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Kosovo and the fight for self-determination

Isabelle Rowe-Codner

July 26, 2017

"No negotiations!" is the calling card slogan of Kosovo's Vetëvendosje party, an anti-austerity, leftist movement that focuses on the self-determination of the Albanian people in the landlocked and politically deadlocked Balkan country. Recently, Vetëvendosje has performed better than it ever has in terms of gaining political authority, as it was the highest achieving singular party in Kosovo's recent snap election, garnering around 26 per cent of the vote. However, the liberal PAN coalition was able to outnumber the leftist alternative with about 34 per cent of the vote. Kosovo is currently hanging in a delicate balance, as the outcome of this election and its aftermath could dramatically shape the political and economic landscape of the Balkan region.

Bloody breakup

During the chaotic and bloody breakup of Yugoslavia (of which Kosovo was considered an "independent province"), Albanian Kosovar liberationists of various political stripes took to guerilla tactics in fighting Milosevic's "socialist" Serbian government. Serbia was one of the few remaining Yugoslav states, and one that sought to maintain control over Kosovo. This led to the brutal retaliation of the Serbian government and started what became known as the "Kosovar War," or Albanian genocide, the latter being what it primarily was. Many North Americans will remember this conflict in particular, as it was the debacle that led the Clinton administration to bomb Yugoslavia to fend off Serbian forces, though killing numerous civilians (of various ethnic backgrounds) in the process. From there, Kosovo remained in a tense statehood limbo. In 2001 the UN intervened, creating a parliament within Kosovo to act as a governing power which could give Albanian Kosovars some political agency. However, it wasn't until 2008 that Kosovo's pleas for independence started gaining traction outside of its citizenship.

Today, the main question is how Kosovo's independence will develop in the years to come. The recent election was called after a vote of no confidence in the previous Prime Minister, Isa Mustafa, which tied directly into this issue. Mustafa's LAA coalition government blundered on the question of independence, bringing forward a land demarcation proposal to the EU that would have lost Kosovo a significant amount of land to neighbouring Macedonia. Not many people in Kosovo were happy with this, and as such, the debate on how to proceed rolls on, with three main options being fought out.

The first is that Kosovo remain a province of Serbia with only some autonomous privileges, which is a position held by Serbia, Russia, and some other state powers. The second option is that Kosovo become an independent country, which is an option favoured by the United States, the EU, and many liberal politicians within the country (including Mustafa). However, the third option is that instead of launching itself into the open, Kosovo comes to some sort of alignment and/or unification with the neighbouring Albania and part of Macedonia, creating a sort of "Greater Albania." The latter option is not only the standpoint favoured by Vetëvendosje, but the majority of Kosovars as well (being that Kosovo has a vast Albanian majority population).

The main principle that Vetëvendosje stands by is that of self-determination, which as it happens, is the English translation of their party's name. Given the nature of Kosovo’s recent history, self-determination is an exceedingly important topic for the majority Albanian population who still lack much in the way of democratic agency. For instance, Kosovo's parliament is still in the midst of taking shape, and is not so much relying on the will of the Kosovar people, but negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia, Serbia of course having a lot of leverage on the situation. Most recently, there was an attempt to create an Association of Serb Municipalities and Settlements of Kosovo and Metohija, which would have given Serbian majority territories in the North of Kosovo, but also the Serbian state, significant power in Kosovar politics. This is would be in addition to the parliamentary seats reserved for minorities that the Serbian population is granted, which of course should be supported in the name of national sovereignty. However, this Association was cancelled when Vetëvendosje and its supporters took to the streets in a frenzy of protests in 2016, which included Vetëvendosje politicians setting off tear gas in the Kosovar parliament, and numerous clashes with police in the streets. The EU agreed to the cancellation, stating that it "might turn it into a mechanism for Belgrade control in Serb areas or have it be like the Republika Srpska in Bosnia."

Another telling figure is that in Kosovo’s recent election, the turnout was reported as being only around 41 per cent, an abysmally low figure, especially considering the recent unrest and political action throughout the country. Of course, this is no problem for the establishment coalitions that have been dominating Kosovo’s parliament for the past decade, nor the US or EU whom their interests represent, but for a population locked in protest and struggle, higher voter turnout would definitely make a difference.

It is no secret that corruption is rife within the political handlings of Kosovo, both within the coalition parties, and the Serbian state as a whole. The coalition that has so far come ahead as the winner of the recent election, PAN, has been dubbed as the "war wing," as many of its highest ranking members, including the incumbent prime minister of Kosovo, have been under investigation for war crimes against civilians during the Kosovo war, some members even awaiting trial at The Hague. It is often because of their lucrative affiliations with right wing militias during the war that they are in the positions of power that they enjoy today.

No Negotiations
The results of the recent election show that despite Vetëvendosje’s high popularity, the parliamentary system established in Kosovo favours establishment coalitions. Even though the parties in these coalitions may have to bridge some ideological differences, they are not contradictory in nature, as a coalition between a worker's party and a establishment party would be. The LAA and PAN coalitions are made up of parties who serve the same interest.

This being said, even though it may seem politically suicidal for Vetëvendosje to not form a coalition with another party (and maybe even break ahead of PAN), if they are to continue to establish themselves as a worker's party that fights for self-determination (and even direct democracy over representative), then they have to tread carefully so as to not get sucked into the establishment theatre. It has already been shown in national polls that the majority of Kosovars are in agreement with Vetëvendosje on the subject of Albanian unification. While the path as of yet may be unclear, they must remain steadfastly tied to their activist and worker roots in order to push forward.

Politics for the Future

The United States have a direct interest in making sure Kosovo becomes independent (from Serbia and Albania), as it would draw Kosovo closer to the EU, and away from Russian, Serbian, and Albanian influence. This would be beneficial for the US, as Kosovo is not only home to America's largest military base in Europe, but it is also a mineral rich nation, and of course has growing cultural ties to the country since the war.

While perhaps not a perfect solution, and one with many bumps in the road until realization, unifying economically and partially politically with Albania would be the best route forward for an independent, self-determining Kosovo. Although this is favoured by the majority of Kosovars, Vetëvendosje is the only major party endorsing this option.

Though being the most progressive major party in terms of LGBT+ rights in the country, which is crucial considering the tremendous culture of homophobia throughout the Balkan countries, it would be nice to see Vetëvendosje improve their stance on the issue. Their statements about gay and transgender rights are right now vaguely defined, which does set them apart from the outrageously homophobic leaders of most other parties, but taking a harder stance would bring them to the fore of an LGBT+ movement currently seeing its feet finally get off the ground.

Lastly, it would be wise to touch upon the class based issues sweeping the country. Kosovo's unemployment currently sits at around 30 per cent, which is higher mostly in regards to young adults. This has only added fuel to the recent political turmoil, as many Kosovars are understandably tired of the liberal coalitions promising to fix this problem by stirring up competition in the markets. Vetëvendosje on the other hand, calls for higher taxation of the rich, exemption of milk, bread, and books from the VAT tax, and is the only party against privatization of national industries across the board. Again, this of course leads back to the independence question, and what option would most benefit the Kosovar people: Serbian control, EU and US economic interests, or Albanian aid?

While it is unclear how the election and its aftermath will delineate exactly, it will be exciting and inspiring to see one of the closest things Europe has to a major worker's party take to the streets. Kosovars want to be able to claim their future, and not have it claimed for them. No negotiations!

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