Albanians fight for campus

October 10, 1997

EJUP Stantovci, rector of the "alternative" Albanophone University of Pristina, and more than 100 students were arrested last week when ethnic Albanian students staged a massive protest against the six-year Serbian "occupation" of the official university campus.

The ethnic Albanian students and faculty members withdrew from the official university in 1991, after the Serbian authorities tried to impose ethnic quotas on admissions.

Last year the lay Catholic St Egidio foundation tried to broker a deal with the Serbs to restore Albanian-taught education at all levels, and to permit the return to kindergartens, schools and university of young Albanians who, for several years, had been educated in makeshift premises.

Although an agreement between Serbs and Kosovar Albanians was signed on the eve of the 1996/97 academic year, there has been no further progress. The students, tired of waiting, now want to carry out a physical occupation of the classrooms.

The protests met with heavy police resistance, both in Pristina itself and in the towns of Mitrovica, Gnjilane, Urosevac, Djakovica, Pec and Prizren, where the university has local campuses.

A number of demonstrators were beaten up by baton-wielding police, including many women medical students, who were attempting to help the injured. Three hundred riot police, supported by armoured vehicles and water cannon, dispersed about 3,000 students.

The Serbian authorities take the stance that the protesting students have been "misguided again". According to one minister, Ratomir Vico, a member of the special commission set up to implement the St Egidio agreement, the Serbs have for the past year been urging that the education situation in Kosovo be "normalised", but that the Kosovar Albanian representatives on the commission will not cooperate.

This was despite the fact that, throughout the year, it was the Serbs who blocked progress by not attending commission meetings.

According to Mr Vico, the Albanian side has insisted that the commission meetings be held in camera. He says this was a "mistake": had the meetings been public, then the students would not have been "misled" into their protest.

The students had the tacit approval of Professor Statovci but not of the political leader of the Kosovar Albanians, Ibrahim Rugova, who up to the last minute kept appealing to the students to defer their protests and give the St Egidio deal one last chance.

His position drew heavy criticism from some of his own supporters. Only at the last moment, when it was clear that the students were determined to proceed, did Dr Rugova give them some lukewarm words of support.

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