It has not taken long for signs to emerge that talks will begin with the Serb local administrative parallel structures, elected illegally on 11th May, thus legitimizing their existence. The first to take this step of the many international missions running Kosovo or trying to run Kosovo is EULEX. The head of EULEX, Yves de Kermabon, is quoted by B92 as stating, ‘I am willing to talk to everybody, because I believe that is the only way to find solutions for the Serbs living here.” He added, “I do not want the EU to be forcibly deployed here. I consider that impossible, and that is why I want to have talks with members of the Serb community in Kosovo, as well as with the authorities in Belgrade”. Kermabon, do not forget, invited the Serbian chief of the general staff to his farewell ceremony in 2006, without consulting Kosovo’s institutions, just 6 years after the Serbian army had killed over 10,000 Albanians.
News reports suggest that EULEX will be delayed until the end of the year because of international disagreement about its legitimacy. EULEX in order to preserve its existence is now seeking cooperation from Belgrade and local Serbs, regardless of the implications this has for Kosovo’s sovereignty. By talking to the newly elected parallel structures, EULEX recognizes their legitimacy, thus saving UNMIK the bother and the bad press of doing the same. In order to preserve its own existence, EULEX is thus violating Kosovo’s sovereignty. But this should not be surprising: This mission itself is based on the approval of states which do not recognize Kosovo.
As part of the Ahtisaari Plan, the government has proposed a new law which identifies the national holidays of Kosovo. This excludes the 28th November, ‘Flag Day’, which is the date on which Albanians everywhere celebrate the independence of Albania, the 12th June, when NATO forces entered Kosovo, and the 5th March, the day when all those who died for Kosovo are remembered. This is simply the next step in the whitewashing of history and the removal of all signs of an Albanian identity in Kosovo. Instead the law includes holidays which have no meaning, such as Europe Day (is Kosovo meant to celebrate its exclusion from the EU on this day or its administration by the EU and thus its lack of democracy?). Whilst the right to express the majority Albanian identity of Kosovo is excluded, religious holidays are included. Add to this mix the Ahtisaari Plan’s declaration that all Orthodox monuments are ‘Serb,’ rather than the mixed cultural heritage of all the people of Kosovo, and it becomes clear that this combination is designed precisely to divide us into competing religious identities, whilst removing what unites us. Kosovo is 95% Albanian. It is a majority Albanian state and it is possible and right to express that identity whilst at the same time, guaranteeing and protecting the rights of all minorities within the state.
UNMIK AND LEAD POISONING
The sincerity of UNMIK’s commitment to the overused concept of ‘multiethnicity’ is revealed by one simple fact: Since 1999, displaced Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians from south Mitrovica have been living in ‘temporary’ camps on toxic wastelands. These camps are built on the tailing stands of the Trepça lead mines, near 100 million tons of slag heaps which produce toxic dust causing extreme levels of lead poisoning. Despite two reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) recommending immediate evacuation, their safety has not been resolved.
In 1999, the UNHCR moved the displaced families to 4 camps on toxic wastelands. Their stay was meant to be just 45 days. Today, the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians are living in 3 camps: Osterode, Cemin Lug (the north of Mitrovica) and Leposavic.
In November 2000 the WHO recommended to UNMIK that the camps be evacuated as most of the inhabitants were suffering from lead poisoning. The camps were neither evacuated nor closed. Instead, a soccer field was built by the camp and a jogging track, called the ‘Alley of Health’ [most of the poisoning was caused by toxic dust!]. Then in 2002, all food aid was suspended. This aid was critical not only because of the poverty of the families, but also because a good diet can reduce levels of poisoning by up to 20%, if the affected person is removed from the source of poisoning.
In the summer of 2004, the WHO investigated the death of a 4 year old girl, Jenite Mehmeti. The blood samples they took from children in the camp registered extreme levels of lead, over 65 mg/dl, the highest level the WHO machine could read. Medical treatment for lead poisoning requires immediate evacuation from the source of poisoning and hospitalization if lead levels are above 40 mg/dl. Irreversible brain damage usually begins at 10 mg/dl especially in children under the age of six whose immune systems have yet to develop. In November 2004, the WHO once again recommended immediate evacuation. UNMIK began bimonthly meetings to ‘study’ the problem.
In January 2006 UNMIK closed one camp and moved 35 families to a new camp, just 50 meters away: Osterode. This camp cost 500,000 euros to refurbish and was declared ‘lead safer’ (not lead free). The camp ground was cemented to prevent poisoning from the ground and food aid was reinitiated with funding from the US office. In the spring, 100 families had been moved to Osterode. In the same year, UNMIK promised to return the families to their former homes but of the 54 apartments built, only 8 were given to the families in the camps. In April 2007 all food and medical aid at Osterode was also stopped because of funding.
In April 2008, the WHO took blood samples from 105 children in Osterode and in Cesmin Lug. The tests showed that lead levels had doubled, but the results were not made public. UNMIK has often claimed that the lead poisoning is caused by smelting car batteries and not the toxic waste near the camps. In 2005, the Society for Threatened Peoples, in Germany, brought to Kosovo the leading German expert on toxic poisoning, Dr. Klaus Runow. His analysis showed that the children were suffering from toxic poisoning from 36 other toxic elements, not found in car batteries.
There is still no solution in sight for these families. Nor has UNMIK been held accountable for its failure over 9 long years to resolve their plight. In 2005, the UN avoided a lawsuit by an American lawyer, Dianne Post, on behalf of several hundred families, by declaring diplomatic immunity. A similar lawsuit at the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg was turned down. The court declared only a country, not an organization, can be sued.
For 9 years UNMIK has been content to ignore the plight of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians suffering from lead poisoning in Kosovo, whilst piously trumpeting the value of ‘multiethnicity’ and ‘tolerance.’ For 9 years UNMIK has chastised the Kosovo institutions for not developing democratic values, whilst at the same time, UNMIK has failed to act in the interests of the people of Kosovo, in this case the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians, and retreated behind immunity to avoid all accountability or responsibility for its crime. Governing institutions without accountability are the death of democracy: and that goes for UNMIK and for the new ICO/EULEX.
AN SAA FOR SERBIA, A TRUCK FOR KOSOVO
This week the EU missions in Kosovo began a campaign to tell the people of Kosovo how great the EU is and at the same time, how great the ICO and EULEX will be. In an excruciating metaphor, they stated that the EU missions are here to act as the signposts to guide the direction of the ‘TRUCK’ which is being driven by the people of Kosovo. An institution which has the right to annul laws proposed by the Kosovo Assembly and the right to expel from office elected representatives is not simply there to provide direction – it directs. Trying to mask this by tying it to membership in the EU is not only dishonest, but humiliating for the people of Kosovo. Whilst Serbia is offered an SAA, Kosovo gets a truck and an EU mission. Bosnia was spared the truck, but not the EU mission and it is no closer to the EU. The people of Kosovo need a government which is democratically elected, responsible and accountable for its actions. They need economic development and jobs. More importantly they need the right to determine their own future.
Vetevendosje (self-determination) Movement opposes international administration of Kosovo.