Eggs and Democracy

A little over a week ago, members of Kosovo’s parliamentary opposition pelted Prime Minister Isa Mustafa with eggs. Andrea Lorenzo Capussela explores what may have driven such an action, and the disappearing space for debate in Kosovo’s parliament.

Some people talk about eggs. These oval objects are the product of a domestic animal that can be eaten, cooked. Eggs too can be eaten, also raw. They can be cooked in many ways, including in boiling water. This liquid boils at 100 degrees, at sea level. It boils at a little less than that in Kosovo, where pressure is lower: 98 degrees maybe. But whether or not 98 is enough to cook an egg is not, surprisingly, what those people talk about.

[Note: I should have said that the theatre of the egg-talk is Kosovo, a parliamentary republic. Not because it happens to have a Latin egg (ovo, dat.) in its name, but because a few days ago some parliamentarians of an opposition party, Vetevendosje, threw eggs – normal ones (neither Fabergé nor quail), raw, and many – at the prime minister as he prepared to address parliament on an delicate issue, leading him to leave the hall. The delicate issue is an agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, recently brokered by the EU, about the creation of a so-called ‘association/community’ among Kosovo’s few Serb-majority municipalities, which is meant to coordinate their political action and strengthen the protection of the small Serb minority of Kosovo. The egg-throwers oppose the agreement, upon arguments linked to the constitutional structure of the state. The agreement is not popular in Kosovo, I imagine, where it probably is perceived as an imposition by Brussels (and Washington, frankly): indeed, Kosovo’s government is trying to have the agreement ratified without involving the parliament. So the raw eggs touched a raw nerve, and their throwing is linked to the claim that parliament must be allowed to discuss the agreement in full (ab ovo, if you like): some opponents of TTIP (and of the Iran deal) made essentially the same procedural argument. Now the surprise effect is lost, but you can continue reading.]

 

They pronounce lofty, or oblique, phrases about democracy. These people include Kosovo politicians and foreign diplomats, and all seem agitated. Prime minister Isa Mustafa complained the most: which is understandable, for being the target of a volley of eggs (‘in parliament!’: imagine the shock) must be unpleasant, especially if one thinks that the said flying objects should really have been aimed at one’s foreign minister.

Echoing those diplomats, according to UNMIK’s media report Mustafa said: “[t]he MPs must reflect a culture of democracy… I went to the Assembly today to explain to the MPs and the people all the elements of agreements reached in Brussels. Unfortunately I was prevented [‘by the eggs’, he might have added] from doing so, despite the fact that no one has the right to deny the Prime Minister from giving explanations to the people.”

Now, let’s follow him along the route that leads from eggs to democracy. While Mustafa’s party (LDK) was in government, in 2008, Kosovo’s parliament was forced to pass 50 or 60 very important laws without even reading them: the fast-track procedure, as you might remember, was designed specifically for approving the Ahtisaari-related laws. Yet I presume that Mustafa agrees that leaving the legislative power to parliament is more consonant with democracy than leaving it to obscure confidential committees (in which I also sat, I must say, to my perennial shame).

You may recall, also, that LDK was one of the victims of the ‘industrial-scale’ electoral fraud observed at the parliamentary elections of 2010–11. Mustafa was the leader of the party. He agreed to organize protests together with the other victims of electoral fraud, FER and Vetevendosje. Yet, at the last minute LDK withdrew. A couple of years later, ahead of the 2013 elections, Mustafa recalled that episode (I quote from UNMIK’s media report for 29 April 2013): “[t]he leader of [LDK] Isa Mustafa said that they will not recognise upcoming elections results if votes are misused like the last time. ‘We have kept silent for the sake of the processes in Kosovo but votes cannot be stolen again,’ said Mustafa.”

So Mustafa is someone who sees electoral fraud, decides to protest about it, changes his mind at the last minute, and then candidly says “We have kept silent for the sake of the processes in Kosovo but votes cannot be stolen again”, with the tone of someone who condones a child’s indiscretion. Such a politician is hardly in a position to lecture anyone on democracy. For what is worse, I would ask him: throwing eggs in parliament, or expropriating its legislative function and agreeing to tolerate the manipulation of the elections that determine its composition?

And who is responsible for these and all the other transgressions of the democratic principle that Kosovo had to suffer since it became independent? The political élite, of course. But also those Western diplomacies that saw those transgressions and said nothing about them (when they did not directly participate in organizing them). This should be kept in mind when one read statements like this one, by the current US ambassador in Pristina: “Kosovo’s path to Euro-Atlantic integration requires respect for democratic procedures and regional cooperation, not political stunts.”

I shall readily agree that pelting a prime minister with eggs inside parliament is a questionable way of protesting. But it depends on the context: I think that it is precisely those transgressions that have led those MPs to throw eggs, hoping to make their dissent heard by the public. In other words, given the state of Kosovo’s democracy the only respectable question about the eggs is whether or not they are an effective way of protesting. I am not justifying the egg-throwers, of course, and might perhaps have preferred other forms of protest: my point is that the main objective cause of their action is precisely the defective quality of Kosovo’s democracy, itself a consequence of those transgression and of the conditions, internal and external, that made them possible.

Let me be more precise. The first, and main, agreement on North Kosovo was ratified by parliament thus: in the space of one morning, and without debating or even really reading it first. Now, parliaments are not there just to cast votes but also to discuss: and their debates are public because the matters they vote upon are of public interest and because there must be osmosis, and mutual influence, between debates in parliament and in public opinion (democracy is ‘government by discussion’, some people say, or ‘government by public reason’). That is precisely why Kosovo’s laws want parliament to vote twice on laws, with at least one week between the two votes: the purpose is to allow parliamentarians to reflect, and to give public opinion the opportunity to make its voice heard. Yet crucial votes – on the 50/60 Ahtisaari laws, the constitution, that agreement, and several other delicate laws – could be held in the space of a few hours, without debate. What does this mean? It means that those who organised, and approved, these transgressions of the democratic principle have no interest in democracy (in the substantive sense): they view it as a way to put a collective stamp of approval on decisions taken by others outside of parliament (and of public scrutiny).

My understanding is that the issue now is precisely whether or not (or how) the recent agreement about the ‘association/community’ will be approved by parliament. If, as I understand, the throwing of eggs was a reaction to an attempt, yet again, to deprive parliament of its right to discuss, then I am on the side of the protesters (even though, as I said, I might quibble about the forms of the protest: but this is a wholly secondary issue). And I am on their side irrespective of any question about the merits of the ‘association/community’: the sovereignty of parliament is both a prior and a higher question than that.

This is precisely what Western diplomacies sometimes tend to forget, implicitly assuming – because they are well-intentioned, of course – that the short-term effects of disrespecting the democratic principle are negligible. This is a very mistaken belief. You shall recall that five per cent of Kosovo’s population fled – or ‘migrated illegally from’, if you like, which is exactly the same thing – the country in the space of eight weeks recently. They left because they don’t think that the political system can do anything good for them in the foreseeable future, and now they are being sent back to Kosovo: so this is not the moment to further damage the quality of Kosovo’s democracy. Rather, if they are mindful of their own interests, Brussels and the European diplomacies should go out of their way to protect the form and substance of democracy in Kosovo, to tell its citizens that maybe they have a hope in this country.

So the petulant claims of the egg-obsessed crowd should be dismissed out of hand (and discussion on eggs return to its usual spheres, those inside which this article made its first steps). It is not just laughable to get agitated about eggs: that those lamentations come from those who are responsible for those transgressions is a veritable affront to Kosovo’s citizens. May they respond.

Cover photo credit: image still from YouTube 

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Andrea Capussela

Andrea Lorenzo Capussela has a PhD on competition policy. After a few years in the private sector, he served as the head of the economics unit of Kosovo’s international supervisor, the International Civilian Office, in 2008–11, and as the adviser to Moldova’s economy minister and deputy prime minister, on behalf of the EU. He then took a sabbatical period, during which he wrote one book (State-building in Kosovo: Democracy, EU Interests and US Influence in the Balkans, I.B. Tauris: London, forthcoming), is conducting research on another one, and is doing some voluntary work on the development of a district in Calabria, Italy’s most depressed region.