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Analysis: Jobs, Responsibility, And Walks -- Kosova's Serbian Cabinet Member Challenges His Critics

Kosova's Minister for Returns Slavisa Petkovic is the only Serb in Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj's cabinet. While it is too early to tell if he will make a difference in Kosova's polarized political landscape, he has already said some things not usually heard from local Serbian politicians.

Petkovic told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Prishtina on 27 January that Serbian politicians who criticize him for joining the cabinet have themselves dodged their responsibility to Kosova's Serbian population (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25, 26, and 27 January 2005). Petkovic argued that the most important issue facing the local Serbs is the safe return of up to 250,000 displaced Serbs and providing jobs for them. He charged that Serbian politicians who served in Kosova's parliament "for the past three years did nothing" to solve this problem and hence failed in meeting their responsibility to their own people.

That is his response to criticism from politicians from the establishment Serbian List for Kosovo and Metohija, who call him an opportunist without any political legitimacy. Turning the tables, Petkovic argued that his critics seem to think that legitimacy is based on the extent to which they promote "the interests of the current government in Belgrade and not the interest of their own people in Kosovo and Metohija. [If that is what they consider legitimacy,] then I don't need that kind of legitimacy."

Petkovic stressed that those Serbs who served in the last parliament "have shown what they know, and in reality have shown that they don't know anything. Let them leave me alone. I am now officially a minister. Let's see what I can do."

He argued that it is the duty of politicians to help their people and that is why he joined the cabinet. He stressed that jobs are the key to the future because Kosova's problems are "99 percent economic...and only 1 percent political." Petkovic did not elaborate as to how he would go about creating jobs but stressed that it is crucial that every returnee who wants a job can have one and hence "a normal life."

But it was for Belgrade that Petkovic had some of his strongest words. He charged that politicians there are interested only in manipulating the Serbs of Kosova and not in helping them. He added that many Belgrade politicians "went ballistic over some of my views because they are used only to Serbs from Kosovo who always do what Belgrade tells them to do, even if it is to the detriment [of the Serbs in Kosovo]."
Petkovic argued that there is so little democracy in Kosova that one cannot speak "even of the 'd' in democracy" existing

In response to the criticism from Belgrade, Petkovic said that he will soon "write an open letter to [Serbian] President [Boris] Tadic, Prime Minster [Vojislav] Kostunica, and President of the Coordination Center [for Kosovo and southern Serbia Nebojsa] Covic, in which I will ask them to actively take part in promoting returns, because their constitutional duty is to protect the interests of their people."

This duty, the minister stressed, is above politics and political parties, but the Belgrade politicians tend to make everything a partisan issue. "And as long as they think that all questions of national importance are partisan ones, then I surely won't have any contact with them."

As to the leaders of the ethnic Albanian majority, Petkovic, who speaks some Albanian, argued that there is so little democracy in Kosova that one cannot speak "even of the 'd' in democracy" existing. He said that he has told the Albanian leaders that they need to tell their own people "every day...that the Serbs must return to their [homes], because we have lived in Kosovo for centuries." That means that the Albanians cannot claim to be the "hosts" and consider the Serbs to be merely guests. "We must live together," Petkovic stressed.

The minister argued that it is unacceptable that Serbs are afraid to go out of their homes and that when they do, they must be very careful. "But we live in the 21st century and not in the 13th. I wouldn't care to make any promises...but I think that the possibilities for change are best where that issue is concerned."

Petkovic called on Albanians as individuals to show their responsibility as the majority population and help Serbs overcome their fear by "taking a walk through town with a Serbian neighbor" and show that people can again live "together, like we once did.... People need to see that there is nothing strange in this. The war has come and gone. Every war brings its share of evil, but we can't live in the past."

The minister had some sharp words for the recent well-publicized report of the NGO International Crisis Group (ICG) on Kosova, which called for steps to resolve the status question by moving forward on independence (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 January 2005). "For whom is that the best solution? They say it is best, but...for whom?"

Petkovic added that he does not understand why so much attention is paid to the ICG. "It is [just] one informal group that writes such is its right, but it has no right to sow chaos in Kosovo." The minister believes that the report has led to a renewal in Kosova of the kind of "talk that started in 1997-98 and culminated in the 1999 war. That kind of talk will only take us backward. I don't know who needs this and why the [ICG] is so significant that everyone on the political stage, both in Serbia and in Kosovo, is concerning themselves with a report that [in reality] means nothing. To me it is just one more pamphlet and nothing more."

In closing, Petkovic said that he has not taken his job to help meet the international community's standards and will not support the "politicization" of returns by Prime Minister Haradinaj or anyone else. "What interests me is that people can go home.... I am doing my job and have taken on the ministerial post to see if I can enable people to finally go back to their homes and their property, 5 1/2 years [after the war]."