A PROFESSOR of the Albanophone University of Pristina is facing charges of forgery for signing the degree diploma conferred on an ethnic Albanian from Montenegro.
The Montenegrin authorities do not recognise the competence of the university, and so deem the diploma, issued to Xhevdet Ulaja by Musli Bajraktari, to be false.
Earlier this year, Ulaja was jailed for 90 days in Montenegro for having submitted the "false and illegal" document with a job application.
Another Pristina graduate received a similar sentence, and a third is awaiting trial on the same charge.
The charges mark an escalation in a dispute which dates back to 1991. Then the ethnic-Albanian academic staff of the University of Pristina refused to accept ethnic quotas on new admissions when the university fell under Serbian control.
However, the Albanophone university went underground, using makeshift premises, providing Albanian-taught courses not only for Albanians from Kosovo, but also for the Albanian minority in Montenegro.
Although this "alternative" university has suffered some harassment from the Serbian authorities, the latter have until now just ignored the degrees issued by it.
The idea that the diplomas are "forgeries" seems to have originated in Montenegro, the junior partner in the new, two-member Yugoslav Federation.
Professor Bajraktari's case, however, is being dealt with in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, under Serbian rather than Montenegrin jurisdiction. The Serbs are struggling to build the case: a first hearing last month ended inconclusively.
Ejup Statovci, rector of the Albanophone university, said: "It is not just a trial over the diplomas, but over our whole life in Kosovo."
As for the validity of the diplomas, Dr Statovci stressed that, whatever the Montenegrins think, leading European universities have accepted them. He said: "We have sent on dozens of postgraduate students to universities in Europe, to Vienna and Graz and Jena - and even Manchester. And they all recognise our documents."