Political imperialism
Sead Zimeri

Watching a TV debate in Prishtina recently about the role of dignity in politics in Kosova, and reading the responses of politicians to the pressure brought to bear on the newly elected Prime Minister of Kosova, Albin Kurti, by the US ambassador to Germany and the Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations, Richard Grenell, I was struck by how polarized the political divide is between those who believe that dignity has a place in politics, and those who believe that dignity has no place in politics. What struck me as deeply problematic was not the low quality of the debate, as we are used to seeing third-rate and thoroughly partisan analyses of the political situation in Kosova. Neither was it the fact that dignity’s role in politics was being contested. It is a known fact in political studies that dignity is a highly contested notion and some deny any role for it in politics.

What struck me was the modality of the denial. Dignity was denied not because politics excludes moral notions on the ground that such notions obfuscate political reality and its analysis. That would be a truly respectable realist position to maintain. Rather, the subtext for its denial was Kosova’s dependent status as nation. More precisely, its (according to some total) dependence on the United States of America.

Ju pëlqen!

All nations are interdependent on each other, but Kosova’s status as an independent nation is still not recognized by many states, including nations within the EU. This political dependence has generated a sense of psychological dependence and insecurity that tends to distort the self-understanding of many Kosovars. As a result, a bizarre psychological contradiction has emerged. On the one hand, there is pride in having courageously fought against the Milosevič regime and, with the help of NATO, having won a war against Serbia. On the other hand, the political elite has exhibited an inability to liberate itself from the political dependence on the United States.

There is a double bind: on the one hand Kosova is an independent state, a fact which its people and a great number of states accept as an undeniable reality, and, on the other hand, its political (and even a part of) cultural elite act as if Kosova is not independent, as if they do not believe that independence is a reality. It is the unconscious denial of independence that makes them adopt a subservient position towards US.

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The argument goes something like this: since we are a small nation dependent on the United States for our existence, our dignity is not inherent to us; it is rather a variable conditional on the United States’ willingness to let us have dignity. If the United States deems it necessary to withhold its recognition political dignity won’t be worth a dime.

In the imaginary of these politicians and political pundits the US is not a friend or a political partner but a father figure, a paternal authority that has the right to rebuke and educate us however it sees fit. Its authority is not to be questioned but obeyed. The father always knows better, even when he is mistaken. The father’s mistake is excusable however on the grounds that he never wants to harm his progeny.

The authority of the father cannot be judged by some external standard because it is a natural notion. The father must be obeyed even when he is wrong, because, it is blindly trusted, the father will see his mistakes and change his ways. The US as a paternal authority provides the safety that Kosova desperately needs and in order to have it, it must under no circumstances question his authority. The father’s wrath can be severe and unforgiving. At least, this is what many Kosovars believe.

Because the relationship is seen in terms of the superior and inferior, in the eyes of these people, Kosova politics cannot claim, in the name of some presumed principle of dignity, independence from the US’s political interferences. It can claim obvious relative independence from its interference but only to the extent that the US posteriori approves of the political decisions that Kosova takes. If the US does not approve of such decisions then the Kosova government must immediately abandon them and adopt whatever policy is dictated by the US.

This has generally been the official position of all Kosova governments after the declaration of independence. So, it is no surprise that the US found it convenient that successive governments of Kosova showed zero resistance to any suggestion that came from them. They dictated and Kosova obeyed. The US got so used to such a compliant response from all Kosova governments that it has got into the habit of assuming and taking for granted that the sovereign will of the people of Kosova does not exist or that it does not matter.

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Seen from this perspective Ambassador Grenell’s twitter tantrum is not so unusual as it falls within the recognized pattern of never being contradicted in their superior wisdom. He harshly rebuked Prime Minister Kurti for making a serious mistake in not following the dictates of the White House to lift the tariffs unconditionally.

But Kurti is a different breed from the other politicians that ambassador Grenell is used to dealing with. For, while the others believed that their dignity was entirely dependent on the US’s benevolence, Kurti believes that dignity is inherent to people as such and that people have a right to determine their own fate in accordance with the democratic principles of sovereignty, moral principles of reciprocity and the international law. In other words, Kurti, just like the US, believes that politics has integrity and must respect the general will of the people who brought him to power.

The ambassador’s rebuke of the Prime Minister reeks of incredible arrogance and total disregard for democracy in Kosova. In effect what he is saying is that, “we, the US government, don’t care what your people want. All we care about is what we want, what our interests dictate regardless of the costs that this incurs on your people.”

Democracy is a very fragile process in Kosova. It is used only during elections but the elected officials have done pretty much anything to avoid accountability. Their foreign policy was entirely dependent on their estimations, which at times proved pretty inaccurate, of the US foreign policy. This adoption of the US perspective without any criteria that would assess their own national interests, has led, so far, to no economic growth or final resolution of the conflict with Serbia.

I fail to see what Prime Minister Kurti is being rebuked for. Kosova people chose him because they saw that the previous governments have only superficially emulated the US. Since they misused their mandate to either get rich themselves or corrupt the whole political system and the state institutions, where no accountability is required of anyone who abuses their power, the people of Kosova decided to oust them and elect a government that promised to enforce the rule of law and end corruption.

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I know that in many ways Kurti has been portrayed as a radical left-winger who will bring doom to Kosova and perhaps destabilize the whole region of the Western Balkan. The truth is that Kurti is a social democrat who believes in the free market and democracy with accountability. If radicalism means being more like Americans in the sense of having integrity, then, yes, Albin Kurti is the first radical Prime Minister. But it is a radicalism that the US can and should support.

Kosova owes a great deal of gratitude to the United States. Kosova is perhaps the only country in Europe where americanism is openly displayed as a sign of honor and they proudly stand with the US because the US did what no European country could do: it helped liberate Kosova. Kurti also wants to strengthen the relationship with the US. But there is a difference in his vision and his politics, a difference that, I think, the US should welcome and not condemn. He will listen and head the US advice but not at the cost of forever remaining in the protective care of the US. The United States is a valuable partner, but its support does not always coincide with the national interests of Kosova, and it should not expect that Kosova will always be willing to acquiesce to all its demands. And it should not be publicly rebuked when it does not, because that sends the message that the US does not care about the national interests of Kosova, or that it does not consider Kosova to be an independent state capable of taking its own decisions. That it considers Kosova a sort of vassal state.

In none of these scenarios does the US seem to appreciate the right to self-determination. Even worse, it does not appear to respect democracy and the will of the people. All successive Kosova governments have slavishly followed its advice but the results seem to be dismal. Maybe the US should let the Kosovars themselves take charge of their own affairs and assist them in ways of consolidating the rule of law and not dictate policies be what may the consequences.

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