Image courtesy of HBO.

The Game of Numbers and the Kosovar politics of Westeros

What Game of Thrones teaches us about the mistakes made by political parties in Kosovo.

HBO’s fantasy drama set in medieval Europe–a fictional world of magic, dragons and direwolves–can teach us a lot about political strategy. Its themes of war, migration, honor, gender representation, marriage and motherhood, as well as the politics of power, death, and trauma will gather many scholars together in conversation this year for the first international conference on the series.

Game of Thrones reminds us in every episode of the underlying threat everyone faces from the army of the dead and the white walkers, while the noble families of Westeros are drawing complex political strategies to win the Iron Throne. If the noble families do not leave their perplexing political strategies aside and come together to fight the threat that is lurking beyond the wall, then their accumulated political power and their kingdoms will not matter much, because they won’t exist when the Night King leads his army south.

Vox interprets the story of self-interested actors aiming to achieve trivial gains while ignoring the major threat as a metaphor for climate change.

But we could also interpret Kosovo politics through Game of Throne’s stories of political strategy and mistakes the noble families make while playing this game.

The June 11 elections resulted in a hung parliament. Since then, the political parties have been playing a Game of Numbers.

Similarly to the political deadlock of 2014, the parties seem to shift alliances in order to stay in power or maximize their gains in the tiny non-fictional world of Kosovo politics. This mirrors the shifting alliances that occur throughout Game of Thrones. Even the poorly calculated mistakes that come back to haunt the parties resemble the politics of George R. R Martin’s mythical world.

While Kosovo political parties play their Game of Numbers and follow their myopic self-interests, they ignore the biggest threat that is looming over Kosovo: that the state could fail due to instability, the crippling economic situation, unemployment, and corruption.

While the political parties play their game and draw up sophisticated plans to get the required vote numbers to form a government, Kosovo continues to lose money, the citizens are kept isolated, and the EU integration process remains stalled.

Game of Thrones is characterized by the rule that actions have consequences, and can even lead to deaths of the main characters. Often the political decisions the noble houses in Westeros make have deep ramifications.

The game that Cersei plays is similar to PDK’s strategy in the Game of Numbers. Cersei, in the last episode of season 7, decided to ignore the danger of the army of the dead in order to maximize her own political gains. By abandoning Daenerys and Jon, Cersei put her own short term interests above anything else. Similarly, PDK, after the 2014 elections, decided to drag the country into a six month political deadlock for its own political gains, which ended with the infamous 2014 Constitutional Court ruling that severely damaged Kosovo’s parliamentary democracy. Cercei, after her political maneuvering, lost Jamie, her beloved brother and commander of the army, and she might lose the much wanted Iron Throne by the end of the series. PDK also had to pay a hefty price after dragging the country into an institutional deadlock and governing it badly afterwards. They lost a big chunk of their electorate and are now left in a hung parliament despite their pre-election coalition and big expectations.

AAK and NISMA sensed the weakening of PDK and tried to use it to their own myopic strategic advantage, by forming a pre-election coalition with PDK and by running together in the elections with an AAK prime minister candidate. Thus, AAK and NISMA are helping PDK stay in power by betraying their own considerably anti-PDK electorate and by damaging Kosovo’s democracy, since they are giving a fourth mandate to a party whose governance was characterized by corruption, state capture, an exodus of asylum seekers to Europe, and an increasing citizen distrust in political institutions.

To win the Office of the Prime Minister, AAK is keeping PDK in power, which is experiencing a strong decline. In Game of Thrones, Randyll Tarly, a bannerman of the House Tyrell, betrays the Queen of Thorns. The betrayal comes with the short-sighted interest of strengthening their power in the newly established kingdom of the weak Cersei Lannister. To their own detriment, Randyll Tarly together with his son Dickon Tarly are burnt alive by Daenerys’ dragon after the Loot Train Attack. Similarly, AAK may have not experienced a ‘June 11 Attack’ of Kosovo elections, but they certainly fell short of expectations by getting less seats than they had planned to win, leaving Kosovo with a hung parliament.

In 2014, LDK, in its own Game of Numbers, betrayed the opposition block of VLAN by joining a coalition with PDK. LDK was also guided by the self-interested and short sighted strategy to win the Office of the Prime Minister. In 2017, their PM lost the no confidence vote and the party subsequently fell to third position in the snap elections, despite LDK’s pre-election coalition with AKR and Alternativa. In the Game of Thrones, Walder Frey betrays House Stark for the Lannisters in the infamous massacre of the ‘Red Wedding.’ By killing the Starks, Walder Frey gained clemency and rewards from the Lannisters and the Boltons. House Frey paid a serious price for their betrayal, because like the Kosovo electorate, the ‘north also remembers.’  

Now LDK is playing their Game of Numbers by categorically refusing any coalition with PDK, and also by failing to show any serious willingness to form an opposition government with Vetevendosje. Hence, LDK, as the third biggest group in the parliament, is contributing to the delay of the government’s formation. Staying passive amidst a political crisis makes them less relevant in Kosovo politics and there will be serious repercussions for LDK in the local elections. Winter has come for House Frey, and LDK should be wary of the autumn of local elections.

In 2014 Vetevendosje mediated the formation of an opposition bloc against the winning PDK. Similar to Vetevendosje, Tyrion Lannister struck a deal in Mereen with the slavers of Astapor to end slavery in Slavers Bay and to stop the funding of the Sons of the Harpy. Like Tyrion, Vetevendosje lost time in negotiations by having good faith in the signing parties. In the Game of Thrones, the slavers broke the agreement by attacking Mereen, whereas in Kosovo, LDK broke the agreement by betraying the opposition for PDK.

In 2017 Vetevendosje made the same mistake as Mance Rayder, the King-Beyond-the-Wall, who refused to bend the knee to Stannis Baratheon. Because of his principles, Mance Rayder put the lives of his people at risk and ended up being burned alive by Stannis. Vetevendosje keeps attacking LDK for corruption and previous bad governance by seriously harming the possibility of forming a coalition with LDK in the future. LDK is the only party with which Vetevendosje could form a government in the current constellation. So, Vetevendosje, like Mance Rayder, failed to compromise and stayed true to their principles even though it is seriously risking to lose the opportunity to form a government.

What Kosovo parties forget, ignore, or neglect is that while they’re caught in their Game of Numbers and their sophisticated political alliances, they fail to see the biggest danger that Kosovo faces: that it will fail as a state. While the government remains to be formed, Serbia is campaigning for Kosovo not to be accepted in UNESCO, and Kosovo has not even re-applied at this point due to its internal problems.  In 2014, while these political parties were creating and breaking their alliances for six months, in Kosovo collective frustration was building up and erupted with the exodus of asylum seekers, which began right after the PDK-LDK coalition in 2014.

Like the noble families of Westeros that prioritize their self-interests above the interests of the people they govern, Kosovo political parties have been prioritizing their interests over the interest of the state and its citizens for far too long.

Mehdi Sejdiu is a researcher in Germany and Kosovo. He studies political science at Heidelberg University.

The opinions expressed in the opinion section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

01 September 2017 - 13:06

Mehdi Sejdiu

01/09/2017 - 13:06

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