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Observing social distancing in protest to demand elections in Kosovo
Observing social distancing in protest to demand elections in Kosovo.
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Home as the foci of agency during the COVID-19 crises
Home as the foci of agency during the COVID-19 crises
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Juxtaposition of conformity and resistance
Juxtaposition of conformity and resistance.

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Vjollca Krasniqi, PhD
University of Prishtina, Kosovo

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Kaltrina Kusari, PhD candidate
University of Calgary, Canada

The Interplay between Public and Private: Protest, Resistance, and Social Work during COVID-19 in Kosova

On March 25, 2020, to many Kosovars the “Government of Hope” led by prime minister Albin Kurti, fell after a vote of no confidence which was brought about by Kurti’s coalition partners. Many citizens expressed disgust that the political upheaval took place as COVID-19 cases were rising. They responded by protesting in the main squares of the capital Prishtina, yet respecting COVID-19 social distancing measures.

The juxtaposition of conformity with COVID-19 measures and resistance to struggles over political power highlights the politicization of social life, and therefore social work practice, during COVID-19 in Kosova. The banner reads “We Want Elections” as Kosovars were against a new coalition government which did not include the party (Vetëvendosje!) that received the most votes on the October 2019 national elections. The protest shows that citizens deemed COVID-19 measures as important and respected them, yet these measures did not limit them to raise their voices against occurrences that infringed upon their political choice. This protest also highlights that social workers have to necessarily engage with the politicized nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. That is, merely accepting COVID-19 measures as a given, without critically engaging with how the pandemic has been used by those in power to maintain their positions of authority would make social workers complicit with those who attempt to use the pandemic to undermine the people’s voice. As such, in order to stay grounded in anti-oppressive practice and respect the social work commitment to social justice, we have to constantly reflect on our role in supporting and shaping these kinds of protests.

Protests cut across the public and private domains. The home was the foci of citizens’ protests as they banged pots, pans, and kitchen utensils from their widows. The slogan in the Image 2 reads: “you brought us the panic home” and also calling for obeyance of the lock down measures, #stayhome. Pots and pans signify survival and the quintessence of the home, as the kitchen is the place where families come together to cook and eat. As such, protesting from the (dis)comfort of their homes highlights that homes in Kosova are constituted as politicized spaces blurring the boundaries between the private and the public, thus resonating with the feminist standpoint that the “personal is political” and that the home is also a site of resistance and protest. Banging pots and pans was a wake-up call for politicians who, rather than recognizing the jarring effects the COVID-19 pandemic had on citizen’s ability to meet basic needs, focused on their own power struggles. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on every aspect of social life, institutions, and the everyday interactions exposing long-standing structural inequalities and unequal gender relations. Despite having been relegated from a private affair to a public policy issue, domestic violence has not eased, but in contrary has endured and intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting primarily women and girls.

From the start of the pandemic until May, 2020, around 550 survivors of domestic violence were admitted to shelters in Kosovo (UN Women, 2020). Hence, this representation speaks to the context of crises, uncertainty, emergency, but also of agency, Women and girls who participated in this protest recast the tools often used to keep them trapped within gender stereotypes to exert agency and make their voices heard. This has implications for social work practice and the responses social workers are able to provide to families at risk from loss of employment, domestic violence, and access to social assistance and social services during crises.

References

United Nations Women. (2020). Women survivors of violence receive vital support from shelters in Kosovo during the pandemic. Retrieved from unwomen.org

Images appearing in this article are courtesy of Vetëvendosje and are used with permission.