CHE6: Kosovo: ethnic Serbs and Albanians segregate into 2 universities
Harold F. Schiffman
haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Wed Aug 4 14:29:24 UTC 2004
>>From the Chronicle of Higher Education issue dated March 7, 2003
A House Divided in Kosovo
The promise of pluralism falls short as ethnic Serbs and Albanians
segregate into 2 universities
By BURTON BOLLAG
When NATO bombing forced the Yugoslav army out of Kosovo in June 1999,
ending months of mounting brutality against the ethnic-Albanian majority,
the United Nations pledged that higher education would pave the way toward
a democratic, multiethnic future. Kosovo's one university would be open to
all. Ethnic Albanians and Serbs would study together, and together they
would rebuild their devastated land.
As UN peacekeeping troops arrived, ethnic Albanians returned to the
University of Pristina, here in the capital, from which they were forced
out in the early 1990s, and claimed it as their own. Ethnic Serbs, in
turn, were driven from the campus and from the capital by angry Albanians.
The Serbs established a new Serbian university in the divided town of
Mitrovica, Kosovo's largest ethnic-Serb enclave.
Today, almost four years later, memories of the violence and killings
suffered by both communities are still fresh, and the goal of multiethnic
higher education appears a distant dream.
Michael Daxner, an Austrian professor of sociology who was the UN's
official in charge of rebuilding Kosovo's education system, left the
province last spring after more than two frustrating years of banging
ethnic-Albanian and Serb heads together in an attempt to achieve some
measure of reconciliation. "I was not successful," he admits.
After the bombing ended, Kosovo was declared a UN protectorate, and 40,000
peacekeeping troops were sent. Thousands of officials have since been sent
to help build up all the structures of a modern state, including a
multiethnic police force, schools, a water supply system, and a court
system. No decision has been made about Kosovo's future status. Ethnic
Albanians, who make up most of the territory's two million people,
overwhelmingly want independence.
Serbs Need Not Apply
But that demand is being undermined, in the eyes of the United Nations, by
a lack of commitment by Kosovo's new masters, the Albanians, to build a
pluralistic society, including the failure of higher education to bridge
the ethnic divide. Officials of the University of Pristina say the Serbs
can come back, but the Albanians have done nothing to welcome them. "I
pressed the rector, vice rectors, and university board very hard," says
Mr. Daxner. "But they wouldn't even have the use of the Serbian language
included" in the university regulations.
It would only have been a gesture, since it is still considered too
dangerous for Serbs to return to Pristina. Terrified by a wave of
killings, more than half of the 200,000 ethnic Serbs who lived in Kosovo
before the war fled.
The failure of higher education to accommodate the Serbs disturbs some
ethnic Albanians. Like many of his colleagues, Edmond Beqiri, dean of the
University of Pristina's business school, suffered savage beatings at the
hands of the Serbian police during the 1990s. He was then a teacher, first
at an underground high school, and later at the underground university
that the ethnic Albanians operated out of private homes, garages, and
rented rooms after the Yugoslav leader, Slobodan Milosevic, in effect shut
down the province's Albanian-language education system.
"We made a mistake," says Mr. Beqiri. "We didn't open our doors to them.
We've treated them like they treated us."
Belgrade's treatment of the ethnic Albanians took a sharp turn for the
worse in 1989, when Mr. Milosevic revoked Kosovo's autonomy. By 1991 the
university, which had been teaching in both Serbian and Albanian, became
an exclusively Serbian institution as almost all the Albanian faculty
members were dismissed. Instead of accepting a Serbian education,
university students left en masse and started attending the underground
university. It was part of a vast parallel network of self-government,
health care, and education that the Albanians established in a campaign of
nonviolent resistance. The movement was led by the pacifist Ibrahim
Rugova, a writer and professor of Albanian who had studied linguistics at
the University of Paris-Sorbonne. Mr. Rugova is now Kosovo's elected
The underground university lacked everything: a library, classrooms,
laboratories, textbooks. Yet it maintained the full array of disciplines
that had been taught earlier at the official institution. There was even a
small number of medical students, who did their practical work in the
private practices of ethnic-Albanian doctors. "We admitted even bad
students just to keep the university alive," concedes Destan Halimi, an
ethnic-Albanian lawyer who has been head of administration at the
University of Pristina for the last 20 years, including when the Albanian
half was operating underground.
During that period, he, like other senior administrators, made several
trips through the region to bring back money donated for the university by
Kosovar Albanians working in Western Europe and the United States. But he
was eventually arrested, accused by the police of seeking the money for
armed Albanian rebels, and his hands were beaten until they bled.
"In the future, we will work together," says Mr. Halimi of the Albanians
and Serbs living in Kosovo. "But not this generation."
In 1996, ethnic Albanians, frustrated with the lack of results from their
nonviolent campaign, formed the Kosovo Liberation Army. Its youthful
leader, Hashim Thaci, was the underground university's vice rector for
student affairs. As the group stepped up its attacks on the Serbian
security forces, Belgrade responded ever more brutally. By 1998, the press
and human-rights groups were reporting massacres of ethnic-Albanian
civilians. In March 1999, Serbian security forces began a large-scale
expulsion of Albanian civilians. Some 800,000 were herded at gunpoint and
forced across the borders into neighboring countries in the weeks that
followed. Four days after the expulsions began, NATO started bombing
On June 10, NATO ended its 72-day air campaign, a day after Belgrade
agreed to a full military withdrawal from Kosovo. In the days that
followed, ethnic Serbs were attacked by returning Albanians enraged by the
deaths of friends and relatives and the destruction of their property by
Serbian security forces.
On June 25, an ethnic-Serb professor, Milenko Lekovic, and two university
workers were found murdered in the basement of the economics building of
the University of Pristina. Faculty members joined the tens of thousands
of other terrified Serbs fleeing the capital and other parts of Kosovo.
Meanwhile, administrators of the underground ethnic-Albanian university
returned to the campus to find most of the buildings ransacked and a large
half-built Serbian Orthodox church on the university grounds. The Albanian
and the Serbian rectors both publicly stated that the university would
henceforth be open to all Kosovo's young people. But in the face of
continued attacks, the last Serbian university administrators soon fled.
The Serbian institution regrouped in the northern, ethnic-Serb-controlled
half of Mitrovica, a town in Kosovo 30 miles northwest of Pristina. The
Serbs took over the division of mining and metallurgy of the University of
Pristina, which was located there, and threw out its ethnic-Albanian
professors and students.
Since then the institution, now called the University of Mitrovica, has
added dormitories and one-story prefabricated buildings adorned with signs
in Cyrillic, the alphabet in which Serbian is written. New libraries and
laboratories are being built from scratch. Gojko Savic, the rector, says
the only thing they were able to salvage from the old campus in Pristina
was a life-size bronze statue of a 19th-century Serbian educator, Dositej
Obradovic, which now stands stoically in front of the new one-story
administration building. Says Mr. Savic: "We're pretty tough. We'll expand
Negovan Stamenkovic, a fifth-year student of electrical engineering and
head of the student union, says conditions have greatly improved since
professors and students first arrived after fleeing the capital. But many
ethnic Serbs, like Albanians, still have painful memories of the conflict.
Mr. Stamenkovic's grandfather was shot in his village by Albanian gunmen
days after the withdrawal of the Yugoslav army in 1999. He died the next
day after the gunmen prevented the family from taking him to the hospital.
Still, he says, ethnically segregated universities are "not a good thing."
But, he adds of the Albanians, "They don't want any contact with us."
Since moving to Mitrovica, the university has been in a kind of limbo. It
is entirely financed, as well as supervised, by Belgrade. But the United
Nations has been asserting its control over the institution, as a first
step to bringing it under the authority of the new education ministry of
These efforts have been undermined by the refusal of Kosovo's new
multiethnic -- but Albanian-dominated -- Assembly to recognize the
institution. That refusal angered the United Nations, which last fall
extended provisional UN accreditation for the University of Mitrovica for
Politics and Pay
Indeed, the changing political landscape of the former Yugoslavia has
produced many surprises. A few years ago, the education ministry in
Belgrade was an instrument for the repression of political dissent. But
now, says Mr. Daxner, the former international official in charge of
Kosovo's education system, the post-Milosevic education authorities are
"doing much more to promote reform and raise quality" than is Kosovo's
Higher education in Kosovo today is based on the memorization of lectures,
with little classroom discussion or practical, hands-on training. Abedin
Selimaj, a second-year student of political science and former head of the
student union, says the aging professorial corps is admired for having
endured the hardships of teaching underground during the 1990s.
"These people said 'No' to the Milosevic regime," he says. "But now some
of them are blocking the young people."
Outside experts like Mr. Daxner and Per Sonnerby, a Swedish adviser on
higher education to Kosovo's education ministry, say the quality of
education at the ethnic-Albanian University of Pristina is extremely low.
"I'm not blaming them," says Mr. Daxner. "They came from a Communist
system and then spent eight years underground in very difficult
He and others say the slow pace of reforms is also due to a debilitating
rivalry between the two main political parties for control of the
university. For instance, Rexhep Osmani, a professor of Albanian language
and literature who took over as minister of education from Mr. Daxner last
May, says that he will not recognize the recent election by faculty
members of deans and members of the university board.
Mr. Osmani, who was in charge of the Albanians' underground public-school
system during the 1990s, is a member of the party of President Ibrahim
Rugova. Critics say he wants to place supporters of the party in key
positions at the university. (He says the elections did not conform to the
rules of a new higher-education law, though that law has not yet gone into
effect.) The institution is dominated by followers of the party of Hashim
Thaci, the former Kosovo Liberation Army leader.
Another big problem is low faculty salaries. Full professors earn $280 per
month, barely enough to live on. So professors devote most of their time
to second or third jobs, and some observers say corruption -- taking
bribes in exchange for enrollment or good marks -- is rife. When the
university was underground, "the motivation of everyone -- teachers and
students -- was at a higher level than it is now," says Anton K. Berishaj,
head of Pristina's sociology department. "We all understood we had to
resist the [Milosevi ] regime. My salary now is $230 per month. You can
see why I'm not very motivated."
There are positive signs. One hundred young faculty members, most of them
trained in Western countries, have been hired since 1999. American and
European institutions have provided books, equipment, and training, and
new departments, like psychology and political science, are widely seen as
providing a better and more modern education.
An End to Hate
A Kosovar and American initiative to open a private, English-language
college appears to have widespread support from local educators and
government officials. Andrew Gridinsky, an American educator who heads the
American University of Kosovo Foundation, a Pristina-based group that is
working to establish the new institution, says one of its goals will be to
get ethnic Albanians and Serbs to study together. If successful, he says,
the initiative could be a model for interethnic academic cooperation in
public higher education.
Another small ray of hope is Pristina Summer University, an annual
three-week program staged for the last two summers. It is organized by the
Academic Training Association, a nonprofit organization based at the
University of Amsterdam. Last summer four ethnic Serbs from Serbia were
among 650 participating students. The Serbs say they were treated well,
and organizers say more Serbian students are expected at next summer's
Suzana Ignatovic, a sociology student who graduated in December from the
University of Belgrade, was one of the Serbs who attended last year.
Shortly after returning home to Belgrade, she received an e-mail message
from Gani Abazi, an ethnic-Albanian medical student there with whom she
had made friends.
He wrote: "... some time ago I hated very much the Serbs. I can not
describe what the Serbian paramilitary troops have done against my
village. ... Almost all the members of my family were maltreated, and
three of my uncles were killed. One of them was burnt alive together with
his house. I want to forget all this. ... I want you to show me that there
are many good Serbs. ... We can not change the past but we can determine
the future, and I want the future to be a peaceful one."
Volume 49, Issue 26, Page A44
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