Perspectives | Politics

Farewell PAN government, here’s your ‘best’ bits…

By - 23.08.2019

Let’s take a moment to celebrate some ‘achievements.’

On Thursday, to the surprise of just-about-nobody, time was finally called on Kosovo’s most recent political epoch.

Although the prime minister — and presumably his government — technically resigned a month ago, they have diligently remained in post to tick off one or two last pre-election publicity stunts.

But while the Constitutional Court weighs up exactly what “resigning” means, just 712 days after the PDK-AAK-NISMA coalition with AKR took office, it is now confirmed that a Kosovo government mandate is once again concluding prematurely as the coalition partners agreed with the opposition parties that it would be better for everyone if they all simply called it a day. 

To say that its early demise was anticipated would be a gross understatement. 

With the ever-looming prospect of the Specialist Chambers hanging over the heads of the motley crew of assembled “leaders,” it was always likely to be a case of when the prosecutors would come knocking — and for whom — rather than if. There have also been gaping cracks in the supposed unity of the executive branch since virtually day one; perhaps the biggest shock is that self-interest was enough to hold it together for so long.

But despite the fair warning, whether it’s the end of a bad relationship or the eviction of a grating talent show contestant, losing a comforting ever-present in your life can still come as a bit of a shock to the system. 

So, to help ease the transition, as this — admittedly brief — era comes to an end, we’ve put together a little highlights reel of the “PAN” government’s “best” bits, looking back at the legacy it will leave behind.

  1. Transparency and open government

Let’s face it, everyone knows that Kosovo has long had a problem with corruption. The world’s climate crisis may well have been resolved by now were it not for the forests felled to make paper for the thousands of reports on Kosovo’s corruption or all the hot air produced in high level conferences discussing what’s to be done.

So it’s been refreshing to have a government come in with a fresh approach to the issue — one of transparency.

Whereas previous governments had sneakily attempted to hide the corruption, nepotism and self-interest away behind closed doors, this one brought it right out into the open, unashamedly; like a brand new highway to its predecessors’ off-roading, if you will.

In a new spirit of open government, one of the prime minister’s first acts was to try and raise his own salary — he wanted to take a little bit more money from citizens’ pockets for his own personal benefit, so he just told it to them straight. Expenses, after all, can only cover so many foreign trips and fancy dinners and all those ties can prove costly. 

These wise men — and they are almost exclusively powerful men — understood that this was a time for “big government.”

The last election campaigns also promised job creation — the government delivered. Maybe not overall, by traditional measures, but for those who were smart enough or had worked hard enough to ensure they were a family member of someone in a position of power, this has been a time of plenty. If not a “government for all,” then at least one for all those who mattered to them.

All these new jobs don’t just create themselves and it has naturally meant having to use some innovative thinking. Breaking the “small government” mold that you might expect from a coalition government overwhelmingly made up of parties claiming to be center-right in orientation, these wise men — and they are almost exclusively powerful men — understood that this was a time for “big government.” 

Again, not in the traditional sense of developing a state support safety net to particularly catch those most vulnerable in society, but for leading from the front and creating extra ministerial positions. Many of these roles might not have been exactly clearly defined yet, but don’t forget, they only had two years to do the job and it’s “jobs first” that matters most. 

Even when the government needed a little help with its transparency approach, it quickly made up for lost time. 

Special Prosecutor Elez Blakaj may have forced a few hands by resigning and shedding light on the pressures he’d come under from both the head prosecutor and the prime minister during the course of his investigations. But once it was out in the open, the PM was quick to front up and confirm that he had indeed interfered with the judiciary by demanding the former prosecutor report directly to him and to leave nobody in any doubt about exactly what he felt about the “coward” who had dared to investigate senior political figures.

  1. Flexing some muscle

Rambo. Who else would you want leading your government than a muscular, buzz-cut war hero nicknamed after an all-action Sylvester Stalone character?

True to the nature of its figurehead, the Rambo government didn’t waste any opportunity to flex its muscles and demonstrate who’s in charge around here. From arresting Serbian ministers and parading them through the streets of the capital to slapping a massive tax on the old adversary and carrying out forceful raids in the country’s north. 

But these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Of course, the downside of all this focus on a strongman society is that it doesn’t always go so well for those who aren’t “strong men.”

Forget the law — firing guns in the oda is a centuries old tradition that’s written in the kanun. 

Don’t be a traitor — of course Kosovo can unilaterally establish an international war crimes court if it wants to.

And don’t forget, Kosovo now has its own army!

Of course, the downside of all this focus on a strongman society is that it doesn’t always go so well for those who aren’t “strong men.” The women who are beaten and murdered by their husbands, the girls who are (allegedly) raped by their teachers and the police who they report it to, the minority community children who are raped then murdered while awaiting justice, those who need a little health care, children who want a bit of decent education, families who want to work for a living not plan their escape from their own country… 

But don’t worry about such trivial details, because in Rambo-land they showed everyone who’s boss — The tax! The tax!

  1. Flexibility

Ahhh, that underrated quality. A little bit of flexibility.

For such a muscular government, don’t ever say that it couldn’t also be as supple as an Olympic gymnast when the situation demanded.

Remember when Rambo was in opposition and he stormed around throwing maps in the air and saying that nobody, ever — EVER — would give away land from his beloved Kosovo? A leader, a prime minister, no less, must of course be pragmatic. Within 6 months of getting into office… done deal.

Haradinaj’s flexibility on this issue of principle that mattered so much to him was, he decided, upon reflection, a justifiable trade-off given that it would definitely lead to Kosovars traveling visa-free in Europe by the end of 2018. That deadline was guaranteed. (This was admittedly exercising a little self-granted wriggle room given that before being elected Haradinaj had promised visa-free travel within 3 months of taking office.)

When the self-imposed deadlines came and went, the PM and his ministers generously bestowed their new knowledge upon the citizens.

But as you would expect from true leaders, they are constantly learning and applying that learning to make better decisions. When the self-imposed deadlines came and went, the PM and his ministers generously bestowed their new knowledge upon the citizens: The people who are ultimately in a position to take the decision on visa liberalisation, it turned out, were the European countries and institutions themselves — not the Kosovo government after all. Who could have known?

It wasn’t only the PM who showed how malleable he could be when required. 

The Specialist Chambers that PDK spent so long leading the charge to establish? Why not end the year by trying to close a chapter on the past by deciding they’re not needed after all.

And a government that was never afraid to roll the dice shifted effortlessly within a matter of weeks from a new policy aimed at easing gambling restrictions in the name of economic development to closing all of the country’s casinos.

  1. Supporting friends

When it comes to international relations, diplomacy is of course a tricky and nuanced business — a one-size fits all approach is never going to work on the international scene and sometimes the “showing who’s boss mantra” needs to be tweaked.

When Uncle Erdoğan came knocking, the establishment immediately recognized that it had an opportunity to make a mark on the international scene. While many other countries in the world had been slow to seize their moment when given the chance, Kosovo’s authorities sprung into action to ensure a swift response and exported those six teachers who represented such an imminent threat to Kosovo’s national security.

These overrated human rights safeguards can get in the way of a firm shatter-lives-now, ask-questions-later policy.

More than 80% of those deported were even the intended targets! No mean feat given the bureaucratic rigors of checking someone’s ID before bundling them into a plane and sending them to a country with a deeply worrying human rights record — there isn’t always time to complete all that cumbersome paperwork. 

And at least a couple of agencies seemed to be somewhat coordinated on the operation, even if the prime minister wasn’t in the loop and there were 30 or so breaches of laws and procedures along the way; these overrated human rights safeguards can get in the way of a firm shatter-lives-now, ask-questions-later policy.  

Ultimately, Kosovo is no doubt a safer place for having abandoned all principles and bent to the will of a budding autocrat.

  1. Leaving a lasting mark

As anyone who has ever watched a political sitcom or followed a U.S. presidential election knows, political administrations are defined by their legacy. It takes years of highly astute political figures carefully crafting out the core image they want to be remembered by to achieve one.

Often, these can be fairly superficial affairs, designed to cover up years of failure or inaction. However, it takes a truly talented government to genuinely leave its mark on future generations.

Nobody can deny — this PAN government will be leaving its mark. 

In years to come, it’ll be there for all to see in the lung X-rays of citizens poisoned by years of breathing in Kosovo’s toxic air.

It would have been easy to have missed the chance and seen the legacy opportunity disappear off into thin, micro-particled air. 

It’s with this sort of can-do attitude that legacies are forged.

When the World Bank announced it was pulling out of funding Kosovo’s new coal-based power plant because renewable options were now more cost-effective, for a lesser government this would have been the final nail in the coffin for the plans. But not for this one. 

This one saw the hazardous air quality readings that regularly sees Prishtina as amongst the most polluted cities in the world, it saw how the tide was changing in other parts of the world which are investing in greener energies, it saw the protests by its citizens demanding a re-think, and it said “No!”

No, we will still seek to plough millions into the cancer causer. We will continue to evict people from their houses with no proper process in order to access that shiny coal sitting underneath. We will ignore the financial implications of pursuing a more costly option. It’s with this sort of can-do attitude that legacies are forged.

Transparent. Strong. Flexible. Friendly. Enduring.

Farewell PAN government — it’s hard to imagine how future governments will compete.K

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.