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18 Mar 13

Diagnosing Kosovo

Hamza and Zizek’s “From Myth to Symptom: The Case of Kosovo” deconstructs the NATO intervention and independence.

Hana Marku

Agon Hamza and Slavoj Zizek’s book, “From Myth to Symptom: The Case of Kosovo,” initiates a delayed debate: Kosovo is independent, but what kind of independence is it? What are its contours, and what economic and political system is taking shape in this country? “From Myth to Symptom” deals with the mythologized perception of Kosovo as a place that suffers from historical hatred, a hatred that blocks its own progress.

According to Zizek, the famed Slovenian philosopher, and Hamza, his disciple in Prishtina, Kosovo is in fact a symptom or result of capitalist and neo-imperialist ideologies that have been installed from  abroad since NATO’s intervention in 1999, and that’s where the real problem lies.

Democracy, capitalism and the logic of the free market are treated as if they are parts of the same whole. Kosovo’s economic policies, legal framework, and national identity, are partially the result of interventions made by Kosovo’s administrators and international supervisors, if we can continue to define UNMIK, the ICO and EULEX as such.

“From Myth to Symptom” is a compilation of two essays, the first written by Zizek and the second by Hamza. Zizek describes the philosophical and ethical problems of NATO’s intervention in Kosovo,  whereas Hamza discusses the myriad issues which make the true independence of Kosovo impossible. Zizek and Hamza present a strong argument against the “culturalization” of the Albanian-Serbian conflict by Western analysts and policy makers, arguing that in so doing the political and economic roots of the problem are minimized.

If you’ve ever been at a conference or taken part in a workshop where the topic has been “inter-ethnic reconciliation”, of if you remember the KFOR posters placed around Kosovo to promote “tolerance”, you know the frame of thought the authors are referring to: “we’ve all committed crimes, learn how to live together, if they can be tolerant, so can you, etc.” In this discourse, hatred is the basis of inter-ethnic relations, and it’s the misguided people of the Balkans who need to learn that violence is wrong, and tolerance is good- without facing the real political problems that exist between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo, and between the countries of Kosovo and Serbia.

“..The wars in the former Yugoslavia by no means were the consequence of our inability to distinguish between myths and the so called existing reality. We in the Balkans are by no means hostages to our own myths, or our own history, or even more, are we a region of gang philistines that cannot overcome their own past, but necessarily revive our myths and folkloric tales and let them rule our path.The exact opposite is true: it is precisely when the wars exploded that these myths were brought up (resurrected), but they had a precise ideological function: myths had the function of the ideological supplement for what was happening in the present (81, Hamza).

In the context of independence, criticizing NATO’s intervention in Kosovo is considered practically anti-patriotic. However, it’s worth analyzing the narratives and images that were constructed about Kosovars by international media during the intervention, since those narratives and images impacted the way the intervention itself took place. Zizek argues against the discourse of “humanitarian intervention,” which was used to justify the intervention in Kosovo: “...the Other to be protected is good INSOFAR AS IT REMAINS A VICTIM (which is why we were bombarded with pictures of helpless Kosovar mothers, children, and elderly people, telling moving stories of their suffering). The moment it no longer behaves as a victim, but wants to strike back on its own, it all of a sudden turns into a terrorist/ fundamentalist/drug-trafficking Other.” (32, Zizek)

We should remember the time when numerous media described the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, as an illegal guerrilla force, linked to religious fundamentalist groups and suspicious money - an attitude that was reflected in the reserved approach that NATO took towards the KLA before, during, and after the bombardment.

NATO’s intervention, despite its humanitarian nature, established a precedent in the relationship between Kosovo and the West: that of a pseudostate that needs continuous administration, observation and supervision.

For people living in Kosovo, Hamza’s essay is of particular interest, since it provides a post-independence analysis of Kosovo. Hamza talks about the imposition of policies that favor free market capitalism at any cost, stability instead of healthy and necessary conflict in internal politics, and the promotion of multi-ethnicity at the expense of direct confrontation with the political conflict that lingers between Kosovo and Serbia.

The entire system is defined by international leaders and structures in Kosovo as “a democracy” even though the word itself has become bankrupt of its substance. The result is a washed out independence, an independence which doesn’t provide space for real emancipation and real political acts: “The ‘independence’ of Kosovo is the negation of the political ‘will of the people’, precisely because its foundations are humanitarian. It is a continuation of the UNMIK humanitarian administration.

That is to say, the independence of Kosovo does not mark a break from the (humanitarian/ neo-imperialist) past. The entire process that led to the declaration of independence was depoliticized … It happened in order to cover up that nothing (emancipatory) really happened. Independence served to fill in a gap that was being created.

They needed the decaffeinated independence to prevent a real political act: that of real independence, that is, a sovereign country (97, Hamza).

I would have liked to have read more about the possibilities for structural change in Kosovo, and perhaps commentary on what would have been the ideal way to establish Kosovo’s independence. Apart from that, the unfolding of the ideas is clear (apart from a few moments by Zizek, who is infamous for his chaotic prose) and gives an understandable summary of power relations in Kosovo.

On the fifth anniversary of Kosovo’s existence as a state, we urgently need to deconstruct the ideologies and narratives that define this country. We urgently need to view Kosovo politically- not only from the angle of party struggle, but as a project that belongs to all of us. We urgently need to review our relationship with the outside world - do we need to be eternally grateful to our saviors? Will we reproduce ourselves as an eternal victim, or will we start to act as agents of our own destiny?

Hamza and Zizek have started a conversation, a conversation that’s worth joining.

“From Myth to Symptom: The Case of Kosovo” can be purchased at Dit’ e Nat’ in Prishtina. Price: 10 euro. Published by Kolektivi Materializmi Dialektik. Written in English, 103 pages.

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