Mentorship | Elections 2019

Elections are not the solution

By - 04.10.2019

Kosovo needs a collective social project.

The essential element is not the name of the system, but the way the system functions in reality, wrote Robert Kaplan, correspondent of The Atlantic Monthly, in his book “The Coming Anarchy.” According to Kaplan, in order for a society to function properly, it is not enough to label the system as a “democracy,” but rather fertile land is required, which enables democracy to grow firm roots.

Without active citizenship and public morals, he warns, “democracy can weaken states, because it makes it necessary to make dysfunctional compromises and form fragile government coalitions,” in which cases the numerous parties that compose the government all seek a piece of the cake of power. 

Kosovo, especially after the declaration of independence, has been faced with this problem. The need to form coalitions comprised of many parties, so as to reach the required quota to form a government, has led to a continuous expansion of the state administration and even of the government cabinet. For example, the last government, which was led by Ramush Haradinaj, was a coalition of 15 parties, which resulted in 20 ministries and a record number of over 100 deputy ministers.

Politicians have continuously labelled, insulted and personally attacked one another in pre-election debates and campaigns.

It is naive to believe that one party is a manifestation of goodness while another is the devil itself. In Kosovo, there are greater differences within parties than between parties. This is made clear by the ease with which individuals move from one political entity to another, or when the same person reviles a leader and then praises him or her later. This speaks a lot about the fluid borders between political forces, which get their substance from the same source. 

Therefore, the main issue is whether Kosovar parties are groups of people who aim to acquire power so as to implement a political program or ideology, or interest groups who attempt to acquire power so as to use it for the benefit of their clans.

Twenty years after the war, directed by more or less the same political caste, Kosovo continues to face a series of challenges from which corruption, organized crime and nepotism stand out. This is noted in many different local and international reports.

For example, in a report published by the US State Department in Kosovo in 2018, the word “corruption” is mentioned 16 times in 30 pages. “Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity,” the report notes. “A lack of effective judicial oversight and general weakness in the rule of law contributed to the problem.” Similar claims were reported by the Kosovo Judicial Institute, according to which in the 2015-17 period, the Special Prosecution of Kosovo convicted only three people on charges of corruption. “This means that on average, one person is convicted every year,” the report notes.

International officials have not hesitated to state openly that Kosovo has failed to create a state of justice. Former British Ambassador to Kosovo, Ruairi o’Connell, stated his concerns about the high level of corruption many times. 

“In most cases, decisions are made for personal interests,” he has said. “This is the definition of corruption, because a culture has been created in which these violations do not comprise scandals, but are seen as natural. No violations should be accepted. The acceptance of even a small violation by public officials contributes to the creation of a culture of more severe violations.”

Despite this situation, politicians have continuously labelled, insulted and personally attacked one another in pre-election debates and campaigns. Debates are rarely focused on substantial discussions about issues that face the country. We seldom hear explanations of long-term plans for the next 20 to 30 years. 

So does this come as a result of irresponsible parties, or is the problem more deep-rooted? 

Without a collective social project, there is no active citizenship

Often when we speak about Kosovo’s core issues, we forget that it is not only the government and political parties that influence the formation of the society, the society also shapes political parties.

Today, citizens are making colder calculations, in the sense that they are rational and pragmatic, more focused on solutions and individual benefits.

Looking at the situation through the lenses of sociology or social psychology, we can conclude that Kosovars are not united by a common project, because they lack a unifying knot around which they can organize. So Kosovars have no common, collective projects, which are the threads that form the knot that is a unified nation.

They think and strive vertically, attempting to accumulate wealth for their successors. Meanwhile, the functioning of a nation state requires horizontal thinking, meaning that material goods must not be conserved only for biological successors, rather they must also be distributed for projects that serve fellow citizens. It is this element in particular that has enabled human societies to create organizations on a wide scale, such as states. 

Instead, Kosovar society is centered around families or tribes. It functions as if it has not yet reached the nation stage, as a modern concept of social organization.

That is why government programs at the national level, which are designed to provide collective solutions, would find it hard to penetrate and reach a great number of citizens, because they do not match the concept that they have for society, for morals, for the state.

Today, citizens are making colder calculations, in the sense that they are rational and pragmatic, more focused on solutions and individual benefits. In other words, realizing the situation, Kosovars are increasingly looking more and more toward the path of personal realization, rather than towards common engagement for the development of their country, seeking other channels — especially migration and employment in state institutions. 

Migration remains as a very attractive alternative for Kosovars, which is why Kosovo is emptying by the day. According to Kosovo Statistics Agency, in 2018 alone, around 30,000 Kosovars left the country. The number of people who are planning to leave is much greater. According to a report published by Gallup International, it turns out that about half of Kosovo’s youth wants to migrate. 

And for the majority, the main purpose is to secure a better living.

In a situation where 50% of the youth considers Kosovo to be a place in which they only plan to stay temporarily, it is difficult to expect their investment in collective plans. In fact, even democracy seems to be an illusion. If democracy is the “rule of the people,” then how can we expect governance from people who have abandoned common ideals and have prepared their bags to leave?

Elections as a battle between enemies, rather than political rivals

It is very difficult to achieve the functioning of a democracy in a pre-nation society that lubricates the big cogwheels of the state apparatus with a sort of civil nationalism.

In Kosovo, where politics are subjected to the free market logic, demand determines supply. As such, political parties do not seek to compile long-term programs for the general good, but rather engage “in the field” to provide “individual solutions” to citizens by utilizing the state budget.

In this situation, there can be no political rivals who compete with their ideas, only enemies who insult and accuse one another before and after elections.

In 2014, for example, Hashim Thaçi’s government took the decision to increase the wages of civil workers by 25%, making electoral calculations to secure their votes. The head of the government at the time promised to increase their wages during the election campaign. As soon as he came into office, Thaçi realized this promise, ignoring the criticism coming from economists and jeopardizing Kosovo’s cooperation with the International Monetary Fund. Other politicians offer jobs to some, and kiosks, contracts, tenders and favors to others. 

So there are no attempts to win elections with national projects, only with individual promises — because Kosovars do not function as a nation, but as an atomized society without a collective plan for the future, incited by the desire to find individual solutions. 

As such, elections in Kosovo do not resemble a competition of ideas, but rather look like a war of “other means” in which the political entity that wins takes everything, and the ones that lose are left with nothing. Seeing that the political parties that form the government keep the promises that they make to parts of their electorate — which is not comprised of a collective, but of individuals — the government immediately begins to fulfill the promised favors. While the losing parties sharpen their swords to throw accusations against the parties in power. 

The result of this governance mentality is the creation of three classes: employees of the private sector, employees of the public sector and the unemployed.

In an economy that is as weak as Kosovo’s, an excess of staff in the state administration is, at best, harmful to the economy. To preserve the balance, the government allows the use of private sector employees. The latter work much more than they are paid, so the surplus of work can be used to preserve a gigantic saturated administration full of party militants and relatives. 

In this situation, there can be no political rivals who compete with their ideas — who agree to help each other after elections, so as to push forward state projects — only enemies who insult and accuse one another before and after elections.

The situation perfectly fits Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari’s description of the difference between democratic societies (kneaded with national responsibility and sentiments) and non-democtratic states, which resemble pre-modern tribes.

“Elections function properly only in situations where politicians think that their political rivals could be wrong, perhaps even foolish, but do not hate one another,” he said in a lecture that he gave at Central European University. “When people hate one another and society is segregated into hostile groups, democracy is fragile. This produces situations where people think that the use of all means is legitimate to win elections, because if they lose, their group will be discriminated against, whereas if they win the elections, they will only look after the members of their tribe or party.”

Servility undermines democracy

In Kosovo, we often hear talk about servility toward leaders and chiefs in political analyses. However, servility that comes downwards from the top is even more dangerous than the opposite direction. The acquisition of posts in political parties or national institutions depends solely on support from people.

To be elected prime minister, you have to secure votes of deputies, and to be elected as a candidate for the government primacy, you need the support of your fellow party members. You won’t be included in election lists without having the credentials of a person who can secure votes.

Similar to how money is the key word in capitalism, everything is measured through votes in democracy.

To put it more simply, political parties are comprised of people who have the ability to secure votes or have ties to businesses that support certain parties. No leader has the “luxury” to assert authority by punishing a member of his party for actions that are detrimental to the public, such as corruption, for example. Leaders become servile toward their party members, protecting them at all costs, given that the level that leaders can reach in the hierarchy of power depends on their party members. 

Nepotism derives particularly from these two factors: servility that comes from the top downwards, and the tribe mentality of society, which has not yet internalized a collective project, and does not reach beyond family interests. 

In a democracy, the state should be built by a politically active society. In totalitarian systems, the individual takes over all power levers and installs his or her vision over the state, turning it into private property.

However, Kosovo is not a dictatorship, nor a monarchy. In conditions of political pluralism, the manner of governance, as well as institutions and the political class, reflect the mentality of the citizens rather than some arbitrary superposition that suffocates them. Therefore the solution is not in elections, where the same candidates are continuously recycled. We must seek more social awareness and activism, and we must believe in a sort of small “utopia” that could serve as an engine of development. K

Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.