Albanian politicians from Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, and neighboring states held a three-day conference on Euro-Atlantic integration in Pristina over the weekend. As RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports, the participants stressed the need to resolve the question of a final status for Kosovo.
Prague, 26 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The participants concluded the Pristina conference on "Albanian Societies and Euro-Atlantic Integration" with a rejection of calls for a Greater Albania or Greater Kosovo. Instead, they say the path to integration into European and North Atlantic structures should be carried out "through the separate identities of each Albanian society in Southeastern Europe."
Domestic and foreign participants at the Pristina conference also said accelerating the resolution of Kosovo's final status would contribute to regional stability and would facilitate the integration of Albanians into Euro-Atlantic structures.
Germany's Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Pristina daily "Koha Ditore" sponsored the conference. The paper's editor-in-chief and publisher, Veton Surroi, told the gathering: "We're not talking about changes of borders among Albanian societies. We're talking about the expansion of European borders toward the east and the inclusion of Albanian societies within these borders."
The idea of reuniting all the ethnically Albanian districts of the western Balkans has been a dream of Albanian nationalists for more than a century. However, despite Serbian and Macedonian insistence that this as a key goal of Albanian strategists, relatively few Albanians make such calls. Those who do are largely on the political fringe in Kosovo -- where only one tiny political party called for the creation of a Greater Albania in its program during parliamentary elections last November -- and in Macedonia, where a very limited number of insurgents last year voiced their desire for a Greater Albania or Greater Kosovo.
The Socialist Party regime in Albania has said that rather than a united Albania it hopes to see one day an "Albanian zone" consisting of all Albanian-inhabited regions being integrated into the EU and NATO.
At present, Albania and Macedonia are candidates for NATO membership but are unlikely to be invited to join at the alliance's summit this November in Prague. NATO-led forces occupy Kosovo and are present in Macedonia and Albania. The EU has injected large quantities of development and reconstruction aid into the local economies of the region.
The speaker of Kosovo's parliament, Nexhat Daci, speaking at the conference, appeared to all but ignore the fact that Kosovo has virtually no sovereignty and remains an international protectorate administered by the UN and occupied by NATO-led forces. Daci insisted that Kosovo already meets all the preconditions for integration into the EU and NATO and that it has no desire to change borders.
"There is no basis for claims by some neighbors for a Greater or Lesser Albania or Kosovo. The Albanians, like other peoples in the region, have to live in harmony with norms worldwide."
Daci also says Kosovo is now heading toward independence together with integration into Euro-Atlantic structures and democratic institutions. He warned against any attempt to change those goals.
"Attempts to change this course will cause even greater upheaval than in the last 12 years [since the Serbs repealed Kosovo's autonomous status]."
The head of the Operation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Kosovo, Pascal Fieschi, told the Pristina conference that in the wake of the NATO air strikes three years ago, Europe's role in the region has been increasing. Fieschi told the gathering that the international community should stay in Kosovo even once Kosovo's final status is resolved and, as he put it, "until the roots of violence no longer exist." He added, "the international community is trying to Europeanize the Balkans, and not to Balkanize Europe."
But Pristina University political science professor Blerim Reka warned that failure to resolve Kosovo's status poses potential difficulties in the long term: "One of the problems of the integration of Albanian societies into Euro-Atlantic structures is the issue of Kosovo's status. Unless this problem is resolved, we can't be integrated and Kosovo will remain on the periphery of Euro-Atlantic cooperation and a latent crisis will continue to loom."
Reka warns that radical forces are constantly working to gain power in Kosovo: "There is a crisis of radicalization under way in Kosovo. If the international community forgets about resolving the final status of Kosovo, the result could be a merging of radical forces which would try to fight without political means. Opening the doors on Kosovo's final status means preventing a new crisis in Kosovo and the region from erupting."
Moreover, Reka says there is a double standard at work in NATO and the EU of maintaining a heavy presence in the Albanian-inhabited districts of the western Balkans while showing minimal interest in future Albanian integration into the EU and NATO: "Paradoxically, the European Union and NATO are present in all Albanian societies, but no Albanian society is integrated within NATO and the European Union. For me, this is nonsense."
The head of Macedonia's Democratic Party of Albanians, Arben Xhaferi, insisted in an address to the conference that Albanians are not a destabilizing factor in the Balkans. Rather, he said, they are looking to build their own identity through greater freedom. Xhaferi added that it is thanks to the "political activity of Albanians that NATO maintains such a presence in the region."
British historian Noel Malcolm, author of "A Short History of Kosovo," also attended the weekend conference. He told RFE/RL's Kosovo unit the international community has a "feeling of satisfaction that the situation is now stable [and] under control."
He also says even before the 11 September terrorist attacks, Kosovo had become less of a priority for the U.S. As a result, Malcolm suggests, the international community is in no rush to change the status quo. This, he warns, "is bad for all the people of Kosovo -- a sort of limbo situation politically, legally and in practical ways" that may result in a dearth of large-scale foreign investment. "European integration is a real long-term goal, but 'long' here means very long."
Malcolm says the international community is trying to avoid the issue of final status and is also ignoring a proposal to grant Kosovo "limited sovereignty" pending eventual independence.
"I absolutely agree that you cannot give independence to Kosovo tomorrow. This is quite unrealistic. A final change, to be implemented, will take a very long time. But I think it would be very valuable if the Western powers made clear now what final destination they intend. I think that would have a good effect."
Malcolm says that under limited or conditional sovereignty, the parties would "state at the outset that the long-term destination will be a sovereign Kosovo state." He rules out rejoining Kosovo to Serbia, saying, "it's simply not realistic to try to put [Kosovo] back into a state run by Belgrade."
Malcolm says conditions would have to be set for limited sovereignty, including human rights observation, minority rights, and also possibly a promise not to create any sort of Greater Albania by uniting with Albania. But Malcolm says he does not think public desire for a Greater Albania poses a serious threat.
"I don't think there is will on either side of that border to unify. In fact, there is a lot of rhetoric but no real popular will for that."
Malcolm notes that the conditions for normal life for minorities, above all the Serb minority, have not been fulfilled yet in Kosovo.
"The Serbs live either in the north in a sort of quasi-partitioned part of Kosovo, or they live in enclaves. And this must change in the long run. And I know it sounds very paradoxical to say this, but I honestly think that in the long run, to settle the question of status would benefit the Serbs also. To declare, in fact, that this will eventually be a sovereign Kosovo territory will benefit the Serbs of Kosovo too."
Malcolm says the hostility on the part of some Albanians, especially the extreme elements, is based on insecurity. He says they don't know what the long-term future of Kosovo is and believe that they can somehow strengthen their negotiating position by reducing the number of Serbs. But Malcolm says if one eliminates what he terms this "false psychology," then one can at least begin to create the conditions of a normal country. He says the Albanians of southern Serbia and the Serbs in Kosovo "can live as normal minorities in normal societies."
The British historian concludes that "once Kosovo is treated like a proper state it can start to have good relations with its neighbors in a way that a normal state does."