8. February. 2021. | 12:32

The problems that non-majority communities face in Kosovo further aggravated by the pandemic

The pandemic crisis did not create new problems between non-majority communities and the central institutions in Kosovo, so much as it exposed and further amplified long-standing ones - this was the main conclusion from the zoom conference “Non-majority communities in Kosovo during the pandemic crisis” that was held by NGO AKTIV on the 4th of February.













The conference was held with the aim to review the position of the Serb and other non-majority communities in Kosovo during the pandemic crisis in 2020. It gathered around 40 representatives of central institutions, international organizations and embassy, media and civil society.  The discussion revolved around two research reports published by NGO AKTIV that addressed the conference’s theme. Those reports were:  Lessons Learned: The Treatment of Non-Majority Communities During the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Annual Report on the State of the Language Rights in Kosovo: Language Rights in the Time of the Pandemic.

The conference was opened by Ms Jenny Stenberg- Sørvold, deputy head of mission, Royal Norwegian Embassy in Pristina with the introductory remarks by Mr Miodrag Milićević, Executive Director of the NGO AKTIV. The reports were presented by Mr Caleb Waugh, head of the NGO AKTIV Policy Office and Mr Ognjen Gogić, manager of project “Creating Bilingual Kosovo”. The conference was moderated by Ms Katarina Lazic, communication officer at NGO AKTIV.

At the beginning of the conference, Mr. Miodrag Milićević, underscored the fact that the pandemic only exposed many institutions’ existing weaknesses, which consequently lead to the unequal treatment of various communities in Kosovo. He noted that NGO AKTIV has repeatedly urged institutions over the past year to the practice of unevenly applying relevant legislation, primarily the Law on the Use of Languages. 

Mr Caleb Waugh presented the findings of the Lessons Learned report. He highlighted that failure of Kosovo’s central institutions to communicate effectively with non-majority communities and ensure their equal access to information that in turn contributed to the spread of rumours and disinformation. He explained that the failure of public institutions to provide Serbian translations of official instructions, orders, and other forms of communiques and public statements had a detrimental effect on public health and limited Kosovo Serbs’ access to economic assistance. 

Mr Waugh’s presentation also pointed out the deterioration in the security situation in many Serb settlements in Kosovo, evidenced by the increase in the number and intensity of potentially ethnically motivated, violence incidents. The feeling, widespread for a number of years now, that crime and delinquency are on the rise stems from a sense of a lack of trust in institutions due to slow investigations and there is a common perception that there is a general sense of impunity for perpetrators.

Furthermore, Ms Waugh also pointed to the fact that the abrupt closure of border crossings at the beginning of the pandemic severed the essential links of Kosovo Serbs to Serbia, thereby de-facto blocking their access to healthcare services.

Mr Ognjen Gogić, spoke about central institutions’ negligence in terms of the use of the Serbian language during the pandemic, as noted in the Annual report. The violation of the language rights of non-majority communities in Kosovo restricts their access to services and jeopardizes the exercise of other rights. First of all, the lack of translation increased the risk to public health because Serbian-speaking Kosovo residents were not able to be adequately informed about the general epidemiological situation. Another negative effect of the absence of translation concerned the restriction of movement measures and citizens were put at risk of being punished for non-compliance with regulations. Lastly, the lack of adequate translation of information into Serbian made access to economic assistance measures to overcome the material consequences of the epidemic difficult.

Mr Gogić provided the example of the Ministry of Health and the National Institute of Public Health communication channels. The Ministry of Health has not updated its Serbian version of the website for months. The COVID-19 page launched by the Ministry of Health was also inaccessible in Serbian almost the entire time. The National Institute of Public Health does not even have a Serbian-language version of its website.

As yet another consequence of the failure of central institutions to provide information in Serbian, Mr Gogić mentioned the strain on Serb journalists in Kosovo. All the previously mentioned institutions’ press releases were delivered to the media exclusively in Albanian, and without a translation into Serbian. In order to inform their readers of developments in a timely manner, Serbian-language media are forced to invest their resources to make up for the omission of the institutions to provide the official translation.

In light of all those findings, Mr Gogić concluded the pandemic also showed that no effective mechanism to ensure the implementation of the Law on the Use of Languages exists.  

The conference was organized within the project “Creating Bilingual Kosovo” implemented by the NGO AKTIV with the support of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Pristina.