Minister for Dialogue and Deputy Prime Minister of the Government of the Republic of Kosovo, Edita Tahiri, received today a delegation of Albanian representatives from the south of Serbia, led by the new mayor of Bujanovac, Mr. Shaip Kamberi and Chairperson of the Municipal Assembly of Preševo, Mrs. Ardita Sinani, who headed the Party for Democratic Action list in the Serbian parliamentary elections in April 2016, accompanied by journalist Nefail Maliqi from Preševo.
At the meeting they discussed the situation of Albanians in the municipalities of Preševo, Bujanovac and Medveđa and the need to strengthen mutual cooperation between the institutions of Kosovo, Albania and of Preševo Valley. Minister Tahiri said that the position of Albanians in Preševo, Bujanovac and Medveđa is not satisfying because Serbia continues with its “discriminatory policies” that aim removal of Albanians from their homelands. Minister Tahiri said that Kosovo and Albania have started to work harder to support the Albanians of the Preševo Valley, adding that she personally advocates that this shared commitment of both governments should be expressed in the form of “a common strategy to support the development and strengthening of Albanians of Preševo Valley through concrete programs in the field of education, economy and other fields”. She noted in particular the need to open an Albanian university in Preševo Valley, saying that according to European standards this right belongs to the minority.
What is the real position of ethnic Albanians in the south of Serbia?
The position of the Albanian national minority in the municipalities of south Serbia is regulated by a number of domestic laws that enable this and other minority communities to form national councils of national minorities (NCNMs), which are by the spirit of law, the bodies of minority self-government. They are granted wide-ranging competences in the fields of culture, education, information in national minority languages and official use of language and script. The Albanian national minority, through its political representatives, rules the municipalities of Preševo and Bujanovac, and actively influences local government of the municipality of Medveđa. The fact that local government in the municipalities of Bujanovac and Medveđa is multiethnic, that is, these two municipalities are ruled by a coalition of the Albanian and Serbian parties, contributes to stability and trust among ethnic communities. At the last parliamentary elections, the Albanian community got one seat in the National Assembly of Serbia, which is one seat less than in the previous parliament, suggesting that there is a problem a problem with ensuring adequate parliamentary representation of minorities. This problem has been reported by other minority communities in Serbia, especially those that are small in numbers. The existing electoral system works in favor of more numerous minorities and those with greater territorial concentration.
It should be emphasized, however, that some Albanian political parties, including the Democratic Party of Albanians of the former mayor of Preševo, Ragmi Mustafa, as well as the Democratic Progress Party of Jonuz Musliu, who is the president of the National Council of the Albanian National Minority and a coalition partner of the ruling party in Bujanovac, boycotted parliamentary elections in Serbia, resulting in the low turnout of Albanian voters and affected the result in the elections.
In addition to political participation in terms of representation in government institutions at all levels of power, Albanian population in the three municipalities of southern Serbia expect a resolution to many other issues, outlined in the document called the “Seven Point Plan” that was created in 2013 as a result of talks between the President of the Coordination Body of the Government of Serbia for the Preševo, Bujanovac and Medveđa municipalities with the Albanian representatives from southern Serbia, under the auspices of the OSCE. Special requirements contained in the “Seven Point Plan” are: representation/integration into government institutions, economic recovery, official use of the language, letter and national symbols, decentralization in the judicial system, education, culture and the media, healthcare and social protection, safety and actions for establishing trust. The “Seven Point Plan”, adopted by the Government of the Republic of Serbia in the form of Information of the Coordination Body, by a special conclusion, has not been implemented.
At the meeting in Priština, it was also emphasized that in the dialogue for the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Priština some of the agreements have a positive impact on improving the lives of Albanians in southern Serbia, such as an agreement on recognition of diplomas, agreement for the release of additional fees for vehicle insurance, agreement for the opening of border crossing points, etc.
Education and recognition of diplomas: all opportunities arising as a result of dialogue for the normalization of relations have not yet been exhausted
Regretfully, when it comes to education and recognition of diplomas, all opportunities arising from dialogue for the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Priština have not yet been exhausted. The process of diploma recognition is very slow if not almost completely stalled, which prevents the free movement and employment of young people who have completed their studies in Kosovo and Serbia. The dialogue for the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Priština has not affected the cooperation for reaching agreement to exchange textbooks for use in each other’s minority ethnic communities’ schools, and to solve other issues that would enable the economic development of this region.
The needs of the Albanian community in southern Serbia were partially satisfied with the opening of the Faculty of Economy from Subotica of the University of Novi Sad’s department in Bujanovac, supported by the European Union and the office of High Commissioner for national minorities from the Hague (OSCE). Classes in the department are held on two languages: students of Serbian and Roma communities attend classes in Serbian, while students from the Albanian community attend classes in Albanian.
The feasibility study on the development of high education in Preševo and Bujanovac from 2010 done by the Ministry of Education and Science formed a working group for resolution of issues in the area of high education in Bujanovac and Preševo, composed of representatives of the Ministry of Education and Science, Coordination Body Service, National Council of Albanians, domestic expert for high education and representatives of the office of High Commissioner for national minorities from the Hague (OSCE).
The opening a department of the Faculty of Economics in Subotica in Bujanovac, with the support of the European Union and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, where the teaching is bilingual, satisfied the needs of the Albanian community in this region, at least partially. Apparently, there is a need for training and professional development of teachers who hold their classes in Albanian, either by strengthening the capacity of departments of Albanian language and literature at existing faculties, especially those that train teachers, or by opening a department of the teacher training faculty in these three municipalities. Another option worth thinking about relates to the opening of new departments that will attract not only the persons from the Albanian community, but also from other communities.
There are numerous opportunities for intensifying economic cooperation in the regions of Vranje, Gjilane and Kumanovo, in order to enable the development and decrease motives for migration from the region in the absence of perspective. Besides the neighborly relations which are often at a very low point, a robust and complicated and, sometimes impossible procedure for obtaining the EU funding such projects is the key obstacle for economic cooperation.
The need for a strategy on integration of national minorities
Keeping this in mind, one can hardly speak of the existence of intended discriminatory policy of the Government of the Republic of Serbia. Despite this, it is necessary to re-examine the existing model of managing the overall minority polices, including in three municipalities of northern Serbia.
It is necessary to adopt a National Strategy for Integration of National Minorities that defines the integration policies, accompanied by an action plan for their implementation. The responsibility for implementation of the action plan should be assigned to the future Ministry for Human Rights, National Minorities and Integration, which would take over the competencies form the Coordination Body of the Government of Serbia for the Preševo, Bujanovac and Medveđa, established as an ad hoc institution after the armed crisis in these three municipalities in 2001. If established, the new Ministry for Human Rights, National Minorities and Integration would: enable the participation of the Albanians from southern Serbia; contribute to greater integration of the Albanian community; increase trust; equal sharing of responsibilities for the policies that are being implemented.
In the future dialogue for the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Priština, all opportunities should be explored for improving the social and economic position of all citizens of this region.
The issue related to the status and rights of minority communities can be resolved only through dialogue with the Government and through comprehensive normalization of relations.
The meeting of a delegation of Albanians from Preševo, Bujanovac and Medveđa with Edita Tahiri in Priština is not a surprise, especially given the results of local elections that have led to a change of government in these municipalities. The communication between the leaders of local government and ethnic Albania political parties from southern with political parties and institutions in Kosovo has a long tradition. It is also common for the representatives of local administrations in Serbian municipalities of Kosovo to maintain ties with Serbian institutions.
However, it should be noted that the issue related to the status and rights of minority communities, including the Albanians in southern Serbia, can be solved only through dialogue between the Government and representatives of minority communities; implementation of the agreements reached in the dialogue; involving the representatives of national minorities in decision-making process; improving the overall normalization of relations and cooperation between Serbs and Albanians at all levels of power.
Retrieved from: KoSSev