A puzzling phenomenon
An interesting phenomenon is going unnoticed in Kosovo, the silencing and deligitimation of local resistance. For a society, that for centuries has cultivated a culture of resistance in order to survive her enemies, and has praised freedom fighters as a vital symbol of the Albanian identity, this phenomenon is very puzzling. Even more so when considering the recent history of the province which became an independent state following the prominent unarmed opposition of the popular movement of the Democratic League of Kosovo (DLK) led by Ibrahim Rugova (1989-99), along with the armed defiance organized by Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA , 1997-9).
In order to understand this phenomenon, one should pay some attention to the following questions: who are these local challengers and what are they struggling for? Next, given the political agenda of the EU in Kosovo’s statebuilding processes, and the inclusive power of local actors in the democratic decision-making process, what role are the EU actors playing? Are they guiding and supporting local actors, or are they containing their diverse voices? If so, on what grounds? Also important, what are the implications of this phenomenon for the local society and the democratization processes it is going through? A brief observation of the contentious events taking place in the years 2013 and 2015 and the EU’ response towards them, could provide us with some insight on the subject, due to the end of the international supervision (2012) and the diversity of the local collective actions (mass protests, sit-ins, street actions, tear-gas in the Assembly, etc).
A brief observation of the reality
Many contentious events have taken place in Kosovo 2013-2015. The more prominent ones include the protests against the Energy Corporation of Kosovo (Korporata Energjitike e Kosoves – KEK), student’s sit-ins at the Prishtina University (PU), mass protests against the Serb Association/Community agreement (as envisaged by Ahtisaari, part of the normalization agreement has been the establishment of a Serb entity within Kosovo resulting in frozen deal with Serbia), and more. The following graph (No. 1) presents the protest events occurring in the period between January 1st, 2013 until December 31, 2015, and the number of protesters participating in each wave of protest, based on their documentation in the local newspapers and regional news agencies.
However, when looking for the EU reference to these contentious events (whether in the EC annual reports, the Quint’s embassies announcements, or the EU’s representatives speeches), one encounters a puzzling outcome. The next graph (No. 2) presents in general the lack of the EU response to local contentious events 2013-2105. Hence, the grey bars indicate the overall EU approach, ensuing in the absence of response to the protest events, while the red bars indicate the specific cases in which the EU agencies addressed the protest events through their joint statements as Quint members, issued by their respective embassies in Prishtina.
The analysis of the data indicates the deficiency of the EU reference to most of the local protest events, regardless of their goals or organizing actor. Given the EU agenda of establishing ‘local ownership’ and strengthening local civil society (as declared in the Berlin process) it is confusing to witness the EU indifference towards the democratic engagement of local actors. Furthermore, the absence of the EU agencies’ concern and support for Kosovo citizens’ who are raising their collective voice and opposing high energy prices, corrupted university officials, or unjust state policies is worrying for two reasons. First, because it goes against the liberal principles of participation in the democratic game, and second, because it weakens local civil society by silencing its diverse voices and actions.
When do the EU representatives address the local contention?
There are however, two cases – the protest against Minister Jabllanovic and the law on the ownership of Trepca, and that against the Serb Association/Community agreement, both occurring in 2015, in which the EU agencies addressed the protests while condemning them as violent, and thus harmful to the democratic order. Even though most protests in Kosovo have been nonviolent, the choice of the EU agencies to focus on those protests and frame them as violent organizations orchestrated by the opposition parties requires further contextualization. Both contentious events brought to the streets thousands of protesters, embodying critical masses that cannot be identified with the ‘opposition parties’ per se. Violence seems to be a major concern for the EU actors, only when employed by the protesters, but not so when utilized by the police forces, indicating an asymmetrical attitude towards agents of violence. One cannot help but wonder: is violence serving as a signifier of the critical local actors, unwilling to comply with the EU agenda?
In addition, in both cases the concern of the EU agencies coincided with the halt of the assembly procedures, the political hub that serves as the legalizer of the EU-led agreements (Normalization deal) and as the authorizer of the state’s policies (postponement of Trepca’s nationalization), in spite of the ongoing social disapproval. Given these local contestations, one might genuinely wonder if the national assembly has been reduced into a ‘rubber stamp’ in the hands of the national and foreign power-holders.
Moreover, while EU considers as legitimate actors, and cooperates with Kosovar politicians that have been previously accused of war crimes and corruption, it is confusing that a local establishment like Vetevendosje is more often than not perceived by the Western statebuilders as an illegitimate actor. The EU typical framing of this grass root movement as a radical actor who threatens the democratic order, further demonstrates the Western silencing of local voices who are non-compliant with and critical towards the EU statebuilding agenda. There is no doubt that the EU operates as a global actor driven by liberal values, supporting peace, encouraging prosperity and advancing democratization in the Western Balkans. Yet, depicting local mass protests as inherently violent and silencing critical collective actors, severely undermines the establishment of strong civil society in Kosovo, and the democratic political participation in the decision-making process.
Alma Vardari, Ph.D, political sociologist, Leonard Davis Postdoctoral Fellow, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem