At a glance
"Language means identity," says Ambassador Werner Wnendt, Head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo. "A place where you can use your own language freely is a place you can call home."
With three official languages - Albanian, Serbian and Turkish - as well as others such as Bosnian, the Prizren region has traditionally been the cradle of tolerance and inter-ethnic co-operation in Kosovo.
"While not an official language in our municipality, Bosnian is also part of the ethnic and cultural identity of many people living here," says Cemailj Kurtisi, Prizren's Second Deputy Municipal President.
In February 2007, the OSCE Mission donated more than 2,800 books to Prizren City Library, giving the region's nearly 25,000 Bosniaks access to a range of books in their mother tongue. The donation includes fables and literature for young children, while high school students will have access to more novels, dictionaries and educational books on topics such as mathematics, art, sociology and agriculture.
"We are helping local institutions fulfil their obligation to ensure basic human rights," says Shehida Miftari from the OSCE's Municipal Team covering Prizren municipality. "This includes the rights of ethnic minorities to study in their own language and preserve their culture."
"We are also helping to promote inter-ethnic tolerance," she adds.
The OSCE Mission has 33 Municipal Teams that cover Kosovo's 30 municipalities and three pilot municipal units. The teams monitor compliance with human rights standards and the implementation of good governance practices.
A library on wheels
As part of the project, the OSCE Mission has helped Prizren City Library relaunch its "Info bus", which is bringing books in all local languages to rural areas inhabited mainly by ethnic Bosniaks, Albanians and Serbs. This is especially important for the more than 3,400 primary and secondary school students who receive their education in Bosnian.
The bus service had previously been stopped because of a lack of new books in usable condition. School curricula has also changed, and many younger children are no longer familiar with the Cyrillic script used in the older books.
"Prizren is a unique centre where cultural and linguistic diversity is not an obstacle but rather a treasure," says Kurtisi, who is Bosniak himself. "The right to education and to preserve one's culture are vital for people who remained here after the conflict."
The bus service resumed on 2 March 2007, making the trip to Recane/Recan and Musnikovo/Mushnikove in the Zupa/Zhupe valley every second Friday.
Ninety per cent of the project's nearly 19,000 euro budget has been covered by the OSCE and the remainder by the municipality. The project idea, however, came from the municipal authorities, when they talked to the OSCE Municipal Team. They wanted to provide rural students, most of whom rarely visit Prizren and its library, with better access to books in their mother tongue.
In the past, similar projects have been carried out in the Mitrovicë/Mitrovica and Lipjan/Lipljan regions in 2004 and 2005, to address the needs of Kosovo Albanian and Serb communities.
"I am proud of what the OSCE is doing. We are an organization that is helping to preserve the multilingual, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural character of Kosovo," says Ambassador Wnendt.
"We remain committed to working with local authorities, helping them to ensure that they comply with human rights standards and address the needs of Kosovo's minorities."