When former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic paid his historic visit to Kosovo in 1990, he started a process that was ultimately to lead to the break-up of the multi-ethnic population of the province, and the destruction of any form of civic government for the families who’d lived there for centuries. Under the Serb nationalism Milosevic unleashed, all records of Albanian property and land ownership in Kosovo were either deliberately destroyed, or carted away to Serbia, and Serb families took over houses and flat long owned by Albanians.
In 1999, it was the Albanians’ turn to get their revenge. Following the Nato bombing in Kosovo, and the return of the thousands of Albanian refugees who’d fled their homes, Albanians appropriated Serb homes and land – and the fleeing Serbs became the new victims. Today – under the umbrella of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), UN-Habitat officials are wrestling with the gargantuan task of rebuilding municipal government – and trust – in the region, and sorting out who really owns whose property. It’s a painstaking business, involving recreating official ownership records and organising local government elections: in short, rebuilding democracy – one of the essential building blocks, governments agreed at Rio, in the recipe for ‘sustainable development’. This Life programme explores how well they’re succeeding through the eyes of local families – Serb and Albanian – in Kosovo.
Hassan Hamdi is a Kosovo Albanian teacher – one of hundreds of thousands of Albanians whose homes were damaged or destroyed in the war three years ago. His house in Shusik was burnt, so he occupied an empty 2-room apartment in the nearby town of Vitina. Now a Serb lady has claimed the flat is hers, but Hassan refuses to move out. So the Housing & Property Directorate, set up by UNMIK, the UN Interim Administrative Mission in Kosovo, is trying to adjudicate. Hassan says he does not want to claim the flat – he just has nowhere else to go.
But is Hassan telling the truth? Does he have other property? Is he in fact the owner of the burned house? Armand Forster, the head of HPD in Guilane, is cautious. “If it ever happens that he owns a property somewhere else, and he is profiting from the situation to occupy somebody’s property in town, then I will have to use forceful means to evict him.”
Following the Nato bombing in Kosovo, and the return of the thousands of Albanian refugees who’d fled their homes, Albanians appropriated Serb homes and land – and the fleeing Serbs became the new victims. Today – under the umbrella of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), UN-Habitat officials are wrestling with the gargantuan task of rebuilding municipal government – and trust – in the region, and sorting out who really owns whose property.
Maya Drakulovic is a hundred miles from her home town, Prizren – forced out of her home by the Kosovo Liberation Army. She’s come to HPD to try to get compensation. Maya explains that the apartment was allocated to her husband but he was killed in Croatia by the terrorists and two months later her father-in-law was killed too. She had to leave for the safety of her children. She doesn’t want to live in Kosovo any more.
To bring order out of chaos, UN-Habitat is rebuilding the Land Registry – the records of who owns what. Chief of the Kosovo Cadastral Agency, Bengt Andersson, explains: “The Land Register is very important for a society – whatever society we are talking about. It will be the base for investments – and for mortgages, for urban planning – for spatial planning – you need it for taxation purposes to get incomes to the state.” So they carried out an aerial survey, and then he got his team of local engineers to re-survey the whole province. They are very precise – accurate to within 4 millimetres.
“For the Kosovo people, land is very essential. They have grown their crops on land within the family for decades so land is very important to them. In some respects more important than human beings,” says Bengt.
In Pristina, the capital, a Serbian owned apartment block has been illegally rented out. Dmitri Kaportsev is being quite tough with the illegal tenants. “Some Serbs who are renting out apartments of their neighbours without even telling them about it, and they were collecting rent from internationals earning money on someone else’s property.” They post 23 eviction notices.
After the war was over and most Serbs left, there was no government, weak law enforcement, no banks and meaningless property rights. There was no basis for an economy. Organised crime took over.
Derek Chappell of the UNMIK Police, puts it like this: “It’s a cruel fact that the area that is most successful for inter-ethnic cooperation between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs is in organised crime. Organised crime has a very strong hold on most aspects of life in the Balkans.” It’s only now, after three years of occupation, that the UN forces of law and order are beginning to have an impact on organised crime.
Roman Ulonovskiy, a Russian Policeman working for UNMIK, is in charge of busting an illegal tobacco racket. “Yesterday all local bosses, the Director of this factory and his deputies were arrested. When local police officials came to this factory, 20 tonnes of tobacco were found without any records, without any documents.”
Illegal construction is another problem. Albanians illegally build new tops on apartment blocks even though Kosovo is in an earthquake zone. They build illegally in the only park in town. And they’ve built entire neighbourhoods in Pristina illegally, with no thought for a sustainable future: the river is both a sewer and a rubbish dump.
Dan Lewis, Chief, UN-HABITAT, Kosovo, says: “Until an enforceable system is in place that regulates this kind of activity, this will continue… In the end what will happen for Kosovo and the Balkans is they will be integrated in with the rest of Europe. But the road to that objective is a long one, and we’re at the very beginning of that road at the moment. This is the essence of why the UN is here in Kosovo: it’s to establish Justice.”
Visit the website of the Housing and Property Directorate, Kosovo, and read Return to Kosovo – one brick at a time, a feature published by UNHCR, and the latest bulletin of the European Agency for Reconstruction in Kosovo. UN Habitat has a website for their Kosovo Cadastre Support Programme. For the text of the Habitat Agenda, click here.
For the latest news from UNMIK Online, click here.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) website on its mission in Kosovo.
Kosovo.Com is a website of the Serbian Orthodox Church dwelling on the destruction of Orthodox churches in Kosovo. TheKosovo Crisis Center presents the Albanian point of view, and includes a map of Kosovo.
The European Commission and the World Bank hosts a website on the Economic Reconstruction and Development in South East Europe.
For more information on the Johannesburg Summit, visit the website of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and the Host Country’s special website on the meeting. The Earth Summit 2002 Stakeholder Forum website is covering NGO participation and providing a running commentary on negotiations and links to other relevant sites.