news 11 Sep 15

Serbia's Albanians Plot Their Own Municipal Union

After Albanian leaders in southern Serbia announced they may form their own Association of Municipalities - like the Serbian one in Kosovo - Serbian officials warned against provocations.

Igor Jovanovic, Petrit Qollaku
BIRN
Belgrade, Pristina
Nagip Arifi, Mayor of Bujanovac | Source: YouTube

Nagip Arifi, mayor of Bujanovac, a mainly Albanian municipality in southern Serbia, told BIRN on Friday that Serbian Albanians plans to set up a municipal union on the same lines as Serbs have done in Kosovo.

The Association is a “reciprocity measure as Serbia has done with its community in Kosovo,” he said, adding that the Association would be based on “universal rights, human rights and on the negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia that produced an agreement to establish the Association of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo.”

He said another reason for forming the union was because of the “continued violations of Albanian community rights in Serbia”.

Serbian and Kosovo leaders on August 25 finalized key deals on energy, telecommunications, the Association of Serbian Municipalities and an arrangement for the bridge that splits the divided northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica.

The Serbian Association in Kosovo will enjoy considerable autonomy under its own statue, including powers over welfare, health and education.

Arifi told BIRN that the Association of Albanian Municipalities would include three municipalities in which Albanians are significant, Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja.

Ethnic Albanian councillors from the three towns in southern Serbia will then meet in Presevo on Saturday and discuss the new association.

Serbian officials have warned that Albanians in Serbia should not expect the same deal that Serbs will enjoy in Kosovo.

Ivica Dacic, the Foreign Minister, on Thursday said that Albanians in Serbia must not be discriminated against but had to respect the constitution.

"We are warning them against drawing any parallels with the Association of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo,” Dacic said in Medvedja where early local elections will be held on Sunday.

“We are warning them against playing with fire and urging them to honour the constitution and order of the Republic of Serbia. The fact that Serbia is in favour of dialogue does not mean that it is weak - on the contrary, it is strong, the strongest it has been for the past 20 or 30 years,” Dacic said.

Aleksandar Vucic, Prime Minister, was more cautious, saying only that the state should “react wisely and without hasty moves”, but show its strength when needed.

Vucic also noted to the public broadcaster, RTS, that Albanians make only about 6 per cent of the population in Medvedja.

The Prime Minister added he considered Albanians equal to Serbian citizens and announced new investments in the three municipalities in southern Serbia all of which are impoverished.

However, Arifi told BIRN that warnings from Serbian officials would not stop Albanian  councillors from meeting on Saturday.

“The threats from Serbian officials towards Albanian representatives are not the first ones. The threats from Vucic and Dacic will not stop us to meet tomorrow and we hope to approve such a document which is based on reciprocity principle,” he said.

According to the results of Serbia's 2002 census, there were 61,467 Albanians living in Serbia. Most Albanians boycotted the 2011 census, so the current number is unknown. A significant number is thought to have emigrated to Kosovo or to western Europe in recent years. They make up the overwhelming majority of the population of Presevo and are the largest community in Bujanovac.

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