Kosovo remains untouched by this political phenomenon for now – but that not always be the case.
Successive economic crises, starting from the economic crisis of 2008 onwards in Europe, have revealed the dissatisfaction of European citizens with the way their countries have been led by political elites.
While every economic crisis affects all levels of society, the most vulnerable group are citizens on below-average incomes – that is, the working class. The widening gap creates the impression of a separation between the elites and the rest of the population.
This group has usually supported left-wing parties and policies. However, the reduction of divisions between the parties of the centre-left and centre-right to nuances has opened the way for the creation of parties of the far right.
These use the difficult economic situation to their benefit, to further push the idea of a division between the elites on one hand and the people on the other.
While Europe is facing a threat from far-right parties that go against the very idea of a United Europe, an idea that has been proclaimed since the end of World War II, these parties enjoy growing popularity across Europe.
Kosovo is relatively unaffected by this phenomenon, partly due to the fact that Kosovo is a new state, which is faced with specifics that differ from other countries, either in the Balkan region, or even more widely on the continental level.
Kosovo far-rightists are small but need watching
In the Kosovar context, the fact that the country is still trying to consolidate its international subjectivity has led Kosovo try to replicate some of the best practices of policymaking.
However, politics in Kosovo has had many shortcomings and hasn’t always been able to implement the best European practices.
But, although Kosovar citizens face successive economic crises, this has not led to the formation of any far-right parties so far.
The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network BIRN has created an interactive map, showcasing the activities of far-right organizations in the six Western Balkan countries, according to which there are eight active extreme right organizations in Kosovo.
However, they are very small and insignificant in the national level, making it impossible for them to influence policies or change the public perception on topics due to their small capacities and membership.
However, this doesn’t mean that we have to be oblivious towards them. It is important to monitor their activities regularly and be aware of their existence.
The fact that Kosovo has a very large diaspora, and on the other hand no influx of immigrants, has made it hard for extreme right-wing rhetoric to grow within the country.
This does not mean that Kosovo has been immune to nationalistic rhetoric that comes as a result of the inter-ethnic tensions, but it is important to differentiate between far-right and nationalistic movements, which don’t necessarily fall under the same category.
Kosovo hasn’t been immune to populist movements. In fact, the largest party in the country, in terms of its rhetoric, is a classic example of a populist party.
However, populist rhetoric in Kosovo, despite being directed against the establishment, does not contain other elements, such as xenophobia, Euroscepticism and chauvinism, which are characteristic of far-right parties in Europe. So, until now, Kosovo has not fallen prey to this trend, which represents a danger for Europe in general.
The truth is that the Kosovar political scene, and with it Kosovar citizens, are invested in a European future, where equality between member countries is at the core of the European idea. In this aspect, the ideas that the extreme right pushes forward do not resonate with Kosovar citizens.
However, the growth of far-right parties across Europe may interrupt the European dream of Kosovars, since Eurosceptic parties will not be invested in the enlargement of the EU.
And when this happens, if it happens, even Kosovo will not remain immune to such movements and policies, which basically encourage divisions between peoples.
Radical right v. extreme right
It is important to take into account that scholars have identified differences among the far-right organizations, and have classified them into two categories: the radical right, which objects the ideas of liberal democracy, but does not go against the principles of popular sovereignty and rules of parliamentary democracies, and the extreme right, which is oblivious to the very foundations of democracy and popular sovereignty.
Most far-right political parties in Europe, if not all, can be considered radical, in the sense that they aim to bring change within the established democratic rules, while disregarding some liberal values, such as pluralism and minority rights.
These parties base their rhetoric on the premise that “the people are good” and “the elites are corrupt, and therefore bad”.
They are called to represent the interests of the people and are usually led by charismatic leaders who do not hesitate to talk about topics that were previously considered taboo, with the purpose of maximizing their vote and misusing the anger accumulated among citizens.
These leaders speak “for the people” and “on behalf of the people”, and do not need “mediation” to communicate with the people, as, according to them, is the case with traditional leaders.
Far-right parties can be classified into two groups: the old, fascist parties, and the new, populist ones. The differences between these two groups are getting smaller, but the risk from them is getting bigger.
The problem with far-right parties begins when, playing with the feelings of citizens, they attack the already traditional values of liberal democracies, including in their rhetoric a (I) a xenophobic discourse directed against immigrants as “the source of all the problems of society”, (II) chauvinism, where they talk about the superiority of their country to all others (III) Euroscepticism and (IV) populism, against the establishment.
Such rhetoric, in addition to the divisions it creates within society, leads to hatred towards anyone who looks different. In this form, the way is opened to what is known as “illiberal democracy” in populism studies.
These parties, as much as they have managed to register growth in every part of Europe, have fortunately, so far, been rejected by the majority of European citizens.
However, within the last year, the Brothers of Italy led by Giorgia Meloni won the elections in Italy while the Swedish Democrats are the largest group within the government coalition in Sweden. So, two far-right parties have managed to win enough votes to lead or co-lead the governments of two important countries of the European Union.
Besides the structured far-right political parties that compete in national elections, there are other forms of activism from the far-right in Europe, in the form of social movements, media and intellectual organizations or subcultural movements.
These forms of activism are less organized and less hierarchical than the political parties, but serve as tools to affect change of policies through spreading their ideas in rallies and protests or simply by helping change the public discourse through the media.
These tend to be grassroot movements that gather support for the ideas pushed forth by far-right political parties, and in turn, these movements indirectly become part of the political agenda.
Emir Abrashi is a foreign policy researcher and strategic communications consultant based in Vienna. He worked as a Researcher in the Pristina-based NGO “Democracy Plus”. Between 2018 and 2020, he has served as Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo.