AIM: start

SUN, 11 NOV 2001 23:31:46 GMT

Mitrovica University

AIM Mitrovica, November 3, 2001

In addition to the start of campaigning for upcoming general elections in Kosovo, another issue dominated in the province in October -- education. The concrete issue was whether Serb students would continue to study in Kosovo, or would continue to do what they have been doing for the past two and a half years: pursue their degrees in various universities elsewhere in Serbia, as students of Pristina University.

All the sides involved had their dilemmas, and the result is still unclear. The Serb community spoke of the "University of Pristina," alluding to continuity with the time when the university was located in Kosovo's capital, and mentioned the "return to Pristina University." Kosovo Albanian representatives saw this as plans to form an underground institution, in violation of U.N. Resolution 1244. International administrators made contradictory moves: they initially allowed the opening of a university in the northern part of Mitrovica, and then said they would not support underground institutions...

Still, on Oct. 22, a ceremony marking the opening of the Serbian-language educational facility in northern Mitrovica was held, where courses at the School of Law, School of Philosophy, and School of Art began. The School of Art is located in Zvecan, and the Schools of Law and Philosophy in Mitrovica. On the occasion, freshmen were issued their student booklets.

The possibility that university courses in Serbian would be organized in Kosovo again was mentioned for the first time last April, but only as an aside at press conferences. At the time, Serbs in Kosovo could hardly believe that something like that was possible at all. Students from elsewhere in Serbia enrolled at the "University of Pristina" and their parents had a hard time accepting the aspirations of Kosovo's Serbs. They were against having their schools transferred back to Kosovo, stressing their point by organizing protests and blocking roads. They did not want to go to Kosovo where they would feel unsafe. But their slogans, "We aren't going to Kosovo," "Who will guarantee our safety," and others, only made Kosovo Serbs angry. In a poll taken in northern Mitrovica they responded to a question asking them whether they believed students in Serbia were right to protests by saying: "They should be ashamed of themselves; what about us who remain here, are we not human?" or, "It's a university that belongs to Kosovo, as its name says. If they don't like it, they don't have to come here"; "I have a six-year old child here, and I am not the only one with a child. Am I crazy? My child's life is not important and their's is. They don't have to come here, but our university should return." Certain professors, however, joined the protest by signing a petition against the return of the three schools to Kosovo.

Realizing the situation was getting out of control, a member of the coordinating center for Kosovo, Marko Jaksic, told the press that "a campaign is underway against the return of Pristina University to northern Kosovo," and that "many lies have been told to prevent the return." Ljubica Mandic, a professor at the Law School, which was located in Vranje, expressed her outrage over what certain students and professors were willing to do to keep the school in the southern Serbian town. "Certain students forced their colleagues to sign a petition against returning to northern Kosovo, and at a session of the teachers council, 95 percent of those present were against this decision," Mandic said. She added that those who opposed return were mostly people coming from other regions, hired three to four years ago. On Aug. 30 the first session of the council of Serb teachers at the School of Mining and Metallurgy was held in northern Mitrovica, and it was decided that courses in Serbian would begin in Mitrovica, Zvecan and Zubin Potok. University president Gojko Savic said the university administration office was being transferred to Mitrovica, that they would be ready in two weeks, and that it was up to the Serbian government to give students facilities that were part of the YU Program. He added that mobile classrooms would also be installed. At the same meeting it was agreed that next year the Schools of Medicine, Mathematics and Agriculture would also reopen.

Representatives of the Student Union of the School of Law visited the northern half of Mitrovica to check safety conditions and were pleased with what they found. But a president of the students' alliance of the School of Law, after the Serbian government's Oct. 15 decision that the headquarters of Pristina University will be moved temporarily to Kosovska Mitrovica, and that students who do not want to study in Kosovo could transfer to other schools in Serbia, again organized a blockade of roads. School of Law Student Union representatives accused the dean, Slobodan Barac, of "exerting pressure on certain students to protest, blackmailing them over exams," and said the president of the Law School Student Alliance was the dean's "puppet." At the next session of the teachers' council on Oct. 17, the beginning of the school year was postponed for Oct. 22.

The same day the Student Union organized a rally in front of the School of Mining and Metallurgy building, demanding an end to protests in Serbia. The result was that classes finally began at the end of October. Now it remains to be seen how the story will end, given the position of international representatives in Kosovo. UNMIK head Hans Haekkerup said the university will not be recognized by the U.N. administration, that it was illegal and that UNMIK did not issue a permit for its operation. Michael Daksner, international administrator of Pristina University, said in and interview there was only one Pristina University and it was the one he headed, and that everything else was a forgery. UNMIK spokesperson in Kosovska Mitrovica Gjorgji Kakuk said no agreement on Serbian-language courses had been reached, but that it was known the university will be under UNMIK's patronage, that its diplomas will be recognized in Europe, that UNMIK will finance it, that is, that it will be funded by Kosovo's budget. Serb professors and their university president say the opposite: that the university will be funded by the Serbian Education Ministry, and that like in the case of all other universities in Serbia, its diplomas will be recognized in Europe. UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel explained away Haekkerup's latest statement by saying that no underground institutions will be tolerated in Kosovo as due to the fact that negotiations on organizing a university in northern Kosovo had not ended yet.

It is not known as yet whether the talks between Haekkerup and the government in Belgrade aimed at convincing Kosovo Serbs to vote on Nov. 17, tackled the issue of education. The fact is that Serb students are attending classes at the mentioned schools without any hindrance. They are not bothered by the absence of an UNMIK permit, and that their classes and facilities are considered illegal. One professor recently said: "The most important thing is that courses have begun; whether they are recognized by UNMIK or not is UNMIK's problem."

Valentina Cukic