Voices from Kosovo: We want ‘discussion, not violence’

Kosovars in Pristina react to legislators using tear gas to voice discontent over a EU-brokered government agreement.

Violent protests on Kosovo streets brings unease for many residents [Benas Gerdziunas/Al Jazeera]
Violent protests on Kosovo streets brings unease for many residents [Benas Gerdziunas/Al Jazeera]

Pristina, Kosovo – Since the beginning of October, opposition parliamentarians in Kosovo’s government have disrupted sessions by dispensing tear gas canisters in the session chamber.

Demonstrations between opposition and riot police have spilled onto the streets of Pristina too, with masked protesters throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails at police who have responded with volleys of tear gas and arrests.

Three opposition parties have led a sustained and controversial campaign against the government here in an attempt to force them to withdraw from a European Union brokered agreement with Serbia which will give greater autonomy and financial and legislative rights to Kosovo’s minority Serbs, who comprise seven percent of the population.

Although many in Kosovo sympathise with the opposition’s staunch disapproval of the agreement, some residents of Pristina believe their use of violent means to protest against the government are disproportionate.

Liridona Berisha, account manager
Liridona Berisha [Benas Gerdziunas/Al Jazeera]

“In general, I don’t think of myself as very politically conscious. I tend to avoid anything to do with politics. I don’t like the government here, but that said, I also don’t like the Vetevendosje (Self Determination) [majority opposition party] either.

“I don’t agree with the agreement our government has made with the European Union, because I don’t think our government should negotiate with Serbia or give it legislative power here. But, that said, I would like to see Kosovo move closer to the European Union.

“The opposition shouldn’t be throwing tear gas in parliament. You can protest – and protest loudly – by holding demonstrations, but I don’t agree with Vetevendosje’s methods.

“The government are having to use my taxes and public money to pay for the damage caused by the opposition throwing eggs and tear gas. They take from my payments to pay for cars damaged by the opposition.”

Armend Lokai, public prosecutor
Armend Lokai [Benas Gerdziunas/Al Jazeera] 

“The agreement our government has reached [with] the European Union is good, yes. The economic climate in Kosovo is not good; our economy is not stable, and integration with Europe should improve Kosovo.

“But I don’t think our government should be giving more legislative and governing rights to Serbs. We were at war with Serbia, and we know how authorities in Belgrade treated us. It seems to me that the European Union and the United States are giving Serbia increasing influence over Kosovo and this isn’t good.”

“The opposition parties in Kosovo have shown us that they are too extreme. Frankly, their methods of protest are too extreme. Throwing tear gas in parliament to disrupt the sessions is undemocratic.”

Alban Krasniqi, banker
Alban Krasniqi [Benas Gerdziunas/Al Jazeera]

“All citizens of Kosovo support closer integration with the European Union. Kosovo is part of Europe and we should be integrated. We need the benefits of visa liberalisation. We should be able to travel – visa free – throughout Europe. And there are economic benefits to integrations with Europe too.

“The agreement our government has struck with Serbia and the European Union is good so long as all of Kosovo is under the central government in Pristina. Everything should be decided here. Serb minorities should be integrated, not separated, into our communities and government system, and they should respect our country as well – they are citizens of Kosovo too.

“But, I think the government should be more transparent about the terms of the agreement, they should be fair to the citizens of our country.

“Of course I don’t agree with the opposition’s use of violence. The agreement needs to be discussed in parliament and the opposition shouldn’t be interrupting parliament sessions with tear gas – the decisions this government makes should be done through discussion, not violence.”

Shpetim Gelaj, Pristina airport employee
Shpetim Gelaj [Benas Gerdziunas/Al Jazeera]

“I think, in general, the agreement is good [for] the future of Kosovo. People in Kosovo right now are isolated, compared to other countries in Europe – we cannot go to Europe, to work, to visit relatives there. Integration with Europe is positive.

“I don’t think that the agreement with the European Union will give too much legislative power or influence [to] Serbs here. Serbia and Kosovo separated a long time ago and the future for both countries is with Europe.

“The opposition’s use of tear gas in parliament isn’t good. I don’t agree with it. It’s not democratic.”

Ibrahim Maxhuni, student
Ibrahim Maxhuni [Benas Gerdziunas/Al Jazeera] 

“I don’t agree with Vetevendosje’s use of violence to protest [against] these agreements with Europe and Serbia. Why should I have fear when I go into the streets? Why should I have to breathe in tear gas? There are other ways of protesting.

“Vetevendosje and the other opposition parties are good and bad. I don’t think that sharing power with the Serb minority in Kosovo is good, but you don’t have to go into parliament and let off this gas to protest.

“I don’t support the government either though. The older generations of politicians here are corrupt. I don’t expect there to be meaningful political change in Kosovo until our generation, the younger generation, comes into office. But at the moment, I think all our politicians are incompetent.”

Sami Gashi, painter and interior decorator
Sami Gashi [Benas Gerdziunas/Al Jazeera]

“I left Kosovo in 1992, and was a refugee for 16 years. After independence in 2008, we were told to come back to Kosovo. We were told that there is work here, we were told that the country is safe. But those were empty words, it was all a lie.

“I think Vetevendosje are justified in their use of violence. Their protests are fair because something has to be done. There is no other way to fight against the government, something new needs to be done. All we heard were talks of this, of that, but it’s all been a lie – we have had enough with this government.

“We in Kosovo see Serbia going forward, moving closer to the European Union, but Kosovo is moving nowhere. There’s nothing here, because there is so much corruption within the government.”

Egzoma Gashe, student
Egzoma Gashe [Benas Gerdziunas/Al Jazeera]

“The agreement our government has made with the European Union is bad because it increases Serbia’s influence over Kosovo. We are a divided state, and the more influence Serbia has here, the more we jeopardise our independence.

“I don’t necessarily believe that Kosovo should be aligning itself with the European Union. It is clearly struggling at the moment, and I think we will become implicated in its instability if we move closer towards it.

“I support the opposition parties, but I don’t approve of their use of violence. They shouldn’t be using tear gas to disrupt the parliament. They should be protesting peacefully.

“The government needs to work more for the public. Now, they’re working more for the European Union than for us.”

Edita Mustafa, NGO consultant
Edita Mustafa [Benas Gerdziunas/Al Jazeera]

“As we see it, there is room to improve the agreements our government has made with the European Union. First of all, most citizens aren’t informed about the precise contents of the agreements. The government hasn’t been transparent and there is a lot of doubt about what the implications of this agreement are.

“On one hand, the government is not acting democratically. You cannot imprison members of the opposition. We don’t want this to happen, and this is not a good sign for Kosovo.

“On the other hand, the opposition’s use of violence is not acceptable. The use of tear gas is parliament is not legitimate. No one here wants violence. All parties should be sitting down and discussing.

“I don’t think at this stage, the opposition can force the government to pull away from these agreements, I don’t think it’s doable. This is what what needs to happen – both sides need to step back and reflect what the best way to move forward with the agreement.”

Follow Jonathan Brown on Twitter: @jonathaneebrown

Source: Al Jazeera


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