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(Period covering September 2001 to April 2002)

- Joint OSCE / UNHCR document -


140. In the eighth minorities assessment it was noted that, despite international efforts to foster inter-ethnic dialogue, Kosovar community leaders amongst both the majority and the minority populations had proven to be “less than willing partners,” often practicing an “unacceptable pattern of avoidance.” It is still true that most daily interaction between communities, especially between Kosovo Albanian and Kosovo Serb, continues to be very fragile, often clouded by mistrust or outright hostility. But there have recently been initial, albeit tentative, indications that Kosovo may be heading into a new and more constructive phase of inter-ethnic dialogue. New opportunities exist, although it still remains to be seen whether these opportunities will be seized upon and translated from rhetoric into action.

141. A key obstacle which continues to undermine inter-ethnic dialogue and confidence-building is the tendency within more extreme sectors of the majority community to exercise negative influence over moderate members of their community to discourage or prevent strengthening of ties with the minority. This tendency sometimes approximates a form of internal intimidation. Those who may wish to increase interaction with minorities in areas of common interest (such as economic or trade initiatives, integrated education, or simply renewal of old friendships) often may perceive that they place themselves at risk, even at physical risk, from within their own community. This form of internal sanction exists within the majority Albanian population and is also particularly strong within Kosovo Serb areas where they constitute a majority, particularly north Mitrovica/Mitrovicë. Intra-community intimidation against those who express willingness to consider minority problems, or who express openness to minority return, may often be most prevalent in locations where certain sectors of the majority population have a strong personal interest in maintaining the status quo (for example, if their illegal occupation of minority property would be jeopardised by minority return).

142. In regions that enjoy less fragile relations between the majority and minority, this often reflects a continuation of good relations that existed prior to the conflict. In some areas, notably Prizren, there is a long tradition of mutual acceptance among different communities (and higher levels of pre-conflict integration), and Serbian, Bosniak and Turkish language are spoken without significant problems in some areas. Relations between communities are also highly dependent upon communities’ experiences during the conflict period. As could be expected, majority communities less directly affected by atrocities exhibit much greater openness to dialogue on sensitive issues, such as return. Inter-ethnic relations between neighbouring communities are not at all uniform, and can range from the fairly benign to extremely volatile, even within the same region or area.

143. International efforts to promote dialogue have not been limited to promoting co-operation within municipal and civil structures (Municipal Assemblies and other structures) or in the public services arena (mixed schools initiatives). International initiatives have increasingly been geared towards fostering inter-community interaction through more informal means that capitalise on mutual interests that supersede ethnicity or language. Inter-ethnic activities in the area of culture and sports have proven to be more successful because they facilitate freedom of movement and may allow minorities to use their own language in a publicly acceptable context. In such an environment, common interest may have a chance to prevail over conflict of interest. In October 2001, in Ferizaj/Uroševac for instance, a “Carnival of Communities” was organised by UNMIK, KFOR and the Municipal Assembly, involving approximately 4,000 people from different ethnic communities. Two mixed Ashkaelia, Roma and Albanian concerts were subsequently successfully performed involving 2,000 persons. During the drafting of this report, in April 2002, a local NGO with support of international agencies organised a concert for Albanian and Serbian youth in Gjilan/Gnjilane town.

144. Another example of innovation is a video project undertaken by an international NGO [1] , which has sought to reduce barriers between majority Albanian communities and their Serb neighbours who are still displaced outside of Kosovo. Testimonies and verbal messages of members of the two communities were filmed and then exchanged. The objective of such exchanges is not only to reduce mistrust towards the other group, but also to initiate a dialogue on the realities of the atrocities committed during 1999. Such initiatives are needed to help all communities to slowly begin to take initial steps to reconcile themselves with and to overcome the past, to express their personal feelings towards each other in a safe environment, and to begin to better comprehend the humanitarian impact that the conflict had on all civilian populations of all ethnicities. Initiatives to foster the first steps towards reconciliation and a common historical truth have largely been absent.

145. Bringing together majority and minority communities around common economic interests is one of the most effective ways to strengthen confidence between communities and enhance recognition of common problems and mutual interests. Unfortunately, this strategy has been under-utilised by the international community. Most economic and community development projects have not sufficiently incorporated inter-ethnic objectives, and very few donors have adopted the use of conditionalities (e.g. channelling funding towards municipalities who adopt constructive policies towards minorities, prioritising funding of projects which benefit both majority and minority communities and which foster interaction, or conditioning funding upon inclusion of a certain percentage of minority beneficiaries or minority project staff).

146. International efforts to foster dialogue are very important, but the central catalytic actors in the process should be the provisional governmental institutions and local civil society, due to their unique potential to transform the inter-ethnic environment and reduce social barriers. Individual leaders and organisations have been taking increasing bold steps to speak out in favour of tolerance. The role of Kosovar leaders is of tremendous importance, because these leaders are in the best position to transmit credible messages that are understood by the public. Positive statements made by leaders, followed by concrete actions, can have a powerful impact on marginalising negative messages from more extreme sectors of society.

147. Until very recently, many initiatives at the municipal level to foster dialogue and strengthen co-operation on some of the more sensitive minority issues failed to materialise due to the fact that municipal leaders insisted to take their cues from central level rather than risk undertaking “pioneering” efforts. This was particularly true with regard to the issue of minority return, where the pattern of avoidance was highly evidenced. In 2001, prior to the elections, no local officials wanted to be perceived as the first to engage in discussions on or endorse return, and most municipal officials preferred to abstain from participating in discussions, citing the need for decisions to be taken in Prishtinë/Priština. Yet prior to the November 2001 elections, the central level was largely silent on minority issues and return, which constituted an obstacle to progress on the local level.

148. Since the formation of the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG), there has been an increasing proliferation of public statements transmitted via media sources from the central level expressing the need to address minority concerns. The coalition agreement signed to form the PISG constituted a first public announcement regarding the responsibility of the government to address minority concerns. [2] The Prime Minister has made numerous public and private statements indicating his commitment to the integration and return of minorities. [3] In addition, prominent Kosovo Albanian and Kosovo Serb political or social figures have been seen on Kosovar television debating majority-minority issues and discussing the atrocities committed within the context of the conflict which constitute the chief barrier to relations. A weekly television programme is also being aired on RTK, consisting of roundtable discussions hosted by a prominent Kosovo Albanian human rights activist with different minority community representatives (Bosniaks, Turks, Ashkaelia, etc.). Several conferences addressing minority integration have been held with the participation of prominent Kosovar leaders of all ethnicities, and given wide publicity in print and television media. Such highly visible exchanges were largely if not entirely absent during previous periods. While it is not entirely clear how these exchanges will be translated into positive action to produce change, it is clear that there is a new dynamic that did not exist before.

149. The Kosovar civil society sector should not be overlooked as key protagonists in the promotion of tolerance and reconciliation. Unfortunately, most Kosovar NGOs and civil society organisations have not yet chosen to tackle difficult inter-ethnic problems, but there are important exceptions, which should serve as models. Perhaps one of the most important initiatives for inter-ethnic co-operation and dialogue initiatives has been the formation and consolidation of the Committee for Understanding, Tolerance and Co-existence, a multi-ethnic committee created on 2 May 2001 as a result of an initiative of the Council for Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms, a Kosovo Albanian human rights organisation. The Committee, which has a multi-ethnic membership, undertakes initiatives to promote inter-ethnic dialogue Kosovo-wide, with the aim of building confidence and helping to create conditions for return of displaced persons regardless of their ethnicity. Visits were made to different communities throughout Kosovo, primarily RAE, Serb and Bosniak, to meet with minority community leaders and villagers. For example, the Committee established contact with the Serb community of Obiliq/Obilic, building a co-operative relationship with two local Serb NGOs, and in the same municipality CDHRF supported the establishment of a local Serbian-language radio station in Crkvena Vodica/Cërkvena Vodic. The Committee was particularly active in its outreach to RAE communities, making frequent community visits (in particular, Vushtrri/Vucitrn, Lipjan/Lipljan, Fushë Kosovë/Kosovo Polje, Gjilan/Gnjilane and Ferizaj/Uroševac), participating in events organised by RAE communities, as well as undertaking mediation and advocacy activities in majority communities emphasising tolerance, integration and the right to return. The Committee has mobilised the information it has collected on the situation in minority communities by calling attention of the Albanian-majority authorities to problems, and lobbying for solutions. In the case of Vushtrri/Vucitrn, for example, such advocacy resulted in the passage of a resolution by the Municipal Assembly endorsing the return of displaced Ashkaelia to the municipality.

150. Another example of ground-breaking inter-ethnic co-operation was seen in early March, when six Kosovar humanitarian civil society organisations representing various ethnic groups, principally Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs, signed a Framework Agreement to form an inter-ethnic NGO consortium. [4] The consortium plans to co-operate in joint humanitarian activities, projects in the health and agricultural sectors, inter-ethnic youth activities, and social welfare services to vulnerable groups. Such civil society initiatives, while still uncommon in Kosovo, are a very strong indicator that some sectors of society are increasingly willing to publicly co-operate on an inter-ethnic basis for the benefit of all Kosovo communities.

151. Inter-ethnic co-operation between women in Kosovo is demonstrated by the growth and consolidation during the period of six Local Women’s Councils (LWC) which were created in 2001 in all of Kosovo’s regions, composed of women of all ethnicities. [5] In 2001, each council was responsible for ensuring that 20% of the seats in each council was filled by minority women, and in fact, by early 2002, five of the six councils, when autonomously determining their composition, exceeded this percentage. [6] In Mitrovicë/Mitrovica, the boards of the respective women’s councils of the north (Serb) and south (Albanian) recently took a step forward and met jointly in the UNMIK confidence zone, and began to discuss the difficult challenge of becoming a joint entity. Other boards are already functioning inter-ethnically. Many of the projects funded are projects developed by one ethnic group, but increasingly, projects have been funded which include women of more than one ethnicity and with an inter-ethnic co-operation component. The advances made by women in the LWCs point to a slow but steady change in the social climate, which increasingly allows for open-minded members of the majority and the minority communities to reach out to each other and begin to co-operate in areas of common interest.

The growth of initiatives during the period point to the fact that tolerance amongst individual members of the majority community may be higher than that which the population feels safe and confident to publicly express. Communities and individuals need to be empowered to express tolerance, free from fear. The positive achievements of a small number of civil society groups with limited resources can only be multiplied if their message is transmitted on a larger scale through the media. Dialogue and confidence-building initiatives must be given strong support and encouragement, not only by the international community but, more importantly, by the Kosovar Provisional Institutions of Self-Government, the media, and leaders of all ethnic groups.


[1] Bergamo per il Kosovo

[2] “The Government will adopt policies that favour the integration of all the communities, in particular with respect to employment in the public sector, education, health, culture and language rights. The Government shall also give full attention to the promotion of a stable and secure society with full freedom of movement for all communities. The right of refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes and the re-instalment of property to its legal owners will be upheld.” Agreement on the President and Government of Kosovo, 28 February 2002, section II, paragraph (8).

[3] See return chapter for a more expanded discussion.

[4] The consortium is made up of Mother Teresa Society, Dora e Ndihmes, the Prizren branch of the Red Cross of Kosova, Kosovo and Metohija Red Cross, Simonida and Sveti Nikola. The initiative was supported by WFP and CARE.

[5] The women’s councils were created by the Kosovo Women’s Initiative (KWI), a UNHCR project funded by the U.S. Government. Kosovo Albanians, Serbs, Roma, Ashkaelia, Egyptians, Bosniaks and Turks participate in LWCs. The LWCs perform the function of an umbrella agency, managing and approving funding of projects designed and implemented by Kosovar women in micro-credit, women’s rights, women’s/children’s education, psychosocial support, reconciliation, and women’s participation.

[6] In Gnjilane, for example, 40% of the council members are from minority communities, while in Prishtinë/Priština, the women’s councils have achieved 27% minority representation.


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