Precarious Preševo

The second serious incident in the space of a week in the Preševo Valley region of southern Serbia has re-enforced the need for ethnic Albanian politicians to strengthen their involvement in the work of the Coordination Body for the Municipalities of Preševo, Bujanovac and Medvedja.

By Ian Bancroft

An explosion in a mainly Serb-populated neighbourhood of the predominantly ethnic Albanian town of Preševo, which left one woman and an ethnic Albanian child injured and damaged a number of apartments, is the second serious incident to occur in the Preševo Valley region of southern Serbia within the space of a week, following a grenade attack near Bujanovac which left two members of the Gendarmerie injured. Such destabilizing events only serve to further heighten inter- and intra-ethnic tensions, and re-enforce the need for ethnic Albanian politicians to strengthen their involvement in the work of the Coordination Body for the Municipalities of Preševo, Bujanovac and Medvedja in order to achieve tangible and sustainable solutions to the problems facing the region.

Ethnic Albanian leaders have widely condemned this latest attack, described as ‘a classic act of terrorism’ by Serbia’s Interior Minister, Ivica Dačić. Riza Halimi, the sole ethnic Albanian MP in the Serbian parliament and president of the Party for Democratic Action (PDD), speculated that, “instead of solving these accumulated problems of Albanians politically, and within the system of the state government, we have incidents”, adding that this was “neither the first nor the only explosion” in southern Serbia. Skender Destani, leader of the Democratic Union of the Preševo Valley (DUD) and President of the Municipal Assembly of Preševo, meanwhile, insisted that it is “more than obvious that the calm in the south of Serbia does not suit someone”.

The basis for achieving political solutions to the problems faced by ethnic Albanians lies in constructive engagement with the Coordination Body for the Municipalities of Preševo, Bujanovac and Medvedja; whose mandate it is to oversee the stabilization, re-integration and development of the region. In May, Albanian leaders from southern Serbia returned to the Body after an absence of almost three-years, following an agreement on restructuring the Body’s composition and competencies. This positive momentum needs to be harnessed and re-iterated in order to establish the Body as a functional institutional mechanism, capable of contending with the grievances of the Albanian community.

In this regard, the Coordination Body has recently committed to pay six million dinars to the municipalities of Preševo, Bujanovac and Medvedja for one-off financial assistance to persons with special needs, single mothers and parentless children. The Serbian government, meanwhile, has also undertaken to maintain crucial infrastructure investments in the economically underdeveloped region, despite being forced to slash budgets elsewhere in the country due to the global economic crisis.

Furthermore, Albanian politicians should demonstrate a greater commitment to establishing an Albanian National Council as the official representative body of the Albanian community in Serbia. Exercising this important legal right constitutes the most effective way of institutionalising, protecting and upholding the cultural autonomy, education and minority rights of the Albanian community in Serbia, particularly with respect to the official use of language, thereby strengthening the community’s voice, image and influence at all levels of society.

In order to prevent a rise in ethnic tensions and further outbreaks of violence in southern Serbia, immediate steps must be taken to reassert and revitalise the key institutional mechanisms that provide the best platform for facilitating the dialogue and compromise necessary for securing tangible solutions to the problems facing the region. Through a continued focus on economic development, the on-going integration of Albanians into state institutions and effective oversight of the security infrastructure, it is possible to transform the situation in southern Serbia for the benefit of all its citizens.

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