Bosnian Minority Pins Hope on Poll

After years of suffering, Kosovo's Bosnian community are hopeful new local administrators elected this weekend will improve their plight

Bosnian Minority Pins Hope on Poll

After years of suffering, Kosovo's Bosnian community are hopeful new local administrators elected this weekend will improve their plight

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

Kosovo's little-known Bosnian minority have suffered more than most in Kosovo.

The Serbian authorities considered them enemies, but even now they continue to face discrimination and intimidation.

However, on the eve of municipal elections, the minority's leaders are optimistic that the community's prospects are about to change.

For much of the Milosevic era, the Bosnians suffered the same depredations as the Albanians. The minority, which used to number around 60,000, was treated particularly badly with the outbreak of the Bosnian conflict.

"At the beginning of the war in Bosnia, we were considered enemies," said Numan Balic, leader of the Kosovo Bosnians' Party of Democratic Action, SDA. Many members of the community were imprisoned and around 20,000 expelled.

In desperation, some Bosnians collaborated with the Serbian regime, still a source of some tension with Kosovar Albanians. Since the end of the Kosovo war, Balic said, "extremist armed Albanians made our life difficult. Thirty thousand more Bosnians left, which is a lot for our small population."

Tensions have since lifted somewhat, but Bosnians still face problems speaking their mother tongue. Albanians often mistake Bosnian and other Slavic languages for Serbian, with dangerous consequences. Last year, a Bulgarian NGO worker was killed as soon as he arrived in Pristina for speaking Bulgarian, easily confused for Serbian.

Bosnian, though, is still taught in a few Kosovo schools, and the situation has improved considerably. But in some areas, Albanians still resent the presence of the minority.

There are probably only about 10,000 left in Kosovo, and they don't want to leave. But they feel sidelined by the international community, which, they claim, provides them with insufficient funds. In the run-up to the elections, all their politicians could afford was a short broadcast on the public television station Radio Television Kosovo.

Although international authorities in Kosovo make plenty of noise about improving the position of minority groups, their words are directed at Serbs and Roma. Other minorities, like Bosnians, Turks and Ashkali, are largely ignored.

But SDA leaders are optimistic about Saturday. The Bosnians are setting great store by the elections, believing that the new local administrations will recognise the community's wish to live peacefully with its Albanian neighbours.

"We are very pleased with our electoral campaign because we have shown that we know how to live together and that non-Albanians who committed no crimes here can co-exist with the local population," said Balic.

A rally for tolerance held on Mother Teresa street in Pristina earlier this month brought together thousands of Albanians and Bosnians.

"First I will speak in my Bosnian language," said Balic at the rally, "to tell the world that other languages besides Albanian can be spoken freely here, and that Albanians have nothing against us."

This got even greater applause than when United Nations mission chief Bernard Kouchner famously tried to speak in Albanian.

Gani Lajqi is a journalist with the Albanian daily Koha Ditore in Pristina.

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