Patriarchy in Kosovo – Political Prisoners in Berlin – Godot in Skopje

6 June 2014
Towards A Europe Without Political Prisoners

Towards A Europe Without Political Prisoners



Dear friends of ESI,

ESI has written about Kosovo since 2000. We studied deindustrialization and privatisation. We looked at the lives of Kosovo Serbs and economic decline and conflict in Mitrovica. We studied underdevelopment in the borderlands with Macedonia and Serbia and worried about Kosovo's European isolation. We wrote about urban planning in Pristina, after the town's chief urban planner, Rexhep Luci, was killed for confronting illegal construction. Currently we are looking at the Kosovo education system.

Perhaps our most important report on Kosovo was Cutting the Lifeline. It looked at patriarchal family structures and the impact of migration and remittances in rural Kosovo. It became the basis for a documentary film in 2008.

Cutting the Lifeline – the report
Cutting the Lifeline in the media
Cutting the Lifeline – the film


Kosovo essay – Of Patriarchs and Rebels

Jeta Xharra Pristina Besa Luci

Jeta Xharra – Pristina – Besa Luci

A new essay in the ESI-ERSTE series Return to Europe Revisited returns to the theme of patriarchy. We tell the story of two remarkable journalists, Jeta Xharra and Besa Luci who challenge traditional values and ways of exercising power in Kosovo where power is male:

"A glance at local elections, for which there are no quotas, reveals a more sobering picture. Only 4 out of 200 mayoral candidates in the last local elections, held in November 2013, were women. The strongest party put up a huge poster in the centre of Pristina showing the prime minister and his party's candidates for mayor under the slogan 'for a European Kosovo.' All were men. In the end, in 38 municipalities, one woman was elected mayor, the first in Kosovo's history."

Jeta and Besa had mothers who valued their education at a time of great turmoil. Both studied abroad. Both returned with the ambition to transform their society through journalism.

Kosovo 2.0

Besa runs the magazine Kosovo 2.0. The December 2012 issue created particular waves. It was the first time that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues were publicly discussed in Kosovo. This triggered violent protests at the launch event of the issue:

"A group of men interrupted the event. They beat up one of the staff and destroyed the stage. A party planned to take place in the evening had to be called off because some 200 men staged an anti-gay protest in front of the venue. Besa and her team had to be escorted out by the police. Later that night, an LGBT activist was attacked in her office. In the following days, videos of Besa with a target drawn over her head were spread through social media."

Jeta has redefined political talk shows in Kosovo with her show "Life in Kosovo". As Jeta explained in 2013, good journalism is "going beyond mere reporting, in order to expose corruption, in a place where power is largely male, unaccountable and, sometimes, threatening."

For more, please go here:

Kosovo – Of Patriarchs and Rebels
Essay series supported by ERSTE Foundation.

Besa Shahini, "Blissful uncertainty and the Balkans"
TEDxTirana talk


Berlin event Political prisoner dilemmas

Turgut Gambar (Nida) – Emin Milli (former political prisoner)

Turgut Gambar (Nida) – Emin Milli (former political prisoner)

This week ESI and the German Federal Commissioner for Human Rights, Christoph Strässer, invited leading human rights defenders and policy makers from across Europe to Berlin. Our aim: identify how to launch a campaign for a Europe without political prisoners and discuss a set of concrete proposals:

ESI and Norwegian Helsinki Committee

Europe without political prisoners
A crisis and six suggestions for debate

We started the conference with a video clip by former political prisoners thanking those who had campaigned for their liberation:

Emin and Adnan: We are back and thank you

A broad coalition was mobilised for Emin and Adnan, from the alumni of their universities to Barack Obama. The system of human rights advocacy appeared to work. It seemed possible to shame a regime to correct an injustice.

Today it no longer does.

Since Emin and Adnan were released in late 2010, waves of arrests in Azerbaijan and repression in Russia have only grown in intensity. Repression is getting ever more blatant. Sentences are getting longer. According to Amnesty International there are today some 40 prisoners of conscience in Europe: half of them in Azerbaijan, the others in Belarus and Russia.


Helping families and lawyers

Khadija Ismayilova Khadija Ismayilova Khadija Ismayilova

Khadija Ismayilova in Berlin

This raises many issues. Some are practical. Some families of prisoners face economic ruin. In Azerbaijan only a handful of lawyers, who face repression while working pro bono, take up their cases.

This wave of arrests has exposed the weakness and capture of international institutions such as the Council of Europe. It is also challenging the international human rights movement.

Turgut Gambat from the pro-democracy group NIDA (12 of its members are in jail) and Khadija Ismayilova, a leading investigative journalist constantly harassed and threatened by the authorities, note that existing support mechanisms for families and lawyers of political prisoners are wholly inadequate.


Godot in Macedonia

Porta Makedonija presentation – 6 June

Porta Makedonija presentation – 6 June

There is no past, no future, just repetitive present. Characters are handicapped, blind, imprisoned in a single place, unable to leave. They inhabit an indifferent universe, filled with futile dialogue and futile gestures. People are lost.

Such is the world of Waiting for Godot, the famous Theatre of the Absurd play by Samuel Becket. And such is the state of EU-Macedonian relations today.

So what can be done? In recent months, with support by the Dutch government, ESI has worked on the crisis of EU policy towards Macedonia. This Friday Gerald presents our findings in a keynote address at an event hosted by the think tank CRPM:

"Waiting for Godot in Skopje"

Conference Hall
Porta Makedonija, Skopje
Friday 6 pm


ESI capacity building – from Lake Ohrid to the Bosporus

Our most productive capacity building ever – Lake Ohrid 2004

Our most productive capacity building ever – Lake Ohrid 2004

This week an ESI team – Gerald, Eggert and Maximilien – visits Skopje for an enjoyable anniversary. Ten years ago we started to share our experience as think-tankers with young analysts in South East Europe. We set out to encourage young people to set up their own research think tanks to change debates.

Our very first capacity seminar was held on Lake Ohrid in 2004. Following this event participants set up not one but three think tanks. All three still exist today, and one – CRPM in Skopje, today one of the biggest in the Balkans – celebrates its tenth anniversary this week.

We have since done such seminars in Sarajevo, Pristina, Tirana, Podgorica, Tbilisi, Yerevan, Tunis and Kiev. In Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Albania, Montenegro and Georgia think tanks were set up which are all active today.

More on ESI capacity building here

ESI Capacity building on visa liberalisation in Istanbul (May 2014)

ESI Capacity building on visa liberalisation in Istanbul (May 2014)

Last week we continued these capacity building efforts in Turkey, with a seminar for representatives of leading Turkish civil society groups and academics. Alexandra, Besa and Gerald shared our expertise on how research and advocate for visa liberalisation.

More on all this – and the new advocacy effort for further visa liberalisation – to follow.

Many best regards,

Gerald Knaus