Comment: Kosovo Serbs Making Progress

Although there is a long way to go, conditions for Kosovo Serbs are improving.

Comment: Kosovo Serbs Making Progress

Although there is a long way to go, conditions for Kosovo Serbs are improving.

Thursday, 17 October, 2002

Last week's mob violence against elderly Serbs in Pec/Peje was, in the words of Special Representative Michael Steiner, "deplorable, disgraceful and disgusting".

The attack on group, who had come simply to collect their pensions, damaged Kosovo's image in the eyes of the world and threatens the hard work on returns, multi-ethnicity and integration done by UNMIK, KFOR, representatives of minority communities and many Albanians.

Some have claimed the attack demonstrates nothing has improved for Kosovo Serbs, but the incident was in fact an aberration.

In the past several months, we have achieved substantial progress in virtually every area - a trend not always reflected in comments from the Kosovo Serb leadership. In an article for IWPR, for instance, Father Sava of Decani Monastery recently wrote,

"Rendered lethargic by bureaucracy and by fear of conflicts with Albanian extremists, it [UNMIK] has hypocritically ignored the problems of the Serb community, insisting its mission be declared a success before the basic tenets of a democratic and free society are established."

No one in UNMIK or the international community can ever be satisfied with the progress we've made. Of course, we all wish for more rapid improvement.

Father Sava goes on to write, "Three years after the end of the war and the arrival of the UNMIK mission and KFOR, the Kosovo Albanians have not managed to present a vision of a democratic society to be enjoyed by all citizens regardless of their ethnicity."

This is beginning to change. While we have not yet realised our vision of a pluralist society, some senior Kosovo Albanian leaders have taken real steps along that road. As recently as September 28, Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi told Vecernje Novosti that he backs the return of all displaced persons or IDPs of their own free will - a process UNMIK supports.

Still, it is true that Kosovo's Albanian majority has to go further in promoting an inclusive vision of the region. Continuing problems for local Serbs result not from a lack of concern or action on UNMIK's part, but mainly from the need for time to heal wounds, especially in those areas that witnessed the most violence in 1999.

Relations between Albanians and Serbs in eastern Kosovo are much improved since the war. But for areas such as the Pec/Peje region, it is only recently that the pursuit of multi-ethnicity and integration has become possible.

The substantial progress in virtually every area of life is not reflected in Father Sava's comment. That progress is slower than we would all like, but it is real, tangible and promising.

Consider policing, justice and security. There are already 397 Serb officers in the Kosovo Police Service, KPS. Another 87 will finish their training in December. They are already patrolling in parts of the Pristina region, in some areas working with Albanian colleagues. By the end of the year Serb KPS should be patrolling in northern Mitrovica.

In July, UNMIK and the ministry of justice in Belgrade signed a joint declaration paving the way for the hiring of more Serb jurists. Over half of the people short-listed for 40 new openings for judges are Serbs.

Out of 52 murders in Kosovo over the past year, only one victim was Serb and the killing was not ethnically motivated. A second Serb woman died in a mine explosion at Klokot this week, but it is not yet clear who planted the mine.

In other areas too things have improved since last year. UNMIK is on track to fulfil a commitment to resolve the fate of approximately 4,000 missing people from all communities by the end of the year. Last year's general elections put 22 Serbs in the Kosovo assembly. And a Serbian university should soon be legalized under a pending law.

Cars with Yugoslav license plates can now park overnight in Pristina without anything happening to them. Serbian can now be heard on the city's streets. A couple of weeks ago, Steiner walked down Mother Theresa Street in central Pristina with a group of civic-minded Serb women from northern Kosovo. There were no incidents of any kind. In fact, some locals greeted the party in Serbian.

Freedom of movement is also improving. A train with connections to Belgrade runs from northern Kosovo to Skopje. UNMIK has offered Serbs free Kosovo license plates and an agreement with Belgrade is pending on recognition of the former.

Most checkpoints around the Serbian enclaves have been replaced by mobile patrols with no rise in incidents.

We still have far to go before we can say we have succeeded in transforming Kosovo into a place where all people can live in security and dignity. We have a vision, and not one seen through rose tinted spectacles, as some would argue, but one based on the reality of genuine progress on the ground.

Simon Haselock is director of UNMIK's Division of Public Information.

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