AIM: start

THU, 21 MAR 2002 00:45:58 GMT

Albania Eager for Closer Contacts with Kosovo

With the creation of Kosovo’s new governing institution Albania was more than happy and its senior officials rushed in Pristine to establish official contacts.

AIM Tirana, 19 March 2002

The election of Kosovo’s president, prime minister and the government was a relief not only for the international community governing the province, but also for the Tirana government that had just come out itself of a governing crisis affecting its prospects. The Albanian factor is very decisive in the Balkans, or the southeastern Europe as the world likes to call it at the moment. It has been very determining in avoiding the recent flare-ups in the region like in Kosovo and Macedonia. But unfortunately it has lacked the proper self-esteem and internal frictions had hampered its go-ahead at the moment.

Tirana showed to the international community that it may overcome its governing crisis but it may also continue its peaceful and mediating role in the Balkans to bring the region to the world’s and its business attention.

Albanian Foreign Minister Arta Dade held last week a visit to Kosovo to meet all its newly-elected officials transmitting to them Tirana’s great interest in establishing closer and official contacts between the two capitals. That is to benefit both sides of the border.

Why was Albania that much interested in Kosovo’s creation of its new institutions? Was it because of the “Greater Albania” idea, or something else? Absolutely no ‘Greater Albania’. That does not exist in the minds of Albanians. It has been more the non-Albanian press and sources speaking about it.

Albanians on both sides of the border are often surprised when listening to ‘their’ desire, something that they do not think about. Moreover they also know that at the moment their economic background at the region would not be a great supporter to that idea. And, moreover, they know the world does not accept that. That would mean a change of other borders, something unacceptable after so many wars in the region and at a time when its last dictator, Slobodan Milosevic is on trial for those wars. Supporting that idea would not assist their brethren in Macedonia, or the final solution of its conflict. That would only make the extremists more extreme, on both sides, and slow down the economic interest for the region. At the moment Albanians in Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and elsewhere have more pressing issues to deal with like economy, governing and the like.

But with Kosovo having its own government it means that Albanians may contest different rumours about their lack of the state-creation capacities.

Kosovo had shown it with the local authorities operating since two years. They gave a good example with general elections too last year. But the freezing of the talks on the selection of the posts by its political groupings resembled so much to Albania’s own experience in the post-communist period.

It should be acknowledged, however, that its politicians have still not got the real clue of the western democratic politics. They still put their personal interests before the national ones. They still do not think so much of the future. And they still very often just criticize each other in front of the world trying to gain a higher personal personality without understanding the loss is for all of them, but moreover for their people.

That has been so much common among Albanian politicians not only in Kosovo this time, but especially in Albania, and Macedonia too. While Kosovo would probably need an assisting hand from Tirana in easing up the political tension Tirana itself was engulfed in a bitter political friction that resulted with the government resignation. Macedonia was again said to be on the eve of war this spring. It was not true.

All these would mean to a westerner that Albanians are hard to appease each other, let alone the others. That would mean Albanians could be considered as a long-time problem in the region, something that is not true. But, to be frank, Albanians’ impression to the world is not that good at the moment.

Minister Dade talked with the Kosovo new leaders on how to establish normal but closer contacts on economy, tourism, education and culture. That was one part of her visit there.

But the other side, and probably the most important at the moment, was her invitation for them to come and visit Tirana. They like it or not, Tirana is the capital of their motherland and Tirana’s role may be well considered in the world unlike Pristine. Kosovo leaders should not forget that Tirana is also the capital of Albanians, of their brethren who opened their homes to welcome the refugees three years ago.

That does not mean that Tirana or its people are superior to Pristine. But politicians on both side of the border, especially Kosovo’s President Ibrahim Rugova, should forget that mentality. It is true Rugova is not in good terms with Albania’s ruling Socialist Party and he has repeatedly denied their invitation to Tirana. He has even denied to meet Tirana’s most senior officials when they have visited post-war Kosovo.

That mentality should be over, something that does not mean they should like each other in a ‘love of first sight’. Both sides should accept each other and establish regular contacts despite of the ruling parties in the two capitals.

Albania’s President Rexhep Meidani hailed Rugova’s election with a telegram sent on his and Albania’s people behalf”. And of course Rugova when answering will speak “on behalf of the Kosovo people”. Meidani said that he “hoped for a meeting with his counterpart Rugova to discuss on issues concerning them jointly in order to give a push to the new collaboration between Albania and Kosovo in all the sectors.”

This time Rugova should not answer ‘no’.

Minister Dade also made that invitation. But she got a positive answer (at least what the Albanian press reported) only from Kosovo’s Prime minister Bajram Rexhepi who belongs to the Democratic Party of Kosovo, known to be in good contacts with Albania’s ruling Socialists.

Politicians on both sides should think more of the future. Albania’s Premier Pandeli Majko, someone who ran the country during the Kosovo war too, considered Kosovo’s election as a “special historical important event” showing that “Kosovo’s people and its leaders to govern their country together with UNMIK and take Kosovo in the road of normalcy and development.”

Reigning of peace in Albania and Kosovo would mean a better future for both. It would mean more economic benefit for both. It was Majko who initiated the rehabilitation, or building of a new road between Tirana and Pristine after the war in 1999. That was repeated and recently it turned into a government priority for Albania. Now Tirana is expecting the World Bank to decide on the $700,000 tender winner to prepare its feasibility study. This new link would bring income because Albania is the entrance of the Corridor 8 and Kosovo would be the link with central Europe. Its cost seems quite high, much more than half a billion USD. For sure the world will give, at least part of that. Italy has already hinted it would be part fo the funding. But if Albanians try themselves they can do it much earlier. They could collect such money and there have been promises by Albanian diaspora businessmen on that.

Not much money from both sides of the border is invested in each other. There are million of Albanians abroad, more from Kosovo who have immigrated since more than 30 years. They could really invest their money in their countries.

It seems that Albania and Kosovo have identical challenges in front, most of them. Developing their economy to make life better for their people and not let them ‘flee’ this time in threatening speedboats across the Adriatic is one of them. Creating a secure environment would mean more foreign money coming here and better prospects.

Kosovo’s administrator Michael Steiner said that another serious challenge is making Kosovo a shelter for all, meaning for Serbs and the other minorities. Minister Dade met with the Serb Kosovo leaders while in Pristine, something that may be considered a good sign from the West. Albania could play an important role in such an issue. Moreover that would be an example, signal and effort to finally resolve the situation in neighbouring Macedonia.

At this moment Albanian politicians, wherever they are, should be very careful and look forward. Now there is also the agreement between Montenegro and Serbia giving an end to former Yugoslavia. Any Albanian may think, “This is the end of Yugoslavia. So no more U.N. Resolution 1244 formally including Kosovo into Serbia, that is, end of Serb rule and a free Kosovo.”

It is not that easy and that simple. Steiner said upon the election of Kosovo’s new leaders that “we are in Europe and Kosovo is part of Euroland. We should cooperate so that no vacuum is created here but Kosovo becomes part of the stabilizing structures in Europe.”

Brussels warned Tirana, too, of its internal frictions telling it would not become part of the western democracy in Europe without having a different view and concept on internal democracy.

All these mean for Albanians to sit down, govern their countries and think of becoming part of integrated Europe. That needs more efforts, work, money, reconciliation, imagination and, above all, good thinking.