Ethnic divide foils UN efforts

February 18, 2000

The University of Pristina's mining and metallurgy faculty in the border city of Mitrovice continues to be divided along ethnic lines despite efforts by the international community to reconstruct a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo.

The student community in the city is as split now as it ever was before the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (Unmik) began its efforts in June 1999.

Kosovar Albanians dominate the south of Mitrovice while only 2,000 of them live in fear in the northern side among Serb neighbours. The faculty buildings are in the north and the Serbian community is adamant in refusing Albanians access to hospitals, education and other facilities.

University students who attend lectures in the south share overcrowded classrooms in one derelict building with children from three elementary schools.

Ali Ahmeti, president of the student union, complains of unfulfilled promises by Unmik to return the Albanian students to their homes in the north and to their faculty.

He said: "Communication between Unmik and us is now 'unofficial' - they do not commit to anything or compromise. The longer they continue to accept the present situation the harder it will be to reverse it."

Naxhije Mripa, a fourth-year technology student who lives in the north side, has to travel escorted by Kfor (Nato) forces from her home to attend lectures.

She said: "My family and I never leave the house. My younger brother has been attacked in front of French soldiers twice while trying to cross the bridge back to the north side on foot, so now he does not attend lectures anymore."

Xhelul Smakiqi, a professor at the mining faculty, said: "UN Resolution 1244 calls for the creation of multi-ethnic institutions across Kosova, but the UN and Kfor staff in Mitrovice have failed to carry out their mandate.

"Unmik promised to return us to the faculty from which we were expelled in 1991 and they have not," he said. "We have no heating, no running water for the toilets ... no books, pens ... we have nothing."

Albanian attempts to meet their Serb counterparts have yet to succeed, and Unmik seems to have given up its mediator role. Daniele Planquette, Unmik's education officer in Mitrovice, said: "This is all about politics, and until the wider political issues and status of minorities are solved, there is little I can do."

She hopes that the offer of material help will eventually entice the Serbs and Albanians into dialogue, but Unmik is waiting for both sides to knock at its door first.

But Ms Mripa warned: "If the Serbs want to live here they have to accept reality ... We are here to stay, and they can't make us disappear as the Serb army tried to do. Sooner or later we will go back to the faculty in the north side, peacefully or not."

Miss Planquette said there had been no promise to return the Kosovar students to their old faculty, but she accepted that offers of dialogue have been ignored by the Serb students, whom she said were "tough, difficult and rude".

She sees the greater openness of the Albanian side as another political manoeuvre to achieve their objectives. "I really see both sides as the same."

The faculty buildings in the north revealed better conditions for the Serb students, although flooding has caused great damage and there was no heating. Igor Zlatkovic, a member of the student union of the "official" mining faculty, complained of the isolation of the Serb students in Mitrovice and Kosovo. "We have no contact with anyone other than local Serbs. Unmik has not helped us, and any organisation that comes to visit us offers us help only if we talk to the Albanians."

He denies knowledge of any offers of entering into dialogue by the Albanian students: "We don't want to meet them or talk to them until it is safe for both communities to live together. If you put us in the same building now there will be a bloodbath."

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments