A Serbian shadow over the spectacular registration of Kosovars

It seems that Bocinja must fall


TUE, 01 Aug 2000

Pristina, July 29, 2000 - In over two months, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe managed to register over one million inhabitants in Kosovo itself, as well as more than 180 thousand outside it. In view of the modest results this process had yielded in the beginning, these are considered as extremely successful. Observers say that an intensive OSCE-led marketing campaign preceded this success, in which the most popular singers and artists of the Kosovo society were hired to invite the population to respond to the registration call. Promises of international officials that after the census the citizens would be able to get from OUN Mission identity cards and travel documents, greatly contributed to this, but that process has not yet started for, as they say, technical reasons.

Be that as it may, Chief of the OSCE Mission, Ambassador Don Everts stated that, in view of the circumstances under which this process was conducted, the results could be considered spectacular. But, a shadow of the Kosovo Serbs is hanging over this result. According to reports, less than one thousand of them have registered in various parts of Kosovo. The international officials claimed that they have done everything that was in their power to persuade Serbian leaders to advise their followers to take part in the registration and turn out for the elections, but in vain.

"Some leaders showed courage and did everything they could to get the people to turn out for registration, but were silenced by "someone" within 24 hours. At all registration points there were many extremists who abused everyone who wanted to register, who showed up in large numbers", said Dan Everts, Chief of the OSCE Mission who, from the beginning of this process, had a number of contacts and public discussions with representatives of the Serbian community. The greatest number of these meetings was held in Leposavici, where the local leader, as well as the majority of Serbian population agreed to register. However, they had to leave the registration point as soon as they learned that the Serbs from the northern part of Mitrovica, with their leader Oliver Ivanovic, were getting ready to start a "march" on Leposavici in order to prevent the registration of Serbs. International officials said that they were able to prevent any harassment at registration points which they did in some dozen situations, but that this phenomena had much deeper roots that it appeared at first sight.

It seems that this was not so much the case of physical harassment as much as various threats that the international forces did not manage to "get through". These threats were even addressed to Serbs engaged for registering members of the Serbian community. Rumour has it that these threats were meant to frighten those who register that they would lose their pensions or salaries, that they would be prevented from going to Serbia and arrested the moment they cross the Serbian border, etc. Dan Everts said that to attempt registration in the North of Kosovo was extremely dangerous because everyone who did it was considered to be an opponent of the official Belgrade policy.

"We think that some leaders do not have the best interests of their community at heart, but are following the official Belgrade's policy which we blame for the Kosovo Serbs' boycott of the registration", said Everts. He also said that such attitude made it impossible for OSCE to carry out the registration of Serbs who were currently in Serbia in order to make it possible for them to, inter alia, prove their ownership over things that they have left behind.

They will have the last chance to do that during the period for the submission of application "which would have to be confirmed and improved", but it is very unlikely that they will take advantage of this opportunity. The chances for that are even slimmer in view of the fact that the international officials have decided to extend the deadline for the registration of the Serbian community by three days. They explained this decision by promising signals they had received from the Serbs. On the other hand, Serb protests against registration have continued even ten days later when the process was officially closed. Nevertheless, the international representatives said that they would not give up and would continue to exert efforts with a view to "including the Serbian community in administrative structures". They have promised to analyse the situation in each commune separately, to continue consultations with the Serbian and examine possibilities for their political representation in communes, irrespective of the fact that they have not been registered and would, therefore, be unable to vote.

Another minority community, the Turkish one, also gave the international officials a headache. A large part of this community made its turnout at the registration conditional on the recognition of the Turkish language as the official language. In other words, the Turks demand the rights they once enjoyed under the 1974 Constitution of former Yugoslavia. That Constitution envisaged that the Turkish language would be recognised wherever the Turks lived, meaning that, for example, if five persons of Turkish nationality were living in Malisevo, the Turkish language would automatically become official (Serbian language is not disputed by international representatives even in communities in which there are no Serbs).

However, OSCE and OUN Mission find this demand excessive. Their representatives said that they held consultations in the Council of Europe, which specifies the international standards, and that according to it, the language of a minority can be recognised as official only if that minority represents a substantial part of the society within a specified community. The Turks did not accept this. They want what they had in 1974.

Chief of UN Mission, Bernard Kouchner, went even further, advocating recognition of the Turkish language as official in those communes in which there was a Turkish representative on the communal council. And this is the problem on which the Turks disagree. The official Ankara also exerted influence in this respect, categorically rejecting the proposal of the international administrator for Kosovo. After that, Kouchner asked to meet with the Turkish Foreign Minister Ismali Dzema, in order to clarify this problem. This meeting is pending, as well as the results of the announced talks.

However, until now there have been no detailed information on the number of registered Turks. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in cooperation with other international and local population experts, presented the assumption that there are 1.9 million inhabitants in Kosovo, out of which some 1.6 million are over 16 years of age. It is also assumed that there are between 15 and 20 thousand Turks living in Kosovo, and some 100 thousand remaining Serbs. It is estimated that over 90 percent of the Albanians have registered and that that number would vote at the coming local elections. Dan Everts also pointed out that a verification of the registered population would be carried out, i.e. that some 80 thousand inhabitants without necessary documents (because of the well known events of last year) should be first checked, as well as all other registered citizens in order to verify that no one had registered twice.

Since those over 16 years were registered in the first round, it will be necessary to separate citizens from 16 to 18 years of age, i.e. minors who will not have the right of vote at the coming elections. Others, who have not registered within this deadline, will have the chance to do so, but without voting right. In other words, the registration process goes on.

Original article