When realism means accepting ethnic splits

July 23, 1999

In that elusive ideal world, a multicultural, bilingual University of Pristina would be a highly desirable engine for rebuilding Kosovo's shattered society.

But inflexible pursuit of this aim by the United Nations and other agencies may thwart the ambitions of Kosovar Albanian academics and their students, who are anxious to get back to their studies. It is illusory to plan for a university for Serbs and Albanians to study in harmony when there is no evidence of any Serbian students in Pristina and no certainty that those who may remain would welcome contact with people whose sympathies are with the Kosovo Liberation Army.

UN even-handedness in negotiations with both Albanian and Serbian interests allows it to resist Belgrade's demands for separate universities split along ethnic lines. Realism calls for acceptance of the inevitable and support for the embryonic Albanian university through the European academic community, to steer it on to a path of challenging intellectual activity.

Years of repression taught Kosovo's Albanian academics a lot about operating underground. It would be ironic if pursuit of even-handedness forced them to continue the habit now.

If teaching does not resume in the autumn, would-be students will slip away and the presence of large numbers of frustrated young people will add to the catalogue of social problems with which the administration will have to deal.

But Serbia's young people deserve similar consideration. Isolation of the regime should not mean isolation of universities. Their academics paid the price last year for nurturing the 1996 pro-democracy student demonstrations while the rest of the world stood by. Those democratic forces in the universities of the Federal Republic also merit support.

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