When in mid-January Kosovo media accused the Rector and other staff of the University of Prishtina of having published articles in fictitious online journals in other countries to falsify their academic credentials, students of University of Prishtina (UP) took to the streets and started protests demanding the Rector’s resignation. Angered with corruption and never ending scandals, the students decided it was time for changes. Over the course of three weeks the peaceful demonstrations turned violent and led to clashes with the police.
“In order to stand up against fraud we planned to occupy the Rector’s office to paralyse the work there”, said Valton Marku, one of the organisers of the UP protests. The students did not expect the police to react to the peaceful demonstrations that had a legitimate reason – seeking justice. Furthermore, the presence of police at UP premises violated the Law on Higher Education, Article 13, paragraph 4, which says, “The premises of licensed higher education providers enjoy inviolability of public order bodies except in cases determined otherwise by special laws.”
The protests were joined by various student organisations, including the Political Club of Students (KPS) and the movement Study, Critique, Action (SKV), and the civil society in general. Debatable quality of education, corruption and lack of autonomy to make important decisions forced young people to express their dissatisfaction. Besides demanding the resignation of Rector Ibrahim Gashi and other university staff who committed fraud, students also asked for the change of the Statute of UP in order to increase transparency and autonomy and decrease political affiliation of UP.
The peaceful protests against allegedly committed fraud started at the end of January; however, the situation escalated two weeks later. “The police violence started from the first day of our blockade of the Rector’s office”, says Valton, “they arrested 27 students”.
Although according to the police the clashes started when the protesters began throwing rocks and red paint, the organiser said that students were peaceful and accusations of violence by protesters were made by pro-government groups that expected to suppress the students’ demands and actions and retain the status quo. The ruling coalition opposed the vote in the parliament demanding resignation of the university Rector.
Despite police violence the students continued to protest. “I was arrested on the first day of protest, then during three weeks of protests as every other student protester I was beaten, pepper sprayed and tear-gassed”, shared Valton. The Police used tear gas to disperse around 400 students. Some protesters were beaten, which resulted in broken bones and other injuries. The media in Kosovo also reported that at least 29 policemen were injured.
Furthermore, the student claimed that 10 to 15 students’ leaders were kidnapped by special police units before the last protest started; however, these allegations remain unclear.
“Our only strategy was resistance, which proved to be successful”. Students’ demands and increasing public pressure and scrutiny led to the resignations of the rector and some members of the Council on 8 February. "I hope that my resignation will start the normalization of work at UP”, he said regarding his resignation.
Now that the protests stopped some of the students are invited for ‘informative talks’ with the police. Following university protests in 1981 and 1997, students were also interrogated, only by the Serbian police then. “This is a practice of an authoritarian regime. Thaci’s [Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosovo] regime is not much difference in this aspect”, said Valton.
The victorious student protest is of historical importance, as it is the first protest after the war that continued until it reached its main goal. Valton thinks that the protests also helped to raise people’s awareness about the political problems and showed that in order to achieve social change and progress sometimes there is a need for more radical actions.
“Rector’s resignation is not the end. In fact, everything has just started”, says Valton. “We also had other demands”. The students are planning to seek for university reform and investigate university’s misconduct. “We, as students, will raise our voice about unemployment, poverty and social inequality in our country”.
The student protests using a non-violent approach, reacting to another corruption scandal at the university, show that the new generation are active and aware citizens who care about their young country. Although the students planned more protests, in order to achieve other goals, so far, following the protests, all is quiet.
Written by Ieva Kuneviciute and published on 03-April-2014