Print | Corruption

Letter from the editor

By - 09.12.2011

Explaining the thinking behind the Corruption issue.

About a week before closing this issue, I took a law student friend up on her offer to visit some of the photocopy shops around her school. With her guidance, I made a few purchases: a 1-euro handout with review questions for “Criminal Law,” a 70-cent script for “Administrative Laws” and a 30-cent test for “Constitutional Law.” Then for 15 cents, I managed to turn the 30-cent test into what is called a “40 percent copy,” an incredibly small item with an even smaller font that enables students to use them as cheat sheets and pass them around unnoticed.

That University of Prishtina students choose to prepare for exams through condensed scripts or handouts, rather than by reading textbooks, shows laziness. And that private businesses, which are seen as a means to economic and social prosperity, remain unchecked in their questionable practices, that’s something more problematic: corruption (see “Privatization’s false promise,” Page 61).

Going to the trouble of making copies for academic achievement speaks to a larger hurdle facing this country: A system has been created where survival depends on a practice of cheating and corruption, where everyone is constantly looking to cut corners. Education is just a part of it, but it offers an interesting entry point to revealing the extent of the interdependence among nepotism, and financial and political embezzlement.

While corruption in all its forms is a worldwide phenomenon, what has seemingly become particular for Kosovo is a promotion of the idea that nothing can be achieved without having or knowing which strings to pull, or, as it’s said in Albanian, a ki lidhje?

Just last November, the municipal public procurement in the city of Peja proved beyond a reasonable doubt that eight officials of the Faculty of Applied Business Science and 37 former students had falsified official documents, accepted bribes, unlawfully registered and graduated hundreds of students, falsified grades and many more offenses. As a result, media reported that the Kosovo state budget was “damaged” for nearly 1 million euro. But what this report and the language of reporting on corruption leave undisclosed is that Kosovo’s budget is the money of its citizens, and when “the budget is damaged,” in fact, we are damaged. Essentially, the taxes we pay are being abused.

In Kosovo, meritocracy has ceased, or, rather, it does not exist. While corruption in all its forms is a worldwide phenomenon, what has seemingly become particular for Kosovo is a promotion of the idea that nothing can be achieved without having or knowing which strings to pull, or, as it’s said in Albanian, a ki lidhje? As such, incentive is lost at the start. Students get trapped as political parties battle to spread and secure control in decision-making positions from lower to higher educational structures. Meanwhile, Kosovo is establishing a youth base with a low quality of educational inputs and low civic participation, inept to face the challenges that lie ahead.

We decided to dedicate most of our second issue to corruption because its pervasiveness in daily public discourse has omitted responsibility and accountability and it has muddled our roles as citizens. A great example of this muddling became apparent to me at a presentation in Prishtina about social-media tools that fight corruption, including (see “User-driven tools take corruption fight online,” Page 50), which allows users to submit location-based bribe reports online, thus mapping out corruption. A young man in his early 20s questioned the efficiency of such tools to monitor corruption by saying that in Kosovo, this would provide a guide about where to go to get stuff done “quickly.”

The increased number of stories on corruption published annually is measured as increased public awareness; international donor availability of funds for civil society corruption-monitoring projects is confused for genuine incentive from the ground up; politicians trivially claiming a sincere and robust approach to eliminating corruption make headlines, while they rarely face real consequences for their own transgressions; international supervisory organizations point out to how corruption has become a major obstacle to Kosovo’s Euro-Atlantic integration efforts, but pick and choose when to become silent and when to scold.

In this issue, we try to assemble the puzzle pieces, stories and experiences from diverse corners of the world, while trying to point to the intersections — between India’s drug industry and Kosovo’s pharmaceutical practices, the Afghan war zone and Kosovo’s northern interventions, awareness-raising in Bulgaria and the tale of the Balkan Robin Hood via Montenegro — while locating justice and civic engagement (see our cover story, “No one to blame when everyone is at fault,” Page 34).

Going back to education, the public as well as many of the private universities in Kosovo are largely perceived as having been transformed into machines that delay response to unemployment. With about 9,000 students accepted annually just to the University of Prishtina, young people come to lack motivation and only pursue a diploma, predisposing Kosovo to creating an educated generation, but one ill-prepared for the current (almost nonexistent) labor market. In November, Prishtina daily Koha Ditore reported that the University of Prishtina paid 1.5 million euro in salaries just for October, out of the total 15.6 million-euro budget. Members of the upper management (rectors, deans, etc.) received sums from 2,000 to almost 7,000 euro for their “extracurricular” activities at the university, such as sitting at Ph.D. committee meetings and working groups.

In public and private sectors, it appears that corruption has become the norm rather than the exception. It’s no wonder students are earning their degrees at the copy machine.

Illustration by Driton Selmani.