Kosovars are eager to collect pension payments from Serbia that have been suspended since 1999.
By Linda Karadaku and Biljana Pekusic for Southeast European Times in Pristina and Belgrade -- 22/03/13
Kosovars recently celebrated five years of independence and the news that Serbia will re-establish pension payments that were suspended in 1999. [AFP]
Kosovo citizens welcomed the announcement that the Serbian government will provide pension payments that have been suspended for 14 years.
There currently are no estimates on the number of people who have been denied pensions or the amount Serbia owes them. Those figures will become clear as the Serbian Fund for Pension and Disability Insurance processes requests.
Requests may be submitted by Kosovars who received pensions prior to June 9th 1999. At that point, when Kosovo came under international control, Serbia stopped the payments. The deadline to submit requests to the fund's service department in Belgrade is April 20th. All documentation that pensioners must provide is listed on the Serbian pension fund's website.
"When we get all the requests, we will be able to estimate how much money would be needed for the payment of pensions and to determine the time when the payments begin," Zoran Milosevic, the deputy minister of labour, employment and social policy, told SETimes.
Zelihe Mecini, a Pristina resident, retired in 1997 after working for about 29 years as a nurse and hasn't received her pension since 1999.
"We have contributed for years in this pension fund, however, we will take our pensions only if there is a political will to resolve this issue," Mecini told SETimes. "I am afraid Serbia is playing a political game and making promises for the sake of the European integration, and when it comes to the implementation, they will remain only decisions on paper."
Fetah Latifaj, a pensioner who provided services for Pristina University, retired in 1998 and saw his pension suspended one year later.
"This is a late decision coming after the pressure of the international community and Serbia's fear that it might lose the case in the International Court of Labour in Strasbourg, where Kosovo pensioners have deposited their individual cases," Latifaj said.
In spite of concerns, there is legal precedent in the matter.
Riza Smaka, a lawyer and university professor, said two Kosovo citizens won a case in the Strasbourg court against Serbia for not paying their pensions. The ruling was issued April 17th 2012, for Lutvija Grudic-Klapija and Mahmut Grudic from Mitrovica.
"The Strasbourg decision has forced Serbia to take this decision now, to deal with the issue of the Kosovo pensioners," Smaka told SETmes.
Smaka's wife Hana worked for about 21 years, retired in 1987 and has not received her pension since 1998.
"My pension was about 200 marks at that time," Hana told SETimes.
Lumir Abdixhiku, executive director of the Riinvest Institute in Pristina has misgivings about the process.
"It's more about giving hope than an act thought to be implemented," Abdixhiku told SETimes.
"Instead of an individual treatment, the pensions issue should have taken an institutional frame as an issue between the respective governments. Second, the bureaucratic requests put in front so far have been made to discourage any Kosovar. And third, no compensation has been foreseen for the Kosovars that have been deprived of their pensions right for 14 years."
But Abdixhiku added that international regulations are on Kosovo's side and that "it is only a question of time until the pensions are given back."