Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Aug 4 14:23:17 UTC 2004

>>From the Chronicle of Higher Education issue dated May 21, 2004

In the Former Yugoslavia, Albanians Get Their Own Universities
Quality, not language, is now the issue


As Yugoslavia disintegrated in the 1990s, disputes over the language of
higher education for the Albanian minority became a major source of

The issue was part of the conflict in Kosovo, the Albanian-populated
province of Serbia, the dominant republic in the former Yugoslavia.
Following a guerrilla war and mounting Serbian brutality, NATO carried out
a bombing campaign in 1999 that forced Serbia to give up control of the

In Macedonia, another one of Yugoslavia's six republics, ethnic Albanians
took up arms against the ethnic Macedonian-dominated government in 2001 in
support of their demands for more local rights, including higher education
in their language. It was only because of intense diplomatic intervention
that civil war was averted.

The language in which to study Shakespeare, history, or engineering would
seem an unlikely cause of conflict. But the issue has been a pawn in the
ethnic politics that have led to so much bloodshed in the Balkans during
the last decade. Slobodan Milosevic catapulted himself from an unknown
Communist Party official to the most powerful figure in the former
Yugoslavia by transforming himself into a Serb nationalist. One of his
first acts, in 1989, was to revoke the autonomy of Kosovo. Then he ended
Albanian-language secondary and higher education there.

After considerable sacrifice and bloodshed, and following international
intervention -- military intervention in Kosovo, diplomatic in Macedonia
-- ethnic Albanians now have higher education in their mother tongue. But
their institutions face daunting new challenges, observers say: After
years of deprivation and isolation, the quality of their education is
often poor and must be improved.

Developments this year demonstrated how volatile the issue remains. In
January, Macedonia's legislature adopted a plan to establish the country's
first publicly financed Albanian-language university. The issue remains
controversial however; before the vote, several thousand ethnic
Macedonians demonstrated against the measure.

The two existing state universities, which teach almost entirely in
Macedonian, opposed the idea, arguing there is neither financing nor
justification for the new university. "We live in a country where
Macedonian is the official language," says Violeta Panovska, rector of St.
Kliment Ohridski University of Bitola, the smaller of the two state
institutions. It will be better, she says, if young Albanians who see
their future in Macedonia study at the existing institutions and "improve
their Macedonian language."

Descent to War

While Macedonia has mostly avoided violence over its ethnic disputes,
neighboring Kosovo has not. After Mr. Milosevic revoked Kosovo's autonomy
and tried to impose the Serbian curriculum on students there, the
Albanians, who compose the majority of the region's population of two
million people, responded by creating a vast parallel network of
self-government, health care, and education. In 1991 almost all of the
Albanian faculty members at the University of Pristina, Kosovo's sole
university, were fired. They then created an underground university that
operated out of private houses and storefronts. This campaign of
nonviolent resistance was led by the pacifist Ibrahim Rugova, a writer and
professor of Albanian, who is now Kosovo's elected president.

In 1996 ethnic Albanians, frustrated by the lack of results from their
nonviolent campaign, formed the Kosovo Liberation Army and began attacking
Serbian security forces in Kosovo. The group's youthful leader, Hashim
Thaci, was the underground university's vice rector for student affairs.

When NATO bombing forced the Yugoslav army out of Kosovo in 1999, the
ethnic Albanian majority took back the University of Pristina. The ethnic
Albanians now dominate Kosovo's government, but the territory is under the
administration of the United Nations, and its final status has yet to be

This past March, reports in the local press of the drowning of three
ethnic Albanian boys, allegedly after ethnic Serbs chased them into a
river, set off two days of attacks on the Serbian minority living in
Kosovo, which left 19 dead and 954 injured.

The effects of the violence were felt at the University of Mitrovica,
established in the Serbian half of the divided city of Mitrovica, 30 miles
from Pristina, after ethnic Serbs were forced to flee the capital in 1999.
The institution opened its dormitories and other buildings to shelter some
3,000 Serbs who fled attacks in other parts of Kosovo. Dozens of the
university's students were injured in fighting on the bridge separating
the Serbian and Albanian sides of the city.

Belgrade responded to the attacks by replacing the rector of the
University of Mitrovica with a hard-line Serbian nationalist, Radivoje
Papovic. Mr. Papovic, a former senior official of Slobodan Milosevic's
Socialist Party of Serbia and rector of the University of Pristina when
the Albanian faculty members there were dismissed en masse in 1991, was
named to the post in April by the education minister of Serbia. The United
Nations says the move was illegal since Mitrovica is part of Kosovo and
should come under the control of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian-dominated

Even before the latest violence, the United Nations repeatedly criticized
Kosovo's authorities for their reluctance to cooperate with the Serbian
administration at the University of Mitrovica, which the government
considers to be an illegal institution.

Last summer there was an outcry from international representatives in
Kosovo when the University of Pristina refused to accept the applications
of two students from the University of Mitrovica who wanted to attend
Pristina Summer University, an international summer school at Pristina,
this year. International officials praise the summer university for doing
a good job teaching young ethnic Albanians and Serbs the value of peaceful
cooperation. The summer program, which attracted 742 students last year,
has enrolled Serbs from Serbia proper, and the officials say it must also
accept Serbs from Kosovo.

Pristina's administration finally relented and had a letter inviting
applications hand delivered to Mitrovica's administration by Yannick du
Pont, director of the Academic Training Association, a nonprofit group
based at the University of Amsterdam that runs the summer university. Five
year's after NATO's intervention, there is still no mail service between
the rest of Kosovo and the Serbian enclave in Mitrovica.

An Illegal University

Events in Kosovo have had profound repercussions on Macedonia. For years
the ethnic Albanians' complaints of underrepresentation in Macedonia's
police force, courts, and civil service were met with the response that
there were not enough qualified Albanians. But the Albanians countered
that a lack of higher education in their mother tongue was to blame.

Although ethnic Albanians make up almost a third of Macedonia's
population, as late as the 2001-2 academic year they accounted for only
4.9 percent of students at the two public universities, according to
official figures. Many observers feel part of the reason is the difficulty
that young Albanians have in pursuing university studies in Macedonian,
especially since their public-school education is mainly in Albanian.

"It was always a language issue," says Alajdin Abazi, a professor of
electromagnetics and rector of South East European University, an
internationally financed, predominantly Albanian-language private
institution in Macedonia that opened in 2001.

Max van der Stoel, a former Dutch foreign minister who served as an
international mediator in the dispute over demands for Albanian-language
higher education, says the ban on even private Albanian-language
universities, only recently revoked, has been a major cause of discontent
among the country's Albanian minority. "For years on end," he says, "it
has been the issue."

Like in Kosovo, Albanians in Macedonia first resisted nonviolently. After
the Albanian half of the University of Pristina in Kosovo went underground
in the early 1990s, a group of ethnic Albanian professors from Macedonia
who were working at Pristina returned to Macedonia to establish a private
institution. At the end of 1994 they opened Tetovo University, in the main
town of the Albanian-populated part of the country, some 25 miles west of
Skopje, the capital.

The authorities reacted angrily, claiming the step was a move by Albanian
nationalists to divide the country. The government declared the venture
illegal and sent the police to close it down.

In the violence that ensued, one person was killed. Tetovo's rector, Fadil
Sulejmani, who had been a professor of Albanian literature at Pristina,
was arrested and accused of the criminal act of "inciting resistance." He
was sentenced to two and a half years in prison but was released after 10
months. The institution continued operating illegally, while the
frustration of the ethnic Albanians grew.

In early 2001, local ethnic Albanian rebels fought skirmishes with
Macedonian security forces, in which dozens of people were killed. Many
feared that after the fighting in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo, it was now
Macedonia's turn to descend into bloody ethnic civil war. But intense
international mediation resulted in a peace agreement in August of that
year and the rapid deployment of 3,000 international peacekeeping troops.
The peace agreement included provisions for the use of Albanian in local
administration and a pledge that the government would finance university
education in Albanian.

Even as the accord was being drawn up, another international initiative
aimed at defusing tensions was being implemented. The previous year, after
intense lobbying by Mr. van der Stoel, the former Dutch foreign minister,
Macedonia changed its constitution to explicitly allow teaching in
languages other than Macedonian at private higher-education institutions.

In the fall of 2001, South East European University was opened with
$40-million from donor countries, in a campus newly built on land donated
by the government just outside Tetovo. Now in its third year, the private
institution has 4,000 students, 80 percent of them ethnic Albanians. In a
development that supporters point to as a positive sign, the number of
ethnic Macedonians at the university has grown each year, and it now
accounts for 15 percent of total enrollment. The institution teaches in
both Albanian and Macedonian, with heavy emphasis on a third language:

A Model University

Supporters say South East European is a uniquely powerful model for the
troubled Balkan region, demonstrating that when they are offered a modern,
internationally oriented education in good facilities, young people will
abandon ethnic prejudices to study together. "What matters more than the
language of education is the quality of education," says Victor Friedman,
a professor and chairman of the department of Slavic languages and
literatures at the University of Chicago, who has written extensively
about language and ethnic conflicts in the Balkans and the Caucasus. "And
the facts have borne that out."

Macedonia's decision in January to open a public Albanian-language
university by next fall was a further step toward reducing tensions
between the country's two main ethnic groups. It appears the new
institution will be created, at least in part, out of the unrecognized
Tetovo University, though diplomats and international groups are insisting
that Mr. Sulejmani, Tetovo's founder, considered by diplomats to be an
extremist Albanian nationalist, be excluded from the new institution. Last
fall Mr. Sulejmani came in for criticism by those groups when Tetovo moved
onto the large grounds of a disused tobacco factory whose ownership is

With Albanian higher education firmly established in Kosovo and Macedonia,
the big challenge now is quality. In both countries state institutions
tend to provide an old-fashioned education based on the memorization of
lectures, and have a reputation for corruption, with enrollment in
prestigious disciplines, like law or medicine, often possible for students
who can pay large bribes.

The quality at Pristina and Tetovo, observers say, is particularly low
after years spent operating illegally. "The Albanians put on a brave
face," says Robert Curis, director of the American University of Kosovo, a
private, English-language institution opened last fall in Pristina in
partnership with the Rochester Institute of Technology, "but I can see the
results. It was really a poor education."

But modernization of Pristina has stalled, observers say, as Kosovo's main
political parties fight for control of the university and its various

"We get help from various European groups," says Abedin Selimi, a
third-year student of political science at Pristina, but infighting has
prevented the university from using the assistance effectively.
"Politics," he says, "comes into play too much."



University of Pristina
Established: 1970
Control: Public
Language of instruction until 1989: Albanian and Serbian. Belgrade
withdrew Kosovo's autonomy in 1989; in 1991 almost all ethnic Albanian
faculty members were fired, and the Albanian-speaking part of the
university continued operating underground. After the 1999 NATO bombing
campaign, ethnic Albanians took back the campus.
Language now: Albanian
Enrollment: 23,000

University of Mitrovica
Established: 2001 in the divided city of Mitrovica by Serbian faculty
members and students forced to flee Pristina. The United Nations is trying
to nudge it from de facto control and financing by Serbia and bring it
under the supervision of the authorities in Kosovo.
Control: Public
Language: Serbian
Enrollment: 10,000

American University of Kosovo
Established: 2003 in Pristina, in cooperation with the Rochester Institute
of Technology.
Control: Private, nonprofit
Language: English
Tuition: $6,000 a year
Enrollment: 68


Saints Cyril and Methodius University
Established: 1949 in Skopje
Control: Public
Language: mostly Macedonian; small teacher- training section in Albanian.
Enrollment: 26,000

St. Kliment Ohridski University of Bitola
Established: 1979
Control: Public
Language: Macedonian
Enrollment: 12,000

Tetovo University
Established: 1994 as the country's only Albanian-language institution. In
January Macedonia's parliament authorized the establishment of a third
public university, to teach primarily in Albanian. It will be created in
part from Tetovo University.
Control: Private, unauthorized
Tuition: Less than $1,000
Enrollment: claims 13,000, though international officials estimate the
real number at only one-tenth as many.

South East European University
Established: 2001 in Tetovo, with financing from donor countries.
Control: Private, nonprofit
Languages: Albanian, Macedonian, English
Tuition: $1,200 a year
Enrollment: 4,000

SOURCE: Chronicle reporting

Section: International
Volume 50, Issue 37, Page A42 Section: International Volume 50, Issue 37, Page A42


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