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Back from university, Valon Arifi learnt a bitter lesson – a diploma in design was no guarantee of employment in the Presevo Valley.
Valon left his hometown after a brief conflict between the military and rebels from the ethnic Albanian population, who form a majority in this impoverished pocket of southern Serbia.
He completed his studies in Pristina, the capital of neighbouring Kosovo, where an ethnic Albanian majority has formed an independent state.
As a student, Valon believed that more clout for his community back home would give them more openings on the job market. He was disappointed.
Since ethnic Albanian politicians took over the local government in Presevo, Valon says the best public sector jobs have gone to their friends and supporters.
“I thought it would be better if the Albanians came to power,” he says, running his fingers over his bald head. “Now I see that everything is the same.”
Valon complains that he can only make a living as a DJ at a local club, despite his qualifications. Yet he is luckier than many of his peers, in that he has an income.
Ethnic Albanians in Presevo have begun questioning the impact of the armed rebellion more than a decade ago. Although they have more rights now, they have fewer funds. Political squabbles and Serbian army trucks appear to be the main legacy of the conflict.
Local factories have shut down and investors have been scared away. There is only one hotel in the region and most of the shops close at six pm.
In an already weak job market, young Albanians face an additional hurdle. Many finished their studies in institutions in Tirana, Tetovo and Pristina, where they were taught in their own language. Their qualifications are not recognised by the Serbian state.
This may be why the bar where Valon worked was full of ethnic Albanians, even though it was a week day. Graduates here seem to spend much of their time drinking and listening to loud music.
Those who get tired of this routine look to emigrate. Serbs search for work in the big cities of Belgrade and Nis, while the ethnic Albanians try their luck in western Europe. Some politicians claim tens of thousands of young people have left Presevo since the EU eased visa restrictions on Serbian citizens in 2010.
Valon says many of his friends are in Switzerland or Germany. “I will try to work as a designer in Tirana,” he says, adding that he too will look beyond the region if he can’t make it in Albania.
The Serbian paramilitary who became a key prosecution witness at his former comrades’ trial for war crimes in Kosovo says he had to speak out about the brutal massacres his unit committed.