News 02 Mar 16

Serbia Sends Albanian Schoolbooks Back to Kosovo

Albanian-language textbooks from Pristina intended for ethnic Albanian pupils in Serbia’s Presevo Valley have been sent back to the Kosovo border after Belgrade said they were politically biased.

Petrit Collaku
BIRN
Pristina
Presevo in southern Serbia. Photo: Beta.

Around 100,000 elementary school textbooks intended for ethnic Albanian children in southern Serbia was sent back to Kosovo on Tuesday after being held for over six months at a customs terminal in Presevo.

The Belgrade authorities refused to allow the truckloads of Albanian-language books to be distributed to schools in the Presevo Valley, arguing that they were politically biased.

Azem Guri, a political adviser to Kosovo’s education minister, said that the trucks were in Kosovo side of the border and that Pristina will continue to ask Belgrade to allow them to be distributed to schools.

Guri added that education minister Arsim Bajrami will ask the Serbian government to respect an agreement reached last September, when Kosovo and Serbia agreed to exchange school books for minorities in each other’s countries.

“Minister Bajrami will continue to ask Belgrade to respect the agreement. They have undertaken an obligation and they have to fulfil it,” Guri told BIRN.

According to a deal reached in September last year, Pristina was supposed to supply school textbooks to Albanian communities in Serbia while Belgrade was supposed to do the same for Serbs in Kosovo - the first time that the two sides had come to such an agreement since the war ended in 1999.

But the Belgrade government said that the books contain material that is unacceptable in Serbia.

“You want textbooks from Kosovo or Albania to be used in Serbia, and you want [pupils in Serbia] to be taught that Kosovo is independent… That will not be possible,” Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said in December.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has also said that textbooks describing late Kosovo Liberation Army fighter Adem Jashari as a national hero cannot be used in Serbian schools.

Ethnic Albanians in Presevo staged a protest last month, calling for the books to be released from the customs terminal.

Since the beginning of the school year, ethnic Albanian pupils in the Presevo Valley have been without textbooks, seriously impairing pupils' education, Serbia’s National Council of Albanians has argued.

According to Serbia’s 2002 census, 61,467 Albanians lived in Serbia. Most Albanians boycotted the 2011 census, so the current number is unknown.

A significant number are thought to have emigrated to Kosovo or to Western Europe in recent years, but they still make up the overwhelming majority of the population of Presevo.

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