Interview with Besa Luci from Kosovo 2.0

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At the dawn of the parliamentary elections of June 2017, the editors of the alternative media outlet Kosovo 2.0 reflect on the state of their young country (in February 2018 Kosovo celebrated only the 10th birthday of its independence). A need for more diversity in opinions and narratives is what led to the foundation of the (inter)national media platform, based in Kosovo’s capital Pristina. What started in 2010 as a blogging platform has become a full grown online magazine. As the name ‘Kosovo 2.0’ may indicate, the young and driven team has the clear ambition to provide a better media outlet for one of Europe’s youngest nations.

 

“You can’t expect to change things without naming them for what they are.”

 

We meet Luci and other members of the Kosovo 2.0 team on a sunny afternoon in the backyard of their office. Luci wants to continue to challenge and affect the public opinion. “You can’t expect to change things without naming them for what they are. A problem doesn’t exist until you name it and put it in a public sphere where you can fight for it, so that’s what we’re doing here. We’re not joining political parties, often it’s a bridge for journalists to join politics, but we’re staying on the ground. Somebody has to be left to challenge. It’s the problem with the value system, government is the highest position, if you want to be rich, you should join the government. The idea of individual thought is very important.

 

“We felt there was an urgent need to create a different kind of platform […] where the status quo could be challenged, which didn’t happen that much and which we are still trying to do today.”

 

K2.0 was born in 2010. We launched it as a blogging platform, a year later we started the printing project, now we have ended the printing. Now we are an online magazine, we’ll be seven years this year. I’m the co-founder, I’ve been part of the project since the beginning. We started this for a lot of different reasons. The specific political context was important. In 2010, Kosovo was two years post independence. Personally, I have an academic and professional background in journalism, specifically in magazine writing. I studied abroad and I moved back again. It was always a plan to start a magazine, there was never a magazine culture here, so that was an opportunity.

 

When we started publishing in 2009, we felt there was an urgent need to create a different kind of platform and a different kind of space where there could be more of a diversity of opinions and narratives and where the status quo could be challenged, which didn’t happen that much and which we are still trying to do today. There was definitely a need for a different kind of media outlet to exist, because if we look at the mainstream media landscape at that time – it has changed a bit, but even now – there are dominant narratives that you hear all the time. We felt there are a lot of issues, from a social justice perspective, or a more individual point of view, that we were missing and there was a need for something different, people wanted to participate in something different. So from the beginning there were two different aims, one was to the national and local, but also the international because we’ve been working in Slovenian and Serbian from the beginning, so everything we do, we do in three languages. And within Kosovo itself, it’s what we wanted to do, bearing in mind the technological boom, there was also a need to challenge the foreign frames, dominant, foreign frames and narratives, how you’re gonna be written about and talked about. And for Kosovo these have always been about war, corruption, organised crime or about inter-ethnic tensions and conflicts. There is a dominant frame of how you’re going to be understood in the West: as a developing country. “They will have to be thought,” we experience this as very problematic. We want to challenge that, we felt as a media platform we could also participate in a more equal discussion, about for example the environment, protests, civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTI rights… These are discussions you can participate in no matter where you come from. Of course, there is always a specific context that will be different and important … We also felt it’s important as a media outlet to exist in English, so that the criticism coming from within (Kosovo) is also understood, instead of always being talked about. To have more of a say and to provide that critical approach from inside.

 

“We are a political-cultural magazine. ‘Cultural’ in the sense that we really try to have impact on the way issues are understood and talked about culturally, on the values that we are creating or trying to create as a society – we also try to challenge the system of values.”

 

In the beginning we were just a group of people who had other jobs, doing this on the side. It was an online blog platform. From the beginning we had the idea of the printed magazine. We applied for printing. We’ve made a collection of ten theme-based issues: image, corruption, sex, the nineties, migration… various issues. It’s more like a book magazine. We also see it as a kind of documentation. I really think the magazine will always stay, people will always get back to it for research, insight, etcetera. We show the complexity of certain issues, show it’s more complicated than what they talk about in the mainstream media. Religion, for example, is a complicated issue and people need to be able to understand all the various components of it. We always try take a stand in every issue. The issue is also who gets to write history and shape the collective memory at a certain period in time. So we wanted to challenge that and show that there are other stories, that remain in the margin but are also documented and written about.

 

We had the last printed issue last year. We continue online as a blogging magazine. It was difficult to do both as one team. We tried to take more of the magazine-approach online, but it was very difficult and very tiring. We felt as if there was a lot of need for us to be present online as well. We wanted to expand and grow, and we felt the magazine had to come to an end at least for now. So we launched the online magazine, with in-depth pieces, editorial analysis, blogs, Q&As… We pay a lot of attention to context, layers, meanings, the words you choose in different topics. We are a political-cultural magazine. ‘Cultural’ in the sense that we really try to have impact on the way issues are understood and talked about culturally, on the values that we are creating or trying to create as a society – we also try to challenge the system of values.

 

We’re not ‘mainstream’ for sure, but we’ve been increasing a lot since we’ve been online. We’ve become more and more present. That means we notice we have more and more impact. People tell us, it’s the only place they can read good information, compared to what exists online. It depends on the issue a lot. The most LGBT, war narratives, KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army)… these topics always have more backlash.

 

We’re mostly read in Kosovo. 25-35 years old is the main age group. 35-50 years old and 18-25 years old are equally large reader groups. We’re read a lot by the diaspora (Swiss, Scandinavia, USA, …). And we’re read a lot by foreigners who don’t have an ethnic link but have lived or studied in the area. So we have a very mixed audience. The three languages take more time, it’s very difficult. We were read more in English for some time, so we try to split the targeting for who reads in English and who reads in Albanian. Serbian is less read. We moved here last March, we do lot of events, find ways to bring the content, gather people in physical places… More and more debate is happening on social media, so it’s important we still have that community feeling, those face to face discussions. We do discussions, lectures, workshops, parties, concerts, various types of things.

 

We’re not funded by the government. We’re registered as a media NGO so we apply for project grants and money like that. That’s how we’re funded. We have some income from magazine sales and we’ve started to rent the office. We couldn’t sustain ourselves from just that. Also international donors, embassies… These donors are not really related to the diaspora. There has been a lot of money for the civil society in the region, but it’s decreasing. We’re not a ‘hot’ area anymore. The geopolitical interests moved elsewhere, that’s how it is. In Kosovo there is still more than Serbia or Albania. There is less money now, but in Kosovo it’s still okay. The EU grants require a lot of bureaucracy, it’s very tiring.

 

“We also get a lot of lawsuits lately. […] They will be suing for defamation, even if they don’t have a case. It’s about the resources you have to spend and the discouragement to potentially enter the media.”

 

Yes, I think we do have impact on politics. I don’t think the powerful people are scared of us, but they will when we continue to grow like we are growing right now, in terms of readership and impact. We haven’t dealt that much with current and online impact before, it’s really something that has grown the last two years. The printed magazine was different, we had a limited audience. We’re not experiencing any repression right now. There used to be. But it changed. There used to be direct threats and intimidation. But now, whatever you want to say, you can say. The problem is more that people misuse what you say, the quality of debate. If you want to investigate high level corruption, it’s gonna be difficult, but we’ll manage to go all the way. The way they try to influence and control you – like (…). The main employer in Kosovo is public administration. So that makes people very vulnerable. In a place where there is a high poverty and high unemployment rate, nobody is going to want to lose their job, you’re very easily replaceable.

 

What happens to a lot of journalists: they’ll tell you “I know where your cousin works or sister works,” hinting that if you continue digging in this issue, somebody might get fired. We also get a lot of lawsuits lately. Media now don’t have a lot of money to enter big lawsuits. They will be suing for defamation, even if they don’t have a case. It’s about the resources you have to spend and the discouragement to potentially enter the media.

 

“Our populism is a different kind of populism than the kind we see in central and Western Europe.”

 

The businesses and parties are one, in a way, and rule Kosovo. We have a leftist movement. We have Vetevendösje (meaning ‘self-determination’), they are really going to grow in numbers these elections. Everybody is expecting it. If you look at their policies and programs they are very much like social democrats. Very much left, very good policies. They are like a mix of populism and nationalism of the right. They started as a grassroots movement, always had a unification with Albania, very ethnic-based … When you see their agenda over the years, it’s fading away, though. They’re changing and transforming. I don’t like the ethnic card they’re playing. For me this is a turn-off. It’s very dangerous and emotional for the people, I don’t think it’s what we need. But the guy leading the self-determination movement- now it’s a party – he’s been an activist since he was a student. He was in the student protests in ’97 against the Serbian regime. He was imprisoned and released in 2000 after the war. That’s when he started the movement. Also in relation to international presence here, like a form of colonialism wrapped up as economic development. The unification thing was always a big part of they’re platform, but it’s fading away, they see it’s not really a big interest. I don’t think the unification is an overall sentiment for the people here. Our populism is a different kind op populism than the kind we see in central and Western Europe. The type of populism Vetevendösje has is very specific to the context here. Rather than growing towards that, they are really controlling it. The campaign now has been about issues: social issues, policies, economic policies… There has been no mention of unification.

 

“We have reached the point where EU policy towards Kosovo is discriminatory.”

 

Kosovo’s relationship with the EU is complex, but our citizens don’t really care. We have reached the point where EU policy towards Kosovo is discriminatory. People are getting tired. People still have the idea Kosovo can be part of the EU, but at the same time there is a lot of frustration. We’re always being treated unequally, there are always double standards towards Kosovo. For example, with the visa legislation, it has reached the point where it’s racist, and there’s nothing more to it. It’s a racist policy. They are leaving 1.8 million people isolated here. It’s extremely problematic. There are young people who have never left Kosovo and Albania. They don’t have the opportunity to travel. How do you expect to have a progressive youth or to have opportunity like this? You can attain a visa to go to Europa, but it’s very difficult and under a lot of conditions. It also costs money to apply for a visa, 70-100 euro, whether they say “yes” or “no”. And they want documents as a proof for everything. They want to see your whole life: bank account statements, contracts, tax payment. For example, at the Greek Embassy, to apply for Schengen visa, you have to book the hotel in advance, prepaid without cancellation. So if you don’t get the visa, what to do?

 

“[I]n the past year, there was a remarkable amount of small protests which were often citizen-based.”

 

Our upcoming elections are quite interesting now, because we have a lot of parties that have joined the election and have formed coalitions. Before you had two or three bigger parties and a lot of smaller ones, so now the smaller ones have joined together, it’s like a three block competition. Expectations are that Vetevendösje is going to increase a lot. And the two bigger (more traditional) coalitions will be in dire straights. So among the people, there is a craving for change, but how much of this is going to appear in the results, that remains to be seen. We will see something, I expect, but not to the extent that there will be a different governing structure. But yes, a step toward change.

 

Vetevendösje has a quite young base of voters. The young, however, are quite mixed, you cannot see them as one group. There are a lot of young people criticising, but it’s not the masses of young people demanding change. It’s very problematic. I think in the past year, there was a remarkable amount of small protests which were often citizen-based. Now there is a different kind of organising protests, since they didn’t used to be organised by an established organisation or a party. Usually parties, opposition parties, including Vetevendösje, tend to overtake some of these causes, and sometimes citizens start to feel detached and they don’t want to be identified with them. But I think in the past year there were some of these small ones again, especially against corruption cases.

 

There were these wiretapping cases where recordings came out of an investigation by EULEX (European Union Rule of Lax Mission in Kosovo). Leaders of the democratic party of Kosovo came out, basically appointing people at certain boards of public institutions and there were protests called ‘protestoj’, which means ‘I protest’ an they were really organised by a mass of critical citizens, they didn’t belong to any party and they didn’t identify so much with any existing parties. They wanted to create a new platform which started from an independent, clean stage where we’re not linked with any specific party or any other cause we support. Basically (about) the independence of institutions, we are tired of institutions that are manipulated – we want our public institutions to be independent. This went on for the summer in daily bases. They were organising protest every day, calling on citizens to join. It were basically young people.

 

“The protests have influenced the way that citizens see their role and continue to create networks. […] I believe that this really gave hope as well, to many. To see that you don’t need a party to protest, you don’t need to be called upon by a special leader to go out in the street or to organise a demonstration.”

 

One of the most important people in this case resigned. But then these mass of citizens continued to be together and support other things. There was a very cold winter after this and they also got together to support and gather clothes, to gather food, to bring it to people in need. They were also organising some other protests because of the high level of pollution. It continued. It didn’t get stuck into this one cause. Right now it is, a little bit, because there hasn’t been any special protest or anything creative, but I feel this has especially influenced the way that citizens see their role and continue to create networks and things that work. In this sense, I believe that this really gave hope as well, to many. To see that you don’t need a party to protest, you don’t need to be called upon by a special leader to go out in the street or to organise a demonstration.

 

I believe there is more and more this need of not only going out in the streets, but also occupying places and disrupting public spaces. In terms of squatting or using abandoned spaces, this is a topic that we as K2.0  like to work with. We have pushed forward with it, and there are some initiatives that have taken place, for example, this year there was Termokiss.

 

“The redefining of the left is happening now. We still need a bit more time before people will start having the discussions about how we can do this together.”

 

The problem here is that even unions don’t function strongly, even a structured way of workers working for their rights, even those ways don’t really end up being that powerful or effective. It’s different. This discussion just started now within the left, about a more social left, in a more policy based way. The people here still associate the left with communist left. The redefining of the left is happening now. We still need a bit more time before people will start having the discussions about how we can do this together. It’s still a more personal interest driven society, I would say.

 

The left in here should be understood quite differently than in Western Europe. Here, in this society, if you would even say you are a leftist, they would associate you with the Yugoslavian time or Albanian regime. People are still not able to understand that leftist policies have nothing to do with that. They were a totalitarian regime, or whatever you want to call that. I have a lot of discussions about that with my friends and family, when I ask them: “What do you think about a Scandinavian type of social democracy?” They tell me: “They have gone through different periods, they come from a different regime, different political and historical events and you can’t make such a comparison.” So even here, if you talk about Vetevendösje, which is the only proclaimed social democratic party, it is also disputable because they also have nationalism included, they are not purely left. But in terms of economy, we can say so, because they were against privatisation that happened after the war in Kosovo. There are a lot of cases in which I see that Vetevendösje’s opponents are simply demonising them because they are left. Suggesting they are supporting ideas that have been gone since the nineties. Leftist policies here are present in the programs of even those that claim to be centre right, and this is a big paradox, because most of the parties are driven by those policies that are leftist, but they still don’t want to claim they are leftist because it’s something still a bit fragile debate within the society.

 

“The state building process that has been driven from the top, from the international community […] – there wasn’t that much space or freedom to even have a discussion on what kind of state you wanted to build.”

 

It also has to do with the state building process that has been driven from the top, from the international community and organisations – there was not that much space or freedom to even have a discussion on what kind of state you wanted to build. So a lot of economical policies ended up being determined by the IMF or the world bank, and that’s about it. They said “shut up” to our government, or otherwise we would lose the support. This is also what Vetevendösje refers to when they talk about self-determination, deciding for ourselves what we want. Which is really difficult, because we are still a very poor country and we can’t survive without international help.

 

“Vetevendösje wants to reshape the relation with the international community in general. They see it as a partnership, other than just telling us what to do, because that doesn’t work anymore.”

 

Vetevendösje wants to reshape the relation with the international community in general. They see it as a partnership, other than just telling us what to do, because that doesn’t work anymore. It has been eighteen years since the war, we have a record of how we progress. And there is a lack of progress in general, so we have to reshape the whole relationship with the international community. But this leaves a lot of room or space for others to demonise them, like they are anti-American or anti-EU, or even try to associate them with Russia. It’s interesting because most of the decision-making that has happened here was done by the international community, even though we have representatives that are elected. The international community, be it in economics or in politics, they always had a huge impact. Vetevendösje, in this regard, tries to challenge them.

 

We do have some intellectual sources like Marxism, Frankfurter Schüle, David Harvey etcetera. I think some individuals of Vetevendösje have read them, but it’s hard here, you will be stigmatised and marginalised. Immediately they will be disadvantaged by this. It doesn’t mean there is no (far) left. There is a feeling here that we don’t want to be associated with our past. It’s complex and disputable, take for example the role of family. If you see the candidates for deputies over-here, some of them are not nominated because of their knowledge or hard work. They are nominated because they belong to a big traditional family that belongs to a region that can bring 3000 votes. The most typical case is the daughter of the former leader of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova [Luci refers to Teuta Rugova]. He was peaceful guy, he was called even the Ghandi of the Balkans during the nineties. He is the most well-known intellectual in Kosovo. The one who lead the country peacefully. And his daughter was deputy in the last legislature, she’s competing again. And we don’t even know the sound of her voice, because she never speaks. The only reason she is there, is because she is the daughter of the former president. And she gets votes. Apparently we want heritage to be a part of our politics again. The young people are introduced as ‘new blood’ in the political parties, but within the party they can’t do anything. So we wonder: where are all these smart people that came from abroad? What did they do? Is this what they can bring? These silly political platforms?”

Interview by Victoria Deluxe & Sonderland
Photo by Sonderland