Perspectives | Corruption

Grabovci’s resignation should not mask Kosovo’s problems

Adem Grabovci’s resignation should not hide deepest issues exposed by wiretapping revelations.

Yesterday saw the first major casualty of the ‘The Bosses Dossiers’ (‘Dosja e Shefave’). Adem Grabovci, the man commonly addressed as ‘shef’ (‘boss’) by his political party affiliates, finally stepped down as head of the Democratic Party of Kosovo’s (PDK) parliamentary group, citing “moral and political” reasons. Over the past 17 days, Grabovci has been the central figure in a series of leaked wiretaps by investigative news portal Insajderi that have laid bare nepotism, abuse of power and patent disregard for the responsibilities of political office at the very top of Kosovo’s largest political party.

His resignation as PDK parliamentary head — although not as a deputy — was both essential for Kosovo’s integrity and politically convenient for his ruling coalition party. With Insajderi claiming to have more than 1,000 wiretaps of Grabovci’s phone calls — all from a two month period at the end of 2011 when the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) was investigating the then deputy minister for transport and telecommunication for alleged organized crime, abuse of office and signing contracts that are damaging to the state — by stepping down now, the leading PDK figure will hope to deflate the scandal before it escalates.

No charges were brought against Grabovci as a result of the EULEX investigation, but following the first wiretap revelations earlier this month Kosovo’s Chief Prosecutor announced that he had established a Commission to look into any potential criminal wrongdoing.

In the 12 wiretaps released to date, Grabovci and other leading PDK figures — including current President of Kosovo Hashim Thaci and party leader Kadri Veseli — are heard hand-selecting top judges and members of public boards, influencing appointments to ‘independent’ agencies and removing non-PDK people from application lists. They are also caught mocking party colleagues, opponents and even the state.

The current revelations, released in tantalizing tidbits day by day, have hardly come as a surprise to Kosovars or indeed members of the international community. Corruption, cronyism, political immaturity and ineptitude are all traits that are much discussed in Kosovo’s cafes and offices, on the streets and through social media. But that does not serve to make their public unveiling any less shocking. To ‘know’ something abstract is one thing — when an issue is so much discussed it begins to lose its meaning and connection to reality. To see and hear it in physical form is quite another.

All of Kosovo’s worst political and social traits, often kept just below the surface behind a thinly veiled veneer, are now being brought to the surface; the facade shattered.

In its most illustrative form, wiretapping confirms the age-old story of how abuse of power and nepotism are taking away the fundamental right to work from the approximately 35 percent of Kosovar citizens who officially remain unemployed. Those elites who are responsible for creating jobs and protecting the welfare of their citizens, are instead more interested in looking after their own, while undermining those who they profess to serve.

One of the groups that particularly have their hopes for employment dashed continue to be the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian (RAE) communities. All reports on RAE inclusion point towards the failure of Kosovo’s government to integrate these communities in any form. But the wiretapping revelations have shown that when it comes to gaining political points in Brussels and in front of the international community, the country’s political leaders do not shy away from instrumentalizing the most marginalized communities.

In one leaked conversation between Grabovci and Veseli, the former responds to a question about a visit to Brussels with: “I told them, ‘I have the pleasure to greet you in the name of [our] delegation — [which is the] most meaningful and representative one, which is the best message … of how the situation is in Kosovo — in the name of t’shkive [a derogatory term for Serbs] and Ashkalis, and all.’” Veseli is heard to respond with laughter.

Since coming to power in 2007, PDK has publicly extolled the virtues of Kosovo’s Constitution, repeatedly making the point that Kosovo is a multicultural country that aims to provide equal rights to all communities. However Grabovci’s mocking tone, his derogatory language used when referring to Serbs and Veseli’s response, clearly shows that two of PDK’s most senior figures don’t even believe their own rhetoric.

Such a credibility gap between public proclamations and behind-the-scenes beliefs is born out further through Veseli’s description of leading opposition figure Albin Kurti as a ‘peder’ (‘faggot’). Bold public speeches about the country’s gay friendly laws and landmark moments such as Thaci leading this year’s anti-homophobia march in Prishtina, are utterly undermined when party colleagues casually throw around such offensive language that can contribute to triggering hate towards members of the LGBTI community. This is not the only time that Veseli has let the mask of inclusivity slip in public — earlier this year he was heard to shout “ma hongsh…” (“suck my…”) at opposition deputy Albulena Haxhiu in Kosovo’s Assembly, before realizing that his microphone was switched on.

The insulting and undermining language used when referring to minority communities, women and the LGBTI community, is in many ways a reflection of the society that the PDK political leaders are products of — within Kosovar society, there is a long way to go to ensure equal rights and respect for all citizens. But as Kosovo’s political elite, particularly those who continuously boast of the state’s liberal tolerance, Grabovci, Veseli and co have a higher responsibility to lead from the front and to protect the rights of citizens that are enshrined in the Constitution.

With so many different people affected by the wiretap revelations, the saga is serving to indirectly illuminate a further social scar. Despite all the galling evidence of rampant cronyism and discrimination stemming from Kosovo’s highest echelons of power, without the mobilizing force of political parties calling their activists onto the streets, the overwhelming majority of citizens have not felt compelled to stand up and demand better. The ongoing citizen led protests have been determined and persistent, but they have hardly demanded the same attention as when tens of thousands answered the then-united opposition’s calls to fill the streets of Prishtina earlier this year.

It is understandable that citizens feel disenfranchised when they witness their ‘representatives’ selling their futures, that they feel powerless to change deeply entrenched practices and attitudes espoused by their ‘leaders.’ Reversing such putrid habits will not happen overnight, no matter how loudly people protest; but to say or do nothing is to accept the status quo, to give tacit consent to the continuation of cronyism and discrimination.

Citizens — whether women or men, employed or unemployed, Albanian, Serb, Roma, LGBTI, affiliated to a political party or not — all ultimately pay the price for an unequal society propagated by a self-serving political elite. Despite being marginalized, undermined and denigrated, each and every Kosovar can actively exercise their democratic right to hold those who abuse the trust placed in them to account, whether by engaging in debate, joining a protest, or through the ballot box.

Because as the few hundred protesters at yesterday’s march chanted at those sipping macchiatos on Mother Theresa Boulevard: “Me kafe, me kafe — nuk ka shtet” (“With coffee, with coffee — there is no state”).