Though Kosovo Serbs have been called upon to accept the ‘reality’ of an independent Kosovo, it is the reality of past and present experience that continues to motivate their peaceful resistance.
By Milos Subotic
On February 17th 2008, the Kosovo’s provisional institutions of self-government under UN Security Council Resolution 1244 unilaterally declared independence on the basis of the notion of self-determination. Whilst Kosovo Albanians on the streets of the capital, Pristina, and in other cities celebrated, a crowd of Kosovo Serbs from the divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica gathered on the north side of the main bridge on the River Ibar to peacefully protest against the declaration, plus the mistreatment suffered by all non-ethnic Albanians residing in Kosovo.
As a result of ethnic cleansing in 1999 and March 17th 2004, approximately 200,000 Serbs were expelled from their homes. Every year, roughly 350 displaced persons return; meaning that at the present rate, it will take the next 572 years for the process to be complete. The failure to uphold Serb rights in this regard is one of the international community’s most pertinent shortcomings.
Nor are steps being taken to ensure the conditions for return exist. On October 20th, three Serbs were shot in the village of Dobruša near the town of Peć; one was killed and two others wounded. They were visiting land they owned, but which had been usurped by a Kosovo Albanian. According to one of the victims, “after a short conversation, the Albanian said he had to do something and would be back soon. He went to his vehicle, took out a rifle, and started to shoot”.
Though the case will be taken over by EULEX, their record is extremely disappointing. There are several other higher-profile cases of ethnically-motivated violence towards the Serb community – including the massacre of 14 Serbian farmers in Staro Gracko during harvest time, plus the terrorist attack on the Nis Expres bus near Podujevo which killed 12 and wounded 40 – for which no one has ever been prosecuted.
After the long honeymoon since declaring independence, Kosovo Albanians must now contend with the reality that Kosovo remains one of the poorest places in Europe; with 45% living below the poverty line of €43 a month, some 18% in extreme poverty and extremely high unemployment of 47.5% according to a UNDP report. Its health and social welfare systems are limited and poorly maintained, whilst corruption is widespread and organized crime endemic. Kosovo’s prime minister, Hashim Thaci, has been accused of involvement in human organ trafficking by the Council of Europe’s special rapporteur, Dick Marty, whilst many members of the government are under investigation by EULEX.
In spite of all this, the international community continues to call on Belgrade and Kosovo Serbs to accept the reality of an independent Kosovo. As the examples outlined above emphasize, however, this is a reality that no-body should be forced to accept. In dropping the insistence of ‘standards before status’, the international community sent a clear message to Pristina that it did not have to uphold international human rights standards.
Nonetheless, in the last few months, EULEX and KFOR have clearly and regularly violated the mandate granted to them by UN Security Council Resolution 1244 in attempting to impose this ‘reality’ on the north of Kosovo. By using teargas on peaceful protestors and jamming communications, KFOR is denying the right of Kosovo Serbs to democratically express their opposition.
The Kosovo ‘reality’ as experienced by Serbs, however, provides a strong motivation for further peaceful resistance. Whilst Kosovo Albanians were granted the right to self-determination, it is hard to understand why Kosovo Serbs – as their supposed equals – can not enjoy the same rights.
Milos Subotic is an international relations officer at the University of Pristina in Kosovska Mitrovica. He served two terms as chairman of the Democratic Youth of Kosovska Mitrovica, the youth wing of the Democratic Party. He is a former member of the local parliament and has worked for many international organizations in Kosovo, including the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the international NGO ‘Spark’. Milos is also an expert in the field of higher education policy.