Photo: Atdhe Mulla

Phony intellectuals and the degrading ethos of a generation

Kosovo's intellectual space is a wasteland occupied by a group of cacophonous commentators who have managed to generally reduce socio-economic discourse to a little more than cantankerous politicking and inconsequential blather.

One summer evening in Prishtina, at an event about the Albanian diaspora, I took part in a free-wheeling discussion about emigrants and other related topics that weigh heavily on the minds of  young Kosovars. I was struck with the enthusiasm and motivation displayed by some of the young people I met about working in or toward projects and reflecting insightfully on potentially transformative social concepts. Yet, I could hardly escape the nagging thought that this energy and intelligence was confined in the margins of society, simply mirroring youthful dreams and ideals not yet tested by the harsh realities of the place.

This cynicism may be mark of ignorance, but it’s not altogether unfounded. The impression that this youthful spirit is admirable, but eventually inconsequential, is an image of incongruity, of stark contrast, cemented by the suffocating political and economic reality on the ground. Men dominate politics almost everywhere, but in Kosovo men own politics and guard the turf with such vehemence that a seat in parliament looks like private property. And, by and large, a lot of those men who have entered politics over the years are an uneasy conglomeration of violent remnants of war—posing as heroes, tribal blowhards, failed emigrants seeking shelter in chest-thumping patriotism, and nostalgic commissars and apparatchiks.These then clash with a group of anxious pre-war intellectual leftovers fighting for relevance, and a youngish, educated, but ill-cultivated stratum that display a toxic combination of arrogance and ignorance and mistake them for intelligence and strength.  

These are the people who own the place that has all the makings of a little thugocracy. They are cheered on in their own camps by a fragmented and confused public, and supported by an army of phony intellectuals, journalists, analysts, writers, and old-fashioned propagandists. The epithet ‘phony intellectual’ is a necessity here because the word intellectual is misused in Kosovo. In its simplest definition, an authentic intellectual is someone who is relentless in pursuit of a disinterested truth, whatever form that may take. Intrinsic in that definition is also the notion that the intellectual is fundamentally free, but with an ethical duty to seek not loyalty and public approval, but the naked truth. The French writer Jean-Paul Sartre once said that intellectuals are the moral conscience of their generation and have a moral responsibility to speak freely. He embodied that lofty ideal himself when he refused the Nobel Prize award for Literature on the grounds of intellectual independence.

By that ideal, no such species of free-minded fanatics are prominent in Kosovo. The intellectual space is a wasteland occupied by a group of commentators specializing in cacophony and insults. Members of this commentariat spend their days peddling trifles up and down in the media, and have managed to generally reduce socio-economic discourse to a little more than a mix of politicking and blather. One longs to hear a debate or insightful conversation about what it really means to be a Kosovar, what are the values and norms that form the crust and strengthen or weaken the character of society.

Meaningful reflections on things that enrich and give meaning to our lives, whether in culture, literature or arts, take the form of recycled platitudes and rotted cliches. All talk of corruption is in the realm of politics, but no one discusses a more virulent form of corruption—that of moral and ethical breakdown of values. Forget politicians for a moment. No one speaks of larger consequences and what it might mean for children when they witness historians faking history, academics plagiarizing their scholarly research, journalists routinely filching material from the internet, and doctors violating the trust of their own patients.

Examining the nation’s character is not the job and the domain of a career politician, but of the public intellectual, the artist, the writer, and the thinker. These are the custodians of the ethical core and the conscience of a nation. These are the luminaries who should inspire others and show the path ahead for a younger generation. Unfortunately, this has not happened. Kosovo’s public intellectual has morphed into a political advisor, analyst of trifles, a writer turned political hack, an academic with dubious credentials, or some narcissist with an inflated sense of self-worth ranting on social media about nothing of lasting consequence. In other words, the intellectual of Kosovo is an ostentatious charlatan who fights for relevance in the political spotlight.

No wonder then one is sceptical about the bright prospects of an enlightened, but marginal group of young people with motivation and desire to bring forth transformational ideas. They are up against an establishment that has degraded the ethos of this generation and corrupted the meaning of intellectual leadership. Yet, in them there is hope and potential despite navigating an extremely confusing and discouraging reality. Theirs is a mission to reinforce an abiding truth that a nation without genuine intellectuals and thinkers can not possibly lay claim to belong into the family of modern and enlightened societies of the 21st century.

06 October 2017 - 12:22

Mikra Krasniqi

06/10/2017 - 12:22

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.