Today, Kosovo’s opposition parties have called for peaceful protests under the slogan “Manifestation for the Republic,” requesting that the government hears the voice of the citizens as well as protect the Republic. This protest is also part of a three-month parliamentary deadlock, as the opposition has asked the government to withdraw Kosovo’s signature from two agreements. One is with Serbia on the establishment of an Association of Serb Majority Municipalities in Kosovo, which the opposition has branded ‘Zajednica’ (a Serbian word for “association”). The other agreement pertains to the border demarcation with Montenegro. Their protests have included opposition members using eggs, whistles and tear gas, in moves that have twice escalated into clashes between opposition activists and Kosovo police.
Whether these agreements subjugate Kosovo’s sovereignty or not has been an issue of heated and polarizing debate over the past couple of months. However, choosing to mobilize support for the protection of the Republic of Kosovo on a day that marks Albania’s Independence Day, also speaks of a populist political agenda that does not seek to strengthen the foundations of the Republic, but of one that only adds to the weakening of its already fragile values.
On one hand, since Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008, the Republic has failed to consolidate into a state that functions based on the rule of law, and to offer economic prospects and social well being. This year kicked off with images and reports of hundreds and thousands of Kosovars seeking a way out of the country through the illegal crossing from Serbia into Hungary en route to other countries in the European Union — these citizens were seeking a way out of poverty, scarce job opportunities and strained social mobility.
Moreover, through the entire negotiation process with Serbia, the government has lacked any kind of transparency, as at no point has there been a wider dialogue with opposition or citizens within Kosovo. Its governance has all too often been based on an arrogant and self-serving approach and behavior. And in fact, some are also placing these entire developments of the ongoing political standoff within the self-interests of the governing political elite; the argument goes that the ruling LDK-PDK coalition, as well as some fractions of the opposition (i.e. AAK and NISMA) are bent on “saving their own asses.” This current of thought suggests that the true issue at play is their personal interest in postponing the establishment of the Special Court that is set to try individuals that allegedly committed war crimes during 1998-99.
All in all, the Republic has by and large been captured politically and economically, by the exercise of self-proclaimed power in all matters of life; a governance based on private and ‘tribal’ interests, and not on the principles of common good. For many, this whole situation has created a state of apathy.
On the other hand, this is where “Manifestation for the Republic” and its populist discourse try to seize momentum and popular gains. The opposition’s call speaks to, and calls upon, only one ethnic group, the majority, as can be clearly seen in their banners with the Albanian country flag in the background. As the big banner was hung yesterday from the Grand Hotel, Vetevendosje party members stood to watch, resembling an act of ‘unveiling the flag.’ The language used to invite people for this ‘manifestation’ clearly marks whom it considers as citizens, and whom not. It says that not only will “all citizens from all around Kosovo participate, but also from all Albanian lands as well as the Albanian diaspora.” It invites people regardless of their political affiliations, but it describes the manifestation as seeking to “protect the common good, protect the Albanian nation from separation and impoverishment.”
While calling upon “all citizens” it is assuming that only Albanians belong to the Republic’s citizenry; and while basing itself on the common good, it fails to recognize that the common good is not singular, and not defined based on ethnicity. Moreover, by placing it within the celebrations of Albania’s Independence Day, it implies that the Republic is a country of Albanians, and not a state of citizens. This should not be understood only in the context that Kosovo is not a 100 percent ethnic state or “Albanian nation” — which it is not — but also along the lines that citizenship pertains to all persons recognized as members of a state. This also means that even within an ethnic group, citizens exist as individuals.
That is why this manifestation is anything but a protest for the Republic. While many this week raised concerns over whether the manifestation will truly be peaceful and devoid of physical conflicts, the populist meanings and messages it carries are much more dire and dangerous in that they threaten the core of a Republic.
If today is a day for the protection of a Republic, there should be a larger discussion as to what kind of a Republic we want. A democracy? Or a dictatorship? A Republic that respects differences? Or one that imposes a singular unity? A Republic that belongs to all citizens, whoever or wherever they are? Or one that belongs only to a selected group? (The Republic of) Kosovo or the republic of Kosovo?
A few of days ago, the Vala mobile operator of the public Kosovo Telecom company, released a commercial congratulating Albanians for the November 28 Flag Day. The ad features Kosovar rapper, Gold AG, who through his music has over the past years been the commercial voice of nationalism, patriarchy, sexism, and misogyny. In early 2014, his song “Albanian” caused outrage amongst some, as in the video he carries a baseball bat while walking in front of a line of men with their heads wrapped in black plastic bags; on their T-shirts are printed words such as ‘criminal,’ ‘liar,’ ‘traitor,’ ‘atheist,’ ‘spy,’ and ‘faggot’. Through his lyrics, he breeds intolerance, hatred and violence, while also turning a faith into a political tool. In his recent appearance for the Vala commercial, he feeds into the populist rant of November 28. Vala wants to use a somewhat ‘modern’ form of expression, such as rap music, to appeal to a bigger public. But it does so with the wrong actor. Rap music has its origins in being a response to discrimination, inequality, corruption, and an acknowledgment that a diversity of experiences is essential to a society. In the Vala case, rap music is being used as a populist propagandistic and capitalist tool, with no further thinking or understanding.
Gold AG is a paradigm of a confused society, but his rants (lyrics) are deliberate within his ‘notion’ of a society. Meanwhile, other expressions within the public sphere sometimes raise the question of whether there is an understanding of what is communicated. I believe such was the case following Albania’s qualification for the European Championships, after also having played against Serbia. Many high school students in Prishtina took a day off school to celebrate the victory, and some of them walked in downtown Prishtina, carrying the Albanian flag, and shouting for an “ethnic Albania”; within the concept of a Republic, such actions would easily pass as fascism.
Another example that struck me recently was last week’s edition of TEDxPrishtina, an event that is organized within the spirit of the official TedTalks and its mission to promote ‘ideas worth spreading.’ In this regard, it supports independent organizers to create a TED-like event in their own communities. The topic of this year’s independent TEDxPrishtina was “renaissance,” referring to the Albanian renaissance movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s, also known as the Albanian National Awakening, which led to Albania’s declaration of independence in 1912. A grounding foundation for the Albanian Renaissance was the literary revival based on the perseverance to protect the Albanian language while also serving as a platform to mobilize on the Albanian cause, which at the time meant materializing its identity within the 19th century concept of the nation-state. At that time, the Albanian language was the foundation upon which Albanian renaissance activists and writers sought to build cultural and educational organization.
The TEDxPrishtina edition was launched by the organizers with a Kosovar Albanian poet reciting some verses from the well-known renaissance writer Gjergj Fishta’s “Poem for the Homeland.” The poem in its entirety speaks to the importance of preserving the Albanian language within a political reality that sought to culturally vanish it. However, the poet in TEDxPrishtina used only excerpts from Fishta’s poem, in which Fishta scolds any Albanian that condemns their language or any Albanian that speaks a foreign one, while forgetting their own. Taken out of their context, the meaning of these verses may be seen as problematic, because they assume knowledge of their original meaning; when placed as fragments within the opening of TEDxPrishtina, in today’s political context, they might well end up reinforcing a misinterpretation of the event’s purpose.
Within these kinds of manifestations, it is also important to recognize and understand why it is important for Albanians in Kosovo to celebrate November 28. And it has to do with the idea and concept of Kosovo as a ‘newborn state,’ or of Kosovo as ‘the young state,’ which attempt to erase any history of Kosovo from before the recent war — as if 1999 was the year it all began. It is important to celebrate by referring to a significant part of its political, cultural and social heritage, which is longer than the past 16 years. And to an extent, it also serves to criticize a colonial stance that has been created towards Kosovo — one in which “we are building” or “we are creating” Kosovo as if starting from scratch. Therefore, it is important because you also make a claim to your history, knowledge, and experience, all of which stem from a longer time. And bringing this to an even closer experience, it is that of the decade of the 1990s, right before the 1999 war.
As part of a generation that grew up in that time, I grew up with the name Republic. I remember as early as six years old hearing chants and shouts of “Kosova Republike.” At the time, the majority Albanian population of Kosovo was requesting equal rights and political, social and economic treatment within the former Yugoslavia. By the early ‘90s, when the wars in former Yugoslavia broke up and nationalistic rhetoric and aspiration became a ‘legitimate’ cause and tool for the repressive state of Milosevic, the narrative of the Kosovar Albanians’ notion of Republic was equated to one of democracy, equality, human rights, access to education, and overall citizenry.
But today’s manifestation is based on blood and land. So where would I stand in all of this? On one hand, I recognize that the current governance has failed to offer any sense of a Kosovar perspective. And on the other hand, internationally as Kosovars, we are continuously rejected from equal participation and representation precisely due to the fact that we are Kosovar. But, to attempt to proclaim that the Republic is defined on ethnicity, meaning that who I am today is due to my “Albanianism” or as some Vetevendosje members have stated, “let’s show them what it means to be an Albanian,” is stripping me from any other different experience than one based on “Albanianism.” I do not understand their definition of “Albanianism,” which they attempt to define based on blood and land. I understand my “Albanianism” based on a civic tradition of activism, of a struggle for human rights, of today’s continuous battle to ensure that as a society we speak out against human inequality, regardless of ethnicity; that we speak out against human inequality because it is unjust and discriminatory.
This past week, I led a workshop within a conference on Roma rights for civil society organizations working in this area. Early in my presentation, in which I spoke of how Kosovo 2.0 has dealt with other human rights issues in the past, I was interrupted by a participant, who stated that while our work as a media with human rights issues such as LGBT rights or women’s rights might be important, the Roma community in Kosovo is facing much more dire issues.
While understanding that position, my problem was also in the fact that as Kosovo 2.0 we would never produce an issue on merely the Roma, just as we would not produce one on Albanians, or Serbs or Turks. That is because we are grounded on the notion that a Republic promises to take care of rights, it promises to safeguard citizenry while not discriminating on the basis of ethnic background. For me, that is the Republic of Kosovo to which we should aspire. And it is one in which I hope that the “R” in the Republic will come to mean that you do not need to continuously note that you are a republic, but that the way your state functions assures that in itself.
So while the government of Kosovo is ignoring the fact that the Republic’s majority is becoming an exclusive marker of the experience of its state — and within that excluding the experiences of ‘the others,’ whatever they might be — and while the opposition is excluding people based on their ethnic identity — as if “being equal, being dignified, for development, and for a future of security and peace” only applies to the ethnic majority — let this be a note to both of them. That is if their interests truly lie in the Republic.