Perspectives | Elections

Who runs Kosovo’s public sphere: citizens or ‘Balkan experts’?

By - 02.04.2021

Citizen concerns are rarely at the center of public debate.

From year to year, as the heaviest rains begin, a considerable part of Kosovo is flooded. Likewise from year to year elections are held, since no government has so far completed its full term. But no government has ever come up with a solution to the flooding problem. Maybe it’s not such a big problem. 

The daily traffic jams leaving Prishtina in the afternoons, meaning people finishing work take up to an hour to get out of the center, are another problem. Regulating everyday traffic and stopping air pollution is not a high enough political priority for any new government. Maybe it is not a big enough problem.

Kosovo has laws that are not implemented, but to qualify them as good laws, it would probably be good to read some of them.

There is no place in Kosovo where a human foot has stepped and a pile of waste hasn’t been left behind. And this is one of the first things you will notice, waste everywhere you look, especially during the winter, when there is not enough greenery to at least ostensibly cover it. In and near the rivers; in streams and roads; in towns and villages. 

However, no one has seriously expected a new government to place enough containers and try to teach citizens how to use them properly — that is, to throw waste in containers and not somewhere else. We cannot talk about recycling, until we have mastered the basics of waste disposal. With the exception of the deep concern expressed during World Environment Day and in the Earth Day communications organized by the European Union Office in Kosovo, this is also not included in the important expectations of any new government. Maybe because this is not such a big problem.

Good laws

“Kosovo has good laws, but they are not implemented to a sufficient extent.” This is a phrase that most people use with incredible ease to describe key problems on the ground. Kosovo has laws that are not implemented, but to qualify them as good laws, it would probably be good to read some of them. You will find out why you should think carefully before qualifying them as “good.”

Over the past years two laws have gained much attention. Without entering into value judgments, a bit of concern was caused by the fact that, despite expert, legal and some public pushback against them, they were still put to a vote in parliamentary sessions.

At the end of March 2019, the Assembly of Kosovo adopted a law banning gambling, after a double murder in the casinos. This law, it was estimated, left about 4,000 families, without income in Kosovo. The law was intended to crack down on crime.

Another law that failed to pass the vote in parliament, is the Law on the Protection of KLA War Values. This law defines the “protected values ​​of the KLA war.” Some of its former members are currently in The Hague awaiting trial for war crimes

The KLA law, however, demanded the obligation of every public official and citizen of Kosovo, “at any time and circumstance” in Kosovo but also abroad, to “respect and protect” these values. The draft law fails to define what actions represent respect and protection of these values, but provides criminal provisions for them. Anyone who violates the provisions of this law will be punished “in accordance with the applicable laws.” This law would establish new criminal behaviors that would be punished (although it is not defined what they consist of).

Both of these laws show how Kosovo politicians do not think through the consequences of their “good” laws. The gambling law prohibited the activity with no restitution to the business owners or workers in those casinos. The proposed KLA law would criminalize undefined behavior and speech.

The Constitutional Court decision that led to the recent elections in Kosovo, gained a lot of attention, but not to the problematic parts of the decision. The court decided that people who had been convicted of a criminal offence by a final court decision within the past three years were not allowed to participate in elections. 

We think about a balance of geopolitical powers and their rotation around Kosovo as the most important thing in the universe.

On the other hand, someone who five, 10 or 15 years ago was convicted of murder, rape, war crimes, abuse of official position is fully suitable to be a candidate for MP. Not to mention that there is virtually no legal impediment for a convicted criminal to hold high public office, even to be an adviser to the president or prime minister, as has been the case so far. Maybe this fact was not so problematic.

The so-called Balkan experts

What, on the other hand, seems to me to be dominating the public sphere when we talk about the expectations from the elections in Kosovo are: 

The engagement in the dialogue to reach a final agreement; the transparency of the institutions, accountability of decision-makers; the European path; stability and prosperity; membership in international organizations; the consequences of the opening of the Embassy in Jerusalem; will the new U.S. administration have a more active or more passive approach?

While waiting for the analyses, interpretations, forecasts and other thoughts of many think tankers, politicians and journalists in Kosovo, I often have the impression that all of these “well-known experts on the Balkans,” are actually from London, New York and Brussels. People who have not spent many years in Kosovo. With the knowledge they have gained from peace studies at prestigious universities, they have the ultimate wisdom to understand democratic processes in post-conflict environments and lead the discussion of our public sphere.

The proverb, not used in vain, says that all processes in post-conflict societies resemble each other and that all sides are summed up in a magic iron coin of widely applicable expectations: “The implementation of reforms, the strengthening of the rule of law, the fight against corruption and organized crime.”

It seems to me that we are slowly becoming like those “experts on the Balkans.” We think about a balance of geopolitical powers and their rotation around Kosovo as the most important thing in the universe.

Once we explain the big picture, then we can talk about local things. We expect the implementation of reforms, but we do not specify which ones; we expect the strengthening of the rule of law, but we do not explain what it means concretely; we expect a fight against corruption, but what kind of fight? 

We season this with the most exciting post-election expectation, the fight against organized crime — a phrase in widespread use — and say that to achieve all of this we need the transparency of the institutions and the responsibility of decision-makers. 

These are the kind of mealy-mouthed, vague statements that are ultimately meaningless when it comes to the practical issues that people live with in Kosovo.

So who cares about waste, floods, traffic jams, polluted rivers and air? Who cares about the fact that convicted criminals can take high positions in institutions. Why deal with “details” when we can talk in general about everything like “experts on the Balkans”? Why are they better than us?

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

This Perspective was written for the New Social Initiative within their Kosovo Collective Op-Ed series and published on K2.0 by agreement.

The Op-Ed series is part of a project supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. and USAID. The opinions expressed in this oped series do not necessarily represent those of the Balkan Trust for Democracy, the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. (BTD), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), or the U.S. Government.