Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Comment: Berisha The 'Troublemaker'

The UN fears charismatic Tirana politician, Sali Berisha, is seeking to fire-up Albanian nationalists in Kosovo.
By Llazar Semini

Kosovo's UN administrator this week blocked a visit by Albania's former president Sali Berisha fearing he might fuel demands for independence.

Bernard Kouchner, head of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, blamed the tense security situation in the province for his decision on June 14 to prevent Berisha's visit. Kouchner said he had written to the Albanian opposition leader to delay his trip until things calmed down.

The real reason for the cancellation, however, was that Kouchner was concerned Berisha might provoke political tension as well as fuel demands for independence and a Greater Albania, according to sources in the international administration.

Berisha was enraged by Kouchner's decision. "A level-crossing barrier and an absurd decision cannot keep Albanians apart, " he said. "My trip to historical sites and meetings with politicians would not have caused destabilization."

The cancellation provoked a hostile media campaign, which questioned the international administration's right to restrict an Albanian's freedom of movement.

Relations between Kouchner and the Kosovo Albanian press were already strained following UNMIK's decision to shut down the newspaper Dita for eight days after the publication of articles it deemed inflammatory.

Back in Tirana, Berisha said he would visit Kosovo when it had its own president and prime minister - a clear indication he thinks it's time for Kouchner and his fellow international officials to leave.

Berisha also hinted he believed Daan Everts, head of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, office in Pristina, may have influenced Kouchner's decision. Everts had been the OSCE ambassador in Tirana for two years and still has ties with Albania's ruling leftist government.

The controversy surrounding the Berisha affair perhaps justified UNMIK's fears that his charismatic presence could lead to even more trouble.

There's little doubt Berisha would exploit any visit to Kosovo for his own political ends.

He's certainly very popular here. During the war he was in opposition and came out strongly in support of the Kosovar's struggle. Berisha opposed the Rambouillet accord and has continuously pushed for Kosovan independence.

But is the international community right to fear a Greater Albania? Is UNMIK right to suspect Berisha of advocating such a course?

Absolutely not. The concept of a Greater Albania is more of a Western preoccupation than an Albanian one. Tirana is far more concerned with its crippling economic problems and its on-going struggle to become an accepted member of the European community.

So why did Kouchner prevent Berisha from visiting Kosovo? Why turn the international spotlight in his direction again?

It's true the vitriolic politics prevalent in Tirana set a very poor example for political leaders in Pristina. But banning Berisha from Kosovo does not help.

Kosovo Albanians are asking for independence, not for a Greater Albania. Kouchner's decision has provoked an open challenge from one group of politicians who are now considering issuing a formal invitation to Berisha.

Will Kouchner again block the visit? Surely the UN administration has pressing enough concerns without incurring the wrath of Kosovo Albanians over such an issue.

Llazar Semini is IWPR's Kosova Project Manager in Pristina.