This fall, the University of Pristina enrolled students at the accredited program for learning the Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian languages at the Department of Balkan studies. The first time after the war that Albanian-speaking students will have the opportunity to learn Sabian, one of the two official languages in Kosovo, at the university level.
The program will also provide courses for translators’ certification, which will be an excellent opportunity for the existing translators in Kosovo to validate their knowledge and experience officially.
The news gives hope to Ivana Pavlović, the Reconciliation and Conflict Transformation podcast guest, that the right to use Serbian as an official language of Kosovo institutions will be implemented better over time.
Ivana is from Beluće/Boluqe, a village in Leposavić/Leposavić. She works in the Office of the Language Commissioner (OLC) of Kosovo to strengthen the capacities of central and local institutions to preserve official languages and uphold the provisions of the Law on Use of Languages.
The level of respect of language rights in Kosovo is a burning issue for the Serbian community, and complaints of its neglect are numerous. State Department’s Human Rights report for Kosovo collected complaints by the OLC, the Ministry of Communities and Return, UNHCR, and others. They all underline systemic issues with providing language services in the Serbian or other non-majority communities’ languages by central and local institutions.
The issue became extensively visible during the pandemic when the Ministry of Health failed to distribute information on measures, precautions, and other pandemic-related information in the Serbian language. In addition to OLC, this issue was also recorded in the EULEX monitoring report. For Ivana, this was a discouraging example of how the Law on Use of Languages can be violated even during public health crises.
“Most commonly, the Ministry of Health would use this excuse: we don’t have enough capacity, we don’t have enough translators, we don’t have time, the pandemic overwhelmed us. It was a somewhat understandable excuse in the first month when we were all lost. Still, it continued happening later,” recollected Ivana, noting that it took the resolute action of the OLC and UNMIK to resolve the issue. They hired translators to translate instructions for the Ministry of Health for the citizens who speak or understand the Serbian language.
This is Ivana’s primary task in the Office of the Language Commissioner. She helps institutions identify and address their insufficiencies, install adequate software, or develop handbooks for monolingual officers who need to provide essential services to non-majority community members when a translator is not immediately available.
The OLC has also developed the first online Albanian-Serbian dictionary, “Rečnik/Fjalor,” and a set of online courses available on the VocUp platform. These language learning tools are free for Serbian and Albanian speakers who want to learn the other language.
Kosovo‘s Law on Use of Languages is very inclusive, and on top of the two official languages, Albanian and Serbian, it also allows for other non-majority community languages to be given the status of the language in the official use on the local level.
“Dragash/Dragaš has Bosnian as an official language, Peja/Peć has the same – Bosnian, Mitrovica and Vushtrri/Vučitrn have Turkish as a language in official use, also Gjilan/Gnjilane and some other mixed communities,” says Ivana, adding that the Roma community from Gračanica/Graçanicë is one of the most active minority communities that uses the help of the OLC to promote its linguistic heritage.
Ivana is not all about work. We talked to her about her personal life and her Instagram account (@ratomirovna), where, among other things, she posts about her experiences meeting people from different ethnic communities in Kosovo.
After returning from her studies abroad made possible by the British Council scholarship, she moved from her Serb-majority village to Albanian-majority Prishtina/Priština. This came as a surprise to her surroundings. The move was a big step for Ivana. Still, it was not a cultural shock as similarities between both communities are overwhelming.
“There are a lot of similarities. But neither community likes to hear that everything is the same, only in a different language,” says Ivana jokingly, underlining that she senses a need in the communities to perpetuate artificial differences that would explain the violence that happened in the past.
See what else Ivana had to say about her experience with people from different communities and traveling over the imaginary ethnic line:
Full video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfuiUAqd_Eg
Promo video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJ-7_vJpR4k
This podcast was recorded as part of Reconciliation and Conflict Transformation Activity implemented by Community Building Mitrovica and partners from New Social Initiative and Youth Initiative for Human Rights Kosovo and supported by the American people through USAID (United States Agency for International Development) in Kosovo.