Building trust in Kosovo

19 June 2008

Matilde Ceravolo, MRG's Fundraiser, talks to a young Gorani

"Politicians from every ethnic group pretend to speak in the name of Gorani. They think to know who we are, but they confuse us with Bosniaks and other Muslim groups, because of our religion, or with Serbs, Bulgarian and Macedonian, because of the language. The problem is that Gorani history has always been made by others. It is time for us to write down our own history."

Samir Velija

Samir is a young member of the Gorani community, a Slavic people converted to Islam. He grew up in Pristina and attended university. Now he works for a human rights organisation, promoting the rule of law in the Balkans. He speaks fluent Albanian and English.

This is not the case for most of the people living in Gorani villages, in South-West Kosovo.

"Gorani generally don't speak Albanian. Their mother tongue is Gorani, and they used to study in Serbian or Bosnian schools. Serbian is therefore the national language they are more confident with. This is a huge barrier to integration. In Dragash municipality the majority of the population is Gorani. But out of there, it is difficult for Gorani to relate to national institutions, because officials now speak Albanian, and expect people to do the same".

Now that Kosovo has declared independence, the vast majority of the population is ethnic Albanian, such as the national and local Governments. In this situation, elders and less educated people can hardly approach local municipalities or any office intended to help them.

Unable to understand Albanian, many Gorani are also prevented from accessing relevant information of issues that affect their lives.

"All the main communication media are in Albanian. Gorani contributes with their taxes to the national television, but there is no programme in Gorani. Neither do national television or radio broadcast reach Gorani villages. Gorani keep excluded. Without proper access to information and education, they don't know their rights and the institutions that are being set to protect them. They are not able to fully participate in the political and social life."

Albanian is essential in doing business, not only because it is now the most widely spoken official language in the country, but also because there is fear of discrimination across Kosovo, among people who do not correctly communicate in Albanian.

"Before the war, Gorani politicians were pro-Serbia. This is why there is now a prejudice against Gorani. Albanians consider us as sympathizer of Serbian politicians. Not that this translates in any security threat or political exclusion for us. But Albanians do not want to trade with Gorani. For instance, they boycott our businesses. You'd better not give a Gorani name to your shop, or you risk loosing all the clients".

With an eloquent gesture, Samir indicates the restaurant where we are having a delicious Gorani dish, the "Tava djuveć", made of aubergines, potatoes and tomato sauce. The room is empty. A few members of his family and friends will join us later.

'Gorani have no economic power. This is why, in spite of the support for returns offered by international organisations, villages are getting emptier and emptier.'

"Gorani have no economic power. This is why, in spite of the support for returns offered by international organisations, villages are getting emptier and emptier. Most people work abroad so that they can send remittances to their families in the villages, which allow them to survive."

Lack of employment is one of the main concerns for Kosovars nowadays. Not only is there an issue of economic development, but minority groups also feel that they are discriminated against in access to employment.

"Discrimination is very quiet, you cannot sue it. A friend of mine used to work for the electric company. He was asked to go and cut out an Albanian village. Of course he refused to do that, for fear of backlash. On this ground he was fired and lost his job."

"Another example are the quotas set for employment of members of minority communities in municipal institutions and companies. Most of the time, quotas are not respected, and even if they are, they refer to ‘Muslim' as a single bunch, without distinction. All the positions could perfectly be filled with Muslim from other ethnic groups: there is no guarantee for Gorani as such."

"We have lost the trust in these measures that were meant to produce integration, but actually only gave room for more discrimination. It is true, there are institutions in charge of combating violations of human rights, such as the office of the Ombudsperson, but they are so far away from Dragash!"

Is the independence of Kosovo an opportunity for Gorani people to participate in the building of this new country? Samir seems unconvinced.

"For Gorani people, it is the same if Kosovo is a province of Serbia or an independent country. Either way, we respect the institutions and the law of the country where we live. We hope to be citizens of Kosovo on an equal basis, but have had bad experience in the past, regarding the protection of our rights".

Municipalities have a budget that must be dedicated to minority communities. So far, it has only been used to build roads.

"Roads are useful, but above all we need to build trust among communities. We need to move forward from prejudices, and create an environment where all the ethnic, linguistic and religious groups can live together, feeling to be citizens on an equal basis. If we don't invest in social integration, Kosovo will be the loser." 

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