The latest Council of Europe report noted increasing nationalism, but officials said existing laws are sufficient protection for minority rights.
By Safet Kabashaj for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 09/10/13
The Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian minorities live in difficult conditions in Kosovo, exacerbated by what the latest Council of Europe report called nationalist trends. [AFP]
A new Council of Europe report on the protection of national minorities expresses concern about nationalism in Kosovo and its negative effect on minority rights, but some officials dispute the report's conclusions.
The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities stated "[There is a threat of] creating of a homogeneous society, particularly in the urban centres and among youth, with limited tolerance for minority languages, cultures, traditions and identities."
Officials and experts said they are surprised at the report's conclusion because there is a lack of nationalism in Kosovo, and they added that existing laws protect minority rights.
"The reality is that minorities enjoy some rights that are more advanced than [elsewhere] in Europe," Behxhet Shala, head of the Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms, told SETimes.
Shala acknowledged, however, that in Kosovo's difficult economic environment, the Roma, Egyptian and Ashkali (RAE) communities lack access to economic and education opportunities as well as health and public services.
"This is really a concerning matter for which neither Kosovo nor the international community have done enough," Shala said.
The report listed employment discrimination against the Roma as a particularly significant problem.
"That [employment discrimination] is a fact," Xhevdet Neziraj, a member of both the parliament and the RAE community, told SETimes.
Neziraj said he raised the issue in parliament, particularly regarding public sector employment.
"There is not a single RAE community member employed in a major public enterprise like the Kosovo Postal Service, Telecom or the Kosovo Energy Corporation, despite the fact that graduates from this community have applied for jobs. Worse, they are never invited for an interview," Neziraj said.
Neziraj said the authorities have not hired minorities for jobs with the Kosovo police or customs service despite a legal requirement to have a certain number of minority applicants. Only a few RAE community members have been employed, but only after interventions and pressure exerted for the law to be followed.
"Seven thousand Egyptians live in and around Gjakova, but not a single one is employed at the police, even though hundreds are qualified," Neziraj said.
The report also expressed concern about the lack of sustainable progress in relations among ethnic groups.
"There is a sense of deterioration in particular linked to urban centres and young people," the report said.
Shala said the criticism concerns a practical problem because urban centres are generally mono-ethnic, while minority communities are based in the periphery or in rural areas.
Inter-ethnic activities may be less evident, but in general, they are at a satisfactory level, said Ragip Gjoshi, a senior adviser to Kosovo's education minister.
"Overall, inter-ethnic activity in recent years is improving, but it remains a concern of education for the RAE community," Gjoshi told SETimes.
Gjoshi said minorities decide themselves whether to attend schools with instruction in Albanian or Serbian, depending on the location where they live.
"In the Serb-dominated areas, they select to attend schools in Serbian, and the same is applied if they live in Albanian-dominated areas," he added.
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