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Interview 04 Feb 15

‘The self-victimization needs to end’

Writer Bojan Krivokapic, from Novi Sad, Serbia tells BIRN about the month he spent living in Prishtina.

Una Hajdari BIRN Pristina

Writer and poet Bojan Krivokapic sat down with Prishtina Insight after a reading held in Qendra Multimedia, a cultural organization through which he participated in the “Prishtina Has No River” residency and spent a month in the capital. Krivokapic is an advocate of “activist literature” and has touched upon social and political issues that are present in the former Yugoslavia in his writing. He previously participated in a residency in Sarajevo, and has published a book of short prose, “Run Lilith, The Demons are Coming” and poetry “The Flight of the Cockroaches.” He has won multiple awards for his book.

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“When I came here, people expected me to be a ‘good Serb,’” Krivokapic insisted very early in our conversation. “Now that means different things for the Serbs and the Albanians,” he muses.

“For the Serbs, it meant I be a good, upstanding patriot. They were surprised when they realized I definitely wasn’t one. Whereas for the Albanians, that meant that I should fall in line with the empathetic rhetoric, which usually means not criticizing the things I find wrong. They were also surprised,” he says.

You’re nearing the end of your time in Prishtina. How did you approach this residency initially and how do you see things now?

What I found important about my residency in Prishtina is that it is a crucial experience for a writer that wants to work within the socio-political context, for us to see it first-hand. Although personally I would never refer to the official stance of the Belgrade government or what the media propagates as a source of information, during my time here I realized even more that their stance has nothing to do with the majority in Kosovo, and even less with the Serbian minority it pretends to represent. Actually, what they do with the Serbian minority is horrible. For Belgrade officials to come here and wave [what we call] colorful lies at them and leave, whereas they remain distant from the majority and their living conditions remain dismal, is horrible.

But in all honesty, I think I leave with much more questions than I had when I got here. I think there needs to be a lot of reading done, discussions, debates – people need to discuss where the country is headed, having in consideration its complex past and the current situation.

You said you had a very specific experience in Prishtina, regarding the celebrations of Albanian Independence Day. Could you tell us a bit more about that?

I found myself in Prishtina on the 28th of November, Flag Day, which surprised me in many ways. The fact that very few people criticized such a nationalist hysteria is very surprising. Flags, and their usage in the Balkans for nationalist aims, carry a very negative connotation. Having lived in Sarajevo, and being from Serbia, I’ve come to despise such sentiment. In Serbia, other than the country flag, you see Russian flags, which is like seeing the American flag here in Kosovo. In Sarajevo, during football matches, people pull out the Turkish flag. This is crazy, and in many parts of former Yugoslavia such flag euphoria serves as foreplay to some form of violence.

You’ve said that Kosovo Albanians should be criticised more potraying themselves as victims. What do you mean by this?

This is a phenomenon I come across every time I travel through the former Yugoslavia, either in an identical or similar form. Although we all aspired to be equal, someone always tried to be superior to another group. What happens, after the conflict and the political changes, is that we see the former victim, who has now gained more rights, apply the same approach that was once applied to them. This can either take the form of revanchist politics or an approach towards the new minorities that does not strive for equality.

A society can only be considered normal only if the minorities live relatively well, where they do not feel as if they are a less worthy human beings. This is without considering the fact if someone has a clear conscience or not, the justice system should deal with that, whereas my interest lies with the regular people. In Kosovo, we see people supporting a discourse of victimization, which is not unique, but rather mirrored in most such discourses in almost all the former constituents of the Yugoslav federation. What’s ironic is that the Albanian victimization is very similar to the Serbian one. Both choose to be in the position of victims, because this position gives you the right for revenge and legitimizes violence. It goes along the lines of “we suffered so much, and we have a right to do what we’re doing now because we suffered for decades.” The position of the victim gives you the right to be an oppressor of sorts. You see this endless cycle of victims and oppressors, and this worries me. You don’t have to kill someone to be a victim. This is why in Kosovo, this victimization of self, which is in fact the victimization of the winner in the Kosovo context, needs to be criticized. This discourse is closely tied to strong patriotism and nationalism, and it is considered normal, that since you were such a victim – you now need to be patriotic and a nationalist. This is also very strong in Serbia – all the nationalist policies that stem from today’s official politics stem from the position that Serbs were in some way victims, and this then incites hate politics and racist approaches.

What could be the consequences of such a rhetoric?

Amongst the younger generations in Kosovo this leads to a relativization of crime and suffering with the excuse that the majority with which you identify suffered, and puts it all into a very romantic and idealized context, which can be very detrimental for a society where they now are the majority. The hysteria tied to this, being tied to this or that flag, to this or that great leader, this great country or that great country, is all excused within the discourse of the victim.

I think Prishtina, and most of the cities I’ve been to in Kosovo, including Gracanica, is strongly monoethnic. Such an atmosphere can prove to be very detrimental, especially considering the fact that the Albanian and the Serbian communities in Kosovo live completely separate from each other. This gives you the impression that the conflict between the Albanians and the Serbs still continues, that is still hasn’t entered in a proper post-conflict phase. There are concrete things that still don’t function – I can’t just mail a book to a friend in Prishtina using the post, or the problems with mobile phones. It’s as if, after the direct violence and war-mongering, we’re living in a more subtle conflict phase. There’s still a lot of hate and tensions.

You used to live in Sarajevo. How does it compared to Prishtina?

What I noticed while I was here that was different from Bosnia were the language differences. Although the various ethnicities purport to speak different languages in Bosnia, they more or less have the same dialect.

There the racism begins with your name – so according to your name, you’re neatly placed within the folder of your ethnic group. Whereas in Kosovo, the language differences are stark. Here you see the reemergence of the Serbian racism toward Albanians, one that existed strongly before now but also exists now. You constantly hear people say: “Why would I learn that language, the language is ugly, useless, etc.” But that’s problematic, because you can’t share the living space you do in Kosovo and refuse to learn the language.

Personally, I found it ridiculous that people insist on using English the whole time considering we share a common history and living space, so I tried to soak up as much Albanian as I could so I wouldn’t participate in the continuation of the hegemony, the one that insisted that you only needed to know the language of the main group. I felt horrible on my first day here, when I got off the bus and didn’t understand a single word. I found that personally problematic, the fact that I hadn’t come across Albanian or learned any of it in my 30 years.

After the breakup of Yugoslavia, Kosovo lost touch much of the cultural contacts with its former country-mates. How do you see this?

During my time spent in the rest of former Yugoslavia, I found that it could prove possible that these countries, starting with maybe Slovenia and all the way to Serbia or Macedonia, that it would be a lot easier for these countries to build a common future together. There are two reasons for this, both the fact that these people have an easier time understanding each other and that there still is a racist approach towards Kosovo. So although there are conflicts between these countries or nations right now, they are united in their degrading opinion of Kosovo and Albanians – even on a cultural level.

The worst thing though, is this “new” form of racism. The insistence that “we need to include them, we need to understand them, we need an Albanian” makes it seem as if they consider Kosovars to be “disabled” people who need special care or conditions. This is seen even in the people’s resistance to have a proper critical approach towards post-war Kosovo, because criticizing the country means that you could easily fall into the trap of the Serbian mainstream and radical right, where everything tied to Kosovo is demonized. According to them, everything that is related to the majority in Kosovo is bad and the Serbs are victimized – so if you are to take a critical approach towards the Kosovar mainstream, and come from Serbia like I do, then that becomes a problem. People always rationalize “no come on, there was a lot of suffering, the people were always left to the side, isolated, etc.” and as such you need to “understand” all the mistakes that are made by Kosovars today. But you’re in fact taking away the possibility for constructive criticism, because there are things that are being done wrong. In the long term, this could seriously cripple the ability of the Kosovar society to become a credible, stable country. We need to stop thinking about it “not being the right moment.” The “right moment” will never come along, and this one is good as any other.

This story was written as part of BIG DEAL, a civic oversight project examining the implementation of agreements between Kosovo and Serbia. The project is being implemented by BIRN Kosovo, Internews Kosova and Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability - CRTA, with support from the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

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