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INTERVIEW GRANTED TO THE “POLITIKA” DAILY Nearly a Half of the Citizens Think that Presevo is in Kosovo

20. November 2017.

Belgrade - The celebration of the Albanian Flag Day holiday falls in the middle of the election campaign for local elections in Presevo, but Zoran Stankovic, the President of the Coordination Body for the Municipalities of Preservo, Bujanovac and Medvedja, does not expect any provocations or incidents. According to him, there have been no interethnic conflicts or security risks in the area of the municipalities of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja that endanger the state of Serbia for five years since he has been at the head of the said governmental body.  

“When I was appointed the President of the Coordination Body, on the Flag Day on November 28, a monument to the fallen soldiers of the Liberation Army of PBM was erected in Presevo, while we had another problem with textbooks the following year. There have been no incidents and inflammatory speeches at these celebrations for the past two years,” Mr. Stankovic said. 

Mr. Stankovic points out that the state is striving to make the Albanians, as a national minority,  choose an emblem and a flag in accordance with the standards of the international community, and that some details on them must differ from the symbols of the parent state.

“When we talked about it, some of the loudest political representatives of the Albanians said that they had their own flag of Albania, which they used for 50 years. We asked them which flag they had in mind, the one from the time of Enver Hoxha or the new one. As a solution to this problem, we will propose that experts in international law from Tirana, or some other country, explain to them how their symbols, according to international conventions, should look like,” Mr. Stankovic said.

When it comes to local elections in Presevo, which will take place on December 24, Zoran Stankovic said that the Coordination Body did not interfere in the electoral process.

“What we expect is that the new local self-government be formed on the basis of the wishes and votes of the citizens. We will come and ask them what they need twenty days upon the establishment of the municipal assembly. And that will probably be at the time of determining the distribution of the Coordination Body’s budget for the three municipalities for the next year. Serbian parties have no members in the municipal assembly, because they went to in the polls by means of two separate lists. If that happens this time as well, it will be hard for them to enter the local assembly. I think that their task is to go to the polls together, so that they could, tomorrow, have their representatives in the Municipal Assembly of Presevo,” the President of the Coordination Body said.  

Asked whether a situation similar to the one from 2016 could happen at the forthcoming elections in Presevo, when a great number of Albanians set off from Kosovo to vote in Medvedja, Mr. Stankovic reflected on the statement made by Minister Branko Ruzic.

“Minister Branko Ruzic said that the voter lists were updated and that no manipulation was possible thanks to electronic data processing and I believe him. 7,000 people live in Medvedja, of whom around 500 are Albanians. Then, on the day of voting in 2016, one or two thousand people, who had the right to vote in Medvedja, arrived by busses from Kosovo and Metohija to the administrative line.  They were not able to pass through the Mutivode check point because the system had crashed. It could not process such a large number of entries within a short time. Some Albanians returned and some remained waiting. On that occasion, the international community spoke up, and it all happened because the electronic system had crashed,” Mr. Stankovic said. 

In terms of resuming the talks on 7 points, the President of the Coordination Body said that it was good that Saip Kamberi was suggesting that the talks should continue, since it was them who had stopped them, about which there is a large documentation, although Nedjo Jovanovic, the then Secretary of State of the Ministry of Justice, said that the new network of courts would be analyzed and that if they submitted a request to change the law, they might subsequently obtain  a court in Presevo.  

“A great many municipalities in Serbia managed to get court departments by means of changing the law in the subsequent procedure.  They did not do so because they had stopped the talks. The seven-point plan could be fully implemented in two years. It provides for the full integration of the Albanian minority in state institutions, the economic recovery of these municipalities, the official use of the language, the decentralization of the judiciary, education, health and social protection and the strengthening of security. Therefore, we propose that the Prime Minister or the President of Serbia call all political leaders of the Albanians for talks,” Mr. Stankovic said. 

He says that about 6.5 billion dinars and 35 million euros of foreign donations have, for various reasons, been invested in those three municipalities since 2001. In addition, grants for small and medium-sized enterprises in the amount of 40 million dinars were provided and thanks to those investments 270 people got employed over the past five years. The Coordination Body’s budget is about 380 million dinars and 95 per cent of it is used.  According to last year’s data, Presevo received about 107 million dianrs, Bujanovac 117 and Medvedja around 36.5 million dinars. Based on these plans, which are made by local assemblies, the municipalities determine what the money will be spent on. It is mostly used for infrastructural facilities.

“We also granted 320 scholarships this year. They are not received only by Albanians, but also by all those who apply and live in these three municipalities. The scholarship amounts to 6,000 dinars per secondary school student.  We also provide scholarships to 29 students from Bujanovac and Presevo studying at the University of Novi Sad. We already have some scholars who graduated from the university with very high average marks. Novi Sad was chosen because it is multiethnic and it is easier for Albanians to adjust to it. Anyway, the said scholarship is not so small, as it amounts to around 400 euros per student,” Zoran Stankovic said.

He says that the economy is the main problem.

“If we want to stabilize the situation in the area even more, it would be a good idea to build a factory in Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja each, which would employ 2,000 workers each, so that the Serbs, Albanians, Roma and all those who live in these municipalities could work together. The “Simpen” plant for the production of polyurethane foams for mattresses, which employed around one hundred workers, used to operate in Bujanovac.  The state was the owner of 31 percent of the capital, but due to unresolved internal problems with the "Simpo" factory, it ceased operating.  And it could have become a major exporter, since a similar factory in Macedonia had burned down. In the meantime, a private factory was opened in Vojvodina, and the workers who used to work at the "Simpen '' factory went there to work for good salaries. There is also "Gumoplastika" in Bujanovac, the workshops of which are ruined, but there are some ideas to do something there. But we cannot make economic plans if people are moving out of the area, so that we would have to move them back, "Mr. Stankovic said.

Noting that in addition to the expression “Presevo Valley”, the term “Eastern Kosovo” was increasingly more used, Mr. Stakovic said that the term was, unfortunately, increasingly more used even by some people in Belgrade, who did not know the geography.

“What can I say when 40 percent of the Serbian citizens believe that Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja are located in the territory of Kosovo. So that we, today,  get letters from some individuals and institutions that turn to us as if these municipalities were in Kosovo and Metohija. And Presevo and Bujanovac are located in the Pcinj District, while Medvedja is in the Jablanica District,” Zoran Stankovic said.

When it comes to the issue of textbooks in Albanian, the President of the Coordination Body says that so far 86 textbooks in the Albanian language have been approved for classes.  

“Last year, the Albanian National Council, along with the Minister of Education, signed an agreement on another 35 textbooks from Albania, as well as on eight textbooks about the national culture and values ​​of the Albanians. However, they failed to propose the translators. It was not a problem to us even if those translators were from Kosovo and Metohija.  At the beginning of this school year, we once again asked the Albanian National Council to select the translators. If this is not done by them, then we'll have to do it, so that what has already been signed could be implemented,” Mr. Stankovic said.

Asked whether he expected to be called to testify by the special court for crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), Mr.Stankovic said that, as far as he was aware, the court would not hold trials for the murder of police officers and soldiers, but only for that of civilians.

“Our country needs to ask this court why it does it not hold trials for the crimes committed against soldiers and policemen. So after these conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, it turns out  that policemen and soldiers are a legitimate target and all those who wish to create their own state can kill them,” he said.

As regards the murder of singer Jelena Marjanovic Stankovic, he says that, by law, he has no right to talk about it.

“I am willing to explain everything during a public trial when charges have been filed. We were doing a complex expertise, which was based on the autopsy report and other expertise, for several months. The murdered young woman deserves finding the person who committed the crime. But what is amazing to me is the media promotion of some people involved in the case, whose claims only greatly disturb the public.  I stand by everything I wrote in the expertise and as soon as the trial starts, everyone will be able to ask me about it,” Zoran Stankovic said.

Source: “Politika” daily and Coordination Body