Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Bosniaks are Muslim speakers of the Slavic languages (mainly Serbo-Croatian) who adopted Islam during the rule of the Ottoman Empire (1450–1912). Bosniaks were first recognized as a distinct category in the Yugoslavian census of 1961 as ‘Muslims in the ethnic sense’. The term ‘Bosniak’ was adopted by Muslims in Kosovo whose first language is Bosnian from around 1999, after Bosnian was promoted as a language distinct from Serbian and Croatian following the Bosnian war. The Bosniak population in Kosovo was estimated at more than 35,000 in 1999, and approximately 57,000 in 2005. Bosniaks themselves have asserted their community was 75,000–100,000 prior to 1999, but Numan Balic, a Bosniak member of the Assembly of Kosovo, estimated that in the wake of the 2004 attacks in which 75 Bosniaks were killed, fewer than 35,000 Bosniaks were left in Kosovo.
Like Turks, Bosniaks face increasingly limited recognition of their language rights. Bosnian is currently recognized for use in four municipalities. It is an official language in Prizren, Dragash and Pec, and in official use in Istok. There is also a shortage of Bosniak textbooks for primary and secondary education, and some Bosniak children educated in Albanian have limited options to learn in Bosnian or about Bosniak culture, history and traditions, even in supplementary classes.
For these reasons, Bosniaks feel that for cultural survival, they need decentralization as much as Serbs do. But while the Ahtisaari Plan guaranteed six Serbian municipalities, the international community did not apply the same pressure to establish Bosniak municipalities. This is despite the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention on National Minorities (AC FCNM) emphasizing in 2005 that decentralization and local self-government reform were clearly relevant for minority communities in Kosovo and should be carried out in a manner that involves them.
Like Turks, Bosniaks feel that in the newly independent Kosovo their options are either to assimilate or leave for countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosniaks have reportedly experienced discrimination as a result of some members of the Albanian majority believing that the community cooperated with Milosevic. Some Bosniaks displaced during the war have not returned for reasons similar to those of many from other smaller minority communities: a combination of bad memories, mistrust of the ability and willingness of local authorities to protect them, and lack of economic prospects in Kosovo.
Updated March 2018
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