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Feature 23 Dec 14

Kosovars Go Far to Send Letters to Serbia

With no agreement yet on mail cooperation between Kosovo and Serbia, sending a simple letter from one to the other remains a hassle.

Zana Cimili
Since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, it is almost impossible to send even a postcard to Serbia from regular Kosovo post office. | Photo by William Arthur Fine Stationery/Flickr

When Antigona Bajrami, a translator in Pristina, wanted to send a birthday present - a book - to a friend in Belgrade recently, she could not simply go to her nearest post office and dispatch it from there. She had to drive 20 minutes to Gracanica, the largest ethnic Serbian town near Pristina.

 “I used to live in Nis [in Serbia], where I was born. We used to send postcards to places in Serbia or Kosovo all the time, as well as all over Yugoslavia,” Bajrami recalled while driving to Gracanica. “Now I need to travel to another city to send stuff.”

Since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, there has been no formal cooperation between the postal systems of Kosovo and Serbia. As a result, it is almost impossible to send even a postcard to Serbia from regular Kosovo post office.

Inside the Posta Srbije (Post of Serbia) office in Gracanica, Bajrami handed over the book to the woman at the counter, explaining in Serbian where it needed to go, before filling out a form containing her address as its known in the Serbian system, with the zip code “38 000 Pristina, APKM.” APKM stands for “Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija,” Kosovo’s official name in Serbia.

Delivery problems

Because of its disputed status, Kosovo faces problems receiving receiving mail and packages from abroad. Mail intended for Kosovo frequently goes to Belgrade, which returns items instead of forwarding them. This makes it difficult for people in Kosovo to order things online. Some Kosovars get around this by adding a “via Albania” to their address, which routes the mail through Tirana, which in turn forwards it to Kosovo.

Gracanica is the hub for Posta Srbija’s operations in Kosovo, which has 28 individual post offices and employees 240 staff.

“We get all the post that comes from Serbia, even stuff meant for officials and institutions in Pristina,” Randjel Nojkic, the head of Posta Srbija in Kosovo, said. “I make sure my employees send through the important mail meant for Kosovo officials, especially if there’s a contact number on the package,” he added.

Nojkic acknowledged that the situation was peculiar. “The reality is that the two postal systems work here side by side… it’s just that the cooperation needs to be ironed out,” he said.

The Serbian postal service is just one in a line of institutions that still function under the direct patronage of the Serbian state in Kosovo.

Serbian post in Kosovo

  • 28 post offices
  • 240 employees
  • 20,000 items delivered from Serbia each year
  • 7,000-8,000 items sent out from Kosovo

Others include schools and medical clinics. The Kosovo government frowns on these institutions, which Belgrade has, in fact, begun to dismantle as part of the EU-led April 2013 agreement with Pristina on the normalisation of their relations.

The Brussels agreement tackled the highest profile issues such the integration of Serbian police into the Kosovo police force and the establishment of party autonomous Serbian municipalities operating under Kosovo’s overall auspices in the north of Kosovo.

But, key issues have yet to be tackled as Belgrade and Pristina continue to engage in talks.

Edita Tahiri, Kosovo’s chief negotiator in the talks, said the issue of the postal system has featured in some discussions. “We have spoken about this topic but a final agreement has not been reached regarding the post specifically,” she said.

“What we expect to happen is for illegal structures to be closed and for them to be integrated in the Kosovo system,” she added.

In the meantime, ordinary people like Bajrami will continue to have to take extra steps to get ordinary business between Kosovo and Serbia transacted.

“I hope stuff like this gets cleared up soon. Otherwise we’re just making life harder for each other,” she concluded.

This story was written as part of BIG DEAL, a civic oversight project examining the implementation of agreements between Kosovo and Serbia. The project is being implemented by BIRN Kosovo, Internews Kosova and Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability - CRTA, with support from the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

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