Pristina struggles to get back on its feet

October 20, 2000

The man charged with revitalising the University of Pristina, the earliest victim of Slobodan Milosevic's nationalist ambition, this week continued his campaign to put it back on the map.

Michael Daxner, joint head of the education department of the United Nations interim administration in Kosovo and international administrator of the university, was in Cracow as an observer at the Council of Europe education ministers' conference.

Events in Belgrade may distract the international community from reconstruction in Kosovo, but Mr Daxner believes that Council of Europe involvement in rebuilding the university after its ten-year division by language and ethnicity will be a lasting commitment.

Steps are being taken to hire new faculty for the first time in a decade and with council involvement, a new legal framework is at last being implemented.

Rewriting the statutes of the university is a milestone in a process fraught with complications, not least the UN's determination to create a multi-ethnic, bilingual university when all but the most determined Serb residents of Kosovo have retreated over the border.

"Hopefully, next week an interim statute will come into effect. The wording is inclusive. Kosovo is multi-ethnic. We have the Albanian majority and two significant minorities, one the Serbian population, that should have protection," Mr Daxner said.

"The Serbs must keep themselves ready to return to a joint university, but at the moment the Albanians would not accept it.

"The message to those Serbs from Kosovo studying in Serbia or unofficially in Kosovo is that if they want to return, they will represent a minority language - there will be no bilingual system."

Not all Council of Europe involvement in Pristina has been successful. It supported a European Student Information Bureau project to establish a transparent method for elections to the university's student union. The elections, scheduled for last autumn, were delayed until May and conducted in a way that the council concedes "did not meet the requirements of a democratic election".

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