Citizen activism: a new way to protest in Kosovo

01/06/2013

Opinions differ on whether street protests are an effective tool.

By Safet Kabashaj for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 01/06/13

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Albanians in Kosovo increasingly protest difficult living conditions, government corruption and controversial policies. [AFP]

Albanians in Kosovo are embracing street protests as a way to oppose perceived corruption, failed privatisation schemes and controversial government policies, but the practice opened a debate about whether the activism is successful.

Protests began in early February after citizens were overcharged on their energy bills, but have now extended to other issues like the EULEX investigations over war crimes in Kosovo.

"If there are so many protests and different messages, are they producing any results at all?" asked Muhamed Abdyli.

"Such dilemmas ... appear after we see so many different people in the protests, elderly men and women, children, students, all of them annoyed with the difficult living conditions," Abdyli said.

Abdyli said people are taking to the streets in the belief they will exact transparency and efficiency from the government and achieve prosperity. "But there is a paradox: no one prevents people to protest, but also no one listens to them."

Saranda Pajaziti disagreed, saying there is a sense of optimism activism produces that results in citizens' engagement in public life.

"The protests ... showed our society's political culture, gave the first glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel, which for some it was a phrase known only as imaginary optimism. But this time, they appeared really powerful and pervasive," she said. "It shows awareness and persistence by society to firmly address its demands and push for accountability from institutions responsible for the abuses."

Kosovo MP Blerta Deliu said nobody is against protests as long as they remain peaceful.

"It is the right of each citizen to protest and express their civic annoyance, but within the limits that such a protest expresses people's anger and in no way serve as tool for particular political agendas," Deliu told SETimes.

Civil society activist Shqipe Pantina said Kosovo has not created a culture of continuous active citizenship that checks officials for accountability.

"There is the idea that citizens have no power to change anything. After all the pressure over the energy corporation, there was no response by the government, which further disappointed the people," Pantina told SETimes.

Others are also sceptical that protests will have an impact. "The protest is over and we will get back home without witnessing change. For no one is showing accountability," Pajtimi said.

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"First, they represent a step beyond activism on social networks like Facebook or Twitter. Second, as it very rarely happens in Kosovo, they have been genuinely organised by citizens, without any political group behind them," Flandra Syla, young activist and TV personality, told SETimes.

Others argued the reason for not having impact is more technical in nature.

"These protests are rarely organised. They should be organised more often and with more intensity, otherwise it is going to be very difficult to achieve anything," Berat said.

Should Kosovo citizens continue street protests to pressure the government? Share your opinions in the comments space.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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