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News 28 Jul 15

Kosovo Parliament Rejects Serb Minister’s Cyrillic

A ministerial document written in the Cyrillic alphabet used by Serbs was rejected by the commission for legislation, highlighting the language differences which continue to cause problems in Kosovo.

Una Hajdari

A document in Cyrillic was rejected on Monday during a meeting of the Kosovo parliament's commission for legislation, with its head Albulena Haxhiu saying that the format was not “typical” and requesting a legal interpretation of the issue.

“As you saw, the proposal made by the Ministry for Communities and Returns came in a different format, one which is not typical for the parliament of the Republic of Kosovo, with the logo of the parliament in Cyrillic,” said Haxhiu during the meeting.

“Without a correct interpretation of this by parliamentary bodies, I think we should not proceed with the proposals from the Ministry for Communities and Returns,” added Haxhiu.

The document was submitted by the Minister for Returns and Communities, Dalibor Jevtic, a Serb, and included legal aid proposals.

But Jevtic said that the use of Cyrillic, a script commonly used by Serbs, should not be considered an obstacle.

“My institution respects the rights of all communities in Kosovo, as the constitution guarantees the rights and differences of all communities,” Jevtic told BIRN.

“I think we have much more important issues to deal with, and should not deal with irrelevant problems,” he added.

He said that he had received official emails and correspondences in Albanian, which he claimed was a violation of the law on languages.

Language barriers provide one of the biggest problems in the relationship between the two main ethnic communities in Kosovo, Albanians and Serbs.

A vast majority of the population does not speak the language of the other, apart from people from the older generation who still speak Serbo-Croat, the official language of Yugoslavia.

The Law on the Use of Languages, passed in 2006, during the UN Mission in Kosovo administration and before Kosovo declared independence in 2008, says that Albanian and Serbian and their alphabets enjoy equal status in Kosovo.

“Albanian and Serbian and their alphabets are official languages of Kosovo and have equal status in Kosovo institutions,” says Article 2 of the law.

The law further specifies that “all official documents shall be kept and issued in the official languages” and that the “official names of official institutions shall be displayed in the official languages.”

However, the term “alphabets” is only directly referenced in Article 2, with further references to the use of languages – even in parliamentary commissions – not specifying the use of alphabets.

Other Slavic languages, such as Bosnian, are not official languages at the central level in Kosovo but determined at the municipal level when a certain percentage of the population or language group is present.

It is commonly assumed that having documents and speeches at the central level translated in Serbian is sufficient for other language groups, due to their similarity.

However, having all the documents at the central level written in Cyrillic would make it more difficult for the Bosnian community, which uses the Latin alphabet.

An OSCE report on the use of languages in Kosovo published in June 2014 said that the use of Serbian in official communications is still not fully implemented.

“More than seven years after its promulgation, the Law on the Use of Languages remains only partially implemented due to insufficient human and financial resources, often accompanied by an insufficient understanding of municipal obligations and a lack of political will,” said the report published by the OSCE mission in Kosovo.

It is not uncommon for street signs that feature both official languages to have one of them defaced with graffiti, depending on the dominance of either community in the area – although most street signs use Latin script for the Serbian-language names of towns and institutions.

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