On April 14, Ilir Deda, executive director at the Kosovar Institute for Policy Research and Development (KIPRED), delivered his talk, Building a New Country: Hopes and Challenges, in the Dining Complex Amphitheater 107. As part of the Office of International Affairs and the Council for Inclusive Governance’s Global Dialogue Series, Deda’s lecture addressed the rationale for building a new Republic of Kosovo, lessons learned in the process, and what should be done locally and internationally to facilitate nation building in the future.
Prior to joining KIPRED, Deda served as chief of staff and senior political advisor to the President of Kosovo Atifete Jahjaga; co-founder of the New Spirit Party (FER, Partia Fryma e Re); policy specialist for the United Nations Development Program headquarters in New York; researcher and consultant at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy; chief political advisor to the Kosovo Prime Minister (2003-2004); and analyst for the International Crisis Group in Kosovo (2002-2003).
Before delivering his talk, Deda sat down with The Bulletin to discuss the importance of establishing an independent state, national identity, and the role of youth in political movements and change.
Jasmine Henderson: When Kosovo declared independence in 2008, what hopes do you think the majority of Kosovo citizens had?
Ilir Deda: For the people of Kosovo, the declaration of independence meant that Kosovo would be a fully sovereign state, accepted completely into the international community, and be a member of the United Nations. It meant that we had finally finished with our past and could start focusing on developmental issues, a better economy, better education, more job prospects, more fundamental democracy, and becoming an inclusive state where all citizens would be equal. These were the hopes of the people six years ago.
JH: To this day, what are the challenges that come with building a new state and realizing those hopes?
ID: Unfortunately things didn’t go the way our people thought they would. If you look at Kosovo six years later, you’ll see that there are still issues with international legitimacy—Kosovo is far away from the United Nations. Although it has been recognized as an independent country, it’s only been recognized by 106 states. That’s not enough to be in the U.N. It still faces opposition from Russia in the Security Council. And we haven’t achieved any of the goals in the developmental and educational issues that we had hoped for. Some issues seem further away from being solved than they did years ago.
JH: Why is it important to establish a national identity and what makes it difficult to achieve?
ID: In Europe, identity is linked to language and ethnicity and in Kosovo we are a multiethnic country. In this new state we have still been struggling between two issues: how to be loyal to the state and at the same time preserve one’s identity. Sometimes there are premature ideas that there should be a rebranding of ethnic identity into the state identity. I don’t think this is the right way to go because people want to feel safe in who they are. The state should ensure this; not tell them, “This is who you are,” but work to preserve everyone’s ethnic identity in a nation that views all of its citizens equally. This should be a country of free individuals who have the opportunity to develop and have a dignified life regardless of their background. While protecting the collective rights of cultural, linguistic, religious minorities, this isn’t a vision of a divided country. This is a vision for a united country where individuals would flourish. An independent Kosovo that discriminates is not worthwhile.
JH: Why is autonomy still important in an increasingly globalized world?
ID: If you look at the history of Kosovo, it was treated very, very badly in former Yugoslavia. We had ethnic cleansing during the war by the state of Serbia. Serbia state policy was one of ethnic cleansing, displacement of people, killing of civilians, war crimes. In 1989 the self-government of Kosovo was taken away illegally. The only way for the people of Kosovo to develop freely and in peace and in democracy is to have an independent state. That is undisputable and has been undisputable given the suffering we have gone through in the last 25 years. Even today, the scars of the war are deep. We have thousands of people 15 years after the war who don’t know where their closest ones are. We have 1,700 people missing. There is a mass grave that just opened up in Serbia last week with 250 bodies. Thousands of families now think that these are the closest people to them. It’s appalling that 15 years after the conflict we haven’t solved these issues yet.
JH: During a student protest at the University of Pristina that called for the resignation of corrupt officials, you and a couple dozen other protesters were arrested. Soon after, part of the students’ demands were met, with resignations of Pristina rectors and pro-rectors. This might be not only an example of your strong conviction but also of the drive of a younger generation. What is the value of young people being involved politically and what influence do young people yield?
ID: The youth of Kosovo didn’t have a model of success with active participation and the student protests in late January and early February and the success it led, regardless of the arrests and police brutality and violence, finally gave our young people a model. You have to stand up for yourself and the right cause. The students had the right cause and they won. This victory has actually transformed the mindset of the youth because now they see that their involvement in issues is not in vain; that change can happen, of course, if your demands are just. When all institutional pathways to resolve issues are blocked, as they had been with the students, then protesting is the last resort and this has been successful.
The youth feels much more energized now. We will have higher participation of young people in political affairs and I think it’s especially crucial in Kosovo where 70 percent of our population is younger than 30. This year they have a lot of work ahead but they have a chance. Our national elections will determine which way our country goes for the next decade. Does it have better governance? Does it have better anti-corruption efforts and results? Does it have more strategic thinking in the economy and creating new jobs? Or does it remain the same as it is today, run by the same people as today? I think this is the biggest test and the youth can’t afford to lose this opportunity.