Saturday, April 29, 2006

Albania: A Mere Supporter of Kosovo Team in the Grandstand

Can Karpat, AIA Balkan Section
Since the beginning of the Kosovo problem, Belgrade has often accused the Kosovo Albanians of longing for “Greater Albania”. Unfounded or not, one thing is sure: the “Greater Albania” project will be without Albania. Albania, which officially supports Kosovo’s independence, refuses to become a key player in the status negotiations. Why does Albania, a player that everyone would have expected to see in the field, stay as a mere supporter in the grandstand?

Incomprehensible Albania?

Anyone, who is slightly acquainted with the Kosovo question, would have expected that Albania be the driving force behind Kosovo in the status negotiations. However it is not the case. Although Albania declared that it was ready to help with the process of resolving Kosovo's status, it pointed out that it did not intend to become a key player in the negotiations.
However Albania, which is used to be extremely cautious in its policy towards Kosovo, within a month, made two controversial statements. And the author of those statements was no less than the Albanian Foreign Minister, Besnik Mustafaj.
During his official visit to France this February, Besnik Mustafaj declared to Le Figaro that Prishtina and Belgrade should learn to “compromise” and explained what Albania meant with “compromise” as follows: “This compromise, as indispensable to the Serbs as it is to the Albanians, could take the form of independence supported by the international community, in other words, a kind of limited sovereignty, for an independent Kosovo does not make sense unless it is democratic. The Balkans does not need another country that is not a rule-of-law state”. So Albania accepts “conditional independence” for Kosovo, which the Kosovo Albanians have publicly and often declared that they would never accept. Or does it not?
Then in March, Mustafaj provoked a small-scale scandal with his ambiguous statement: “If Kosovo is partitioned, there would be no guarantee that other borders in the region would remain fixed”. Serbia and especially Macedonia where there is a considerable Albanian minority violently reacted.
Besnik Mustafaj (photo:
Besnik Mustafaj
Mustafaj claimed thereafter that his statement was misunderstood and misinterpreted: “As I said, if Kosovo is partitioned, we do not guarantee the stability of the frontiers. I meant the frontiers of Kosovo with Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro”. Besnik emphasized that unification between Kosovo and Albania -if Kosovo becomes independent- is out of the question.
What is the purpose of Mustafaj? Does Albania want to change its pragmatic and cautious Kosovo policy?
Not at all. It is just that once again, Albanian politicians reduce the Kosovo question to the everyday domestic politics. According to Eno Trimcev from the Albanian Institute for International Studies: “Any politician that tries to play the “national question” is bound to pay a heavy price in terms of public support”. In the past, Mustafaj has in fact been criticized for taking too soft a line on Kosovo. It is significant that Mustafaj, who has often displeased the Kosovo Albanians favoring “conditional independence” for Kosovo, uttered such ambiguous points of view.
Albania will probably keep following a cautious policy towards Kosovo. In the beginning of this year, Albanian government formalized its option of independence for Kosovo. Sali Berisha’s government considers independence as non-negotiable, but modalities for achieving it as conditions. Albania seems more flexible than Kosovo. This policy is not that astonishing as it may seem in the first sight. Tirana has its well-founded historical, political and economic reasons to behave the way it does.

Kosovo and Albania: Different destinies

Though Albanians, history of the two communities is different. The Ottoman Empire divided the region where the Albanian people made up the majority, into four provinces (vilayet): Janina centered in Northern Greece, Manastir (today Bitola) centered in Macedonia, Shkoder centered near Montenegro and Kosovo. The Albanian League of Prizren, which was founded in 1878, sought to unite those four provinces. The idea of uniting these lands was the beginning of the “Greater Albania” ideal. The Treaty of London of 1913 recognized an independent Albania as we now see on maps. Yet, the area recognized as Albania by the Great powers was such that more ethnic Albanians were left outside the new state than included within it. One can argue that if there is any Albanian question in the Balkans, this question definitely started in 1913.

Thus Kosovo and Albania were separated from each other by a historical accident. During the two world wars, Albania mostly lived dependent on Italia. Especially the First Word War marked the beginning of the generational hostility between the Serbs and the Albanians, which occasionally committed genocides to each other. After 1939, Mussolini deliberately encouraged Albanian irredentist feelings towards Greece and Yugoslavia. Like elsewhere, in
Enver Hoxha (photo:
Enver Hoxha
Albania too a puppet government was established. The German occupation after 1942 provoked one democratic resistance (Balli Kombeta) and one communist resistance under Enver Hoxha, who was also supported by Tito. In the end Enver Hoxha’s communists prevailed.

The Cold War marked the definitive separation between the destiny of Albania and that of Kosovo. Under the leadership of Enver Hoxha, Albania closed its doors hermetically to the outside world. During the xenophobic communist period between 1945 and 1992, Albania’s attitude towards Kosovo and the Albanians of the former Yugoslavia was largely dismissive. Tirana, which tried to survive by siding with either Belgrade or Moscow or Beijing in different periods, did not want to jeopardize its position for the sake of ethnic Albanians outside its frontiers. The “Albanian question” turned into a source of political support for power wielders in Tirana. This situation was to change after Enver Hoxha’s death in 1985 and especially after March 1992 when the right-wing Democratic Party (PD) won the general elections and Sali Berisha became president.

This was for the historical reason. The political division of the past 93 years, and Albania’s isolation during the communist period have caused the two communities to evolve in a very different fashion.
The social reason is less known. Actually the relations between Albania and Kosovo are complex. Despite obvious linguistic and cultural ties, not all of Albanians of Albania proper are ethnic kin with those of Kosovo. The Tosks, who live in southern Albania, do not show much solidarity with the Kosovo Albanians, who are Ghegs. There is even a latent hostility between the Tosks and the Ghegs. That is why the bulk of weapons going into Kosovo entered from regions of northern Albania, predominantly Gheg and beyond Tirana’s control. And again that is why while violence was escalating in Kosovo during the 1980s and the beginning of 1990s, the Albanian government, which was dominated by Tosks, adopted a restraint attitude towards the problem. Yet that played into the hands of Sali Berisha, a Gheg, who promised to adopt a more aggressive attitude.

Between 1992 and 1996, there was a special cooperation and friendship between Ibrahim Rugova and Sali Berisha. Albanian president was talking about “loosening borders", and later even "deleting" them with Kosovo, and promised Rugova every kind of help for his cause. Rugova, who once visited Tirana during the presidency of Ramiz Alia (1982-1992), heir of Enver Hoxha, did not veil his strong antipathy for communism even that time. This offended the Socialists of Fatos Nano, who are
Albanian refugees (photo: BBC)
Albanian refugees
also the main opponents of Berisha. When the general elections in 1996 was criticized by the US administration, Rugova dissociated himself with Berisha. As Albania collapsed into chaos following the collapse of several pyramid schemes in spring 1997, Rugova made the surprising statement that "of all Albanian leaders, Ramiz Alia is the one who has done more for Kosovo”. However with that weird statement Rugova could manage to please neither the new Premier Fatos Nano nor the ex-president Sali Berisha, who must have felt himself “betrayed”.

During the Kosovo war, tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanian refugees arrived in Albania. At that time Albania was the poorest country of Europe and could not even provide for its own population. The arrival of Kosovo Albanians in Albania and their influence in some unsavory spheres of the economy have caused resentment among Albanians from Albania proper, most of whom are too preoccupied with the daily struggle for existence to devote much time or thought to national questions. And this was for the economic reason.

A sober policy

Today former president Sali Berisha is the prime minister of Albania. Albania, which is still in a precarious economic situation, lives quasi dependent on Western investments and aids. That is why, since the end of the Kosovo war, Tirana has preferred to be in tune with Western mainstream. In 2003, numerous agreements were signed between Albania and Kosovo in the field of energy, transport, free trade, financial services, health care, education and culture. However the Albanian government did not back the demand for Kosovo's outright
Sali Berisha (photo: Corbis)
Sali Berisha
independence. Today the fairly hands-off approach of Sali Berisha’s government towards Kosovo wins international approval. And Albania, who wants to be a part of Euro-Atlantic integration, definitely needs this approval.

During the 2000s, Tirana officially and publicly condemned the activities of the Liberation Army of Presevo-Medvedja-Bujanovac (UCPMB) in southern Serbia and the National Liberation Army of Macedonia (UCK) in north-western Macedonia. Diasporas are often more radical and ambitious than the motherland is. One sees that the motto is valid for Albania. Besnik Mustafaj’s statement is clear: “Kosovo must not establish a precedent for the Albanians of Macedonia, those of southern Serbia, or for the Serbs of Serbia because the situation is different”.

Given its myriad of challenges, Albania remains highly unlikely to lead any unification movement. Economic reasons apart, there are only some minuscule groups, who would support such an initiative. While there is some public support for Kosovo’s independence in Albania (especially among the Ghegs of northern region), this is based on general sympathy for the situation of Kosovo Albanians. Moreover, if Kosovo and Albania become one, the Ghegs would become majority and this would mean a shift of power from the Tosks to the Ghegs. Albanian politicians would not want the gravity centre to glide from Tirana to Prishtina.
The political and economic situation in Albania is too precarious to yield to political romanticism. The cautious line, which Albania has adopted since the beginning of the final status negotiations, is the best line for the country for three reasons.

Primo, it is known that the Albanian people and the Albanian government support Kosovo’s independence. However there is no need to extend an unnecessary political dimension to a situation, which currently brings politically cost-free economic and commercial benefits to both Albania and Kosovo. A more politically active support would justify Serbian allegations on “Greater Albania”. And this, not only would harm Kosovo’s cause, but also Albania’s international image.

Secundo, for 47 years the Albanians had been known as a closed nation. And since the fall of communism, Albania has done its best to change this image. A radical attitude, even verbal violence would shatter this hardly-built new image of Albania.

And tertio, it would not be wise for Albania, on its way to the European Union, to cause the animosity of this country and to provoke a Slav-Orthodox bloc against its membership. Likewise Tirana calls on the Albanians of Montenegro to cast their vote individually in the independence referendum. Moreover successive Albanian governments have always opted for strategic partnership with Macedonia. To irritate Macedonia, which is definitely closer to the EU than Albania, would be a tactical mistake.
And after all Tirana does not want to be in an “offside” position, for what it officially supports will probably happen anyway - with or without its interference.


WARchild said...

Conclusions are for the most part correct and new (how's that for a change?); however, the premises on which Karpat builds his arguments are very weak. For example, it was Fatos Nano, a Tosk, who made it possible for the arming of KLA. Nano's government was way more beneficial to Kosova's cause than Berisha ever was.

No established political elite would be willing to share power with another political center, be that Tosk, Gheg, or Pink.

Balkan Update said...

Yes, I agree that they have some good points. And it is true that some Albanians in the south do not feel sympathy for Kosovo ( I know a few of them personaly). What they fail to point out, though, is that people of Kosovo are not very supportive of the idea of unification either. So this is more than just Tosk-Gheg. There is no point in Uniting with Albania. It makes sense to have two countries with open borders. This way they can help each other in the International arene.

Kristian said...

Moreover, if Kosovo and Albania become one, the Ghegs would become majority and this would mean a shift of power from the Tosks to the Ghegs. Albanian politicians would not want the gravity centre to glide from Tirana to Prishtina.

You wonder why the albanian ppl were never united? The reason Zog or Enver Hoxha never faught for unification, bc they new the Gheg region would dominate. They gave up on Kosova to maintain power! Sad to say!