As a parliamentary candidate in Kosovo’s October elections, I am standing to bring the voices of the marginalised, young people, women and minorities to the forefront of the political agenda. But as a member of parliament, I also wish to correct spurious narratives about Kosovo which are halting its progress towards EU integration.
Snap elections are taking place after Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj resigned amidst the announcement of an investigation into war crimes committed by Kosovo Albanians by the Special Tribunal in The Hague. Although approved by the Assembly of Kosovo, to many in Kosovo, this investigation confirms Europe’s discriminatory bias against Kosovo and its people. Eleven years after the declaration of independence, four major European countries still do not recognise Kosovo as a country, which remains an obstacle to its efforts to integrate into European and world organisations.
Kosovo is the only country in the Balkans whose citizens are still asked to acquire a visa to enter the Schengen Area. On 14 June 2012, Kosovo received its long-awaited visa liberalisation roadmap, but nothing has yet materialised. Opposition comes from several EU member states, in particular those that haven’t yet recognised Kosovo as an independent country.
Many in Kosovo suspect that this is because Kosovo is a Muslim-majority country, rather than because of failure to meet the criteria. For instance, Kosovo adopted the Demarcation Agreement with Montenegro under great pressure from the international community. The European Commission had listed the ratification of this agreement as a key condition for granting a visa-free regime to Kosovo. But despite Kosovo’s efforts, this has not happened.
On the other hand, reconciliation between Serbia and Kosovo seems a remote prospect. While the EU-facilitated dialogue between the two states in Brussels has yielded many agreements, their concrete implementation is also lagging behind.
A major clash with the EU broke out when the speaker of Kosovo’s parliament, Kadri Veseli, signed into law a decision by lawmakers to adopt the Statute of Trepca, reviving an industrial asset essential to Kosovo’s economy. During its heyday in Yugoslavia, the Trepca mine and smelting complex accounted for two-thirds of Kosovo’s economic output and employed 20,000 people. Serbia has vowed to resist the move, while the EU has said ownership of the Trepca company should be part of a binding agreement with Serbia under negotiation in Brussels, a view which sparked huge waves of discontent against the EU in Kosovo.
Meanwhile, Russia is actively stoking tensions in the Balkans to cement its own regional influence. Earlier this year, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, described Kosovo as a “dangerous, uncontrolled territory in the centre of Europe.” And just this month, Russia’s Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) representative described Kosovo as a “quasi-state entity” and “a failure.”
It is no coincidence then that transatlantic Far-Right ideologues frequently twist Kosovo’s history and its troubles. They promote a dangerous mythology that fits the ‘Great Replacement’ theory, which claims that ‘native’ white Christian Europeans are being replaced by ‘Muslims,’ a claim which they project onto the ethnic tensions in the Balkans.
The insidious nature of this discourse must be challenged if we are to stabilise the Balkans and protect the European project.
During the time it was part of the former Yugoslavia, the key destabilizing factor in Kosovo above all others was the marginalisation of Kosovans, rampant inequality, and the failure to cater for the needs of ordinary people. The marginalisation of Kosovo today by the EU compounds the challenges we face from resurgent nationalism and Russian interference, negatively affecting Kosovo`s domestic progress, stability and cohesiveness.
That is why, once I am elected to parliament, my plan is to ensure that marginalised voices are heard. I intend to examine all legislation relevant to defending the rights of vulnerable groups, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, working mothers, stay-at-home mothers, underrepresented women from the villages, as well as the unemployed. I will continue my work in the reconciliation of ethnic groups and reintegration of the very large number victims of violent conflict in Kosovo, such as survivors of sexual violence who number around 20,000 women.
I will also work with my fellow parliamentarians to attempt to build a more cohesive and inclusive society for everyone in Kosovo; whether Muslim or Christian, Albanian or Serb, or beyond. But Kosovans cannot do this alone.
Europe must step up its support for inclusive solutions and delegitimise the narratives that go against the fundamental values it stands for, such as respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. And it must oppose discrimination based on ethnicity and religion more consistently. That is the only path to lasting peace and prosperity throughout the Balkans.
- Besa Ismaili is a parliamentary candidate for the Democratic Party of Kosovo, the country's largest political party. She is Professor of English at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Pristina, Kosovo, and a former trainer and interpreter in the OSCE's democratisation department.
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