Opinion In Kosovo, too, there’s a future for a leftist party of economic and social justice

The UK is not the only country to have experienced a snap election in June. In Kosovo, a coalition between the Democratic party of Kosovo, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo and the Initiative for Kosovo has finished in first place with 34% of the vote. A victory, but not enough to form a government. Sound familiar?

This could be great news for Vetëvendosje, a leftist political movement that introduced the vocabulary of anti-colonialism in response to the post-war neoliberal administration of Kosovo. Vetëvendosje, which translates as “self-determination”, has won more seats in the parliamentary elections than any other political party, taking 26% of the vote.

Although Vetëvendosje will have to choose a coalition partner to form a government, this win is a landmark event, a victory over the “war wing” coalition led by questionable members of the Kosovo Liberation Army. By contrast, Vetëvendosje’s former leader Albin Kurti is an emblem of Kosovar peaceful resistance. Kurti was imprisoned by the Serbian regime during the war, and after his release went back into politics in response to the longstanding political and economic problems of post-war Kosovo.

Albin Kurti, candidate for prime minister and former leader of Vetëvendosje, celebrates on Sunday.
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Albin Kurti, candidate for prime minister and former leader of Vetëvendosje, celebrates on Sunday. Photograph: Hazir Reka/Reuters

Confronting economic despair caused by the privatisation of public enterprises, economic stagnation and Serbian state efforts to undermine Kosovo’s independence efforts, Vetëvendosje emerged in 2004 as an autonomous social and economic justice movement for self-determination. Its critique of the post-war convergence of international and local corruption resonated with Kosovar citizens who had grown weary of a coalition of convenience between former warlords and international administrators. Taking politics to the grassroots, Vetëvendosje activists worked with marginalised citizens, generating a new political vocabulary that provided a systematic critique of what had gone wrong with the postwar administration of Kosovo. Vetëvendosje challenged both the nationalist rhetoric of war heroes and the Serbian state claims on Kosovo.

Electoral victories of inspiring leftist political movements in the Balkans are not unprecedented. In Greece, Syriza’s victory in 2015 sent rays of hope around the region with its anti-austerity politics, an economic and political restructuring that sought to address the EU’s austerity demands. As prime minister, Alexis Tsipras consolidated his power. However, Syriza became indistinguishable from previous mainstream liberal governments in Greece – from giving in to EU pressure to fire finance minister Yanis Varoufakis to shipping refugees back to Turkey following the EU-Turkey deal.

The fate of Syriza should serve as a warning to the jubilant crowds in Kosovo today. Vetëvendosje must address the economic destitution of Kosovo created by years of market reforms and privatisation of public wealth, deteriorating educational infrastructure and social and medical services that have performed worse than the parallel underground institutions that existed under Serbian rule. Its critique of privatisation as “a corruption model, contributing to increasing unemployment, ruining the economy, and halting economic development of the country” must be transformed into policies – from abrogating the Kosovo Trust Agency that has facilitated the privatisation process, to the investigation of the problematic procurement processes that have created a business-political oligarchy.

On sovereignty, Vetëvendosje must also follow through on the principle that started the movement – no external involvement of the EU or other unelected international consultants in deciding the future of the people of Kosovo. Even more important, Vetëvendosje must change its approach to negotiations with Serbia and the EU, in which Kosovo has been treated not as the victim of Serbian-state violence but as the perpetrator. Sticking to its slogan of “No negotiations” without acknowledgments of the Serbian state’s war crimes in Kosovo is important, not only for Kosovo but for all past and ongoing state-sponsored crimes that are silenced through the politics of “reconciliation”.

This should include war reparations and the question of ratification of Kosovo’s borders with Serbia. The new government must make it clear to international brokers that Kosovo cannot be expected to negotiate with a country that refuses to acknowledge its crimes of occupation and continues to deny Kosovo’s right to exist in its official discourse.

Just as important, Kosovo needs a new commitment to its Roma and Serbian minorities that is not guided by the UN/EU institutionalisation of post-war ethnic, racial and religious differentiation, but by comprehensive economic and political integration. The violence against women and LGBTQ communities – a widespread post-war phenomenon – must be tackled seriously and meaningfully beyond the template solutions developed and delivered by EU apparatchiks that have done more harm than healing.

The surveillance and securitisation of Muslim communities through counter-radicalisation projects by previous governments must also come to an end as, with extreme secularist politics and poverty, they have contributed to Islamic State’s recruitment of a handful of fighters from the Kosovar youth.

Demands by the EU should be treated with indifference as long as they do not acknowledge Kosovars as a sovereign people free to choose and charter their own futures. Vetëvendosje represents the hope for which Kosovars have waited for more than three decades. Its slogan “#withheart” has won the over the country’s people. Let’s hope this is the political force that leads the new government in Kosovo and delivers on its promises.

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