Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

KOSOVO'S NOUVEAUX RICHES

Resentment is mounting over huge wage disparities created by the international organisations. As the UN and others shell out vastly inflated salaries to a lucky few, tens of thousands of public employees wait in vain for their meagre payments.
By Imer Mushkolaj

Besnik Zabergja stands at the bar in Tricky Dick's café, Pristina, smoking a Marlboro cigarette and drinking a foreign beer. Dressed up and swaying to the loud music, Besnik has joined some young friends for a relaxing drink after work. Just down the road Idriz Ajeti holds a tense discussion with his wife over the family budget.


Besnik, a student of electronic engineering, now works for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) as a personal assistant. He earns 2,000 German marks (DM) per month. Ajeti, a distinguished academic, founding member of the Kosovo Academy of Science and Arts and author of several scientific studies, has to make do on 165 DM month - if he is gets paid at all.


With the arrival of NATO forces and a plethora of other international organisations in Kosovo, a new stratum of the privileged has been created. The OSCE, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the multitude of other non-government organisations (NGOs) in Kosovo have recruited hundreds of local young people to help - and pay very good salaries in return.


Meanwhile tens of thousands of Kosovars - professors, academics and public employees of all descriptions - have not received even their minimal salaries for several months. A driver or interpreter for an international organisation receives around 1,000 DM a month, six or seven times the average income in Kosovo.


Virtually the only requirement is a driver's licence. But only a few hundred such jobs exist, while the rest of the population is left to cope with the effects of Kosovo's fractured economy.


Most factories are still not operational and many people remain reliant on assistance provided by humanitarian organisations. Kosovo teachers are among the poorest. They had hoped that the arrival of the UN administration under Bernard Kouchner would resolve the problem of their salaries. But six months after the end of war, teachers have received a 200 DM subsidy and little else.


"UNMIK has promised that they will pay at least $200 a month, but we have seen nothing until now. We are still working for free," said Fatmushe Shala, an elementary school teacher in Pristina.


For nine years, Shala and her colleagues have been paid through direct contributions from Albanian families using the schools, providing an average salary of not more than 150 DM a month.


Professors at the philology faculty at Pristina University have also only received a subsidy of $200 from UNMIK. "Professors have not received any payment for months.The amount given to them as aid by UNMIK is minimal. People are not happy," said Vesel Nuhiu, dean of philology.


As a result, many professors and students from the faculty are employed as interpreters by international organisations.


"The third and fourth course of English language at our faculty is almost non-existent at the moment. All the students have left the university and are working for international organisations. In addition, ten of our professors work part time for these organisations," Nuhiu said. "It is absurd that a professor is paid five to six times less than his students. We cannot ask professors to work for us for such a ridiculous salary."


The situation is also bad in other sectors of the Kosovo economy. Employees in the energy sector are also paid irregularly. "We have only received 540 DM in aid from UNMIK since the end of the war," complained Bajram Gjinovci, a worker at the Kosova B thermoelectric power station.


Kouchner has announced that the annual budget for the province for the year 2000 will be about $391 million. International authorities are planning to meet the monthly salary payments for around 65,000 Kosovo employees. Simple arithmetic produces an average salary of 270 DM a month for each worker. But as the administration collects little revenue from the province itself, almost all such payments come from international donations.


UNMIK officials recognise that unemployment and the general standard of living are among the biggest challenges facing Kosovo. "It is very important to us that business restarts amidst good conditions", said Maurice Mezel, head of UNMIK's employment office. "We should find a way to decide on payment according to some qualifications. It is difficult to understand how one of our drivers can earn a 1,000 DM a month, while a doctor receives nothing for months on end."


Mezel emphasises the need for close co-operation with Kosovo institutions on vocational training, to prepare people to work with the EU and other international organisations - an approach Kosovo Albanian officials welcome.


Most people in Kosovo look with mixed feelings of admiration and resentment at the lucky few who have secured prized employment with international organisation. "It is not normal at all that a driver or interpreter with UNMIK is paid that much, while my husband earns only 165 DM," complained Hajrija, wife of the academic Ajeti.


"Kouchner himself is building two different classes in our society, the poor and the rich," Agim, a medicine student, complained.


"My salary is the only income for my family," said Mimoza Pireva, a student now working as an interpreter for the British sector of KFOR. "But I do not think this [a relatively large income] is fair either, and I am sorry about it," she added.


Idriz Ajeti remains philosophical: "I think things are going to be better in the future, and everybody will get what he deserves." Yet while he and others like him wait and hope for fair compensation from the UN, Besnik Zabergja and his lucky counterparts will continue their toasts at the local café, which some of its grateful patrons wish to rename "Tricky Kouchner's".


Imer Mushkolaj is a journalist in Kosovo.