50% of the internally displaced persons in Serbia proper declared a firm determination to return to their homes in Kosovo and Metohia. Yet this is their essential and undeniable human right and we must ensure that it is thoroughly observed in accordance with the standards of the democratic world.

I am deeply concerned about the situation in Mitrovica. The Serbs in this town fear and worry that what has happened to many of their friends and relatives throughout Kosovo and Metohia will also happen to them. They fear and worry that they will be thrown out of their homes, that their lives and their way of life will be threatened. It takes time to build confidence among all parties, to make sustainable compromises, and to respect the interests of all.

Extremism in Kosovo and Metohia is a powerful force, and sometimes extremists themselves are in power.

Michael Steiner in one of heavily damaged Serb houses in Klokot
after a terrorist attack in which 5 Serb houses were mined and two US soldiers wounded

Some may say that you cannot improve conditions that have deteriorated over a long time in a day or in a year. I do agree, and it would be unfair to say that the current conditions are worse than those of the past. I genuinely and deeply respect what UNMIK and KFOR have achieved under very difficult circumstances. But so much more remains to be done.

In November 2001, together with Hans Haekkurup, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (SRSG), I signed a ‘Common Document’ outlining how we would work together to improve the situation in Kosovo. This includes making a major push this year on refugee return, confronting extremists on all sides and insisting that there be real freedom of movement throughout Kosovo, working hard to make the institutions work, and trying to account for the missing on both sides.

Finally, a word about the relationship today between Belgrade and the Kosovo Serbs. There is a theory advocated by many that the Kosovo Serbs must learn to live entirely within Kosovo and Metohia. That same theory seems to prejudge the future of the province by ensuring that it would be totally independent of the rest of Yugoslavia.

The communities in Kosovo and Metohia have a long way to go towards true democracy and genuine reconciliation. Only then can we speak about a final settlement. I firmly believe that we have less time than most of us think. We need to address these issues as efficiently and as soon as possible, and make major progress even this year. If we fail, the future of Kosovo will look bleak indeed and, as the Ombudsperson for Kosovo noted recently, it will continue to be ‘a human rights black hole of the democratic world’.

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