Paris, February 19, 2008 – The question overshadowing the Balkans is why the 125 thousand Serbs now politically marooned among nearly two million ethic Albanians in prospectively independent Kosovo should not also be free to have what they want? They want union with Serbia.
The eminent institutions and personages who lead what I and others in the press are accustomed to call "the international community" have decided that Kosovo should be independent, supplying UN and European Union resources to facilitate this. Leaving the Serbs of Kosovo in their present status is asking for trouble, creating new national resentments to replace the old.
There has not been a clear answer, only the lame one that the Kosovars have for years been informally promised independence because of the iniquitous manner in which they were treated by the Serbs when Slobodan Milosovic ruled in Serbia.
His success in becoming the old Yugoslavia's leader was built on mobilizing Serbs first against the Albanians of Kosovo, and then against all of the other nationalities of the former Yugoslavia. But as Misha Glenny, author of the best modern history of the Balkans, says of the present situation: "Everyone knows that we are headed towards de facto partition. But no one is willing to admit it."
They are unwilling to admit it because they fear that to do so would encourage every other disgruntled minority in the Balkans – or in the former Soviet Union and its successor states, or in China, Cyprus, Spain, Belgium, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and on through a very long list of other countries -- to demand its own state, just as Woodrow Wilson cavalierly proposed in his "Fourteen Points" for settling the First World War.
Then, as now, most nationalities granted their own state have within their borders further disgruntled minorities who, given the encouragement, would demand a still newer state for themselves.
If the Serbs of Kosovo are freed to join Serbia, why not free the Serbs of the Republika Srpska from their unhappy shotgun marriage with the Moslems of Bosnia? That is what Slobodan Milosevic wanted when he started the wars of Yugoslav succession.
The Albanians for years have been cited as the prospective Balkan Nightmare. They are spread across the southern Balkans as national minorities in Macedonia, Montenegro, southern Serbia itself, and as economic migrants elsewhere. What if they demanded union in a Greater Albania?
The European Union's Institute for Security Studies in Paris has just issued a very useful and important study asking "Is there an Albanian question?," edited by Judy Batt of the University of Birmingham. Its contributors conclude that while there are many Albanian questions with a small "q", there is not really a capitalized Albanian Question.
The Albanian diaspora has generally lived in the different states in which it lives today for most of the modern era. The editor writes that "three 'Albanian capitals' have emerged, Tirana, Pristina [in Kosovo] and Tetovo [in Macedonia]" – all in lively competition with one another. Political realism prevails among the mainstream Albanian elites, and Albanian public opinion shows little appetite for any variety of 'Greater Albania' project, she says, being far more concerned to avoid further conflict and to solve everyday issues of economic underdevelopment, poverty, corruption and crime.
Albania proper is too poor and too afflicted by democratic malfunction to exercise much magnetism for the Albanians abroad. It is estimated that more than a million Albanians – a quarter of the population – have left the country since 1991, as economic emigrants but also, as Nicola Mai writes, political emigrants, particularly the educated and ambitious young, searching for opportunities abroad.
Kosovo faces a future full of problems, those of economic viability as well as governance, quite apart from the Serbian issue. The Albanians in Montenegro are a stable community making up some 5% of the national population, enjoying far better living conditions and prospects than the Albanians of Kosovo or of Albania itself. They voted with the Macedonian majority for national independence, and relations with the Macedonian government and the majority population are reasonably good, although not without difficulties.
The issue of Albanian involvement in organized crime is discussed by Misha Glenny, who has just completed a book on Balkan crime, and who argues that it is transnational and derives not only from the national political crises in the region but the collapse of the old security apparatuses, which in the post-Communist era have developed mutually profitable relations with outlaw capitalism and international criminal organizations.
The study concludes on an optimistic note, with attention to the influence of the new diaspora of young Albanians in touch by internet, possessing powerful personal motives for wanting the integration of all the countries with Albanian populations into the EU: which would offer the possibility of a happy awakening from the Balkan nightmare.
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