The position of Serbs in Kosovo, and the status of Kosovo, is currently one of the most hotly contested issues in international relations, pairing Russia and China against the US and the UK in the UN Security Council. In the EU, it sets France and Germany against Spain and Greece.
According to the last official Yugoslav census, there were 194,190 Serbs living in Kosovo in 1991. The war had a dramatic impact: approximately 70,000 Serbs left Kosovo. With the exception of North Mitrovica, the world of urban Serbs has entirely disappeared. By contrast, a large majority of rural Serbs never left Kosovo.
Since 1999, international and government-funded programmes have facilitated the return of only some 18,000 Serbs and other minorities (UNHCR, 2007). One major obstacle is the lack of employment opportunities. While most rural Serbs can still survive on subsistence agriculture, jobs for urban Serbs have largely disappeared. For Serbs who previously worked for the Serbian government or public administration, there are few incentives to return.
A detailed analysis by ESI – using official data used by the Serbian government – estimated that some 129,000 Serbs are living in Kosovo today. The majority are living in rural communities south of Mitrovica. One third – about 40,000 – live in North Mitrovica and further north.
Serb family fleeing after March 2004 riots
The Ahtisaari Plan – the proposal drafted by UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari – gives Serbs in Kosovo equal rights with Albanians. Under the plan, the Serbian language is one of the two official languages of Kosovo; five municipalities with Serb majorities enjoy extensive rights of self-government, including rights over higher education and appointments of police chiefs; additional municipalities with Serb majorities are to be created. There are rules to ensure fair representation of Serbs in all public offices. Twenty seats in the national assembly are set aside for minorities, including ten for the Serb minority. The Serb Orthodox Church enjoys many privileges and immunities. The Ahtisaari proposal also foresees special protective zones for religious sites.
Politicians in Belgrade, however, have rejected the Ahtisaari proposal and insist that Kosovo remains part of Serbia.
Map 1: Where Kosovo Serbs live - distribution of Kosovo Serb primary schools
Map 2: Where Kosovo Serbs live - Gjilan municipality
Map 3: Where Kosovo Serbs live - Strpce municipality