Kosovo, a land-locked province of Serbia, still bears the scars of the civil war between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians six years ago. One of the poorest regions in Europe, it’s currently run by the UN’s Mission in Kosovo. During the conflict homes and property were seized, ownership often determined by force. Today there is still deep resentment. To find solutions the UN created HPD, the Housing Property Directorate. But its five year mission ends this year. Will HPD’s withdrawal signal new anger over land and property rights? Life has been to find out.
Will HPD’s withdrawal signal new anger over land and property rights? This is a critical question as the area braces itself for the Final Status talks, which will determine the future of Kosovo.
Mitrovica in the north of Kosovo is divided by the River Ibar. Once integrated, Serbs now live in the North, Albanians in the south. Albanian Mrs Hyseni lives in a house belonging to a Kosovo Serb displaced after the war. But it’s in the Albanian south of Mitrovica. She is displaced from her own flat in the north and is too scared to go back. ‘I don’t know what to say’¦ a week ago two persons have been beaten. There is no safety, no security. We can’t go back. My son, they killed him in the war. The second one has been beaten.’
A Serb, Milutin Mojisic, occupies Mrs Hyseni’s flat in the north, temporarily moved there by the United Nations Housing & Property Directorate, HPD. He says: ‘I came in this apartment after bombing because I didn’t have any other place to live in. I cannot live inside my property because it is destroyed and burned.’
The UN set up the Housing and Property Directorate to reintegrate the communities by getting people back into their own homes. Many people still live illegallyin other people’s houses. As Kosovo tries to return to normal, not surprisingly people want their homes back. Some people willingly leave an illegally occupied home when asked by the HPD. Some don’t, and have to be evicted. Toncho Zourlev is the HPD ‘bailiff’ in southern Kosovo. Here he is in action: ‘Sir! You have been allocated this property for 6 months. Since the time’s up there are two options: either you leave voluntary or you’ll be evicted. You cannot any more occupy this property. We are going to repossess the property and collect the keys.’
HPD is nearing the end of its mandate. It will have dealt, successfully, with 29,000 cases. It has made conditions easier for return, and offered a cheap, impartial, fair, safe process where people can come and make the claims. But the HPD’s authority has been limited. It deals only with housing. It has no mandate to resolve disputes over land or commercial property. There are thousands of land and commercial property cases pending. Serbs have lodged some 20,000 non-housing property claims.
Although Kosovo is technically a part of Serbia, only 5% of its population is Serbian, while 90% is Albanian. Serbs now live mainly in enclaves surrounded by Albanians. The UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) protects them. The situation is still tense. If a Serb’s business or land lies outside the enclave access is often through a checkpoint.
Darko Jovanovic lives in the Serb enclave of Gorazdevac. Although HPD got Darko his apartment back they can’t help with his land.
Slavko Mandic is another Serb with a grievance. He owns a restaurant on the ‘Albanian’ side of the river in Mitrovica. This is the first time Mr Mandic has seen his restaurant for two years. As it stands there is nothing he can do to get his restaurant back, because the HPD can’t deal with commercial property disputes. The Kosovo Albanian who uses the restaurant has even changed the name. Slavko has not given up: ‘I try to do everything but as you see still nothing happens. I will try to get back my property till I die.’ The main clientele of the restaurant comes from the buildings flanking it: the local UN HQ and the police station.
There are encouraging signs. Life visits a mixed Albanian Serb village. Serb houses there were destroyed in the war but now 43 Serb families have returned. Next to the ruins of their old destroyed homes they’re restarting their lives in newly built houses.
Kosovo is one of the poorest regions of Europe. Unemployment runs in excess of 60%. Average earnings are about $240 a month. People are desperate for work. It’s not surprising that, despite the UN’s best efforts, Kosovo is still a tinderbox. Serbs and Albanians clashed again in March 2004. Riots erupted throughout the province, 19 people died, and over 4,000 more were forced out of their homes.
Dr Joachim RÃƒÆ’¼cker of UNMIK admits: ‘The state of the economy is not as we would like it to be. It is not satisfactory. There is a vicious circle of low growth, high unemployment, fiscal imbalances and foreign trade imbalances. We have to break this vicious circle.’
The key question for Kosovo is whether it remains part of Serbia or becomes independent. Settling the future status of Kosovo could lead to more stability and Serbs and Albanians living together again. The rebuilding of Kosovo depends on the Final Status talks. A date for the start of those talks is expected soon. Kosovo is again at a crossroads.
Read the UN Administrator’s priorities for Kosovo. The UN Secretary-General has recently published a comprehensive review of the situation in Kosovo. UN Habitat has a website for their Kosovo Cadastre Support Programme.
For the latest news from UNMIK Online, click here. Visit the website of the Housing and Property Directorate, Kosovo(currently being updated). The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has published a report on protection and return in Kosovo.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has a website on its mission in Kosovo.
The European Commission and the World Bank hosts a website on the Economic Reconstruction and Development in South East Europe.