One-on-one | Protests

Prishtina’s protest camp: Meet the protesters

By - 25.02.2016

Who are the protesters that have set up camp in the center of Kosovo's capital?

Hundreds of anti-government protesters have been taking part in a round-the-clock protest camp in central Prishtina. Organized by Kosovo’s opposition parties, Vetevendosje, Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) and the Initiative for Kosovo (NISMA), the protesters are demanding the resignation of the government.

A “mini-city” has been established in Skanderbeg Square outside the government building, complete with dozens of tents, toilets, a wash-area, information point, and tables for food and tea. Protesters have also been kept entertained by a range of activities including film screenings, music and speeches.

The protest camp was established on Tuesday (Feb. 23) ahead of a vote by Assembly deputies to appoint Kosovo’s next president. As part of the 2014 coalition agreement signed between Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), the government’s presidential nomination will be PDK’s leader Hashim Thaci — with the coalition having a large majority in the Assembly, it is unlikely that another candidate would stand a chance of election. However the former prime minister and current deputy prime minister and foreign minister is a divisive figure and is deeply unpopular with large segments of Kosovo’s population.

The Assembly vote is scheduled to take place at 11:00 tomorrow (Friday, Feb. 26). It has been reported that free transport will be provided by PDK for Thaci’s supporters to travel to Prishtina for an anticipated victory celebration; the opposition has called for a mass protest the same morning.

Thaci’s potential election as president is the latest in a series of moves by the current government that has led to the opposition blocking the work of the Assembly; since September 2015 opposition deputies have used various means to disrupt Assembly sessions, including the regular use of tear gas in the chamber.

In recent months the opposition has organized mass rallies attended by tens of thousands of citizens in protest against two international agreements signed by the government last August — one with Serbia that would see the establishment of an Association of Serb Majority Municipalities (commonly referred to by opponents by the Serbian word for association, “Zajednica”), and one with Montenegro that demarcates the international border. In December, Kosovo’s Constitutional Court ruled that elements of the Association deal with Serbia would breach Kosovo’s Constitution.

Protesters have also previously expressed anger about high levels of corruption within the government, Kosovo’s stagnant economy which has left unemployment levels amongst the highest in Europe and persistent problems in the country’s education system.

K2.0 spent an evening at the camp and asked some of the protesters about their reasons for being there, their experience of the camp and their hopes for what happens next:

Tinka Kurti
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Age: 27
Occupation: Vetevendosje activist
From: Prishtina

I’ve been out here at the square since Tuesday, when the activists first gathered. After the activists gathered, the number of protesters began to grow. I stayed here all day yesterday, last night, and today, and it never got tiring. As well as the activities we’ve spontaneously done here, and the ones we’ve organized, we have also used this time to socialize with one another, to get to know one another, share opinions and political views, with citizens, activists from other cities, with whom we’ve gotten together here at the square, because of our common goals. It is not tiring at all. On the contrary, it is very interesting to be here at the square. I don’t believe the parties in power could gather even three pro-Zajednica people that would stay here, even for a few hours, let alone for as long as we’ve been here until now.

The political momentum calls for the fall of the government. We are determined to be here until the government falls. This does not mean that the main problems in our country are Zajednica and the demarcation process. But the political momentum calls for these two issues — it is possible to stop and change them. And at the moment, these are our main commitments: the fall of the government, and the fall of these two very dangerous deals that were signed in Brussels.

This protest provides the infrastructure for Friday’s protest, when the session for mandating the president has been set. With Thaci in government since 2007, many harmful negotiations have taken place in relation to Serbia. During Thaci’s time, many harsh privatizations have left many citizens jobless, economic degradation has been widespread, and Kosovo has the highest corruption levels in the region. Almost in every aspect we have taken steps backwards. There has been no development during his two mandates.

It remains to be seen on another day [whether the protests will continue if Thaci is elected as president], but it is very difficult for Thaci to be chosen as president with so much opposition against him. This protest is nationwide, and has many different people taking part. Today we had members of civil society, from different organizations, non-political ones, and we’ve had a lot of support and solidarity from many citizens, but also support from the LDK party, who we’ve seen here without their party symbols, as they are against the election of Thaci as president. They joined the protest for a few hours.

Kushtrim Trolli

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Age: 26
Occupation: Medical student at University of Prishtina
From: Prishtina

I’ve come out to the protest with my girlfriend. I’m a final year student at the Faculty of Medicine. I came to the protest regardless of my political affiliations. I am simply an independent citizen. I think that with this protest, a new spirit is present; for the rejuvenation of our state, the redemption of our hope, a hope to begin a new, better life. This is bothering me, so for that reason I am out here. On Friday, I will most definitely be here as well.

Social reasons have brought me here more than the agreements for the Association and for demarcation. Corruption, unemployment, poverty; this country is not promising employment, and that is what we need the most. Otherwise [as a future doctor, if the issues aren’t addressed] I would need to do what most of my colleagues do and learn German so that I can move abroad. This is something I don’t like. I want to work in my country. I don’t see it differently. The atmosphere is such that everywhere you go, people speak of crises, even before the protest. However, maybe with these protest, we can find hope again. I like the form of protest — music, many people, more like a party than a protest.

Egzon Azemi

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Age: 20
Occupation: Philosophy student at University of Prishtina
From: Prishtina

I usually take part [in all protests organized by the opposition]. I’ve been here since yesterday at 14:00. My family is also here most of the time, because at this moment there is nothing else to do but to protest, for the youth, elderly, all generations. My mother and father are here. There were many activities, last night, today… there were many musical activities, cultural ones, youth groups that painted. I also did a bit of music… rock, and old traditional music.

As a young person in this young country, I’ve seen what’s been happening since 2008. I really think the final moment has come for all youth to go out and speak out. Who can fix this country if not the youth?

Zajednica, demarcation, Hashim Thaci are three reasons to protest, but there are many other important reasons, that touch every young person, all of us; unemployment, degradation of the education system, and in this country where there is no perspective, no other future, and the only future that can be positive is if this youth protests and changes this system that we have today. Hashim, Isa [Mustafa, prime minister] and other politicians have proven throughout their political careers how much they’ve contributed to Kosovo. They have contributed to their families, not to the population. They’ve left it poor, unemployed and have culturally damaged every segment. Enough is enough… it has come to an end. The revolution is starting.

Nora Temaj

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Age: 24
Occupation: Architecture student at University of Prishtina
From: Prizren

I came last night as well, and stayed ‘til very late, as I will do tonight… it’s cold, but that won’t be a problem, as it is important that we be here.

The protest is important to me because recent events in Kosovo disappointed me as a student, and I followed everything with great attention. Now the election of the president is also something worrying for all citizens, because it is important to have a president that represents unity. I think that he does not. I do not agree with the ideology he represents at all. The last two [international] agreements crossed the line. That is why I am not supporting his election.

If I speak as a student… I’ve been unhappy as a student because I didn’t know where to express myself, not that the form didn’t exist, I simply wasn’t linked to it. But now as I finish my studies, I am more informed, and I see that I should have opposed unfair things earlier. One of the things that concerned me most was that our professors are not fit to teach us and lead us to graduation. They themselves are not doctors, and they claim to elevate us. The government should have reformed the education system.

I plan to stay here till the very end, until the protests end. I see this protest as a new movement, and it’s all been done by the youth. It is a youthful spirit, this protest. We know that this square has had protests before, and protests similar to ones experienced by our parents. But this is the new form, and it is the most creative. We are showing that we can express our disappointment peacefully… it is similar to what happened in Turkey, in the Taksim protest [Gezi Park].

Veton Kastrati

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Age: 25
Occupation: Political acientist / NISMA deputy at Malisheva’s Municipal Assembly
From: Malisheva

I came to Prishtina to protest. Last night we were here until 4am, staying up, listening to music, sharing anecdotes. I came out here because the Constitution of Kosovo is the highest order of the state. And if a prime minister signs international agreements and breach it [the Constitution], that person is not credible enough to be a prime minister in my opinion.

There are about 200-300 people from Malisheva here, but they’re doing three shifts, so people don’t get too tired. I see that many people have started to come here voluntarily. They like this form of protest, and every day it’s getting bigger and bigger.

Every part of Kosovo belongs to every citizen of Kosovo, except for private properties. And this square is here for all citizens to use. My coming out here has a purpose. My purpose is to put pressure on the government, as a citizen, with all these other fellow citizens. Sixteen years after the war there is no social welfare, the price of electricity is high, they make decisions on it ad hoc. There are many reasons. But the main reason has to do with these two agreements. On the 26th [tomorrow] we have the big protest, to oppose the election of Thaci as president, because his election would deepen the crisis. He is not a unifying figure.

Gurjeta Zeka

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Age: 25
Occupation: Vetevendosje activist
From: Prishtina

My duty [at the Info Center] is to help citizens that are protesting here at the square, ones that have questions regarding accommodation — for example if they need a place to sleep, or they have questions regarding food. There’s been a lot of interest. And if we compare yesterday to today, we notice a big rise in the number of protesters that have joined us. There are many citizens that are willing to help in different ways, with food, blankets, anything we need. We have assigned a few people in charge for different things, like food, finances, logistics, and depending on the way they want to help, we direct citizens to them.

Last night the time went by really quickly. Today it rained a bit, but not enough to cause any problems. In the evening it started to get cold, but the citizens brought many blankets, scarves, hats, and different clothes.

We’ll be here for as long as it’s necessary. Our aim is to prevent Hashim Thaci’s election as president, and to request the fall of the government. The protest we called for the 27th was changed to a day before that, as the session for the presidential election was set for Friday.

Besides the fact that Thaci is not a unifying figure, if we analyze his work as a foreign minister, we see that he has failed in many of the priorities he had. For example, obtaining membership of UNESCO and other international organizations, unfulfilled promises that he gave during the election campaign.

This protest seems to me like a very good way to express opposition against an issue, but it also seems like a very good idea, because it is also easier for citizens to join us; they have time to reflect and decide together. And it seems that by Friday this number will be huge.

Alket Zeqiri

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Age: 26
Occupation: Sculptor / Vetevendosje activist
From: Prishtina

I’ve been here from day one, when we started putting up the tents. I came from Fushe Kosova with many other people. Four tents in total. We, activists, are responsible for organizing logistics, but many other honorable citizens have joined us; friends, relatives, the elderly. I believe the protest will only get bigger. Today there are many more people than there were before, and the trend is on the rise. Tonight I’m doing this [serving coffee and food], whereas during the day I was doing other things… cleaning, taking care of the tents. Last night me and my friends held discussions, read books. Recently we discussed more about political ideologies, and the distinction between the left and right [ideologies] was the theme last night. Especially the left.

Sociologists define this kind of protest as the Eros of the Masses. There is a sort of love between people, as we all stay together, sleep together in tents, feed one another, and create a kind of unity that is unprecedented. This form of protest, for people that decide to come to live with us here in the tents, and share the cause in every moment, from breakfast to dinner, is what causes the emancipation that is different from the protests that last for two or three hours… this protest serves as a means of emancipation for our society.

Bardhyl Noci

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Age: 40
Occupation: Professor at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at University of Prishtina
From: Prishtina

I came here [to the square] yesterday at 14:00. My reasons for coming are similar to those of others. We think this regime must go. It is not logical for people that breach the Constitution to stay in these positions. Naturally they must be held accountable. It has been 16 years since these people came to power and we know very well what condition Kosovo is in currently. Kosovo continues to be the country with the highest corruption level in Europe, and the same can be said for crime. The economy is ruined, hundreds and thousands of people have left in the past year, so it is now or never.

[Points toward the chessboard in front of him] I think that the people are the pawns, whereas the government is currently only the queen, we are the people, and all the other figures are on our side. We only need to topple the queen. We are very close, and I believe that on Friday they must give up. They have crossed the line.K

Interviews were conducted in Albanian.

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