Albanians in Kosovo set up a shadow state: Marcus Tanner goes behind the scenes in Pristina and finds a hidden network of hospitals and schools

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The Independent Online
IN A stifling back room on a hill behind Pristina, Bedrije Shala smiled thankfully after giving birth in one of Kosovo's alternative Albanian hospitals.

Like most Kosovo Albanian women, she shuns the services of the state hospital run by Serbian doctors. 'I went there last year for my first pregnancy and my baby died,' she said bitterly. 'In this place I know I and my child are safe.'

In an underground school in a private house, discreetly tucked away and ringed by high walls, Adem Nikai, 16, started his English class. Along with 400,000 Albanian students, Adem has boycotted state schools in Kosovo since Serbia imposed its Serbian- language curriculum last year.

The clinic and the school are two small parts of a shadow state being set up by Albanians to counter Serbian rule in Kosovo, which is 90 per cent Albanian. The parallel health and education system almost exactly mirrors official Serbian structures and employs doctors and teachers fired from jobs after the province lost its autonomy.

'We have to hide our school books from the police, who will beat us if they know where we are going,' Adem said. 'The police want us to go to Serbian schools. I hate them for what they are doing to our people.

'We must obey our political leaders who say we must fight the Serbians with peaceful means. But if the Serbians attack first, then we must fight. We are born in Kosovo and we must be ready to die for our land.'

Adem shared a 'classroom' with 50 other young Albanians. The students sit on the floor, share one ragged textbook between three students and some travel many miles to attend. 'We love this school because it is in our language,' said Lindita. 'I am only sorry because I will not be able to take any exams.'

The schoolteacher, Luljeta Zeqiri, 36, admits her pupils are educated in conditions that have not been seen in the West for centuries. 'Our children have no sports, no art, no music, no playground for games, no exams and hardly any textbooks. It is not much good, but it is better than nothing.'

Luljeta is one of 72 teachers in the underground school, all fired from jobs in Kosovo secondary schools after the imposition of Belgrade rule and a new Serbian curriculum. She earns pounds 7 a month, paid out of a fund collected by Albanian Gastarbeiter. 'My wages cover my bus fare. What can we do? We have chosen a peaceful way to fight the Serbian occupation.'

A converted shop in a Pristina back street serves as an alternative university medical faculty. Albanian students decamped here after the Serbian take-over of Kosovo led to a ban on studies of Albanian history and literature at the state university.

Built at huge expense in the 1960s, the university was recently renamed after Serbia's patron saint, Saint Sava.

While the Serbian students pace the huge halls of Saint Sava, 300 Albanian students cram the stuffy, tiny shop for their fifth-year medical studies. The students take it in turns to guard the door in case the police arrive to break up the class.

'I would like to go to university but the Serbians will not let us,' said Teute Rizvanoli, 30, who is studying to be a nurse.

'The worst aspect is not police harassment, but a total lack of practical experience. We have no instruments.'

The semi-official apartheid system seeps into every aspect of life in Pristina. Albanians and Serbs hold separate evening 'corsos' - the Serbs in the centre of town and the Albanians in a side street.

'I have not taken a walk in the centre of the city for two years,' said Ibrahim Rugova, the leader of Kosovo Albanians.

'And if we organised a public protest in the city centre, there would be a massacre. The Serbian civilians are all well armed and not under any real control.'

Mr Rugova described the setting up of alternative schools, colleges and hospitals for Albanians as an 'organised response by Albanians to the Serbian takeover of public life. We are organising a separate life outside the Serbian system. We have no other means. This is our way. We do not want a violent confrontation with Serbia and we will not accept Serbian rule.'

TIRANA - The Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, yesterday cautioned Albania and Serbia not to allow an ethnic explosion in Kosovo, AP reports. Speaking to reporters with the Albanian President, Sali Berisha, Mr Hurd advised the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, to recognise that 'it is in his interest, as well as Kosovo's, for there not to be an explosion in Kosovo'.

(Photograph omitted)