rrethana & rrethina

Kritikë dhe Aktivizëm

Dancing in Kosova

Boiken Abazi

This year a new documentary titled Dancing in Jaffa debuted to international acclaim and won awards in some international film festivals. It tells the story of dozens of Palestinian and Israeli children learning to ballroom dance together, portraying the idea that, as L. Bento explains in his recent article in the Huffington Post, “At the heart of every conflict lies a misunderstanding, often influenced by cultural biases and preconceived notions of acceptable behavior. When left uncorrected, misunderstandings can quickly escalate into false narratives that promote prejudice and segregation”.

Like Dancing in Jaffa, a program has developed in recently in northern Kosova, named the Mitrovica Rock School which declares that it “provides a neutral platform for youth from both sides of ethnically divided Mitrovica to meet as young musicians and aspiring rock stars.” The premise of the supposed solution is the same, and is based on a perception that the problem is grounded in cultural intolerance. In effect saying, let’s dance a bit to the tune of cultural understanding, and see what it helps us resolve in our neocolonial situation in Kosova.

The West has been pouring millions of Euros into civil society multicultural programs in the Balkans to teach us that we shouldn’t generalize in regards to other ethnicities – to use the preferred Western term for the nations in the Western Balkans. Many Albanian and Serbian students and young professionals have followed the steps laid out for them by the NGO industry, making art together, playing sports together, restoring cultural monuments together, eating traditional Balkan dishes together, drinking Turkish coffee and Rakia together, dancing together, and consequently sometimes even sleeping together. Beautiful! When the program is over, they part to return home to the same unchanged socio-economic and political repression, but now with an entirely different cultural understanding and a dozen new friends on Facebook – Like!

This approach is rooted in the idea that if we only were to realize we are all human beings we would not discriminate, we would stop all this irrational ethnic hatred, and maybe even prevent violence. However, what lies beneath this type of conviction is also a concealed form of racism from the West towards people living in the peripheries. This conviction presumes that people of the peripheries are not aware of logical fallacies such as hasty generalizations, and that they are thus prone to ethnic conflict due to their history, backward worldviews, traditions, and life styles, all of which are encompassed in culture. Therefore the nations of the Western Balkans are perceived as semi-barbaric ethnic groups – unable to build sustainable societies on their own. And since culture is identified as the primary source of the problem, political oppression and economic exploitation is left unchallenged.

To try to resolve the conflict through cultural tolerance is to grab the tiger by the tail. Cultural elements of domination should not be underestimated, as once they are embodied in a society they provide a justification for oppressive actions, but it is wrong to think that culture is a static unchangeable structure which simply needs to be respected or changed through culture. Culture certainly plays a role in the current relations of power established between Serbians and Albanians, but it is the result and not the primary cause of these relations developed under particular economic interests and political conditions. Emancipatory political engagement is required – turning people into activists of the transformation of the conditions that reproduce cultural domination, while concurrently transforming the people in this process. The persistent focus on multicultural programs tends to not simply complement political activism, but to substitute it all together[1]. Politics is then left to the ones above the people.

Kosova has been dancing a neocolonial dance ever since the war. The melody and rhythm in the modest ballroom have been imposed by foreign composers that came in as liberators, and established three international missions that rule over Kosova: the NATO military troops (KFOR), the UN Interim Administration (UNMIK), and the EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX). To date, none of them recognize Kosova’s independence. They also take a “neutral” stand towards our neutralized political rights, denied through a constitution written by the foreign composers who made sure to legally prevent the majority of the people from taking any politically vital decisions for the country. The three missions are the security guards that preserve the status quo of the system, that ensure that Kosova doesn’t stop dancing the neocolonial dance.

Regardless of the form it takes, no (neo)colonial system sustains itself without the support of local collaborators. All Albanian political parties, except for one, are right wing parties positioned on different levels of conservatism. These parties make up most of the players of the multicultural ballroom orchestra/parliament, which includes representative of all the minorities living in Kosova, playing the piece written by the foreign composers. Many of these Albanian politicians have been part of, or supported, Kosova’s Liberation Army (KLA) in the 90’s.  However, the music they are playing today is not that of liberation, but a tune that accompanies the basic movement that defines the character of the neocolonial dance: neoliberalism. Begun first by UNMIK, Kosova is still frantically privatizing most public assets, contributing to a drastic decrease in production, while keeping almost half the population unemployed and living below the poverty line. This is the price paid for “freedom” by the people of Kosova, turning many of the local politicians, and some international liberators, into millionaires almost overnight.

Local and international media – The Guardian[2], Haaretz[3], Balkan Insight[4]… – have reported on different cases of global capital profits made by exploiting the current situation in Kosova. They include public infrastructure projects incurring sky high foreign debt, and ridiculously low priced public assets sold in the energy sector. The list goes on… Particularly egregious cases such as the one involving former US Ambassador to Kosova, Christopher Dell are emblematic of systemic problems. At the end of his diplomatic term, he was hired as a country manager in Africa by the same American corporation – Bechtel – which won an 800 million Euros road construction contract in Kosova while he was still serving in office. The estimated cost of raw materials in this contract is double the price of comparable goods purchased in the region. A second contract of 600 million Euros was awarded to “Bechtel” this year for the construction of a new road. These two contracts combined are almost equal to the state budget of Kosova, and they have been declared state confidential documents.

Meanwhile, next door, a concert of the same politicians who were in power during the time of Milosevic is still playing Serbia’s colonial symphony. Serbia refuses to recognize Kosova as an independent state, and continues to maintain an armed control over territory in Kosova through criminal parallel structures. Evidently Serbia has no intention to apologize for the thousands of state organized killings and rapes of civilians in Kosova, to pay for war reparations, to return the missing and to bring back the stolen cultural artifacts. Moreover, Serbia maintains its domination in the market of Kosova through smuggling and predatory pricing of exports. To the surprise of multiculturalists, when it comes to smuggling and personal financial benefits, corrupt Albanian and Serbian politicians seem to get along just fine without dancing to each other’s traditional dances.

In regard to Kosova, Serbian dominant public discourse has not changed by much. One cannot change this colonial mindset without intervening politically for Serbia to recognize Kosova, to change its political/economic expansionist policies, and to change the understanding towards Kosova reflected in the textbooks of Serbian public education. There are Serbian voices raised within Serbia that have publicly supported the recognition of Kosova’s independence, but they are too few and feeble compared to Serbian mainstream politics. Such a situation in Serbia reinforces the justification used by the Albanian politicians in power for the people in Kosova to continue the neocolonial arrangement with their brand new multicultural identity.

The multicultural discourse and symbolism in Kosova is superficial and clichéd, without addressing underlying structural inequalities, so that the market absorbs it effortlessly. The rhetoric supporting it is deterministic, by claiming there are no better alternatives, and is repeated endlessly by the international “liberators, local political collaborators, most of the civil(ized) society, the education system, and numerous journalists and opinion makers in the media. Thereby, in spite of the fact that it is a new genre in Kosova, the neocolonial configuration of power starts to seem normal and universal.

Neocolonial domination of global capital in Kosova, supported by three international missions and local overseers, pushes for the creation of a newborn ahistorical society comprised of cosmopolitan citizens – the Kosovars –, empty idealized human shells (as Frantz Fanon would put it) who don’t exist anywhere but in the projected image of the international liberators. As a result, the Albanian majority that makes up 92% of the population is turned into simply a cultural ethnicity, politically and historically detached from being part of a nation that has struggled throughout a century for liberation from Serbia’s colonization. This legacy of colonialism is inherited in contemporary Kosova, as explained by Fanon: “Perhaps we haven’t sufficiently demonstrated that colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it.”

Submerged in the false hopes of neocolonial ideology, numerous poor “citizens of the world” manufactured in Kosova try to dance to the music of the imposed political system. The more persistent ones can go at it for days, just as they did in the Middle Ages in Europe in massive dance manias, in a trance. After each trance, the poor in Kosova wake up to the same misery they had tried to forget by embracing the imposed authorities and identities that are also the reason of their misery. Hence, still on an empty stomach, you find them begging around the tables reserved for the wealthy few and the frail middle class or fleeing Kosova altogether to provide cheap labor in the West and remittances home. One difference between the poor in Kosova and the poor in Europe’s dance manias in the Middle Ages, is that the “crazy” in Kosova are considered the ones not dancing.

It is precisely the “crazy” who are Kosova’s hope – the crazy poor who neither dance, nor beg, nor flee, and the crazy members of the frail middle class that refuse to accept the neocolonial rules. They are the ones who know that a political conflict is not solved through the type of cultural understanding that fosters the creation of a depoliticized multicultural society. They have been organizing. Now, they have also gotten inside the orchestra playing off-tune to the pop symphony, but in harmony with the principle of collective self-determination. They have learned from their history and from the history of political struggles of colonized people around the world, and they know that the people of Kosova must not only be liberated from Serbia’s hegemonic claims, but also from those local and international liberators who fought the war against Serbia only to become a modern type of oppressor. The road to liberation is arduous; however these political activists are aware that if they withdraw – as the contemporary Belgian singer-songwriter, Stromae, puts it in his song – Alors on danse!

Author’s note: The name Kosova, used in this article, is the grammatically correct form used in Albanian language by the majority of the population in the country, as opposed to the name “Kocobo” (Kosovo) used in Serbian language and adopted in large by the international community.  

 

[1] Refer to Wendy Brown’s book “Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire”, published by Princeton University Press in 2006, to get a better understanding of the relation between multiculturalism, postcolonialism and neoliberalism, and of the phenomenon named the  “culturalization of politics”, and how it  operates within Western society itself. <http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8306.html&gt;

[2] Lewis, Paul, Lawrence Marzouk, Petrit Çollaku, and Erjona Rusi. “US ambassador to Kosovo hired by construction firm he lobbied for.” The Guardian 14 Apr. 2014.

<http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/14/us-ambassador-kosovo-construction-contract-firm-highway&gt;

[3] Blau, Uri. “Israeli black hole in Kosovo.” Haaretz 12 Aug. 2011.

<http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/magazine/israeli-black-hole-in-kosovo-1.378338&gt;

[4] Olluri, Parim. “Turkish PM’s Son-in-Law Clinches Kosovo Power Deal.” Balkan Insight 22 Jun. 2012. <http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/turkish-pm-s-son-in-law-clinches-kosovo-power-deal&gt;

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