In the midst of last week’s heated political climate the most prominent online satire media, Kuku news, published a GIF based on Disney’s animated Snow White that greatly parodied with the ongoing developments in the country. In the original scene, Snow White struggles to escape the haunted forest and in each turn is confronted by frightening apparitions. In Kuku news’ GIF, at each turn Snow White confronts the faces of Kosovo’s leading political figures: from Mustafa, Thaci, Jahjaga to Kurti, Ymeri, Haradinaj, Haxhaj, Kadaj-Bujupi, and Limaj.
For many, this provided a moment of light entertainment, as tensions between members of the government and opposition parties grew still further on the eve of the presidential vote. But it also captured a different sentiment as well, as Snow White, or in this case some citizens, were not necessarily running away only from fear. It was also from a state of confusion, weariness and frustration that have been building up towards the forced coalition over the past six months: political deadlock, consequent Assembly sessions interrupted by the tear gas-throwing opposition, questionable police actions, the sexist and misogynist language of the prime minister, a media environment set out to crucify, publically lynch or at best undermine anyone and by all means, either so as to submit to their ‘political financiers’ and agendas or for the mere ‘fun’ of winning clicks.
It all culminated on Friday, as Hashim Thaci, former prime minister and soon to be former PDK leader, was voted by 71 deputies as the next premiere to ‘take the torch’ and represent the “unity of the people” for the next five years. While Vetevendosje’s Ymeri alluded over the weekend that Thaci’s appointment might be challenged in the Constitutional Court, based on its 2011 ruling over Behgjet Pacolli, the controversy shadowing Thaci’s election surpasses its potential legality. The matter at hand is that the position of the president, a position that should generate consensus and offer unity at moments of political divide, has from the outset stirred anger, even fury, and discontent, that has only widened the existing divisions.
On one hand, many view Thaci’s vote as yet another step toward strengthening the existing oligarchy. A system that has not only survived by capturing almost all political, economic, cultural, and social spheres, but one filled with politicians who feed their own disillusioned rhetoric and in return ‘infect’ all those who become a part of the game. In the first case, statements like those by the Minister of European Integration Bekim Collaku, who congratulated citizens on Facebook for Thaci’s election by stating that it is “our common victory, a win for democracy, and a strong commitment to the Euro-Atlantic future of the Republic of Kosovo,” reconfirm that their concern does not lie with what kind of democracy is being built. In fact, theirs is a democracy that is ‘self-legitimized’ based solely on numbers and majority tyranny; within the PDK camp, such statements have generally stemmed from the common fallback stance of: “We continue to be the most voted party” — Thaci has continuously been referred to by party colleagues and supporters as “the most voted-for leader” throughout his presidential candidacy. While both statements are true in terms of numbers, the claim of his appointment being a “victory” for all citizens remains highly questionable.
Thaci’s election was marred by a difficult six-hour session, interrupted by opposition tear gas, and followed a three-day opposition protest camp outside of the government building. That square would be cleared by police using the justification that they wanted to avoid clashes between ‘supporters and opponents,’ at the exact same moment that PDK deputies burst into applause inside the assembly, realizing that Thaci’s appointment had been secured as the 60th ballot paper bearing his name was read out; with only a simple majority of 61 votes required in the third and final round of voting, they knew that they had got their man and that the prospect of early-elections had been avoided — for now. Ironically, gatherings of PDK supporters were taking place at the exact same square where the opposition camp had earlier been organized, as fireworks commemorating the celebration of Thaci’s vote filled the sky overhead, probably with leftover fireworks from this year’s eighth anniversary of independence, which was the first not to be celebrated under a sparkling sky.
At a private dinner party a few months ago, my boyfriend in a conversation with a PDK government official in his 20s, said that according to some businesses, PDK has neglected to pay for services that it had contracted. The PDK official responded that as every family in Kosovo has a family member in PDK, the ‘debt’ would be covered one way or another. After my boyfriend, not from Kosovo, naively responded with, “that’s really what you think?” the PDK official replied: “Well just ask your girlfriend,” implying that all Kosovars know how these things work.
This can be easily dismissed as the responsibility of that one PDK individual, or even as his ‘stupidity’ for suggesting that such things happen. At best, it is an honest account, which was simply blurted out during a moment of heated private discussion. Moreover, it is difficult to disregard it when taking into account the past eight years of PDK governance since independence with Thaci at the top, which has reinforced the practice that Kosovo’s potential political or economic prosperity relies on a “system of rewards” — be it on a direct financial basis or through indirect benefits to party supporters.
It is with this kind of thinking that PDK has established itself as a political force in the country. A way of thinking that younger generations aspiring to some kind of professional, economic or social well being are ascribing to. It’s a dilemma of, “you’re either with us, or against us.” And if you choose the later, than the “system of rewards” is turned into a “system of retribution.” It all too quickly becomes ‘the norm’ for those that sign up, as along the way they end up becoming yet another cog in the perpetual-corruption machine, while often failing to recognize it as such.
On the other hand, Thaci’s vote sheds light on another issue as well, that of Kosovo’s image and the prospect of having Thaci represent the country as its president. The issue of image particularly strikes home hard, considering Kosovo’s ongoing struggle to achieve greater recognition in international forums, as well as its enduring obsession with how others perceive it.
In our debut magazine issue, called “Image,” which came out right after Dick Marty’s report had linked Kosovo’s ruling politicians (including Thaci) to organ trafficking, organized crime and criminal networks, I argued that whatever the outcome to the veracity of such reports, “the damage is not so much as to how the world sees Kosovo, but how Kosovars mobilize or respond to a scarred image.” At that time in 2010, the main public response was organized around worries that Kosovo’s image had been scarred. Six years later, the report has materialized into the premise upon which the Specialist Court is about to be established, and the public outcry has shifted toward using it as a stick with which to beat Thaci.
This represents a shift of public discourse not to be taken for granted. For what in 2010 was all too quickly rejected as a scandalous slight against Kosovo’s name is now perceived as an all too possible barrier to the country’s advancement in international political forums. In this regard, history may well treat incumbent president Atifete Jahjaga more kindly than the reception that she has often received during her mandate. Despite the fact that she’s been widely referred to as “the envelope president” and therefore one who lacks legitimacy, or is often perceived to have failed in being a powerful voice able to bridge the political divide, internationally Jahjaga has contributed to an image of Kosovo as a modern state. Jahjaga’s presidency might not have been met with gatherings in the square or even the reported gunshots that met Thaci’s appointment, but in terms of image she has been what Kosovars hope for, but have failed to recognize in her until now.
With regard to the voting that took place on Friday, the role of the LDK is not to be disregarded either, and in fact many critics have unleashed particular scorn on them. Five LDK deputies were absent from Friday’s session in a sign of protest, publically communicating to their own party their objection to the support of Thaci as president, which in fact was an agreement stemming from their coalition process. But other LDK members came out with statements on how the vote for Thaci as president was in fact a vote of confidence for the Mustafa government.
This might have been a sentiment too early to call, as this weekend LDK saw five of its branch offices anonymously attacked. They indirectly blamed it on the opposition — which has now won itself the brand of being the ‘violent attacker’ — but others have suggested that the attacks may have come from the party’s own disenfranchised supporters. When, or if, the perpetrators are identified, carries no real significance for LDK. For the moment its future remains anything other than rosy as it has become one of the main actors to be placed under fierce public scrutiny. And on top of that, judging from the prime minister’s track record of ‘public speaking’ so far, and his uncomfortable posture sitting next to Thaci, he seems to be no longer the LDK leader, but a spent political force just trying to cling on. Ultimately, LDK’s survival chances have only plummeted.
The only position that the governing parties’ have seemingly benefited from is the opposition’s reliance on teargas and mobilization around the ethnicity card. However, just because the opposition has used sometimes violent methods should not give the government a free pass to excuse, or even condone their own failures.
Which brings us to the opposition, a ‘forced-marriage’ with its tired and consumed faces at Friday night’s press conference, but yet an ever-rising voice within politics in a manner not seen in Kosovar politics over the past 16 years. Vetevendosje’s Ymeri and Kurti, AAK’s Haradinaj and Nisma’s Limaj have been claiming to bring down the “corrupt machine” by seeking to mobilize support for a “protest for a sovereign state.”
But throughout the past six months of boycotting and interrupting one Assembly session after another with tear gas, their main message has been grounded on a dangerous populist and nationalist discourse. Their rejection of ‘Zajednica’ (the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities) and the border demarcation deal with Montenegro, has only blocked the Republic from moving from an ethnic position to one of a state based on equal citizenship. While many have joined their protests out of frustration with the governing structures, too many have also rejected their calls to protest due to Vetevendosje’s central insistence on Kosovo as a place solely based on ‘blood’ and ‘land’; it is a position that we saw on November 28 and it is one that we witnessed again at the protest called on Kosovo’s eighth anniversary of independence on February 17. The opposition has seemingly failed to recognize that much of the citizen discontent is more rooted in the everyday challenges of crippling unemployment, poverty, and education and health systems that are not fit for purpose.
Their three-day camp outside the government building, which was organized as the ultimate response to rally citizens against Thaci’s appointment as president, is without doubt one of the most novel public forms of demonstration since the 1990s; a decade when an entire system of existence, governance and social cohesion of Kosovar Albanians was organized through a parallel society. By October 1, 1997, the peaceful resistance was upgraded from one that was passive to one that was active through a student-mobilized protest that would ultimately set the path toward Kosovo’s freedom and independence.
But while this camp way of protest within a ‘democratic’ society was novel for Kosovo, its ultimate failure rests in the fact that the opposition continues to ignore the individuality of Kosovar citizens. The solidarity was there through the sharing of food, the late night political discussions, and the playing of music around the fires. But if they truly aspire to be a genuine opposition, then they should also be inclusive; while all citizens were invited to take part, many felt uncomfortable associating themselves with the opposition’s firebrand nationalistic discourse. On this front, in many ways the opposition, and Vetevendosje in particular, have more in common with the government than they would ever care to admit — you are either with them, or against them.
In the fairytale, Snow White is rescued by her prince charming with a simple kiss. But Kosovo’s knight in shining armor — the international community — seems more interested in sculpting the haunted forest than in helping the damsel in distress. Snow White might have had the weekend to rest but it doesn’t feel like happily ever after will happen any time soon. That is not necessarily such a bad thing — democracy is not a fairytale; it is a continuous process of negotiation, compromise and improvement. If Snow White is to have a brighter future, sooner or later she will have to rescue herself from the haunted forest.