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Albanian president demands equal rights for Albanians in Serbia as in Kosovo at UN Assembly

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The administrative ethnic cleansing of Albanians living in the south of Serbia was raised by Albanian President Bajram Begaj at the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, where he called for the strengthening of their rights as Kosovo does with Serbs in the north.

“The rights of Serbs in Kosovo reflect European norms and values, the same should apply to the Albanian minority in the Presheva Valley, in the south of Serbia. Unfortunately, we still remain concerned about the inactiveness of their residential addresses and the lack of significant investments and economic incentives in that region,” Begaj said.

Ethnic Albanians in the southern Serbian municipalities of Presevo, Bujanovic, and Medvegja have been illegally and systemically removed from the Serbian civil registry to over 6,000 citizens over the last few years. This has removed the right of Albanians to vote, access healthcare and education, buy and sell property and benefit from state services.

The situation was brought to light by researcher Flora Ferati Saschemesier, and Euractiv was one of the first English-speaking media to publish the findings of her years of work.

Over almost a decade of research found that over 6,000 Albanians were removed from state records in what the Helsinki Committee called “administrative ethnic cleansing”. Research conducted by academic Flora Ferati Sachesenmaier included the testimonies of many residents and former residents, analysis of historical voter lists, and reams of official documents.

The data shows that according to state statistics, Albanians have decreased by up to 71% in some areas, although they still physically live there.

Residents say Serbian authorities sent state officials to verify their addresses, but these individuals would not actually visit the address and would instead report back that the property was empty. Entire families would then be removed from the civil registry, with no route for appeal.

Begaj said Serbs and Albanians should enjoy the same equal rights in both Serbia and Kosovo. He also called on the international community to recognise Kosovo’s independence to allow it to contribute to the global community.

“However, Kosovo is still waiting for the recognition of its independence from many countries. I hope that these countries will soon recognise Kosovo’s contribution to a fairer, more peaceful global community and give Kosovo the recognition it deserves. You know the Independence of Kosovo” – said Begaj.

Minorities in Kosovo enjoy considerable rights under the constitution, including Serbian being an official language, guaranteed seats in parliament regardless of election results, representation at a municipal level, the right to nominate key police officials in Serb majority areas, Serbian language taught and studied in Serb-majority schools instead of Albanian, and at least one minister from the Serb minority in government.

The situation in Presevo has received significant attention in recent weeks, despite journalists and Ferati sounding the alarm since 2020. A letter was sent to the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken by two senators, and MEP Viola von Cramon advocated for the region in the European Parliament.

In an interview with Euractiv, von Cramon said the issue should be included in Serbia’s EU accession negotiations, but it is too late to have it in the EU-backed dialogue.

“This is a classic case of rights of minorities, anti-discrimination, respecting all ethnic groups in the country and so on. This is what we, and I guess some of my colleagues, will remind the Commission and the member states,” von Cramon explained.

“I think now is much too late…As far as I understood, it cannot be included in the dialogue, but it should be definitely put higher up on the agenda of accession talks,” she said.

 

 

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