Monday, July 21, 2008

Kosovo's Serb enclaves

The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia made some visits to the Serb enclaves in Kosovo and wrote two reports about it. The first report is about Strpce, Musnikovo (Zupa Valley) and Orahovac and the second report about Gojbulje (Vucitrn), Srpski Babus and Babljak (Urosevac) and Staro Gracko (Lipljan).

The Helsinki Committee (HC) is one of those foreign funded organizations that recognize Kosovo's independence and as a consequence the reports contain some "political correct" general discussions about the politcal situation in Serbia and Serbia's Kosovo policy that can best be skipped (this includes the first four pages of the second report). But it is interesting to look at the problems of the enclaves and how the HC is dealing with them.

First there is the problem of the usurped land. The villagers of Staro Gracko for example use only 30% of their land. Of the remainder part is not used and part is usurped by Albanians from neighbouring villages. The HC recommends a dialogue with those neighboring villages as a solution. To me this is nonsense. This land robbery reflects an uneven balance of power and the only structured way to repair this is by changing that balance.

It is well known that the procedure for the return of the occupied lands is broken. The procedures take years and when there is a verdict it is often simply ignored - after which you have to appeal to that (what takes again years). In any normal country this would be a reason to streamline the procedure - giving more rights to the owners and less to the occupiers. Yet UNMIK and Kosovo's government have systematically refused to do so. Instead they periodically promise that the problem will be solved within a few years - a promise that is never kept. Of course this damages not only the minorities but it also hinders Kosovo in its development into a normal society.

A related problem is that of Albanian cattle trespassing on Serb land. The reports writes about it as "They (KPS) said there were not in the position to prevent Albanians’ stock from trampling on Serbs’ farms for they could not watch all locations all the time. Obviously, the problem can be solved only through direct communication between local Serbs and their Albanian neighbors, with KFOR mediation.".

Again, this is nonsense. The police doesn't have to stop every tresspassing. But when they do see such a trespass they should maintain the law and the cattle owner should be forced to pay - both to the police for breaking the rules and to the landowner. That is how it works in the rest of the world too. Negotiations will only work when both sides know that there is a law that will be maintained when they cannot solve it between themselves.

HC is often very critical about the complaining of the villagers. For example: "The villagers of Gojbulje take that the Kosovo authorities and international organizations have done little for the village and made no investment. Actually, the elementary school, presently attended by some 30 pupils, has been constructed, along with several hundred meters of road connecting the village with its local church. The road was constructed with international donations, American in the first place. Representatives from Kosovska Mitrovica intervened and prevented construction of yet another road that would have improved the village’s infrastructure.".

So, according to the HC, many of the complaints of the villagers don't hold on scrutiny. HC doesn't convince me. I miss the crucial question about what the villagers believe Kosovo and the internationals could have done more. And it seems to me that a village that sees nearly all its land usurped and its church regularly destroyed has some reason to complain.

A returning theme are also the bad Radicals, in the above quote mentioned as "representatives from Kosovska Mitrovica". Here some more: "They were mostly critical of the representatives from Kosovska Mitrovica, who, as they put it, constantly obstruct their integration into the Kosovo society. Those people are coming but offer almost nothing but “patriotic” slogans. They promise to help the villagers but never keep their promises. For instance, they refused to pay the driver of the bus traveling twice at week the Gojbulje-Kosovska Mitrovica distance. They forbade the villagers to accept any subsidies (170 Euros per person) from the Kosovo government. However, the amounts are regularly paid to their bank accounts and they can use their money at will. Despite the fact that they fear reactions from Kosovska Mitrovica, most villagers are aware of the new reality in Kosovo and would gladly change their lifestyle.".

One can imagine that the HC delegation didn't like those "representatives" who chased them out of Strpce. Yet it reads like propaganda. If these "representatives" never keep their promises, does that mean that the villagers don't get any money from Belgrade? And what is meant with the villagers "changing their lifestyle" or "integrating"?

The HC is rather schizophrenic about contacts between villages and the Albanians surrounding them. Any trading contact with Albanians is brought as a kind of moral victory. It makes the people from the HC sound to me like inverted Radicals. Just as the Radicals they seem incapable to accept that people just look for the best deal in their economic transactions. Instead both see trading with Albanians as a kind of recognition of Kosovo's independence - what sounds as nonsense to me.

A final aspect is that of the absentee ownership as in the following quote: "Neither the Albanians interviewed by the teams could tell the number of the people living in the houses or visiting them from time to time. The teams left under the impression that “visitors” were more interested in keeping their property than in return. Hectares and hectares of farmland are left uncultivated. Unpainted houses that have not been fenced off indicate that the return is still a faraway prospect. Actually, house owners just come to the village to receive humanitarian aid from the Greek KFOR and other donors.[...] Given that their farms are close to Prishtina and the highway, the price of real estate would surely grow. As it seems, house owners are waiting to sell their farms at better price.".

I guess that even the villagers in this village (Srpski Babus) themselves don't know what they will do. Given a widespread trespassing problem in this village few villagers will be able to live of their lands. So they will have little choice but to look elsewhere. And as they don't know what will happen in the future (even a Serb exodus from Kosovo is still possible) they will hedge their bets.

It is good that the Helsinki Committee pays attention to the Serb enclaves in Kosovo. But they could have written a better report if they had left their ideological luggage at home.

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