Renewal hangs on fragile truce

August 6, 1999

PRISTINA

Ethnic hatred simmers beneath efforts to reconstruct the University of Pristina

An independent international rector to lead the University of Pristina into its uncertain future and a starting date for lectures on October 15 were concrete measures to come out of talks in Kosovo at the end of last month.

Bringing together the Association of European Universities (CRE), other international organisations and Albanian academic representatives, the aims were to coordinate the reconstruction process to act in harmony with the international organisations' framework for Kosovo.

Lewis Purser, of the Geneva-based CRE, stressed the need to create an "inclusive institution open to all ethnic groups". But the absence of any Serb representatives rendered this statement wishful.

In reality Serb students and academics are hard to find anywhere in the region - and killings like the ones in Gracko last month as the conference convened, do not help restore the confidence of the Serbian delegation, now safe in Serbia itself and attending meetings in Pristina only when K-For could provide an escort.

The economics and law faculty of the university served as the venue for the discussions, giving university staff their first opportunity to face the people responsible for the funding of the reconstruction of the institution and to present them with some hard facts.

A report submitted by the university's commission for reconstruction estimated the emergency funds required to cover structural and equipment repair to be in excess of almost Pounds 3 million.

As the meetings progressed it became clear that political issues surrounding Pristina's legal status were priority items on the international organisations' list. The proposed transitional agreement for the management of the university proposed by the joint civil commission for education (JCCE) of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo is to be the legal framework for the implementation of any budget.

This document must be signed by both the Serb and Albanian

delegations to the JCCE before any money is released - a deal is unlikely soon, casting a big question mark over the starting date.

The appointment of an "international rector" independent of the two communities to oversee the running of all the faculties and implementation of the reconstruction budget was well received by all parties, although the question of who should head which faculty was more contentious.

A formula has been devised to cover cases where an amicable agreement cannot be reached between a Serb and Albanian

candidate: the faculty head with the largest enrolment in the

previous institution will be appointed as an interim measure.

But the reliability of "official" figures presented by both delegations immediately poses problems and was questioned by David Crosier, representing the Council of Europe.

"In the past the accuracy of the Serbian authorities' reports and figures on Serbian students in the area have been denounced as inflated by the Albanian staff, and the accuracy of the 'parallel' enrolment system of the past eight years is also debatable."

Dietmar Krissler and Roy Dickinson of the European Commission Task Force made clear that no money will be released until the draft agreement on the transitional arrangements for the university proposed by UNMIK is signed by both parties and the legal status of the university is resolved. The task force will then activate a budget of ¤4.4 million (Pounds 2.9 million) "hopefully before the end of the summer".

Pristina's chancellor, Zejnel Kelmendi, expressed commitment to the creation of an "open democratic society" and the intention of the Kosovar academics to cooperate fully with the requirements of the international organisations for the release and implementation of the reconstruction budget.

Many questions remain unanswered. A Serb student now working for an international organisation in the city who wished to remain anonymous, said that she had little hope of ever returning to the University of Pristina:

"After the terrible things that have happened here I can understand why the Albanian students feel anger."

That anger is freely expressed. Besnik Berisha, a 23-year-old English student and student union leader, said: "Years of prosecution and violence can't be forgotten overnight ... only when enrolment begins in September will the figures for missing students emerge, and I think that it will be impossible for us to sit in the same lecture rooms as Serbian students."

The Austrian government has set aside ¤511,254 (Pounds 337,775) for Pristina - half for staff salaries. A financial contribution for 2000 will also be negotiated.

British paras delivered 28 computers donated by the Leeds University computing services department to enable Pristina to begin the enrolment process.

Pristina is to be a test-bed for the 1999 Bologna declaration on degree cycles, credits and mobility, and quality assurance, CRE representatives said.

Pristina has become an honorary member of a consortium of 17 universities from the Catalan-speaking regions of Spain, France and Andorra.

Useful web sites include: World University Service Kosovo project, http://www.wus-austria.org/kosovo/index.htm and the Association of European Universities, http://www.unige.ch/cre/activities/ATF%20general/atf/welcome.html

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