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

Greater Albania - a Fading Dream

Many Albanians, it seems, are not motivated by the idea of a Greater Albania.
By Tim Judah

I went to hunt for Greater Albania. While I searched, I talked to soldiers from three Albanian armies - guerrilla groups fighting in Serbia's Presevo valley and Macedonia and the Red and Black Army from Kosovo.


Not many foreigners have heard of the Red and Black Army, but arguably they are Kosovo's best advert for freedom - a happy army without guns. On 28 March, their faces daubed in traditional war paint, its flag-waving forces marched down Tirana's Zog Boulevard just like a real conquering army.


Ironic in a sense, as it was King Zog who, after being helped to power by the Yugoslav government in 1924, turned on Kosovar guerrillas in Albania and suppressed them.


So, was I witnessing Kosovo's revenge? Were the Kosovars conquering Albania? No, of course not. All I was seeing was a glimpse of Albanians leading a normal life. The Red and Black Army are football fans from Pristina. They had come to Tirana to watch England play Albania.


Of course Albanians have had a bad press these last two years. And, at least for some of them, not without good reason. Continuing murders of Kosovo Serbs, the activities of the UCPMB guerrillas in the Presevo valley and the NLA in Macedonia, have given those who oppose Kosovo's independence all the ammunition they could possibly want.


Last month, the editorial pages of western papers were full of doom-laden predictions about the new challenge facing the West - that is to say the challenge of an aggressive and emerging Greater Albania.


So, who better to quiz on the subject than the Red and Black Army? As we talked missiles flew overhead. We sheltered in their coach while Tirana's youths pelted England fans who were fleeing for the safety of their hotels. "We came because we don't have a team to support because we are not independent," explained Ilir. "FIFA (football's governing body) won't recognise our team from Kosova."


The point, according to Ilir, was that while Albania's Albanians were "brothers", he'd rather be supporting Kosovo, the real home team, since "Kosova is our country". In other words, Albania was not.


This may seem self-evident to many Albanians - the exception being those who genuinely do believe in a Greater Albania. However, the fact of the matter is that creating a Greater Albania, comprising Albania itself, Kosovo, the Presevo valley, western Macedonia and parts of Montenegro, is simply not an idea that motivates a great many Albanians.


Remzi Lani, the director of the Albanian Media Institute, told me, "If I said there were no people who dreamed of a Greater Albania I would be wrong. But it is not a popular idea. If the Security Council or an international conference offered us a Greater Albania we would not refuse it, but on the other hand we would not fight for it either."


This is a sentiment widely echoed in Albania and indeed amongst Albanians, with of course a few notable exceptions such Arben Imami, Albania's Justice Minister. (See IWPR Crisis Report No 239, 20 April 2000.)


Following the government collapse and the ensuing chaos of 1997, most Albanian Albanians are simply keen that the country's current seven per cent annual rate of growth be kept up. They know that any attempt to seek territorial aggrandisement would simply condemn them to a future of endless conflict and poverty.


By contrast, some Albanians, believing that Kosovo will soon be independent and that sooner or later the Albanian birthrate in Macedonia will make them the biggest single nationality, think there is no reason to do anything and that somehow a Greater Albania will emerge, whatever happens.


In fact, it is far from clear that this is the case. Most likely Kosovo will be independent but there seems little prospect that this will happen in the foreseeable future. Besides, an independent Kosovo may well find that, even if it wanted to, it could not join with Albania because the price of independence was, amongst other things, a treaty forbidding any such thing. There are precedents for this. On regaining their independence, the Austrians undertook in the Austrian State Treaty of May 1955 not to enter into any future union with Germany.


The fact is, however, that just as the idea of a Greater Albania is not popular in Albania, it is not popular in Kosovo either. During the Kosovo war, 445,000 Kosovo Albanians took refuge in Albania, a country that many had once idealised as the motherland. They were sorely disappointed, horrified by its poverty, corruption and crime.


For this reason, many Kosovo Albanians, a large number of whom have worked in countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Austria, foresee the future relationship of the various parts of the Albanian nation in similar terms to those of the two German-speaking countries plus the


German- speaking part of Switzerland.


It is noticeable that not a single mainstream party, either in Kosovo, Albania or Macedonia is publicly in favour of a Greater Albania, or for that matter even a Greater Kosovo.


So, if this is the case, what are the guerrillas of the UCPMB and the NLA fighting for? In the case of the former, Pleurat Sejdiu, Kosovo's co-minister of health says, "It is an open secret that they are fighting for the land to be part of Kosovo in the future."


But Sejdiu, the former KLA spokesman in London, also suggests that as they launched the campaign in the Presevo valley, the guerrillas also had in mind an eventual trade off with the Serbs. That is to say an exchange of land involving Albanian areas in southern Serbia for solidly ethnic Serbian areas in northern Kosovo.


The NLA story appears to be different. Men like Sejdiu belonged to the Popular Movement for Kosovo, LPK, a tiny party which was instrumental in setting up the KLA. Many LPK people, including Fazli Veliu, its former leader were, however, not Kosovars but Macedonian Albanians.


With the end of the Kosovo war, some of the Macedonian Albanians opted to follow a political career in Kosovo. Some did not. They include Ali Ahmeti, the political leader of the NLA who is also Fazli Veliu's nephew.


This group found themselves amongst the losers of Kosovo politics and unable to return home. For a long time they agitated to begin a conflict in Macedonia but were restrained by their Kosovar colleagues who believed that any attempt to open a Macedonian front would be disastrous.


The Kosovars were right. The Macedonian Albanians whose political roots lay with the LPK did start a conflict and the result has been a severe blow to Kosovo's hopes for early independence.


The NLA also discovered that, unlike the KLA, they were not so popular amongst Macedonian Albanians, who, while sympathising with their stated aim of equality within Macedonia, were far from euphoric about their emergence.


Of course, while it is true that Greater Albania is not an idea which inspires the majority of Albanians, a resurgence of conflict in Macedonia could arguably radicalise an already battered people.


However, as there is no will in the international community to change borders, or even give Kosovo its independence for that matter, there is obviously no prospect for a real Greater Albania. Still, pessimists argue that what we could see is the emergence of a Greater Albanian "anti-state", that is to say a chaotic area controlled by mafiosi and armed men of one sort or another in all the regions where Albanians live.


This is a legitimate fear, and for that reason the international community must continue to work to help the Balkan countries help themselves and become integrated into the rest of Europe. That is of course a cliché, but I for one cannot see any alternative.


Tim Judah is the author of Kosovo: War and Revenge published by Yale University Press.


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