Pristina's Newborn Obelisk, inaugurated for Kosovo's Independence in 2008
qiv
Piotr Smolar

PRISTINA - Before General Xavier Bout de Marnhac can walk up to the second floor of the Gagi restaurant in the center of Kosovo's capital, his security escort must inspect the premises.

This is standard procedure. The French general, whom we were meeting only a few hours before he was leaving Kosovo, is the outgoing chief of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX), where 2,000 European prosecutors and judges, police officers and customs officials lend technical assistance to the local authorities. A supposedly neutral presence that has no one fooled.

General Bout de Marnhac has executive powers. His employees have penal immunity. The cases they investigate – which are very sensitive – involve the country’s elite. “Our work is long and complicated, and the mission has created expectations that will be impossible to fulfill,” he admits. “EULEX is a frustration-making machine.”

Who remembers Kosovo? The 1999 war. NATO bombing of Serbia. The international contingent – the KFOR – and UN administration. On Feb. 17, 2008, the Republic of Kosovo declared its independence, which is recognized today by 98 UN member states. After the independence, the EU took from the UN and created the largest civil mission in its history – EULEX. The internationally supervised independence came to an end in September 2012. Summed up like this, the timeline of Kosovo’s history seems quite linear. A story of emancipation. But upon closer look, things are not so simple. For instance, if you were to flip over Kosovo's new criminal procedure code, you would find the logo of the U.S. State Department.

As Afghanistan and Iraq have taught us, winning the peace is far more complex than winning the war. And in Kosovo as well, the issue of the cost of “state building” – more than 600 million euros in five years for EULEX – and the methods used beg the question: what is the price of stability and peace? On this subject, suspicions are growing: is the EU turning a blind eye to corruption and organized crime?

Priority has been given to the diplomatic talks between Kosovo and Serbia, which started in March 2011. “Everyone –from EU members to local authorities – seems disappointed by EULEX. But it is wrong to believe that bringing judges and police officers is enough for everything to change right away. It takes time,” says Samuel Zbogar, a Slovenian representative of the EU in Kosovo.

“Your judges and policemen despise us”

EULEX’s first weakness is political. Its goal is to help a state that five EU members don’t recognize (Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia). The second is territorial. The mission cannot work properly in the northern towns, which are populated by Serbs. EULEX vehicles are not always able to pass through the roadblocks, and witnesses are intimidated or hostile to the mission. The multiple layers of administrations add to the chaos. How do you enforce the law if you don’t know which one to use?

Map of EU member states and their stance on recognising Kosovo's independence
Source: Wikimedia

There are also the complexities of “state building:” the EULEX expats, who are well paid (8,000 euros) have a tendency to answer more to their governments than to their hierarchy. They don’t spend enough time in Kosovo – one or two years – to know the local issues and mindset, even if many have previously worked with UNMIK, the UN mission in Kosovo. Their Kosovar colleagues are not ready to take over. More than 80% of them were trained during the former Yugoslav regime and have been unemployed for years. “They don’t know the jurisprudence, and the younger ones lack training,” says General Bout de Marnhac. It is not likely that the EULEX mission will end in June 2014, as expected. The Kosovar justice system doesn’t have the freedom, the means, or the competence to deal with the sensitive cases on its own.

One of the cases that made the most noise was the Limaj case. Fatmir Limaj, a former transportation minister, was targeted by several criminal investigations. One of the key witnesses in his war-crimes trial committed suicide in Germany. But Limaj, after a first acquittal, was incarcerated in November 2012.

“Can you think of another European country where the ruling party has been targeted by so many investigations?” asks Vice-Prime Minister Hajredin Kuci. “Your judges and policemen despise us. They are not accountable for their actions. They shouldn’t be allowed to take over cases from our magistrates without even telling them.”

The government’s critics differ from the opposition’s, who denounces a selective justice system. “Only the small fish end up in jail, not the big sharks. Limaj is in jail so that Prime Minister Thaci doesn’t have to go to prison,” says Albin Kurti, the leader of the Vetevendosje nationalist movement. He wants Europe to send teachers and doctors instead of judges and police officers.

Avni Zogiani, an anti-corruption activist, has similar doubts concerning EULEX’s motivations. “We gave them files and evidence,” he says, “they carried out investigations but in the end, they didn’t charge anyone. EULEX gives impunity to those – in the elite – who are the most docile.”

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Society

Pomp And Pirouettes: When Ballet Stars Bid Farewell

On June 11, the prima ballerina Eleonora Abbagnato bid farewell to the Paris Opera, under the gold roof of the historic Palais Garnier. It's an obligatory passage for Parisian ballet dancers of a certain age, a moment that is often happy, always dreaded and sometimes salutary.

Ballerina Eleonora Abbagnato performing at her adieux
Eleonora Abbagnato Official Instagram Account
Cecilia Delporte


PARIS — With one last look at Chagall's enchanting fresco, at the teachers who watched her grow up, at the stage that saw her blossom, Eleonora Abbagnato took her final bow. Never has a star ballerina's farewell been so dramatic, as her big exit was postponed by three cancellations due to a strike, and then the pandemic.

"I'm always positive, I think that destiny does things well," she says in her dressing room a few days before her "adieu." "I knew this evening would eventually take place!" This artist, who wanted to model her last dance on Le Parc by Angelin Preljocaj, ended up dazzling the crowd in a tribute to Roland Petit, which nicely echoed her career.

"He is someone I knew at the age of 10, so it was important to me to perform a ballet by this choreographer. The last time I danced Young Man was for Nicolas Le Riche's farewell, I was four months pregnant! It all began with Roland, and it all ends with him." The ballerina has lost none of her taste for the stage, but there are traditions that forge an institution: At the age of 42, each Opera dancer must leave the premises with a final au revoir to the public and the company.

"It's probably less painful than in other foreign companies, especially Anglo-Saxon ones, where there is no age limit but you are summoned to be told that you are no longer in the shape you were when you started out," says the former star Agnès Letestu. But how will this particular evening be remembered, as a rite of passage or the beginning of a new life? "The farewell is both a moment of extraordinary love with the hall, the orchestra pit, the backstage area ... and at the same time the turning of a page in the history of this institution. Even if the phoenix always rises from its ashes through the appointment of a new star," says Brigitte Lefèvre, the Paris Opera's dance director from 1995 to 2014.

No faux pas when choosing the last dance

This uniquely talented artist deserves the same exceptional ceremony created for the departure of Elisabeth Platel in 1999 and Carole Arbo two years later, which was televised for the very first time. For these kinds of events, the star's personal life comes into play — family members are present in the room, children occasionally come on stage. A perfectly choreographed protocol is followed to a tee, mixing various speeches with the arrival of the Minister of Culture; sometimes a special distinction from the Order of Arts and Letters is awarded. Moments of grace are sprinkled throughout the evening, such as the improvised dance between Aurélie Dupont — the director of dance at the time — and the departing star Marie-Agnès Gillot. The festivities continue into the night, charged with excitement and emotion.

These farewells are planned two or three years in advance when the time comes for the dance director to curate the future program. Aurélie Dupont, like Brigitte Lefèvre before her, likes to ask the star which ballet they prefer as their parting performance and which partners should accompany them.

These are intense moments sometimes experienced as mourning.

"There are some dancers who don't want to say goodbye because they don't like it, because the program doesn't suit them or because they don't feel fit enough," says Agnès Letestu. "I wanted to leave the Paris Opera with La Dame aux Camélias. I had talked to Brigitte Lefèvre about it. Except my farewell was scheduled before the ballet was programmed, so I had to find another one, but I did not agree. So I proposed to her to come back and dance it one month after I left the company, which was quite unusual."

Among the most requested works are the legendary ballets Giselle and L'Histoire de Manon. "The stars like to start with love stories that end badly. Everyone wants a ballet with real drama, in two or three acts, rather than a little pas de deux," says Aurélie Dupont. Dupont's first choice, La Dame aux Camélias, had already been scheduled two years earlier for the farewell of Agnès Letestu, so she settled on Manon. This work, heavy with meaning, was Dupont's big return to the stage after a serious knee injury in 1998, when she feared she could no longer dance.

Eleonora Abbagnato performing her final "adieux" at the Paris Opera

Like going to the guillotine

As for the brilliant Karl Paquette, it was with Cinderella — a ballet dear to his heart — that he retired at the Opéra Bastille, Paris' second opera house while many dancers prefer the old charm of the more famous Palais Garnier. "The story is funny, the ballet very narrative — one of the most beautiful successes of Nureyev. I loved the golden costume, the scenic effects, the finale of the grand pas de deux. The strongest moment was my entrance on stage in Act II to great applause, even as the musicians continued to play," he recalls.

These are intense moments sometimes experienced as mourning, like when Marie-Agnès Gillot cried heavily before her final step onto the stage. On that fateful day, Agnès Letestu says she felt a very special sensation, strengthening her senses, from her vision to her hearing. "Everything was multiplied tenfold," says Letestu who, a few months earlier, had the feeling of going to the guillotine. "I was very stressed four months before, I was afraid of hurting myself and not being able to dance, of not being up to it, of not enjoying every moment, of crying," says Aurélie Dupont, whose farewell was finally a calming moment. "I especially remember the applause, people were shouting, standing — it lasted more than 20 minutes. And this love is only for you."

I couldn't let myself be overwhelmed by emotion!

Nicolas Le Riche, now director of the Royal Ballet of Stockholm, evokes a "very strong feeling of corporation, of belonging to an institution that we celebrate at the same time." He was the only artist to bid farewell not to a ballet, but to a "special evening" of total freedom, mixing pieces like L'Après-midi d'un faune by Nijinsky and Béjart's Le Boléro. On stage, tributes were paid in his honor by prestigious guests such as singer Matthieu Chedid and actor Guillaume Gallienne.

"I found this repertoire, which transcended the ages, very moving. I received a magnificent note from Nijinsky's daughter. It's an evening where everyone is allowed to be moved and to live these emotions, except the person who is leaving. I couldn't let myself be overwhelmed by emotion, otherwise, I would have taken a step on stage and collapsed!" he recalls. How long did it take him to prepare such a spectacle? "I feel like answering in the manner of Coco Chanel, who made her hat in two scissor strokes. 'But it only took you two minutes?" says a disappointed customer. 'No, Madam, it took me a whole life," she replies. The same way I drew on all that I lived through," says the dancer.

Group photo of Paris Opera dancers in white tutus dancing in front of the Palais Garnier, with placards in protest of the French government's plan to overhaul retirement age

Paris Opera dancers perform in front of the Palais Garnier to protest the French government's plan to overhaul retirement age — Photo: Maxppp/ ZUMA

To each their own swan song

While Laëtitia Pujol hesitated a long time before making her farewell, hoping to leave discreetly, others end up with departure full of pomp and circumstance, sometimes to their surprise. "It's a moment you think about all the time without really thinking about it. I certainly wasn't looking forward to it and wanted something intimate. This was the opposite," says Karl Paquette. "The director of the Paris Opera at the time, Stéphane Lissner, wanted to leave on the symbolic day of December 31. "I was doubly pressured because the farewell was broadcast in the cinema, and each of my movements was immortalized. On the last day, you are in a particular state of conditioning because you are saying goodbye to 25 years of career and nearly 42 years of life. You have to protect yourself."

When the farewell came, it was a relief.

Only Benjamin Pech experienced his farewell, an evening in February 2016, as a liberation. And for good reason: "I had a hip injury in 2014. I was diagnosed with rapid degenerative arthritis. To remedy it, I needed a hip replacement. My farewell was scheduled for 2016, so I decided not to have the surgery and continue until then. For two years, I held on by dancing practically on one leg and had to turn to a repertoire that was no longer athletic but theatrical, with compositional roles that opened up other perspectives. Isn't a dancer above all someone who comes to deeply impact the spectator? When the farewell came, it was a relief," he says.

The star had chosen to dance alongside Sylviane, an 84-year-old spectator and one of his lifelong fans, who was present during rehearsals, but unfortunately became ill on the day of the performance. Pech took his leave on a program that included Le Parc by Preljocaj, the very piece that gave way to his injury: "I have come full circle."

Bidding farewell to the word "adieu"

Shortly after his or her performance, the future retiree must pass on their dressing room to another star, a moment that is "both very sophisticated and archaic. There are the great speeches, which say that this house will always be yours, but in reality, it becomes otherwise," says Brigitte Lefèvre. "You close the door, you leave and it's over," says Eleonora Abbagnato. But how do these artists project themselves into the future? "What is traumatic is that we are heavily drilled since we entered the dance school at 8 years old, with a professional outline where everything is already decided. How can you exist professionally when you have garnered such admiration, even fascination until now? At 42, most people are in the middle of their career, ours is coming to an end," says Benjamin Pech, who has become ballet master at the Opera of Rome, directed by Eleonora Abbagnato.

It is not a door that closes, but rather another door that opens.

While many stars go on to create or run a company, many experience a profound period of confusion. "I was secretly hoping that someone would call me for a position, that I could be of some value, but it didn't happen that way," explains Nicolas Le Riche. "I had already enrolled at Sciences Po for schooling [in management and leadership]. I had to create my own opportunities."

To remedy this uncertainty, Aurélie Dupont now offers support for company members, offering them a skills assessment and training beyond dance. In the future, Nicolas Le Riche would like the word "adieu" to be replaced by the idea of celebration. "It is not a door that closes, but rather another door that opens." Because under the gold of the Palais Garnier, the stars are eternal.


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