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Can Kitchen Table Issues Transcend Ethnic Divisions and Spark Country Unity?

The Republic of Kosovo lies in the center of the Balkan peninsula. This small country is about the size of Delaware, but don’t let the country’s size speak to its citizens’ aspirations. Kosovo is also one of the youngest countries in the world as its independence was self-declared only in 2008. Recently, the International Republican Institute (IRI) facilitated a House Democracy Partnership (HDP) mission to this small but motivated young democratic country. What we found was an inspiring group of legislators with an ambitious agenda for their parliament and high hopes for the future of their country.

Kosovo has been working on its democratic journey as an independent country for just over a decade. In that time, much progress has been made on governance institutions, with a fully functioning parliament as well as operational executive and judicial branches; but with plenty of challenges in navigating corruption, government transparency, public service delivery, and inter-ethnic relations. But Kosovo is a young country at a pivotal moment; and the leaders in government have an opportunity to set a positive tone for decades to come.

During the HDP mission, U.S. delegates learned that Kosovo is a society wrapped up in grievance. Nothing in the government or the parliament can be done without mention and consideration of the relationship and ongoing dialogue process between Kosovo and Serbia. Within Kosovo, progress needs to be made to facilitate the peaceful coexistence of Kosovo-Albanian and Kosovo-Serbian citizens. This near complete focus on grievance and ethnic division impedes progress on “kitchen table” issues, like health care and jobs and education, that regular citizens need their Members of Parliament to address.

However, delegates observed a critical opportunity for multi-partisan progress on issues that have wide support among the citizens, Serbs and Albanians alike. HDP came to Kosovo at the invitation of a new committee chairwoman, the honorable Fitore Pacolli. Chairwoman Pacolli heads the Committee on Agriculture, Forestry, Rural Development, Environment, Spatial Planning and Infrastructure, a committee with a broad mandate which has inspired an ambitious agenda from the chairwoman.

From clean water and clean air to safe food and to sustainable transportation and sustainable energy, chairwoman Pacolli wants to tackle it all. To achieve her goal, she knows that inter-party cooperation is essential and constructive dialogue within the Committee remains the key to success. In a very polarized political environment this is a concrete challenge. HDP’s mission for the week was to share experiences and ideas on how to promote effective and impactful methods of operation for this committee.

Through a week of meetings and substantive panel discussions, HDP delegates and former members of the US Congress Peter Roskam (R-IL), Mike Conaway (R-TX), and Nick Rahall (D-WV) shared their experiences as committee chairmen and engaged in dialogue with the MPs to identify opportunities for improved committee operations and practices. Congressman Roskam shared the reflection that, “these MPs are unique and transformational figures in this young democracy. They have the opportunity to set precedents and trends to last over the life of this nation.” 

An exciting prospect, this potential for change in process and culture at the assembly; but one that will require everyone to come to the table.