Serbian PM Aleksandar Vucic and Albanian PM Edi Rama | Photo by Sasa Djordjevic, Beta.

Rama, Vucic, and the horde of Kosovo bogus radical intellectuals

Rama’s comments in support of Kosovo in Belgrade did not go over well with some of Kosovo elite, who in their new-found radicalism are quick to point at Kosovo’s independence from Albania, but find it hard to maintain such a radical position when confronted with Serbia’s claims over the country.

Albania PM Edi Rama’s recent visit to Belgrade galvanized Kosovo’s many public commentators and policy-makers who seemed to have gotten offended by Rama preaching about Kosovo to his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vucic. Rama and Vucic spoke about many things in Belgrade, but two of Rama’s comments in particular incited harsh reactions from Kosovo: (i)  that Serbia should recognize Kosovo as soon as possible, and (ii) that Kosovo’s former economic powerhouse, the “Trepca” conglomerate, belongs to Kosovo and its people. As much as they are unprecedented, such harsh reactions from some circles in Kosovo against an Albanian states person are part of two independent sets of contradictions.

One contradiction is a constitutive factor in the reactions from Kosovo, and to understand this contradiction, one must address the heart of the issue – that of paternalism. Many in Kosovo felt that Rama patronized Kosovars by asking Serbia to recognize Kosovo. Actually, those who reacted took an interesting radical position to defend Kosovo’s independence from Albania. These reactions could have been both authentic and justified, yet  they were anything but.

All of a sudden the anti-radical statists became radical statists. This is interesting because, at least from a general observation, the entire anti-Vetevendosje crew among public commentators and policy-makers in Kosovo all of a sudden resembled their own version of Vetevendosje. But they became Vetevendosje in an interesting way, or in other words, they became the flip-side of the Vetevendosje radical coin. While Vetevendosje’s radicalism against interacting with or being patronized by Serbia was constantly criticized by those in the mainstream (Europeanists, Westernists, liberals, et cetera), all of a sudden the latter adopted Vetevendosje’s radical model against Albania’s patronization of Kosovo. When Vucic (more implicitly) and the Serb Orthodox Church (more frequently and explicitly) remind Kosovars that Serbia will not only refuse to recognize Kosovo, but under the “right” circumstances  will take it by force – those in the mainstream take, what they believe to be, an Europeanist, Westernist, liberal stance of not feeling embarrassed by Serbia’s patronization – including when it threatens the use of force. Because that’s being a true European, according to a peculiar understanding of  Europeanness. Yet, when Rama preaches Kosovo to Serbia, as much as it remains in the realm of simple rhetoric, the mainstream Europeanists and whatnot in Kosovo become radical statists, and wave the radical flag of defending the independence of Kosovo.

One way to summarize the lack of authenticity of the radical defenders of Kosovo’s independence is to contextualize it shortly. Rama asks Serbia to recognize Kosovo, ergo Kosovo is patronized by Rama. Merkel asks Serbia to recognize Kosovo, ergo Germany loves Kosovo. Serbia asks the world not to recognize Kosovo, and threatens to take it by force, ergo Serbia is a partner we need to negotiate with.  Why is this the case?

Though answering this amounts to a few good PhDs, I will keep it to two short answers, risking all the potential flaws that briefness entails. Broadly speaking, it boils down to power relations in both international and domestic domains. Judging by the power relations in the international domain, holding a radical stance on Kosovo’s independence from Albania (but not so much from Serbia) is a position widely supported by the Western powers (at the moment), therefore (at the moment) one should hold a radical stance on the generally accepted rule of the powerful.

In the domestic domain, it has to do with power relations between the ruling elites and their civil society supporters on the one hand, and the opposition forces, namely Vetevendosje, on the other. Edi Rama may not have been aware of what his statements meant for Kosovo’s domestic power relations. Had his comments been received with praise, it would have unintentionally, though meaningfully, challenged the ruling elites and their supporters by giving power to Vetevendosje’s niche in the argument of ‘one nation in one state is stronger than one nation in several states.’ So it was actually not about Rama’s paternalism, at all. The reactions fundamentally lie in the current relations of power. By aggressively challenging Rama not to ask Serbia to recognize Kosovo, both the ruling elite and the civil society newly-minted radical intellectuals attempt to preserve the status-quo, which helps them maintain both the material and ideational power over the Kosovo polity.

The other set of contradictions relates to the broader temporal ideational, national, and statehood developments within the geographical space in which Serbs and Albanians wandered throughout the past century – and maybe even before. Despite some calls and praising made in Vucic’s and Rama’s sort of attempts to “improve” the relations between the two “nations,” the problem here lies in the fact that Vucic and Rama use different conceptual lenses when they look at the region. Both seem to be unaware of it, and will, one day, stumble upon the complexities of their current simplistic approaches.

Vucic sees the region in national terms. For Vucic, current states, especially the multi-ethnic ones, i.e. Bosnia and Kosovo, are fake states. They are fake for him for two reasons. The first is because they are not national states, and the second is that they are a temporary imposition by the current balance of power – which he would hope will change one day. Therefore, Vucic and many in Serb nomenklatura struggle to comprehend a region outside of a national-state perspective. Which means, they struggle with the way the region looks today.

Rama on the other hand is less conservative. The current map of the region is not primarily national. For him, current states in the region, be those national or multi-ethnic, are European, are post-modern. Unlike Vucic, Rama does not struggle to grasp the region, nor do others in the Albanian nomenklatura. Rama is comfortable with today’s region. Vucic seems to be happy with Rama. Vucic may well want to do something that many in Kosovo suspect or fear– look upon Rama as a representative of all Albanians – which would be in keeping with his natural outlook of the region. But those in Kosovo would be mistaken to believe that this may lead to Vucic dragging Rama into discussing the status, and as a result, division of Kosovo. Those in Kosovo should understand that Vucic’s desire to look upon Rama as a representative of all the Albanians in the region, and perhaps his own good chemistry with Rama, has to do less with Kosovo and more with Vucic’s happiness with the current state of Albania. That is, with its current size, its current weakness, and fundamentally, with Albania’s current comfort with such parameters.

Shpend Kursani is a PhD researcher in the Department of Social and Political Sciences at the European University Institute, where he researches post-1945 cases of contested states. He is also an external senior research fellow at the Kosovar Center for Security Studies.

21 October 2016 - 10:37

Shpend Kursani

21/10/2016 - 10:37

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