Kosovo's 'Strong Party' backs most everything - but dull politics
The spoof party wants a university in every neighborhood, has 1,500 vice presidents, but is set to win a seat or two as votes are counted from Sunday's election.
A bold new political platform is arriving in tiny Kosovo: Corruption should be legalized and serious diseases outlawed. A Formula One racing track should be built around Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. Urinals should be installed in the foyer of every public building in the city.
These are just some of the policies proposed by a new, tongue-in-cheek politics that has started bringing laughs to the often stagnant politics of Albanian-majority Kosovo.
Partia e Forte, i.e. The Strong Party, is of course a spoof, an example of Balkan satire and sense of the absurd. The party got founded after a conversation among friends in a Pristina cafe two years ago. But after Sunday’s local elections, it is on course to win at least one seat in the city council.
"There was a need for a party like this in the political scene to bring something new, and not just continue with the same boring politics," the Strong Party’s so-called "Legendary Chairman," Visar Arifaj, explained the day after the local elections, which continued into a 5 a.m. post-election party.
The Strong Party taps into a perpetual roiling discontent in Kosovo, especially among the young – and comic relief in what is an often heavy dialogue around the tense Serb-majority enclave of North Mitrovica.
Over half of Kosovo's population are under 25, and they make up many of the 40 percent unemployed figure. Corruption scandals have been present for years and have fed a disillusionment with mainstream politics, mostly dominated by parties that emerged from the independence struggle in the 1990s.
Like the Best Party in Iceland, Mr. Arifaj believes that farce can be a highly effective form of protest. "If you just criticize you are not doing anything new. By not opposing them, by becoming one of them, we are showing how ridiculous they are."
Arifaj and the rest of the Strong Party have certainly succeeded in holding Kosovo’s political class to ridicule. Playing off a slew of universities that have sprouted all over Europe’s youngest state in recent years, Arifaj made a campaign "pledge" to build a college in every single neighborhood.
"The prime minister appears to want universities in every village; well, we’re going further," he said during the campaign.
The Strong Party has a novel approach to solving Kosovo’s unemployment crisis, too. "We don’t think it is a problem that 40 percent are unemployed. We think that the 60 percent who do work are the main problem."
"What we will try to do is make everyone not have to work. Everything should be done by computers, so people can get their salaries just by sitting at home," he says.
Strolling around Pristina in Arifaj’s company it is clear the party hit a nerve in a city that does have plenty of creative youth. It is hard to move more than ten feet without someone stopping to shake Arifaj's hand or pat him on the back. "We were a bit surprised by how people accepted and how they do love [the party]," he says.
"In the beginning we didn’t know how people would react to it. If they would throw stones at us or kiss us. We are glad it went the good way!"
The Strong Party brought "humor to the dull pre-electoral campaign" says Ilir Deta, executive director of the Kosovo think tank Kipred. "It is a success that they will be represented by a counselor or two at the municipal assembly."
The party intends to contest the 2014 general election. Behind their comic appearance lies a serious message. "Kosovo has one of the youngest populations in Europe. A lot of young people are not represented politically," says Yll Rugova, a graphic designer and one of the Strong Party’s 1,500 "vice-presidents."
"There are people like us in countries like Serbia and Macedonia and maybe, maybe we can develop something together that break the borders. That sounds a bit cheesy but it is really something that could happen."