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Letter from the editor

By - 11.07.2011

Kosovo is preoccupied with trying not to look bad, as opposed to dealing with its issues.

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.

This is no longer the Kosovo that needs to capitalize on the image shaped and transmitted by international media and politics .

New commercial forms of representing national identity and conducting public diplomacy appear in media ad campaigns, nation, state and place branding, from T-shirts and billboards to installations in public space. But these forms and their representations yield troubling affirmations. On the day of independence, a new symbol to mark the event was placed in downtown Prishtina. Announcing to the world the newest state, NEW- BORN appeared as novel and modern practice of national imagery. But it also points to all of Kosovo’s relations with its self and others, and as a sign it can only be read within Kosovo’s in- equity; and for that many see it as a representation of Kosovo’s infancy, where Kosovo sees itself as a child, is treated as a child and in essence needs to be educated as a child. Three years later, its creator, Fisnik Ismaili, having lost the optimism he wished to capture with the joy of birth, is attacking the Kosovo sees: full of corrupt politicians and arrogant diplomats, presented in his digital comic strip, “The Pimpsons” (page 46).

Agency

When we launched the Kosovo 2.0 website a year ago, we did so to create a place where the country’s youths would create and ex- press their personal take through the stories they would share. We remain convinced that individual stories and voices should not be lost. A selection of portraits (page xx) speak of a young man’s dream to become an artist lost as he roams the streets of Prizren selling cigarettes, and a musician that surprises a German priest that a person can be from Kosovo and play Bach on the violin so well.

This is no longer the Kosovo that needs to capitalize on the image shaped and transmitted by international media and politics — that was at a time when the mere mention of Kosovo in the international press gave hope to a people that leading to the 1999 war were suppressed in manifesting or claiming its personal and political entity.

Today, there is a new belief and assertion in agency; that his- tory is something we all can possess; and that often marginalized narratives and memories can be recorded and remembered. And that is what we offer in our first issue, because there’s nothing wrong with showing your weaknesses, and there’s something special when you notice them on your own.

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