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South Slavic: October 13, 2005

13 October 2005, Volume 7, Number 31

The next issue of "RFE/RL South Slavic Report" will appear on 3 November.


Part II.

A program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) with Omer Karabeg on Kosovo's decentralization, with guests Dusan Batakovic, adviser to Serbian President Boris Tadic, and Ramush Tahiri, adviser to the president of the Assembly of Kosova, Nexhat Daci.

Dusan Batakovic: Nobody has manipulated the official figures, but it is well-known that censuses are never absolutely reliable. In 1991, the disintegration of Yugoslavia was under way, and many people were not included in the census. Some may not have wanted to take part. In any event, the birthrate of the Kosovo Serbs is very high, the highest of all Serbian communities.

Finally, both UNMIK [the UN Mission In Kosovo] and the UNHCR [UN High commissioner for Refugees] speak of some 246,000 displaced and expelled persons from Kosovo. The figure might be higher or slightly lower, but roughly two-thirds of the non-Albanian population was forced to leave Kosovo after the 1999 war.

The fact is that the percentage of Serbs displaced after the war is higher than the percentage of Albanians who escaped or were expelled during the war. Serbs were ethnically cleansed from all big towns in Kosovo. There used to be some 40,000 Serbs in Pristina, now there are none. There are no more Serbs in Urosevac or Pec, and practically none in Prizren....

Let me remind you that the territory of Kosovo consists of 10,887 square kilometers, some 50 percent of which is private property, more than 35 percent of which belongs to Serbs. According to our data, only 200 hectares have been sold during the past six years.... This shows that rural Serbs have no intention of leaving permanently.

Houses and flats have been sold in cities because people did so to survive, not because they wanted to leave. These were forced sales under pressure, which are of dubious legal status. In short, we are talking about a completely lawless situation, to which we should add the 17 March [2004] pogrom and the fact that some 170 Serbian churches were destroyed, although nobody was held responsible.

Under these circumstances, the Serbian community in Kosovo sees no other solution but to work together with Belgrade to find a solution for the future status of Kosovo, in order to protect its interests and ensure its own survival. This is why Belgrade cannot be excluded from the talks about the future status of Kosovo.

Ramush Tahiri: ...If the UNHCR's figure of some 240,000 displaced persons is correct, it means that more Serbs left Kosovo [in 1999] than lived there according to the 1981 census.

Batakovic: That was in 1981. There must have been a high [Serbian] birthrate in the meantime.

Tahiri: Even in the case of a huge birthrate among the Serbian population, no one would have been left in Kosovo if 240,000 Serbs and Montenegrins had left....

If some 240,000 are now supposed to return to Kosovo, then we are talking about a new wave of colonization, like when Belgrade colonized Kosovo after both world wars in order to change the ethnic balance. But those projects proved untenable, as did European colonization in Africa.

Now the Serbs in Kosovo are simply waiting for the chance to sell their property and leave. They did not buy the land from Albanians there; they acquired it unfairly. They were even given houses and other property that had previously been owned by Albanians. That is how the [Serbian Orthodox] Church acquired its property, too. Property registers were taken to Serbia and never returned.

Batakovic: Since we are discussing recent or not-so-recent history, allow me to remind you of some important facts. What happened to the Serbs after the 1968 constitutional amendments [following the fall of secret police chief Aleksandar Rankovic]? They were expelled from Kosovo. What about those who left Kosovo under pressure during the 1970s, 1980s, and even 1990s? This has all been well documented.

Conversely, we know that during World War II, between 75,000 and 100,000 Albanians from Albania were settled in Kosovo, and that after the war a number of Albanian emigrants arrived. They were given Serbian houses. We also know about the famous order issued on 6 March 1945 banning the return of the [prewar] colonists to Kosovo. The picture is thus far more complex than my interlocutor suggests....

Tahiri: The tale about Albania as a base for colonizing Kosovo is a product of a longstanding Serbian propaganda campaign. It's as if there were a machine in Albania for producing human material for colonizing Kosovo.... However, the official response to a question posed in the [Yugoslav] Federal Assembly in 1986 was that the number of Albanian emigrants in Kosovo stood at 326 people.... And let me remind you about other Serbian plans for ruthlessly colonizing Kosovo, such as that of Vaso Cubrilovic, who openly called for "the expulsion of the Arnauts [Albanians]" in his famous 1937 treatise.