“Prishtina, Kosovo — While Bosnia-Herzegovina was experiencing what is being called a quasi-Bosnia Spring, Kosovo’s capital Prishtina had to face its own share of public anger and frustration. Although of different natures and against different targets, both events have some underlying factors in common. In both Balkan societies, the public is getting fed up with the corruption, nepotism and political interference that are at the root of stagnation in Bosnia and Kosovo and drag down their path towards European integration.
Demonstrations against the Dean
Last week, students of the University of Prishtina, Kosovo’s main public university, started demonstrating against the Dean, Ibrahim Gashi, after local media had discovered that his credentials were merely based on articles published in fake Indian academic journals. Although very peaceful at first, the protests grew more intense as they expanded and started to include protesters from outside the university community, such as civil society organizations.
The protesters demanded the Dean’s resignation and more importantly an independent inquiry into the academic credentials of the entire faculty. Finally, the Dean and the rest of the management decided to step down, as did the Steering Committee.
Higher education biggest challenge
Quality higher education remains one of the biggest challenges for Kosovo’s future. While home to Europe’s youngest population with a youth unemployment rate estimated at 75 per cent, the quality of education, especially at public institutions, is deeply concerning and not conducive to any substantial and sustainable economic development. Analysts have long noted that the University is not in any way training people for what is needed in the job market.
One part of this has to do with the fact that under Milosevic’, Kosovo Albanians (the vast majority in Kosovo) were thrown out of the formal education system and had to organize themselves through parallel structures, such as universities operating in private houses.
However, the second and most relevant factor at the moment is the fact that like all institutions in Kosovo, the University suffers from political interference, corruption, and nepotism. The Dean was considered to be a crony of the Prime Minister and the protesters were in turn supported by an opposition party. While the Dean’s credentials are almost non-existent, the university can hardly call itself a legitimate education institution. This also comes to light when talking to students and faculty who admit that bribing professors for good marks is quite common at the University of Prishtina.
Frustration is no surprise
In a country where you can’t get a job without nepotism, it is no surprise that youngsters are utterly frustrated. Add to this the fact that young Kosovo citizens are the only ones in the region that still do not enjoy visa-free travel to European Union countries.
The next steps are therefore crucial not only for the future of the University as a public education institution, but they will also shed some light on the direction that Kosovo is taking. It is fair to assume that higher political forces played a role in the Dean’s resignation, fearing that the protests could develop into a ‘Kosovo Spring’, combined with the miners strikes taking place at the same time elsewhere in the country.
In any case, Kosovo might very well find itself at an important crossroads right now. Will the political elite simply replace the Dean and the management with another corps of cronies looking for opportunities for personal enrichment or will we see a meritocratic, transparent, and objective process which could serve as an example for other Kosovo institutions? The answer to this question is especially important now since Kosovans will be heading to the polls later this year to participate in general elections.”
Farbod Saatsaz van Driel currently works as an intern at the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) in Kosovo