One-on-one | Politics

Albin Kurti: “Politics is not the art of the possible. Politics is art. Simply, art.”

By - 11.10.2017

Kosovo’s most voted deputy explains his ideas on policymaking and comments on recent developments in this election year.

In the June 11 parliamentary elections, Albin Kurti was the most voted deputy in Kosovo with over 143,000 votes as Vetevendosje’s (VV) candidate for prime minister. Meanwhile, the party that he founded as a movement in 2005 experienced outstanding growth — in the 2010 elections Vetevendosje received around 88,000 votes, while this year they received over 200,000.

The local elections will seemingly be the next test, the results of which we will learn after Oct. 22. But for now, it is clear that Kurti and VV have gained impetus in their objective of governing the country.

In an interview with K2.0, Kurti speaks about the values and eternal idealism that he sees in Vetevendosje. He also shares his viewpoint regarding political developments and coalitions formed before and after the elections, as well as the possibilities of cooperating with other parties in the future. As for his own future, Kurti leaves that in the hands of Vetevendosje and its members.

K2.0: Seeing that we are close to local elections, what are VV’s expectations?

Albin Kurti: In the recent parliamentary elections, which were held on June 11, Vetevendosje doubled its vote. However, it is more important to consider the fact that, if we also take into account the results of election coalitions, Vetevendosje was the most voted political party in 10 municipalities. If we look at how many votes these parties received on an individual basis, then Vetevendosje is the party with the most votes in six other municipalities as well.

As a result, we expect to win in these 16 municipalities in either the first or second ballot. So we either win in the late hours of Oct. 22, or we continue to work up until Nov. 19, when the second ballot is scheduled. These are our expectations.

Were you caught by surprise by the result of the general elections and how much has it influenced the race in different municipalities?

I believe that on June 11, an outstanding development occurred in the minds and hearts of Kosovo’s citizens, which resulted in support for Vetevendosje. It is the overall spirit of the people that has become decisive, more than our movement. As we have now doubled our votes in the Assembly of the Republic, I now expect the increase in the number of our votes in municipal assemblies to be manyfold.

Do you think this spirit, as you describe it, could have damaging side effects as a result of the new additions that you’ve brought in from other parties? Many have accused you of recycling individuals who have been involved in other parties in the postwar period. Do you believe that VV’s concept is so powerful that it can even transform people who used to be part of other parties?

Firstly, I believe in the improvement of people, and I also believe in improving myself — both as Albin and as an activist of Vetevendosje. Secondly, whereas Kosovo’s education sector has diplomas without schools, Vetevendosje is sort of a school without diplomas.

When people join Vetevendosje, not only do they engage in activities, but they also take part in discussions, and as such Vetevendosje is the main debate forum in Kosovo today. That is why every person who joins Vetevendosje is not only a special name, but is also a participant in this debate forum — which really changes people, and changes us. And let it be so! Because rational discussions, nuances of different convictions, I believe, are our values.

It is not true that we want to stay in opposition. Not at all. Not at the central level and not at the municipal level either. We want to be in government as soon as possible.

And finally, let’s not forget that not all members of other parties are bad people. The fact that a person was, or continues to be, part of another political party does not a priori give us the right to morally judge him or her. We cannot relate belonging to a political party to being good or bad, smart or ignorant, especially when we speak about people who do not hold a very high position in the party.

We have received a lot of people from other political parties, mostly from PDK [the Democratic Party of Kosovo] and LDK [the Democratic League of Kosovo] if I’m not mistaken. But this does not mean that these people were discontent with fulfilling their personal ambitions in those parties. They were dissatisfied with the deviation that these parties experienced. It hit them unexpectedly, and thus, they came to us.

Let’s talk about VV’s cooperation with other political parties. We have seen that after the elections, you did not reach an agreement with the any of the other parties, particularly the LAA coalition [made up of LDK, the New Kosovo Alliance (AKR) and Alternativa]. Although you held multiple meetings, LAA’s former candidate for prime minister, Avdullah Hoti, said that they only managed to agree on 50 percent of VV’s policies. You’ve also continuously highlighted ‘red lines’ that prevent cooperation with PDK, whose current coalition partners in government, AAK [Alliance for the Future of Kosovo], Nisma [Initiative for Kosovo] and AKR now seem to be even further away from Vetevendosje. So, it is crucial for the public to know: How will Vetevendosje take power and push forward its political ideas without forming coalitions with other parties?

In the June 11 elections, we expanded our vote by 100 percent. To govern without a coalition, we do not need to grow by 100 percent again. Now we only need to grow by another 50 percent.

So you aim to win the majority by yourselves? Do you seek a similar victory to that of Edi Rama in Albania?

No, no. I’m just trying to say that the big and necessary growth has already happened. To govern, we do not need to repeat something as big as what we’ve already achieved. However, we do aim to form a coalition. Even if it were possible to govern by ourselves, we would still prefer to be in coalition.

With whom would it be easier to form a coalition since you are not in agreement with the existing political parties?

In 2014, we formed the VLAN (Vetevendosje, LDK, AAK, Nisma) coalition and signed an agreement on Sept. 10, 2014. Before VLAN, people thought that Vetevendosje did not want to form a coalition with anyone. The label of being exclusive, in the pejorative sense of the word, was given to Vetevendosje. Since then, slowly but surely we have seen that Vetevendosje is not the problem, it is the others who joined us then abandoned us. In a way, cooperating with us raised their value in the market, which they then used to sell themselves to PDK at a higher price.

This has happened throughout the years. We’ve always been open. We’ve never held grudges, never been arrogant or dogmatic. We came to this recent situation in which others formed pre-election coalitions and we ran alone. And that is why Vetevendosje deputies are outstanding, because they have been voted in as Vetevendosje, not as a coalition. Vetevendosje deputies did not take votes from other parties, only from Vetevendosje voters.

Photo: Majlinda Hoxha /K2.0.

There are people who have said that you were not ready to take the wheel of government…

It is not true that we want to stay in opposition. Not at all. Not at the central level and not at the municipal level either. We want to be in government as soon as possible, because we have the courage to face evil and the plan to bring good.

As you describe it, political parties have bargained politically and abandoned Vetevendosje. It sounds as if there is no more space for coalitions with other parties, since they are finding it easier to form coalitions with one another, and impossible to form coalitions with Vetevendosje.

We are open because we really love Kosovo. These coalitions do not stem from love. We love the people so much that they exhaust our capacity for love. However, the captured Kosovo state has no time to lose in its quest for democratization and development.

Let us get back to the opportunities that you had in your coalitions with other parties and to issues related to programs. It was reported that you managed to align your political program with that of AKR, but the coalition failed after they joined LDK. As for Nisma, I heard you identified them as a social-democratic party with a leftist program. However, the founder of Nisma was part of the PDK headship for a decade, leading the privatization process, which you have harshly criticized. Why is the prospect of forming a coalition with these parties a possibility? What do you believe distinguishes them from PDK?

Some activists and officials from PDK and LDK came to Vetevendosje, and I can say that in an important aspect, they are more valuable than us Vetevendosje activists who have been here since the beginning. This is because from the moment of deviation, which resulted in corruption within PDK and LDK, these people distanced themselves. This distancing and opposition then caused them to retroactively read earlier signs of this corruption.

When a PDK official comes to Vetevendosje, he is very valuable because he knows how corruption is done within PDK, and he helps us so that we never become like that, that we do not have that experience.

We have compromised, but Vetevendosje never bargains. Vetevendosje has compromised and still does so. Had the pre-election coalition with AKR survived, the program would not be a 100 percent Vetevendosje program. Furthermore, in the future when we are in government with another party, the program will not be a 100 percent Vetevendosje program.

The last time I communicated with Mustafa was on July 17. From July 6 to July 17 we communicated sporadically. Subsequently there was a complete disengagement in communication which I sincerely believe he must explain. Why did he meet with us at that time?

Let’s get back to the question more concretely…

I’ve answered everything but I cannot travel three kilometers with one step. I have to explain the context and chronology. We attempted to form a pre-election coalition with AKR and started discussing our respective programs and reached agreements on the overwhelming majority of issues.

However, AKR decided in the final moments to go with LDK. They agreed to run with LDK before the elections. For us, the prospect of forming a coalition with LDK was something expected since AKR, a liberal party which is more right wing than LDK, almost managed to reach a compromise with us. Thus, our optimism allowed us to make these attempts exclusively with LAA, which AKR became part of.

Is the reason for not forming a coalition with LDK related to program issues?

I believe that when me and Visar [Ymeri, head of VV] met [LDK president, Isa] Mustafa and [deputy LDK president, Lutfi] Haziri, in a way, we reached an agreement to reach an agreement.

This is important. I was optimistic and told them that we should speak with our teams about our programs. The last time I communicated with Mustafa was on July 17. From July 6 to July 17 we communicated sporadically. Subsequently there was a complete disengagement in communication which I sincerely believe he must explain. Why did he meet with us at that time?

So according to you, Mustafa suffocated LDK by rendering a coalition with you impossible. Do you believe that Mustafa personally blocked this coalition because of personal grudges, or do you think it was the will of LDK?

I believe that Mustafa wrongly led LDK in the summer of 2017, as he did in autumn 2014. Mustafa speaks irritatedly of our demonstrations and use of tear gas, but does not speak about himself signing the Zajednica [Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities] agreement. We did not use tear gas because his name is Isa Mustafa, or because of the way he looks, or who he is personally. We did it because of his actions. We did not use tear gas when the Mustafa government was elected.

Should a referendum be organized within LDK, I am convinced that an overwhelming majority of their members would vote in favor of a coalition with us. LDK members are against Serbia’s Zajednica in Kosovo; LDK members are against the demarcation agreement with Montenegro in its current form.

What do you base these claims on?

The signatures that they gave in the petition. Judging from the people we’ve been in contact with, should a referendum be organized, I am convinced that the majority would be in favor of a coalition with Vetevendosje. LDK members were against forming a coalition with PDK. As a result, if they were against forming a coalition with PDK, I believe that it is much easier to form a coalition with us.

So you are suggesting that initially there needs to be a change in leadership at LDK, so as to enable a coalition. Did I understand you correctly?

My conviction is that it is unjust how, after the Mustafa government fell, they did not reflect and did not concede that a minority of consistent deputies within LDK were right. Shpejtim Bulliqi, Fatmir Rexhepi, Vjosa Osmani — when it was proven that they were right, they were punished a second time.

Photo: Majlinda Hoxha /K2.0.

Are you granting amnesty to other exponents? For example, Fatmir Limaj of Nisma is being investigated as we speak for a corruption affair involving millions of euros.

I am not a judge, thus cannot grant amnesty.

Absolutely. You are not a judge. But you are judging that PDK is the evil force in this country, as it has corrupted and captured the state. Are these double standards?

Not every person in PDK is like this. Secondly, Fatmir Limaj left PDK. Thirdly, Fatmir Limaj is now back in PDK.

But is this inconsistency on his part not sufficient to render a future coalition with him impossible? And does the same not go for Behgjet Pacolli, who joined the PAN coalition (PDK, AAK and Nisma)?

Vetevendosje is a chance for change, for a change in Kosovo. We are not a superstructure that is superimposed on the people or other parties. We are an infrastructure for all those that want change. I said it earlier: I believe in the improvement of people.

If you believe in the improvement of people, do you believe in the improvement of Kadri Veseli, the head of PDK?

I believe every person can improve, however, I cannot grant amnesty to anyone for their actions. This is where you must make a distinction. I cannot forgive someone for their crimes. I do not have the desire nor the right to forgive someone for a crime. But just like any other person, he too can feel shame. As the saying goes, a person can feel shame five minutes before his death. On the one hand, I am progressive in my belief that people can improve, on the other, I am very careful, because it is possible to fail and make mistakes.

I do not believe that progress comes from consensus. In fact, to me, consensus often resembles a swamp. Movement is a river that flows. Progress is a river, not a swamp. So progress comes through criticism, self-criticism and controversy.

I want to ask an essential question. If it is true what you are saying, that we’ve had 18 years of political bargaining for power, in which political parties are self-interested and Vetevendosje doesn’t bargain — does this risk leaving you out of government as a result of other political parties finding it easier to alternate power with one another than to compromise with Vetevendosje?

I’ll say it again. It is not our objective to form the next government without a coalition. Absolutely not. But naturally, we prioritize our program orientation, our political concept. And now we are the biggest party in the country. Your question would have been much more legitimate before June 11, however, you must not underestimate the fact that the people punished the bargainers. The June 11 elections punished three parties that have been around longer than Vetevendosje. PDK, LDK and AAK, the old parties, have been punished, and the new one has triumphed.

Not sufficiently so as to leave them out of power…

That is true if you look at the current situation. But if you look at the trend… maybe not their days or weeks, but in the worst case scenario, their months are numbered.

To exhaust the debate over coalitions, there are critics that say that if Vetevendosje were to hypothetically sign an agreement with LAA, it would risk being seen by citizens as the same as all the other parties, who only seek personal interests. How do you respond to this reservation?

Photo: Majlinda Hoxha /K2.0.

As long as Vetevendosje maintains its program orientation, as long as Vetevendosje is comprised of and led by activists and politicians who are not enriched by politics, who are uncorrupted and incorruptible, and as long as the Vetevendosje leadership is loyal to the membership’s engagement and activities — you’ve seen that our deputies lead protests. Our deputies do not sit in front of the TV drinking tea while activists protest.

These are the three tests of truthfulness: consistency and coherence of discourse, non-enrichment from politics, and loyalty to the engagement of activists. These three tests have made for a situation in which the people have great trust in Vetevendosje. So much so that, whoever we work with, the people believe in us. And I believe that they are right to believe in us.

Besides having to form a coalition with Albanian parties, hypothetically, were you to have the right to create the next government, you would have to include the Serb community in the government as well. I’ve heard you say that including Lista Srpska in the Kosovo government is not an obligation. But Lista Srpska won over 80 percent of the Serb community’s votes in Kosovo, and they dominate the representation of the Serb community in the Assembly. Would you form a coalition with the Lista Srpska? How would Kosovo Serbs be represented in a Vetevendosje government?

Lista Srpska is not a constitutional category. I think that we cannot even consider appointing someone from Lista Srpska as a minister — not before having people such as Nenad Rasic [Democratic Progressive Party] and Slobodan Petrovic [Independent Liberal Party]. It is unfair to the Republic of Kosovo, and in my opinion, unfair to Kosovo Serbs.

How do you see the approach of Lista Srpska towards the Kosovar state?

Lista Srpska, from its origin to its orientation, to its objectives and the control [over it], does not represent a party of Kosovo Serbs, rather it represents the political embassy of Serbia in Kosovo.

You do not believe in the improvement of Lista Srpska?

Of course I do, but only if they stop going to Belgrade and Moscow every week, as they are doing. They must connect with Serb citizens of Kosovo.

But they won the majority of the votes of Serb citizens.

I think that there are so many people among [Kosovo] Serbs who are much better and more able to be deputies.

What if they win by a landslide again? Would you negate the will of the majority of the Serb community by appointing other Serb individuals?

Our objective is to have a Serb minister who is not a member of Lista Srpska. The Constitution states that he or she must be Serb. Being a Serb must not be defined by political affiliations. Being a Serb is an issue of national identity, not partisan identity.

These conditions that you set could cause a reaction from the international community as well. What do you think their reaction would be?

The international community listens to the voice of the people.

Exactly. They could insist that Lista Srpska is the voice of the Serb community in Kosovo…

When they see that you’ve created a majority with Slobodan Petrovic, that you appointed Nenad Rasic as Minister and appoint Slobodan Petrovic as Deputy Speaker of the Assembly, there will be no reason for the international community to react.

Photo: Majlinda Hoxha /K2.0.

Speaking of the international community, it seemed that in the past you had a cold relationship with international representatives in Prishtina. But after the elections, it appears that things have changed. You have met with US Ambassador Greg Delawie twice, and are meeting other representatives of embassies in Kosovo more frequently. What does this mean?

I think that this is a direct result of the June 11 elections. Simply put, the situation we are in was not caused by us, or the US Embassy. We are here because of the people. The people have decided this. The distinction is that in 2014, the international factor saw an additional credential for Vetevendosje being in government.

What credential are you talking about?

The issue of dialogue and agreements with Serbia, the issue of Vetevendosje’s severity, namely our severity in demonstrations…

Now there are no reservations from the international community regarding Vetevendosje’s severity?

I am not saying they support our methods. I’m saying that they are now aware that the people support Vetevendosje. This means that they are a diplomatic presence here.

With which you have not had good relations for quite a while…

Look, intellectually we are children of the West. We were taught to think critically by the West. The countries from where these ambassadors come from, and their history, have made us think the way we think. I do not believe that there can be progress without criticism. I do not believe that progress comes from consensus. In fact, to me, consensus often resembles a swamp. Movement is a river that flows. Progress is a river, not a swamp. So progress comes through criticism, self-criticism and controversy.

Photo: Majlinda Hoxha /K2.0.

How do you define consensus?

Consensus is always a temporary peace. Consensus is the smallest common denominator which eases tensions by being afraid of risks, thus disabling progress.

Would you feel as though you’ve betrayed your leftist voters were you to form a coalition with right wing, neoliberal parties?

When we discussed about programs and agreements, I did not feel as though they were a deviation from social democracy. They are written texts which can be found. The challenges would be in practice.

Who do you see as leftist in Kosovo’s political scene?

The majority of citizens in Kosovo are leftist, when you speak to them about specific topics — without mentioning left or right, without mentioning conservatism, socialism, democracy and liberalism, without labelling. If you speak without labelling, they are leftist.

Are you suggesting that party leaderships are pushing them towards the right?

I believe that political leaderships and their relations with businesses, as well as clientelism and ‘tender-mania,’ are pushing them in that direction.

Why are you a social democrat and why does the country need such a governance model?

I believe that the three pillars of the European Union are as follows. The first pillar is peace through anti-fascism. The famous speech given by Robert Schumann [former foreign minister of France] on May 9, 1950, is in accordance with the triumph of anti-fascism over fascism in the Second World War. It is not only peace, but peace through anti-fascism. Because some have started to talk about peace without anti-fascism. Peace without anti-fascism is peace with fascist elements. It is an excessive tolerance of xenophobia.

Being a citizen is a political act. I do not see myself outside of being a citizen, I do not see civil engagement outside of politics, and I do not see engaged politics outside of Vetevendosje.

The second pillar is the welfare state. This value aspect is meaningful when accompanied by equality, justice and solidarity between people. Without these, it is no longer freedom, rather it is fear. You can be free even in a jungle, but that is a freedom that is characterized by fear. The third pillar is the security umbrella of NATO. I believe in all three. I am deeply in favor of the European Union.

The final subject that I would like to discuss is your political future. In a recent interview you said “now it is too late to withdraw from politics.” My question is, what would Albin Kurti do upon withdrawing from politics and life as a political activist. Could Albin Kurti live without being a political activist?

I am an electro-technical engineer and I adore mathematics, philosophy, culture and the arts. I have many preoccupations. But my destiny is inseparably connected to the Vetevendosje movement. I experience Vetevendosje as a collective principle and objective, and as a result I do not determine for myself. I believe that the people of Kosovo must determine for themselves, not Albin.

But we are talking about a decision that is yours to make. So the concrete question is, what would make you think about withdrawing from politics?

This is completely in the hands of Vetevendosje’s members and bodies. Do you understand?

Photo: Majlinda Hoxha /K2.0.

Is it not also an individual issue?

I am not comfortable in slim fit pants, but if the chief of staff tells me that I need to wear a jacket, blue pants and a tie, I have no choice but to obey.

This is understandable when you are conducting political activities. But I am asking about the political momentum that would make you withdraw from politics after all these years.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but you are not understanding me. I am not an individual as such. I do not think of myself as an individual. You think that I think of myself as Albin. I don’t. For 12 years now I’ve been a part of Vetevendosje, and I was part of other organizations before that.

Do you feel eternal within Vetevendosje?

What do you mean by eternal?

I mean, what if the members decide for you to be in politics your whole life?

Yes, it is possible. It is very possible that I will spend all of my life serving the duties that are given to me at Vetevendosje.

So, if I’ve understood you correctly, you are excluding the idea of determining your own destiny?

Yes. Exactly. I do not understand Vetevendosje on an individual basis. The meaning of Vetevendosje [‘self determination’] is not in an individual or personal sense. You know where I have self determination? In my tastes, my cultural and artistic preferences, and my personal and private life.

Politically, ideologically… people spend decades trying to achieve an authentic organization with intellectual and spiritual accordance. I was lucky enough to achieve this earlier. I do not see myself outside of politics and I do not see any engaged politics outside of Vetevendosje in Kosovo.

Being a citizen is a political act. I do not see myself outside of being a citizen, I do not see civil engagement outside of politics, and I do not see engaged politics outside of Vetevendosje.

Just like in art, in politics movements are preceded by other movements. Movements are born in opposition to a movement that has become a regime. A century ago, Dadaism paved the way for Surrealism. Later, minimalism was a reaction to abstract expressionism. Our movement has both.

Vetevendosje stems from the tradition of protest and insurgent Albanian movements of the second half of the 20th century, which organized social and national solidarity for liberation, democracy, independence, equality and justice. It was born more than 12 years ago, as a result of an opposition to the international authoritarian bureaucracy, and the servility of corrupted locals. In the socio-historical sense, though not in the technical one, politics is not the art of the possible. Politics is art. Simply, art. K

Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.

Photo: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.