At this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, global leaders will discuss the challenge of maintaining a shared progressive narrative in an increasingly fractured world. As President of Kosovo, a country that is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its independence this year and which is still developing economically and politically, I cannot stress enough the value of finding and maintaining a shared purpose on a global level. Countries like mine need the active support of a united global community that is interested in supporting sustainable and equitable development across the globe.
Restoring the shared values that were born out of the collapse of communism in the 1990s is of special importance to me and my people. My country is the product of such shared humanitarian values. Exactly two decades ago, Kosovars were experiencing genocide and ethnic cleansing at the centre of the European continent. Half of the population was deported from Kosovo while images of mass graves were disturbing the global public.
I was a political leader of a guerilla force that was trying to resist the devastating might of one of the continent’s last dictators – Slobodan Milosevic. Our efforts to protect our people would have likely taken far more time and human lives had there not been a global outcry. The memory of the Kosovo war may have faded for many of you by now, but back in 1998, everyone from Nobel Peace Prize laureates to NATO generals, from dedicated Western journalists in the field to humanitarian workers in refugee camps believed that peace was a worthy aim to fight for.
Even then, there were voices on the political extremes opposed to the intervention that saved the people of Kosovo. The far left was unable to distance itself from anti-NATO sentiments and considered the Kosovo intervention an imperialist project. The far right, meanwhile, saw Kosovans as a dangerous Muslim ‘fifth column’ in Europe, and was not opposed to the policies of Milosevic in Bosnia and Kosovo. In the end, however, it was the shared human values of the overwhelming majority at the centre of the political spectrum that made our liberation possible. The disruptive forces of isolationism, fragmentation and nativism could not match the joint efforts across political and social strata to defend the basic values of humanity.
In 2008, after a negotiation process mediated by the UN negotiator Marti Ahtisaari in full coordination with Western democracies, Kosovo declared its independence and is now recognised as a sovereign country by the majority of UN members. We have recorded the highest average economic growth for the last decade in the Western Balkans, and we have improved steadily in all critical indicators of good governance, economic and political freedoms and democratic nation-building.
Almost 20 years after NATO’s involvement in Kosovo, we have to admit that the world has changed since those days of cross-cultural and international humanitarian interventions. With all the opportunities afforded by the internet and social media, I am sad and even disturbed by its sinister side. Extremists can find each other easily on social media, creating powerful echo-chambers that are spreading across the web like dark matter. That being said, I do not subscribe to the view that Twitter or Facebook are the roots of this increasingly fragmented narrative.
No – it must be said clearly and unabashedly: there now exist powerful political forces that are trying deliberately and systematically to annul the last century of progress in the world – and in the case of Kosovo, a decade of freedom.
These forces originate in Russia. Coordinated efforts from Moscow – between the state, propaganda channels, intelligence, hackers and political stakeholders – have one clear aim. They want to damage beyond repair multiple bonds of trust; between citizens and governments within Western countries, between countries belonging to NATO and the EU, but also beyond.
These efforts are not created or caused by technology. These are forces that have always lurked in the background, at the extremes of our public discourse, but which are now strengthened by deliberate policies to destroy the values upon which the free world rests, including communities such as the EU and NATO.
We cannot formulate new narratives in a fractured landscape without clearly identifying who is currently attacking the global order; and we cannot develop tools of resistance against fake news or cyber-assaults on democratic systems without accepting that these are deliberate attacks. These are not virtual islands of disruption, but a connected archipelago of conscious platforms of attack on our shared values.
And so Davos this year will be extremely important as it seeks to analyse new geostrategic fissures, as well as ways to reconnect and to rediscover our joint story of human progress.