On 1 January 2020, the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung opened a new office in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the future, political education programs in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo will be coordinated and run together with local partners from the Tuzla office. This new location will work alongside the RLS office in Belgrade, which has been active in the region of Southeast Europe for ten years now.
Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania and Kosovo represent a kind of sub-periphery within the peripheral economies of Southeast Europe. Even in socialist Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and even more so Kosovo, were underdeveloped regions, with low economic output, relatively high rates of illiteracy, and poorly developed infrastructure. The wars around the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the subsequent waves of privatization have once again significantly reduced both states’ economic power. As a result of the Dayton Agreement, Bosnia-Herzegovina’s political structures are dysfunctional, and there is hardly any coherent state and economic policy. This is reflected in an official unemployment rate of almost 40 percent, more than half of whom are women.
The situation is similar in Kosovo, which is incapable of surviving economically without outside help, and is also in a difficult political dialogue with Serbia. However, the Republic of Serbia’ expected recognition of Kosovo will have hardly any positive consequences for the catastrophic socio-economic situation there. Even in Yugoslavian times, Kosovo was already considered a “poor house”, and unfortunately nothing has changed in this regard. While the official unemployment rate is just over 30 percent, unofficially it is assumed to be even higher than in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In Albania, the macro-economic data are similarly sobering, as are the problems of corruption and barely functioning legal, education, and health systems. In addition, much of the country’s infrastructure is unreliable, which makes it difficult to communicate between various parts of the country, but also with its neighbours. The largest employer in Albania is a French call centre company which offers very low wages and has a decidedly anti-union corporate policy. Many Albanians are forced to work several jobs through fictitious self-employment to secure their livelihoods, or to produce their own basic foodstuffs through gardening or agriculture.
Accordingly, our work in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo will focus on issues of social rights and social justice. In particular, this concerns the promotion of trade union organization, the assertion of workers’ rights, and an analysis of labour–capital relations. Our work will also be shaped by issues such as opposing fascism, migration (that of many people from the region to Western Europe as well as the situation of refugees at the external borders of the EU), and increasingly by questions of climate justice.
All of these issues form the basis of the new office’s objective: strengthening social and political rights and articulating them in public. To this end, we will continue our existing collaboration with local partners in Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Last year, as part of our collaborative work, our Albanian partner organization The Institute for Criticism and Social Emancipation played a decisive role in the foundation of a new, independent trade union in the Albanian telecommunications sector. In this context, we were also able to begin a productive collaboration with the global trade union federation UNI Global Union. Partners in Bosnia-Herzegovina, such as Front Slobode from Tuzla, continue to play an important role in the organization and political education of workers. Anti-fascism will be another important topic. This will not be in the form of commemorative events and historical debate, but as a daily political task. Especially in a country like Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was divided along ethnic lines under the Dayton Agreement, but which has historical experience being centrally involved in the creation of an international anti-fascist partisan movement.
After months of searching for both office space and new colleagues, and registering the office, the Tuzla office opened in January of this year. We will officially celebrate the opening with our partners and comrades in September 2020.
Krunoslav Stojaković is a historian and director of the Regional Offices for Southeast Europe in Belgrade, Serbia and Tuzla, Bosnia & Herzegovina.