Transmission of Friday 25 July at 21.30 CET on Europe by Satellite, Re-transmission on Saturday 26 July 2003 – 9.30 CET

Feature story: Serbia-Kosovo: is dialogue possible?

On the eve of the dialogue which is supposed to start between Belgrade and Pristina, SEETV went to Kosovo to see on the ground if dialogue between the two communities can start, and if there is a perspective for Serbs to return to Kosovo. What is the state of play, and what kind of relations are possible between the two communities? A feature story by Dusan Gajic (TV Mreza in Belgrade) in collaboration with Fatos Bytyqi (RTK in Pristina).

Proposed commentary:

Exactly four years after the war and the NATO bombing, scenes of destruction and conflict can hardly be seen in Kosovo anymore. The appearance of the provinces'capital in particular shows that a lot has been invested in physical reconstruction.

Taking a closer look, however, there are different reminders of the recent war. For example, pictures of local war heroes, and the expression of gratitude to America for its participation in the military intervention. Signs to remind that Kosovo is a place were ethnic tensions are yet to be overcome.

In early July, Kosovar politicians for the first time issued a public statement calling on Serb refugees to return to the province.

Bayram Rexhepi

People who committed crimes, they don't have a place in Kosovo. But we are not a court, we cannot decide who is criminal and who is not. It is a decision of the court. If citizens of Kosovo have some arguments they have to give it to the police and investigation, but we cannot decide who is a criminal. All citizens of Kosova who left for different reasons have the right to come back to their property.

Prime Minister Bayram Rexhepi says the sole fact that it was possible to launch such an initiative is a sign of political maturity in Kosovo. It demonstrates that the government is not just paying lip service, but is prepared to act.

But when one moves from Pristina towards parts of Kosovo that have more painful experiences from the 1999 war, it becomes obvious that the mere presence of Serbs, let alone their return, remains very problematic.

The village of Novake, near Prizren, is a rare example of collective refugee return. Sixty one families have decided to come back to the completely deserted village. The precondition to return is the reconstruction of destroyed houses and shattered infrastructure. The village is mainly occupied by men, who are rebuilding their homes. Their families should join them once the works are over. The whole process of their return to Novake has been made possible largely thanks to the continuous commitment of the German non-governmental organization ASB: prior to the return, its representatives discussed the issue separately with each returnee family, at the same time exploring eventual reactions from neighboring Albanian villages. Because of this, the example of Novake remains an exception.

Bill Foxton, ASB

I think that, because of the composition of the surrounding villages, with different ethnic and religious backgrounds, there is a will for people to return. We were in negotiations with all villages, there are nine villages in the surroundings, and nobody opposed it. Nobody stood up and said - we don't want this to happen.

Just in case, however, a German patrol of KFOR remains permanently close to the village. For the Serbs, ASB's Bill Foxton is the only person they trust. At the same time, they (Serbs) are still very suspicious of all the Albanians they meet.

Serb returnee:

They thought that only seven or eight families, mainly old people of over seventy years of age, would return, and that Novake would die out when they pass away. When they saw 61 families and mostly young people return, they started not to like it and that's when it all started. By the second day we were back they started not to like it.

Other Serb returnee:

I am only looking forward to have a job here so that we can somehow make ends meet. Without that, all this is pointless.

On the hill above the village: a damaged church and a vandalized cemetery. The Serbs say they will rebuild it when they are done with their homes. Although they have decided to return, the Novake Serbs complain about everything -the jobs and salaries they don't have, the slow reconstruction of their houses, and especially their Albanian neighbors from the nearby village of Trnje, whom they accuse of constantly harassing them, destroying their property and bringing cattle on their land. They see their survival, as well as the survival of other Serb returnees, only in the hope that Serbia will remain present in Kosovo.

Branko (Serb returnee):

My graves are here, those of my ancestors and those of my relatives who gave their life for their country in the last war. Tomorrow my children or my grandchildren will ask me `Dad, where did you say you were born?` I can never be a Serbian from Sumadija; I can only be a Kosovar from Kosovo and Metohija, i.e. from pure Serb Metohija. You see, from Prizren to Djakovica and Pec, you can not find a more fertile land than Metohija.

A few kilometers further down the road, in the Albanian village of Trnje, Kosovo's future and past is seen in a different light. The recent history of this place is particularly difficult. Like in Novake, there is a cemetery above the village, but it is mainly filled with fresh tombs of the victims of the latest war. On March 25. 1999, Serbian forces massacred tens of civilians, an event which has been addressed at the trial of Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague. On that day, Milaim Gashi lost 22 members of his family, including his wife. The remains of 14 victims are yet to be found.

Milaim Gashi, Trnje:

I don't know what to say. Before I find another 14 bodies of my relatives who have been killed, I wouldn't know what to say. The Serbs should return to their homes, but...

Some of the missing in the village of Trnje have been identified in the mass grave near Batajnica, in Serbia. The villagers from Trnje say they remember that on that fatal day, the army came from the direction of Novake. They admit, however, that they cannot claim for sure the crime was committed by the Serbs from that village.

Enver Elshani, Suva Reka:

As far as return is concerned, I think that it's best to ask the Serbs. They know best who could come back. You better ask them. Only those who were not involved in dirty games should return.

Nonetheless, for many Albanians in this area located between Prizren and Suva Reka, the issue of relations with the Serbs and their return remains highly sensitive and emotional.

Albanian:

Old people of seventy years can return, but not those who are twenty five, forty or fifty. They have destroyed us, totally. That's what's on my heart and I say it for everyone to hear. There are four missing from my family and I cry day and night because of that.

Enver Elshani :

I think that dialogue should start somewhere. It will happen sooner or later. You must start from somewhere. As far as I could read in the papers, official talks (between Belgrade and Pristina) are not to start anytime soon, but they will have to be held before long .

Because of the suffering and the destruction from the past, dialogue today seems even more difficult. But it is needed, more than ever before.

Newspackage: Interview with Cristina Gallach

00:01:04
On the Belgrade- Prishtina dialogue

We would like very much that this dialogue could have started during the month of July. Now, we are at the very end of the month, we are almost at the end and we have not been able for I think one major reason: the Special Representative of the Secretary General has not been nominated, therefore, starting dialogue without this personality was considered to be not the most appropriate path to take. Since we have the understanding that this person is going to be nominated very soon, we decided to wait a little bit more. Because the two sides, the Kosovars and Serbs, Belgrade and Prishtina have again reiterated the commitment to the dialogue and it is very important to maintain this momentum and to use this momentum and therefore we have the clear commitment of the two sides,that the dialogue,as soon as it is ready in terms of the international personality that we are waiting , that it is going to be launched. And yes, we have a clear strategy: we are convinced that the dialogue has to start about very specific issues and progressively move into areas of mutual interest of political dimension and by having this dialogue, by taking specific decisions, the two sides will create an atmosphere of trust, an atmosphere of working relationship which will allow, at one point, hopefully sooner than later to be able to discuss very difficult issues. Therefore, the time length of this dialogue will be very much dependent on the willingness, the readiness of reaching consensus of the two sides. And we want to encourage the two sides to come to this dialogue with a very open mind and we think that through the bilateral context we have had with the two sides there is a willingness to start this dialogue within this month. It was very clear the message we got from Thaci that the discussions on the final status have to be left for later on. The dialogue is now, as I was saying before, for steps that have to lead to create confidence, to create tasks and have to be on the basis of an agenda that is mutually agreed of issues that both sides are ready to discuss and the constructiveness of Mr. Thaci was very much appreciated by the European Union and we hope very much that this sense of constructiveness will be reflected in the politics of the daily life in Kosovo.

00:03:57
On the internal political disputes in Serbia

We do not think that forces which share democratic values, which share willingness to progress in terms of getting closer to the European Union, reforming the economy, reforming the state structures should be fighting each other. We think that this is not the best thing to do. At the same time, we understand because they are democratic forces. Therefore, we should not dramatize this, but we should be mild in tone, constructive in form, but very clear in the substance that we want these in-fighting to have not at all a negative impact. There should be political dialogue, there should be political discussions but at the very same time,they should bear the responsibility of being the political forces that have to be moving forward Serbia and Montenegro. Therefore, with a degree of worringness, not dramatic but the message is clear that this in-fighting has to stop.

00:05:00
On the visit to Brussels of Ali Ahmeti, leader of the Albanian coalition party partner in the Macedonian Government and the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement in Macedonia

The message that Mr. Ahmeti got from the European Union, from Javier Solana was of appreciation for the role he has played in particularly since his party is of the coalition, the government of coalition in Skopje for the very pragmatic approach, an approach which has led to results, an approach which has lead to a good relationship of the society overall in Macedonia. The process in Ohrid opened a new page in the history of Macedonia, now we are in this very new phase. It's going well, it is probably insufficient but it will not reach the type of moment of final, total solution of the problems until more efforts are being done and therefore his attitude should continue and we praise both very much the government and the leader of the DUIE because it has been constructive and it has been very positive. It is clear that calls that Albanian parties might have in the line of further separation and not integration is not the line the European Union supports and Ahmeti, Mr. Ahmeti said it very clear to Solana, to Mr. Javier Solana that he did not share disintegration. He shares and he will fight for more integration.


00:06:32
On the Concordia follow- up police mission in Macedonia

We don't think that this police force should be a police force that should be doing daily duties of normal police. On the contrary, it should be a police force, not armed, which should be monitoring and mentoring the local police, should be helping supervise practices, change some of the practices if they are not in total accordance with European Union standards and we hope very, very much that a very clear design of the new police force will be ready soon and can be shared and discussed with the Macedonian authorities so that the decision could be adopted by the moment when Concordia finalizes its presence without having this structure which, in any case,will not be in a structure of a
regular police patrolling the streets, detaining, implementing the law and order regulations but helping the local police do their job in a manner which is more according the EU standards.