Theater of Cruelty

A difficult normalization

17. February celebrated the Kosovo 10 anniversary. Relationship with Serbia, EU membership, merging with Albania and a president who is at risk of being sentenced in a criminal court for his past as a UCK guerrilla leader ... Where does the country really stand, ten years after its birth?


After the war in the 90 century, Kosovo was ruled by UNMIK, the UN's interim civil administration. The activist group Vetëvendosje ("self-determination") emerged as a protest against this international government, which they believed was undemocratic. In 2010, the group stepped into politics, and today Kosovo's largest party, led by Albin Kurti – a popular activist, is known for releasing tear gas in parliament. However, Vetëvendosje is not a member of the government. The two right-wing parties PDK and AAK control, in coalition with 18 other smaller parties. PDK President Hashim Thaci was elected by Parliament in 2016, while AAK and Ramush Haradinaj won the Prime Minister's post in September 2017. Both PDK and AAK originate from the UCK guerrilla.

Take power back. In Prizren, Vetëvendosje is led by Artan Abrashi. To Ny Tid, he explains why the activists decided to form a political party. "We understood that in order to achieve our political goals, it was necessary to participate in elections. We wanted to take back power from UNMIK, which was a kind of dictatorship consisting of foreign actors. " Kosovo and Serbia signed an agreement in 2013 to normalize relations between them, but Abrashi believes the negotiations, which are mediated by the EU, are futile. "The Serbs have still not apologized for the war crimes; on the contrary, they are constantly trying to destroy what we have achieved, to sabotage our independence. How can we negotiate with someone who does not recognize our existence? ”

“The conflict with Serbia takes all our attention. It makes it more difficult to focus on internal problems, such as increased inequality and unemployment. ”

About 5 years ago, Vetëvendosje won the election in Pristina. “Suddenly we sat with power in the capital. We took over after the Kosovo Democratic Party (PDK), and our goal was to clean up the corrupt regime of our predecessors. The mayor was accused of corruption, but was not brought to justice – neither the police nor the courts dared to enforce the law; they were afraid of him. PDK had power in Pristina for 10 years. People were sorry, they had lost faith in the political institutions. ”Now Vetëvendosje wants to restore the people's confidence in democracy, by abolishing the corruption that is so widespread in Kosovo. “Previously, you could not get a job without being a member of the ruling party. People still have to bribe an employer to get a job – 5000 euros to be hired. In other words, corruption is highly entrenched in society, it is not limited to politics. But the corruption started in the political institutions, so that's where we have to begin, "Abrashi affirms.

Media editor Dokagjin Gorani does not agree. "It is no use for anyone from above telling you that corruption should be abolished. Corruption is part of our culture. The change must happen locally; we must build a new social contract with social norms that teaches people morality. Can we produce social norms? Well, read some Habermas. Through academia, politics and the media, we must have a sustained political debate on how we can improve democracy. ”Gorani is a member of Parliament for Vetëvendosje himself. At the time of writing, however, the party is about to split in two. Gorani is among the ten MPs who have decided to leave the party. "I'm one of the separatists," he affirms.

Identity crisis. While Abrashi points to the party's rampant expansion in a short period of time as the cause of the breach, Gorani has another explanation. "The problem is nationalism. The party must abandon its ethnically-based nationalism and begin to look at diversity as a resource. It's great that they have socialist ideas, but such a constant, large-scale mobilization is not healthy for a country in difficulty. We are not heading for war; we suffer from a state of poor tradition of political organization. Conditions should not be treated as emergencies. ”He thinks Kosovo is not ready for Vetëvendosje's ambitions. “We have not gone through the process of enlightenment; we have not understood that nation is will, and not kinship. In the Balkans, nationalism is an extended tribe, here it is based on ethnicity. Vetëvendosje wants to create a new Kosovo, but nationalism and socialism have been tried before. We should learn from history. Kurti is leading an intellectual populism. He theorizes, and there's nothing wrong with that, but the books he reads are not adapted to societies like this. "

Gorani points out that the UN has a lot of responsibility for today's situation. “When you are managed by a multinational hydra, you end up in a serious identity crisis. Vetëvendosje was a reaction to the UN administering a society they did not understand, which they were not interested in understanding. They should only fill the vacuum after the war. Vetëvendosje reminded us that we did not deserve to be treated as a formless society. But the party let the ethnocentric go too far. We Albanians are the majority, but we don't see it that way. We still have the mindset of a minority population. ”

Kofi Annan appointed Bernard Kouchner to lead UNMIK, and Gorani became his adviser. He describes for Ny Tid the way the UN worked. "Instead of reforming, they chose to strengthen the existing social culture, based on banditry and corruption, by giving authority to local gangs. They just wanted to find a docile partner. Then there was less work for them, and more democratic distribution of power for everyone. But they chose thugs. Why? The thugs could deliver. The UN was to pacify and democratize, but they gave power to social groups that were counterproductive in relation to the UN's own political purposes. The damage they did to this community has been irreparable for the last 20 years. "

EU membership? The EU has invested heavily in Kosovo, but whether the country has any future in the Union is still uncertain. This uncertainty characterizes everyday life. “For 15 years, the EU has kept this carrot ahead of us. It is in the EU's interest to include the Balkans, those who believe that the EU will keep us out do not understand politics. But the years of waiting have produced bitterness and anti-Western attitudes. However, the United States saw what happened when Turkey was rejected by the EU, and is now warning the EU Commission leader, Jean-Claude Juncker, of increasing radicalization. Under US pressure, the EU has begun to focus more on the Balkans, something the leaders here want to exploit. But Kosovo sees the EU as a huge piggy bank; the politicians have no understanding of what this entails of value change. All the president cares about is whether he will end up in The Hague. What is the point of joining the EU if it means taking him to the Criminal Court? The politicians will do everything to join the EU, the big question is whether they can do so without losing power. ”

"Vetëvendosje was different, they really did a good job. They were the new intellectual political elite, and finally, some criticized the privatization of state-owned enterprises. "

Eraldin Fazliu is a political scientist and journalist for Kosovo2.0 magazine. Over a cup of coffee in Pristina, he expresses his disappointment at the EU. “The EULEX program had two tasks: to combat corruption and introduce legal security. They had legislative and executive power, yet they failed. Without admitting their own defeat, they now demand that we fix the corruption. It is a double standard on the part of the EU. ”One of the requirements for EU membership is that part of the border with Montenegro needs to be better defined. “They come with absurd conditions. Croatia and Slovenia also have an undefined border area, but they are EU countries. While we are not even allowed to travel visa-free. What about Ukraine? Are their boundaries well defined at present? Nobody is preventing them from traveling. ”In the 2016 visa report, the EU noted that Kosovo must improve anti-corruption measures. Fazliu thinks it's too abstract. “How do you measure improvement? They can always use the excuse that we need to improve. Yes, we are corrupt, like everyone else in the region. The difference is that the EU was directly involved in drafting our legislation. EULEX had the executive power to deal with high-level corruption. It was the US and the EU that allowed the corrupt politicians to come to power because they wanted stability – and now they demand that we solve the corruption problem. ”

A sharper focus. He has little to spare in the normalization negotiations with Serbia. "The so-called normalization is just a facade, it does not create real reconciliation." Kosovo is not a member of either the UN or the EU, but, according to Fazliu, uses both arenas extensively. "The same politicians who politely take each other's hand in Brussels are bitter enemies of the Security Council the next day, competing over who suffered most during the war. It makes you realize how false the dialogue process is. In 20 years, the news picture has been dominated by Serbia, daily there are new germs to conflict. ”In January 2017, the Serbian authorities opened a train line from Belgrade to Mitrovica in Kosovo, to connect the Serbian minority there with Serbia. The special thing was that the train was painted with the words "Kosovo is Serbia" in 20 different languages. Fazliu believes the train incident was just one of Serbia's attempts to destabilize Kosovo. “The conflict with Serbia takes all our attention. This makes it more difficult to focus on internal problems, such as increased inequality and unemployment. The state is the country's largest employer. Who do you think people will vote for to keep the job? Vetëvendosje was different, they really did a good job. They were the new intellectual political elite, and finally, some criticized the privatization of state-owned enterprises. But that is why it is so disappointing that they have spent the last few months arguing internally – we have lost the only hope we had. ”About Vetëvendosje's desire to merge with Albania, Fazliu points out that no one knows how it went. "We have grown up with the dream of Albania. But it's a dream of the past, with no indication of how it will work in the future. ”

"Internally, Serbian politicians already recognize that Kosovo is independent. They lack political courage to admit it, so they leave it to the deputy, to the rival – they postpone the case until the public opinion is ready for it. ”? Ardian Arifaj

Truth and Reconciliation? In the capital, Ny Tid meets the president's adviser, Ardian Arifaj. He believes Kosovo has come a long way in a short time, and emphasizes that they are taking important steps towards EU membership. "We must not forget the preconditions for development. It's only 10 years since independence, 20 years since the war. Most recently today (February 6, journ. Note), the EU published its enlargement strategy for the Western Balkans, and it is yet another confirmation that the region can look forward to participating in the EU, as long as we continue to meet the criteria. " The EU's plan for the Western Balkans aims for Serbia and Montenegro to join in 2025. Arifaj nevertheless criticizes the union's discrimination. "The fact that Kosovo is the only country in Europe that needs a visa to travel within the Schengen area makes us feel unwanted by Europe. We hope that our citizens can travel visa-free as soon as possible. The EU should also understand that their hesitation opens up a void that other countries and ideologies compete to fill. Russia and other actors are trying to gain a foothold in the Balkans. And their interests do not necessarily correspond to lasting peace and stability in the region. "

Kosovo's economy is still performing poorly, and unemployment among young people is at 60%. In line with EU requirements, the authorities are trying to build a free, open market economy. According to Arifaj, the US and Germany are among the most invested in the country. “In December 2017 we signed a contract with an American consortium, CountourGlobal, to build a new power station. It's coal based, unfortunately, but coal is what we have here in Kosovo. "

The project is the largest since Kosovo's independence. The country receives 90% of its energy from two coal-fired power plants, which are considered environmental pollutants. Unlike Fazliu, Arifaj looks forward to the talks with Serbia. “Yesterday we actually got our own national area code – so far the two mobile operators we have here have paid to rent area numbers from other countries, Slovenia and Monaco respectively. Now we celebrate that we have our own + 383. This is one of the big results of the negotiations with Serbia. "Asked if he believes Serbia will recognize Kosovo, Arifaj replies:" Internally, Serbian politicians already recognize that Kosovo is independent. They lack political courage to admit it, so they leave it to the deputy, to the rival – they postpone the case until the public opinion is ready for it. It is very welcome that the Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, has started an internal dialogue on Kosovo, which will hopefully create room for a constructive debate, and not a discourse based on myths. Here in Kosovo, we are now establishing a Commission for Truth and Reconciliation. We cannot force Serbia to do anything, but we can set a good example. ”

International involvement in the wake of the war has given Kosovo an ambivalent relationship with the UN and the EU; their interference in state affairs was distasteful, while at the same time creating expectations for a longer-term hand stretch, especially from the EU. Instead, the population feels overlooked and isolated, but has no choice but to seek and wait for membership. Meanwhile, Serbia and Kosovo continue their turbulent normalization process.

Emma Bakkevik
Emma Bakkevik
International freelance writer for Ny Tid

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