The OSCE is encouraging Kosovo to protect and promote minority languages.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 27/08/12
Albanian, Serbian, Turkish and English are commonly seen on signs in Pristina. [Linda Karadaku/SETimes]
The appointment last month of Suzana Salaji as Kosovo commissioner for languages was made in an effort to preserve, promote and protect the use of the official languages on a national level. Albanian and Serbian are the official languages in Kosovo, and Turkish is in official use in the municipalities of Prizren, Gjilan and Mamusha.
Salaji, who will hold a six-year mandate, will monitor the implementation of official languages in the municipalities, and of communities whose mother tongue is none of the official languages.
"Linguistic diversity is an aspect of cultural diversity in a multi-ethnic society and as such it is very important," Nikola Gaon, chief spokesperson for the Organisation of Security Cooperation for Europe in Kosovo, told SETimes.
The OSCE said Kosovo should do more to enable members of different communities to learn each other's languages and overcome linguistic barriers. The legislative framework in Kosovo obliges institutions to provide services in the official languages in use, but there are shortcomings in how that is being implemented.
"Those shortcomings can be overcome with capacity building within institutions, be it by enabling municipalities to hire translators or to better train the existing ones or by helping them develop forms and signs in the official languages," Gaon told SETimes.
Gaon said that reforming the language commission is a step in the right direction, as are the efforts of some of municipalities to establish municipal language compliance commissions and comply with human rights standards.
Seb Bytyci, executive director of the Balkan Policy Institute, said Kosovo has very advanced legislation on minority languages.
"Serbian is an official language on the national level, although it is spoken by only 5 percent of the population. The appointment of a person [commissioner] to promote languages of the communities, gives a human face to this legislation. Having several languages makes Kosovo more cosmopolitan, although Kosovo does not have big cities, several languages can be heard," Bytyci told SETimes.
Lirije Hoxha, a Pristina resident agrees. "Official languages … have to be respected. Everywhere in the institutions, I see all is written in all the official languages, in English as well," Hoxha told SETimes.
Kosovo's law on the use of languages was approved in 2006.
But Bekim Blakaj, executive director for the Humanitarian Law Centre in Kosovo, said that the government has already established an inter-ministerial commission for the protection and promotion of the official languages in Kosovo.
"The foundation of this commission was very important because it showed the government is serious in promoting the rights of the national minorities, but … most of the citizens of the minority communities do not even know that this commission exists," Blakaj told SETimes.
Nesa Milojevic, a Kosovo Serb from Kamenica, said there are several issues with how the Serbian language is used in public areas.
"Use of language is respected, but not properly. For example, I see many times that the words [in Serbian] are written with grammatical mistakes and sometimes they sound funny. I saw when travelling to Peja one sign where the word was written wrong because the last letter was wrong. It might seem unimportant for the others, but being a Serb, those mistakes take your eye immediately," Milojevic told SETimes.
Blakaj admits that the law on the use of the official languages is not entirely implemented in all levels, "although in most of the cases, the discrimination is not by intention."
Shukran Bejtullahu, a member of the Turkish minority, says Turkish is not much used in Pristina in institutions or on official documents, "but it is much better in Prizren."
"I don't know the law well on where and how the Turkish language should be used, but in Prizren, all institutions have their names written in Turkish as well," Bejtullahu told SETimes.
Other countries in the region also strive to protect the minority languages as well.
Bosnia and Herzegovina approved a law on the protection of the minority rights in 2003, which includes the use of the minority languages in education and the public sector. In 2000, Croatia approved the law on the use of language and script of national minorities.
Macedonia amended its constitution in 2001, providing that any language spoken by at least 20 percent of the population is also an official language. Montenegro's constitution stipulates that the minorities can use their language and alphabet in private, public and official use.