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Balkan Report: June 2, 2000

2 June 2000, Volume 4, Number 41

Albania's President Looks At Kosova's Future. Rexhep Meidani is bullish on Kosova. He knows, however, the many tasks ahead will not be easy.

During his visit to Kosova on 24 May, Albanian President Rexhep Meidani gave an interview to "Koha Ditore" on Albanian-Kosovar relations (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report" 29 May 2000). In that interview, Meidani also commented on his impressions of Kosova's progress since the UNMIK administration took charge last summer.

Asked about the future of Kosova, Meidani said: "By my nature I am an optimist�. I see many positive changes, but I would like to see them take place faster. On the other hand, in such a complicated post-conflict situation, after the genocide that has taken place, we have to understand the [complex] nature of the various problems. Finally�we also have to consider that Rome was not built in a day."

Among the key problems facing Kosova, Meidani mentioned the question of ethnic Albanians still being held in Serbian prisons, the ongoing tensions in the divided town of Mitrovica, as well as the process of normalizing life throughout Kosova.

Referring to specific issues, he stressed that "first the process of the international administration's registering the inhabitants of Kosova and issuing identity cards to them has to move ahead faster. This will not only enable [UNMIK] to organize and conduct free and democratic elections, but also enable the people of Kosova to obtain freedom of movement inside and outside their territory.

"Second, Kosova needs legal and technical improvements in drafting its annual budget, in building up a financial and banking system, and in promoting a process that has already begun, namely the setting up of banks for small and medium sized enterprises. Perhaps Kosova can also serve as an example for the region in the coming years, because it de facto already has the Euro in circulation.

"Third, the question of property ownership has to be settled. Only this will create an environment for reconstruction and attract private investments from both Albanians and foreigners outside Kosova. But also, the state budget has to receive more input from within Kosova, which is a [demand] made by international financial institutions."

Meidani then went on to discuss the problems Kosova is facing regarding its current economic development: "...Economic assistance must increase. This can play a very important role in giving jobs to people and in building their hope for the future. This will help them overcome their serious daily problems, the reasons for their pain, the temptation to take revenge, and their memories of violence. At the same time, it will create a positive environment for them to look to the future."

Meidani added: "We can already see the first results of [a policy of] encouraging small enterprises, of identifying relatively large infrastructure projects, and of creating jobs. The establishment of a post and telecommunications system, the issuing of first stamps with the theme of 'peace in Kosova,' the registering of cars, the development of free press and electronic media, the reestablishment of a chamber of commerce, etc. are no doubt achievements that have to be taken seriously. The Trade Bank has started to issue credits to small businesses. There are also individual and international efforts to rebuilt the school and health systems, the public administration, the energy network, etc. Right now negotiations are going on about restarting a part of the mining industries in Trepca."

But Meidani also called on the Kosovars to get actively involved in the process themselves: "The international efforts to rebuild Kosova cannot be successful without the participation of the Kosovars." He stressed that this participation within the UNMIK administration has an institutional framework through the Interim Administrative Council and the Transitional Council of Kosova. He also mentioned building up a local police force to cope with the still high crime rate and expressed hopes that "the elections that are scheduled for the end of this year will give a new impetus to the political, institutional, economic, and social life of Kosova." (Fabian Schmidt)

Reversing The Ethnic Cleansing--Of Kosova's Libraries. The International Federation of Library Associations estimates that at least $6.7 million will be needed to rescue Kosova'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, which was 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 Kosova. 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 ethnic Albanian librarians had been fired long before the war: "What has happened is actually that all ethnic Albanians in Kosova 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 Kosova 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 Kosova (sponsored by the Kosova Foundation for an Open Society), conducted its own survey and found that two-thirds of Kosova's 180 libraries had been "annihilated" between 1990 and 1999. Over 900,000 books- or almost half of all library books in Kosova--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," which alleged 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 Kosova'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 that 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 Kosova--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 Kosova survey team has submitted its report to UNESCO and 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 [hope] 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 [in] 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 have made" for Kosova.

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 Kosova's libraries.

But Frederiksen notes the Kosova 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. (Jolyon Naegele. The author is a veteran correspondent for RFE/RL's News and Current Affairs at

Quotations Of The Week. "Russia is not on NATO's side on what we did last year." -- NATO's Lord Robertson in Budapest on 30 May. Quoted by AP.

"Our trench and battle are one. It's not just [politeness] when we say we stand with Yugoslavia. We mean it because our enemy is a common one and we have to work [together] to cripple him." -- Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to visiting Serbian parliament speaker Dragan Tomic. Quoted by Reuters in Baghdad on 29 May.

"Yugoslavia [is] strong but known to stumble on big occasions." -- AP headline on 30 May. The subject was the Yugoslav team as it prepares for the Euro 2000 soccer championship.

"We cannot force people [in Kosova] to love each other." -- UNMIK's Bernard Kouchner in Sofia on 29 May. Quoted by Reuters.

"I know about the wish of the majority of Kosovars for independence, but it is not my problem. The international community's problem is to go on with the local elections." Kouchner on the same occasion, quoted by AP.

And last but certainly not least:

"You have to show [local troublemakers] force, otherwise they don't stop." -- Unnamed Swedish KFOR officer, quoted by "The New York Times" on 30 May.