Mission to Pristina

June 18, 1999

The weight of responsibility resting on her shoulders is immense. But at 28, Monica Llamazares is determined and only a little daunted by the task ahead. In less than a fortnight, she will land in Tirana to launch the first stage of an ambitious campaign to reopen the University of Pristina in time for the new academic year.

A student at Leeds University, Ms Llamazares had no connection with the Balkans until late last year, when she began an email correspondence with Pristina vice-rector Minevere Ra****i. Together, the two have worked to locate some of the university's 10,000 students displaced around Albanian refugee camps.

So great and urgent is the task that Ms Llamazares has formed the Kosovo Action Society, which has been raising funds to buy much-needed computers and other equipment for the university.

She said: "It is vital that we get some sort of registry put together. If we do not get the university open again by September, what hope can there be of reconstructing Kosovo? A generation of skilled young people risks being lost at a time when it has never been more urgently needed."

Ms Llamazares was born in Barcelona and is about to enter the third year of a European studies programme. She is the only person to have made contact with Ms Ra****i during what the vice-rector calls her university's "most painful drama of its existence".

Explaining her involvement, Ms Llamazares said: "The reason probably goes back to my Catalan origins." She was born four years before Franco died and was not allowed to speak her mother tongue as a child. Members of her family were imprisoned and murdered by Spain's fascist militia. "It has been important to me to nurture my language and culture. I see so many parallels in Kosovo."

She has been touched by many of the emails she has received from Kosovar students. "There are stories of students studying law and medicine, attending lectures in each other's homes, without books or computers or other necessities, and yet still they manage to build some kind of normality and routine for themselves."

Though ,000 Kosovar students were expelled from Pristina University, along with most of the teaching and administrative staff, in 1991, an alternative education system had grown up in makeshift facilities.

But the war and the forced exodus have left the education system in tatters. Some of the teachers and students have moved temporarily to Tirana University in Albania. But Tirana is also desperately short of resources.

Ms Llamazares stresses that the Kosovo Action Society is a non-political organisation. "We were not involved in politics before the bombing, and we are not involved in politics now. We are not about expulsions or retribution. We are not asking for Serb students to leave the university.

"We aim to help build a temporary education system for the displaced students of Kosovo in Tirana; to provide long-term support for the reconstruction of an integrated and free education system in Kosovo; and to strengthen links between the student unions of Pristina and Leeds."

In Tirana, Ms Llamazares will not only deliver Pounds 8,000 raised by the society, she will start what she calls a survival package. "My mission is to prepare the way for aid to be received by the university."

REBUILDING CAMPAIGN

Rebuilding the University of Pristina is as important an element of safeguarding the future of Kosovo as any of the other superficially more demanding reconstruction projects needed after the upheaval of recent weeks.

The Times Higher Education Supplement is supporting the scheme to assist the university in exile in the refugee camps of Albania and Macedonia and the longer term goal of a return to the Kosovar capital.

Details of thecampaign can be obtained fromMonica Llamazares, president,Kosovo ActionSociety, LeedsUniversity Union,PO Box 157, Leeds LS1 1UH.

Offers of assistance can be emailed to pristina@thes.co.uk

Minevere Ra****i, page 16

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