Kosovo alternative: THE LIFE OF A Blackbird ?

Article published on July 10, 2014
Article published on July 10, 2014

While the PDK, the party of Kosovo's exiting president, led last June's elections, Ha­shim Thaçi has still not managed to reach an ac­cord to for­m a go­ver­nment. In the midst of a full ins­ti­tu­tion­al crisis, the Vetëven­dosje hardliners are making a name for themselves in the land of the blackbirds.

« FUCK Eulex ! ». On the walls of the ca­pi­tal city of Pris­tina, the par­ti­sans of Vetëven­dos­je' - which means self-deter­mi­na­tion - have made their mar­ks: splatters of graf­fi­ti in­sul­ting the in­ter­na­tio­nal com­mu­nity and vio­lent demonstrations against the "dia­logue" between Pris­tina and Bel­grade. Vetëven­dos­je', the po­li­tical group launched in 2008 by the cha­ris­ma­tic Albin Kurti, has been amassing more and more votes in Ko­sovo, priming a wave of political renewal in the country. 

Al­bin's collar

Al­bin's rise began in De­cember 2010, when Vetëven­dos­je' garnered third place in the elections and managed, thanks to a Fa­ce­book cam­paign, to unite the next genera­tion Ko­so­vars, frus­trated by an unemployment rate flirting with 40%, the eco­no­mic slump, and the cor­rup­tion of the elite in power. 

The party's headquarters are located in the heart of the capital, a stone's throw from the Mother Theresa pedestrian mall and the lux­urious Swiss Dia­mond hotel. A large Al­ba­nian flag, a black eagle against a red background, flaps in the wind while a group of toughs in leather jackets smoke as they watch the entrance. On this evening in Oc­tobre 2012, the foun­der of Vetëven­dos­je' leaves a difficult meeting at Par­lia­ment. He rages against the reigning power's "attempts to privatise" the country. "By virtue of their liberal posturing, the team in place is ready to dismantle the State, shamelessly selling off its businesses and properties to groups of foreigners. Pri­va­ti­sa­tion does not mean li­be­ra­tion. What can one say of an eco­no­mic sys­tem that turns a  po­li­ti­cian into a bu­si­nessman ? What we want is economic demo­cra­cy."

With his im­ma­cu­late shirt, suit and baby face, Kurti is quite young. At 39, his handshake is warm, his English ex­cellent and his pos­ture almost presi­den­tial. Stationed behind a desk in a confe­rence room lit by two pro­jec­tors, his speech is carefully rehearsed. "Thanks to our elected de­pu­tees, we are working within the system. It's far from perfect but we believe in what we're doing. Re­pre­sen­ting demo­cra­cy is not enough," he says. "Ko­sovo needs par­ti­ci­pa­tive demo­cra­cy." Often accused of na­tio­na­lism, Kurti skirts the issue adroitly. "Ko­sovo is experiencing today an extreme situation where normality causes one to be accused of being radical - where if you are nor­mal, you're called ra­di­cal."

Albin Kurti first stu­died in Pris­tina's clan­des­tine uni­ver­si­ties du­ring the apar­theid, and then obtained a di­ploma from the Lon­don School of Eco­no­mics. Between the two, he took a remarkable sabbatical in the resis­tance during the battle for the li­be­ra­tion of Ko­sovo, with the UÇK (the Ko­sovo Li­bera­tion Army who fought for in­depen­dence) guerrillas, for whom he was a long-time spokesperson. Ar­rested du­ring the NATO bom­bar­dments, Kurti was ultimately im­pri­soned in Ser­bia. He is now one of the most promising po­li­ti­cians in the re­gion.

"Zeus on Mount OlympUS"

The mo­ve­ment's warhorse, "Self-De­ter­mi­na­tion", is the fight against the cor­rup­tion of the present party in power, the PDK of Prime Mi­nister Ha­shim Thaçi. "It is time to stop fi­nan­cing pa­ral­lel struc­tures that undermi­ne Kosovo's in­depen­dence," the young lea­der says. "Who is making the ca­si­nos and shopping centres in our economy? Ko­sovo fulfilled all its en­ga­ge­ments and conces­sions. The country's deve­lop­­ment should not be riddled with foreign aid. It should come from within and through its own resources."

In­ter­na­tio­nal di­plo­mats don't care much for Albin Kurti. In his speeches, he doesn't mind denoun­cing the "co­lo­nia­lism" of in­ter­na­tio­nal officers, the "pro­tec­to­rate of bu­reau­crats" present in Ko­sovo for more than a decade, led by the UN and the European Union. "Look at the Ameri­can em­bas­sa­dor in his villa in Dra­go­dan (the em­bas­sy neighbourhood in Pris­tina), like Zeus on Mount Olympus!  He thinks he's the king of Ko­sovo while we're declaring ourselves a Re­pu­blic," he declares to me with a sardonic smirk.  

"It's time for the EU to stop pressuring and re­defi­ne its Balkans stra­tegy," foresees Kurti, with a predatory smile. "The present nego­tia­tions with Ser­bia (the his­to­rique dia­logue between Bel­grade and Pris­tina that will be signed in April 2013) is an infringement upon our territorial in­te­grity. Because we have neither sove­reignty nor economic deve­lop­­ment: we went from the pri­son of Serbian apar­theid to the jun­gle of the in­ter­na­tio­nal com­mu­nity." Of course, Kurti as­pires to ­join the European Union, but as a "so­ve­reign State." The pro­blem as he sees it: Bruss­els is too afraid of Ser­bia, "the little Rus­sia in the Bal­kans, an im­por­tant de­sta­bi­li­sing fac­tor."

There is only one country that Kurti res­pects and cherishes, he swears with his hand on his heart. Neighbouring Al­ba­nia, with whom he hopes, if elected, to achieve reunification by refe­ren­dum. "The border between our two countries was de­ci­ded in 1913 by Eu­ro­pean powers. Ko­sovo is a State geo­gra­phi­cally speaking, but our nation remains Al­ba­nia. Our language, our cul­ture, our re­li­gion and our his­tory belong to Al­ba­nia."  Besides, Kurti doesn't like being called "an eth­ni­cally Al­ba­nian Kosovar." "The idea of eth­ni­city has ra­vaged the Bal­kans. Men­tioning the dif­ferences only leads to in­to­le­rance. We must begin with what we have in com­mon. » 

this in­ter­view took place in oc­tober 2012.