Ethnic split set to continue with new Serb rector

June 30, 2006

The Serbian-taught University of Kosovska Mitrovica has a new rector - Zdravko Vitosevic, former dean of the faculty of medicine at the Kosovo institution.

His appointment coincided with an appeal by Marti Ahtisaari, United Nations envoy to the Kosovo final status talks, for Serbs to participate in Kosovo institutions. On a visit to Mitrovica, which has a mixed Serb-Albanian population, he stressed that such involvement was key to creating a multiethnic society.

But this is unlikely to happen in the university sector. Kosovska Mitrovica, though still formally part of the University of Kosovo, is staffed by Serbs. They relocated from the main campus of Pristina University when Albanian-taught courses were reintroduced under the UN mandate in 1999.

Pristina, where elections for rector are scheduled for July, also seems set to continue along ethnically divided lines.

The university has finally elected a senate, a move observers hope may ultimately help diffuse ethnic tensions in the country's higher education system. This was followed by the elections of deans, who in turn will appoint a rector.

The previous rector was removed by the Prime Minister for belonging to an opposition political party.

The elections were welcomed by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which said the voting had been "free and fair".

However, the elections have caused unease between Kosovo's governing international bodies. The UN Interim Administration mission in Kosovo wanted Pristina, which employs 900 academics and teaches 30,000 students, to accept both ethnic Albanians and Serbs, but the OSCE openly admitted that this was unlikely to happen in the near future.

"In a perfect world, we would like to have a high-quality university that offers good education to anyone, irrespective of ethnicity or language,"

said Sven Lindholm, OSCE spokesman.

"With these elections, the aim is to depoliticise the university, set up a professional administration and offer students a quality education. Then we hope it would follow that any ethnic group would study there."

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