Perspectives | Government

How family ties hurt the state

By - 25.09.2020

Kosovo cannot thrive on nepotism.

In the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology’s book, “Nepotism in Organizations,” it is said that one trait of an authentic leader is self-awareness. According to this publication, a self-aware leader knows that “unfair displays of favoritism based on kinship could potentially have an adverse impact on organizational members and on the performance of the organization itself.”

There is a fine example in this book of King Edward II, who succeeded his respected father, King Edward I, to the throne. He relied on his incompetent friends and gave power to them that eventually forced him to abdicate.

The concept of the collective among the majority of Kosovan Albanians is narrow when it comes to institutional life. It doesn’t even reach the unity of a city, not even that of a neighborhood. It all narrows down to one sole collective: Family.

Nepotism isn’t necessarily synonymous with failure. Just because one has received a job through one’s familial connections, that doesn’t mean that one will automatically fail to do his or her job properly. Yet this practice can teach us a lot not only about the vision of our leaders but about our misdirected collective conscience that unavoidably may affect them as well.

Why keep it in the family?

Nepotism happens for various reasons but they are a few we can mention. It is safe to say that the main reason for nepotism in public institutions is so that the leader can consolidate his power. By hiring her own people, not only does she extend her control but she also strengthens her authority; and in a way she buys their complete obedience by rewarding them with such public posts.

It is this perennial pressure to ensure the well-being of his family that may push the leader toward this practice.

The economist Vernon Smith, who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002, told me that while he finds nepotism acceptable in private businesses that are independent of the government, he cannot say the same for the nepotism that occurs in the public sector.

“Nepotism leverages state power based on government favors and is a danger. Nepotism in private business, independent of the government, must satisfy customers who voluntarily buy the products and is acceptable in my view,“ Smith said.

There is some belief that a Kosovan version of nepotism isn’t as ill-natured as it is a shallow-minded one. However, it is just as harmful. As mentioned above, nepotism often means that someone furthers his power by accommodating his closed ones in the public sector. Beyond this idea of favoritism and cronyism, nepotism in Kosovo may also spring off a high moral duty imposed on a Kosovan Albanian who is brought up with deep familial values.

The idea of sending off your old parent to a retirement home or to a nursing home often brings shame to those who do it whereas the sibling who takes care of the parents and lives under the same roof with them is held to the highest regard. Nepotism has existed for thousands of years and to varying extent is present in every part of the world. Yet in Kosovo, nepotism as a moral duty expands way beyond the nuclear family and well into the extended one.

A Kosovan Albanian is brought up with the idea and the insistence that he should take care of his family at all times. Family is the core value of their collective existence. One example of their commitment to their families is the ever-flowing remittances that come from their relatives living abroad. The practice continues just as strongly even after Kosovo has earned its freedom and eventually its independence. 

Sadly, many Kosovan Albanians seem to be reminded of their Kosovan citizenship only during certain events and not in their daily practical life.

It is this perennial pressure to ensure the well-being of his family that may push the leader toward this practice. This urge may be so strong it encourages them to hire their relatives in posts with no regard to their qualifications.

This kind of employment happens quickly, hazily and with no pondering of its long-term repercussions. Such occurrences are so common that even qualified people tend to give way to such practices that somehow have been established as normal.

Creating meritocracy

Last year, the Institute for Development Policy (INDEP), GAP Institute and Balkan Green Foundations called loudly for Kosovo’s prosecution system to stop illegal and discriminatory hiring in public administration. 

It is somehow ironic that Kosovan Albanians are known to excel as individuals rather than as a collective; yet their connections to their families are so intense that in some cases even their individualities dissolve into it. It is their unquestionable devotion to their families that sometimes prompts their decline. 

Take the Swiss politician of Albanian descent, Qëndresa Sadriu. She serves as a member of Zurich’s Cantonal Assembly. How difficult would it have been for her to rise through the ranks without familial or similar connections had she been living in Kosovo?

From a certain perspective, nepotism doesn’t sound that harsh. It sounds beautiful in a way. It must be tempting and satisfying to gain enough authority and power and then help out those you love the most and help out those with whom you have grown up. 

For example, it must be thrilling to be able to get a job for that uncle who bought you your first bicycle, or for that cousin with whom you played with wearing torn up sneakers during the days of childhood poverty.

Sadly, many Kosovan Albanians seem to be reminded of their Kosovan citizenship only during certain events and not in their daily practical life. Kosovo’s independence day, national football team games, regional political dramas — all these trigger the online furor of that national pride and sense and then two days later the noise dies down.

It is rather sad that a Kosovan Albanian doesn’t realize that he or she will put his family first by putting society first.

However, we are not talking about events. We are talking about the institutions that regulate our civic lives and ensure the prosperity and health of a broader community; and these medical, judicial, educational institutions are overflowed with incompetent people who happen to have ties with powerful people.

A state for everyone

This family-centrism causes a rupture of a healthy functional cycle (smaller communities benefiting within larger communities); it causes a shameless disruption of morality (Sittlichkeit is how Hegel would have put it) and all this derives from a miscalculation of people prioritizing their families’ well-being at the expense of the state equals an impending disaster that will someday eventually sweep off their families as well.

It is rather sad that a Kosovan Albanian doesn’t realize that he or she will put his family first by putting society first. It is disheartening to state the obvious by saying that a healthy society comprising competent doctors, academics, engineers will logically create a decent environment for all our citizens. By getting many of their family members the jobs that they aren’t deserving of, not only do they harm the society, but they harm their own families which are an inevitable part of that very society.

This piece of writing is nothing but a call for our people to cultivate and for our leaders to practice a genuine sense of citizenship. It is a call for those leaders to direct their obligations for their families toward a right path and not execute quick apparent solutions for their own nuclear and extended families which most probably will result disastrous for the society and the country they live in; therefore for their families as well. In a more romantic prism, it is a call for reflection about something 

I’ve been concerned all my life: The misplacement of love; the misguided actions toward honoring the bearers of the love you feel. The second most tragic thing in life after the lack of love is the misplacement of it. Through unfair practices of hiring incompetent relatives, you are not only ruining the state; you are also potentially ruining that very family you are delivering to.

Nepotism in the public sector may not be the main problem, but it is perhaps one of the most relevant indications of something bigger; that after twelve years of independence, many Kosovans do not share the awareness nor the sentiment of being a citizen who by respecting the laws and protecting the interests of his country, knows that he is ensuring his and his family’s well-being within it.

Society as a whole

It is crucial for a leader to penetrate through the puerile thought that he may create a little utopia for his family while enlarging the dystopia around them. Kosovan children should be brought up with the broadest sense of collective. It is adamant that they know from the beginning that what is fair and wise for a long-term well-being is to fight for the well-being of the whole society within which their beloved families will cherish that kind of life.

In his play “The Burial at Thebes,” the great Irish poet and playwright, Seamus Heaney, puts it rather simply but with plainness that the worst man is one who fails to act by good advice due to his failing nerves and that “equally to blame is anyone who puts the personal above the overall thing, puts friend or family first.” 

Don’t logic and moral righteousness harmonize here to give one good lesson? That fighting for overall well-being is not only morally just but it is pragmatically shrewd. For example, there is a qualified surgeon — who happens not to necessarily be your family member (nor even your voter) — appointed for this job. 

Well, guess what? You’ll have one less thing to fear when your appendix bursts in the middle of the night and you have to be rushed to the hospital. This is so obvious that one feels it is cringeworthy to even write about it; but, when you are faced with such ridiculous situations, you do feel the need to reiterate it over and over again.

Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.