AIM: start

MON, 17 SEP 2001 00:51:08 GMT

Peace in Skopje Accompanied by a Chill in the Relations with Tirana

AIM Tirana, August 31, 2001

The political agreement reached after six months of inter-ethnic conflict in Macedonia was welcomed in Albania with great relief. It seems that this conflict was a nightmare for the official and political circles in Tirana that not only because it took place near the border of Albania, but moreover, because one of the conflicting parties were the Albanians. Regardless of the fact that neither Tirana nor Skopje confirmed it, it is a fact that Macedonian crisis has chilled the relations between the two states. Tirana was among the capitals that hurried to welcome the agreement reached by ethnic Albanian and Macedonian political leaders in Skopje on August 13. During the day, Albanian government and foreign ministry published a statement in which they welcomed the first big step towards peace that was achieved. Albanian high officials especially highly esteemed the contribution and the role of the European Union, the USA and NATO in resolving this long crisis. Two main political parties, Prime Minister Ilir Meta’s Socialist Party that has just won in parliamentary elections on June 24 and was given a new mandate to form the government, and Democratic Party, the biggest opposition party, also hurried to welcome with a special statement the political agreement reached in Skopje.

However, quite unexpectedly, the enthusiasm of Tirana caused by the political agreement reached in Macedonia’s capital did not result in relieving of tensions in mutual relations it had expected. Immediately after that event, a new wave of chill swept over the relations between Tirana and Skopje when just the opposite was expected to happen and the agreement on the end of the conflict was expected to help re-establish mutual confidence that the two countries had had in each other before the conflict.

Two days after signing the peace agreement, Macedonia’s minister of defence Vlado Buckovski accused Albania of being involved in Macedonian crisis by training Albanian guerilla fighters in Albania and illegal trade of arms from Albania. That was the first time that an important minister in Georgijevski’s government pointed at Albania’s administration although during the crisis Macedonian officials and media constantly spoke about crossing of the border and arms brought in from Albania. That was the reason why contrary to previous accusations Tirana reacted immediately rejecting it and repeating assurances that it would increase the control of the border between the two countries in order to prevent every possibility of illegal arms trade. New Macedonian accusations caused reactions in Albanian media, which generally speaking had not treated the Macedonian crisis as a question of priority significance during the past months and for the first time sided with their government concerning involvement in Macedonia. This does not happen often in Albania where the government is usually criticised by media for its mild stand towards Macedonian government. Such criticism of Albanian government still prevails in politics and propaganda in Kosovo the disposition of which was presented on August 17 by Shkeljzen Maliqi, Kosovar publicist, who said that Tirana was afraid of its own shadow and that it pursued mute policy concerning Macedonian crisis.

It is not clear why Macedonian government saw fit to formulate accusations of Albania after signing of the agreement and after the arrival of the first units of NATO forces that will disarm National Liberation Army. However, the statement of Macedonian minister revealed a rise of bad disposition in Skopje against Tirana which did not refer to the question of guerilla fighters any more. Sources close to the Albanian government inform that a diplomatic clash occurred between the two countries. When foreign ministry of Albania failed in the attempt to have a joint declaration signed by the countries of South Eastern European Cooperation Process (SEECP) chaired by Albania this year, foreign minister Paskal Milo issued a personal statement in the capacity of the chairman of SEECP and welcomed the agreement signed in Skopje. And while a favourable reaction was expected due to the fact that the peace agreement was welcomed in this statement, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Macedonia immediately turned it into a diplomatic scandal. On August 15, it sent a letter to all foreign ministers of SEECP countries protesting because Albania had issued a statement in the name of the presidency, disregarding the consensus. It even went further and on that very day called Albanian Ambassador in Skopje to the Ministry to hand in a protest because of his statement, although the Ambassador had not been summoned during the whole time of the crisis, not even when the minister of defence had issued the official statement about involvement of Albania.

Although in Skopje they did their best to explain this estrangement of relations with Albania by concern for the respect of procedure, in Tirana they are not convinced that the concern for the procedure should have exceeded in significance the expressed support to the peace agreement and that it was worth the diplomatic chilling of bilateral relations especially after reaching the peace agreement. Along these lines, Albanian officials tried not to strain relations any further, so Macedonian Ambassador in Tirana was not summoned to come to foreign ministry of Albania in return. However, Albanian foreign minister sent a letter to his homologues from eight member countries and observers in SEECP in order to clarify the case of his statement on the agreement in Skopje.

After the war in Macedonia, peace over there seems fragile, but just as fragile the relations between the two neighbours have become. It is difficult for Macedonia to swallow the fact that equally as Albania in 1997 it has become the site of a serious internal crisis which requires international intervention and presence. There is no state in the Balkan that wishes to resemble another, but they all, whether they wish it or not, look like the others.

AIM Tirana

Arjan LEKA