’Someone here was moving people around like pieces on a chessboard’ 1
What does it mean to go to Kosovo as a Serb today, as a resident of the Serbian state? To go to the ’holy Serbian land’, to set foot on a part of its territory, to step where millions of Serbs have never been but who knows that Kosovo is Serbia? To move in a direction opposite to the one in which the Serbs from Kosovo are moving more and more en masse by emigrating every day? Why is there no life for them there? Because of Kosovo politics and Albanians? Or rather, because of Serbian politics? That is, what kind of power does the Serbian state have in Kosovo – over the territory or actually just over the people?
We went to Kosovo as researchers, as someone who want to find out what is really happening there, because the insight gained so far into the strategies of the authorities in Serbia and into the media which convey them to the public, tells us only that it is about manipulation, division and intimidation of people. To ’go and see’ in order to make sure of the factual situation on the ground, we complement it with the famous anthropological guideline that it is important to „be there“. Moreover, that by writing and being able to convince others that it, the writing, resulted from having really infiltrated another form of life (or that it infiltrated us), it is possible to build credibility to present our insights, as the anthropologist Clifford Geertz believed. However, we are not anthropologists, and drawing a parallel with the anthropological method can create additional problems, and there are several of them. First, we can hardly say that it is about „another form of life“ as something that is exotic, unknown, and completely foreign. We are talking about Serbs and Albanians who inhabit Kosovo, whose identity we share as well as coexistence within the former Yugoslavia, even several Yugoslavia, up until recently. But our approach is not one of identity, and this is where we come to another problem, nor is ’another form of life’ the subject of our study, which would seek its foundation in the humanities or even harder sciences.
Existence is equated with loyalty, which represents the rationalization of omnipresent and most often internalized fear because people do not even have the political opportunity to decide about themselves and their lives.
What we were interested in was talking to people in Kosovo, what they say, think and do, how they live, and, above all, do they do anything that can indicate to us that they think politics (which is not our subject in the scientific sense), subjectively and in the sense that we as activists are interested in, which is politics on their side, more precisely at a distance from power and the state politics. To this approach, the specific procedure inaugurated by Sylvain Lazarus with the Anthropology of the Name, for a while now we have been trying to contribute to with our insights. But if what people are speaking of is not politics, what is it that people in Kosovo are thinking today? What is their intellectuality? Or if politics is still in play, we wonder: do people think about it in their own, subjective and autonomous way? We have made sure that politics is still being talked about, but is it the politics that the government is talking about and which people seem to follow, listen to and confirm without question? And since our visit concerned Mitrovica, and primarily the North, where we stayed, for the most part, we are talking about Serbs who make up almost one hundred percent of the inhabitants of this part of the divided city. Moreover, it is about those one hundred percent completely dependent on the Serbian state because it is not only about employees in its temporary authorities. By not paying for electricity and water since 1999, people are completely dependent on the Serbian authorities through their households. Existence is equated with loyalty, which represents the rationalization of omnipresent and most often internalized fear because people do not even have the political opportunity to decide about themselves and their lives. This was taken care of by the Serbian List, the only political option for the Serbs in Kosovo, which is undisguisedly under the direct influence of the Serbian state and organized crime. The word survival has its literal meaning there, given the threats and blackmail, but also the liquidation of political dissidents. The fact that they are still rare says less about the objective murder statistics and more about the rarity of opponents of the dominant politics. Today, it is difficult to find a use of the word politics that is not attributed to the state and power. But the question that still arises is: is there room for people’s politics that would be at a distance from the state first of all from Serbian by which people would decide in an organized way about themselves and their lives in Kosovo?
Talking to people is difficult in a situation where you are self-invited, even if you are a civil society organization that has made contacts in its ’natural’ environment, among its peers, that is, among organizations. To begin with, it is important to say that the ones we have encountered are mostly multi-ethnic, Serbs and Albanians, as well as other minorities, who work in them. On that basis, and then also on account of their financial independence from the money of both political systems, Serbian and Kosovo, at the basic level they represent a space completely different from the one that surrounds them. Does the fact of economic independence from state politics also imply political independence, that is, distance from power? We are of the opinion that this is possible and we call it the politics of civil society. Of course, it is necessary for such politics to exist. Talking directly about politics was difficult in a situation where organizations insist on their separation from politics, that is, on their apoliticalness. However, in our opinion, politics has been talked about all along.
Today, when the criminal and the culprit are no longer sitting on one side of the negotiating table, the situation is considered unstable.
So what is that politics, the politics that we’ve ’met’ and that the people in the north of Kosovo support? First of all, the opinion is clearly expressed that the Serbs in Kosovo need political autonomy, both from the Serb List and from the Serbian state. But whether and in what way from Kosovo? The content of the work of these organizations is reconciliation and, above all, integration, and therein lies the ambiguity of the position they take – to work on integration into the Kosovo system, which the Serbs do not want. We understand that very difficult position we too find ourselves in: working with people and making proposals that they reject. Or they were told that they should not want them (integrations) because the Kosovo system is the enemy: the Albanian is the enemy, which today, according to the general narrative, is embodied in the person of Albin Kurti. We’ve also heard that the Serbs in Kosovo were better off under Thaçi, regardless of the fact that today he sits in The Hague and is responsible for war crimes, which can tell us a lot about stability as an ideal of state politics which was established through the cooperation and negotiations of two criminalized and criminal authorities. Today, when the criminal and the culprit are no longer sitting on one side of the negotiating table, the situation is considered unstable. This is the official narrative of the Serbian state, and increasingly of the international community, which is generally accepted both in Serbia and among Kosovo Serbs.
This also means that the ambiguity of this position is even more complex. It is about the work on integration that the Serbs, under the strong influence of the Serbian political power, refuse, and this results in two things: discomfort and the absence of speaking about the problem, the basis of which is the refusal of the work on integration and the proposal that is presented to the people, and then the underlining of demands for the formation of The Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO) as an implementation of the Brussels Agreement, which should ensure autonomy for the Serbs within the Kosovo political system. Would this implicitly and indirectly be agreeing with the independence of Kosovo by regulating the status of the Serbian minority, just as in one political and state system the status of every other minority is regulated? What consequences does the fact that in the official Serbian narrative instead of using the word minority the word non-majority is used, as the Serbs in Kosovo are called? Should this encourage them to start autonomous politics or just confirm and strengthen their commitment to the politics of the Serbian state, which is moving towards the recognition of Kosovo, but is trying to hide it from them? It is not just a mere play on words, but a carefully designed discourse by the Serbian state, which also uses it to influence the Serbs in Kosovo, and that discourse is successfully circulating among them.
However, whether the autonomy provided through the ZSO would be the desired and called-for political autonomy of the Serbs in Kosovo? We doubt that cultural-educational and administrative (to some extent executive?) autonomy can also ensure political autonomy. The people of Kosovo would have to fight for it, the Serbs who would finally build their subjective political capacity at a distance from the Serbian power, and in the next step from every other. If the struggle for the political autonomy of the Serbs in Kosovo is considered crucial, then it should be worked on – not necessarily by forming a new electoral list, but by an unequivocal public speech about the political situation and, considering it, by working with the people. It could be, but is it possible?
Paraphrasing this statement, we can say that politics and diplomacy by no means go together because their equalization is what actually alienates people from the thinking of politics.
It seems that at the basis of this situation, in which many things are unarticulated and (intentionally) unspoken, lies the so-called constructive ambiguity. The ambiguity that we have seen, the ambiguity of the position in the colloquial sense of the word, has its basis in diplomatic language and practice and is at the basis of the interpretations of official agreements which seek to resolve the Serbian-Kosovo conflict. Or, rather, it has a basis in the language of state politics, of all those who participate in this process. But it does not stop there, because the language of such politics is spoken by almost everyone in the public space invited to say anything about the current situation in Kosovo. It leaves room for the vagueness and inconsistency of what was said, which results in a wide space for manipulation – manipulation of the people in Kosovo, Serbs, and Albanians, and we see the Serbs in Serbia as well, as was said, in order not to alienate themselves from the whole process. But in fact, the manipulation of people is an alienation that has nothing to do with politics, not even with the state any longer, and especially not with the one which people would lead at a distance from power. „The Gospel and diplomacy do not go together“, is the conclusion of the priest in the film Amen by Costa Gavras after the failed negotiations aimed at preventing the Holocaust of the Jews. Paraphrasing this statement, we can say that politics and diplomacy by no means go together because their equalization is what actually alienates people from the thinking of politics. We leave aside the positive connotations of diplomacy, as negotiations that can take place between people as political figures because the people who live in Kosovo today are the subject of power manipulation and not equal inclusion in the political process.
And finally, „to go and see“ and make sure firsthand the political situation in the north of Kosovo is a motivation that also has its deeper, subjective side. For us, going to Kosovo meant that by gaining insight into the relationship between the people and the power, we would be able to better see what is happening in Serbia, about the politics that take place „at home“, and in which we ourselves participate. We partially achieved that, because Mitrovica, Kosovska Mitrovica, that is, North and South Mitrovica, is a place where the power successfully separates people from each other in a political sense, incites conflicts and enmity, manages and manipulates them, is corrupt and criminalized. And in a much more direct way than is visible in Serbia. Our assumption was confirmed by the testimony of Oliver Ivanović, who spoke about the fact that everything that happens in Kosovo inevitably reaches Belgrade, regardless of the fact that he hoped that a different politics and a different way of thinking would come to Kosovo from Belgrade.
The Serbian population in Kosovo is under brutal pressure from a criminal organization and the Serbian power, which protects it and ensures its survival and unhindered work, while citizens of Serbian nationality are their hostages.
In a very direct sense, what we see in Kosovo is a management technique and a state politics that is no longer based on the principles of ’state territory’, because the presence of the Serbian state on the territory of Kosovo takes place through temporary authorities and as such is minor. Today, the emphasis is placed on the ’state of the populace’, that is, on the technique of managing/controlling them, which makes Kosovo the heart of Serbia’s power it has over the people. To the people who, according to journalist Milan Radonjić, were kidnapped before our eyes by politically savvy criminals.
Does the Serbian power protect the Serbs in Kosovo? Or someone else whose protection it is trying to present as the defense of Serbian national and state interests? The Serbian population in Kosovo is under brutal pressure from a criminal organization and the Serbian power, which protects it and ensures its survival and unhindered work, while citizens of Serbian nationality are their hostages. A captive state, which in recent years has been talked about when thinking about and analyzing the Serbian political situation, in Kosovo is a captive society and a place where it is clear that power is the master and protector of organized crime. Isn’t that precisely what has already arrived in Serbia? And aren’t we the ones who should insist that it is time for a different politics to finally arrive in Kosovo from Belgrade, one that will be at a distance from the Serbian power, so that an autonomous politics of the Serbs in Kosovo would finally be possible?
1 Milan Radonjić, Oliver as brother to brother, NIN ltd. Belgrade, 2020, pg. 68.
Illustration: Overlay of the painting “The Prince’s Dinner” by Adam Stefanović, 1871, and the image of the arrest of Albin Kurti during protests against the presence of the UN in Pristina in 2005.
English translation: Ivana Purtić
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