From Myth to Symptom (Introduction)

The idea for putting together this book came out of the firm belief that a response to the dominant political and academic positions on the subject of the Republic of Kosovo was needed. Far from engaging in a debate with existing texts on the subject matter, this book goes at the heart of the problem: dealing with a very specific trajectory in which the Kosovo predicament has been circulating: beginning from a myth, and ending up as a symptom. Divided into two essays, the book provides a detailed analysis of two crucial political and ideological conjunctures: First, the NATO bombing against the former Yugoslavia, and second, the developments that followed thereafter. The underlying premise of these papers is that the occurrences in former Yugoslavia, starting from its disintegration two the independence of Kosovo, cannot be accounted for by any of the existing dominant paradigms that build their arguments around the notions of ethnicity and culture.

But, why a book on Kosovo? Why should Kosovo continue to be a relevant topic for academic discussions and political analyses, when indeed it has vanished from the mainstream agenda of the media? The easiest answer to this question would be to engage in a historicist reading of the Kosovo predicament: to start at the beginning of the previous century and to end with the declaration of independence in 2008. One may also provide a geo-strategic analysis of relations between the great powers, since, so we are told, the state of Kosovo is but a project of the latter ones. Another wrong way of reading the predicament of Kosovo is to follow the essentialists’ or ‘culturologists’ lead, which reduces the entire problem to cultural and ethnic hatred. This book, however, offers a new perspective on the developments in the country – it shows that there is a different and better way of understanding Kosovo’s predicament, that is, what really happened in the country.

Although the book is on Kosovo, theses and positions developed here goes beyond Kosovo itself, in the sense that the orientation developed here, particularly the critique of “the “ethnicization” or “culturalization” of politics – which in itself presents a serious problem in contemporary academia, not only in relation to the “Balkans studies” as a reactionary “discipline”, but its consequences goes well beyond Balkans itself. This book insists on the affirmative and direct conception of politics, which is in a way or another, eliminated by means of various types of culturalisms, ethnicisism (as well as their technocratic supplements: administration and management) and whose foundations are rooted on the fantasy of ethnic knowledge of the other, that is to say, on the mistificatory trap that relies on the identification of the politics with the phantasmatic economy of the pre-modern clans/hordes. However, our insistence on politics doesn’t put politics on the ‘commanding post’ – affirmation of politics means the negation of depoliticization and culturalization of political matters as such. To cut a long story short, the underlying premise of this book is: the case of Kosovo is political and nothing else.

From Myth to Symptom: the case of Kosovo stands against all the mystificatory veils applied to the real political struggle. Indeed, there is no secret meaning behind the Kosovo case: its “underdevelopment”, poverty and political problems are not due to some “ancient” force persisting in the present predicament; rather, the actual state of situation in the country is a result of the twin forces of global capital and neo-imperial plunder. The other side of this is the paradoxical “coupling” of neo-imperial ‘universal values’ (supposedly “democratic”) and the various forms of ‘local’ nationalisms, which often insist on the “dignity” of the very racist mythologizations and mystification of the same issues.


In a situation of postmodern relativism, the mere act of taking a certain position is already deemed as an orthodox gesture, which inevitably leads to some form of totalitarianism. As Slavoj Žižek argues elsewhere, “universal truth and partisanship, the gesture of taking sides, are not only not mutually exclusive, but condition each other: In a concrete situation, its UNIVERSAL truth can only be articulated from a thoroughly PARTISAN position – truth is by definition one-sided.”1

Taking a cue from Žižek, the goal of this book is twofold: first, to break with the sophism of the post-modern tradition of de-politicizing and culturalizing the “case of Kosovo”, as well as to break away from its supplement: That of the ethno-centric reasoning. Second, for the first time ever, it aims to provide a leftist reading of a country which has been subject to all sorts of (neo)imperial interventions and experiments.

Roughly put, the system of constraints that defines the state of the situation, is, on the one hand characterized by neo-imperial administration and interventions, elite and foreign control over the state repressive apparatuses, and the domestic and foreign manipulation of media and non-governmental organisations on electoral and political processes. On the other hand it is defined by the local comprador bourgeoisie, who serves as a local and hence, as a junior partner of the neo-imperial administration. Taken together, all these soldiers of the ‘neo-imperial democracy’ constitute the limits of the possibility. To adopt a less prosaic phrase, we could say that in its “neo-imperial civilizing” mission, the neo-imperial administration is establishing a “democracy without the people.”

The “democracy promotion” campaign has had calamitous consequences for the country. Perhaps, it is time to question the very notion of ‘democracy’ itself, which is the label (i.e. justification) attached to all developments in the country. Neo-imperial actors and their local partners favour democracy so much, that they sacrifice it perpetually in order to keep its idea alive (from the election of the president of Kosovo, to privatisation, the status of EU missions, and so on).

Objectively, the situation in the country is almost hopeless. This hopelesness is expressed through collective depression, and is made evident by the lack of any proper political organization or mobilization against the current misery of the current political-economic constellation, which keeps producing social and cultural regression. In short, the people haven’t yet arrived as actors on the political stage. To put it poetically, the people of Kosovo are not making their own way by walking on it.

However discouraging the existing predicament is, we can’t act, as one philosopher wrote once, as a singer of a punk band, declaring that there is no hope, and subsequently immersing ourselves in drinking the alcohol of nihilism. This is not where the story ends. There is something happening in the subterranean level, as it were, something that not many people are paying much attention to: a great deal of dissatisfaction is accumulating among the people. The existing calmness and peace is, so to speak, unnatural. The growing dissatisfaction and tensions announce new social explosions. In his Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel mentions the “silent weaving of the spirit”: the underground work of changing the ideological coordinates; a work mostly invisible to the public eye, which then suddenly explodes, taking everyone by surprise.2 Nevertheless, the most crucial aspect of all remains open: Who or what is going to hegemonize this growing dissatisfaction: Reactionary conservatives or the marginalized and not-well-organized left? The outlook is not an optimistic one: for the dissatisfaction and the anger of the people, the tension is not sufficient enough, i.e. it can not be, by-itself and in-itself, neither a potential for emancipatory “sequence”, nor revolutionary upheaval. Neither can it serve as a guarantee for our way forward. Indeed the situation is serious, but not yet catastrophic, as the well-known joke goes. The real catch however is to avoid the temptation of acting for the sake of acting, which would end up in a cul de sac. More than ever, we need to engage in thinking, in providing a theoretical (philosophical) analysis of what is really happening, what is the current predicament of our situations and its limitations. Instead of engaging in ‘futuralist’ dreams and in acrobatic ‘creative’ exercise about the “ideal-future-to-come” in the Republic of Kosovo, we engage here in critical analysis of the existing state of the situation by rendering visible its limitations, inconsistencies and obscenities. In short, we analyze the question that imposes itself on us: Of what is Kosovo actually the symptom? Postmodern skeptics, liberals and conservatives had their own fun – it is time to provide a serious leftist perspective on a rather half-forgotten country.

Slavoj Žižek’s paper provides a critical analysis of the NATO bombing against former Yugoslavia. It engages in a debate on “humanitarian intervention” that occurred mostly within the left back in 1999, in which he problematizes the notion of de-politicization. Agon Hamza’s paper provides a critical analysis of the Kosovo predicament from 1999 on, starting from the installation of the UN administration, up to the declaration of independence and its aftermath.


Slavoj Žižek & Agon Hamza


  1. Slavoj Žižek, Repeating Lenin, available online: replenin.htm
  2. Cf.Slavoj Žižek, Introduction: Against Poetry, in Ese të Zgjedhura [Selected Essays], ed.Agon Hamza & Besnik Pula, DKS, Prishtinë, 2009, p.14.