/ITAR-TASS/. Russia will open a human rights center in Kosovo as part of a public action to help the Serbian population in the region which unilaterally proclaimed its independence from Serbia in February 2008, Vitaly Milonov, a deputy of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, told journalists on Thursday. He added he was taking part in the project as a public figure rather than a government official.
Milonov explained that the idea to create the human rights center was an exclusively public initiative which is supported by many Russians but has got nothing to do with government bodies.
“We are going to help our brothers – Orthodox Serbs. They are the indigenous population of Kosovo who are being subject to real genocide,” Milonov emphasized. The Russian human rights center starts working on January 19 when its employees receive the first Kosovo Serbs to learn first-hand information about people’s needs.
The Russian human rights center will operate permanently as part of a law firm in Kosovska Mitrovica in the Serb-populated northern Kosovo. The firm’s lawyers will also take part in its work. St. Petersburg lawyer Andrei Ponomaryov will head the center and a team of Russian experts who will work on a rotation basis, Milonov went on to say.
The deputy added that Russian and Serbian agencies were finishing the center’s registration as a non-profit organization.
“We do not receive any financing from the state budget or government bodies or companies in which the state holds a stake. We are helped by legal bodies and logistics companies as well as our friends,” Milonov said, adding that he was going to pay for his trip to Kosovska Mitrovica to attend the center’s opening ceremony.
Apart from legal assistance and consultations, the Russian human rights center will supervise the construction of an Orthodox Church of St. Blessed Prince Alexander Nevsky. Its foundation stone was laid down last year. Russian human rights activists will also be involved in charitable actions to help the local Serbs. They sent a relief aid to Kosovo Serbs last year. This year, Russians will give Christmas gifts, food and medicine to Serbian children. Milonov said that a lot of things would be bought in Serbia in order to avoid customs formalities at the border.
“According to our information, our initiative has already ‘excited’ the Albanian authorities in Kosovo and Albanian activists. We are ready for provocations. We know how to move around in Kosovo,” Milonov went on to say.
Milonov said he would personally visit the Russian human rights center in Kosovska Mitrovica quarterly. He added there were plans to open similar centers in other “sore spots” in Europe, such as Northern Cyprus and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“We are engaged in preliminary talks now but we are facing great problems with financing,” Milonov said in conclusion.
Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty By Jasmina Scekic February 02, 2014
NORTH MITROVICA, Kosovo — It’s a real Catch-22 trying to open a nongovernmental organization in a country you don’t recognize. After all, it’s hard to apply for registration from officials you regularly denounce as “occupiers.”
This is the dilemma faced by Vitaly Milonov, a municipal legislator from the Russian city of St. Petersburg. A controversial figure, Milonov made international headlines last year as the author of a local law banning so-called “homosexual propaganda” that became a model for national legislation.
And earlier this month, Milonov treaded into Balkan politics when he announced the opening of a human rights NGO in Kosovo’s ethnically mixed city of Mitrovica, near the border with Serbia.
Milonov says the purpose of his organization, which he calls the “Russian human rights center,” is to help Kosovo’s ethnic Serbian population, which he claims is being subjected to a “real genocide” under the rule of “Albanian occupiers.”
Milonov explained his vision to reporters at a hotel in North Mitrovica on January 19: “It should be a center where there will always be both our monitors and representatives of the Serbian side so that we can efficiently carry out monitoring on human rights abuses by the Islamic-Albanian occupiers, the Turkish fascists, and send information in a timely fashion to Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church, and international public organizations.”
Kosovo is a former region of Serbia that unilaterally declared independence in 2008. It has been recognized by 109 countries, including 23 of the 28 European Union member states. Serbia and Russia do not recognize Kosovo, although Belgrade has begun to normalize relations with Pristina under an EU-brokered mediation process.
About 90 percent of its estimated population of around 2 million people is ethnic Albanian, while some 4 percent is ethnic Serb. Much of Kosovo’s ethnic Serbian population was displaced to Serbia during the fighting in Kosovo in the late 1990s.
Milonov says his new NGO is 100 percent “privately” funded and that he is participating as an individual rather than as a Russian official.
Among other things, Milonov alleges that troops of the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) mission have frequently commandeered the private property of Kosovar Serbs. Such allegations come up periodically, but there has been scant evidence to support them.
‘Anarchy’ Or ‘Positive Solution’?
Although Milonov’s NGO has opened its doors, it is not legally registered. “As of January 2014, there has been no request submitted to our address, to the address of the Ministry of Public Administration, by any Russian nongovernmental organization,” Zeqir Bekolli, an official with the ministry , which oversees NGO activity in Kosovo, explained to RFE/RL’s Balkan Service.
As might be expected, opinion in Mitrovica is divided on whether Milonov’s new initiative is needed.
Adriana Hodzic, a member of the Bosnian community and an activist in North Mitrovica, argues that unregistered organizations will lead to “anarchy.” “I honestly think this anarchy should stop. Measures need to be taken to put such activity under control,” she says.
On the other hand, Kosovar Serbs such as Nikola Jovanovic welcome Milonov’s attention. “I don’t think we can expect much from the authorities in Belgrade,” Jovanovic says. “Therefore, the interconnection through Orthodoxy and Russia is something I see as some kind of positive solution for Serbs in northern Kosovo.”
Fellow Mitrovica Serb Zorica Ristic agrees. “I would really like for this [NGO] to happen, for something like this to really be established,” Ristic says.
Although Milonov is only a city legislator in St. Petersburg, he has gained national and international notoriety as the outspoken author of Russia’s first law banning the propaganda of “nontraditional sexual relations” to minors. Russia has since adopted such legislation nationally.
Appearing in Kosovo, Milonov was combative and provocative. “European politicians used to tell you [ethnic Serbs in Kosovo]: ‘Please, be patient. Be more polite toward the Albanian nation.’ But from another hand, the Albanian nation is not going to keep with the peaceful initiatives,” he said in English.
“The Albanian nation is going to push you out from this region — because this is the main goal of this…I should say…occupant regime in this territory: to destroy all Orthodox Christians in this area.”
He said his new organization will also pay for the construction of an Orthodox church in Mitrovica and will try to provide educational opportunities in Russia for Kosovar Serbs.
Milonov’s initiative comes at a sensitive time, as EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton works to broker agreements between Kosovo and Serbia that would normalize relations between the central Kosovo government and the ethnic-Serb-populated part of northern Kosovo.
Robert Coalson contributed to this report