Crisis and Consent in Kosovo Politics

The last and arguably worst agreement was signed in Brussels on August 25th 2015. This agreement concerns the creation of the Association of the Serbian Municipalities in the Republic of Kosovo.

On February 17th 2016 the Republic of Kosovo celebrated its 8th anniversary. The declaration of the independence, after nine years under the UN administration and three years of intensive negotiations in Vienna, brought hope for a new beginning to the people of Kosovo.

But eight years later, the situation is the opposite of what we all expected. And indeed, the celebration this year took another form: that of a popular protest, with a turnout of around 100,000 people. Together with the protests on January 9th 2016, these have been the largest demonstrations in post-war Kosovo.

February 17th, 2016 anti-government demonstration in Prishtina, capital city of Kosovo.

February 17th, 2016 anti-government demonstration in Prishtina, capital city of Kosovo.

By Agon Hamza, Prishtina, KOSOVO — Thursday, February 25, 2016 — — Since April 7th 2011 the European Union has been brokering a dialogue for the ‘normalisation of relations’ between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia. Many agreements have been signed but their effects have been far from dialogical. The Republic of Kosovo has become a political and judicial monstrosity. Today, the relations between Kosovo and Serbia are tense, with a degree of antagonism not seen since the end of the war in 1999. Furthermore, the division within the country between the Albanian majority and the Serbian minority has deepened, but also the Serbian minority itself is not ‘united’ in this regard: the antagonisms between Serbs in the North and Serb communities in the rest of the country are also heightened. These internal divisions are being normalized and legalised with the agreements reached in Brussels. In fact, the very premise of the entire politics of multi-ethnicity, sponsored by the EU and the UN, is blatantly false, insofar as it presupposes that Albanians and Serbs are ‘natural’ enemies who have to be ‘taught’ how to live together. A short glance in the history of the Balkans teaches us the exact opposite: the co-existence of the different nations in the Balkans has not been an issue; the real problem is the hegemonic tendencies and aspirations of one country against the other.

The last and arguably worst agreement was signed in Brussels on August 25th 2015. This agreement concerns the creation of the Association of the Serbian Municipalities in the Republic of Kosovo. This association is another version for what in Bosnia and Herzegovina is called “Republika Srpska” (Serbian Republic)—the administrative (constitutive) entity of the country, and its plan for Bosnia Herzegovina’s ethno-politically divided entities. This partition of the country in Bosnia and Herzegovina ultimately rendered it utterly un-governable; it is an administrative monster with multiple levels of powers which intersect with one another, creating a totally chaotic setting, in which only market forces and corrupt politics can thrive. Similarly, the Association of the Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo will be an equally ‘foreign body,’ further destabilizing the already fragile and weak legal-political system of the country. It will create a third level of power, a supra-municipal instance, directly controlled and financed by Belgrade. It will have legislative and executive competences, as well as a ‘coordinator’ of the Association. In short, it is a direct violation of sovereignty of the Republic of Kosovo. In a judgement concerning the compatibility of the Association with the Kosovo Constitution, the Constitutional Court ruled that the whole twenty-three points of the agreement are in direct violation of the constitution of the Republic of Kosovo. If the Association is to be implemented, the Republic of Kosovo will become an even more dysfunctional and nationally divided country.

Another problem with the Association is that it does not address the real problems faced by the Serbian minority in the country. Paradoxically, upon reading the agreement, one will see that the Association of the Serbian Municipalities actually diminishes the rights that the Kosovo Constitution grants and guarantees to Serbs and other minorities. And we are not merely referring to its symbolic dimension, but rather about vast competences in terms of municipal governance, as well as their representation in the central institutions of the country. In this regard, the Kosovo Serbs will be the victims of the hegemonic and colonizing tendencies of the Republic of Serbia, whose interests it proclaims to defend. The Kosovo Serbs are thus becoming an instrument of a politics and vision which is not theirs.

Ever since this agreement was reached, the parliament of the country has faced the unwanted effects of such an absurd policy: a barbaric agreement signed under the banner of civility has turned the very civil process into pure barbarism. The opposition parties, consisting of three parties—one social-democratic and two centre-right ones—created a united front against the agreement as well as against the ruling coalition. The coalition consists of the two biggest parties in the country, the Democratic Party of Kosovo and the Democratic League of Kosovo, both parties of the centre-right (as well as the Serbian List, a party which is created, funded and directed by Belgrade). Something unprecedented happened, not only for  Kosovo and the region, but for many other countries too: each parliamentary session has been interrupted by teargas thrown inside the Parliament by the opposition MPs. Each parliamentary session was ‘guarded’ by heavily armed policemen from the special units who threw out the opposition MPs from the chamber. After each interrupted and thus failed parliamentary session, the opposition activists continued the clashes with the police in the streets of Prishtina. Over 50 MPs and opposition activists have been arrested and detained. In the last parliamentary session of the 19th of February, 10 were arrested and kept in custody, and 18 of them are now banned from joining the sessions. The scene at the Parliament would simply be ridiculous if it were not also politically serious. Imagine: policemen and security guards wearing teargas masks, striking an uncanny resemblance to Bane from the Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. The only exception was this Wednesday (24th February) in which 24 out of 31 opposition MPs were banned from joining the sessions. Following this, the whole opposition then boycotted the plenary session.

Although the situation is temporarily calm, tensions in the air remain high. These tensions are highly likely to explode at the end of this week if the Parliament (which is in tight control of the government) proceeds with voting in Hashim Thaci, the current deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, for the presidency of the country. In order to prevent him from being voted in as president, the opposition and other activists have gathered and occupied the main square in Prishtina, setting up tents and remaining in the streets, despite the cold and rain. The last couple of weeks are by far the largest popular mobilisations since 1999. The demonstrators are determined to remain and occupy the square, not only to prevent Thaçi from being voted in, but until the government resigns.

Thaçi’s politics intensely and violently divides the country. If he is voted in as the President, the country may well tend towards the civil conflict. It suffices to observe the mobilisation of police forces and their overbearing presence on the streets of Prishtina that are needed in order to maintain the government’s minimal level of stability.

Contrary to the convictions of many, this is not a priori a bad thing, as long as there is an organized structure that is able to transform popular conflicts, that produce real divisions and discontent, into a positive vision for society. However, it is highly questionable if the opposition is capable of doing this. The task of the opposition in the present situation is to render this division productive.  Though, I do not believe this is the ultimate task of any politics of emancipation today, in the current conjuncture, opting for an alternative vision is a mask, a cover to avoid engaging with the political obstacles of the present. In this sense, what is at stake now, a matter of political urgency, is breaking away with the current predicament.

Despite the popular mobilization and all of its groupings, from the opposition political parties to civil society and different collectives, supported by the judgment of the constitutional court, the position of the Kosovo Government, that of Serbia, and of the EU and US is that we should treat the judgement as an opinion and we should carry on with the implementation of the agreement for the creation of the Association. In the event that this agreement is followed through, we will then be faced with two possible scenarios: 1) the internal divisions will solidify, which will necessarily lead to the partition of the country. This project is one of the official demands of Ivica Dacic, the Serbian deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Or 2) as a result of the division, partition and the role of Serbia in Kosovo’s internal policy, an armed conflict could explode. In either possible case, we should think of the broader consequences for the region, in which countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia itself, also face their own numerous internal minority issues and other contradictions. To this point, a critique to the Serbian Left is timely. We all know how weak and sectarian the Left in the Balkans is: incapable of introducing even a minimal line of demarcation within our societies, and so on. However, it is striking to see the position which the Serbian Left always occupies a propos Kosovo. It oscillates between two correlative positions, that is, between remaining silent about the hegemonic aspirations of the Republic of Serbia, or providing some abstract statements which have very little to do with the  reality in Kosovo. We need to emphasize that this is our common struggle and the solidaritin struggle with the oppressed is what internationalism is about. Remaining silent or occupying the position of the beautiful soul about matters in our own countries, while being all too vocal about the developments in the rest of the world is not a very leftist position.

The Republic of Kosovo is the poorest country in Europe, with an unemployment rate of 48% and over 18% living in extreme poverty. It is a country that is politically isolated (both in terms of its membership in international organisations, and freedom of movement – recall for a moment that the Republic of Kosovo is the only country in Europe to which the EU visa regime applies, despite having three international missions in the country). It is a country in which the so-called neoliberal experiments have reached their peak and have been the most brutal in this region.

So, what is to be done against this current? The present status of the Republic of Kosovo is one that exists by engaging in perpetual dialogue and negotiations with the Republic of Serbia. By negotiating with Serbia, or so we are told by EU officials, we are paving our way towards European integrations. But even if we take the official principles of the European Union for granted and engage in a comparative analysis between what the EU stands for nominally and what it is imposing effectively here, the dichotomy is striking. In this formal sense, the EU is violating its own principles in Kosovo. It is thanks to European Union and United States support that the government is still in power. A curious detail is important to mention: in all the official and semi-official documents and statements, the EU and US calls on the Kosovo government to fight corruption and organised crime. However, their hypocrisy is best displayed in their relation to the main opposition party and the mayor of Prishtina:  ever since winning elections in the Prishtina Municipality, despite being blocked and blackmailed by the government and other institutions, they managed to successfully fight and eradicate corruption, organised crime, oligarchs, et cetera. Needless to say, the mayor of Prishtina is not a radical left, but a moderate left liberal, whose aim is to restore order in the city. Nominally, the goals of the opposition are the same as those of the EU. The only difference is that the latter is violating its own principles by supporting what it is supposed to fight.

However, one should not so easily downplay the collective mobilisation and enthusiasm of the people. True, we know from the case of Greece that incipient emancipatory struggles are ruthlessly crushed by the EU and other international organisations. We are fighting this struggle without illusions. Ultimately, the point is to learn to fail better (than Greece and Syriza did), and the present conjuncture in the country seems to permit us to fail better.

Differently from the Greek situation, however, Kosovo is profoundly partitioned at the core of its national identity. This means, to begin with, that a new sort of economic, political and ideological analysis would be needed – one less prone to clichés about base and superstructure, the abstract critique of nationality and so on. Today, the very display of international solidarity towards Kosovo, claiming we are “all one” not only misses the point, but in fact reinforces the problem itself: we are not one in Kosovo, we do not need to efface divisions, but to transform them into ‘antagonisms within the people.’ To do this, a different form of internationalism is needed – today, in Kosovo, the true internationalist is the militant or supporter who recognizes the real divisions, not the one who ignores them for the sake of some distant dream.

Published originally at on 25. February 2016

Agon Hamza is the author of From Myth to Symptom: The Case of Kosovo and a PhD candidate in philosophy at the Postgraduate School ZRC SAZU in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He serves as the co-editor of the international philosophical journal Crisis and Critique. His Althusser and Pasolini: Philosophy, Marxism and Film is coming out with Palgrave MacMillan, 2016.

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