AIM: start

SAT, 04 AUG 2001 23:47:25 GMT

Either Be a Policeman or Unemployed

AIM Pristina, July 30, 2001

The Kosovo police force will get 1,500 new officers by next year. The process of selecting candidates for training is already under way. Thousands of people lined up in front of police stations for days just to obtain the application forms. The interest was enormous, says a spokesman for the U.N. police, Charlie Johnson. According to him, "in the first three days alone about 20,000 forms were distributed, and 20,000 more had to be printed." It seems that an additional 5,000 have been handed out as well, which brings the total number of applicants to 45,000. Police officials were delighted with such a massive response to their advertisement, and for several reasons. The police spokesman explains that only three years ago the population of Kosovo was scared to death of the police, whereas now "the existing force patrolling the streets has made this job attractive to many young people." The policemen patrolling Kosovo's streets are civil, they stick to regulations and are not corrupt, international officials claim. Humanitarian and human rights organizations, such as the Committee for Protecting Human Rights and Freedoms, have not registered a single instance of Kosovo police violating an individual's rights. Maybe that is why officials are so enthusiastic, especially in comparison with the times when Kosovo was controlled by the men in "blue" uniforms, which became a symbol of terror.

The official enthusiasm, however, reflects only one side of the issue. If there were no violations of human rights on the part of the police, there were frequent violations of the rights of young police officers by ordinary citizens. U.N. police spokesman Derek Chapell announced some disturbing data on violence against police. Chapell added that "Kosovo police force was a cornerstone of Kosovo's future, and people's refusal to present I.D. and to allow for enforcement of the law is a sign that their society lacks maturity." This statement came after a series of attacks on police. In only two weeks of July there were 17 such physical and verbal assaults on members of the force, says a U.N. police report. "We provide Kosovo with a democratic and professional police service. Many among them are young, idealistic, filled with pride and hopes for the future..."

Their attitude will depend on the respect they get from the public. Violence and disrespect will discourage them and they will have to become much ruder," Chapell warned. Most incidents, according to statistics, occur during routine checks of vehicles involved in minor incidents, but there were also occasions when suspected criminals threatened police officers who were off duty or during arrest attempts.

Chapell said officials noticed that in Kosovo people tend to resort to extreme violence to resolve petty disputes. "It seems there is a firm resolve now to use violence against these people who have courageously decided to serve in the Kosovo police force and protect their fellow citizens," he said.

It appears that the UNMIK police force and the Kosovo police service will no longer tolerate "the norm of disrespect and arrogance." According to Chapell, in all 17 incidents the perpetrators were apprehended and most of them were appropriately punished, though he gave no details on their punishment. Well-informed observers and psychologists explain this attitude as inherited from the period of war and not so distant past. In Kosovo, uniforms have for long personified "law, force, and a foreign state," and this is why more time is needed for the people to get used to new uniforms. This, however, is not the sole explanation. The new Kosovo police are "meek" and trained in accordance with "the values of Western democracies where the law is above its guardians." Observance of regulations during identity checks and searches leaves civilians with the impression that, right or wrong, they can offer resistance. Kosovo police are poorly protected and their powers are limited. They have been patrolling for quite some time with international police, but are not armed and cannot act independently...

Despite all this international officials claim the force has become very attractive for many people wanting to join its ranks. The best proof of that, in their view, is the fact that 45,000 applied for 1,500 new jobs. They have to pass several months of training in a police academy before obtaining a chance to put on the uniform and be assigned to active duty.

But the figure is also an indicator of yet another side of Kosovo's reality. It shows that many people are desperately trying to find work. Labor department officials say that the unemployment rate is very high. Lajos Hejti, an official of this department, says there are some 200,000 registered unemployed people, but that the unofficial figure is probably much higher. He says that between 60-80 percent of the potential work force has no steady work, which is a European record!

The contention for work with the Kosovo police service is the best indicator, officials of the labor department say, because only one in 30 applicants will be selected.

Besnik Bala