The student protests in Kosova started after it was revealed that the rector of University of Prishtina (the main public university of Kosova) had published articles in unaccredited journals in order to meet the necessary requirements for promotion to rector and professor. Promotion to a full professor requires a minimum of five publications in international journals. The rector, Ibrahim Gashi, published three articles in the Society for Science and Nature. To verify the illegitimacy of the journal, a journalist published a satire of The Communist Manifesto (http://scienceandnature.org/IJEMS-Vol5(1)-Jan2014/IJEMS%20Vol5(1)8.pdf) under the name Filan Fisteku ( Kosovar version of John Doe?). He simply replaced the words “communism,” “proletariat,” and “party,” with “minerals,” “market,” and “management.”
Students protested against Ibrahim Gashi and the other forgers. They demanded the immediate resignation of Ibrahim Gashi and the Governing Council of the university, investigations of all academic degrees and PhDs of UP professors, and the improvement of the student center. The students, along with professors and citizens supporting them, gathered outside the rector’s office for about 14 days. The protesters were met with police resistance and violence, even though it is illegal for the police forces to stay within university areas and much less to stop students from entering the university. Regardless, for days the police forces blocked the entrance to the Rector’s office. As the support for the protest grew, the students were met with even more violence from the police, resulting in many injuries. A political activist, Shkelzen Gashi, stated that “The University of Prishtina (UP) has not advanced or stagnated. We are not even how we were in the 70’s, we have experienced regression. This is the fault of the people who have taken over Kosova after the war. All the rectors of UP are assigned by the state.”
Students from the student movement “Study, Criticize, Act” claimed that they have never intended to “enter” the Rector’s office. During the protest they aimed to implement the law on higher education, article 13, paragraph 4, which prohibits police forces to stay within university areas. The students simply wanted Gashi to resign from a position which he was holding unfairly. In order to give an end to the organized student bodies, the police arrested students and members of the Civil Society that had join the protest to support the students. Approximately 40 students were arrested and 50 were injured and beaten after and during their arrest (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osmlJRDV6oY).
Due to an increase of public pressure and criticism Ibrahim Gashi resigned after two weeks. Gashi described his resignation as “a moral act.” Following his resignation, four out of nine members of the university’s Governing Council stepped down. Muharrem Nitaj, the head of the council, said he resigned because he “was unable to fulfill his duties.” Gashi accused the protesters of being “used and politicized by NGOs and political parties”. The students denied this, insisting that they were not led by any political party. They claimed that Gashi’s resignation was not moral or intellectual. In fact, they claimed, he did not resign but ran away from the students. Moreover, they claimed that his act of “running away from the students” showed that the student body can achieve goals when it is determined and organized. One of the students from the student movement “Study, Criticize, Act” stated: “We will continue our struggle because before us remains systematic violence which we will no longer endure.” They called upon the members of the parliament to review the Law on Higher Education to remove the Governing Council in order to achieve democratic decision making within the University. “We will not recognize any rector chosen by the Governing Council. We do not recognize their authority because it does not belong to the university but the government. Our rector has to be chosen by our professors and students. The rectors of the Governing Council do not belong to the University but are puppets of our government.” After the resignation of the rector, the Governing Council chose a new rector who also resigned a day after.
One political activist, Arber Zaimi, claimed that “ ‘Their’ problem is not that they are ‘political’, or ‘partisan’ or that they are ‘religious’, or ‘secular’, or ‘nationalists’ or ‘cosmopolitan’ or that they belong to ‘XYZ ideology.’ Their problem is that they occupy the public, abuse it for group interests, and privatize it. One can be a part of the above mentioned groups and still respect the gathering place (agora), respect the other and society, and contribute to the public. While another cannot be labeled at all, be completely ‘sterilized’ by the above commitments and positions, in line with the dominant ideology of non-involvement, and still occupy.” Overall, students and citizens had very mixed responses to the protests. Some claimed that demanding the resignation of one person does not solve the problem of an entire broken system. Others claimed that by getting rid of the rector we risk the chance of placing an even worse version of him. Others said that the protests are meaningless if all students do not join and that there is no solution to a completely criminalized society. Others stated that the protests should be directed at the government. Others claimed that the protest should be peaceful, with a low voice, and even say please and thank you to the police, because the state holds monopoly of anger and violence. While others responded with the belief that only a more violent protest would bring about the wanted results.
Another post by Arber Zaimi, which might bring back the discussion on violence: “According to a famous anecdote, a German officer visited Picasso’s studio in Paris during WWII. In the studio he saw the Guernica, and shocked by the modernist “chaos” of the painting, he asked Picasso “You did this?” Picasso responded “No, you did!” Today many liberals, when faced with ‘irrational’ explosions of violence in the periphery of democracy, ask with cynicism “Aren’t you responsible for this violence? Isn’t this what you asked for?” We have to answer just like Picasso: “No, this is the result of your politics.”
I shared this last post because in connection with everything that has happened in Kosova, in the past and the constant protests since the end of war (which are rarely, if ever, covered by international media), these protests can introduce new questions to our discussion of violence. The majority of acts considered violent by the police are presented as performance art, or symbolic violence, by the protestors. Kosova has had constant protests since the end of war and especially after the independence. The majority of the protests were characterized by very interesting and creative ways of raising awareness about corruption, government violence, and political manipulation. They used artistic performances and what they call “symbolic violence” (I can provide videos and pictures with examples if anyone is interested). This raises questions about the nature of violence and the way in which as political activists we have to account for violence regardless of our philosophical understandings. The moment when we speak about the introduction of violence in the political sphere we risk claiming that violence was not previously there. Also using the language of “risk,” (which we did a lot last session) we assume that all kinds of violence are necessarily bad/harmful/negative. However, as we see in student protests in Kosova, some forms of violence cannot easily be categorized. Another example can be the dismantling of Stalin’s statue during the Hungarian revolution. Also, in participating or organizing a political action we have to account for violent acts. A protest, demonstration, riot, or revolution, which wants to maintain one character or nature is exclusive. One which isn’t exclusive invites all forms of participation because it is open to all citizen, thus it also opens up the possibility of violence.
On another note, today is Kosova’s independence day.