Pristina and Tirana Mend Fences

Relations between Pristina and Tirana are set to improve following Ilir Meta's recent visit to Kosovo.

Pristina and Tirana Mend Fences

Relations between Pristina and Tirana are set to improve following Ilir Meta's recent visit to Kosovo.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

As year's end approaches, the political back rooms of Pristina are still abuzz with speculation on what impelled Prime Minister Ilir Meta to become the first Albanian head of government to visit Kosovo since before World War One.

On the face of it, his visit in early December was all to do with promoting peace and stability in a region ravaged by war and suffering. But some diplomatic sources in Pristina believe Meta's trip was dictated more by his political fortunes at home.

His main objective in Pristina seemed to be the reestablishment of good relations between his own ruling Socialist Party of Albania and the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, led by the election-winning pacifist Ibrahim Rugova.

Rugova refused to meet any of Tirana's Socialist leaders during the past three and a half years they have been in power. Instead, he seemed to be nurturing ties with Albania's opposition Democratic Party led by Sali Berisha.

Meta appeared to think that mending fences with Rugova might win him more support at home where he is facing a tough struggle against Berisha's Democrats.

On Albania's independence day, November 28, Berisha's birthplace Bajram Curri, in the Tropoje district, saw at least one Democratic supporter killed in armed clashes with the police.

Past quarrels have made it difficult for Albanian Socialists to make peace with the LDK. After convincing themselves that the Gandhi-like policies of Rugova had brought no good to Kosovo, the Socialists began to back Kosovo's opposition Democratic Party, PDK, leader, Hashim Thaçi.

Popular feeling among Kosovo Albanians favours Berisha rather than the Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano, who was criticised for meeting Milosevic on Crete in 1997.

But Meta's associates believe Rugova might not be too hard to win over. Rugova has lately cooled towards Berisha with whom he once enjoyed good relations. Their friendship went sour before the war last year because Berisha improved his relations with Bujar Bukoshi, Kosovo's premier in exile, and Rugova's rival inside the LDK.

Bukoshi spent a good deal of time abroad raising money from the Kosovo Albanian diaspora. He is said to have collected at least 60 million German marks, which he said he would distribute to help human rights causes and reconstruction projects in Kosovo.

Tension within the LDK started when members wanted to have control over the distribution of money themselves.

Of the 60 million marks Bukoshi claimed to have collected, only eight million has been spent on different social projects in Kosovo. The rest of the money remains in his hands.

Although no longer perceived as a political leader, Bukoshi's financial clout enables him to continue to wield political influence in the LDK.

During the war last year, Berisha's Democrats were close to Rugova's LDK. Berisha also supported Thaci who then led the Kosovo Liberation Army. His opposition party seemed more keen than the ruling Albanian Socialists on supporting the Kosovo Albanian cause.

After the Pristina meeting, both Meta and Rugova seemed very pleased with their 50-minute talk. They said they would consolidate their ties.

That will not be easy. Berisha can rely on Bukoshi's continuing strong financial influence within the LDK. This influence was seen in the pages of the Albanian language daily Bota Sot, which supports the LDK and regularly attacks Thaçi and Tirana.

The paper confined its coverage of the Pristina meeting to a small article on page five whereas the five other Kosovo Albanian dailies gave it lavish treatment. A day later Bota Sot commentaries portrayed Meta as a Belgrade man and said his visit damaged relations between Albania and Kosovo.

But Kosovo Albanians, who will need assistance to rebuild the country, may find that Tirana could play a vital role. Meta has promised closer economic, cultural and educational ties with Kosovo, including a feasibility study for a highway link between Tirana and Pristina. And perhaps more importantly, he is likely to try to slow down the West's rush to embrace the new Belgrade leadership.

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

Albania, Kosovo
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