Road Sign Replacement in Northern Kosovo, Photo: Liburn Aliu/Official Facebook Account

Kosovo Govt Faces Backlash Over Road Signs Alteration in Serb-Majority North

Kosovo’s Language Commissioner says the Ministry of Infrastructure did not consult them regarding the placement of bilingual road signs on settlements in northern Kosovo.

Kosovo’s Language Commissioner, Slavisa Mladenovic, said on Friday that his office was not consulted by the Ministry of Environment, Spatial Planning, and Infrastructure prior to replacing existing road signs in the Serb majority north of Kosovo with those which have names in both Albanian and Serbian, a move which provoked reactions from local Serbs and the international community.

Language Commissioner Slavisa Mladenovic deemed this change of road signs necessary, but emphasised that the order in which the Serbian and Albanian names were listed on the signs is in violation of  the Constitution of Kosovo.

“They should first be in the Serbian language, then in Albanian. The language of the majority of residents is the primary language,” he told Prishtina Insight.

“The replacement of signs was a necessary step because they were only in one language [Serbian]. Just as we expect to have a sign in two languages in Prishtina, or in Ferizaj/Urosevac, we also expect to have them in northern Kosovo,” Mladenovic  asserted , explaining that  “in principle, language equality applies in Kosovo, meaning that the Albanian and Serbian languages have equal weight in those signs”.

On Thursday, March 14, Kosovo’s Minister of Environment, Spatial Planning, and Infrastructure, Liburn Aliu, announced the initiative to “replace Serbian traffic signs with official signs of settlements in accordance with Kosovo’s laws,” by sharing photos on Facebook. 

 The replacements were made because the signs were only in the Serbian language.

Kosovo’s Law on the Use of Languages, adopted in 2006, says that Albanian and Serbian are the official languages of Kosovo, and therefore all institutions and public service providers are obliged to ensure their equal use in the judicial system, state and municipal institutions, public enterprises, the media, education, social services, and in the private sector.

Later on Thursday, unidentified persons spray painted over the Albanian inscriptions on the signs.

Veton Elshani, deputy director of Kosovo police for the country’s north, told on Friday, March 15, that the police did not initiate a criminal case because “there were no damages but only colouring of the signs”. 

“No, such actions are often taken without consulting the Commissioner’s Office. A budgetary cost was incurred for producing signs with mistakes,” Mladenovic stated.

The Language Commissioner is responsible for building an institutional environment that complies with the constitutional and legal obligations. This environment protects, promotes, preserves and enforces the language rights of all Kosovo citizens. The commissioner also monitors compliance with the law by any institution under its jurisdiction and is empowered to take all necessary measures within its authority, including through mediation, to ensure compliance with the Law by any institution under its jurisdiction.

The use of Kosovo’s two official languages has been one of the key issues causing divisions between the country’s Serb and ethnic Albanian communities, and the lack of a mutual language maintains the gap between them.

At the same time, for the Serbs in the Albanian-dominated south of the country and Albanians in the Serb-dominated north, it means severely limited access to comprehensible legal documents, work, consumer rights, health protection, education and social services.

Head of the European Union Office in Kosovo, Ambassador Tomas Szunyog,  via a post on X (former Twitter)on Friday, urged local authorities to consult with the Language Commissioner before replacing signs with “the names of places in the north of Kosovo” and to interpret the Law on the Use of Languages “positively.”

The Head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, Michael Davenport, also stated that the steps to replace these signs should follow consultation with the Language Commissioner’s Office.

“We at OSCE Kosovo support the Language Commissioner in the Prime Minister’s Office in determining and respecting linguistic compatibility according to the current legislation,” Davenport wrote on X.

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16 March 2024 - 11:27

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.