When we set out to do an Image issue, we wanted to explore the constant preoccupation in Kosovo with trying not to look bad. Last year had ended with a stream of international media reports that linked Kosovo’s senior ruling politicians to organ trafficking, organized crime and criminal networks. Kosovars living abroad started sharing anecdotes of people asking if it was really that easy to get a kidney transplant in their home country. Investigations into the veracity of such reports have yet to yield results. But whatever the outcome, the damage is not so much as to how the world sees Kosovo, but how Kosovars mobilize or respond to a scarred image.
Today in Kosovo, image is referred to as something that cannot be fixed by changing the surface; that Kosovo’s image can only be improved by changing the ways in which politics are conducted. This is a far cry from the earlier belief that once Kosovo gained independence, all of its problems would be re- solved. They certainly haven’t been.
For the past three years of state building, Kosovo’s right to exist has been challenged. Serbia’s aggressive diplomacy has not only focused on rejecting Kosovo’s statehood but also preventing its recognition. By lobbying against Kosovo’s statehood and preventing it from joining international structures, Serbia has sought support throughout the world. Kosovo’s own diplomat- ic e orts have produced mixed results: As of the end of June, 76 states have recognized Kosovo.
Lagging recognitions undermine Kosovo’s sovereignty. In a country where 40 percent are unemployed, 30 percent live in poverty, the trade deficit stands at 1.7 billion euro, and trade and movement are blocked, sovereignty hasn’t made life better for ordinary people (“10 Things that Complicate Our Lives,” page 65). These are just some of the reasons why, for the majority in Kosovo, diplomacy is not only a state responsibility but also a private one (“Flying Activist Parades Kosovo Flag Sky-High,” page 62).
Some readers might find Richard Warnica’s “Land of Disillusion” (page 28) upsetting because he offers a harsh truth that Kosovo might not be ready to hear: that outside the constellation of foreigners who work here, the world doesn’t think of Kosovo at all. And Andrea Lorenzo Capussela in “The Foreigners. Ex- posed” (page 53) rightly notes that while the United States, Kosovo’s most influential ally, often says Kosovo is a European problem, what it actually means is “Kosovo is a problem; Kosovo lies in Europe; consequently, Kosovo is a European problem.”
The union that more than two decades ago embarked on writing its common story has opened its gateway. In the past decade it went from having 15 members to 27. But it has also created new ways to shun those it considers threatening the direction of a common European future. Its inability or even un- willingness to grasp the changing histories unraveling in front of it prevent the EU from responding and adapting to new socio-cultural arrangements, most clearly with the sweep of power of right-wing parties throughout the continent.
The EU’s uncertainty of how to deal with Kosovo also creates the space for those in power in Kosovo to deflect responsibility and accountability for their shortcomings. Because not only is this a county where politics are absent, but governance propagates through its fraudulent and self-serving ways, while international missions often get to decide much of what takes place. So, while there are many international missions in Kosovo, they are not necessarily missions for Kosovo.
International missions in Kosovo get to choose what is right or wrong, beneficial or detrimental, smart or unwise for the country. While Kosovo does need to build rule of law and a viable economy, that can only happen when people participate as equals. As they don’t, the form of governance emanating from these political uncertainties has aided to a general feeling of loss. People have lost their “at home” and they now work with a fragmented idea of self and identity — being marginal, fitting nowhere and everywhere at the same time.
New Forms of Representation
As we began exploring these stories with the magazine, we un- raveled complex, and often clashing narratives and relations of power. On one hand, it’s about understanding Kosovo’s preoccupation with image by looking at how Kosovars react to ways they’re presented in the world outside them, and on the other, by looking at how Kosovars mobilize when their personal and collective narrative is challenged. Generally, they respond with a sense of collective identity and responsibility to any and all actions that may poorly re ect on them. (“How to Think of Men in Kosovo,” page 78 and “Another black eye for a country unsure about how to see itself,” page 36.)
There’s nothing wrong with trying to x one’s image. In fact, Kosovo could gain in terms of its relations with the independence skeptics and opponents. While within such competing readings rise important issues within politics of representation and relations of power, it is essentially important not to lose and forget individuals’ stories that belong to identity.