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In a Land Dominated by Ex-Rebels, Kosovo Women Find Power at the Ballot Box

PODUJEVA, Kosovo — Saranda Bogujevci gazed with out flinching at a cluster of bullet holes left in the backyard wall by a bloodbath 20 years in the past that worn out most of her household and put 16 rounds into her personal physique.

She stated her thoughts had erased visible recollections of the slaughter by the Scorpions, a Serb paramilitary unit. But, she stated, “I can still smell the earth mixed with the smell of blood.”

Ms. Bogujevci’s against-the-odds survival — she was left for useless in a heap of our bodies in her neighbor’s backyard — and her subsequent willpower to testify towards the males who murdered her mom, grandmother, two brothers and 4 different kinfolk have made her a image of unusual fortitude in Kosovo, a land nonetheless scarred by the traumas of warfare in the Nineties.

But Ms. Bogujevci, 35, is way over a image. She is a part of an unlikely wave of girls being elected to Parliament in Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, however stays considered one of the poorest international locations in Europe. When ultimate outcomes of a Feb. 14 election have been lastly introduced on Thursday in Pristina, the capital, they confirmed that ladies had gained extra seats in Parliament than ever earlier than — practically 40 p.c of the complete.

That surge displays rising discontent with the endemic corruption and bullying methods of a postwar order dominated by swaggering male veterans of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the now disbanded guerrilla drive that battled Serbia and paved the manner for Kosovo’s declaration of independence.

These elected ladies have satisfied voters that they will stand as much as Serbia, which has refused to acknowledge Kosovo as an impartial state, and in addition confront the corruption, criminality and poor governance that dashed the excessive hopes that attended the finish of Serbian rule.

Nazlie Bala, a ladies’s activist who was a Okay.L.A. helper throughout the warfare, stated Ms. Bogujevci’s energy and resolve had made her an emblem of Kosovo’s ordeals and hopes: “She is a survivor. She is strong as stone. She is our truth.”

As Ms. Bogujevci takes her place in the new legislature, which can choose Kosovo’s president, she desires to see that job, the nation’s highest workplace, go to a different lady and fellow wartime survivor, Vjosa Osmani, 38.

Ms. Osmani — who has been performing president since November, when the male incumbent was arrested on warfare crimes costs — is predicted to be chosen outright in coming days. Ms. Osmani, who ran for election on the similar ticket as Ms. Bogujevci, gained extra votes than every other candidate — and in addition extra votes than anybody else since Kosovo began holding elections 20 years in the past.

Her attraction is especially sturdy amongst younger individuals and ladies, greater than 60 p.c of whom, in accordance with exit polls, voted for a slate of candidates that she led together with Albin Kurti, a longtime champion of progressive causes.

When Ms. Osmani fled as a younger woman together with her dad and mom from their dwelling in northern Kosovo in 1999 to flee pogroms of ethnic Albanians, they have been stopped on the highway by Serbian troopers who threatened to kill her father. She had a gun barrel thrust into her mouth when she protested.

Such traumas, she stated, “touched every family in Kosovo” and assist clarify public anger and frustration over the nation’s stumbling postwar progress.

Her efficiency in the election, Ms. Osmani stated in an interview, exhibits that “Kosovo is not only ready for a female president, but voted for one,” regardless of entrenched misogyny and a “patriarchal mentality built up over centuries.”

Ms. Osmani was thrust into a management function in November when Kosovo’s president, the veteran guerrilla commander Hashim Thaci, resigned and was then detained to face warfare crimes costs at a tribunal in the Netherlands. She took over as performing president due to her place as speaker of Parliament.

As speaker, Ms. Osmani was recurrently insulted and threatened by male rivals. When she disconnected the microphone of an unruly legislator final yr, he stormed as much as her, screaming curses. A video of the incident circulated on-line, convincing even skeptics that Ms. Osmani, an skilled in worldwide regulation and former professor at the University of Pittsburgh, might maintain her personal and produce actual change.

“This made me realize that we had a chance, that she is not just bargaining for power and will stand up for herself and all of us,” stated Elife Krasniqi, a Kosovar anthropologist who researches Balkan ladies’s actions at the University of Graz in Austria.

A rival would-be president, Ramush Haradinaj, a wartime Okay.L.A. commander and former nightclub bouncer, stated throughout the marketing campaign that Serbia would cheer if Ms. Osmani have been chosen as a result of it feared a sturdy male chief like himself, preferring a “weak woman.”

An ally of Mr. Haradinaj’s derided Ms. Osmani as a “fat woman.” After a public uproar, he stated that he had been misunderstood and that he had meant she was “fat in the brain.”

Such appeals to macho sentiments didn’t assist in the election: Mr. Haradinaj’s celebration gained solely 7 p.c of the vote.

The challenges going through the new feminine lawmakers are immense. Corruption is rampant, inequality enormous and improvement scarce. Nearly a third of the inhabitants is unemployed, with a jobless price at over 50 p.c for younger individuals and 80 p.c for ladies, by some counts. Ms. Bala, the activist, stated that whereas 60 p.c of college graduates every year are ladies, 70 p.c of job gives go to males.

Many of the feminine candidates explicitly focused these points of their campaigning.

Doarsa Kica, a 30-year-old lawyer, gave up her job to run on an anticorruption platform, citing encounters in court docket with corrupt judges and anger at politicians “who live in million-dollar houses when they only have a $1,000 monthly salary.” Ms. Kica joined the ticket of Ms. Osmani, her former professor at Pristina University, and gained a seat.

The emergence of girls in Kosovo politics has been a lengthy, painful course of.

Kosovo has had one feminine president, however that was the results of a back-room deal engineered by the United States, which led a NATO bombing marketing campaign that broke Serbia’s grip on the territory in 1999 and has since performed a main function in its affairs.

The United Nations, which administered Kosovo for practically a decade after the warfare, additionally imposed a quota system in 2000 that assured ladies 30 p.c of the seats in Parliament.

But with voters now accustomed to ladies in Parliament and disenchanted with many male politicians, feminine candidates are profitable illustration outright. Ms. Bogujevci, as an illustration, first entered Parliament in 2017 underneath the quota system however, after doubling her vote rely on Feb. 14, gained on her personal.

Igballe Rogova, a ladies’s rights activist, stated voters have been now wanting at feminine candidates “not as quota women, but as politicians who make promises and keep them and deserve votes.”

Mr. Kurti, who leads a center-left celebration that joined forces with Ms. Osmani, has a sturdy report of selling ladies. Briefly prime minister final yr, he put ladies answerable for a third of Kosovo’s ministries. Previous governments appointed only one or none.

The joint election ticket he headed with Ms. Osmani pledged that each one state businesses and enterprises could be ordered to implement hiring equality. Governments dominated by former Okay.L.A. commanders had for years resisted giving ladies who had fought in the warfare the standing and pensions accorded to male fighters.

Ms. Bala, the activist, who carried a gun in the warfare, stated that many ladies had taken half in the armed battle towards Serbian forces however have been later written out of the script. “A myth was created that only men are strong and can fight,” she stated.

Another fraught concern has been whether or not rape survivors, of which there have been 1000’s throughout the warfare, ought to be acknowledged as warfare victims entitled to a month-to-month authorities stipend.

Legislation permitting rape survivors to use for compensation was handed in 2014 after intense lobbying by Ms. Osmani. That was regardless of calls for from some male legislators that ladies who had been raped in the Nineties get a medical certificates from a physician — greater than 20 years later — to show that they weren’t mendacity.

Such calls for, Ms. Osmani stated, have been “ridiculous and very insulting toward women.”

Ms. Bogujevci’s highway to Parliament was additionally a lengthy one. “I always said I would never enter politics,” she stated in an interview in her household’s hometown, Podujeva.

She was flown to Britain for medical remedy quickly after the preventing ended, and spent practically 15 years constructing a new life in Manchester in the north of England, however began making more and more frequent journeys again to her dwelling area.

She testified towards her household’s killers earlier than a court docket in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, and exhibited an artwork show she had created chronicling her household’s story. She has now moved again to Kosovo, the place strangers cease her on the road to voice admiration and help.

Like most Kosovo cities, Podujeva has a hulking warfare monument in its heart that includes statues of burly males with weapons. When Ms. Bogujevci visited earlier than the election, nonetheless, she instantly turned the focal point, thronged by well-wishers.

Bokim Gashe, standing in the snow outdoors his spouse’s tailoring enterprise, stated he would “of course” vote for her.

“She is stronger than all the men around here,” he stated.

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