Based on the article:
“Nation Branding, Neoliberal Development,
and the Remaking of the Nation-State:
Lessons from Post-war Kosovo”
By Nadia Kaneva
Moving through Prishtina, as a local, you scan your space in an approach of readiness to greet the ones you encounter in the streets, those being either your relatives or your friends. The city is so small that you somehow can’t move without meeting some of your school friends who you aren’t really sure where your paths have crossed.
And when you pass through Mother Teresa square, you encounter from time to time some foreigners by recognising their facial expressions through open eyes and head straight in observation, especially this summer with Prishtina being flooded by cultural tourists. Well, you’re happy ending the crowded square in the end, doubtfully asking yourself how did yellow invade us and where in the hell are these yellow bricks expanding from and for what!
What turns in my brain like a popcorn flown in the heat of my skull when I see our spacesing turning into yellow is the thought which till today couldn’t be contextualized – how did Kosovo become a full carpet of yellow puzzles in the commercial Kosovo – The young Europians?
That when I think about it practicality, I can’t justify it otherwise but by only saying to myself it was meant to kids, because it’s so unproportional and naive that it can’t be that someone was so crazy to pay 4.9 million Euros for it. Well Kosovars, had a huge fuzz about this absurdity, but as always everything was treated like the latest drama of our endless telenovela without reflection to the next season. It isn’t a big deal, we love to watch in loops, we love to see history repeat itself. (irony)
And here again after almost 15 years to the absurdity of yellow invasion we pay this article, to its de-contextualisation we try here to give meaning in need for reflection, because its presence is not of randomness, its presence is of a broad orchestration, as we all probably know but refuse to reflect nor reproduce. An orchestration which could even sum-up our badly paid wages in our 48 hour-working schedule at private shops selling fake Gucci bags. While we are in celebration of our globalized market oriented economy and mindful young spirit society which gets explotatied in the name of westernization by living the dream that we belong to a democratic society, independent and under no conditions.
Throughout this illusion on democracy with Kosovo being called a post-war country for the last 22 years, after the war of 1999, its discourse has been strictly separated between the development of the so-called before the war and after the war, with the latter period culminating in its “independence” and the identity of a newly born country.
To date, through these last 22 years, we have been also called either a developing country or a country in transition. Saying to ourselves or better to say, how we have been taught – that where we are and have been is never enough, and that transition to a more suitable capitalistic state would save us all, and the price of it its working 48 hours selling fake gucci bags, while the planet is burning but still we are not guilty because some of us became vegan and don’t eat burek anymore. (irony cool)
But my question is what this development is exactly,
and to what we are transitioning really, for which end?
Transition for developing countries, how come?
Typical for the neolibral agendas, the integration of social and political matters within economical goals comes through market-based strategies, meaning the (social and political) cause must generate capital in any form. With Kosovo after the war being ruined socially, economically and infrastructurally, thus it became the hot spot for development strategies and international organizations – organizations which are rooted on the mission of transnational operational agendas with the goal of supporting “development matters’ ‘. In the 1990s the World Bank (WB), considered by some “the most influential purveyor of development theory and strategy”, introduced a shift in its conceptual framework for development.
The “new paradigm,” elaborated in various documents and public speeches by WB President James Wolfensohn, augmented the Bank’s almost exclusive previous focus on macroeconomic growth policies and called, instead, for greater integration of political and social factors with
economic goals as part of a “Comprehensive Development Framework”. In contrast to many other transnational organizations, the World Bank required that for reforms and processes to take place it must have the active support from national governments in order to be successful in advancing development goals. Similarly, transnational organizations such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) proceeded with their development goals and agendas by using the concept of nation-state within the framework of social and political development. These transnational organizations are not interested in any newly formed nation-state or any nation-state, they are interested in a particular form of nation-state which can at its best flourish through neoliberal agendas, that through the remaking, the rebranding and re-discovering of the new nation.
Thus, Kosovo as a newly “freed” region by Nato intervention, in the eyes of these transnational organizations, Kosovo became the context which was highly dependent on aid and where development, nation building and nation branding had to occur simultaneously.
What this meant in practice is that the branding of Kosovo as a nation-state was deployed as a tool for economic development and as a tool for collective identity making, as two objectives that couldn’t be separated from one another.
Nevertheless, the dependency on aid does not mean Kosovo as a nation state had to sit still and not obey the conditions within the framework of these development plans. Throughout development phases, nation-states as brands are expected to bear the main responsibility for their own development by attracting foreign capital investment, securing international goodwill, and mobilizing citizens at home and in the diaspora to “live the brand” (Aronczyk 2008).
And how this process happens, we’ll separate it into three categories:
Communication for development:
Development programs focus on the implementation of nation-branding programs where the country’s priority agenda becomes the increase of foraign capital) investments through tangible and “measurable” economic outcomes, or through the rise of tourism throughout the country. Thus, tens and thousands of agendas are prepared to communicate what for these development plans are done and how they are measured in numbers. Typical of this approach is the organizations of tremendously ridiculous conferences in Kosovo, where we as locals get the chance to get “educated” about development, get the chance to eat a free meal, from time to time travel somewhere and even sometimes get the chance to say something at the meeting table!
Communication about development:
Development programs through nation branding aim at creating and effectively communicating national goals through market-oriented paradigms, meaning institutions and the government develops discourses and campaigns which touch far into the future and aim at convincing citizens for a far better future which is yet to come, and that through nation-branding programs and open-market it will come to be a reality. Typical example remains to be the absurdity known as Kosovo – The young Europians.
Communication of development:
With James Pamment (2016a) a third dimension has been added where public diplomacy contributes to the instrumentalisation of development communication. In Pamment’s formulation, communication of development refers to the “branding, marketing, and promotion of aid activities to foreign citizens and domestic stakeholders in a manner that supports the actor’s reputation and image” (2016a, p. 11). So in one hand, local institutions instrumentalise nation-branding discourses to help build their reputation, usually as political parties, and on the other hand, transnational organizations use this situation as their public diplomacy which rises their own reputation, often by instrumentalizing so much the local institutions that their decision making and agendas precede any form of democracy. The latter, a very typical example still present in Kosovo with the influence of foraign mission and the power held by embassies in Kosovo.
Transiting to a yellow (capitalist) country, how come?
Commonly yellow symbolizes happiness, warmth, sunshine, in inspiration to the sun, as well it symbolizes richness in reflection to gold. Today, we might allow ourselves to say, it symbolizes Kosovo, or better, it symbolized Europe before it did with Kosovo. In the common environment of the contemporary world, yellow symbolizes a coolness which tries to reproduce workers’ environment, that being a typical example where we can refer to the yellow west movement in France.
When the open call for the flag of Kosovo was done in 2008, this open call ranced three proposals as their preferred ones, each of them empathized with symbols in representation of Albanian ethnicity as the majority. The first ranked proposal was empathizing yellow stars, Kosovo’s map and the blue europian color, and the intervention of the representatives of “people of Kosovo” chose to modify this version by making all stars equal in representation to the ethnicities living in Kosovo and turns the map of Kosovo from white color to yellow. But if we stop on questioning the aesthetics of the yellow without understanding the conditions which brought Kosovo to become an independent country we can’t find a ground where we could at once contextualize why are we bothered with this yellow, why is such case even of importance while instead we could go directly to the point of this discussion.
Well what we are interested in is not yellow perse, it is design practices which we here are interested in. Design in the sense of creating, executing and constructing according to a plan. And behind these design ideas, how was Kosovo as an independent country created, executed and constructed according to who’s plan? And what does that mean for our present and the continues (yellow) reproduced neoliberal agendas?
With its long socialist heritage under Yugoslavia, Kosovo gained its partially recognised independence on February 17, 2008, years after being under the administration of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).
With the intervention of NATO in 1999 and the freeing of Kosovo from the war, right after, this United Nation Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) was created where it established its governance structures with the mission to develop stability in the region and the reconstruction of these infrastructures. UNMIK’ presence in Kosovo has been generally accepted and lightly nationally contested as they pretty well knew how to construct a system where its structures would create dependency in Kosovo’s institutions and that the long western history of imperialist agendas would never become part of the everyday discourse of the common Kosovar as long as we see imperialism as just white looking people coming from London bringing us Coca Cola and we don’t manage to see that imperialism it’s a practice you can apply to your kids or neighbors. Here I’m not using lightly contested meaning political discourse, what I mean with lightly contested is the heritage that till today, in present Kosovo, white people culturally and socially imply to be smarter and superior beings than ourselves.
Throughout the presence of UNMIK in Kosovo, the status of Kosovo remained unclear until March 2004 when eruption of riots in Kosovo became the bell to the ears of the international community, not because the UN was preoccupied with Kosovars but because it was the UN who was literally governing Kosovo. Therefore, in 2005 the UN Secretary General takes its decision to appoint Martti Ahtisaari, a Finish diplomat, to serve as the Special Envoy and the mediator of the negotiations between the provisional government of Kosovo and Serbia. One year later, negotiations started and failed to come to any reasonable agreement, thus Ahtissari in March 2007 wrote back to the UN Security Council a solution which said that the only viable option to end the situation present in Kosovo was to grant Kosovo “independence with international supervision”. In the same report on the situation in Kosovo, the UN received the famous Ahtisaari Plan (Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement) specifying a set of provisions that Kosovo must follow to gain its supervised independence. Thus, these exact provisions became the basis of the Constitution of the independent Kosovo of 2008. The framework which was set up for the state building of Kosovo were written under Article 1 of Ahtisaari Plan outlining 11 general principles, with one being of interest to our text here, that is section 1.4 of Article 1, mandating that “Kosovo shall have an open market economy with free competition” (Ahtisaari 2007b, p. 3). A statement which was included in Chapter 1 of the Constitution of Kosovo demonstrating the conviction of the state of Kosovo to follow the provisions.
Thus, Kosovo takes the design challenge by becoming a country which would fully embody capitalist values through open market economy, legitimizing the way for neoliberal model of economic development that relies heavily on foreign capital investments. That not only through capital investments and the private market, but through being written in the country’s constitution. To highlight, this process has been started way earlier, with Kosovo’s social heritage completely being vanished with the founding of the ridiculous Kosovo Trust Agency in 2002 ordered by UNMIK, Kosovo or better to say UN countries opened themselves the doors of open market economy with free competition with the intention to privatize around 500 Socially Owned Enterprises with around 60 000 functioning employees. With none of these steps being able to be part of a discussion nor decision making which would include Kosovo’s citizens.
Even though we came to terms to gain independence of our country in condition to the establishment of democratic governing institutions, the mandates of the Ahtisaari Plan were not subject to negotiations nor involved a democratic process of building these provisions. He was called a professional in western terms, because we as Kosovars know quite a some about mediation, but we, the Kosovars, were not part of its negotiations we were downgraded to the “subject of research” as if Ahtisaari knew something about knowledge extraction or ethnography, but just saying these patterns have invaded the world, not only Kosovo. As well, the other phenomena being applied in Kosovo for it to become a nation-state and which has not been stated is the clientelistic approach that such imperialist approach has been established in Kosovo, allowing the flow of privatization and the power of capital to precede democratic participation. Implying progress and flowering discourses on democracy while establishing authoritative figures and approach to applying agendas in the name of (politic, economic, cultural and artistic) progress and development in Kosovo.
The use of nation branding also had to be justified domestically somehow and this was done through a “public discourse” about the need to transform Kosovo’s international “image.” As early as November 2008—only nine months after the declaration of independence—the Kosovar Stability Initiative (IKS), a Pristina-based think tank funded by Western donors, published a report titled, Image Matters!, which urged Kosovo’s government to make use of nation branding in order to deal with the key challenges the country was facing. The report argued that:
To increase the number of countries recognizing Kosovo, to sway public opinion in Europe and to operate effectively on the international stage, Kosovo’s government and civil society need to better understand its image problem and develop a new “national brand.” (IKS 2008, p. 8)
For Kosovo to reach this comercial nationalism, just one year after the independence Kosovo’s government with its absurd low budget choses to allocate €4.9 million to a comprehensive nation-branding campaign through an open call. As IKS said to fix its IMAGE PROBLEM, a problem which we didn’t understand really, why is it a problem to fight for one’s freedom, why is it a problem to demand autonomy, and why is it us who has to pay for western racism and prejudice towards Kosovars? Implying that this open call for a new image of Kosovo will allow people to “believe” that Kosovo now “knows” how to apply democracy, convinced that the format of an open call reflects democracy, even though these open calls were highly restrictive and purposeful with a clear international agenda. Similar critique for neoliberal agendas and identity washing we can refer to the designing of the Kosovo flag too. EItherway, the open call went out and got won by BBR Saatchi & Saatchi Tel Aviv, an Israili based commercial company, aiming at reaching a wide audience through video, print, poster branded events etc. The widest known till now, it’s the production of a one minute long video, where Kosovo becomes the absurdity of a yellow country while cool looking young people of Kosovo do the labor for it. What an irony. Formally Kosovo’s imperialist occupation started its public appearance with Kosovo becoming publicly the yellow capitalist country exactly how neoliberal approaches allow it to be:” a country in and out of Europe at the same time”. A yellow country which welcomes the most exploitative capitalist corporations to intervene through open-market methodologies and make Kosovars great again.
For which end, and where to?
As Kosovars, we bear the responsibility of our parents to hold on to the tremendous hope that we have been herited, a hope that loudly says giving up isn’t an option. Through long nights being fed with the stories of our parents and grandparents, they got sure that those stories wouldn’t just go through our ears without being embodied into our vanes. We, young people of Kosovo, can’t just take distance, it’s not just a voluntary choice to unwrap ourselves from the skin which has been layered for so long.
But the fight of today, isn’t the one we have been told, the new “opponent” it has not been known before.
Under a neoliberal Kosovo, land and resources didn’t come to belong automatically to institutions or the government, which would democratically allow citizens to use them, invest in them, and grow through them. Instead, citizens of Kosovo were presented with the concept of privatization, the handling and managing of these resources through completely un-democratic processes. Through the Kosovo Agency of Privatization heritating all the stately owned property, the same property was possible to be used by citizens if they only and only joined the competition process of buying the land from the KAP. Whereas the land which was under the administration of the assemblies of the municipalities would have the legal right to allocate public property through legislations and processes which would only and only favorazise businesses and would literally give to businesses public property for free. As two approaches (central and local governments) which would give priority to the development of the economy as the priority of the state.
An economy which runs through businesses which exploit citizens of Kosovo by completely exposing and endangering them through legal means, by legally allowing them to work 48 hours a week in completely devastating conditions, with no working contract, no paid leave, or any other security.
So when our parents told the stories of hope they didn’t “know” that the new “opponent” would not only take our land, it would sell it back to one of us from time to time and it would also exploit us by turning us to the cheapest labor available in Europe either for one of their transnational call center companies, or from time to time give us the chance to form our own fake Gucci bag business in devastation to belong to the cool entropronal global styles.
Yellow is the color of lies, yellow is the color of the cowardly government who wishes us to think that by sitting and consuming the latest telenovela drama on a screen at one moment we can come to think that through yellow our land would supresly turn to be public again.
Because our cowardly government can’t just stand and denounce the loss of heritage, the loss of nature, the loss of our own land. Because our coward government can’t just stand to denounce our exploitation at our exploitative fake Gucci businesses run for the sake of some western looking stupid bags. Because our cowardly government chooses to sell us as their latest talent show instead. Because our cowardly government isn’t able to see that they became just one of them. Because our cowardly government survives by stealing from us and selling to them.
By Njomza Dragusha
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