"Greater Albania" against "Greater Serbia"

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. In the light of the announced official visit of Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama to Serbia scheduled for 10 November 2014, IFIMES has prepared a comprehensive analysis entitled “Greater Albania” against “Greater Serbia”. The most relevant and interesting sections from the analysis are published below.

 

“Greater Albania” against “Greater Serbia”

 

The Serbia-Albania qualifying match for 2016 European Football Championship,played in Belgrade on 14 October 2014, was cancelled after 41 minutes following a brawl between the players sparked by the arrival of an unmanned drone carrying a flag of “Greater Albania” flown over the stadium. This incident revealed the reality of the relationship between the two nations and states which are – although deep in the process of Euro-Atlantic integration – still extremely burdened by historical legacy. The spirit of the past is still present, and it is used and exploited whenever suitable by either side. 

 

Symbolically the football match was a special overture to the historical visit of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama to Belgrade and his meeting with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, which was to take place on 22 October 201. This is the first such visit by an Albanian leader to Belgrade in 68 years. The last time an Albanian head of state visited Belgrade was in 1946, when late Albanian President Enver Hoxha met with Yugoslavia's then leadership.

 

Although it is not the aim of this analysis to deal with the football match, the latter provides a good example that no matter how much the spirit of the future is present, the spirit of the past is still strong enough to thwart the plans for the future. Abandonment of the football match between Serbia and Albania illustrates all the complexities of relations in the West Balkans and questions everything that has been done so far to reconcile and normalise those relations. What should be done in order to stabilise the relations and establish peace and stability in the region?

 

THE NIGHTMARE OF GREATER SERBIA

 

Unfortunately no development has been achieved in bilateral relations between Albania and Serbia during the long years of Sali Berisha's and Boris Tadić's government. Berisha was afraid of “his Albanians” while Tadić feared “his Serbs”. Nevertheless, they had something in common:

They both ruined their respective countries by letting systemic corruption and crime spread out and penetrate all spheres of social and political life.  If Zoran Đinđić were still alive those relations would probably bee much different, not only concerning Albania but also with respect to Albanians in Kosovo.

 

A few months before the election Sali Berisha had been using fierce nationalistic statements based on the idea of creating the “Greater Albania”, which triggered reactions in the neighbouring countries and their governments, especially in those that are home to numerous ethnic Albanians.

 

Unification with Kosovo has become the subject of public debate. Until very recently the state of Albania did not have any expansion projects in place. In his last attempt to remain in power Sali Berisha obviously resorted to Pan-Albanian ideas and to the celebration of the centenary of Albania's statehood in November 2012.

 

The official Washington then warned political parties and leaders to concentrate on priorities, and Euro-Atlantic integration is certainly one of them.

 

Current events have also encouraged the protagonists of the “Greater Serbia” project, who have responded to Albanian Prime Minister Rama and expressed their concern regarding the “Greater Albania” project which represents a nightmare for the Serbian side.

 

BERLIN – TIRANA - BELGRADE

 

Both Edi Rama and Aleksandar Vučić won the parliamentary election with a large majority: Rama in June 2013, and Vučić in March 2014. The US and the EU, especially Germany, viewed their victory in Albania and in Serbia as a turning point towards greater regional cooperation and as an opportunity for burying the hatchet by Albanians and Serbs. Such changes were even expected to spread throughout the whole Balkan region. However, both Albania and Serbia remained dominated by strong state apparatuses with staff from previous political parties.  Even the compromised Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI), whose staff are the key pillars of corruption in the energy sector, became Edi Rama's coalition partner.

 

In end-August 2014 German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted heads of states and governments of Western Balkans region at the conference on regional co-operation and development in Berlin. Her assessment and idea of the conference was to change from the situation where one side was against the other to the situation in which all sides would work together.

 

However, first signs of intolerance were expressed between Serbian Prime Minister Vučić and his Albanian counterpart Edi Rama already before the Berlin conference took place. Three days before the conference Chancellor Merkel informed the participating states that only she and Edi Rama would speak at the final press conference, where she would represent the European Union and Edi Rama would be a representative of the West Balkan states. Serbian government fiercely reacted to this  decision, not willing to recognise Rama as the representative of the West Balkans. Although it was speculated that under the circumstances Vučić would reject going to Berlin, this was not the case. Merkel did not change her decision and at the end the conference was carried out in line with her plans. The importance that Merkel showed to Edi Rama sends a strong and clear signal that Berlin wants to open a new chapter of relations with Tirana.

 

DESCENT ABOVE BELGRADE

 

The long announced visit of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama to Belgrade is undoubtedly a historical one, with almost 70 years since Enver Hoxha's visit to this country in 1946. Initially the visit was scheduled for 22 October 2014, but only seven days before that date the football match between Serbian and Albanian representations cooled down the relations between the two countries after 41 minutes of game. Edi Rama's visit came under question, and Albanian drone that flew above the stadium even overshadowed Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Belgrade two days afterwards. Even today the media and public debates in Serbia give more attention to the drone while almost forgetting Putin's visit.

 

Following this incident the scene has been entered once again by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who is trying to resolve the tensions between Vučić and Rama, of course away from public eyes.  Rama has already confirmed that after Merkel's intervention he and Vučić no longer have problems communicating and setting a new date for the visit, which is now postponed to 10 November 2014.

 

Angela Merkel has obviously invested massive efforts to restore the undermined trust between Vučić and Rama, seeing them as motors that can pull the whole Western Balkans into European integration processes. Time will show whether her efforts will prove to be worthwhile or experience yet another disappointment from the Balkan leaders.

 

In the meanwhile UEFA Disciplinary Body has adopted the following decisions: 1. the football match between Serbia and Albania was registered as a 3–0 victory for Serbia; 2. the Serbian representation team was deducted three points for the European Championship qualifying competition; 3. the Serbian representation team will play its next two UEFA competition matches behind closed doors; 4. both football associations have been fined 100,000 Euros.

 

Again, both the Serbs and the Albanians have expressed their dissatisfaction with the above decision. This triggers the question of where the West Balkans is heading in the future?

 

“GREATER ALBANIA” AGAINST “GREATER SERBIA”

 

The tale of “Greater Albania” and “Greater Serbia” is a never ending story.  However, a story is one thing, while the reality is something else. After the football match incident Serbian Prime Minister Vučić had a telephone conversation with US Vice PresidentJoseph Biden in which he asked him whether he would opt for “greater Albania or normal Serbia”.  Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama reacted strongly and directly to Vučić's statement, pointing out that “Normal Serbia will be a reality only when the Real Serbia will realize that Great Albania is their obsession, not our project”.  This is true. The Greater Albanian project has never been the project of the state of Albania – it is actually a Serbian product, used as a cover for their ambitions for the Greater Serbian state.

 

A large part of Albanians live outside the administrative borders of today's Albania, mostly in Macedonia, Montenegro, south Serbia and Kosovo. Nevertheless, Albania (unlike Serbia) never went into war against those states to restore its ethnic borders to where they were before 1913. Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević, on the other hand, went into war with Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo with the aim to create “Greater Serbia” and unite all Serbs into one state. After all the wars Serbia shrunk down to its today's territory, which is much less than Milošević had ever planned.

 

YES TO SERBIAN ELECTRICITY, NO TO GREATER SERBIA

 

Since the cancelled football match exaggerations, rash words and incitements have been constantly expressed by both the Serbian and Albanian sides. In recent years the Serbian company EFT has been the largest supplier of electricity to the Albanian energy sector. The high share of imported electricity from EFT to Albania even points to the exclusivity of this “traditional partners’ relationship”. Obviously Albanian political leaders find “Serbian” electricity acceptable regardless of the concept of Greater Serbia. The most notorious corruption affairs in Albania are connected with the import of electricity from Serbia, and Albania is loosing millions of Euros due to corruption in the energy sector.

 

OSHEE MANIPULATES TENDERS IN THE ENERGY SECTOR

 

For quite some time the situation in Albania's energy sector has been raising serious concern. BIRN (Balkan Investigative Reporting Network) has also pointed to manipulation and corruption in the energy sector. The companies EFT, AG  and GSA are supposedly involved in the manipulation of results of public procurements for the importation of electricity in agreement with certain individuals from OSHEE. According to recently published information in some Albanian media OSHEE has been accused of revealing classified information to GSA and EFT with the aim to enable two competing companies to align their final offers and manipulate tender results under the veil of “transparent procurement procedures”. According to BIRN the manipulations supported by OSHEE amounted to almost EUR 7 million of taxpayers money only during the period from January to July 2014. Another question is where all this money has gone. The disturbing fact is that OSHEE actually represents the central point and source of illegal activities and corruption in Albania's energy sector, where it actively cooperates with its “traditional partners”.

 

Bearing in mind the elements of international crime and corruption analysts believe that the situation in Albania's energy sector should be investigated by both the EU institutions and Interpol.

 

ALBANIAN PROSECUTION IS NOT DOING ITS JOB

 

The gravity of the situation in Albania is illustrated by the  fact that Albanian General Prosecutor Office has still not filed charges against individuals responsible for crime and corruption in the energy sector.

 

After so many manipulations it is highly unusual that OSHEE has not been the subject of any investigation by the General Prosecutor Office of Albania yet. Moreover it seems that Albanian Competition Authority and Court of Audit still do not function in line with their statutory obligations and that their eventual interventions are (intentionally) completely inefficient. Even if Albanian Court of Audit has shown certain initiative to initiate the investigations by submitting a few reports on corruption in the energy sector, General Prosecutor Office of Albania has not reacted to that yet.

 

The question is whether they do not have the courage and power to intervene in this nest of systemic corruption or whether they have been “neutralised” by political elites involved in those criminal activities. Another question is to what extent Albanian top politicians are also involved in those affairs. Analysts have pointed to the role and involvement of Member of Albanian Parliament Koço Kokëdhima from the leading Socialist Party (PS) of Prime Minister Rama in dubious transactions in the energy sector.

 

Analysts have warned that the coalition between Edi Rama and his Socialist Party (PS) on one hand and Ilir Meta and LSI on the other hand will produce a boomerang effect unless they deal with the corrupted politicians first. They have also noted the role of individuals from the Socialist Party who are turning into visible holders of crime and corruption in the Albanian society.

 

Ljubljana, November 3, 2014       



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