Our wartime leaders have failed us in peacetime, but the future is our responsibility.
There is a story often told in American folklore that when Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, he was approached by a group of citizens and asked what sort of government the delegates had created.
His answer: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
It was a defining moment in the history of the United States, declaring a republic in a world that was dominated by monarchies.
As spontaneous as it might have been, the response describes the true challenge of a republic. As opposed to a monarchy, in which the monarch is responsible for the people and their well-being, a republic is formed with the consent of the people and its good health and development depends on an informed and involved citizenry.
If you are willing to lie and steal from the same people in times of peace that you were willing to give your life for in times of war, you cannot claim to be a patriot anymore.
These two concepts of being “informed” and “involved” were still alien to 18th century citizens, yet America became the place that gave meaning to those words and promoted them around the world to spread the seed of democratic republics.
I started this piece with the story of Benjamin Franklin because it has never been more evident and more urgent for the people of Kosovo to become informed and involved for the sake of our future and the future of our young republic.
When Kosovo declared itself an independent republic in 2008, we didn’t have leaders nor a leadership as Americans did at the Philadelphia Convention. What we had was a bunch of military commanders, many of whom were chasing fame and fortune after the war, instead of working toward the good health and well-being of citizens.
There are plenty of people who may disagree with this piece, but few would deny that many of the same KLA commanders who helped to break the status quo back in the ’90s have, since turning to politics, become some of the most hated people in Kosovo due to their greed for power and wealth.
So, before I start talking about the state of our nation and how we can change our country and save our republic, let me first make some remarks.
Although you might love our country dearly and with all your heart, what you do matters more than what you feel or say. If you are willing to lie and steal from the same people in times of peace that you were willing to give your life for in times of war, you cannot claim to be a patriot anymore.
Sadly, this is the story of many war commanders who turned into politicians and government officials as well as of many powerful soldiers who in times of war were ready to give everything for their country, but who now are taking everything, including our very own future.
I want to emphasize here that I personally would not question the sacrifice and bravery of, for example, Ramush Haradinaj and his family during the war. I don’t believe that many in Kosovo would question the hardship and sacrifices that he endured and that most of us cannot begin to imagine.
That being said, we can now move on and allow ourselves to judge Haradinaj and other former war commanders’ actions in times of peace, since they have continued to be in charge of our lives ever since the war ended.
The bad news…
June 12, 2019 will mark the 20th anniversary of NATO troops first entering Kosovo, marking the end of Slobodan Milošević’s regime in Kosovo and the end of the war.
Much has changed in Kosovo in the past 20 years, but nothing has changed more than the war commanders who turned into politicians and government officials. Although the list might be long and up for review and criticism, I want to mention the names of some war commanders and influential figures during the war who turned politicians or government officials in time of peace.
Among them are the current prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj; the current president, Hashim Thaçi; the former mayor of Skenderaj, Sami Lushtaku; the former head of the PDK parliamentary group, Adem Grabovci; the current chairman of the Assembly and the leader of the PDK, Kadri Veseli; the current deputy prime minister, Fatmir Limaj; and the deputy chairman of the Assembly, Xhavit Haliti. They have all declared assets, possessions and incomes that are largely beyond reach for us, the ordinary citizens.
Yet we, the poor and unemployed who see them every day, tend not to take their declared assets and incomes as being true, but rather as being far from accurate. We see them, their families and their relatives flaunting their luxurious lifestyles in front of our eyes.
Most of them have never had a real paying job, they weren’t innovators nor entrepreneurs, yet they have everything. Apartments, houses, expensive cars, expensive clothes and accessories, properties, housekeepers, personal bodyguards and personal drivers with shifts, vacations and lots of money, while we are hardly able to pay our electricity bills at the end of the month.
How is this possible?
You are poor and unemployed and you have no voice, but you are asked in every election if you want to change something and every time you say NO.
Have you as a citizen ever wondered how it is possible that our wartime commanders became so rich in our young republic? What is it that they discovered — gold or diamonds? Did they invent Google, Apple, Spotify or Samsung? Or perhaps they discovered oil in their backyards?
And how is it possible that we — the common people — are poor, while our leaders, who take our votes and pledge to serve us in our name, live in the same land with the same opportunities but are filthy rich?
I think you know the answer just as well as we all do. They didn’t have to invent anything because they had the power to divide our resources, the power to divide our tax money. And instead of dividing them fairly and serving the people, they served themselves.
Yet year after year, election after election, you continue to make the same choices, hence the same mistakes. You give them another chance to make things better, but deep down in your bones you know that they are not the change you seek, that they are not the change you need.
So why do you make the same mistake in every election?
You are poor and unemployed and you have no voice, but you are asked in every election if you want to change something and every time you say NO. You continue voting for the same leaders who disappointed you so many times, or perhaps you have given up and just don’t vote anymore.
But let me paint you a picture of who you are. And at the end I want you to ask yourself if you are ready for change.
If you agree with this article, it means that you live in a family that works harder for less. You cannot afford to buy a car and you cannot save enough money to educate your children.
If you agree with this article, it means that neither you nor your family members were employed through favoritism or nepotism.
If you agree with this article, it means that you and all of your family members work low paying jobs, you sleep less and don’t eat well, yet you can barely pay your bills at the end of the month.
If you agree with this article, it means that you are a job seeker; you work in construction or as a waiter, or perhaps you clean houses and apartments from time to time, sometimes in the cold of winter and the sweat of summer, for a daily wage that shames your dignity. You don’t have an employment contract and your boss makes you work extra hours without compensation, yet you don’t complain because you’ve got mouths to feed.
If you agree with this article, you don’t have health insurance — so when you or your children get sick, you spend all your savings and you go bankrupt, you put your family in debt and, in the end, you might still lose your loved ones in a fraudulent healthcare system.
If you agree with this article, you are a student and instead of celebrating your upcoming graduation you are stressed, because you know you will just be one more addition to the number of unemployed citizens and will continue to be a burden for your family.
If you agree with this article, you have stopped dreaming because you have seen your dreams shattered in front of you. You have been told that your ideas aren’t worthy and that your business ideas don’t stand a chance due to nepotism and favoritism.
If you agree with this article, it means that you have bank loans you can’t afford, that your earnings and your savings are taken from you every month and that you have forgotten the last time you were on vacation.
If you agree with this article, you have just recently said goodbye to your loved ones in Kosovo, you have embarked on the long walk to leave our republic because you cannot afford to raise your children into such poverty with no hope that things will ever get better.
If you agree with this article, your family has left Kosovo in search of a better life; you and your children miss your home back in Kosovo and you cry at night because you cannot tell your children the truth about why you left your own country.
If you agree with this article, you left Kosovo before the war, you have contributed to your family in Kosovo for decades and kept them alive, you visit your home once per year and you are disappointed with our progress.
Your love and compassion for your country is fading every day and you are disgusted by the greedy politicians who think only of themselves; you have been promised year after year and election after election that things will get better; you are tired of hearing lies; your hopes have been dashed again and again and you have stopped hoping that things will ever get better, that things will ever change.
If you are a father or a mother, you stay awake at night wondering how you will pay the bills at the end of the month and how you will raise your children and see them go to college one day.
So why are we — the majority — not voting for the change we want when we already know who will bring that change?
If you agree with this article, you are an entrepreneur or an employee, you pay your fair share of taxes, but you don’t see change happening — you see your taxes ending up in the pockets of corrupt officials instead of providing better education and better healthcare for you and your children.
If you agree with this article, you are a business owner who is tired of paying bribes to greedy and corrupt officials, inspectors, police officers, prosecutors and judges.
If you agree with this article, you are an honest business owner who works tirelessly and pays his fair share, but who is tired of seeing his competitors get ahead with their business not because they have better ideas or provide better work quality, but because they pay bribes to government officials.
If you agree with this article, you are a farmer who works hard every day, but you still don’t earn enough to educate your children and pay the bills every month.
You have seen and endured enough, and you have already given up on the hope that things will ever get better.
The good news…
This is the state of our nation. It is a state in which those with the most money and influence control everything and have stolen the dreams and the future of the country you love, and left you no choice but to pack your bags and leave.
But here’s the good news.
If you agree with this article, it means that you are not alone, it means that you are not a minority and that you are not as powerless and voiceless as you have been told — you are part of the majority of people in Kosovo.
YOU ARE A MAJORITY!
So whether you are in Kosovo or have already left, whether you vote or have stopped voting, whether you are young, old, or young at heart, I invite you to join the cause for change. We need to rally and not simply cast our vote — because in a democracy, being a majority means having the power to change things, being part of the majority means being part of the solution.
Let us change things, let us be the generation that saves our republic and restores dignity and fairness and that gives everyone an equal chance of prosperity.
Change will not come unless we come together as one, and all of you who recognize yourself in this article must come together and become part of the change.
There is no other time, we can’t wait another year and we don’t have time to wait for another leader or another chance — the time is now, and we are the change we need.
If we stay divided we cannot win, and we cannot win if we continue to be cynical and indifferent about the possibility of change.
The corrupted parties and politicians will spend millions on campaigns financed by your money, which they have stolen from you through corruption, to make you believe that they represent the change.
But you already know their tactics, their lies and empty promises, you have felt them in your bones; you have been there, and you are not going backwards, you are moving forward.
Let us therefore ask ourselves, if we continue to vote for the same political parties and political leaders that we have voted for so far, what future will await us?
If we continue to vote for the same commanders who only get richer year after year, what future will await our children?
If you agree with this article, I am asking you to pause for a moment and ask yourself: What kind of leader will restore fairness, equality and justice? What kind of leader is not corrupt and is not held hostage by lobbyists and interest groups? What kind of leader lives by the meaning of his words?
If you are being honest with yourself, you already know the answer to my question. You know that whenever you are giving a corrupt leader another chance, you are just giving him a chance to get richer.
So why are we — the majority — not voting for the change we want when we already know who will bring that change?
Let’s stop blaming others for our inability to come together as one.
It’s time to stop pretending that someone else will fix our own problems.
It’s time to stop finding justifications for our behavior in the past and focus on the future.
It’s time to stop complaining about the need for change and vote for the right leader who we know will bring the change we need.
It’s time to turn a page in our republic and vote for a leader who is not corrupt.
Ask yourself, who can best solve your real problems such as poverty, corruption, organized crime, unemployment, health care and better education?
Again, you already know the answer. You know the answer because you know that those who are corrupt, those who only take care of themselves will never take care of you — they have stolen your future and the future of your children and it is time to stop pretending that this is somebody else’s problem.
So, let’s acknowledge the risks taken and sacrifices made by those who helped to defend our country in times of war — but let’s also tell their story in times of peace.
Let’s be the generation who saved the republic and who restored fairness and equality in this country.
Time is ticking.
Feature Image: Besnik Bajrami / K2.0.