In the 10 years since Kosovo declared independence, it seems clear that channels of contact between the country’s political actors have all but died. Outside of official communication required in institutions, any constructive discussions appear to have completely ended.
This becomes apparent whenever issues related to the state are raised. Currently, the final stage of the dialogue with Serbia is one of Kosovo’s most important contemporary issues, and the political spectrum does not have a singular stance. While the president proclaims the idea of border correction as part of the ‘final’ agreement, opposition parties and a part of the government strongly oppose it.
This issue has also shaken the mandate of central institutions. The president claims to represent Kosovo during the final phase of the dialogue with Serbia and plans to sign the agreement between the two states, even though he doesn’t have a constitutional mandate to do so.
Meanwhile, the work of the Kosovo Assembly is almost paralyzed. Opposition parties refuse to take part in the final phase of the EU-facilitated negotiations with Serbia, as long as President Hashim Thaçi leads it.
Differences in the discourse of local political actors are so emphasized that sometimes they are even contradictory. After the Government of Kosovo signed the Border Demarcation Agreement with Montenegro, opposition parties opposed its ratification by any means they could (even by throwing tear gas into the assembly hall), rejecting the agreement in principle and treating it as an act of national betrayal.
This blocked parliamentary work and raised social tension to polarizing levels. The situation changed when the party that opposed it the most while in opposition, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), later became a part of the government and backed its ratification in the parliament.
This disunified approach of current political parties has gone so far that even during memorial and remembrance days politicians divide whom to honor and whom not. One recent undignified event was the non-participation of members of the largest opposition party, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), at the funeral of Adem Demaçi, a former human rights activist and a Sakharov Prize winner awarded by the European Parliament for Freedom of Thought.
This was not just a one-off. Due to political and ideological disagreements, other politicians too have chosen not to respect or honor the deaths of activists, martyrs, intellectuals and artists who have contributed and given their lives for this country.
The problem with this lack of political cohesion becomes critical when issues related to territorial integrity and the state’s sovereignty are used as a tool for internal political competition and domestic opposition. We’ve witnessed it for some time now, but when we are also facing an aggressive campaign against the independence and the diminished legitimacy of the state, the language of internal disruption is one of the most damaging things we can do to ourselves.
A lack of political unity over the state’s attributes such as sovereignty, territorial integrity, defense and the military, and foreign policy orientation, has positioned Kosovo abroad as negligible and frivolous. Not because Kosovo is an important factor in regional or international political decision-making, but because the wrong positioning and approach threaten its national interests in the international arena.
Kosovo’s citizens are the ones who are suffering the consequences of this wrong approach. We just need to recall the unnecessary 3-year delay of visa liberalization as a result of the unresolved demarcation issue with Montenegro, the non-formation of the army and the lack of a platform for dialogue with Serbia, which could also address the issue of missing persons, stolen pension funds and artifacts, the non-compensation of war damages and the failure to establish justice for crimes against the civilian population.
The “us versus them” approach
The discourse that a single person is responsible for various political problems is extremely worrisome. This approach constructs scapegoats, and aims to create the division between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ It is deeply populist and does not contribute to solving problems. While it is true that this kind of approach can influence the mobilization of people for personal or party electoral benefits, it can also cause divisions in society with irreparable consequences.
During recent years in Kosovo we’ve seen populist elements coming from several political parties and political leaders, who in some cases, have managed to create some sort of socio-political polarization on certain issues. Perhaps due to regional and European trends, symptoms of populism have shown up in Kosovo as well.
Since the political situation in Kosovo is currently unstable, the last thing it needs right now is politicians saying what some people or their followers might want to hear, and consequently dividing political actors and citizens into ‘us’ and ‘them.’
Kosovo doesn’t have the luxury of social polarization, especially when it comes to issues that make up the state’s main attributes. Politics that blame a single person for everything that is going wrong is the politics of fear — a fear that creates ambiguity and doesn’t solve anything. On the contrary, it just deepens the existing problems and creates new ones. Kosovo’s society is too small for the politics of division, as it is way too sensitive to partition.
National consensus needed
In 2007, when Kosovo’s political status was undefined and political stability and security were even more fragile and unstable than they are today, local political forces in Kosovo found a way to cooperate, having in mind only one goal: the country’s common interest.
Despite extreme political and ideological differences, the Kosovo Unity Team who negotiated the final status of Kosovo, was a very important precedent for Kosovo’s new political history in the sense of consensus decision making.
Today, Kosovo finds itself in a totally different situation compared to the one a decade ago. Nevertheless, the need for a political consensus is still vitally important. The significance of the Unity Team lies in the courage of political actors to first recognize their opponent’s position, and then accept each other as a representative part of the people’s will.
One of the major problems today’s political actors in Kosovo have is the rejection of political opponents’ legitimacy in order to capitalize on political situations and increase votes. Opposition parties exclude any possibility of cooperating with the parties in power (and vice versa) without considering the political influence/power of each other, which makes them key factors in the development of various events.
Opposing each other in order to increase number of voters could be seen as acceptable in the framework of a democratic political race, but it’s unacceptable to use the state’s vital issues for daily politics. Moreover, due to the lack of consensus on the dialogue with Serbia, Kosovo still doesn’t have a clear platform that specifies what can or cannot be discussed.
All the differences in various approaches and the ambiguous articulations of internal political actors have made Kosovo even less immune towards the campaign of contesting the legitimacy of its statehood in its international relations. Furthermore, this is making its position towards Serbia and other states opposing its independence even weaker.
Kosovo’s current political situation requires a consensus, not in the form of a Unity Team, but in a unified attitude towards the main attributes of the state we want to develop. To achieve this consensus, we first need to recognize its absence. Political parties and other internal political actors need to understand that the values we stand for need to be as clear and articulate as possible.
In these times of change in international politics, Kosovo must show where it stands to everyone. Its position can only be shown by having a unique and clear standpoint of its political leadership, so it can achieve its goals and maintain its friendship with its Western allies. A Kosovo with two or more attitudes is a negligible player in regional and international politics. A Kosovo of many “voices” threaten to lead it to decisions against its national interests.
Feature image: Besnik Bajrami / K2.0.