Kosovo-born Blerta Hoti shares her journey from being a young asylum seeker in Gothenburg to reaching the highest levels of political office in her municipality – and has a few tips for ambitious young people in Kosovo that want to make a difference.
Blerta Hoti was six years old in 1992 when her family of six traveled from the village of Polac in Skenderaj to Sweden to seek asylum.
Childhood in a big city like Gothenburg was not easy, and Hoti faced prejudice inside and outside of school. “You’re a stranger here. Go back to your country. When are you going back to your birthplace?” is what she remembers being told by Swedish nationals at the time, adding that it was these words that prompted her to fight discrimination.
After graduating with a degree in global studies and international relations from the University of Gothenburg, her attention turned to human rights and youth organizations operating in the country.
“I started my political engagement in Sweden a long time ago. Initially I became active through different associations – different NGOs, those dealing with women’s rights, for example. I was also a founder and activist in a few Albanian youth associations here in Sweden previously,” she said. “I finally realized that, despite the fact that it is important to be involved in civil society, this is not enough if you do not have primary power.”
In an interview for BIRN, she says her activities and engagement in civil society was important, yet, she felt she needed to go further to have the power to make a difference.
In 2011, Blerta spent six months in Kosovo, completing an internship at the Swedish Embassy, dealing mainly with donations from the Swedish state allocated to Kosovo, particularly in the environmental and education sectors.
Her experience in Kosovo, and some of the “negative phenomena” that she encountered was part of her inspiration for getting involved in politics. “One of the reasons I decided to get involved in politics is because I have seen some challenges,” she said. ”For example, lack of donor coordination and lack of transparency in the governance of Kosovo motivated me to engage politically and become part of the solution rather than part of the problem,” Hoti told BIRN.
Politics as a path to change
That same year, Hoti began her journey into politics, joining the center left Social Democrats, the largest political party in Sweden. In 2012, she was hired as an ombudsperson for the Social Democratic Party and its youth organization.
Following her time as an ombudsperson, Hoti’s policymaking went beyond Swedish borders and into the Belgian capital, Brussels, becoming a political adviser to the European Parliament for the MEPs of the Swedish Social Democratic Party from 2014. Five years later, Blerta Hoti returned to Swedish politics, taking the post of political adviser to the Minister of Defense of the Social Democratic Party’s Government in early April 2019.
Her success did not stop there. At the end of August, she was appointed a member of the municipal board as a representative of the Social Democratic Party in the Municipality of Gothenburg.
“The political party in my district, the Gothenburg municipality, has decided to nominate me as one of the party’s vice presidents in Gothenburg’s municipal leadership,” she said, adding that for her, the most important part of her new job is that she now plays a role in the decision making process.
Despite the fact that she is not new to the field of politics, she is adamant that a new spirit is needed for the city she grew up in. While her primary responsibility will be in traffic and the environment, her priority, she said, will be to invest in equitable social welfare across every aspect of politics, rally against privatization, and protect workers’ rights.
“This government has increased the monthly prices for public transport by 14 euros, and has privatized the health sector,” she told BIRN. “At the same time, it has raised prices for kindergartens. This is scandalous and very harmful to citizens, as well as to the environment because it becomes more difficult to replace cars with public transport.”
‘Kosovo needs youth activism’
As part of a center-left party like the Social Democratic Party, Hoti recommends that, like Sweden, Kosovo should also have a more proactive ‘leftist’ party. She says she is strongly opposed to the privatization of public enterprises as no matter which sector is affected, its development will be restricted as a result.
“I think the foundation of all this is the rule of law. Without the rule of law you will have nothing,” Hoti told BIRN. “As long as there is corruption in Kosovo there will be no sustainable development and, as a result, we will have even greater migration challenges and so on. I am optimistic that there will be political will and there is potential for young girls.”
The key for political parties, Hoti believes, is having a feminist ideology. She states that in order for sustainable social development to take place, the gender perspective must be included in every area of policymaking.
For young people in her native country, Hoti encourages becoming active not only in civil society but also in politics. She considers it necessary to have new ideas and a more positive, progressive spirit in Kosovo political life, especially considering the upcoming early parliamentary elections to be held in October.
“Politics should never be presented by people who defend bureaucracy. There is a need for more people to engage in political parties, people who want to be part of positive change and, of course, part of a social democratic spirit,” she said.
“To have the rule of law and fight corruption, this is the most important thing.”