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Serbia: Kosovo's Libraries Cleansed Of Albanian Books

  • Jolyon Naegele

Kosovo's libraries lost almost half their books over the last decade to ethnic cleansing. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports that a new study says many of the libraries were purged of Albanian-language books even before hostilities erupted in 1998.

Prague, 31 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The International Federation of Library Associations estimates that at least $6.7 million will be needed to rescue Kosovo's libraries, damaged by a decade of neglect and a year and a half of fighting. It says most of the books that survived are either outdated or irrelevant to locals because of their language or subject matter.

The association's report, just made public, says that Serbian authorities followed a systematic policy of destroying Albanian-language literature.

The authors, two Scandinavian library experts, based their report on a survey they conducted earlier this year in libraries throughout Kosovo. The authors do not attempt to define who destroyed what when, but rather they focus on the libraries' current needs. UNESCO, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Council of Europe supported the survey financially and logistically, along with four Scandinavian librarians' associations.

One of the co-authors is Carsten Frederiksen, deputy director of the Copenhagen-based library federation. He says Albanian librarians had been fired long before the war.

"What has happened is actually that all ethnic Albanians in Kosovo were removed from the libraries or fired or sacked about 10 years ago, and that no new books in the Albanian language have been acquired since 1991. And in this sense you might speak of ethnic cleansing in the libraries." The report says some 100,000 books in Albanian belonging to the National and University Library were destroyed between 1991 and 1995, in what the authors of the survey describe as a "process of ethnic cleansing." They say this process also occurred in almost all public libraries in Kosovo during the 1990s. The torching of libraries in Kosovar Albanian communities during the fighting in 1998 and 1999 was just the culmination of a long policy.

As a result, the survey says, "a large share of local public and school libraries need total reconstruction of buildings and collections."

Last autumn, the National and University Library of Kosovo (sponsored by the Kosovo Foundation for an Open Society), conducted its own survey and found that two-thirds of Kosovo's 180 libraries had been "annihilated" between 1990 and 1999. Over 900,000 books -- or almost half of all library books in Kosovo -- had been destroyed.

The Scandinavian report does not seek to duplicate that survey.

But it does respond to controversial accusations made last year by the Belgrade daily "Glas Javnosti" alleging that Kosovar Albanians had destroyed at least four Serbian libraries and burned 2 million Serbian books. The Scandinavian authors say this allegation is unfounded, and they insist that Kosovo's public libraries never contained 2 million Serbian books.

The authors say they cannot absolutely rule out that ethnic Albanians may have destroyed some libraries which the Belgrade authorities had renamed "Serbian cultural institutions." But they say they saw no indications in the libraries they visited that Serbian books had been systematically destroyed. Rather, they say that in areas where the greatest Serbian destruction of Albanian property occurred -- in western and central Kosovo -- books in Serbian were the only ones that survived.

The survey lists the most pressing problems facing the National and University Library as missing, damaged or outdated equipment, including electricity and telephone lines. Missing Albanian books should be replaced, the survey recommends, and English-language university books should be acquired.

The Kosovo survey team has submitted its report to UNESCO and the UN administration in Kosovo, UNMIK, including a three- to four-year action plan.

The plan proposes the formation of a temporary library consortium that would include local activists, major international donors, and international organizations to provide professional expertise and advice. The plan also proposes 11 special programs that would address such areas as administration, reconstruction, and training, as well as set up a mobile library service, and cultural heritage and youth programs.

Frederiksen says "a very rough estimate" of the funding needed for these measures is $6.7 million. He is optimistic about the chances for raising this money.

"Our intention is of course that some of the government agencies in Europe or North America are willing to go into this project. And I think that some of the Scandinavian countries, for instance, we have quite a long experience both in public libraries and especially in mobile libraries, which is one of the suggestions we make to be introduced in Kosovo."

The survey says projects and activities so far have been sporadic and largely ad hoc, and that at present, no systematic effort exists to address the needs of Kosovo's libraries.

But Frederiksen notes the Kosovo Foundation for an Open Society already has responded to the recommendations of his report and has initiated several projects. These include reconstruction of three public libraries, translation of scientific literature for university use, and delivery of Albanian-language children's books.

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