Besides the gruesome massacre of thousands of Kosovo’s Albanian-origin Muslims by the Serb tyrants before its liberation by the UN-NATO forces in mid-1999, what has now come to light is the “cultural genocide” which the Serb rulers practiced to systematically destroy books in Albanian language in Kosovo’s public libraries.
The impartial International Federation of Library Association has in a recent report, unmasked this horrifying aspect of Serbia’s “ethnic cleansing” of Kosovo’s libraries in a decade. The Association estimates that at least 6.7 million US dollars are needed to rehabilitate the Serb-wrecked public libraries in Kosovo. The Association’s report says that the Serb rulers followed a systematic policy of destroying Albanian language literature in the public libraries in Kosovo. The result is that the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo is unable to find in public libraries the books it can read in its national language, Albanian.
The authors of this report are two Scandinavian library science experts who surveyed the libraries in Kosovo under a project initiated by the International Federation of Library Associations. UNESCO, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe (EU) supported the project financially. Four Scandinavian Librarians’ Associations furnished logistic help for it.
One of the surveyors, Carsten Frederiksen, who is a Deputy Director of the Copenhagen-based International Federation of Library Associations, said that some years before the war erupted in Kosovo, the Serb authorities had removed from service all Albanian-origin librarians from Kosovo’s public libraries. No new books in the Albanian language had been obtained for these libraries since 1990 when the Serb rulers intensified their persecution of the Albanian majority in Kosovo, he said, calling it “ethnic cleansing of the libraries” by the Serbs. He disclosed on the basis of his recent research that between 1990 and 1995 some 100,000 books in the Albanian language were destroyed by the Serbs in the National and University Library in Kosovo. The same process of “ethnic cleansing of Albanian books was repeated in all the public libraries in Kosovo during the 1990s until the end of Serb rule. During the armed hostilities in Kosovo in 1998-99, the Serb forces torched countless libraries built up by the Albanian community. Even libraries in the schools of Albanian-origin Muslims were wantonly burnt and destroyed by the Serb forces. Albanian school buildings were dynamited by the Serbs in large numbers. The survey report says that buildings for the vandalized libraries will have to be rebuilt and books collected for them in Albanian language.
Last year a survey, conducted by the Kosovo National and University Library, showed that two-thirds of the 180 public libraries in Kosovo had been annihilated between 1990 and 1999 and more than 900,000 books, mostly in the Albanian language, had been destroyed by the Serb rulers. The Scandinavian library surveyors described as baseless an allegation published in a Belgrade newspaper, Glas Javnosti, last year that the Kosovo Albanians had destroyed 2 million Serb books in Serb libraries. According to these surveyors, in the libraries, in Western and Central Kosovo, where the worst destruction of Albanian property had occurred due to Serbian atrocities, books in the Serbian language were still retained by the Albanian library personnel.
The survey recommends early measures to rehabilitate the destroyed libraries, especially the National and University Library of Kosovo whose buildings are partly wrecked and electricity and telephone facilities are scarce. The Albanian books would be restored and more books in English are needed. The Serb rulers burnt Islamic books in Albanian language in vast numbers between 1990 and 1999 in Kosovo. Some were rare books of the Ottoman period.
The report of the International Federation of Library Associations is being looked into by the UNESCO and the UN’s Administration for Kosovo, UNMIK. One of its important recommendations is for setting up a temporary library consortium that would include local pro-Library groups, international donors anal international organizations interested in libraries. The reconstruction of library buildings, book collection for them and mobile public libraries are some of the main features of the action plan. These measures would need funding of 6.7 million US dollars. Some Government aid agencies in Europe and North America have already shown interest in helping the Kosovo libraries rehabilitation project.
Albanian-origin Muslims in Kosovo are also actively helping in the implementation of the libraries’ project. The Kosovo Foundation for an Open Society has on its own initiated some projects for rebuilding the libraries.
This organization is giving top priority to providing translations of scientific books in the Albanian language to the Kosovo libraries and the publication of literature for children in Albanian language.
Some Muslim group in Kosovo are doing their best to furnish Islamic books for the schools and libraries in Kosovo which has an overwhelming Muslim majority. The Serbs had destroyed hundreds of mosques in Kosovo during the armed hostilities in 1998-99 and massacred thousands of Muslims. Every now and then mass graves of these unfortunate Muslims are being dug up and the UN War Crimes tribunal at the Hague documents the evidence of ethnic genocide against the Serb military and police.
In Kosovo, the Albanian-origin majority wants a road map to total independence instead of being a UN protectorate or being thrown to the Serbian wolves. The UN machinery that administers Kosovo is said to be fair-minded but some of its European Christian personnel are easy prey to the anti-Muslim propaganda of the Serbs who follow the Greek Orthodox Church of Christianity. In the UN, Russia has shown enmity to the Kosovo Muslims. Not long ago the anti-Muslim Serbs propagandized that foreign Muslim fundamentalists had infiltrated into the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA); the KLA denied the allegation. Some pro-Belgrade Serbs have lied to the Western media by making the allegation that the Muslim mass graves in Kosovo were fakes. This is what hurts the Kosovo Muslims most of whom try to co-exist with a Serb minority that lives in Kosovo under Belgrade’s direction to destabilize Muslim majority rule in Kosovo. The anti-Muslim Serbs are trying to grab a northern portion of Kosovo adjoining Serbia and drive the Muslims out of it to facilitate its merger with Serbia. The Jeddah-based Organization of the Islamic Conference should take more interest in the future of Kosovo and the well-being of its 1.3 million Muslims.
Mr. Qutubuddin Aziz is a journalist and writer of international repute, a former diplomat, a lecturer, broadcaster and social worker.