Albin Kurti, Leader of “Self Determination” Party, on the Future of Kosovo
Albin Kurti is currently a Member of Parliament, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and leader of the political party Vetevendosje in the Republic of Kosovo. He was first politically active as a student, leading the non-violent protests of 1997 that eventually led to his arrest by the Milosevic regime in 1999 and a 15-year prison sentence for allegedly “jeopardizing Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity.” He was released in 2001 and is now the leader of Vetëvendosje, a political movement and party in Kosovo identified as a movement for self-determination.
What first motivated you to take action and begin protesting as a student in 1997?
In 1991 we were expelled from official university buildings and in 1997, six years later, it had become unbearable to continue in our underground university. So we said that we have to do something. At that time Kosova politicians were conducting a sort of passive resistance, and we thought we should go for some active resistance. So we launched the initiative for peaceful nonviolent protests for the release of university buildings and premises.
There are two events in 1995 where Kosova became much more aware of how it shall be perceived in the future. One is the fact that Croatia liberated itself from the Yugoslav army and the myth of the unbreakable Yugoslav army collapsed. And the second was the Dayton Agreement for Bosnia where Kosova was simply left out. So if you do passive resistance you will not be invited to any decision making international conferences. On the one hand this was very disappointing, but on the other hand it enlightened people and made them aware that they should no longer tolerate the Milosevic regime.
I think that this affected mainly youth and I was among them. I joined together with other students and we started our protests and demonstrations and continued that for one year. Then for six months I worked for Adem Demaci, the general political representative for KLA at that time. During NATO bombardments I was arrested and sentenced to 15 years but I was kept two years, seven months and released in December 2001.
Now Vetevendosje is the third largest political party, but we are not a typical political party. We believe in direct and participatory democracy, not only electoral democracy where you vote once in four years and wait for the next round of elections. We think people should act much more often according to their will and interests, so we advocate for direct and participatory democracy.
Were there particular individuals who impacted your philosophy and ideas about self-determination when starting the Vetevendosje movement?
Of course I knew from the very beginning the idea and concept of self-determination which was affirmed by President Woodrow Wilson and which became one of the key principles of the Versailles Conference in 1919 when the world of empires collapsed and the world of nation states was emerging.
On the other hand, I was very much aware of anti-colonial struggle especially in the 50’s and 60’s. But above all I was very much aware of people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and their methods of civil disobedience and direct action. So self-determination was not only a political or legal principle but also the spirit of a movement.
I was aware of all these things, and together with friends we started the self-determination movement, which started by differently problematizing issues. In 2005 it was clear that we were about to have negotiations with Serbia for the status of Kosova. And we said it is not Kosova which is a problem in whose solution we should make Serbia a partner. Rather Kosova has a problem, and this problem is Serbia plus UNMIK as a nondemocratic international administration. And at the same time we problematize differently by saying it is not Kosova which lacks status but the people of Kosova who lack freedom. And the political name of our missing freedom is self-determination.
You have previously described Vetevendosje as a political movement not constrained to what the term political party typically implies, but which acts within and outside of the system’s institutions. Can you outline why you choose to act in this way?
Participating within the current system means that we are using new set of means within the same concept and for the same goal. We continue with protests and demonstrations, but at the same time we speak in the Parliament. So we did not replace our old methods, but we enhanced them with some new ones.
And I think that in Kosova we emerged in a situation where we had double degradation of democracy. The first degradation is limitation of democracy to its representative character in which you participate in democracy in order to represent or be represented. The second degradation is that represent democracy becomes electoral democracy. I think that if you are in democratic political life only to represent or be represented, you will end up representing the system and its character rather than the people and their will. So if you limit yourself to representative and afterwards to electoral democracy you get elected to represent the system. However, if you maintain methods of direct democracy like protests and demonstrations and strikes and roadblocks, then you use the institutions while maintaining a kind of critical distance from them.
In a 2011 speech at Oxford you described Kosovo as not a nation state but rather a province of an empire. How do you believe the international community should understand Kosovo’s current status?
I think we are formally independent without substantive independence which would be sovereignty, territorial integrity, and viable economic development to provide jobs. We have a Special Representative of EU, and officially he doesn’t have much power but unofficially he is very powerful—the man of the EU in Kosova. On the other hand we have the US Ambassador, and she is very powerful in Kosova. So one could say that formally we are a republic, but substantially we are a monarchy. We have a king and queen: the US Ambassador is the queen, the EU Special Representative is the king. So it is difficult to put into some category what we really are at present.
But at another level which is much clearer is that we are a weak state, a captured state by the main party PDK, and when it comes to the economy we are a neoliberal state. So we are a weak, captured, neoliberal state. I think here we can speak of Kosova in terms of some very fragile country which risks becoming a failed country if we don’t do something. Kosova doesn’t have an army, doesn’t control its borders, doesn’t have integrity of its territory. And we didn’t get full recognition of the international community—106 countries recognized us but we still have no seat in the UN and so on. This is a very important moment, 15 years after liberation, to think of Kosova as an international protectorate which keeps the state of the country weak.
Some hailed the Brussels Agreement signed by Serbia and Kosovo on April 19, 2013 as a landmark moment. On this subject you previously commented that it is good if Serbia reorients towards Europe rather than Russia, but you don’t agree that Kosovo should pay the price. What do you mean by that?
Well we think that there should not be dialogue with Serbia for internal conditions with Kosova without any conditions for Serbia. They didn’t apologize for the crimes of the past. In their constitution it is written that Kosova is part of Serbia. They didn’t return the bodies of all missing people. They didn’t return pensionist funds, bank deposits of Kosovar people they stole, and so on. There is no reciprocity between the rights of the Albanians in Serbia and Serbs in Kosova.
Disintegration of the former Yugoslavia and disintegration of the Soviet Union have something in common. Today we have Russia as a big octopus—Putin’s Russia with satellites from Belarus to Crimea to South Ossetia, to Armenia. On the other hand Serbia is like a small octopus. Basically there is this geopolitical picture of Russia, the big octopus, and Serbia, a small octopus, and the EU wants to separate them. I am fine with that but the small octopus says “in order for me to abandon my mother (Russia) you have to strengthen my tentacles in the Balkans so give me something in the north of Kosova and so on.” It seems that Brussels is willing to go down this path in order to separate Serbia from Russia. I agree with the goal of the EU but not with its methods and in particular with the price for those methods, because that means that Serbia will get further away from Russia but stronger inside Kosova.
I think that the historical conflict in the Balkans has not been the one between Albanians and Serbs, Kosova and Serbia. No, it has been between Albanians as a nation and Serbia as a state. Albanians are a strong nation with a weak state. Serbia is not a strong nation, but they have a strong state. So this is the tension in the Balkans, and, as international relations people would put it, in the Balkans there can be no war without Serbia and no peace without Albanians. Whenever you see some war in the Balkans, there is Serbia somewhere for sure. But if you don’t have Albanians on board you cannot really make peace.
And I think that integration of Serbs within Kosova society is possible but not within the frame of reconciliation, because they always tell us we should reconcile with Serbs. First, reconciliation is a demand of the aggressor. The victim never asks for reconciliation. And they want human reconciliation without political justice, and that’s why the international community overrates dialogue. More dialogue with Brussels, more dialogue with Serbia. They create this scenario as if we fought with Serbia because we didn’t talk with her or as if we fought because we didn’t know each other. Maybe we fought because we knew each other too well. Conflicting interests bring conflict, not the lack of talking or dialogue. In this sense I think that dialogue and talking are overrated.
If your party were to win national elections and you were setting the agenda, what would your priorities be? What would be different in Kosovo?
Well I think we will win, I really do. Maybe not very soon, but in the midterm victory is guaranteed. We want to combine the republican state—not republican in the American sense—on the one hand and social democracy on the other hand when it comes to economic development. We would bring progressive taxation, subsidize agriculture, and bring a new architecture of the financial sector with a stronger role of the central bank of Kosova. We would launch industrialization of Kosova with private and public capital. Also, it is very important to liberate state from government because Kosova is a parliamentary republic on paper, but in reality it is a governmental republic with too much government, too little republic. This should change. 38 state agencies are basically captured by this party, PDK, and a certain liberation must take place.
The money from the diaspora must come through Kosova so that the diaspora is not only a social factor but also an economic one. This fragile social peace that you see in Kosova is thanks to the money we get from the diaspora—something like 620 million euros in 2012 unofficially. This money should become an economic factor, because currently it is just like a ping-pong ball—it comes and stays only one second, because there is massive import of goods. We import garlic from China, onions from Egypt, and chickens from Brazil. So I think there is a lot to change, but first people have to raise their voices and finally give a seal to change in the next elections.
How do you envision the relationship with the international community, and what would be your strategy for achieving what you referred to as substantial independence and self-determination?
Well from my experience I can say that international community is not that international and not that much of a community, it’s like a bunch of national state interests from separate states and of different corporations.
Since the international community does not recognize us as such, and we do not have a seat in the UN, we should really go for bilateral relations. Like the U.S.—which helped us a lot, especially with NATO bombings against Serbia—the UK, Germany, France, Italy. Relying on the international community is like everything and nothing, like an elephant in a spaceship—there’s no gravity so even though it’s huge, you cannot touch it. I think we would give more credit to bilateral than multilateral relations.
Secondly, we would like to see more materialization of existing recognition rather than just being obsessed with this number 106 and how to increase it. No, let’s build some schools and hospitals and citizens. It’s better to bring from the western world professors, doctors, experts in agriculture for development and not prosecutors, judges, policemen, soldiers with executive powers, immunity from criminal prosecution, and so on to shift from a paradigm of peace, security, and stability to justice, development, and democracy. I’m not against peace, security, and stability, but I think you can achieve this by not aiming at them. You should aim for development, democracy, and then justice and peace; security and stability will become natural consequences of the first.Likewise, I think you can develop the country and that’s how you get reconciliation. You do not get reconciliation by aiming at it.
Feature Photo: cc/(Juliette Robert)