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A Left Perspective on Kosovo. An Interview with Rron Gjinovci

Rron Gjinovci
Rron Gjinovci

Rron Gjinovci was born in 1989 in Prishtina, Kosovo. He started his bachelor in University of Prishtina studying Engineering Physics and Philosophy. After a symbolic action in 2010, where Rron and one of his colleagues threw red paint on rector he was expelled from studies. Also Rron was imprisoned for a month in prison of Lipjan because of this symbolic action. Rron is co-founder of Students Organization “Students Movement for Equality – Study, Critic , Action”. The organization mentioned was key actor to recent protest (2014) that were successful and pushed rector of university to resign. Rron writes opinions for main daily newspapers in Kosovo such as “zeri” and “Koha Ditore”. He’s author of around 30 articles.From 2008 untill 2012 he was activist of Movement for Self-Determination “Levizja Vetevendosje”*. He resigned from General Assembly of Vetevendosje in 2012 because of ideological reasons. He’s not a member of Vetevendosje anymore. Rron was co-organizer of the protests that took place in beginning of 2013 against the increase of the price of electricity. Rron is now studying Philosophy since he gained his right to study again after two years of appellation. 


Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica is a member of Marks21 in Serbia. He is a historian and researcher who is currently Assistant Professor at the National Research University – Higher School of Economics in Moscow. His upcoming book entitled “The Economic Struggle for Power in Tito’s Yugoslavia: From World War II to Non-Alignment” will be released soon.

V.U.-K.: You are an activist of the left in Kosovo. How did you become political and what made you become left wing?

R.G.: OK. Let me say a bit about my personal story. When I joined Vetevendosje!, Kosovo was in a weird situation. It was the ‘International Community’ who brought the flag. It was the ‘International Community’ who brought an anthem. The ‘International Community’ did everything. Of course, I felt something was wrong with this. I was only 18 at that time. I thought, this does not look normal, it does not look right. So I wanted to learn more about this. Of course, I knew about Vetevendosje! and I wanted to know what they think about it. I went to Vetevendosje!. We had many meetings there. I heard for the first time about the left there. Obviously, I did know about the Communist Party, but I had heard about it from the liberals: that it was about authoritarianism, dictatorship…so this was really an introduction for me.

And then I was lucky to go to jail for two months, after we overturned some EULEX cars, after EULEX signed a protocol with the Serbian police. There was a protocol on police powers, there were other protocols on the judiciary and so on. This was after Kosovo’s independence. We were convinced this undermines Kosovo’s independence and that we had to do something against the ‘International Community’. We overturned 22 cars in 11 minutes. I think this is a record! I was lucky to go to jail for two months. And I turned 19  in jail. In those two months, I had a chance to read a lot. And to read, for example, something by Marx, On the Irish Question and the Communist Manifesto. We were also reading a lot about history. And I wrote my first article for Vetevendosje! newspaper at that time. I always had talent to write, so friends in Vetevendosje! pushed me to write. They said write and we will publish it.

I was reading something about Albanian independence in 1914. There was a commission of control that came to Albania. They appointed a prince, William of Wied, from a German city. Now we had the same – but the same! – situation in Kosovo. We had the EULEX mission as the commission of control, we had a prince in the person of Pieter Faith, a diplomat from the Netherlands, the International Civilian Representative. He could do anything. He had executive power, legislative power…I could see the situation is being repeated and I wanted to write my first article about this. And, of course, while I was in jail, I could see how the media represents things. So for the first time I saw public television with a different eye. Of course, friends from Vetevendosje! helped me. From that time, I was more critical about everything I saw or read.

I wrote another article which was never published – it was like my Prison Notebooks! – where I was sarcastically thanking the international community and apologising we did not have a queen to leave us as big a fortune as you had. You know, it was natural to me to be anti-imperialist, but I did not know how to put the names. I was just 18 or 19, I had not had a chance to read anything. Since then, after I finished my jail term, I continued to go to Vetevendosje! and we had many discussions. And for the first time, the Communist idea was presented to me by Visar Ymeri. He is now the chief of the deputies in parliament. He presented it to me and some others. We were having some fun somewhere, we were drinking some rakija and stuff like that, and he presented us with this idea: can you imagine a world in which we can work 4 hours a day, and not because we have to but because we want to. We all thought ‘wow, we never thought about  this!’ One of us joked about what would happen if someone wanted a Mercedes. He responded that things would be different, but he could not explain everything, because we were so young.

Anyway, we continued having debates and discussions. I began to realise that everything I had done was something that belongs on the left. I often rebelled against my father and my family, and I felt very bad about that, I did not know how to explain it. But when I was reading these books, like Sartre and so on, I began to realise this was normal, it was nothing special. I am just doing the right things! I was very idealistic at that time, and I wanted to study engineering physics. I was good at maths and physics in the gymnasium. So I started to study physics. And then I saw there were no conditions to study physics in Kosovo because we did not have enough materials. So I decided to change and study philosophy. At that time we – student members of Vetevendosje!  decided to organise a student organisation in the University of Prishtina. We had a lot of debates: how university should be as an idea etc? We were radicals of Vetevendosje! – we always read books together, debated a lot, we had discussions about theory, leftism, and so on. We invited other students to spread this thing. This is how we formed our organisation.

The more we learned about the left, the more we became radical in Vetevendosje!. Theoretically, of course. We began to push things. Ask questions. This was the time Veteveondosje! decided to go for elections. We were confused, we were asking why now. It was new for all of us, you know, even Albin Kurti was not sure about everything. So we had these big discussions. (I left Vetevendosje! two years later.) We were discussing what we could do as an independent student organisation, what activities were allowed and were not allowed. In the end, I don’t know what decisions were reached but I know this independent organisation did not come into existence. So, this is how I became left, it was a process, it happened gradually. But that moment, when I was in jail, it was crucial in my life, because I began to think differently and see things differently. I had lots of questions, and in order to find answers, I had to read. That’s how I got here.

V.U.-K.:  So, when you left Vetevondosje!, what did you try to do? How did you build, where did you go? What are the big questions the left is asking in Kosovo?

R.G. When I left Vetevendosje! I thought I was alone. It was only Vetevendosje! who had people to do anything like changing radically the situation. It was actually very hard for me to leave. But I thought it was necessary to do something about it when you think things are going wrong.  At that time, I had no power to do anything. I thought this life is impossible now because I am out of Vetevenodosje!…and it was very hard. But I knew I was on the left. And so I started writing things on Facebook, and then articles for the newspapers. I have written now 20, 30 articles, I am not exactly sure. Many times I mentioned revolution, communism, as something good. And I saw that people’s reaction was not that bad. I did not know why we were afraid to mention communism as Vetevendosje!. And I started to say publicly that I am a leftist and that I believe in left ideas and Communism, and that I want that to happen one day. And I saw that there was a field where you can work. That’s how I began to state things publicly.

But also, something began to happen in Kosovo. This was in early 2013, six months after I left Vetevendosje!. Electricity bills became very high because of a mistake, they say, like 200 percent higher, but it was because the distribution system was privatised one or two months previously. So, I found myself organising protests with people who were not on the left.

They later made a party, called the ‘Strong Party’ – it’s satirical. But they are not funny! But they descended into something quite stupid. The structure of this party is very middle class. These are well-off people who are not satisfied with the system and with the parties, especially with the Prime Minister – but because he is from the village! But I had to do something at that time and these were the people who were active. They had a lot of friends in Prishtina. So we spread it with Facebook. It was the first movement in Kosovo that happened without Vetevendosje!.and without big investments – we had no money, so we used Facebook, media connections that some of us had. So, we organised these protests.

I was the one who pushed left ideas in the group. I met Shpend Kursani. Shpend is now one of the comrades with whom we are trying to organise a left organisation in Kosovo. We tried to push left ideas in the campaign but this was impossible because the other group was the majority. But it was anyway a very good thing. For the first time we had no need for Vetevendosje!. We just did something on our own and people in Kosovo applauded it and said it was great. Just after that, we had protest about the law on amnesty. They were trying to give amnesty to politicians that are involved in different criminal activities. We did this protest, there was a lot of pressure from the ‘International Community’, and so the law was changed, but not as we wanted it. But, again, it was something good, because it was just a couple of months after the protests against electricity bills.

So the atmosphere became that it was possible to do something and change something in Kosovo. Then a couple of months later again, we had student protests. We pushed the rector to resign. He published a single “scientific article” in a “scientific journal” in India. When we did a bit of research, we saw that his article was a 7-page article co-authored with 5 other people, if I’m not wrong! Everyone was shocked. Students got organised and blocked the rectorate building. I joined them of course. Police threw tear gas, and that was a sensitive point. People thought “this is something that happened in 1997 when Milosevic’s regime suppressed student protests”. Everyone joined our protest. After 2 weeks of protests, the rector resigned and now University is led by a provisory rector and council. It’s not a big deal actually, but symbolically it means a lot. Now we can tell an example to people when they are pessimistic on protests.

Always, I presented myself as left as I could. A couple of months ago it was the anniversary of when Lenin died. It was also the anniversary of when Ibrahim Rugova died. So, while everyone was writing about Rugova, I put up Lenin’s picture and wrote something. And one of the portals in Kosovo noted that Rron Gjinovci was mourning for Lenin and not Rugova! So now people know that I am on the left – but they don’t hate me and people accept me – it’s ok to be left in Kosovo – 4 or 5 years ago it would not have been – but now it is ok. This shows it is time to organise a new left in Kosovo. But publicly, not like in Vetevendosje!, where we had one discourse inside the organisation, and another one for the public. It was the discourse of the elite in Vetevendosje! And when they decided to change their internal discourse, then everything became different. This is why for me it is important to declare things openly, to say what we want and who we are. Because it lowers the possibility for people to change what they stand for – because if you say you are a Communist openly, then one year from now, if you are saying that privatisation is a good thing because X, Y, Z, people can tell you have changed. For Albin Kurti, you cannot say that, because he was very, very careful not to say radical things. They sounded radical because of the words he used and not because of the substance.

V.U.-K. Can you tell me a little bit about the situation in Kosovo? What are the main parties and who do they represent? How can the left develop?

Well, here, we usually say there are no political parties, there are only organised crime groups! One of our friends, Mr. Shkelzen Gashi said in a newspaper – he was asked about the ruling PDK of Hashim Thaci – two members of Thaci’s group split to form a new organisation – and our friend said, don’t ask me about this, this is a question for Misha Glenny. We are talking about organised crime groups, and he is an expert on that. That was in Koha Ditore, and it was completely normal for everyone.

Only Vetevendosje! is independent of the international embassies in Kosovo, but of course, they do a lot of things in order to be liked by the US embassy and other embassies. They want to be independent, but they know they cannot have power unless they are friends with certain persons, so they are flirting with these  persons and groups, which puts them in a hypocritical situation. They constantly change words and sound very weird as a consequence. Anyway, all the parties are corrupt and they have made many criminal acts. They are blackmailed by certain groups of interest. When they are in power they have to serve these interests. Mostly, to the US embassy and their interests.

Now it is known that, if Ramush Haradinaj comes to power, if he becomes prime minister, he will do a deal for the energy company with Wesley Clarke. So he will sell our lignite mines to Clarke’s company. And Clarke said something good about Haradinaj in the elections. Meanwhile, Thaci would make deals with Christopher Bell, former US ambassador to Kosovo, who is now with the well-known company Bechtel, which did a highway in Kosovo, which cost Kosovo a lot of money. This was absurd. We did not need this – we do not produce. People have jobs in governmental institutions and micro-private businesses. We have Trepca but it is not really being used. Many public services are going to be privatised. All we build are highways. We built one to Albania. And a new highway to Skopje. Not because we need it but we because we need to give some money to America. This tells you about our political parties.

Vetevendosje! is a bit different, but it is also changing now. One of its MPs is the owner of the central heating company. He bought it during the privatisation process. There is also in Vetevendosje! Rexhep Selimi, one of the KLA commanders, and I think he will be charged with crimes against humanity, because he was the chief of the police after 1999. So the situation is we have neo-liberals and we have liberals. The liberals are Vetevendosje! in my point of view. They say, no, we are left. But I say: in your programme it says you are for a free trade market, with some nuances. So choose one of the nuances, one of the colours of liberalism. All the others are neoliberal. And we need a left.

But I am not crazy – I know we cannot now build a huge opposition – but we can build an institution that produces alternatives. Give to people the idea that we can do something other than neo-liberalism or even capitalism. So, for the next two or three years, this is all we can do. Produce a discourse, write, analyse things from a left standpoint, so we can do our actions. The good thing about those people we have contacted about making a new left organisation are those that are really ready to do actions – like organising protests – and they all like it and have experience of it. We need to combine it: to study, to think about the left alternative which to give to the people; and to do certain actions that are concrete in certain areas.

This is because in Kosovo, it is a matter of months between scandals. When the government starts working, they will produce another scandal for us – and we will have a cause for protests. We have scandals and protests every six months now! People are unhappy, poverty is growing in Kosovo, and this will give us more right and more space to speak. The thing is that the media in Kosovo is not closed. You can go in the media with a small action. We have friends among journalists and this is one of our strong points.

V.U.-K.: When you look at the left, is there any other left that you think is an inspiration or do you think you will have to respond solely to challenges domestically?

Personally, I did not have a chance to follow Syriza in Greece these last six months. But we were really surprised and we really liked what we saw in Greece. I also like the way it is working in Macedonia. For example, I met Artan Sadiku and it was very good to hear that he and some other Macedonians are together in the same cause, which is very important for the Balkan situation. It is really, really important…But I don’t see anything serious in Kosovo. There is in Albania a very serious group when it comes to writing and philosophy. But when we come to direct action, we don’t have anything serious except for Greece. I did have the chance to compare happenings in Kosovo and in Bosnia last year, and in Bulgaria about electricity bills. Many times, we used Bulgaria as an example. This was important when we wanted to give people hope in the protests.

Protests are looked upon in Kosovo as something primitive and ‘un-institutional’ and it is not the way things should work. Because “we now have our own institutions”. “After 1999, we have our own institutions, so we don’t need protests” That’s the logic. But we are at this point explaining to the people we do not have our own institutions because they serve a certain class. They serve to different interest groups, here or in America or wherever. So this is the way it works. So this is why for comrades in Kosovo it is very important to cooperate and collaborate with different groups in the region, to learn from each other, but also to support each other in moments of actions. It would be very important for us when we have protests to receive letters of solidarity from Serbia, Albania, Macedonia…that makes our protests very powerful. This is important for protests especially in Kosovo.

V.U.K. To turn to the Serbian left: do you have any message to the Serbian left about how they should respond to the question of Kosovo, the national question?

R.G. I wrote a letter to the public – I hope it will be published. In that letter I wrote many things. I can repeat it. I have never had chance to read a public statement by my friends in Serbia about Kosovo – especially about violence of Serbia on Kosovo from 1989 and 1999. However, I express my deep compassion and pity for the persons who are missing, particularly those cases when organs were missing.

These crimes are inhumane and are not understandable, for me or citizens of Kosovo. It is a humiliation for humankind. I am making a clear distance to this crime that has been done in my name and in my future’s name – ‘we are doing this for the children of Kosovo’. I condemn all acts of ethnic cleansing and other crimes with different names committed by persons in the name of the KLA or whatever group – I make a clear distance from any crime made in my name or in the name or our future.

The struggle of the people of Kosovo for freedom and liberty is legitimate but crimes committed in their name for personal gain must be punished in the most severe way. I am sure the people of Kosovo is shocked like I am by the news we received today. I am also convinced that a lot of citizens of Kosovo will use this escaping mechanism from this situation to say this is forced by the international interest because it is hard for the people of Kosovo to accept it. However, it is, and I know I am going to receive a lot of criticism for this, I cannot just stay like this: I cannot say, ok, that happened in my name, but it’s all right, I have nothing to do with this. I really have to react to this, even if a lot of people are not going to like me.

But I have to say this, independently of whether people or intellectuals in Serbia say it or not. I think it is very important for the Serbian left to make clear their position. Because whenever there is an attempt at cooperation between Albanians and Serbs or Kosovars and Serbs, for the left causes, these things that are not clear yet are a big barrier in our cooperation. You have to understand us. We cannot work with Serbs who are on the left because from a Kosovar’s standpoint, the left is everything that has to do with Milosevic, since he was president of the Socialist Party of Serbia. Even we are now labelled udbaš or SPS members when we say we are left. When we say we are cooperating with left Serbs – it is important for us, when people say, ah, you are working with Milosevic members? – we have to be able to say, no, they accept Kosovo’s independence – they accept we have to move on together to fight against these enemies that are real enemies.

This issue – this nationalist issue among us – it should not be there – our cultures fit with each other – we have almost the same mentality. What I see in Belgrade is not that different from what I see in Prishtina. It is only language that divides us. Why are we not enemies with French people, if it is only about the language? This is why it is important to us to have a clear position on the Serbian left. I think it is very important for us to cooperate. In fact, I think Yugoslavia was attacked from everyone – it sounds like a conspiracy – but I think it was sabotaged from everywhere because it appeared like the best idea in the world. Of course, the right wing could never accept this. All nationalities, who were apparently fighting for centuries, living together in prosperity in one country! In my point of view there are many things that were wrong in Yugoslavia, beginning with its name, but…

So, if we cooperate, and now we have also Albania’s leftists who can join, so it is easier maybe, but if we co-operate together, especially Kosovo and Serbia, but also Serbia and Bosnia, and Kosovo and Macedonia, and so on, we will give an example. And that will be the example of the higher cause that we have in common – fighting against liberal ideas, against the right wing, and this is what unites us. This would be a great example to the people of the world.

V.U.-K: What do you think about Marks21’s positions on Kosovo?

I am really happy to have met comrades from Marks21. Their position is clear. It is very important. Immediately, I started telling everyone about the comrades I met. Soon, I am planning to invite you to Kosovo to meet the other comrades. This is not a problem for any of the Kosovars. Because we have all the time in the world to explain to them and be polite when explaining to them the position of Marks21, and why we cooperate with Marks21.

Otherwise, maybe some of our comrades, not me, would be afraid to accept you as friends on Facebook, let’s say. Sometimes, public pressure is much more aggressive than you can imagine. People get mad at you, shout at you and offend you in the streets. For a nation that feels like a victim, that is not easy, to be accused of being pro-Serb. You cannot explain to 100 people in the street.

But now that we have Marks21 – and we can just say, these guys accept Kosovo’s independence. And no one can say anything – it’s the end of discussion there. And we can then move on to the next step, we can explain to the people of Kosovo that the people of Serbia are suffering from the same experience  from their  political class, and to explain that this was never about nationality, language or whatever, it was always about who is going to hold political and economic power.

Because Thaci, and Dacic, and Vucic, and everybody else, they are all perfect with each other. They have wine and shake hands with each other when they meet. But we fight among each other in the most primitive ways. Then we remind each other of having killed each other in history, while these elites, politicians, the high classes, they go visit each other, and each other’s shops, like H&M. From Kosovo, they go to Belgrade to visit the fancy shops. Believe me, if Serbia built a highway to Belgrade, everyone would go to Belgrade, and not Skopje, because everyone wants to see Belgrade. These are the things that are very important.

Last time I was in Belgrade with a mini-van, the driver was Serbian. He had always worked as a driver. And I asked him about these kinds of issues. And I explained to him in the way I am explaining to you. And he agreed, even though he is not a leftist. He had no clue because he had no chance to read, but he agreed with me. Yes, fuck Vucic, fuck Thaci, and fuck everyone, they are the rich at the end of the day! This is important for me to explain to people.

I had the chance to have this discussion four years ago when I was in prison after I threw red paint at our rector of the university. The supervisor of the prison, the building, I was in, he was Serbian. His name was Dobrivoje Miletic, I remember his name. He spoke Albanian fluently and also with the local accent of Lipjan, where the prison is. Everyone referred to him as Dobri, which can also be a nickname in Albanian. You could not even know he was Serbian. Most Serbs have a heavy accent speaking Albanian, but he did not, he had a local accent.

While we were changing buildings to go to eat, we were going as a group, and there were some guys from Drenica region, which suffered a lot during the war, and we heard someone speaking in Serbian to Dobri. One of the guys from Drenica said to me, ‘look Rron, why are they speaking in Serbian, this is not an official language’. He said it loudly so everyone could hear him. Dobri was a gentle man, and he did not care about what he said. But I told him, ‘Sir, you are making a big mistake. Kosovo has more official languages, and this is because of Thaci, who is from your region.’ Dobri looked at me and he was confused because he knew I was in Vetevendosje! and the perception is that we must all be radicals. And then he dared to invite me to his office. And I told him I had the perception that your political class in Serbia is the same – and he told me a lot of stories about when he went to Nis in Serbia that people denounced him as an irredentist. He said people like him are not accepted in Serbia, and they are not accepted in Kosovo, they only live in their little Serb enclaves.

He then told me what it was like in Yugoslavia. He worked in a big co-operative. He said he had a lot of money and “we all lived together” . And in the end we came to the idea that our political elites, they are just fine with their wealth, and we are the ones fighting the hard war discriminating each other. I had a chance to know all this because of my personal experience four years ago in a prison because of talking with a Serbian guard from Kosovo. Now I want to show this to the Kosovo public.

During the floods, we had a solidarisation action. In Kosovo, lots of people were posting things like ‘God is having revenge on them’ and it was really shameful. We wanted to do an action, and everyone called us pro-Serb, and they said to me, ‘your grandmother is Slavic, she is Serbian’. In fact, my grandmother is Croatian. Just some days ago, it was her birthday. I posted her picture on Facebook, and this was picture with more likes than anything I ever posted on Facebook. Everyone supported me, which is very good news. Not for me, because I have no feeling about nationality any more. But it’s important for the cause. People supported me because they think “it is normal, it is his grandmother, and so what if she is from Serbia”? So, it is very important to create this new, real perception – that Serbs are also living very badly. Whatever I hear from my friends, it is the same as Kosovo. It is the political mafia, which we have in common. We should stop hating each other when we do not know each other.

*Lëvizja Vetëvendosje! (Movement Self-Determination!) is a political movement in Kosovo. It campaigns for the full and unconditional sovereignty of Kosovo. Set up in 2004, it shot to international prominence after two of its activists were shot dead by UNMIK (United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo) troops at a demonstration in February 2007. Its leader, Albin Kurti, a prominent student leader in the 1990s, was also arrested. Vetëvendosje! began to participate in elections in 2010. In the parliamentary elections held in 2014, the organisation won 13,59 percent and was the third largest organisation in the Kosovo Assembly.

By Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica is an editor at LeftEast and a member of Marks21 in Serbia and Counterfire in the United Kingdom. He is Lecturer in Central and East European Studies at the University of Glasgow. His first book was entitled “The Economic Struggle for Power in Tito’s Yugoslavia: From World War II to Non-Alignment” (IB Tauris, 2016).

One reply on “A Left Perspective on Kosovo. An Interview with Rron Gjinovci”

It is very refreshing, in a way, a pause for the mind, to read different yet known views, which, if properly promoted and materialized with positive examples, could bring a lot of positive changes to the world. And by this I do not mean that the views of everyone need to be changed, just that one glove does not fit all.
If misused it leads to dictatorship (although truth be told, rightist movements have become even worse dictators) but once it is revived, the new generations have to make sure not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

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