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Property issues in Kosovo: Intact problem solvable only with the greater role of international actors

Pristina, Kosovo; Photo: European Union

BELGRADE – Despite the agreements between Belgrade and Pristina in the field of property issues, due to inadequate action of Kosovo institutions, the realization of the property rights of the Serbian community in Kosovo is possible only with a greater role of international actors, it is concluded at the seminar “Property rights in Kosovo within the comprehensive normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

The aim of the analysis, conducted by the Working Group of the National Convention on the European Union for Chapter 35, was to point out the systematic discrimination of the Serbian community in exercising property rights in Kosovo.

By observing the actions of the competent authorities, as well as through conversations with experts dealing with property issues, the authors of the analysis concluded that, due to the blockade of Kosovo institutions, this problem remains intact and that the property issue must be part of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.

Stefan Surlić, from the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in the Balkans and assistant at the Faculty of Political Sciences, explained that the problem of exercising property rights in Kosovo, due to the usurpation that took place immediately after the conflict, but also a few years ago, mostly concern the Serbian community although it can often be heard differently.

“When we talk about the reported usurpation of property, over 90% of the reports are from the Serbian citizens. Of course, I do not dispute that many Albanians also face the usurpation of property and illegal construction, but when we talk about the Serbian community, we see their systematic status, which prevents them from exercising their basic right, the property right, ” Surlić said.

He added that the number of unresolved cases is large and that the problem, despite the existence of institutional mechanisms, international and those in Pristina, is their inefficiency and inconsistency.

“Great jurisdiction has been given to the Kosovo Property Comparison and Verification Agency (KPCVA), which is the central institution. There would not be a problem if that agency has all the available funds, but there is a parallelism of the institutions in this area – both KPCVA and the courts usually deal with the same issues “, explained Surlić.

To solve these problems, Surlić stated that there must be a greater role of international actors in this area.

“It is necessary for this topic to be part of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, a first one. This is important because it is associated with both a sense of security and safety and with institutional protection. The right to property guarantees existence,” he told.

Igor Markovic, from the NGO Aktiv, explained that an important obstacle in solving these problems is the fact that the property belongs to internally displaced persons. According to him, due to the impossibility of visiting properties, it is difficult to determine what really happened to their property over the years, while in that sense, the usurpers enjoy an advantage.

“The advantage of the usurpers is that they live in Kosovo. On the other side internally displaced persons, in addition to having to invest significant financial resources in the process of returning the property, have also a security problem. Even in rare cases when they manage to regain their property, they often encounter pressure and threats in regions where they are a minority,” he said and added that this situation sometimes leads to the repetition of usurpation.

According to Marković,  the institutional obstacles do not make this situation much easier and that all that leads to citizens giving up on their demands.

“Indecision and ignorance of the relevant institutions have shown that no one is dealing with this problem, that citizens are even giving up on the fair return of property, due to institutional obstacles and the inability to access courts and follow hearings in their own language,” Markovic said.

Jovana Filipović, a lawyer, explained how the inefficiency of the courts affects the (non) realization of the property rights of the Serbian community.

“The right to a trial within a reasonable time is absolutely not respected, and people who have a problem with property in Kosovo cannot turn to another court due to such a violation. The situation with the court in Pristina is especially bad on this issue, where the hearings are postponed due to the insufficient number of translators, who are not actually informed properly and on time,” she states.

She explained that this situation represents pressure on those who initiate lawsuits to drop it and solve the problem with a settlement, whereby the property is sold at a lower price.

“KPCVA views such cases as positively resolved. Positive cases for them are those in which the accusers were under pressure, cases in which the sale of property or withdrawal of the lawsuit took place,” Filipović pointed out.

She concluded that there are cases that were actually positively resolved and that led to the realization of the right to property by members of the Serbian community, but that the number of those cases is much smaller than those that are not.

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