The Macedonian Tendency: BIRN on Bosniaks in Kosovo

Sunday, October 14, 2007

BIRN on Bosniaks in Kosovo

Bosniaks face Marginalisation in Kosovo

21 08 2007 Insufficient provision of education in Bosniak is helping erode the identity of this neglected minority in Kosovo.

By BIRN team in Prizren

It is 2.15 am and Elvir Mislimi is collecting 60 euro cents from the 10-year-old who wants to spend two hours with a computer in the Kosovo mountain village of Donje Ljubinje, along the Macedonian border.

Mislimi works from time to time at this internet cafĂ© for about a hundred euros a month, but only to fill in for the owner when he is away travelling. He cannot find a better job despite being a graduate of the Belgrade Higher Business School’s customs and taxation department. Unemployment is high in Kosovo and between 40 and 70 per cent of the population has no job.

But besides struggling in the face of high unemployment that plagues the whole of the population of Kosovo, Mislimi has an added disadvantage; he speaks no Albanian. Kosovo’s population is 90 per cent Albanian but the area Mislimi comes from is 95 per cent Bosniak. And the new owners of privatised companies, who are predominantly Albanian, employ their friends or relatives when they have openings.

“I’ve been looking for a job everywhere, but in vain,” he said. “I’ll wait a bit more but if something doesn’t come up soon, I’ll leave Kosovo. There’s nothing else I can do.”

Many Bosniaks in Kosovo think along the same lines. As Kosovo’s Albanian majority grows increasingly confident that the disputed territory will soon be an independent state, its largest minorities wonder what their future will be.

The last census in 1991 counted about 100,000 Bosniaks in Kosovo, about 68,000 of whom were concentrated in the municipalities of Prizren and Dragas.

Bosniaks also lived in the municipalities of Pec, Istok, Mitrovica and Leposavic. Several thousand Bosniaks lived in the Kosovo capital, Pristina, too, before the 1999 war that pitted Kosovo Albanians against Serbs. Only a few hundred Bosniaks remain in the capital today.

Until the adoption of a new Yugoslav constitution in 1974 laid down new precise definitions for the various ethnic groups in former Yugoslavia they declared themselves Muslims rather than Bosniaks.
Even today, many are referred to in their army service cards as Turks or Albanians. And many dispute their Bosniak identity, preferring to call themselves Muslims, Nasinci, Torbesi or Gorani.

But since the United Nations established its administration of Kosovo in June 1999, the Muslims have increasingly declared themselves Bosniaks and called their language Bosnian, just like their kinsmen in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Behxhet Shala, executive director of the Pristina based Council for Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms, CDHRF, believes that the marginalisation of the Bosniak community is the result of negligence rather than a deliberate policy, and also a consequence of the international concentration on the fate of the Serbs.

“The UN proposal for Kosovo’s final status resolution, drafted by Martti Ahtisaari, also regulates minority rights,” he said. “However, this proposal grants extra privileges to the Serb minority leaving the other ethnic groups marginalised.”

Shala added: “The Albanian majority in Kosovo have no real power in Kosovo and are unable to establish mechanisms that would protect the human rights in general. Minority issues are an exclusive competence of the international community and the impact of the Albanians there is minimal.”

Meanwhile, language has increasingly became a source of conflict in Kosovo since 1999.

Due to its similarity with Serbian, Kosovo Albanians can easily recognise Bosnian speakers. This was why Zulfikar Beljulji, an electrical engineer originally from the village of Orcuse, in Dragas, was assaulted three years ago in the central Kosovo town where he was living, when he asked for a loaf of bread in Bosnian.

Other Bosniaks have fared worse in recent years and have even been murdered, in what many perceive as racially or linguistically motivated crimes.

The bodies of two Bosniak murder victims, Sefer Bajrami from Musnikovo and Fadilj Azari from Planjani, were identified last year and this year respectively. Their killers have not been identified in either case.
Nor has there been an arrest over the murders of four members of the Skenderi family in Prizren. The family were killed in their home in the Prizren neighbourhood of Tusus in early 2000.

Altogether, 97 Bosniaks were either killed or went missing since the Kosovo war of 1999, the Bosniak magazine Alem has reported. The majority were originally from the Peja/Pec region.

Dr Numan Balic, from Dragas, near Prizren, a deputy in Kosovo’s parliament and a former Kosovo health minister, is not satisfied with the treatment of his fellow Bosniaks.

“We are second- or third-class citizens in Kosovo,” said Balic. “A large number of assassinations and usurpations of about 160 shops and offices were only some of the reasons why more than 60 per cent of Bosniaks, including around 50 university professors, have fled Kosovo since the arrival of the UN administration.”

Sadik Idrizi thinks otherwise. Kosovo’s current health minister is also a representative of the Vakat Bosniak coalition, one of six Bosniak political groups in Kosovo.

“Bosniaks are represented in almost all Kosovo institutions,” Idrizi said. “I am a member of the government and I took part in the [final status] negotiations in Vienna. We have four more MPs as well as deputies in local municipal councils and vice-presidents of local councils in Dragas, Pec and Istok. This is not enough, but it is not that bad to begin with.”

The language barrier leads an increasing number of parents who plan to stay in Kosovo into sending their children to Albanian- and Turkish-language schools.

The Turkish government offers Bosniaks, along with about a hundred Kosovo Turks and Albanians, free university studies. Since Bosnia and Herzegovina is not doing anything similar for its kinsmen in Kosovo, the various educational programmes on offer abroad are helping to assimilate Bosniaks into other cultures and languages.

Only a few dozen Bosniaks from the Prizren region have graduated from the Bosniak-language universities of Sarajevo and Novi Pazar or from Serbian-speaking Belgrade in recent years. Many more are finishing university studies in the northern, Serbian-controlled part of Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo. No Bosniaks attend university classes in Pristina, where higher education is exclusively in Albanian.

The majority of the 6,500 Bosniak school-age pupils in Kosovo attend classes in Prizren and Peja/Pec in schools that use Bosnian-language textbooks from Bosnia. But about 2,000 Bosniak students in Prizren are receiving their education in Albanian or Turkish.

A report by the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre, a minority rights watchdog, on the implementation of Kosovo’s education language law, found that “Bosniaks are being educated under pressure in Albanian, a non-native tongue for them, against their parents’ and their own will.” It said this was going on in the villages of Skorobiste, Ljubizda, Musnikovo, Drajcic and Gornje Selo in the Prizren municipality and the village of Donje Retimlje in the Orahovac municipality.

Meanwhile, the Serbs are doing a little bit of assimilation of their own. Bosniaks in some Dragas schools, as well as the northern part of Mitrovica, are attending classes taught in Serbian and using Serbia’s school curriculum.

According to the Dragas deputy mayor, Savedin Djufta: “The Serbian government is paying double salaries to teachers in Gora in an effort to absorb these people ... into the Serb national entity.”

Balkan Insight is BIRN`s online publication.

This article was published with the support of the British embassy in Belgrade and National Endowment for Democracy - NED, as part of BIRN's Minority Media Training and Reporting Project.

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