Week 5 - Election Results and Kosovo Courts

On Sunday, the national elections were held throughout Kosovo.  I woke up early and traveled to the Sirius Hotel where D4D, along with other Civil Society Organizations, were gathered in a large conference room.  Throughout the morning, I observed the phone calls that were being made by the hundreds of volunteers and the well-organized system the CSOs had developed for analyzing all of the information as they received it.  Unfortunately, after a few hours of observation, I was instructed to head home until I was needed for a press release, as I could not make phone calls in Albanian!  Undeterred, I took this opportunity to walk around Pristina and try to get a sense of the mood of the citizens during the election.  There were a few polling stations between my apartment and the hotel, so I took some time to do some observing myself.  What stood out to me the most was the amount of young people I saw going to the polls.  In the US, it is a common stereotype that young people, while holding passionate opinions about politics, do not show up when election day rolls around.  This was certainly not the case in Kosovo as most of the voters I saw in line at the polling stations looked to be around college-aged.

At the end of the night as the votes were being tallied and results started to come in, I watched the results in anticipation on Kosovar TV, but the exit polling was spoiled for me by my coworkers!  One of the perks of working at the call center was that they would know the exit polling results before the news agencies could report on it!  It looked clear from the moment that the polls closed that the PDK coalition was going to receive a plurality of the votes, but what was truly surprising was that the LDK coalition was running neck-and-neck with VV and, as the night drew to a close, VV took second place in the national results.  I walked to the city center to observe the people react to the polls and there were celebrations up and down the street.  I saw a lot of young people waving Albanian flags, dancing, and singing; I did not see a single act of violence or frustration.  They seemed genuinely excited about the results and especially VV's high polling result! I think that VV received a lot of support in Pristina as the current mayor is a member of that party and he has implimented popular reforms in the city.  Knowing what I’ve seen at the basketball game celebrations and now the election celebrations in the city center, I can safely say that when Kosovars celebrate, they go all out!

As a side note, these results meant that my 2-euro bet in the office voting pool did not pan out for me, as I had vastly underestimated VV’s influential grassroots campaign and vastly overestimated PDK’s ability to garner votes. I had assumed that because the PDK and LDK coalitions had vastly more money than VV, they would garner way more votes than them. But I underestimated the effectiveness of VV’s local organization efforts to win the support of the active youth who went to the polls and helped make them the largest single party in Kosovo's Assembly. 

The days that followed the election results seemed just as hectic as in the previous week.  Everyone in the organization was working hard to analyze the outcome and what it meant for the short-term prospects of a government and the long-term effects on Kosovo’s democracy.  As a result, I was tasked with writing the entire op-ed piece for the previous week’s salon, which would be published in a national newspaper.  I wrote the original piece in English, which was then translated into Albanian and published at a later date.  (UPDATE: The editorial has been posted online at http://zeri.info/zerat/149185/agjenda-e-kosoves-a-gjindet-ne-rruge-te-duhur/)

The Tuesday Salon that I attended this week had to do with the role of women in both society and within political parties, and the challenges that they face in both arenas.  For this salon, I was fortunate enough to have a translator, as there were a couple of other international students who attended.  The discussion was fascinating and it sometimes dovetailed nicely with my research; the panelists discussed how the patriarchal elements of society continue to hamper women in many facets of their working lives.  They also discussed how childbirth and family obligations also precluded them from political opportunities as well as opportunities in the labor force.  This salon really drove home the research I had been conducting with actual life experiences from women who had struggled against such obstacles firsthand.

After I had rented my apartment through Airbnb last month, I was surprised to discover that my landlord, Mr. Arber Istrefi, is an attorney here in Pristina.  He contacted me this week to invite me to observe two hearings he had scheduled.  I was given permission to take Wednesday afternoon to accompany Mr. Istrefi to the hearings in the city of Kline (after a delicious lunch of Turkish doener).  Mr. Istrefi works primarily with insurance claims from automobile accidents, and on the way over we discussed the two cases he was working on.  The first case had to do with his client colliding with a tractor, and how the hearing was about the percentage of damages his client should receive under a theory of comparative negligence.  The second hearing was more complicated, as it involved two different insurance agencies that covered a tractor-trailer which collided with Mr. Istrefi’s client.  The issue at the hearing concerned which insurance company was liable for the damages.  We discussed the history of each case and the legal arguments and counter-arguments as we drove to the courthouse.

Upon our arrival to the courthouse, I noticed immediately the USAID signs in and around the entrance to the courthouse.  I felt a sense of pride seeing that my country was funding the growth of the judicial system in Kosovo.  The hearings were surprisingly informal; both hearings did not take place in a courtroom, but instead in the presiding judge’s office.  The small room was almost oppressively hot from the noon-day sun as both Mr. Istrefi and his counterparts conducted their business.  Throughout the hearings, both attorneys as well as the judge were making small talk and cracking jokes in between arguments.  I had walked in expecting a tense atmosphere, but the hearings were anything but that.  To top it all off, I was incredibly impressed when Judge Shala, the presiding judge, revealed he was currently fasting for Ramadan while conducting business in that small, blazingly hot room.  I barely survived the hearings with a bottle of water; it must have taken a feat of nearly superhuman strength to go a full day in that room while simultaneously adjudicating the law!

On the drive back to Pristina, Mr. Istrefi and I discussed the structure of the legal system in Kosovo as well as its drawbacks.  Hearings are notoriously difficult to schedule, as the court system is inundated with lawsuits and there are not enough judges to adjudicate them all in an orderly fashion.  Some of Mr. Istrefi's cases have been going on for years because they've only had a couple of hearings.  He told me stories of how judges, after putting in a full shift at the courthouse, would spend their free evenings and weekends drafting decisions for the cases they heard that day because they did not have time during their regular work hours to do so.  We also discussed the lack of convictions in corruption cases in Kosovo, and how the backlog of current corruption cases was stymieing its progress.  It was a fascinating look into the Kosovar judicial system, and I look forward to attending further hearings with him.