Friday, November 16, 2007

Kosovar rapper runs for Parliament - International Herald Tribune

Kosovar rapper runs for Parliament
By Dan Bilefsky
Published: November 15, 2007

PRISTINA, Kosovo: It is perhaps a sign of the changes under way in this breakaway province of Serbia that Memli Krasniqi, Kosovo's most famous rap star, is trading in his baggy jeans for a pinstripe suit, and his anti-establishment lyrics for a political career.Krasniqi, 27, who is running in Kosovo parliamentary elections, which are being held Saturday, used to rap about the horrors of ethnic cleansing, communal violence and his irritation with the international community. But today, the visceral frustration of his songs is being directed at his own government, which he accuses of failing Kosovo in the eight years since the territory came under United Nations protection and the last NATO bomb fell over Pristina."We've waited so long for freedom, but somehow I don't feel free," Krasniqi raps in a recent song. "Something's not right; I see the same since eight years. The offices are full of crooks that sell lies to us. And in the back of the people fill their pockets full."The soft-spoken Krasniqi, who managed to take a break from the recording studio to study at the London School of Economics, says he is just as concerned about Kosovo's 60 percent unemployment rate and its rampant corruption as he is about Kosovo's aspiration for independence - the one issue upon which all the ethnic Albanian parties here agree."My biggest frustration is with the incompetence of our government," he said on a recent day at a hip café in Pristina, as tables of young fans pointed at him and stared. "It's a joke. More than 40 percent of Kosovars are living in poverty. There are constant power cuts. The ministry of trade is run by a historian. And the government recently spent €1.7 million to refurbish a boulevard in Pristina with marble sidewalks."Today in EuropeTempers flare as Germany hobbled by huge rail strikeFrench council approves DNA testing for immigrantsSarkozy wants everyone to have nuclear power - French nuclear powerYet even as he recited his litany, Krasniqi acknowledged that the situation was "10 times" better than when he was a teenager. It was then that he discovered the subversive lyrics of rappers - N.W.A., Ice Cube and Ice-T, and saw parallels between the angry disenfranchisement of young African Americans living in inner-city America and the desperate isolation of young Albanians living under Slobodan Milosevic."Back then, we were occupied, we had no radio station, no TV station, and the opportunity to express yourself was limited," he said. "Rap provided an answer."He is running for Parliament with the Democratic Party of Kosovo, a group led by a former Kosovo Liberation Army warrior-turned-politician, in the third set of elections since Kosovo came under international control. It is a critical moment for Kosovo, which is desperate to stand on its own, yet still legally a part of Serbia and under the control of the United Nations.The province's 1.8 million-member ethnic Albanian population is clamoring for independence, and Pristina has vowed to declare it after a Dec. 10 deadline - a threat that is vehemently opposed by Belgrade. Negotiations being brokered by Washington, Moscow and the European Union seem to be reaching a dead end.Meantime, under pressure from Belgrade, Kosovo's minority Serbian population, who make up about 10 percent of the population, are largely boycotting the vote, on the grounds that it would legitimize Pristina's drive for independence.Some ethnic Albanians also are protesting. A movement called Self-Determination, run by Albin Kurti, an activist currently under house arrest, is urging Kosovars to boycott the vote since it is not a referendum on independence.Even with all of this upheaval, analysts here say there is little to distinguish the political parties in this election, save the cult of personality of their leaders, who include one now in detention and another who died last year. Billboards for the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo are plastered all over Pristina glorifying its president, Ramush Haradinaj, a former Kosovo Liberation Army guerrilla leader who stepped down as prime minister last year and is now in the Hague, accused of war crimes.Meantime, the largest political party in Kosovo, the Democratic League of Kosovo, has blanketed Pristina with posters of Ibrahim Rugova, its charismatic former leader, known here as the "Gandhi of Kosovo," who championed nonviolent resistance before his death in 2006.Krasniqi says people are drawn to his party because of its "street cred" as a group of former guerrilla fighters "who were ready to give their lives for Kosovo." Krasniqi's star status has helped galvanize young people, including nearly 100,000 fans who showed up at 15 concerts the party sponsored across the country.1 | 2 Next Page
Kosovar rapper runs for Parliament - International Herald Tribune

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