The Paranoia over “Greater Albania” Returns
Serbian officials have finally had enough of the menace that is Greater Albania – a political movement that aims to unify ethnic Albanians within Albania proper, Kosovo, Serbia, Greece, Macedonia and Montenegro under one state. The idea of unification has its origins in the events of the Treaty of London in 1913, when half of predominantly Albanian territories and almost half of the ethnic Albanian population were left outside the new country’s borders.
But today, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dačić sees the danger of Albanian expansionism everywhere – in the drone flying over the now infamous Albania-Serbia football match; at Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama’s residence, where a light display projected the map of Greater Albania for New Year’s; and in the West’s silence. As Dačić claimed, if his country were incorporating images of Greater Serbia in any public event, the West would have been up in arms long ago. According to Dačić, the time has come to eradicate this Western double standard – in fact, the West must, too, wake up to the threat of Greater Albania.
Clearly, to this Serbian official, these political images confirm the reality of Albanian expansionist ambitions and seem to be a threat to the stability of the Balkans as a whole. But before Serbia begins its defensive military build-up, it should take a short minute to verify its interpretation of this “threat” through actual Albanian policymaking. In reality, there is no such thing as a political campaign for Greater Albania – at least not one that includes the annexation of territory that belongs to other country. Instead, the concept of Greater Albania is an abstract call for solidarity across ethnic Albanian-inhabited territory within the Balkans. In addition, Dačić would do well to examine his own nation’s legacy of irredentist policies before accusing the world of unfair double standards.
In regards to Serbia’s relationship with Albania, Dačić was recently quoted as saying, “We will not ask for love, which was the most erroneous characteristic of the Serbian policy in the decades behind us, but will offer common interests.” Perhaps Dačić’s memory needs a little refresher, given that his nation’s attempts at “Greater Serbia” characterised the later years of Yugoslavia – not love. That legacy produced several bloody civil wars, ethnic cleansing campaigns, and international interventions in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. Indeed, the campaign for Greater Serbia has already occurred and has left behind a tragic warning in blood, and this gives the West and all regional actors plenty of reason to enact a “double standard.” Even recently, in a Gallup Balkan Monitor poll,only 12 per cent of Serbs said it was possible to live peacefully with Albanians, but a vast majority of Albanians (60 per cent) said it was quite possible to live peacefully with Serbs. According to such numbers, modern ethnic hostilities cannot be attributed primarily to ethnic Albanians ambitions or hostilities in the region.
Albania has given the world little reason to panic over its expansionist ambitions. On the contrary, Albania’s historical narrative speaks only to a desperate attempt to maintain a semblance of statehood, against the territorial ambitions of its Balkan neighbors. Even before Kosovo’s independence, a report of the International Crisis Group (ICG) suggested that Albania was more interested in developing cultural and economic ties with Kosovo as a separate state, not via unification. By 2007, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) found that only 2.5 per cent of the Albanians in Kosovo saw unification with Albania as the best solution for Kosovo. Today, the idea of a Greater Albania or “Natural Albania” exists, but in a symbolic sense – so as to promote an Albanian collective identity across long-accepted national borders. In terms of actual territorial ambitions, the evidence is largely lacking. All Albanian political elites, including past Prime Minister Sali Berisha and current Prime Minister Edi Rama, have used the slogan of Greater Albania and related images to pander to nationalist constituents, but zero actual policy (and little political success) have come from such efforts.
The Red and Black Alliance in Albania, the only party in support of true territorial expansion, is increasingly seen as holding to romantic, yet useless notions in modern Albanian society. In many instances, even they claim to pursue only the protection of ethnic Albanian rights across the Balkans, which is not an irredentist agenda. Regardless of motives, the party received just a little more than 10,000 votes in parliamentary elections in 2013, with Albanian citizens eager to focus on the economy, corruption and emigration policies instead of nationalistic ambitions.
While ethnic Albanians across national borders generally support the notion of a Greater Albania, according to polls, they overwhelmingly agree that such a formation is highly unlikely. For the majority of ethnic Albanians in the Balkans, future EU membership appears as the only acceptable and realistic route for the ultimate unification of ethnic Albanians within official state borders. The younger generations, between 18 and 25 years of age especially, barely believe in “Greater Albania.” Thus, a typical Albanian citizen today will express desire for true irredentist policies, yet they will promptly offer many logistical reasons why Albanian unification will not and should not occur. These reasons include socioeconomic, cultural and historical differences between Albanian-inhabited states; domestic difficulties within individual states; the disapproval of the international community; and an aversion to regional instability.
Aside from lack of domestic support, the concept of Greater Albania is absolutely refuted by all of Albania’s allies – including the indispensable US and the EU. According to survey data, two thirds of Albanians (68 per cent) consider relations with the EU as the most important issue, with relations with the US coming in second. In addition, the majority of Albanians (92 per cent) support EU membership. Therefore, there is virtually no political motivation in modern Albania and Kosovo to enact any expansionist policies. Both Serbia and Albania have bigger issues to tackle in the near future, including stagnant economies, blatant corruption, fragile EU membership paths and security threats stemming from global terrorism. Fanning paranoia on Greater Albania helps no one – not even the political elites, who gain only brief political support at the expense of regional cooperation. Ultimately, both Edi Rama and Ivica Dačić should stop the smokescreens and focus on the real issues.
Sidita Kushi is a PhD candidate in Political Science at Northeastern University. Her research focuses on military interventions, identity and security in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
Odeta Kushi is an MA Candidate in Economics, also at Northeastern University. Her research focuses on economic development in post-Communist part of Europe, especially as related to privatisation.