Lecturers beaten at Kosovo demo

March 13, 1998

THIS WEEK's violence in Kosovo has dashed hopes of a solution to the Albanian language row that has split university education in the province and threatened reconciliation between opposing student bodies.

Students from the majority Albanian population were this week considering putting on hold their campaign to "reclaim" campuses and classrooms from which they have been excluded for the past seven years since the Serbianisation of universities and schools.

Peaceful demonstrations are too risky. Two professors from the alternative Albanian-taught university of Kosovo, Ali Zatriqi (faculty of medicine) and Fatmir Sejdiu (faculty of law), were among 150 or so victims of the unrest.

They were beaten up during the police crackdown on demonstrators in Pristina. Professor Sejdiu, who is the secretary general of the Democratic League of Kosovo, fractured an arm. One as yet unnamed Albanian student is reported to have been killed.

The Human Rights Council of Kosovo quoted eyewitness reports that a Serbian policeman had put his pistol into the student's mouth and shot him.

Another victim of the unrest has been the sympathy recently expressed for the ethnic Albanian students by the new Serbian students union in Kosovo. Kosovar Albanian sources claim that during demonstrations in Pristina, Serbian students threw stones and glass at the demonstrators from the faculty of philosophy building and a student hostel, and shouted insults, while others came out of a student canteen and started attacking the demonstrators.

The Serbs say that the demonstrators threw stones at the hostel, smashing the windows, infuriating the Serb students so that they embarked on their own "peaceful" counter-demonstration. Whatever the facts of the incident, and even if the Serb students involved were not those who had signed the declaration of the new students union, the incident is a severe blow to what had seemed a new hope of inter-ethnic understanding, at least at the student level.

The fact that such clashes took place around university premises is hardly coincidental. Although the immediate cause of the Pristina demonstrations had been the police action in Drenica the previous weekend in which 23 ethnic Albanians were killed, the Serbian takeover of Kosovo educational facilities remains one of the major grievances of the Kosovar Albanian community.

The St Egidio agreement of August 1996, which envisaged a phased return of ethnic Albanian students to schools and universities taken over by the Serbs, has proved useless, and the only perceptible result of the various student protests and marches of the past six months has been the forceful action against the demonstrators by Serbian police.

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