Many have been referring to the ongoing protests that have unfolded in Pristina this January as Kosovo’s “Winter of Discontent”. But just like any situation that includes political and social upheaval, it needs a good catalyst for the domino effect to unfold. The Serbian-Kosovar Minister for Communities and Return and the leader of the Serb List party, Aleksandar Jablanovic, would give Kosovo just that. He referred to an ethnic Albanian association of war victims as savages, a comment that would later escalate to the questioning of the “well-documented” crimes that Serbs committed in 1998-1999 in the city of Gjakova. This insult took many Kosovars to the streets, demanding Jablanovic’s resignation- a move that was initiated by AAK and VetëVendosje (Self-Determination).
But these protests were not fuelled simply by an insult. In fact, they soon became violent protests, as the people of Kosovo finally started expressing the resentment they feel towards the government. The power-sharing structure has not only led to a weak government, but an ethnically divided one too. With VetëVendosje and Serb List (often referred to as the Trojan horse in the Kosovar political scene by Kosovars) at complete odds with one another; it is no surprise that frictions have started to become more visible.
Furthermore, the country has been experiencing long-term economic stagnation. Unemployment is at 45% and an estimated 500, 000 people live on less than $2 a day. The redistribution of income and wealth equally continues to be a problem. Most of the wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few political and business elites. Given the state of affairs, it is to be expected that Kosovo should suffer additionally from political stagnation.
It took the current coalition government six months to be formed and the previous PM is now the deputy PM and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, which makes the elitism accusations resonate to a greater extent. The vast majority of Kosovars have lost faith in their political leaders. This stems from the fact that despite having been accused over the years with manifold crimes, they have never fully faced justice. It certainly does not help that EULEX (the EU Rule of Law Mission) has been under scrutiny for corruption.
The ‘Serbian influence” in Kosovo’s political sphere has added to the existing distrust. It is a feeling of great disappointment: disappointment in their efficiency to demonstrate resilience towards the Serbian impact, and disappointment regarding domestic economic reforms. The manifestation of this discontent has not only erupted into violent protests, but has also taken the form of an exodus. Huge numbers of Kosovars started fleeing the country in early February (about 10, 000 a day).
Nonetheless, there is hope. As the PM Isa Mustafa was continually being pressed for action, Jablanovic was removed on February 3. This occurred despite the fact that he runs the risk of increasing tensions during the Serbia-Kosovo talks in Brussels. This mere action is an indicator that the PM is well aware that he simply cannot afford further public disillusionment from the government. Though not immediately after this, the protests have ‘temporarily’ stopped and the people have started to return to their homes.
This upheaval should serve as a reminder that Kosovo is still a very fragile state. As a consequence, it needs to be treated with the adequate delicacy, not only to the newly installed PM and his government, but to the EU as well. Stability in Kosovo very much depends on the shape that the political structure is allowed to take, it remains a responsibility of the international community.