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Albanians Seek to Assuage Western Fears

Albanian leaders in the Balkans are seeking to reassure the West that they have no desire to create a 'Greater Albania'.
By Gabriel Partos

A year after the signing of the Stability Pact, politicians across the


Balkans - and beyond - continue to express concern over demands for an independent Kosovo.They fear the province's secession from Yugoslavia may lead to the creation of a 'Greater Albania' and threaten regional stability.


Albanian leaders, by contrast, have been attempting to reassure their


foreign counterparts that they have no intention of establishing


an enlarged Albanian state, including Albania,


Kosovo and possibly parts of FYROM, Montenegro and even Greece.


President Rexhep Meidani recently declared Tirana's goal was not "constructing a 'Greater Albania' but contributing to the emergence of a 'Greater Europe'. "


But forging closer links with the European Union and NATO will require more wide-ranging collaboration between Balkan nations.


The six million ethnic Albanians scattered across the region provide a natural foundation for this kind of cooperation.They share a common language, often have close family ties and similar ways of doing business.


With the disappearance of the "Iron Curtain" separating Albania and Kosovo - the two largest and most important Albanian centres - a Pan-Albanian agenda has emerged.


This has been made possible by closer cross-border links among Albanian communities and much-improved relations between Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro. Skopje, Tirana and Podgorica have been eager to improve relations for a variety of reasons, ranging from a desire to reduce inter-ethnic tensions at home to increasing their share of Stability


Pact assistance.


One of the first moves towards a Pan-Albanian agenda came within weeks of the end of the Kosovo conflict when the then Albanian Prime Minister, Pandeli Majko, called for a common educational strategy for Albanians across the Balkans.


Since then, the Pan-Albanian project has acquired a broader political and economic direction. In March this year, the leader of the governing Socialist Party of Albania, SPA, Fatos Nano, called for the establishment of a Pan-Albanian political forum to promote regional stability and European integration.


The forum set out to help coordinate the interests of all Albanians in the Balkans, while its designation was careful to stress that the framework for cooperation would stay well within the accepted limits of the Stability Pact.


Nano's proposal was followed up in May by a meeting between Albanian Prime


Minister, Ilir Meta, HashimThaci, the leader of the Democratic Party of


Kosovo - the political successor to the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA - and


Arben Xhaferi, president of the Democratic Party of Albanians in Macedonia.


The Pan-Albanian idea as it is now pursued has three purposes: to reassure


neighbours that the 'Greater Albanian' project is not on the table; to


facilitate cross-border links between Albanians; and to outmanoeuvre domestic


political opponents who may be toying with more radical Albanian


nationalist ideas.


In terms of the Pan-Albanian project's agenda, the initial results are


mixed. In the area of broader cross-border cooperation, there is expanding trade


and other links, particularly between Albania and Kosovo and between Kosovo and Macedonia.


But much of that expansion is driven by private enterprise - sometimes in


the guise of smuggling and organised crime. It has, until now, had


relatively little to do with government action or international aid within


the framework of the Stability Pact.


Notwithstanding Albania's improved relations with its neighbours,


suspicions over its goals remain. Among those who feel particularly


hostile to - or threatened by - Albanian nationalism, the Pan-Albanian idea


is regarded as a new, more sophisticated rebranded version of the 'Greater Albania'


project.


On the Albanian government's domestic front, the Pan-Albanian idea has been


used to wrong-foot the leader of the opposition Democratic Party, Sali Berisha,


who just three months after the end of the Kosovo conflict warned that


unless neighbouring countries stopped treating their ethnic Albanian


inhabitants as second-class citizens, Albanians living across the Balkans


would unite in a federation. Berisha's militant tone - repeated on other


occasions - contributed to the United Nations' unprecedented decision to bar him from


entering Kosovo in June this year.


By using the language of Pan-Albanianism, the Socialist-led governing


coalition is trying to isolate Berisha in the run up to this


autumn's municipal elections. The SPA has enlisted Thaci's and Xhaferi's help - important


since they lead the most powerful ethnic Albanian parties in Kosovo and


Macedonia. They too are facing a challenge from other ethnic Albanian


parties and want to portray themselves as being firm on the Albanian national


agenda as well as imaginative in its application.


Long-standing links, particularly between the SPA and the KLA, have also


helped bring these parties together. Besides, all three parties are key players in the


administrations of Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. Their position in power lays


them open to criticism from rival Albanian parties. A commitment to the Albanian national cause - and its application through the Pan-Albanian agenda - is one way in which they can


fight off their critics.


Gabriel Partos is the BBC World Service's South-east Europe analyst


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