Ups and downs in Kosovo during 2017, as discussed through Prishtina Insight’s top 10 most-read stories.
Despite Kosovo law protecting religious freedom and the right to wear religious attire in public higher education institutions, when Sumeja Kqiku went to apply for a place in the University of Prishtina’s Faculty of Medicine, she was told that “‘this is not for you.’”
“Another layer of the social fabric” highlighted the gender-based discrimination Muslim women who wear the hijab face in Kosovo’s social and institutional life.
Debates about secularity, religion, modernity, and the politics of identity are nothing new in Kosovo.
For years, Kosovo has been branded by international media as a Muslim country, and has been called a ‘hotbed’ of violent extremism; a report published this year by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs found that international media have, in fact, oversimplified and exaggerated media coverage of radicalization in Kosovo.
Still, anti-Muslim stereotypes and prejudices against the country persist. The stories told by these women show that the discrimination is as much a homegrown problem as an issue for Kosovars abroad. They also highlighted the need for more representation of Muslim women in the media.
“It is important for hijabi women to be visible in Kosovo’s public space as professionals, be that as doctors, businesswomen, teachers, or whatever their profile might be. After all, the debate on justifying why we wear hijabs is of lesser importance,” one interviewee, Avdiu Hoxha, said.
On May 22, Kosovo climber and adventure enthusiast Uta Ibrahimi became the first Albanian woman to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. Two more Kosovar alpinists, Arineta Mula and Nazmi Hasanramaj, reached the peak that same day.
Politicians and civil society still struggle with representing Kosovo with its state symbols at regional and international meetings due to campaigns against the country by Serbia, Russia, and other adamant non-recognizers.
Kosovo’s cultural and artistic icons persist by repping the country through winning awards and recognitions (another prestigious award won this year by a Kosovar was artist Petrit Helilaj’s special jury mention at the Venice Biennale).
Albanian artists have had a great year musically as well, with top singles by Bebe Rexha (who has Macedonian Albanian origins) and a collaboration between French Montana and Era Istrefi, who came to fame with her 2015 song “Bonbon.” But there is perhaps no greater locally regarded star this year than Dua Lipa, who released her self-titled debut album in May. Lipa, a Kosovar, London-raised pop star, trended internationally on Twitter with #YearOfDua, but its her Kosovar fans who are the proudest.
You guys are so sweet seeing the hashtag #YearOfDua has brought tears to my eyes. I couldn’tve done any of this without you. I love you. Endless thank yous, forever.
— DUA LIPA (@DUALIPA) December 11, 2017
Photo courtesy of Kurrizi documentary
Kurrizi, a documentary chronicling life in a Dardania neighborhood that was seen as the hub of Albanian social life during the ‘90s, was fitting for the year 2017, as Kosovo commemorated the 20th anniversary of the 1997 student protests and 25th anniversary of the establishment of Albanian parallel education.
The documentary retrospective into s the Albanian parallel cultural life and activism during the years before the Kosovo War was also a theme in other films, art , activism, and academic work this year.
Kurrizi, produced by Cultural Heritage Without Borders, is making its rounds in festival submissions, and as a result it’s not yet available to view online.
This year, FEMaktiv became the first youth feminist group in Prizren, Kosovo’s second biggest town.
“We got together because of the situation; because women in Prizren are virtually absent in public life, decision-making and their voices are not heard,” FEMaktiv member Tringa Kasemi told our reporter.
The group made their first public appearance on March 8, a holiday with origins in the labor movement that is now often observed as a sort of celebration of women, and mothers in particular. In Prishtina, too, women’s rights activists protested under the banner “MARCH, not celebrate,” denouncing gender inequality, homophobia, and economic injustice.
Women’s rights activists over the past year have dealt with a myriad of subjects, from inequality in the labor market, to women’s representation in senior decision-making positions and politics, sex education, solidarity against sexism worldwide, and violence.
On January 14, a train designed with “Kosovo is Serbia” written in over 20 languages on the exterior and adorned with Serbian Orthodox icons on the interior was scheduled to travel from Belgrade to North Mitrovica. The train was halted in Raska, Serbia, due to “security issues.” The Kosovo government said that they had ordered the train to stop because it was “illegal and had no permit to enter Kosovo soil.”
For many analysts, the train debacle represented what they called a degradation of the relations between Kosovo and Serbia in the past two years. The situation followed North Mitrovica’s erection of a wall in late 2016 to further divide the city, and an agreement was not reached to remove it until February of this year. The agreement to reopen the Mitrovica Steel Bridge for vehicular traffic and to pedestrianize Kralja Petra street was supposed to be finalized by January 20, 2017; it remains unfinished.
In fact, several agreements have not been implemented this year. Most recently, Kosovo media has reported on the failed agreement on the “reciprocal sticker agreement.” On December 20, Koha Ditore reported that the Kosovo Democratic Institute and several members of the Kosovo Assembly organized a visit to the Merdare border crossing and found that Kosovo has still not introduced the reciprocity measures against Serbia when it comes to the agreement on vehicle plates and travel documents, which former Minister for Dialogue Edita Tahiri promised in 2016.
The Justice agreement, however, has seen action: in October, President Hashim Thaci swore in northern Kosovo judges and prosecutors, and Kosovo’s justice system is undergoing the process of integration. For Northern Kosovo Serbs though, there was a sharp decrease this year in public satisfaction with both Serb and Albanian politicians, perceptions of security, and opinions of the Brussels-facilitated dialogue. The Belgrade-backed party Srpska Lista dominated in local election results this year (and mayors took their oaths at 12:44 pm, signifying UN Resolution 1244 and their stance against Kosovo’s independence), and continue to call for the implementation of the Brussels agreement on establishment of the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities.
Meanwhile, in Serbia, President Vucic has called for an “internal dialogue on Kosovo,” and Kosovo President Thaci has suggested a “Kosovo unity team” for the new round of the dialogue, which was agreed on by the two presidents in July. Though there have not been major moves to establish such a unity team, the Kosovo President did take the first concrete step for his Kosovo Truth and Reconciliation Initiative this month. Critics wonder if the commission can truly lead to reconciliation without the involvement of Serbia.
I want to be heard: Memory book with stories of women survivors of torture during the last war in Kosovo, a collection of anonymous oral histories published in May by ForumZFD and Integra, recorded stories of women who survived torture and sexual violence during the Kosovo War, in their own voices.
‘Worse than death’ is an excerpt of one woman’s story, spanning the divorce of her parents at age six, to her marriage, arranged by her father at age 12, to the resistance she currently faces from her son, years after the war, who, she said, does not support her.
“We have been neglected. It would be nice to have some support from the government. We would like to see that our rights are met. Nothing else,” the anonymous woman said to conclude her oral history interview.
An advocacy group for survivors has campaigned for years for survivors of rape to be eligible for reparations. In 2014, survivors of rape were added to Kosovo’s law on the rights of combatants and other civilian victims of war, but they are not eligible for compensation until January 2018. This month, Amnesty International published a report arguing that the law does not adhere to international standards, and that more must be done to provide psychological and psychosocial assistance.
“Perpetrators have escaped prosecution whilst survivors have been marginalised, forgotten and denied access to justice. This is beginning to change, but there is still a long way to go,” Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s Deputy Europe Director, said at the publishing of the report.
The fourth most-read piece on Prishtina Insight this year was a translation of Serbian human rights activist Milos Ciric’s op-ed published by Danas, a Serbian daily, on the same day Ratko Mladic was convicted of genocide and sentenced to life in prison.
The first-instance verdict marked the end of the Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, located in The Hague. But almost three decades since the Yugoslav wars erupted, the region has dealt with its past falteringly: the Balkan nations continue to deny their involvement in war crimes and thousands continue to commemorate war criminals as national heroes.
Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who was elected after the general elections in June (and ran under the so-called ‘war wing’ PAN coalition), was tried and acquitted twice by ICTY, but at the beginning of the year, Haradinaj was arrested in France on a 2004 INTERPOL warrant issued by Serbia, who alleges Haradinaj to be a war criminal. A dramatic saga ensued, until finally a second-level French court rejected Serbia’s extradition request, and allowed Haradinaj to return home.
Meanwhile, for 17 years, a man named Fatose Bytyqi has sought justice for the murder of his brothers, which he says was ordered by a close associate of Aleksandar Vucic. In September, the Bytyqi brothers reacted against Serbian President Vucic’s claim that US President Trump accepted an invitation to visit Serbia; the unsolved murders continue to be a lingering issue between the US and Serbia.
Ciric’s op-ed, widely read in Kosovo and in the region, was an attempt to grapple with the legacies of the Yugoslav wars, to call for a collective reckoning in Serbia, and to point to the place that perpetrators still hold in society: “Some of them are in power, some are in the opposition, some teach our children, some write our news, some of them lead our country.”
In Kosovo, a new chapter in justice will open soon with the first trials at the Specialist Court. The court–which operates under Kosovo law but is located in the Hague and staffed by internationals–has drawn plenty of controversy locally, and there is a lack of public understanding around its scope and mandate.
Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, one of the initial backers of the legislation to establish court, raised eyebrows this fall when he said the court “will not result in justice.” He then backtracked on his comments, claiming that all of the media present had misquoted him. KLA veterans maintain their opposition to the law on the Specialist Court, and have been petitioning against it. The newest controversy occurred last week, when late Friday night, ruling coalition MPs attempted to convene for a vote to revoke the law on the Specialist Court. The attempt failed when LDK, Vetevendosje, and Srpska Lista boycotted the meetings, but ambassadors to Kosovo warned the politicians that they were jeopardizing the country’s relations with its American and EU allies.
In an opinion piece published right after the June general elections, Andrea Capussela wrote a fictional and satirical letter to the “diplomats of Prishtina,” critiquing the aftermath of a 2014 constitutional court decision and how it came into play during the snap elections, as well as the international community’s history of opposition to Vetevendosje.
The opinion piece drew a strong reaction; one of our regular columnists, Mikra Krasniqi, said that within it, there were “deeper truths about the colonial mindset of international bullies who keep sticking their noses in the country’s affairs.” To this criticism, Capussela responded that he was sticking to the ideas in his piece, and argued that one major problem in Kosovo is that “half of the electorate vote and those who do overwhelmingly support the elite.”
After the June snap elections, it took weeks of negotiations to form a government. The origin of the political deadlock went back to the 2014 Constitutional Court decision, which says that the political entity that wins the most votes in the elections has the right to name a nominee for prime minister and Speaker of the Assembly.
To form a government, the PAN coalition had to form coalitions with smaller parties to ensure the necessary 61 votes in parliament; only in September was Ramush Haradinaj elected Prime Minister. Analysts say that amount of negotiations required to form a government is also the reason Kosovo currently has such a bloated government: with 21 ministers and about 70 deputy ministers, Haradinaj’s government is the largest Kosovo has ever had.
Our second-most read piece of the year told the story of teen engineers at Gjakova’s BONEVET makerspace, whose Renault Twingo was first teen-built electric car in Europe.
Though electric cars are not a totally environmentally friendly option when they run on electricity produced by fossil-fuels, they at least do not emit greenhouse gases or nitrogen oxide.
Air pollution in Prishtina broke record highs at the beginning of the year, and Kosovo ministers have been pledging new solutions to reduce it. However, with the Kosovo government and ContourGlobal signing an agreement on the construction of the Kosova e Re power plant, it seems that coal is here to stay, for now.
Though the government is billing the coal-fired plant as a job-creator and more environmentally friendly than Kosovo’s existing plants, public health NGOs have claimed that Kosova e Re will increase health costs. It might take the will and creativity of younger generations, like the teens at BONEVET, to push Kosovo forward into a green-energy future.
Our most-read story of 2017–also Prishtina Insights’s most-read story since going online–was a photogallery and mini-reportage from Kosovo’s first ever pride parade.
The parade was titled “In the Name of Love” – a fitting slogan, since Bebe Rexha’s song of the same title was blasted at the parade; the artist herself sent her support to Kosovo’s LGBTQ community over Twitter.
Kosovo! IN THE NAME OF LOVE!!!! ❤️So happy for this! https://t.co/99Y30hpNj4
— Bebe Rexha (@BebeRexha) October 11, 2017
LGBT communities in the Balkans still struggle for basic human rights, representation, and equality. In Kosovo hate crimes against the community are underreported and even politicians make homophobic remarks.
“In my second year of college I came out as gay and that’s when things took a turn for the worst. I was out with one of my sisters and was on Grindr at the time (a gay dating app). When she asked me for the time, I turned the screen towards her, forgetting the app was still open. Her face suddenly dropped. ‘Oh that’s so disgusting! I am so ashamed to call you my brother,’ she said,” wrote an anonymous Kosovar gay man, an account that echoes the shame and pain of other stories published in a book by CEL.
Despite everyday struggles, the community and allies gathered on October 10 in downtown to Prishtina to mark Coming Out Day full of joy, pride and love, giving hope that things would be alright – at least for a day.