by Fr. Sava (Janjic)
UNMIK head Michael Steiner recently published his seven point plan for „reducing tensions in the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica” in the north of Kosovo and Metohija. It would be quite wrong to condemn any attempt to create better life conditions for the national communities in Kosovo and Metohija. This is why Mr. Steiner’s has won the support, in principle, of the international community and Belgrade. Nevertheless, representatives of the Kosovo Serbs immediately expressed their suspicions and concerns primarily because this plan appeared as the result of the idea, imposed for years, that Mitrovica is the chief problem in Kosovo and Metohija, and that by rectifying the situation in that city, all problems in the restive, UN administrated Serbian province would automatically be resolved. What is especially worrisome for the representatives of the Serbs is the fact that Steiner’s plan is, first and foremost, a plan for the integration of northern Mitrovica, one of the last remaining multiethnic urban settings (with population of 12,000 Serbs, 3,000 Albanians, 2,000 Slavic Muslims, 600 Turks and 500 Roma), with southern Mitrovica, inhabited, with few exceptions, exclusively by ethnic Albanians. The completely justified question poses itself whether problems are greater in multiethnic northern Mitrovica or in southern Mitrovica which, like most other Kosovo-Metohija cities, is an ethnically pure Albanian environment with no freedom of life for anyone but Albanians.
No human rights for Kosovo Serbs
No one can deny that Kosovska Mitrovica, which is de facto a divided city, represents a great challenge, not only for the UN mission but also for representatives of Kosovo-Metohija communities who are primarily called upon to further mutual relations among the communities they represent. Nevertheless, it is highly surprising that Mr. Steiner has not found it necessary to create similar plans for the other cities in Kosovo and Metohija where for more than three years basic human rights have been denied to non-Albanian communities, primarily the Serbs, under an international protectorate. In those cities the Serbs lack not only freedom of movement but access to educational and health institutions. The inability to secure basic freedoms for Serbs in urban settings in three years represents a great failure for the UN mission which seriously mars undeniable successes in other fields. Let us take as an example the city of Pristina which is inhabited by only a few hundred of the over 20,000 pre-war urban Serbs, or perhaps even better Pec or Djakovica where practically no Serbs are left with the exception of a few old ladies and nuns who spend their lives in ethnic ghettoes without the right to buy even bread in the store or ask for medical help in the hospital. According to the logic which has become entrenched among international representatives in these cities the situation is stable and there is no need for any kind of special plans to restore multiethnic society there. Serb returns to these cities are hardly mentioned while every Serb proposal for the return of expelled Serbs to their homes in the cities is condemned with increasing frequency and under the influence of Albanian media and politicians as an attempt at some kind of recolonization of Kosovo and Metohija, as if Serbs had never lived here and now supposedly need to colonize it.
Bitter truth behind the facade of media campaign
The Serbs are especially disappointed by the strong media campaign spearheaded with equally determination and hypocrisy by the Albanian and some international media wishing to prove at any cost that the UN mission has achieved great and spectacular successes. Any observer with a modicum of objectivity will very quickly conclude that such propaganda represents a tragic façade behind which an ethnically pure Albanian and primarily Muslim state is being built in which there can be no survival for the Serbs and the Orthodox Church. So far, for example, not one international project has been created for the restoration of the many churches which extremist Albanians destroyed, not during the war itself but during the administration of the international mission and in the presence of NATO forces. The justification is quite bizarre: it is that no one can guarantee that those same Christian churches will not be destroyed again in a few days. The recent attempt by the Diocese of Raska and Prizren to restore at least one of the 120 destroyed Orthodox monasteries and churches in the south of Kosovo and Metohija ran into the disapproval of German KFOR forces and UNMIK only because local Albanian Muslims threatened violence and used fire as a means to finish off an already heavily damaged shrine built in the 14th century.
Poor results in Serb returns
A similar story is the project for the return of expelled Serbs which was announced in the media as a great step forward – even though in the last year only around 200 souls have actually returned while at the same time 10,000 people from Kosovo and Metohija sought refugee documentation in central Serbia. Recently the first Serb family to return to the town of Gnjilane was greeted with a bomb attack which should serve to warn other returnees. At the same time as the unacceptably slow process of returns of expelled Serbs, quiet but determined pressure on remaining Serbs continues to sell their property and move out. If the previous practice of returns for only small groups of Serbs or individual returnees continues, it will take more than 200 years to return all those whose right to return to their homes is guaranteed by the often-violated and unimplemented UN Security Council Resolution 1244.
Hope still remains
Since the plan for Mitrovica has already met with thunderous support from Washington to Brussels it seems very difficult to change or alter anything in it. Mr. Steiner has already clearly stated that the plan is not negotiable. Especially problematic appears to be the 7th point which says that international support for North Mitrovica will work only if Serbs vote in the coming local elections. Many Serbs understand these words as blackmail. International support of all Kosovo’s communities is a responsibility of the UN Mission according to the UN SC Resolution 1244, whiles the right to vote or not is a democratic right of any citizen. All that remains is the hope that Mr. Steiner and the UN mission will remain true to their promise that this plan will not be used as the basis for the Albanian incursion and ethnic cleansing of the north, where almost half of the total remaining Serb population in Kosovo and Metohija resides. It also remains to be seen whether readiness for the building of multiethnic society in Mitrovica is only a cover for the elimination of the last urban center in which the Serbs enjoy freedom or whether it will serve as the basis for the development of similar multiethnic projects in other environments and cities in almost completely ethnically clean Kosovo and Metohija. In short, if this plan remains restricted to Mitrovica only, it is already in the beginning doomed to fail.