Privatization and Restitution    

Objavljeno : 07.05.2018. Štampa El. pošta bookmark

Belgrade and Pristina have not yet agreed on how, within the normalization process, they will resolve the issues pertaining to the privatization of socially-owned companies and property restitution. While Pristina believes that is exclusively its own internal issue, the authorities in Belgrade are working toward putting that topic on the negotiating table in Brussels, claiming that Serbia suffered severe damage in the privatization process in Kosovo, that is to say, through the appropriation of the property of Serbia, its citizens and the Serbian Orthodox Church.


According to Office for Kosovo and Metohija data, some 660 socially-owned companies in Kosovo have been sold of for more than EUR660 million. The privatization money is controlled by the Central Bank of Kosovo, which has an agreement with the Kosovo Privatization Agency on keeping trust funds. Of that money, 75% is earmarked for compensating the owners and creditors of privatized companies who have yet to prove their rights, 20% for the employees and 5% for Privatization Agency expenses.


Office representatives say that the money is being kept in termed deposits in Swiss banks and hope that a sizeable portion of it will be handed to Serbia, because numerous Serbian companies had offices in Kosovo, which have been sold. Belgrade will try to prove that the current Kosovo government is not the legal successor of the Kosovo Trust Agency, founded by UNMIK, which was initially in charge of privatization, and was launched in 2003. Later, the task was taken over by the Kosovo Privatization Agency and the model was to create new companies from the healthy parts of old ones and offer those new companies to buyers, while the debts were left to the old companies which went bankrupt and were liquidated.


Lawyers propose to the former owners and shareholders of privatized companies in Kosovo to sue the Pristina authorities before Kosovo courts, and to large companies such as Telekom Srbija and the Electric Power Industry of Serbia (EPS) to initiate proceedings before international arbitration. They also suggest that an alarm be sounded to the Council of Europe and the OSCE be alarmed, along with UNMIK, which had executive power in privatization until 2008, in a bid, as they put it, to improve Serbia’s position in the Brussels negotiations.


The Office for Kosovo and Metohija representatives underscore that Serbia is being prevented from getting compensation on the grounds of privatized socially-owned property, while at the same time its budget funds are being used to pay Kosovo’s foreign debt. Serbia’s foreign debt which related to Kosovo and Metohija in 2000 totaled USD1.5 billion, of which the Republic of Serbia has so far repaid 500 million.


The privatization process in Kosovo is nearly done, but restitution has not even begun. The question will certainly have to be added to the agenda and the Serbian authorities say they have evidence that the Serbs in Kosovo have a claim to property worth at least USD20 billion. Resolving property relations in Kosovo and Metohija will be one of the key demands of the Serbian negotiating party in order to achieve a comprehensive normalization of the relationship with Pristina.


The director of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija, Marko Djuric, says that Belgrade will call for a review of the privatization process in Kosovo and a return of property, and will officially take the initiative to both UNMIK and EULEX, as the organizations in charge of temporary administration in Kosovo. He explains that Belgrade’s demands are backed by papers, because the land books show that 58% of the land in Kosovo is Serbian-owned. He adds that 29% is state- and socially-owned, the property of companies accounts for 14%, whereas 15% of Kosovo territory is the private property of Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church.


The restitution of state, church and private property in Kosovo is an extremely delicate issue, which should have been raised before international forums and the biggest possible number of western countries and European institutions should have been mobilized to help solve the problem, say the authors of the study titled The Economic, Demographic and Social Effects of Different Scenarios of Normalized Relations Between Belgrade and Pristina, conducted with the support of the Open Society Foundation.


“A well-prepared proposal by Serbia may be met with the approval and direct involvement of several European countries, because, among other things, they may be directly interested in their entities’ getting nationalized property back. For the non-Albanian population this process would be very important, especially the return of property to foreign entities, because that would be the fastest way to revitalize the almost completely destroyed companies. The return of previous owners would also be accompanied by an influx of foreign investment, which would lead to a rise in employment, even among the Albanian population, and in some cases it would be an incentive for the return of refugees,” reads the study.


The study pointed out that the return of nationalized property to the traditional churches and religious communities also had an important civilizational aspect, which significantly influenced the decisions of several countries which recognized Kosovo’s independence but voted against its admission to UNESCO.


“The property of the Serbian Orthodox Church would for the most part remain outside Serbia’s jurisdiction, completely unprotected from Albanian aspirations and the final appropriation of that property for private exploitation. It is precisely religious structures, which would remain in Kosovo territory, that are some of the biggest monuments of Serbian history and culture. On the other hand, before  nationalization the church was the biggest landowner in Kosovo and Metohija. That property, which has considerable commercial potential, ought to be returned to the Church, partly in its natural form and partly as compensation,” say the study authors.


According to their proposal, prior to raising the question of returning church property, which would be used solely for commercial purposes, the state would have to reach a binding agreement with the Serbian Orhodox Church on the manner of use of said property, for the sake of securing living and working conditions for the non-Albanian population within the parishes. One of the ways to use the property could be the creation of agricultural co-ops to which the Serbian Orthodox Church would add its agricultural land, while the nearby population would bring the necessary machines and manpower. The procurement of machines would be the subject of state aid through crediting and partial subsidizing of those co-op projects. Co-ops could also be formed in the areas of the forestry and lumber industry. Moreover, after reconstruction, some church real estate could serve for the creation of a chain of local health and rehabilitation centers.


All this, the study’s authors say, would help the local non-Albanian population normalize its life and meet the basic needs, return, employment, securing the necessary agricultural and craft products, and elementary health care services free from inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflict.


The return of private property must also include the return of acquired rights, the right to use of land and buildings. Due to the situation in the field, which indicates that the majority of the property has been expropriated, i.e. seized, neutral restitution is unlikely, but there must be insistence on various forms of compensation with similar property in a different location or financial compensation equaling the real value of the seized property.


The problem is even greater where acquired rights are concerned, because they cannot be restituted regarding the buildings and land that have changed owners. The study authors propose that the most adequate solution for these cases be found in some sort of compensation. In certain cases restitution may boost the return of exiled non-Albanians, but well-measured material compensation may have the same effect.


“If Kosovo gains international legitimacy without Serbia’s recognition and before all the open issues are resolved, Serbia will no longer have the option of raising those issues and it won’t be able to expect pressure from the western countries, because they will consider the process of international recognition and legitimization of the state of Kosovo finished, and that potential problems will have to be solved by a dialogue between neighbors, which will be impracticable for Serbia,” stresses the study.


Source: Beta

Photo: Beta


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