We are back in print! Pick up your special print edition of K2.0 in bookshops or online from July 9, 2020.
Here we are. One decade later, exploring what hope means today.
This is a special print edition of K2.0, published to mark our 10th anniversary and to examine some of the most pressing issues at the turn of the new decade.
Within this frame, it is difficult to avoid the earlier starting point: Kosovo’s 2008 Declaration of Independence. Ten years ago, when K2.0 was just getting started, it was this “new beginning” that guided much of how we as citizens perceived and experienced our relations with the country and the world. After all, independence had been the ultimate, aspirational political project that was supposed to serve as the turning point of our state.
Expectations were immense yet straightforward; they were for a better life, a better future. At the center of it all, there was hope, and it played different roles depending on who ascribed it, and to whom. The so-called “future of the country” went to youth, the demographic we fit at the time.
Give to and for the country, which only exists due to the sacrifices and compromises of so many before you — we were told.
Work hard toward the advancement and progress of your state (but only on issues that are meant for the young) — we were told.
Embrace “European values” and maybe someday you will be granted the right to freely travel to European countries or be allowed to join the bloc — we were told.
We were assigned responsibilities and obligations, and instructed on how to conduct ourselves and practice our politics. Scripted parts in a play directed by others. And it was all taking place during a time when the need for defiance was imperative.
So at K2.0 we chose to question, confront and push back on the many ways in which the constrictive politics and singular narratives around us were not just disappointing or failing us, but also attempting to strip us of any sense of individual and collective agency. The political role expected of us as youth often became the exact political rhetoric that needed to be challenged. To resist required a constant push to not only respond to what was happening around us, but also to understand these events within the larger contexts in which they were taking place, and the systems of power that kept them alive.
I remember when the Occupy movement began in the U.S. in fall 2011, condemning income inequality and the undue political influence of banks and corporations. It was preceded by the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings against authoritarian regimes in North Africa and the Middle East. These movements provided examples of revolt and dissent for those watching around the world, but following them from Kosovo, they also offered other ways to relate, and to think of hope.
The Arab Spring’s cry for democracy was more familiar to our vocabulary of the time. Their hope for regimes to tumble, for political and cultural freedoms and rights, was similar to the way hope had been shaped during the ’90s in Kosovo. Meanwhile, the protests in the streets of New York, Barcelona and Istanbul were previews of our fights to come.
At that time, the Occupy Prishtina initiative gathered only about 30 people. But two years later, in January 2013, when Kosovars began receiving electricity bills three times higher than usual, word-of-mouth complaints by citizens led to protests in the capital; a diverse participatory public gathered, from pensioners to large numbers of youth — those who were otherwise largely disenfranchised. The price hike seemed nothing more than a profit grab from the recently privatized electricity distribution network, which had supposedly dubious relations with local power.
The energy protests may not have been called Occupy, but they similarly bypassed established political machineries that seek to control “accepted narratives and realities” by protesting against a system of political and economic exploitation. In essence, they were the first real citizen-driven protests against a captured state — a condition that has since consolidated and effortlessly slipped into our everyday jargon.
When I look back at the beginning of K2.0 through the lens of hope, I single out these events at the beginning of that decade, because I believe they speak to the ways we came to grow — both as a generation and as a magazine. From those early days, different forms of injustice, inequity and suppression quickly turned into some of the main experiences that would drive our work. They were not only reminders of our repressive pasts and upbringings, but also of the continued disregard and outright snubbing by a political establishment vested primarily in personal profit and self-interest. A harsh neoliberal system that was cracking elsewhere in “established democracies” was also being exposed in citizens’ lived experiences in Kosovo.
Through K2.0, we wanted to place our country on the map by looking at commonalities and shared experiences, both among communities and social justice movements at home and abroad. When I look back at the 10 years of our journalism, discussions and actions, I believe that all we have done has been grounded on the simple yet vital questioning of the type of state and democracy we want.
We did not reject hope; we embraced it on our own terms. We mixed it with anger. And over the past decade, there has been much to be angry about:
In Kosovo, a political class ruling by self-assumed decree. Over the course of just one decade, four governments have fallen short of a full mandate — each time as a result of political bargaining to either guarantee a hold on power or expand it.
A state capture disguised with phony patriotism; a capture that by now, seems to have become the institutional and expected way of life.
A neighboring state that refuses to take any accountability for its destructive, violent and oppressive past, and that has had consecutive governments engaged in a persistent and belligerent campaign to undermine and obstruct Kosovo’s existence as a state, impeding the futures of 2 million people.
A region entrenched in a revisionist competition, led by autocrats with a complete disregard for any kind of regional accord, due justice, or their own citizens’ wellbeing.
An international community that has played the card of the future by disguising it with democratic lessons still needed to be taught and learned.
A world that just kept watching as children, and others, lost their lives at the shores of a continent that they had hoped would offer security and a better life. A world that continued to look on when on another continent, children were separated from their parents and placed in cages in detention centers.
Individuals, groups and actors who, based on convictions of sectarianism and patriarchy, act as morality police for the bodies of others: with women and the LGBTQ+ persons at the center of attack.
Governments and societies that fail to understand — or choose to ignore — that even the planet as a common home is not a guarantee if we continue to pollute it with no regard.
And a current global pandemic that has exposed wide-scale inequalities, shown how access to healthcare is not seen as a universal right, and revealed leaders who use insecurity to strengthen authoritarian rule.
Democracy itself is, and has been for some time, in crisis. At the core of this crisis is the absence of representation, of being heard.
Why HOPE in 2020?
So, here we are, 10 years later, when hope might appear an idealistic, even naïve, sentiment to hold.
It is a delicate feeling and practice. For, as much as it offers some assurance of change, it also risks turning expectations into distant solutions. Hope offers a glimpse at a different outcome, but it can inhibit the will to join the debate. Hope promises a future, but also might prolong the present.
Hope is also a dangerous sentiment because it is embraced and exploited across the spectrum. The extremes on both right and left, the populists and the autocrats, they all too readily rely on a vision of hope. But by doing this, they attempt to exclude, marginalize or delegitimize those who stand in their way of power and control.
That is why in this issue, we embrace hope which is fused with anger; we are aware of its dangers, and we place it within a new political possibility that is pushed by the power of protest, resistance and social movements. We recognize and use language as power to not only mark a presence, but use that presence as a demand for change. It entails reimagining the possible political terrain, and re-envisioning personal and individual agency.
And there are many who are doing exactly that, not only by reimagining but also by enacting change:
They’re the citizens who are learning that democracy is not to be taken for granted, and that their rights and freedoms are not always guarantees of opportunity, justice and equality for everyone — especially when “others” are seen as different. They are learning that it’s no longer enough to simply have the right to speech and expression, but that it must be accompanied by the right to be listened to and heard; that state-building should not belong only to “statesmen” and “those in power,” but that we are all integral to these processes through public deliberation and participation.
They’re the feminists who engage with the experiences and struggles of the past, while applying the much needed rage of today against continued practices of oppression.
They’re the individuals who refuse to be constrained by labels or treated as outcasts by others as a way of permanent definition — be they ethnic, racial or related to gender identity or sexual orientation.
They’re the new revolutionaries who are pushing for an updated collective consciousness that includes the identities and rights of marginalized people, particularly LGBTQ+ people, as part of demonstrations that were unimaginable 10 years ago.
They’re the Fridays for Future teens who are breaking artificial divides in the fight to save the one thing that is natural — the environment.
They’re the volunteers at the refugee and migrant camps or on the open waters, those assisting vulnerable neighbors during lockdown, or who help out every day in their local communities, recognizing the need for every act of solidarity in today’s world.
They’re the few politicians and civil servants — whether oldtimers or newcomers — who go against party lines or the larger establishments in a fight for principles, values and political platforms.
They’re the individuals, media, artists and human rights activists — no matter how few in number — who with determination and resilience call power to account.
These are the people who have chosen to fight unconditionally and exist unapologetically. They are the ones who understand what democracy is about. For, as one writer put it, “the paradox of democracy is that the best way to defend it is to attack it.”
This is what we have strived for at K2.0 over the past 10 years: using journalism to create fearless critique and bring the stories of individual, community and societal struggle to the fore. And it is how we envision hope for the next decade: through the power of journalistic dissent.
I hope this issue serves as one more contribution to why we must persist.K
Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.