Tear gas and street action as way of reaction
by Zociana Stambolliu Student of International and European Studies, University of Piraeus
Vetevendosje, or Self-Determination Movement, emerged right after the secession of Kosovo from Serbia, in the early 2000s. Vetevendosje is certainly not another movement that turned into a party and made itself an official authority forgetting street action. Only a few days ago, in 27 November 2015, we saw a highlight of their actions, throwing teargas in the parliament, as a reaction to the agreement reached amongst the Kosovar, the Serbian and the Montenegrin governments in August which opens the way for border demarcation with Montenegro and the establishment of the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities. Before that, Vetevendosje had interrupted the parliament plenaries four more times. Apart from these, opposition Vetevendosje party activists attacked a police station in Pristina after their vice-president Albin Kurti was arrested, allegedly for setting off the tear gas in parliament.
Vetevendosje members are known for a lot of direct political action(s) such as political graffiti and protests. As Albin Kurti has explained in the past “if you don’t like a politician and you go and throw something at them such as a rotten tomato, this empowers the people and I think makes politicians afraid. It is not the people who should be afraid; it is the politicians who should be afraid.”
After watching these images on television, or online, many questions immediately pop such as, who are these people, what is this movement exactly after and why do they use this kind of means to achieve their goal? To begin with, Vetevendosje has been given various characteristics and terms from time to time. The Movement has been characterized from far leftist and communist to far-right nationalist. The difference with Kosovo is that it is not a proper state with proper political parties and institutions, so this kind of descriptions are not easy to be attributed. Personalities dominate Kosovo’s political scene and political parties have stood for little other than Kosovo’s independence. Political parties could operate without restriction or outside interference, but party affiliation played an important role in access to government services and social and employment opportunities. The leader of the Movement, Albin Kurti, sees its program closer to the centre or centre-left, but as he stated “Kosovo is not yet at the point where such issues can be properly discussed yet.” As seen from the name of the movement itself,as it is translated in Self – Determination, the people of the Vetevendosje oppose foreign involvement in internal affairs of the country and campaigns for the sovereignty exercised by the people instead, as part of the right of self-determination. They want Kosovo to take its fate in its hands and to be able to decide for its own issues as any sovereign state. They claim that Kosovo Albanians possess the right to self-determination and that the choice of independence is the legitimate way to exercise it. However, the restrictions put in the constitution Kosovo adopted in 1999 do not allow the parliament to have a say in every aspect. “I’m a member of parliament. I represent my voters but I cannot decide about privatization, about having an army. I cannot change the constitution. So many things that should be a part of political decision and debate are things I cannot affect. In this sense, we got independence without self-determination.” (15/08/2012 www.vice.com). Joining Albania is a main point of the Self – Determination Movement and is one of the subjects for which the parliament cannot take a vote. Article 1.3 of the constitution of Kosovo does not joining another country (meaning Albania). Therefore, the parliament, even if the population at some point in the future raises this issue, is not allowed to vote on that. This idea seems to have been aspired by the Austrian constitution, in which Article 4 forbids Austria to join Germany.The Self-Determination Movement’s point of view makes sense but, is Kosovo ready to stand on its own? Is this the right way for one to defend his or her rights? Does the cause justify the means? Supporting this way of action may be the threshold to supporting every kind of aggressive action and giving the right to any movement world-wide to act respectively. Could it be that this is exactly what the EU and UN is trying to protect the Kosovars from, their own behaviors?
The electorate should take active part in contemporary politics and control its representatives, even beyond elections, within its constitutional rights. But calling people to demonstrate their opposition by violence, like Vetevendosje has done, is not the wisest thing to do. This is why the representatives in the parliament exist, to take care of such issues in the context set out by the constitution and the parliament regulation, so that the people are not actively engaged in political conflicts. It is understandable that, when raising issues of self – determination, sovereignty and a democratic constitution, leaving the people out is difficult. Nevertheless, the representatives should always be very careful to not promote violence by their calls to street action.The post-independence euphoria among Kosovo Albanians is also waning. Taking into consideration that the country faces a deep political and economic crisis, with many Kosovars showing frustration with the inability of the political class to make progress on issues of day-to-day concern to them, such as employment and energy, the situation can only become more turbulent if angry people turn to violence.
Although the means Vetevendosje uses are very dangerous, they do have some demands that are concerning the future of Kosovo and the Kosovar population and the West, perhaps, should seek to reach an understanding. The real question is if Kosovo is ready to carry the weight of the demands that the Self-Determination Movement raises. If EULEX abandoned Kosovo, would the national institutions be able to secure fair judiciary processes and a system based on the rule of law? Maybe now it is time for some harsh love that Kosovo would be able to appreciate later. The West, however, should always bear in mind that the Kosovars have already been ignored and suppressed once in the past and this makes them exceptionally alert when it comes to foreign involvement. Thus, both parts need to take a step back and rethink how stability in Kosovo can be achieved, leaving violence out of the picture.