Uneven and hierarchical citizenship in Kosovo

Gezim Krasniqi
Hierarchical citizenship

This is an extended summary of a longer paper that was originally published in the CITSEE Working Paper Series and is available for download here.

Regardless of the legal definition, in the absolute majority of cases a state is appropriated and dominated by a core group or community, be it the ‘titular nation’, ‘majority’, ‘core ethnic group’ etc. However, in multicultural or plural societies organised on the principles of political recognition of group difference, one can distinguish not only between the core dominant group and the non-dominant groups, but also between a core non-dominant group and other non-dominant groups. Thus, uneven citizenship is not necessarily only about a majority-minority binary divide. It implies hierarchies as well as tensions within and between non-dominant groups resulting from uneven distribution of rights or structural socio-political inequalities.

As regards, the concept of ‘hierarchical citizenship’ (term coined by Stephen Castles) it results from institutionalised forms of differentiated citizenship combined with a reality on the ground that favours some groups more than the others. In particular, differences in the level of group/community protection and political representation become pertinent in those cases when there is a clear difference between the absolute equality of human rights laid down in legal instruments of the state and the social reality, where although many have certain rights on paper, they lack the opportunities and re­sources to actually enjoy these rights.

An additional important factor is the existence of an external power in general and a kin-state in particular, which outweighs other factors such as size of population and political demands. So, the position of a community or a group is determined not only by internal citizenship arrangements, but by access to external citizenship and the opportunity to be legally linked to several political entities, through structures that Rainer Bauböck calls “citizenship constellations”.

Kosovo: Multiple forms of uneven citizenship

Kosovo represents one of the cases where group institutionalised forms of differentiated citizenship combined with a reality on the ground that favours some groups more than others led to the emergence of hierarchical citizenship. Although Kosovo is defined as ‘a state of its citizens’, meaning civic state, ‘multi-ethnicity’ is the keyword in Kosovan Constitutional setting. If equality is established legally among all citizens, politically every citizen is defined as a member of a community (i.e. inhabitants belonging to the same national or ethnic, linguistic, or religious group), which in turn are granted specific group-rights, including reserved seats in the parliament. As a result, we have at the same time ethnically-blind civic state institutions, and yet the very functioning of the state is based on multi-ethnicity (the ethnically-blind state being there to ensure that no group will dominate or be discriminated against – at least not formally).

Nevertheless, despite the constitutionally and legally enshrined promise of equality in Kosovo, differentiated citizenship together with a political context defined by an ethnic divide and past structural inequalities, as well as uneven external citizenship opportunities, contributed to the emergence of ‘hierarchical citizenship’, where some groups (communities), or ‘rights-and-duty-bearing units’, are ‘more equal than the others’. In other words, the formal equality of citizens and communities is contradicted by the socio-political reality where some communities are better off, thus leading to the emergence of a hierarchy of communities in Kosovo.

Moreover, the hierarchy exists not only between the core or dominant community (Albanians) and the non-dominant communities, but between the latter as well. As a result, some communities in Kosovo form the core of the polity and society, while others remain in semi-periphery or periphery. Similar to the international system, which according to Immanuel Wallerstein’s world systems theory contains a three-level hierarchy: core, periphery, and semi-periphery, in the case of Kosovo, some groups form the core of the political system, whereas others are in semi-periphery and periphery.

Some of the key factors, that determine the present hierarchy of citizenship in Kosovo, include: legal setting, external citizenship, historical legacies, demography, geographic position, (in)existence and role of the kin-state (external factors), relations with the core-group, political agency, and resources. Last but not least, discrepancy between the absolute equality of human rights laid down in the instruments of national law and the social and political reality is considered to be an important factor in determining the hierarchy of a group’s rights. For even when people and groups have certain rights on paper, many lack the opportunities and resources to actually enjoy these rights.

Based on the present legal setting and socio-political situation, the order of groups in the hierarchy of citizenship is as follows: 1) Albanians - the core (dominant) community; 2) Serbs - the core non-dominant community; 3) Serbs from north Kosovo - the core of the ‘core non-dominant’ community; 4) Turks - the semi-peripheral community; 5) Gorani and Bosniaks – the elusive peripheral communities; 6) Montenegrins and Croats – the unrecognised communities); 7) Roma, Egyptians and Ashkali (RAE) – the invisible communities.

Albanians: Despite the fact that Kosovo is not defined as a national state of its titular nation, but as a multi-ethnic state of all citizens, guided by principles of non-discrimination and equal protection under the law of all communities, one cannot neglect the fact that ethnic Albanians constitute the overwhelming majority of the Kosovar population. As such, the Albanian community in Kosovo occupies a central place within the new state, including domination of central political and security institutions, as well as economic life in the new state, thus making it the core community.

Nonetheless, when it comes to various citizenship rights such as social benefits or free movement, Kosovo Albanians, most of whom have only Kosovan citizenship, are disadvantaged compared to other communities, whose members are linked to other citizenship regimes in the region. Kosovan passport holders remain the only citizens in the Western Balkans who still need a visa to travel within the European Union.

Serbs: More than from their numerical superiority vis-à-vis other non-dominant communities, the Serbs’ position as a core non-dominant community is based on history, the recent “ethnic reversal,” its political organisation, the role of Serbia as a de-facto kin state (Serbia does not recognise Kosovo as a state), and international support. Above all, the large scope of specific group (Serb)-rights and protection enshrined in Kosovar legislation make this community stand out from all others in Kosovo. A large part of the Ahtisaari Plan and the Kosovar Constitution and legislation on communities refer to the Serb Community specifically.

These rights stretch out in different areas, from human, cultural and religious rights, to political participation (10 reserved seats in the parliament and two ministries) and local self-governance, including the creation of new Serb-dominated municipalities). In addition, even after more than five years since the declaration of Kosovo’s independence, Kosovo Serbs remain firmly attached to Serbia’s citizenship regime, thus enjoying political and social rights and benefits denied to other groups in Kosovo.

Serbs in north Kosovo: The new situation created in Kosovo after February 2008 deepened the division between Kosovo Serbs living north and south of the river Ibar that has existed since 1999. Although outside the Kosovan political and legal system, Serbs in northern Kosovo are in a rather specific, if not favourable position, compared to the rest of the Serbs in Kosovo. They form an overwhelming majority in that region, have their own institutions (supported actively by Serbia) and keep close ties with other cities across the border in Serbia.

 This specific position of the north was recognised by Serbia, Kosovo and the EU as it became a critical theme in the EU-facilitated dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, which resulted in a number of technical and political agreements, the most important being the one from 19 April 2013 aimed at normalising relations between Serbia and Kosovo. While the agreement will eventually enable Kosovo institutions to establish nominal control in the northern part of the country (through the integration of the existing judicial and security structures into the Kosovan system), certain elements of the agreement will enhance the position of northern Kosovo as a special territory within the country. This is evident in two fields: judiciary and policing. In this case, one could argue that in Kosovo there exists inter-community asymmetry as well as intra-community asymmetry of rights, all part of a complex hierarchy of citizenship.

As regards external citizenship, despite the fact that Kosovo Serbs remain tied to the Serbian citizenship regime and receive preferential treatment, when it comes to issues such as free movement, Kosovo Serbs occupy a lower position in the Serbian citizenship hierarchy as well. A case in point is the 2009 agreement between Serbia and the EU on visa liberalisation, which excludes the residents of Kosovo from the visa-free-travel regime.

Turks: The Turkish community in Kosovo occupies a specific position within the political and legal system in Kosovo, resulting from the community rights stemming from the Kosovan legal system, its relations with the dominant community and the role of Turkey, perceived as the kin-state of Turks in Kosovo. The Turkish community enjoys a wide array of rights, mostly in the field of self-governance (including the creation of a Turkish-majority municipality in 2008) and language. It has two guaranteed seats in the Kosovar Parliament and representation in other consultative bodies for non-dominant communities, as well as in the local governance. Turkish is a language in official use at the local level and an official language in the municipality of Prizren.

In addition, Turkey’s good relations with Kosovo in all bilateral issues and areas of interest have resulted in the former’s increased financial and cultural support to the Turkish community in Kosovo. This, together with Turkey’s favourable external citizenship policies towards its ethnic kin, has had a noticeable impact on the position of the Turkish community in Kosovo, both in terms of its integration into the Kosovan system and institutions, as well as on its social and economic wellbeing.

Gorani and Bosniaks: These communities in many ways remain in the ‘grey zone’ between the more organised and politically established core communities described above, and the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian (RAE) communities. In fact, being Slavic speaking and Muslim, Bosniaks and Gorani, although recognised as separate ethnic groups in the Kosovan legislation and provided with reserved seats in the Kosovan parliament (3 and 1 respectively), remain caught between multiple and often conflicting political visions and interests that assign different identities to them.

Moreover, different Balkan states such as Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Macedonia, and even Bulgaria and Turkey claim them as co-ethnics and have even provided some of them with passports. As regards linguistic rights, Bosnian is a language in official use in three municipalities, but education remains a problem. Lacking curricula and programs adopted by Kosovo, a number of these Slavic speaking communities, especially the Gorani, are part of the education system of the Republic of Serbia.

So although constitutionally recognised as separate communities and granted political representation, as a result of the lack of external support, lack of active elites and educational and economic resources, although sizeable communities, they remain in the periphery of the Kosovan polity.

Montenegrins and Croats: Montenegrins and Croats represent two ethnic groups which still remain constitutionally unrecognised (although included in the Law on the Rights of Communities in 2011) as separate categories (communities). Although quite small in numbers and concentrated in certain regions of the country, these two communities were recognised as separate groups in socialist Yugoslavia but lost their status in the 1990s under the regime of Slobodan Milošević. As a result of war and migration, their numbers dropped significantly after 1999.

Nonetheless, supported by their respective kin-states (which have good relations with Kosovo) and profiting from an improved inter-ethnic climate in Kosovo, recent years have seen renewed attempts by emerging leaders of these communities to organise politically and demand equal recognition and treatment. However, although leaders of these communities perceive Croatia and Montenegro as their kin-states, at present most of the members of these communities benefit from the education and health services funded by the Republic of Serbia in Kosovo.

Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian (RAE): Although these three communities face similar and enormous challenges as they remain caught between multiple and conflicting political structures and interests, the Albanian-speaking Ashkali and Egyptian minorities are slightly better positioned than the Roma, who were traditionally closer to the Serbian community. Facing problems of discrimination, marginalisation, inability to return, chronic unemployment, lacking a political elite that would champion community rights, as well as lacking a kin-state that would lobby for them, RAE communities in Kosovo are viewed as a human rights issue for external organisations and agencies to deal with.

Thus, although officially recognised as separate ethno-national communities and provided with reserved seats in the parliament (4) and proportional representation in local governance institutions, these communities remain almost completely invisible in the socio-political landscape in Kosovo. Only a small number of Roma people benefit from social services provided by the state of Serbia in Kosovo. Undoubtedly, RAE communities in Kosovo still enjoy only partial citizenship rights within Kosovo and have no prospect of benefiting from external citizenship policies of a would-be kin-state.  

Legal equality versus socio-political reality

It is evident that the ‘absolute’ equality of all individuals and extensive group rights enshrined in the constitution and basic laws does not automatically translate into an equally sound and favourable social and political reality. Individuals belonging to non-dominant communities still face many issues and challenges, ranging from partial implementation of some of the basic laws, to the issue of lack of trust in local and central state institutions. Security concerns, lack of sustainable return, lack of socio-economic opportunities and dissatisfaction with the current political climate top the list of Kosovo’s non-dominant communities’ concerns. The 1999 war and its immediate aftermath have had serious consequences on the lives, property and organisation of Kosovo’s smaller communities. As a result of the war, both the number of people belonging to non-dominant communities and their social capital has been reduced significantly in most of the territory of Kosovo.

While the political dominance of the Albanian community is clearly evident, among the non-dominant core, semi-peripheral, unrecognised and invisible communities, those communities that have an active political elite and strong kin-state (Serbs and Turks), as well as access to external kin-state citizenship, occupy a higher and more favourable position in the hierarchy as opposed to communities that do not possess a kin state (RAE and Gorani). This highlights the importance of external actors in general and kin-states in particular, as well as the impact of external citizenship and citizenship constellations on Kosovo’s communities and their legal status and socio-political position.

Although formally all communities are included into the social and political system in Kosovo, in reality, Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities, and to a certain extent the Gorani community, remain “excluded from the privileged seats in the theatre of society”[1] and state in Kosovo. In other words, despite the legally enshrined principle of equality, some communities in Kosovo are more equal and thus occupy the core of the polity and society, while some remain in semi-periphery or periphery.

[1] Andreas Wimmer, Nationalist Exclusion and Ethnic Conflict: Shadows of Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 4.