Ryan Olden, Pitt Law '10, files from Prishtina:
The former Yugoslavia was a federal country comprised of many different ethnicities - Slovenes, Bosnians, Serbs, and Albanians and others. After the death of strongman Josip Tito in 1980, the federation began to break down as new leader Slobodan Milosevic tried to assert Serbian dominance. The inevitable result was the rampant civil war that rocked the rapidly-disintegrating country throughout the 1990s.
During this tumultuous time, the region of Kosovo was stripped of its autonomy and the rights of the ethic-Albanian majority several curtailed. Albanian nationalism and corresponding resistance was met with a Serbian effort to drive Kosovar-Albanians from the region entirely in 1999. Lead by the United States, the West responded with a bombing campaign to force Serbian withdrawal and the creation of a United Nations protectorate in Kosovo, known as the UN Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK).
Having learned first-hand how quickly discrimination can dissolve into bloodshed and chaos, the Assembly of Kosovo passed one of Europe's most progressive anti-discrimination laws in February of 2004. It precludes both private and public actors from discriminating on the basis of everything from race to political affiliation to sexual orientation. It also protects those with both physical and mental disabilities. The law applies not only to direct, but to indirect discrimination, segregation, and various forms of harassment.
Among other groups, the law was designed to protect the region's ethnic minorities. Kosovo is roughly 92% ethnic Albanian. The rest is comprised of ethnic Serbs, Turks, Roma, and other groups such as the Ashkali and Gorani. Kosovar-Serbs continue to suffer reprisals not only from the 1999 conflict but also from centuries of mistrust between Albanians and Serbs throughout the Balkans. With the exception of the Turks, most other minorities in Kosovo have also suffered historical discrimination in Kosovo regardless of whether ethnic Albanians or Serbs have been in control.
A few months ago, the Kosovar Assembly voted 100-1 in favor of independence. The vote does not carry international authority without approval of the UN Security Council, but, at the very least, some form of autonomy seems inevitable in the very near future as Western powers continue to press for an independent Kosovo. Additionally, the UN Interim Administration in Kosovo is starting to demobilize and dismantle, sending officers and staff home or to missions in other areas. UNMIK is also ceding consistently more of its authority and responsibilities to the native Kosovar government and European Union offices in the region.
Because of the relative newness of the Law Against Discrimination, the local legal community is still familiarizing itself with the law's application procedures and many potential complaints remain unaware of their rights or that the law even exists. Due to the host of new tasks and challenges that independence would present, the Kosovar government and its UNMIK partners hope to move forward on this law as much as possible before greater autonomy becomes a reality.