AIM: start

THU, 24 MAY 2001 01:54:01 GMT

Betting on Tirana’s Patience

AIM Tirana, May 17, 2001

Some analysts in Albanian capital bet concerning the question for how much longer the patience of Tirana may last in relation to the dramatic developments in Macedonia while an increasing tendency is observed in Skopje to implicate Albania in one way or the other. When on May 1 a few unknown attackers shot from firearms at the Albanian embassy in Skopje and a few bullets penetrated into the building where a diplomat was – and this was happening just a day after 60 shops owned by local Albanians in Bitolj had been demolished – Albanian media promptly reported that a note of protest was served to the charge d’affaires in Macedonian embassy in Tirana. In fact there was no note of protest either concerning the first or the second event, although Macedonian diplomat had been called to come to the foreign ministry.

Tirana did not react even when the head of the group of deputies of the leading party in Macedonian coalition in power, VMRO-DPMNE, D. Gligorovski demanded that the border between Albania and Macedonia be hermetically closed, nor when a daily in Skopje informed on May 4 that a group of armed rebels had come to Debar in Macedonia from Albania and after an exchange of fire with Macedonian police withdrew back into Albania again.

The accusations from Skopje reached their climax when Macedonian Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski indirectly accused Albania by declaring that if armed conflicts broke out around Debar, at the border with Albania, Albania would certainly be implicated. Although this was not the first time Prime Minister of Macedonia had stated such an accusation, no protest or official reply was heard in Tirana. In his speech given at the 5th Convention of the Socialist Party on May 6 in Tirana, Prime Minister of Albania Ilir Meta just demanded from Skopje “to civilise the crisis and not to militarise it”. The only direct official reaction was the statement of the Ministry of Public Order of Albania issued on May 3 which was a denial of the news carried by Albanian press that three divisions of Albanian army – of Elbasan, Korce and Debar – have approached the border with Macedonia.

It is clear that official Tirana is paying the internal political or election price with its policy of patience concerning the Macedonian crisis. This is not just the moment when the crisis in Macedonia has reached its climax, but it is also the time of the beginning of the election campaign for parliamentary elections in Albania scheduled for June 24. Macedonian crisis has already become part of the political and pre-election duel in Albania. A certain number of parties, especially those in the opposition, not only expressed discontent with the policy of patience pursued by the government, but also sharply criticised it. Especially after Albanians’ shops had been demolished in Bitolj, after Albanian embassy had been attacked and after the offensive of Macedonian army against the guerilla in the villages of Kumanovo, criticism of the government has become even sharper.

The leader of the opposition, former president Berisha, already on May 3 criticised the complete incoherence of Albanian government in its stand concerning the developments in Macedonia. Former foreign minister and secretary for foreign relations of Democratic Party, Tritan Shehu, also demanded from the government to be clear in its stands. President of the Commission for Foreign Affairs of Albanian parliament, Sabri Godo, also criticised what he called “stammering of the government”, reminding of the official reactions of foreign ministers of Greece and Bulgaria concerning the events in Macedonia.

Along with the increase of criticism by the opposition parties, there is the evident rising discontent of the ethnic Albanian political parties in Pristina with the stands of official Tirana towards the crisis in Macedonia. At the 5th Convention of the Socialist Party of Albania which leads the ruling coalition in this country, among guests there was not a single prominent political leader of Albanian parties in Kosovo. However, not even this could make Tirana abandon its decision to be patient.

Tirana seems to be in an even more awkward situation in its relations with the political parties of the Albanians in Macedonia. Albanian officials have openly declared themselves in favour of cooperation and participation of ethnic Albanian parties in the government and the parliament in the neighbouring country. At a request of Macedonian Prime Minister Georgievski, Albanian government actively participated in persuading ethnic Albanian political parties to participate in the new government created in Macedonia. However, it was possible to observe certain signs of discontent among various Albanian politicians in Macedonia with such policy of patience of Tirana. This discontent is considerable in the ranks of that which calls itself the National Liberation Army the forces and actions of which have resolutely been condemned by official Tirana.

At first sight it seems, therefore, that Tirana will pursue this policy of patience until the very end of Macedonian crisis. In fact, if one analyses the stands and policy pursued concerning the developments in Macedonia, it becomes clear that the policy of patience of Albanian government is based on certain calculations. This refers to the estimate official Tirana has made taking into account all the factors and internal and external protagonists involved in Macedonian crisis. Such assessment decisively affected its joining from the very beginning and resolutely the European Union and NATO in their stand concerning these developments. Between the price that would have to be paid in relations with ethnic Albanian political parties in Macedonia and Kosovo and the price in relations with the European Union and NATO, Albanian government has, of course, chosen to pay the former. It is aware that the consequence of possible taking of a stand contrary to the policy of European Union and NATO would be much greater for the policy and aspirations of Albania to sign the Agreement on Stabilisation and Association with the European Union. What made it easier is the fact that even the opposition itself, despite a certain amount of criticism, finally made the same choice as the government. Therefore it seems that the bet on how long Tirana’s patience concerning Macedonian crisis would last will be won by those who bet on patience.

AIM Tirana

Arjan LEKA