28. October. 2020. | 08:37

Lessons Learned: The Treatment of Non-Majority Communities During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The main goal of this publication is to analyse the relationship between the government, its institutions and non-majority communities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and to assess institutions’ readiness to ensure equal treatment of all citizens, regardless of their ethnicity.

The conclusions, or ‘lessons learned’ are grounded in research and monitoring conducted by NGO Aktiv between March and August of 2020.  The research involved interviews with various actors, contacts with residents of municipalities north and south of the river Ibar and careful monitoring of press releases and other public statements issued by public institutions.

What are those lessons that we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic that relate to the treatment of non-majority communities in Kosovo?

1. Public information campaigns must be effective and comprehensive

The government of Kosovo did not communicate effectively with members of the Kosovo-Serb community and did not provide access to relevant information in the Serbian language.  This kind of ineffective and limited public information campaign contributed to the spread of disinformation and fake news due to the fact that Serbian-language media often experienced difficulties in informing the general public.

2. Security is essential: The pandemic had a negative effect on public safety and exposed shortcomings in the authorities’ response to questions of personal and public security

Whether or not we’re talking about inter-ethnic or ethnically-motivate incidents or crimes that take place within the community, the feeling that crime and delinquency are on the rise has been widespread for a number of years now. That feeling stems from a sense of a lack of trust in institutions due to slow investigations and there is a common perception that there is a general sense of impunity for perpetrators.

3. The government did not ensure equal access to services for all of Kosovo’s communities.

The Kosovo Government did not work to ensure that non-majority communities in Kosovo were informed of the technical procedures related to the receipt of financial assistance.  The unequal and uneven access to support measures resulted in a situation where many Kosovo Serb communities were overly dependent on the assistance and support of international organisations and the Republic of Serbia.

It is recommended that the Kosovo government adopt clear strategies for communicating with non-majority communities and to respect constitutional and legal norms regarding the use of the Serbian as an official language and to establish clear and sustainable channels of communication with Serbian-language media outlets. Furthermore, it is also necessary to take questions of public safety seriously and to respond effectively to incidents by ensuring swift investigations and prosecution against those responsible for criminal acts.

The conclusion of this research is that the emergency situation did not create but rather accentuated a range of already-existent problems in the relationship between non-majority communities and governing institutions and authorities at the central level.  In that sense, Kosovo Serbs were exposed to a form of de-facto discrimination because their media did not receive information in the Serbian language, assistance was distributed unevenly, and the legal system and institutions charged with implementing the law did not invest sufficient efforts into addressing questions of public safety. If this is not addressed in a comprehensive, structural and holistic manner there is potential for long-term damage to be done to for the overall future of Serbs in Kosovo.

Lessons Learned: The Treatment of Non-Majority Communities During the COVID-19 Pandemic