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Albania: Parliament Speaker Discusses Kosovo, EU, NATO

Albanian Parliament speaker Josefina Topalli at RFE/RL today (RFE/RL) February 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Special UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari has presented his proposal for limited statehood for Kosovo. Among the many parties with an interest in Kosovo's future status is neighboring Albania, which shares ethnic and linguistic ties with Kosovo's 90 percent majority Albanian population. Albanian parliament speaker Josefina Topalli spoke today with RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel.

RFE/RL: Has Tirana been able to play a role in helping to define Kosovo's future status -- perhaps by participating in talks with members of the six-nation Contact Group: Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States?

Josefina Topalli: As speaker of the parliament, I can say that for more than 50 years in our parliament we have always passed resolutions for the independence of Kosovo. During this time, yes, we have not been peripheric. We never wanted to have a patriarchal role, but at the same time we have been very active as politicians, as diplomats. Two weeks ago, I met Mr. Ahtisaari in Strasbourg. He had the opportunity to address the Assembly of the Council of Europe [on January 24] in a very important speech, in which you can understand immediately that the future status of Kosovo is that of a democratic country. He did not name the word "independence," but everybody in the plenary session understands that there is no other solution.

RFE/RL: As Serbs and Croats tried to carve out "Greater Serbia" and "Greater Croatia" in the 1990s, there was often speculation that Albanians in Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia might try to do the same. This has not happened and some commentators say that politicians who do try to advocate union of Albania and Kosovo never gain much popularity, either in Kosovo or Albania. Why is that?

Topalli: Because I think there exists deep differences between the perceptions that some foreigners have of Albanians, and what Albanians themselves in Kosovo and Albania think about themselves and their future. Yes, it's true that we are all Albanians and we speak the same language. But during the decades we have lived in different realities. We have been separated for decades and decades, not allowing us to communicate with each other. And so, we [in Albania] have had the worst moment of our history, living in dictatorship and our dream was the change of the system. Kosovo has another dream for themselves: to be independent and to be separated from Serbia.

RFE/RL: During the 1990's, there was also much talk of the need to integrate the Balkans into larger European structures, such as the EU, and larger trans-Atlantic structures such as NATO. Large amounts of money were promised, for example, in the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, which was established in June 1999 by the European Commission. Today, there is uncertainty whether the EU will, or can, enlarge further, and NATO's focus is as much on Afghanistan as on the Balkans. Is Europe doing enough today to embrace the Balkans, or is progress disappointing?

Topalli: After the changes of 1989, the Albanian dream was to be part of the EU. And having these dreams, Albanians ran with these dreams during the years, very difficult and painful years, of the transition. We are very glad that in the last year we realized to sign and to ratify the stabilization association agreement, which is a very important step for Albanians. Now we see, we hear, and we read that especially the old member states of the EU have this fatigue over the problem of enlargement. But we, as Albanians, we are optimistic. We think that this moment will be overcome and that European politicians are pragmatic, [and will realize that] for them also, having the Western Balkans inside themselves is less expensive than having the Balkans outside.

RFE/RL: And in regard to NATO?

Topalli: We think that there are great chances to have this invitation [to join NATO], and this will be very helpful. We as Albanians are engaged with our troops in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I can understand the priority for NATO at the moment in Afghanistan. But at the same time we think that we have great chances to have the invitation in 2008, not only as Albanians but in the framework of the Adriatic Charter with Croatia and Macedonia. We are cooperating very closely with each other and we think that as the Adriatic Charter we will realize such a step.

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