Kosovo: The View of the Serbian Minority
Ioannis Michaletos: How can the present day situation, as far as, the Serbian population is concerned can be described?
Oilver Ivanovic: The situation of the Serbian people in Kosovo is in some respects better than it used to be some years ago, meaning that the attacks against them havedecreased. Nevertheless, there are some serious problems that cannot be resolved easily. For instance in Kosovo we have approximately 400,000 unemployed youngsters and rising social tensions, that surely reflects against the Serbs remaining in Kosovo.
Although the inter-ethnic conflicts have decreased, there is considerable anxiety concerning the right of free movement of Serbs and I would say fear for their own lives,, since none of the high-level persons involved in countless violent acts against them, has been brought to justice.
For example, in the first days of the NATO intrusion in Kosovo back in the summer of 1999, 913 Serbs were assassinated by Albanian paramilitaries. None paid for these crimes.
In 2001, in the town of Ponjevo, South of Pristina, a group of Serbs was murdered by bomb explosions. None was even accused for this act.
In 2003 two Serbian children were killed, and despite the fact that this took place in front of numerous eye-witnesses, none was blamed. In the 17th of March 2004 a pogrom took place against the Serbs and in a single day 19 Serbs were assassinated and 34 churches was burned to the ground, along with hundreds of houses and shops.
All the above are just some of the manifestations of a situation that proves that crimes are not prosecuted and those criminals can walk free.
That has as a result the exclusion of Serbian internally displaced people to be able to return back in their territory and clearly diminishes the posture of the local judicial authorities. In simple words the Serbs don’t trust these institutions because they cannot protect them.
Ioannis Michaletos: Two years have passed since the declaration of the independence of Kosovo, by the Albanian side and over 60 states have recognized it. Do you believe that the recognition process can be halted or reversed?
Oilver Ivanovic: The unilateral declaration of independence on the 17th of February 2008 is not recognized by the main interested party, which is Serbia and although I respect the decisions made by other countries, I can say that the future of Kosovo depends on the final stance of Belgrade.
Serbia is not going to recognize Kosovo as an independent state and we cannot talk about a final resolution upon the issue, even if more countries accept Kosovo as a state.
Only if the Serbian and the Albanian leadership agree in a mutually respected solution, then we can talk about final resolution to the issue.
Ioannis Michaletos: Do you assess that the Serbian displaced people, have the capability of returning to their land, or this requires the change of the present day status quo and the political reality in Kosovo?
Oilver Ivanovic: First of all, judging by similar experiences in Croatia, Bosnia and Cyprus, it seems that there are little chances of return under the present day circumstances, and lets not forget that over a decade has passed since the expulsion of the majority of the Serbian people.
There is insecurity in social, political, economic and legal terms for all of these people that fear also for their safety. No one can surely guarantee their safe return.
The economic factor is also paramount, although it is overlooked. The Serbs that want to return are faced with the reality of high unemployment, widespread corruption, the lack of the rule of law and the high criminality. Therefore the essentials for a safe return are missing.
Furthermore, the political instability in the region and the fact that Serbia will not recognize Kosovo’s independence are two additional factors. The international authorities such as the EU, have practically lost their interest for the region, apart from some purely rhetorical proclamations and they have also decreased their funding projects.
All the involved institutions and bodies should realize that unless some realistic options are implemented, the problem will remain.
Ioannis Michaletos: There is a general assumption that Kosovo is a territory of organized criminal action and constitutes as an unstable region. Do you agree and what can be practically done to overcome these issues?
Oilver Ivanovic: The governance in Pristina is characterized by feeble institutions, and the direct connections of certain members of the local political elite with powerful criminal networks.
The international community, although it is fully aware of the above, it lacks the ability to negotiate with persons from the Albanian side, other than the above; therefore we have a perpetuation of high level corruption.
In simple words, the only leadership figures in Pristina are the personalities that are directly responsible for the whole situation and if they are removed from office due to international pressure, there are no capable replacements because the whole system has been built upon them. Corruption destroys the future and the stability of the region and the international authorities for the time being, just tolerate the situation.
Also, there is no incentive for investments in Kosovo because of the corruption problems and the low level expertise of a large number of the working force, despite the attraction of the law wages.
The infrastructure is in dire need for investments and under all of these circumstances, there can be no real economy developing, apart from the so-called “parallel economy”. The EU should really invest into the local educational structures in order to fill the gaps in the educational and working abilities of the workforce, so as to have a real economic progress.
Lastly in Kosovo there is the mentality of expecting everything from donors. Since 1945 the region is continuously being subsidized, firstly by Yugoslavia and then by Serbia and since 1999 by the international bodies.
The population of the region and especially the Albanians has been accustomed of taking care of their basic needs by relying to external factors and they are not yet able to accommodate themselves paying taxes, or investing under a long-term mentality or have any kind of desire to design for their own future.
Ioannis Michaletos: How can neighbouring countries, for instance Greece, mediate successfully relating to the Kosovo issue?
Oilver Ivanovic: It is important for Greece to maintain first of all of its current position regarding the issue. As I mentioned earlier, the current explosive issue in Kosovo is the economy and the tremendous unemployment issues.
Therefore any move towards the economic progress of the region is beneficial. Moreover, Greece maintains many channels of communication with the Albanian factor in the Balkans and can facilitate negotiations in many levels.
In addition, Athens has the ability of informing the translational bodies which is a member of, how to improve the situation in Kosovo and mobilize other countries to consider the issues involved.
In general Kosovo is being viewed by the international community as a political experiment where theories are being tested upon and I would like to stress that the territory is not a political laboratory, but an area of 2 million people that are suffering and this is the message that has to be sent across the world, so as for the past mistakes to be made known, that lead us to the current situation.
Ioannis Michaletos: According to your estimations, is there a concern for a renewed round of conflicts in the Balkans centered in Kosovo either directly or indirectly? Is the phrase “Natural Albania” a cause of concern for the regional stability?
Oilver Ivanovic: There is a worry. “Natural Albania” is in fact a paraphrase for the “Greater Albania” and that constitutes a negative scenario for the whole of the Balkans.
There is scepticism regarding the movements of some hypernationalist Albanian circles in the Western FYROM. Also in Southern Serbia, in Presevo, there is a worry and I assess that sooner or later, Southern Montenegro will face similar concerns with the Albanian minority there.
In most respects, Kosovo is being used by the Albanian nationalists as a model that they would like to imitate in other parts of the Balkans and that should strike the alarm bell to all regional states, since there is increased probability of instability and even conflict in the future.
It is indeed an important and distressful development.