The ECMI met with Language Commissioner of Kosovo Slaviša Mladenović to discuss cooperation on language issues affecting minorities in the region, how such efforts are measured to ensure that progress continues to be made for communities in Kosovo and the challenges he faces as a minority as the head of the Office of the Language Commissioner of Kosovo (OLC).
“The ECMI is one of the most active stakeholders in the area of language and community issues,” said Commissioner Mladenović. “In the very beginning of my mandate, the ECMI Kosovo approached me with the idea to support the language courses.”
Since 2011, the ECMI Kosovo have implemented trainings to civil servants in selected municipalities to promote the integration of Kosovo’s community members by improving their knowledge of and providing opportunities to learn both official languages.
Although Albanian and Serbian are the two official languages of Kosovo, municipal civil servants are only required to speak one of them in a professional setting and, according to Commissioner Mladenović, zero percent of organizations have all their documents in both official languages. “Something is lacking in each institution,” he said.
In this current situation, the existing language competences are insufficient for effective inter-ethnic communication and cooperation among speakers of both official languages. By offering language courses to municipal officials, Commissioner Mladenović noted that the trainings have improved the performance of the institutions. “On the other hand,” he adds, “we will as the Office try and make sure these kind of trainings offered are long term and sustainable.”
According to the Language Commissioner, cooperation is an evolutionary process. Through the use of indicators, the OLC and the ECMI Kosovo identify challenges and potential recommendations to ensure the adequate use of official and other community languages in Kosovo.
Drawing on methodology used by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the indicators provide a more in depth analysis on why language laws are being violated.
“For example, when we would analyse the work of an institution and how they implemented the Law on the Use of Languages, we didn’t just observe the manifestations of their work in terms of the availability of documents,” said Commissioner Mladenović. ”We analysed how much of their budget was spent on translation services, how many staff they have, if they have internal regulations on all procedures for applying and delivering translations, and whether they apply normatives.”
Using these methods to consistently measure how effective the ECMI Kosovo projects have been, civil servants participating in the language courses benefit as better services and resources continue to become available to the community.
Drawing parallels as a minority
As a mechanism for the protection and promotion of linguistic rights, the OLC seeks to improve the use of all languages in Kosovo through projects that adhere to the existing legal framework. “We try to be consistent in our policies and our approach regardless of the language which is violated,” said Commissioner Mladenović.
Being from a minority community himself, Commissioner Mladenović noted the challenges he faces in his role. As the OLC often advocates for the better use of the Serbian language in institutions, this creates the perception that the Office’s main focus is protecting the Serbian language. “This is not the case,” stressed Commissioner Mladenović, “and we constantly keep mentioning that we face the same issues in the south [of Kosovo] with minority languages and in the north with Albanian; we draw parallels between these two issues.”
Challenges and opportunities in linguistic rights
The language courses and indicators have provided an invaluable opportunity for municipal officials who would otherwise not have access to such trainings. Moreover, these courses demonstrate the existing demand for learning official and other community languages in Kosovo.
“People understand that language is part of their identity and as soon as their language is not in use, or their right to use the language is violated, they feel endangered,” said Commissioner Mladenović.
For more information on the language courses and indicators, visit the ECMI Kosovo website.