One-on-one | Politics

Shkelzen Gashi: If VV comes to power, maybe only Kurti will remain uncorrupt

By - 04.07.2017

One of Vetevendosje’s co-founders, alongside Albin Kurti, speaks about its growth during elections, its past mistakes and their being ill prepared to govern.

In late 2004, a donkey was brought before Kosovo’s government building, and on it a banner reading “vote for me.” Three youngsters were leading the compliant donkey closer and closer to the building. There they would later express their severe opposition towards local politicians, as well as the first articulated form of opposition against the international community stationed in Kosovo.

The three youngsters were Albin Kurti, Glauk Konjufca and Shkelzen Gashi. A year later the three would establish the political movement called Levizja Vetëvendosje (Movement for Self-Determination) or VV as it is often known. Kurti would become the leader of the movement up until 2015, and he would manage to introduce it to the Kosovo Assembly for the first time in 2010. Konjufca would be vice-president of the Assembly in two legislatures.

By this time, Shkelzen Gashi had already distanced himself from Vetevendosje, before the movement became a part of Kosovo’s institutions.

He was critical of the way Vetevendosje functioned, making him a target of activists who were revolted by his public statements regarding VV. He says that the lack of financial accountability on the organization’s part, the rise of their cult leader and their insistence on certain political ideas with no regard to alternatives, are what made him leave.

Photo: Rrezeart Galica, 2004.

Gashi is known as one of the movement’s founders but highlights that he does not feel like a VV co-founder, saying that there is only one founder: Albin Kurti. “… we, the others, mainly students, were only engaged in helping him establish the movement. We were simply laborers,” he says, criticizing VV much more heavily than other people who have left it.

Born in Prishtina, Gashi is a political scientist and an author of many books. His most renowned book is the biography he wrote of Adem Demaci, causing controversy between him and the Albanian dissident.

Since he left Vetevendosje in 2006, Gashi has not been involved with any other political party. On the contrary, he despises the parties that make up Kosovo’s political scene. He is currently a member of the “Alter Habitus” Institute for Studies in Society and Culture, which works with the “expansion of knowledge and the creation of space for critical and creative thinking.”

The history and relations between Albanians and Serbs remains a key part of Gashi’s focus, and he writes about such issues continuously. He is one of the few people that have continuously highlighted the manipulation of figures regarding the people that were killed during the war and people that are missing since then, claiming that these manipulations are politically motivated.

On election day — June 11 — Gashi war arrested by police for taking a picture of his vote. He did not do this so that he could show it to anyone, but rather so he would have evidence that he spoiled his ballot, using his vote to boycott all political parties. He says he was relieved when he found out that he had not committed a penal act.

Photo: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

K2.0 met with Gashi to speak about the reasons behind his spoiled vote and the growth of the party that 12 years ago he helped to form and then subsequently left — Vetevendosje.

K2.0: How do you see the elections that were held on June 11? How do you see the results and what do you think will be the biggest change to come about subsequently?

Shkelzen Gashi: The June 11 elections were extraordinary because of the results. The change is the doubling of the number of votes that were given to LVV! It was surprising, even for the leader of this movement.

What were the factors that influenced this doubling of votes and how do you see this growth?

The main factor that influenced this growth is the dissatisfaction that people feel because of the severe situation in our country, in all fields. Another is the formation of the PAN coalition, which many citizens saw as the unification of the thieves of the war wing. Most citizens have continuously opposed the idea of the war wing being in power, and have voted against this wing, especially PDK.

There was the LDK motto “let’s not give power to the thieves of the war wing.” By now people have been left disappointed by LDK many times, therefore they decided to vote against them, and to vote for VV with the motto “let’s take the power from the thieves.” The same happened in the 2013 local elections in Prishtina, when the vote against LDK went to VV.

Another factor that I think is being disregarded is that the three subjects that comprise PAN had 330 candidates altogether in the 2014 elections, whereas in these elections they had 110 candidates. Of the 220 candidates [not standing this time], if each of them had won at least 150 votes, it would mean PAN gaining a minimum of 33,000 more votes, more or less the amount NISMA won in the 2014 elections.

Furthermore, the VV campaign was better this time around. I see VV’s rise as positive for Kosovo, because the government of Kosovo will face heavy opposition in the next four years, and numerically if it does not work as planned, in the next elections VV could come out first.

The PDK-AAK-NISMA coalition came out as the most supported entity during these elections if we consider the percentage of the vote it gained. Do you believe that its candidate for prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, has a shot at being the country’s next prime minister?

This depends on the QUINT laborers, especially the head laborer, Ambassador Delawie [the U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo, Greg Delawie]. The real inhibitor of two of the most important projects of the international community — the Association [of Serb Majority Municipalities] and the demarcation process [with Montenegro] — was Ramush Haradinaj. Therefore I believe that the laborers will not repeat the ‘mistake’ of 2014, and they will make Haradinaj prime minister so that he will implement the Association, the demarcation process, the special court and other difficult projects of the international community in Kosovo.

If PAN fails to establish a government then there is a chance that the formula will be AAK-NISMA with LDK-AKR and minorities. Whereas PDK and VV will remain in the opposition. This could lead to them getting closer to one another.

For the first time in its history as a political party, LDK is in third place, if we consider the votes. Why has this happened?

LDK has continuously stabbed its electorate in the back by forming coalitions with PDK. This time they reached a tipping point because LDK made Kadri Veseli the Head of the Assembly and Hashim Thaci president,  whereas the two dethroned LDK, specifically Isa Mustafa, from the prime ministry. Also, LDK voters are older and some who used to vote for LDK in [former president Ibrahim] Rugova’s time are not alive anymore. Many who vote for the first time these days vote mainly for VV. For the sake of the truth, the Mustafa government was the best government that Kosovo has had since the war.

Do you believe that Vetevendosje has a shot at creating a government, and do you believe they are prepared to lead?

I don’t believe that the laborers will decide to let VV lead the Kosovo Government. Naturally, VV is absolutely unprepared. This is being proven by their governance of Prishtina. But when I think of the others, they are far worse. Then I think maybe with a potential VV government it won’t get shittier. However, their governance of Prishtina refutes this.

I am surprised at how VV does not learn from its actions, or how they need years to learn from their mistakes.

What do you think are the actions that have held VV back until now, seeing that they have now managed to win the trust of a large part of the population after only operating for a decade?

There are many reasons, but the main ones are the fear of ruining ‘the alliance’ with the international community and the fear of starting a ‘war’ with Serbia. The violence towards institutions was one of the main things holding them back. However, I am personally irritated by the lack of consistency and the extreme insistence to, for example, not join the institutions. Then there is the idea of joining the institutions — an idea that I myself was a proponent of — without genuine internal debate, unfortunately; or the — once again extreme — insistence to oppose negotiations [with Serbia], and then the decision to be pro-negotiations, again without genuine internal debate and no serious explanation as to why this change is happening — for years I have supported the idea for VV to be pro-negotiations — and so on. It also burdens me when this change comes about two weeks before the elections.

I am surprised at how VV does not learn from its actions, or how they need years to learn from their mistakes. Furthermore, it terrifies me how they never think about the next step. For example, in 2013 they said “… and when we come to power we’ll remove EULEX from Kosovo,” but when I’d ask them, “what if the EU closes its doors to Kosovo?” they would have no reply.

VV aims to gain power quickly and selfishly, therefore no one forms coalitions with them.

Another pearl: “…we will liberate the north with the Kosovo Police and the KSF [Kosovo Security Force],” completely disregarding Serbia’s presence and KFOR’s presence. There are so many other examples.

You have said that if Vetevendosje truly wants to remove PDK from power, then they must offer the prime minister position to LDK. However, VV insists that the next prime minister of Kosovo must be Albin Kurti, seeing that their party won the most votes on June 11. Do you think that by insisting on the prime minister post, VV runs the risk of letting PDK continue in power?

LDK also had six times more votes than AAK in 2004 [45 percent to 8 percent], but they gave AAK the prime minister post. In 2014 PDK had 30 percent and LDK had 25 percent, but they gave LDK the prime minister post. Based on results, VV currently has 1.96 percent more than LDK [VV has 27.49 percent LDK 25.53 percent]. Nevertheless, this would be hard evidence that VV is truly interested in leaving PDK in opposition, and that they do not care about posts, as they said themselves in 2014: “… we join LAN, we do not care about posts, we just want PDK in the opposition.”

In fact, VV aims to gain power quickly and selfishly, therefore no one forms coalitions with them; as was the case with AAK NISMA, in which VV requested both the prime minister and the head of parliament posts. This says a lot about their mentality.

Let’s say for example that the PAN candidate does not manage to form a Government and the president invites the VV candidate: Does Albin Kurti go to Hashim Thaci to receive a mandate for establishing a government? Because VV has continuously stated that they do not recognize Hashim Thaci as president.

However there are people that think that VV has a shot at being in power and leading the government. Recently we have for the first time seen a U.S. Ambassador deciding to meet leading VV figures. There are people who believe that these are signs that they could be supported internationally to form a government. What are your impressions?

First it’s ‘we won’t join the institutions,’ then it’s ‘we will.’ First it’s ‘we are against negotiations,’ then it’s ‘we are pro.’ First it’s ‘we are for territorial self-determination,’ then it’s ‘we are for ethnic self-determination.’ In the past they’d say that they would integrate the north with the Kosovo Police and KSF, now it’s integrating the north through economic development. ‘We will not form a coalition with these parties because they are criminals.’ ‘We will form coalitions with parties with which we share similar programs and trust.’

Recently they are saying: ‘We will form a coalition with anyone.’ PDK and LDK are right wing, and according to VV they are corrupt and serve the interests of Serbia. Why then is making a coalition with PDK not okay, and with LDK it is with the man who they refer to as ‘Isë-Isë argat i Serbisë’ [‘Isa-Isa, Serbia’s worker’]? How come now Isa Mustafa is better than Ramush Haradinaj and Fatmir Limaj, when both of the latter had a key role in halting the Association and demarcation process, which were in fact supported by Isa Mustafa?

I do not consider myself as one of the founders of VV. This movement had only one founder: Albin Kurti.

The same goes for the internationals. From colonisers, they have now turned into partners. I am pro change — in fact I have written about some of these changes years ago, and was even insulted by VV militants because of them — but I do not like when changes are not sincere, when they happen without prior internal debate, and especially when they happen just before the elections.

You are known as one of the founders of Vetevendosje. Can you tell us what you remember from the time when VV was being conceived? How did the idea to establish VV come about, and what brought you together with Albin Kurti?

I do not consider myself as one of the founders of VV. This movement had only one founder: Albin Kurti. We, the others, mainly students, were only engaged in helping with its establishment. We were simply laborers. VV was a decoloniser in relation to Serbia and the international community stationed in Kosovo, especially against UNMIK. To this day very few Kosovo citizens know that this mission, which ruled Kosovo for a decade, was an idea and request set out by Serbia, namely Milosevic. Moreover, this mission implemented a series of Serbia’s objectives in Kosovo.

Albin Kurti emerged as the most person that received most votes in the country in the last elections. Seeing that you know Kurti closely, what can you tell us about your friendship with him, at a time when you were thinking about creating a political movement like VV?

He is an outstandingly hard worker. Unlike others around him, he is prepared to sacrifice everything — even his own life — for his ideals. He is knowledgeable in a series of fields. It would be fantastic if he also had wisdom, as he does have knowledge, and if he was also more sincere and just, and if his desire for power wasn’t so voracious, and if he had 300 Spartans, as unfortunately he does not have even one, and he is the only one to blame for this.

Who would the 300 Spartans be? What would they look like? And why has Kurti lost them?

I believe that in Kosovo it is possible to find people who are professionally equipped for certain fields. They would correctly identify the problems that our society faces, and they would give the necessary proposals for finding solutions. VV does not have that team. They have not identified the problems and as such do not have a proposal for solving them.

Which VV deputy justified the 50,000 euros they received during this mandate? Why should the Kosovar society give around 50,000 euros to deputies? What issue did they push forward? Which marginalized community did they protect? They have only insulted PDK deputies and quarreled with them, and today they are still in Parliament, meanwhile, for example, former [Levizja per Bashkim] deputy Raif Qela, who has completely justified the 50,000 euros he has received, by pushing forward two very important laws — the Law for Obiliq and the Law for Trepca — today he is no longer in Parliament.

Why did you leave VV?

As I told the VV founder back then, I left when I was convinced that VV is more a private enterprise than it is a political organization or movement. I also did not like the way the cult personality of the leader was being forced (despite the fact that the initial idea was to not have a leader). I also disliked the servility of members towards the leader. Then there was the lack of accountability, especially financial accountability, as well as the unwillingness to accept different opinions, and so on…

What separated you ideologically with your friend Albin Kurti?

In principle, ideologically, I believe we do not differ much. I am a social democrat, but not like Fatmir Limaj is. I think I have more or less explained the other differences before.

It is concerning to see their patriotic exclusivity, their use of violent means and victimization.

You spoke in the past about minority war victims that were related to KLA activities. Albin Kurti categorically rejected the idea of trying former KLA members for war crimes. Is this an ideological difference between you and Kurti?

A very interesting question. VV always said that we must not negotiate for missing people. ‘Serbia must return the bodies of 1,700 missing Albanians without any negotiations.’ But they never mention that from those 1,700, 1,300 are Albanians and 400 are Serbs, approximately.

In an interview in the debate show Rubikon during the election campaign, the real leader of VV said that the issue of lost Albanians will be solved, as will the issue of the 400 lost Serbs. Why did he say this particularly at this point? Why didn’t he say it for 10 years? Is it because he wanted to send a message to the international community, that if they bring him to power, he is ready to implement their Kosovo-Serbia projects? VV is now sure that it has the support of the nationalist community, now it only needs the support of the international community.

Naturally, Kurti tries to defend the KLA war, more so because he himself was a part of it. Naturally, KLA’s war was just, but how can a war be clean when it was led almost completely by criminals — as will be proven by the Special Court.

Albin Kurti is being accused of changing some of his political positions as soon as he got the first genuine shot at coming to power, namely in the most recent elections. What can you tell us about this, having in mind Kurti’s most recent public statements regarding Kosovo’s partnership with the U.S. and EU, issues of national unity and the flag, and arrests of PDK officials?

The issue is that they themselves set high moral and patriotic standards, and now they themselves are unable to adhere to these standards. Do you remember the [illegally constructed] PDK garages in Prishtina? Well they were for mobilizing the masses.

Photo: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

Now that VV is a parliamentary party, which of their actions/stances do you condone, and which not?

I agree with a lot of the criticism expressed by VV regarding political developments in our country. What terrifies me is that they lack a program. The Governing Alternative is more so a summary of accusations. Even when they do give proposals for solving political problems, they are absurd. Moreover, it is concerning to see their patriotic exclusivity, their use of violent means and victimization, and so on…

Speaking of violence and benefiting from it, let me share with you a few details from the memoirs of the former U.S. Ambassador to ex-Yugoslavia, Warren Zimmermann:

‘During August 1990, senators Robert Dole and Alfonse D’Amato visited Kosovo. We met the leader of Albanians, Ibrahim Rugova. As we were finishing the meeting, Dole told me that he wished to go for a walk so that he could meet some Albanian people. I told him that it was better to ask Rugova about this. To my surprise, he strongly opposed — ‘Serbs could use this as a motive for even more violence. I think that you should go straight to the airport.’ A dispirited Dole abided by his advice. I thought about the values of Rugova’s character. A violent incident surely would be in his favor, but he wished to avoid it, because he did not want people to get hurt.”

What do you think: How would VV act in such a situation?

In public statements you’ve said that VV “is in the embryo” of crime. What did you mean by this? Are you saying that from a civil movement it has developed into a criminalized party? Since you’ve also labelled PDK as a criminal party, how does VV differ?

LDK is a cowardly criminal party, PDK is a bold criminal party, whereas VV is a criminal party in embryo. The yacht is just one piece of evidence in this regard. VV seeks investigations on [former secret service] SHIK finances, and they do not make public their own finances from the time they joined institutions, namely the 2005-10 period. Let alone unemployed activists that deposit 999 euros as donations for the party. For VV, criminals are criminals when they are part of other parties, and patriots when they are part of VV.

I am convinced that VV is using Islamism as they use nationalism.

Look at the governance of Prishtina. Take urbanism for example: the licenses that they’ve issues on the B Road, but also in other places, show that they are heavily corrupt. Another thing that might not seem important, but is very important because it shows their mentality, is their naming of roads: A road in Prishtina is named after the father of the Mayor of Prishtina, another is named after the father of Prishtina’s Director of Urbanism, another after the grandfather of an Assembly member, another after the grandfather of a VV deputy, and so on.

If and when they do come to power at a central level, I’m afraid that the only uncorrupt person in this party will be Albin Kurti… maybe.

VV has been criticized for brainwashing young activists in such a way that they abide by their orders blindly and for organizing them in such a form that disables them from expressing different views. Do these accusations stand? How do you see the antagonism of VV activists?

Kosovar society must come up with a good integration and socialization plan for the three most extremist groups in our society that lynch, stigmatize, insult and humiliate anyone who doesn’t think like them: Islamic fundamentalists, VV fundamentalists, Rugovist fundamentalists…

VV has even been compared by officials of other parties to a terrorist organization. Moreover, some have said that Kurti has used the Islamism card to win the support of citizens. How do you see VV’s relations to religion, and concretely to Islam?

I am convinced that VV is using Islamism as they use nationalism. Having ensured the support of the nationalist community, they have now removed the eagle badge and are focusing on Islamists. This is what Thaci did too: He initially used nationalism, and recently Islamism, but never held his promises for either of these communities.

Is the VV of today as you foresaw it at the time when you established it? If not, why? How did you expect it to turn out? What do you expect from an eventual VV government?

I said before that VV has not identified problems in just about any of the important fields, and when you don’t identify them, you cannot give ideas for solving them. Worse off, they don’t even have the team to do it. Take their 40 point ‘program’ and see what it says. Especially regarding Kosovo’s biggest issue, education, and especially higher education — miserable.

From an eventual VV government at a central level I expect more or less what has happened with the VV government in Prishtina. Prishtina is the spectacular failure of not only Shpend Ahmeti, but also Albin Kurti, who leads from behind the scenes at least three of the main directorates in Prishtina: Urbanism, Infrastructure and the Inspectorate.

I personally voted for VV in Prishtina so as to punish the urbicide that was committed by the LDK government. I lobbied for a VV victory, but I have been left deeply disappointed. No project will be remembered. Urban traffic is just as bad as it was, only now it has a few more buses. Parking spaces are still a nightmare. Prishtina is in fact more polluted than it was. They have not make even a meter of bicycle lanes. They’ve brought back Prishtina to the time of Ismet Beqiri. When I think about how Isa Mustafa, who is close to retirement and had a completely corrupt and unprofessional staff, did more than these spectacular failures, I think the least we could do is not vote for them anymore.K

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.