Students of Mehmet Akif College in Kosovo protest the arrest and deportation of their teachers in Kosovo's capital Pristina on Thursday, March 29, 2018. | Photo Visar Kryeziu/AP via BETA.

What happened to Kosovo’s democratic future?

A former student of Mehmet Akif College explains why about a hundred of students are protesting the deportation of their teachers from Kosovo.

In a world where the deportation of illegal immigrants back to their home countries is frowned upon, Kosovo took a different approach and deported six residents with valid residence permits. The Kosovo Police, together with the Kosovo Intelligence Agency, AKI, and the Turkish Intelligence Agency, MIT, deported five Mehmet Akif College directors and teachers, and a Turkish doctor, without due process,  after deeming them a national security threat.

The six of them were deported to Turkey, where they will most likely face charges for being leaders and members of Fethullah Gulen’s organization, which Turkey accuses of terrorism and organizing the failed coup d’etat in 2016. Their arrest, the revocation of their residence permits and deportation happened in a timespan of mere hours, creating uncertainty and panic amongst their loved ones and among everyone in Kosovo who want to see institutions mete out due process. As a result, families, colleagues and students protested in the main square in Prishtina and at the airport on Thursday, in the hopes that they were still on Kosovo territory and their extradition could be prevented.

This action, which is being passed around from politician to politician like a hot potato, with no one taking responsibility, is not only a violation of the basic human rights of six individuals, it is a violation of the democratic values enshrined in our Constitution. While Kosovo continues stumbling from one crisis to another, be it the revocation of state recognitions,  Srpska Lista’s exit from the ruling coalition, and so on, its elected leaders fail to take into consideration the effect that their political actions have on individuals, their families and their personal lives.

The five Turkish nationals are currently being held in a high-security prison in Istanbul, and their families, wives and children are stuck in Kosovo – unable to go to their home country, which they have not visited since before  the coup in 2016, and unable to get their voices heard in the country which deported their loved ones. Instead, they were dragged to a series of highly publicized meetings with Kosovo’s state representatives, trying to forge a sense of humanity and compassion – feelings which are not able to resonate against the helplessness of the six wives and ten children left in the dark. One week after the arrest, they still have not been able to make any direct contact with their arrested family members and do not have any information about their welfare or upcoming trials.  

Bearing in mind that neither of the governments involved has presented any actual proof that connects these Turkish nationals to their alleged crimes, their deportation can be seen as nothing more than a tactical move in an international chess game. Disregarding their humanity, the Turkish government targeted our teachers, the Turkish nationals, because they possess a suitable set of characteristics that match with President Erdogan’s profile of a terrorist (read: potential political opponent): they were Turkish nationals working at an institution founded by Fethullah Gulen, and they were living outside of Turkey, ergo, had the opportunity to spread their influence and propaganda not subject to any government-issued form of censorship.

There is no need to humanize the deported citizens’ figures, their work is their best representation. The teachers were part of the Gulistan Educational Institutions,  which was founded in Kosovo in February, 2000. Since then, the institution has expanded to four campuses in Lipjan, Prishtina, Prizren, and Gjakova with over 800 currently enrolled students, and over 2000 alumni. These teachers have taught hundreds of students who other than showing great academic and professional achievements in the country, have represented Kosovo in dozens of international competitions, each time bringing medals and glory back home.

It is exactly these students, over a hundred of them, who are taking the streets demanding justice for their teachers with over six organized protests at Kosovo’s international airport, in front of the government building, and in front of the Turkish Embassy in Prishtina, and through their #FreeOurTeachers online campaign.

The revolt of these young Kosovars, not even old enough to drive yet, should be unsettling for Kosovar institutions. It should make them take a step back and contemplate about the exact moment when their decisions, turned into death sentences for six unwitting individuals who were arrested and consequently deported from their homes or on their way to work. What will it take for Kosovar leaders to take responsibility of their discriminatory actions? How long until these very leaders start respecting individuals and their basic rights?

The students protesting the injustice done to their professors have taken upon themselves the fight to reduce and ultimately, eradicate the disparity between where we stand as a republic today and the prospect of the just future they deserve. Yet, the stronger the barriers in between those two states of being, the greater the chance that those young, spirited protesters will turn to pessimism and cynicism. The possibility that this becomes the norm should alarm us all.  Accepting a system that is broken with no hope that any improvements can be made would lead to a prolongation of nonfunctional systems for many generations to come.  

The students’ message remains short and clear: because the lives and future of their teachers are too important to be left on the hands the very institutions that failed them, they have taken the streets, social media and every other means of protest they can think of to demand their voices to be heard. Demanding justice, demanding responsibility, demanding answers. Simple requests calling for difficult actions.  We are still waiting for an answer.

Edita Pozhegu is a former student of Mehmet Akif College.

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

08 April 2018 - 10:37

Edita Pozhegu

08/04/2018 - 10:37

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.