Friday, February 02, 2007

Albania Lobbies Discretely for Independence

Tirana likely to be among first to recognise new state for which it has consistently manoeuvred.

By Elton Metaj in Tirana (Balkan Insight, 31 Jan 07)
Albania may be the first country to recognise Kosovo's independence, if that possibility is contained in the proposals on final status that the UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari presents this week.

Tirana has recently tried to increase its impact in the regional arena, promoting Kosovo's independence as the only solution to a long-running conundrum and one that may bring peace and stability to the war-torn Balkans.

On January 30, President Alfred Moisiu sent a letter to the new UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, suggesting that Kosovo's status should be "in accordance with the will of the majority of Kosovo's population and also reflect the efforts and commitment of the international community for a calm and stabilised Balkans that should finally rid itself of the Cold War inheritance and fevers of aggressive nationalism".

Moisiu added, "It is our conviction that the Western Balkans will have its future in Euro-Atlantic integration with Kosovo and Serbia as two neighboring countries alongside each other."

On January 29, after meeting his Bulgarian counterpart in Tirana, Albania's prime minister, Sali Berisha, made the same point.

Berisha said Tirana would support the UN envoy Ahtisaari in a project "that embodies those principles that have realised the project of a free Kosovo, with citizens enjoying equality under the law, full respect for minority rights and an independent and European Kosovo".

Earlier this month, the speaker of parliament, Jozefina Topalli, said while visiting the Council of Europe that Albania's parliament "has always supported Kosovo's independence, viewing it as the only way out for peace and stability in the region".

It is not surprising that Albania has always been the region's most enthusiastic supporter of independence for Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians make up 90 per cent of the population.

At the same time, Tirana has tried hard to dispel any fears that its seeks the creation of a greater Albania, always maintaining that it has no territorial claims on Kosovo and does not seek either to change its borders or unite with Kosovo.

The foreign minister, Besnik Mustafaj, made it clear from the start of the status talks last year that Tirana wanted to be "an actor but not a factor" over Kosovo and would promote its independence without trying to upset the current fragile stability of the Balkans.

Tirana has urged Kosovo's ethnic Albanians to respect the rights of the Serb minority and called on the international military force in Kosovo, KFOR, to continue to serve the community there.

If the UN envoy's plan is seen as satisfactory, Tirana is likely to get involved in the lobbying at the UN's New York headquarters, where allies of Serbia may attempt to veto proposals for independence, according to the independent analyst, Blendi Fevziu.

The Kosovo issue has probably been the only one in recent years over which Albania's ever-squabbling politicians have joined forces.

Kastriot Islami, an opposition Socialist parliamentarian and former foreign minister, strongly supports the centre-right government on this issue, dismissing the notion heard abroad that Kosovo's independence may become a dangerous precedent, encouraging separatist movements everywhere.

"That [idea] is only a cover for opposition to independence," said Islami. "Kosovo is a unique case in the world, a consequence of ex-Yugoslavia's dissolution and it has no correlation to other cases."

By playing a discrete, behind-the-scenes role and imposing its influence on the Kosovo political scene on the side of moderation, Tirana has gained credit internationally.

Indeed, while trying to preserve its constructive image in the region, it may be that Tirana does not rush to recognise Kosovo but waits for Washington and London to act first.

In another gesture of regional reconciliation, following the recent general elections in Serbia, Tirana offered the hand of cooperation to any new government in Serbia "formed from pro-European and pro-Euro-Atlantic elements".

Albania added that it would also support Serbia's integration into the European Union and NATO if Belgrade accepted an independent Kosovo "in a peaceful and dignified way that serves peace".

But not all local commentators think Albania's politicians have helped the cause of Kosovo's statehood.

Writing in the January 29 edition of the Gazeta Shqiptare, Kico Blushi said Albania's political establishment may even have been partly to blame for the delays to Kosovo's final status.

Referring to the endless, destructive feuds between the leading parties that have consumed so much energy in recent years, he said, "The Albanian political class has, in its irresponsible way, permitted Serbian diplomacy to manoeuvre and regain the image it had earlier lost."

Elton Metaj is editor-in-chief of Albanian daily Korrieri. Balkan Insight is BIRN`s online publication. Fair use.

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