10 June 2004, Volume 6, Number 19
IS CANTONIZATION AN OPTION FOR KOSOVO?
A program of Radio Most (Bridge) by Omer Karabeg of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service with Dusan Prorokovic, chairman of the Committee for Kosovo and Metohija of the parliament of Serbia, and Ramush Tahiri, political adviser of the speaker of the parliament of Kosovo Nexhat Daci.
Ramush Tahiri: What makes Mr. Prorokovic so anti-Albanian, since there are only 2 million [Kosovar] Albanians, not 2 billion, like the Chinese?
According to previous censuses, [Kosovo] accounted for only 18 percent of the population of Serbia. How could we possibly increase unemployment in Serbia, even if we all moved there?
Some 30 percent of our entire population works in Europe, and that is what enabled us to survive during the past 10 years when we were expelled from all the institutions of Serbia.
We will start solving the problem of unemployment in Kosovo once the status of Kosovo is resolved and we are the ones controlling our natural wealth.
As far as the institutional rights of the Serbs and Montenegrins are concerned, they are absolutely equal to all other citizens. They can enjoy all their rights through their local municipalities, political organizations, or [schools].
I do not want to cast blame, but there is not a single Albanian in the parliament of Serbia, while 22 percent of the members of Kosovo's parliament are Serbs. Unlike Serbia, we do not have a 5 percent threshold for political parties trying to enter the parliament, and 20 percent of our parliamentary seats are reserved for minorities.
The government of Serbia calls for the decentralization of Kosovo, but I have not noticed a single move toward decentralization in the Presevo Valley [in southern Serbia, where a large ethnic Albanian population lives]. An inhabitant of Bujanovac or Presevo must go to Vranje to get a stamp on his health-insurance card; he cannot do it in his hometown. So much for the rights of Albanians in those southern Serbian municipalities with a majority Albanian population.
And, finally, regarding those criminal cases, dozens of them have already been wrapped up in Kosovo, with about a hundred convictions, including those of some local [former guerrilla] commanders.
Dusan Prorokovic: Mr. Tahiri says that there is not a single Albanian in the parliament of Serbia. He is right; the previous election law was a very restrictive one, with a high threshold.
It was the Democratic Party of Serbia's [DSS] proposal to change that. If Albanians from the southern Serbian towns of Presevo, Bujanovac, and Medvedja want to take part in the next [general] elections, they will have two or three seats guaranteed, depending on the turnout.
Tahiri: In Kosovo, we are about to start our own process of decentralization. European ambassadors have been working on that project for two years now, and it is supposed to begin in 2006.
It will be not based on ethnic divisions, since we do not want to widen the gap between the Serbs, Albanians, Turks, Bosnian Muslims, and others. And that is why ethnically based decentralization will not work, no matter what the government of Serbia calls it: cantonization or local autonomy.
However, once the central government in Kosovo is set up -- which has not been done yet -- we will be ready for all the forms of autonomous self-rule mentioned by Mr. [Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav] Kostunica: personal, cultural, territorial, and even a separate canton for the northern part of Kosovo.
The trouble is that Kosovo is divided right now. Some 120,000 Serbs out of a total of 200,000 left Kosovo before the war. Eighty percent of [those now in Kosovo] live in the northern region, while the rest are gathered in enclaves.
The situation is better in the parts of Kosovo where there were no armed conflicts and massacres, like, for instance in Gnjilane, Vitina, and in Kamenica. The situation is also good in Strpce.
However, we are not totally satisfied with the situation regarding freedom of movement for the Serbs and Montenegrins in some regions.
On the other hand, I hope that you know that there are villages in Kosovo with Albanian families that lost every single male during the war, and that their Serbian neighbors were members of criminal paramilitary units. They are now in Serbia, and if Serbian courts had been doing their job, those people would have been convicted for their crimes.
RFE/RL: Finally, Mr. Prorokovic, may we, please, hear your conclusion, and then we would like to hear from Mr. Tahiri.
Prorokovic: It is useless to comment on everything Mr. Tahiri said. There is so much disinformation.
He said that the "interethnic situation in Strpce is excellent," except that two Serbs were killed there on 17 March, a father and a son of the Stolic family in the village of Dajgovce.
Regarding the "excellent interethnic situation" in Gnjilane, let me just mention that on 17 March, some 200 Serbs were expelled from the town.
Mr. Tahiri speaks about decentralization according to European standards, but I must ask him how a Serb from Gracanica can arrive in Pristina to complete the necessary health-insurance or social-security paperwork, when a member of the [UN Mission in Kosovo] UNMIK police was murdered in the very center of Pristina -- simply because he was a Bulgarian-speaking Bulgarian, and it sounded like Serbian to the murderer.
I support decentralization, but only when it is realistic and feasible. The Serbs are an element in Kosovo. They may not be very numerous, as Mr. Tahiri claims, so that they are not very important. They may not be important for Mr. Tahiri.
But they are a political element whose rights should be respected, just like the rights of any other citizen, whether Serb or Albanian, which is the case in Belgrade now. Albanians from Kosovo go to the Coordination Center for Kosovo and Metohija in Belgrade to get their health-insurance cards and pensions, and their demands are met there.
Nobody threatens them here; nobody forces them to leave or insults them just because of their religion or nationality.
One should try to implement something that is feasible and realistic at a particular moment in time, and that is exactly what decentralization is all about, according to the government of the Republic of Serbia's criteria. Therefore, my conclusion is that Mr. Tahiri actually misses Slobodan Milosevic.
Tahiri: I agree that Serbia has democratic potential, but that must be seen in practice, too. First, Serbia must repatriate some 900 dead bodies instead of sleeping on top of their graves.
Kosovo has no law protecting and financing those indicted by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, which is the case in Serbia, but everybody should do things the way they think best. Why does Serbia not apply the principles of decentralization in Medvedja, Presevo, and Bujanovac, and ensure personal and cultural autonomy for the Hungarians and Croats in Vojvodina, just like it demands for the Serbs in Kosovo?
As far as Kosovo is concerned, we will carry out decentralization the way it was suggested by the Council of Europe, meaning a transfer of authority to the lower levels of power, to local autonomous bodies. A special form of autonomy will be introduced in all the big towns, just like in the north of Kosovo. We cannot make special laws for privileged people in Kosovo; we will simply apply European standards [for all].