bne IntelliNews -
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama angered the Serbian government on April 6 when he said in a television interview that the unification of Albania and Kosovo was “inevitable and unquestionable". Rama’s statement followed a drive in Tirana for increased economic integration with mainly ethnic Albanian Kosovo.
Rama told Kosovan broadcaster Klan Kosova that the main question was whether unification would happen within the European Union. "The question is how it will happen. Will it happen in the context of the EU as a natural process and understood by all, or will it happen as a reaction to EU blindness or laziness?” Rama said late on April 6, according to Reuters.
Rama also criticised the EU for failing to extend a visa-free regime to Kosovo, and called on Brussels to speed up integration of the Western Balkans countries.
The statement generated an angry response in Belgrade. While Kosovo declared its independence in 2008, it has never been recognised as an independent country by Serbia.
“I promise to Prime Minister Rama ... Kosovo and Albania ... will never unite!” Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic wrote on his Twitter feed on April 7. “Please Albanian leaders stop causing further instability in the region!” he added.
Over the last six months, relations between Serbia and Albania have improved, with a series of high level visits following Rama’s historic visit to Belgrade in 2014. Recently, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivca Dacic also attended a regional infrastructure conference in Pristina, holding a brief conversation with his Kosovan counterpart Hashim Thaci.
However, the concept of “Greater Albania” has long worried not only Serbia but other states in the Western Balkans. Based on the location of ethnic Albanian populations, “Greater Albania” would include not only Albania and Kosovo, but also parts of Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
Demonstrating the incendiary nature of the concept, fighting broke out in Belgrade’s Partizan stadium during a Euro 2016 qualifying match between Albania and Serbia on October 15, when a drone pulling a flag with a map of “Greater Albania” was flown into the stadium. Rama’s brother Olsi Rama was blamed for the incident though he has denied responsibility. After the match was abandoned, several Albanian-owned businesses in Serbia were attacked, and Rama’s planned visit to Belgrade was postponed until the following month.
Current levels of popular support for union between Albania and Kosovo are unclear. In 2010, the Gallup Balkan Monitor surveyed support for the idea of a Greater Albania comprising Albanian-populated areas of Kosovo and Macedonia as well as Albania. In the 2010 survey, 81% of Kosovo Albanians supported the idea, up from 54% in 2008. Meanwhile, support within Albania dropped from 68% in 2009 to 63% in 2010.
Within Kosovo, the staunchest supporter of unification is the nationalist Vetëvendosje (Self Determination) movement, which has called for a referendum on the issue.
Conversely, any attempt at unification with Albania would threaten the already uneasy coexistence of Kosovo’s 100,000-strong Serbian minority alongside the country’s mainly ethnic Albanian population. Serbia has never acknowledged the independence of its former province, and most ethnic Serbs within Kosovo continue to look to Belgrade rather than Pristina for leadership.
However, while political unification of Albania and Kosovo would require defying both Serbia and the international community, the two countries have been quietly working towards economic integration.
“In the span of a year, we proved that the undertaken policies have been a match to our common and great ambition, in particular when it comes to the actions taken in relation to the harmonisation of our main developmental policies,” Rama said during Kosovan Prime Minister Isa Mustafa’s visit to Tirana on March 23, according to a government statement.
“Work has been done to create a common energy market and complete our 400 kV interconnection power line. Efforts have intensified in terms of agricultural cooperation, in a bid to unify standards and adjust legal methods in food control. Further, we have laid the foundations for the pre-university system unification.”
The meeting - under the slogan “One land - One People - One dream” - took place a month after Albania and Kosovo finalised coordination of their customs systems, which will facilitate the movement of goods and people between the two countries. The unified customs regime is due to be launched in May.
In 2014, Albania and Kosovo signed an agreement on the creation of a common energy market. After a meeting with Albanian Minister of Energy and Industry Damian Gjiknur on March 10, Kosovan Economic Development Minister Blerand Stavileci said the move was “essential” and “a prerequisite for economic development of both countries”, according to a government statement. Since the agreement was signed, construction work on an interconnection line between Albania and Kosovo has started - though the joining of the two countries’ grids is happening in the context of a wider interest in energy sector integration across Western Balkans.
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