The Jablanovic case
January 6, 2015 — a group of Vetevendosje activists, together with a Gjakova-based NGO Thirrjet e Nenave (Mother’s Call) that addresses cases of missing persons from the time of the Kosovo war, go out to protest the arrival of a group of Serb pilgrims who wanted to visit a local church for Orthodox Christmas. The protesters claimed that among the pilgrims were some displaced Serbs from Gjakova who were involved in war crimes against Albanians from Gjakova in 1998-99. With the arrival of the pilgrims in Gjakova, the protesters threw blocks of ice towards the bus, breaking one of its windows. Afterwards, Kosovo Police arrested two protesters.
Aleksandar Jablanovic, then-minister for community and return, who accompanied the pilgrims during their visit, made a statement on the situation: “The savages that stopped Serbs from coming to their burnt homes are not serving [to help] anyone.” The term ‘savages,’ in Serbian ‘divljaci,’ was perceived by many Albanians as a racial and ethnic slur, and ultimately ended in riots in Kosovo.
It didn’t take long for the Albanian population from all over Kosovo to mobilize, with the help of opposition parties, and to demand the resignation or dismissal of Jablanovic. Protests were organized in different cities, culminating in a major one in Prishtina, in which thousands of people took part. As a result of public pressure, Prime Minister Isa Mustafa was forced to react and dismissed Jablanovic.
The Grabovci case
August 1, 2016 — news portal Insajderi.com starts publishing a series of wiretaps from 2011 on the phone of then-head of coaltion party PDK’s parliamentary group, Adem Grabovci. The wiretaps contain conversations between Grabovci and high officials in his party, and in them we hear how Grabovci misused his position by employing unqualified people in important Kosovar institutions. These wiretaps clearly demonstrate also what many believed to be true even before — that everything about public institutions is captured by the parties in power that employ people not based on merits or qualifications, but rather based on political affiliations.
The publication of the wiretaps — dubbed ‘The Bosses Dossiers’ after party affiliates are frequently heard referring to Grabovci as “Boss” — also brought about a high level of discontent. After a while, an apolitical group organized by citizens decided to call for protests — a very small group of a few hundred people joined them. This group has been consistent and continues to protest every Thursday, although participation levels are not high.
If we compare the number of protesters and reactions in the Grabovci and Jablanovic cases, we notice that the Jablanovic case instigated a much higher and more potent level of reactions and protests, which eventually led to his removal from position of minister. The Grabovci case also brought about protests and reactions, although they were somehow inferior in their potency.
Grabovci also gave a reckless statement after his scandal; when going to be questioned by the Prosecutor, he joked to journalists that he had come to “appoint some people.” On one hand, with this statement, Grabovci showed his power in the institutions that he has by now sabotaged. On the other, his statement was not taken as offensive, rather it was forgotten as a tasteless joke that made nobody laugh besides its teller.
Some might say that the difference regarding the participants in the protests against Grabovci and Jablanovic lies in the mobilization of the opposition in the latter case — the opposition organized those protests, together with different civil society organizations — and with the fact that the ‘The Bosses Dossiers’ is being exclusively published by Insajderi.com; other media can only elaborate on the news.
But my argument goes beyond the practicalities of organizing protests and media. There is something more essential that exists within Kosovo’s political culture that makes people go out on the streets to protest, and that is a fear of ‘the other,’ a fear nourished by national sentiment.
So let’s go back to the comparison between Grabovci and Jablanovic, and strip Jablanovic from the symbolic and emotional nature of his insult, and let’s do the same with Adem Grabovci — let’s analyze who damaged Kosovo more with their actions.
Without a doubt, factually, the appointment of people arbitrarily, and the expansion of party affiliates into public institutions is much more damaging to Kosovo as a state and to citizens of Kosovo as individuals than an insult by a Serb minister. However, for many Kosovo citizens, it is somehow more important to protest against an insult, than it is to protest against the corruption and clientelism that has suffocated every meritocratic aspect of the country. Why?
If we look at big post-war protests, we notice that they all have something in common. Take the protest of February 10, 2007 — a mass protest against the Ahtisaari Plan and negotiations with Serbia; look at the more recent protests, like the one for trade reciprocity with Serbia (January 14, 2012), against the Association/Community of Serb-Majority Municipalities in Kosovo (January 9, 2016), or for the resignation/dismissal of Jablanovic (January 17, 2015). What characterizes these protests is the fact that they are always either against the biggest contester of Kosovo’s independence, the Serb state, or against agreements mediated by Brussels, that Albanians from Kosovo often see as damaging to the independence and sovereignty of Kosovo.
Such a historic trajectory, characterized by many protests against Serbia and partly against the international community, without a doubt shapes and influences Kosovo’s political culture; it builds a collective public consciousness of organizing, defending and revolting against ‘the other’ and the bad things that can be inflicted upon Kosovo from abroad or by foreigners.
This kind of political culture is understandable when we analyze Kosovo’s state building history; the mentality also shows that Kosovo’s independence could be contested, but is still irreversible because of, among other things, the insistence of Albanians for freedom.
This does not mean that we must not be critical of this culture. A collective consciousness makes the people organize and mobilize against the threat of ‘the other,’ but ignores in essence the great internal threat of white collar Kosovars. The latter call themselves institutionalists, and even fought for Kosovo and were subsequently promoted after 1999 on the back of their wartime achievements.
This brings me back to this comparison between the protests against Jablanovic and Grabovci, and the reasons for which Kosovar citizens protested against them. Although Jablanovic’s reckless statement is much less damaging than the clientelism which Grabovci installed in institutions through his position, protests against Jablanovic had a disproportionately larger number of participants, because we are somehow shaping a political culture in which the revolting and protesting nerve can be touched only by ‘the other’ — ‘our own’ are automatically seen as friends because of their ethnicity or their contribution during time of war, and as such we are ignoring the potential damage that can be caused internally.
This kind of political culture and collective consciousness particularly benefits ‘our own,’ as they continuously utilize this space to install their affiliates in each and every public institution. So the national sentiment of revolting against ‘the other’ makes us ignore or forget internal actors, by giving them the necessary space to use state institutions as instruments for adding to their own wealth, and to delegate state assets as a kind of inheritance on a party and tribal basis. At the same time, national sentiments that make us revolt en masse are being instrumentalized by opposition movements in order to push forward their own party agendas, which without this sentiment of revolt, fails to attract the same level of public attention.
That is why we come to a situation in which a reckless insult by Jablanovic is like a snowball that tumbles down a hill, growing bigger as it takes everything with it, whereas Grabovci’s actions are somehow acceptable. That is why the time must come for us as a society to revolt as intensely against ‘our own,’ who day by day, with their actions, calls and dodgy agreements, are damaging Kosovo more than insults by a Serb ex-minister.
Image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0