04-12 AUGUST / PRIZREN, KOSOVO

 

04-12 AUGUST / PRIZREN, KOSOVO

CORRUPTION — The Growing Cancer of Society

Photograph by Atdhe Mulla

August 13th, 2016

By Valmir Mehmetaj/ Kosovo 2.0

Time is not going to heal corruption, and unless we do something ourselves it is going to continue growing like a cancer, suffocating the whole society and endangering the futures of our children. That is what DokuFest has been communicating to all festival goers this year, through panels, special guests and a curated film program.

In their annual meeting held every year in December, DokuFest organizers decide upon the theme of the following year’s festival. Last December, seeing that corruption is endemic and growing at an alarming rate, they decided not only to make it the theme of the festival, but to intensify the program compared to previous years and batter it from all fronts.

“We are all accomplices if we do not react,” DokuFest Executive Director Eroll Bilibani told K2.0. “We should all start to think differently so tomorrow we will not blame others for the mess but take responsibilities as a society; from simple individuals to public institutions, teachers in schools and private businesses, let alone the decision makers from the government.”

Eroll Bilibani, DokuFest executive director.

The word corruption is on everyone’s lips in Kosovo. You can read and hear about it daily; turn on your TV, log on to Facebook, open a newspaper or start a conversation and the chances are it will pop up. There is so much talk, that according to Bilibani it has lost its true meaning, rendering it trivial.

“The word corruption has been banalized here [to the extent] that the people think it is normal when they hear it,” said Bilibani. “Corruption this, corruption that, and also social media has influenced it for people to talk [about it] without it leaving any real impression on them. So we thought we should maybe change the approach.”

Artistically speaking, the festival conveyed the true meaning of the word ‘corruption’ and the harm it does to a society through a piece of visual art work.

Daniel Mulloy, an accomplished filmmaker and a three time Bafta winner, helped create a heralded video which is shown before each film screening at the festival. Titled “Florid Decline,” it starts with a blooming rose breathing, which then rots while exhaling. The view then opens to a wider shot with many more roses breathing, forming the word ‘Corruption.’ The background music is tense and has an unnerving tone.

“I wanted to create something abstract that would represent the suffocation felt by a population blighted by corruption. Corruption often goes unseen, can be intimidating and lonely for those trapped by it, and it often rots from the core outward, or the head down,” Mulloy told K2.0, stressing that it is especially upsetting for a society such as Kosovo’s. “All societies and countries are susceptible to corruption. But for those countries that are healing after war or extreme regimes, whose populations have recently been under terrible duress, for those citizens to feel the burn of corruption is, perhaps, the most painful and disheartening.”

DokuFest created a specially curated film program called “Power, Corruption and Lies” with movies and documentaries being shown throughout the festival. Bilibani told K2.0 that DokuFest wanted to address the issue of corruption profoundly.

“We organized a larger number of panels than previous years,” he said. “We divided it into two places: one in Hammam and the other at the Albanian League of Prizren. We didn’t want to go for the classical system of conferences where people talk and bring recommendations, and then it all gets forgotten.” Instead, Bilibani said they had approached the issue from all angles, searching for the best solutions, self reflections, and bringing examples from the region and beyond in order to cause a reaction.

Panelists at the talks featured a mix of Kosovars, people from the region and others from further afield. The program started with a Power, Corruption & Lies panel, which featured a discussion on the power of the lies that those in authority enshroud themselves in. To contextualize it to the circumstances in Kosovo, the economist Lumir Abdixhiku from the RIINVEST institute was invited to speak as part of the panel.

(Photo: Somer Spat).

Abdixhiku said that in economic terms, corruption in Kosovo is worth five times more than outside investments made in Kosovo, five times more than foreign donations and five times more than the money which comes from the diaspora. He primarily blamed the political parties that do not see corruption as something to fight against but as a competition to get the most profit from.

However Abdixhiku insisted that citizens must also shoulder some of the responsibility for endemic corruption, and cited the reaction to the current wiretapping revelations in Kosovo. “It is a public secret which we found out through some phone tapings and there has been no reaction,” he said. “I do not understand this citizen apathy. A 20-year-old citizen has high odds of passing through their 20s without finding a job — they have heard these wire tappings, they see that their future is being stolen and still they don’t react.”

Certain issues that are always closely followed by a cloud of accusations of corruption when they enter public discourse in Kosovo — such as the privatization of the Adem Jashari Airport, the construction of the ‘National Highway’ and the privatization of the energy distribution company, KEDS — were discussed in the 1 Minute Stories panel.

Regional examples of civil society mobilization to peacefully resist and protest against corruption, nepotism and other fishy governmental decisions were presented in Wednesday’s panel, Everyday Rebellion. The guest speakers were Artan Sadiku from the Solidarnost (Solidarity) movement in Skopje, Ksenija Radovanovic from Ne da(vi)mo Beograd (Don’t Drown Belgrade) and Hajrullah Ceku, one of the most prominent activists in Kosovo who heads the Prizren-based active citizenship organization, Ec Ma Ndryshe.

(Photo: Somer Spat).

“[There are] two very interesting regional models as to what the civil society can do in the region, and how it has managed to mobilize people in peaceful protests,” said Bilibani, offering two examples of such instances. “The Ne da(vi)mo Beograd movement has managed to mobilize hundreds of thousands in the streets of Belgrade to oppose the megalomaniac project of central and local government in Serbia’s capital. Also Artan Sadiku from Skopje, who has been one of the flag bearers of the ‘Colorful Revolution,’ which is known for the marathon conditions in which they had to protest, staying in tents and continuing to do so even now.”

Corruption is not bound by borders; it is a worldwide, lucrative ‘industry.’ However, some countries have managed to control and lessen its reach.

Smari McCarthy, an expert on corruption issues working for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and another of the Power Corruption and Lies discussion panelists, told K2.0 that the issue of offshore banking shows just how big the problem is. “If 13 percent of global wealth is just that one type of corruption [offshore banking], then we have a big problem and we need to fix that,” he told K2.0.

McCarthy argues that the most effective solution would be to radically increase the transparency of government operations, making it harder to engage in corrupt behaviour. “Make public government documents [open] so it is very hard for officials to engage in corrupt behaviour,” he said. “But also expose things like the conditions on loans, the large loans made from banks to corporations and things like tax payments; anything like that because that reduces the manoeuvring power of corrupt actors to do large scale transactions.”

McCarthy believes that reducing income and financial inequality is an important factor as well. “That actually also means reducing the difference of quality in terms of access to capital, access to welfare, access to justice etcetera,” McCarthy argued. “Because when some people have a stronger access to these things, especially financially, but also in terms of access to the judicial system and whatnot, then they are much more likely to become victims of corruption. Of course education is a factor in that, but not quite as a big a factor as simple economic means. So reducing income inequality is one of the most important subset.”

Corruption, nepotism and negligence have become a common ‘culture’ in Kosovo but DokuFest 2016 has attempted to kickstart the fightback. The challenge now is to continue the activism once the spotlight of Kosovo’s biggest cultural event has moved on for another year.

Kosovo 2.0 is DokuFest’s official media partner. This article is part of a series of pieces written during DokuFest 2016. Kosovo 2.0 is a print and online magazine bringing you voices unfettered and unafraid.