Kosovo sit-in against Serbian

October 3, 1997

Ethnic Albanian students in the Serbian province of Kosovo have announced a "takeover campaign" to coincide with the opening of the university term this week.

They appealed to diplomats and international organisations to monitor their actions, which may include attempts to "repossess" school and university buildings from which Albanian teachers and students have been excluded for the past seven years.

Kosovo's inhabitants are more than 90 per cent Albanian and, in the "old" Yugoslavia, it had the status of an autonomous province within Serbia. Direct rule from Belgrade imposed in 1989 meant education became increasingly Serbianised. Serbian was introduced as the language of instruction, new, Serbia-oriented syllabuses imposed, and a Serbian Orthodox basilica erected on the campus of the premier higher education institution - the University of Pristina.

Albanophone teachers and their students have been effectively forced out of their classrooms and, in 1991, an attempt to impose ethnic quotas on university admissions led to the walk-out of the entire Albanophone staff from the University of Pristina. Since then, schools and universities have had to hold classes in private homes and other makeshift premises.

Last year an Italian Catholic lay organisation, the St Egidio Foundation, attempted to broker a deal between Serbs and Albanians to allow a phased return, beginning with kindergartens and working upwards.

This initiative, hailed as a major breakthrough, proved still-born when the Serbian side failed to show up for scheduled meetings of the commission appointed to implement it.

In August, the Kosovar Albanian students announced a protest campaign - including parents, school students and teachers - for September 1.

But the Kosovar Albanian leader, Ibrahim Rugova, persuaded them to wait one more month to give the agreement a last chance.

But there has been no progress and, ahead of their takeover plans, the students have been holding silent evening "walks" without banners or slogans through Kosovo.

They maintain the walks are not political demonstrations. Despite this, police arrested more than 100 "walkers".

Dr Rugova repeated his call to end the protests, which he feared could be counter-productive when the international community was exerting pressure on Belgrade to implement the 1996 agreement.

But the rector of the alternative Albanophone university, Ejup Statovci, is less optimistic about international pressure. and the students have decided to go ahead with their protests.

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