Protests for labour rights and several other issues; student protesters fined
Regarding relevant legal changes, on 14th September 2022 the Government of Kosovo approved the new Draft Law on Public Gatherings. The Draft Law was open for online consultation from 25th October to 15th November 2021. CSOs provided their essential contributions to various aspects of the Draft Law, which were noted as concerning or remained unaddressed in the existing version. Furthermore, at the request of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Venice Commission also offered recommendations on the Draft Law. The majority of comments and recommendations were taken into consideration and addressed by the Ministry, and significant positive changes to the Draft Law were made after the completion of the public consultation process. On 7th October 2022, the Assembly of Kosovo approved the Draft Law in principle.
Separately, a progressive court judgment related to the freedom of peaceful assembly was marked during the reporting period. On 16th November 2022, the Basic Court of Mitrovica suspended the misdemeanor procedure against activists of the Collective for Feminist Thought and Action for drawing “shameful graffiti” in public spaces in Mitrovica. In 2021, the Court fined activists 100 Euros each. The activists appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals, which returned the case for reinstatement.
Delays at the start of the 2022/23 school year due to a teachers’ strike triggered protests, with parents demanding the commencement of the teaching year while stating that sides should not be taken between the Government and Unions. Teachers are demanding a 100 Euro increase in monthly wages.
- The Parents’ Council of the pre-school “Gëzimi ynë” protested in front of the Government’s building and the offices of the United Union of Education, calling upon both parties to find a joint solution to the strike.
- Parents and CSO activists marched in Gjakova under the slogan “Neither with the Union nor with the Government, only with the children”, demanding pupils’ return to school.
- The Coalition of NGOs for the Protection of Children in Kosovo (KOMF) placed empty school benches in front of the Government’s building, symbolising empty classrooms due to the teachers’ strike.
- Parents' Council of the Elementary School "Faik Konica" in Prishtina protested, calling upon the Government and the Union to find the way out of the deadlock. Dozens of pupils joined the protest under the slogan “Pupils are not monetary value”.
- Parents’ Council of the Elementary School “Naim Frashëri” in Prishtina protested, expressing dissatisfaction with the prolonged disagreements between the Government and the Union over the strike.
- The Youth Alliance of Kosovo gathered in front of the Ministry of Education, calling upon the Government to reflect on and fulfill teachers’ demands.
On 1st October 2022, the United Union of Education decided to temporarily suspend the strike, giving the Government three months to fulfil their demands for increased salaries.
The dismissal of the Rector of the University of Prishtina (UP) by the University’s Steering Council was followed by protests and actions by student organisations who deemed it as an act of political interference.
- Representatives of several student organisations gathered in front of the Rectorate’s building, demanding general elections in UP due to, as they claimed, political interference at the University, protesting under the slogans “Stop politicisation of UP” and “General elections save UP”. The announcement of general elections in UP was also demanded by representatives of the Pro-European Students Union, Independent Student Opinion, and Student Peace. While gathered in front of the Ministry of Education’s building, students were fined by the Kosovo Police for not pre-announcing the gathering, despite students’ claims that their gathering was merely a press conference and not a protest.
- The dismissal of the Rector was also opposed by the Organisation for Increasing Quality of Education (ORCA). In a symbolic action before the Rectorate’s building, they claimed that the Rector was fired by plagiarist members of the UP’s Steering Council.
- In a separate action, a group of student activists drew graffiti messages such as “There are plagiarists here” and “UP – Nest of plagiarists” on the walls of the faculty buildings of UP.
- Another gathering under the slogans “We do not want a political bargaining Rector” and “No politicised Rector” was staged by the student organisation Reforma.
Several protests and actions regarding women’s rights took place in the reporting period:
- Collective for Feminist Thought and Action held an action in front of the Assembly, demanding increased women's safety and legalisation of the use of pepper spray for self-defence purposes, in light of daily reports of cases of violence and harassment against women.
- Center for Information, Criticism, and Action (QIKA) held an action in front of the Government’s building, demanding the removal of the 18 per cent tax on menstrual products. Activists called upon MPs to undertake legislative initiatives for the classification of pads and tampons as goods exempted from customs tax.
- Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) Kosovo, joined by other activists and young people, gathered in Prishtina in solidarity with the Iranian women protesting in Iran after the murder of the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini by the so-called “Morality Police”. Under the slogans “Stand with the women of Iran” and “We are with you”, activists called for justice for Mahsa Amini and freedom for Iranian women.
- The NGO “Renesansa”, which supports women fighting breast cancer, held an action titled “Race for the Cure”, aimed at raising awareness and solidarity with patients affected by breast cancer. Another march with the same purpose was staged in Obiliq, with officials of the Municipality, healthcare workers, women and others calling for breast cancer awareness.
Activists of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) organised several actions:
- SDP activists held an action in front of the Assembly of Kosovo after the delays in response to the petition which called for the forgiveness of fines imposed on citizens for non-compliance with COVID-19 protective measures. In a symbolic activity, they placed stickers with the inscription “Undemocratic Assembly” at the entrance of the building. The petition was initiated by SDP and was signed by over 11,000 citizens.
- Activists of the SDP staged an action in front of the Government’s building, criticising the executive’s approach to the dialogue with Serbia. They claimed that the Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, has not kept electoral promises to review past agreements with Serbia signed by previous governments in the dialogue of Brussels facilitated by the European Union. In a separate action, activists of the SDP painted the windows of the Government’s building with black paint, symbolising the information blackout and the lack of transparency from the Government regarding the dialogue with Serbia.
Residents gathered to express local concerns. As previously reported, citizens in Klina gathered again to oppose the construction of a cement factory in the village of Dollc. They accused the economic operator “Wallingford International – Kosova” of deceiving them about the factory’s operation by stated it would be using green technology instead of coal. Residents of Dollc and surrounding villages consider the factory life-threatening due to the environmental pollution it would cause and stated that if it is built they will have to flee their homes.
Unions and employees also staged protests.
- The Trade Union Association of Foreign Service Members protested in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora against the fact, they claimed, that decisions in the Ministry are taken arbitrarily and that there is political pressure on Ministry officials.
- As previously reported, employees of the Palace of Justice in Prishtina protested again due to the lack of ventilation and air conditioning inside offices. Several employees were reported to have fainted due to high temperatures in the workplace during the summer months.
Students protested the lack of electricity connection in the faculty and opposed the construction of an underground parking lot on the campus.
- Students and academic staff of the Faculty of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine of the University of Prishtina protested due to the lack of electricity connection in the faculty’s new facility. They called upon the electricity transmission operator (KOSTT) to immediately provide an electricity connection in the building, while the commencement of the new academic year has been suspended.
- Student organisation “Study, Critic, and Action” protested under the slogans “The university campus belongs to the students, not to the oligarchs” and “Stop usurpation of the campus”, opposing the construction of an underground parking lot on the University of Prishtina’s campus.
Serbs in the north of Kosovo protested against the Kosovo Government’s attempts to convert illegal licence plates issued by Serbia into licence plates of the Republic of Kosovo (RKS).
- Serbs in North Mitrovica, invited by the Serbian List and Serbian parallel structures in the north of Kosovo, protested against the decision of the Government of Kosovo to convert illegal licence plates issued by Serbia into RKS licence plates. Ultra-nationalist slogans such as “I am a Serb and this is all mine”, as well as chants like “Our only country is Serbia”, were seen and heard at the rally. Furthermore, graffiti calling for resistance and civil disobedience was drawn by the so-called “North Brigade”, a suspected criminal group alleged to have been infiltrated in the burning of cars of Kosovo Serbs who had swapped their illegal licence plates for RKS plates.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to persuade the Kosovo Government’s to withdraw its decision and to immediately establish the Association of Municipalities with Serb-majority, political representatives of the Serbian List in the Government and the Assembly of Kosovo, as well as mayors, policemen, judges and prosecutors of the four northern municipalities with Serb-majority resigned from Kosovo institutions. Serbs in the north of Kosovo have been using licence plates issued by Serbia with the denominations of Kosovo cities, while several attempts by the Kosovo Government in the last two years for conversion of these illegal plates and re-registration of cars have been met with strong and violent resistance by Serbian parallel structures.
Several other protests and marches took place in the reporting period, such as:
- People and CSO activists protested twice in Gjakova, after publication of footage of a physical attack on an elderly woman by a nurse in the care home “Orenda”. Three nurses were arrested and the Basic Court of Peja has set a measure of 30 days of detention against them. The nursing home’s licence to provide social services has been revoked.
- On International Day of Older Persons, a group of pensioners gathered in Prishtina under the motto “Dignity for pensioners”, demanding increased pensions, removal of the criterion for 15 years of work experience before 1999 in order to benefit from full pension, as well as abrogation of the requirement to appear at the offices of social centres every six months to prove that they are alive.
- As previously reported, people protested again in front of the building of the Assembly, demanding from the MPs immediate approval of the Draft Law on Pension Funds that would enable the withdrawal of up to 30 per cent of retirement saving funds. The protesters stated that the approval of the Draft Law will have a positive impact on the economy, while prices of basic products are going up. The Draft Law derived from a petition signed by more than 10,000 people.
- Activists and citizens in Prishtina staged cycling protests to mark World Car-Free Day and to convey awareness on health and environmental protection.
The Association of Journalists of Kosovo (AJK) denounced threats towards Irfan Maliqi, journalist of Plus TV, by two officials of the Social Services Office in Vitia. Maliqi was threatened after he published a chronicle about the lack of professionals in the Center for Social Work of the Municipality of Vitia. The AJK stated that threatening messages present a tendency to undermine the freedom of expression.
Ninety-nine articles containing disinformation were identified by D4D during the monitoring of online portals and social networks conducted between July and September 2022. News related to the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Kosovo Specialist Chambers prevailed.
Civic Space Developments