Kosovo is probably the country with the richest protest legacy in the Balkans. Conditioned by their position in the last years of the Yugoslav federation, as well as by their more recent grievances in the newly established state, the people of Kosovo have often recognized and claimed the streets as a proper site for political action. The recent protests under the banner of #protestoj, mobilized by the release of wire taps showing the corrupt employment practices of leading officials from the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), can be seen as a continuity of that same popular political tradition.
But, there is a very particular shift in strategy with the #protestoj protests, and that is the immediate liberal appeal to the revealed problem of corruption. The majority of historic protests and demonstrations taking place in Kosovo appeared in a well prepared context, with a strong recognizable cause and often preceded and followed by many years of continuous political activity. The fact that these protests have not yet managed to mobilize wide popular support points to the problem of the limit of liberal strategies. The hope that a Facebook campaign and media exposure of corrupt officials will be enough to get the people rallying to the streets is a political misconception that often occurs within a wide sector of civil society.
Why is the exposure of corrupt government practices not enough?! The same question was posed in Macedonia, where leaked conversations revealed much greater issues, ranging from corrupt multi-million euro deals, the punishing of political opponents, political imprisonment, manipulating murder cases by state security and electoral fraud. It seems that in both contexts, exposure itself is not enough.
If one is willing to seriously engage with politics in these countries one must engage with a deeper political analysis on our societies and pursue proper political activity. The conjectural relations constructed among the political parties and their constituencies — threatening people with losing their jobs, media propaganda and the common resort to threats and intimidation — lead to a general corruption of the masses by the political parties. These pertaining conditions, amounting to a general political assemblage of particular interest, will not be broken by a sudden call to protest a corruption scandal.
The worst consequence of protest movements that do not address the existing structural relations in society is that they fall in the trap of blaming the masses with suggestions that they are ignorant, unaware and hopeless. Thus, by the inertia of dissatisfaction, they occupy an elitist political position within society that damages the very initial motivation of popular mobilization. Without a deepening of the insight into the systemic causes of corruption and work to build sustainable structures for a continued political engagement, the #protestoj initiative, similar to the #colorfulrevolution in Macedonia, will end up in personal frustration, but also in many activists becoming “socially relevant” personally in social media, a relevance that in real political terms equals zero.
On the other hand, the luck that the current protests in Prishtina enjoy is that no political party has until now tried to coopt or steal their cause. The protests in Macedonia have had a completely different dynamic. There have been two years of continuous anti-government mobilizations by left-wing political and activist organizations as well as a major student mobilization that managed to override political and strong ethnic divides in the country. But from the very beginning they have had to fight with an anemic opposition — the Social-Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) — that always attempts to cling to the political work of these structures and at the last instance try to present itself as a leader of those movements. Unfortunately, due to the size of its structures and an alliance with a liberal sector of the NGO scene in the country, they have often succeeded in this attempt.
In a similar attempt, the opposition in Albania has attempted to perform a takeover of the issue of murderous working sites in the country. While the left-wing movement Organizata Politike through its persistent political action, brought up the issue of the death of an underage worker in a landfill close to Tirana, the opposition Democratic Party (PD) rushed to organize an event on the same issue a day before their announced protest.
It seems that the protests in Belgrade organized under the banner #NeDavimoBeograd are in a similar position to those in Prishtina. Their fight to save a vital part of the city from the megalomaniac construction plans of the government and city officials, remains a limited reaction that can at times mobilize a larger number of citizens concerned, but the real challenge is to politicize these participating masses and to build sustainable structures. Construction plans in Belgrade are undoubtedly linked with the corrupt interests of those in power; they do not yet have the ‘hard facts’ as we in Macedonia and the activists in Kosovo have, but experience has proven again and again that even that evidence falls short.
A serious systemic change, one that would eliminate the sources of corruption and abuse of state power by the current Balkan elites, will take some time. It will take more hard work in organizing communities and in building strong ties and confidence. It will take a networked structure that provides a viable social program, one which will not be prone to blackmail, threats and media propaganda. All that will inevitably lead to the reinvention of a new political vision of the Balkans, one in which Kosovo can provide a crucial political input.