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The myths and prospects over a ‘Greater Albania’

The specter of a Greater Albania is often regarded as an alarming prospect for the international relations of the western Balkans. In reality, however, such an eventuality exists primarily in the minds of a few intellectuals and a rather small minority of Albanians. For example, according to a reliable poll, only 9.7 percent of Kosovo Albanians currently support union with Albania. Similarly, in Albania there appears to exist little sympathy for an irredentist agenda, and the project of a Greater Albania receives no support from any of the mainstream political parties. There are several reasons why this is the case: Albanians are ethnically divided into Ghegs and Tosks. The Albanians of Kosovo, Presevo and Tetovo belong to the Gheg ethnic group, while Tosks are primarily concentrated in southern Albania. As a result, the creation of a Greater Albania would create a near-permanent Gheg majority, thus upsetting the delicate ethnic balance in Albanian politics. It is also not certain whether Pristina or Tirana would have the political primacy in such a union – an uncertainty that probably produces second thoughts in the elites of both capitals. Significantly, considerable variations in the religious affiliation of the Albanian peoples exist, Albanians being Muslim, Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and atheist. In this sense, religion can simply not play the role of a uniting force for most Albanians. Furthermore, there has been no significant historical example (and concomitant memories) of a Greater Albania (unlike the cases of Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria). The exception of the Greater Albania that was briefly created during World War II with the 1941 annexation of Kosovo was characterized by conditions of occupation and rule by Italian forces, as well as by a resistance movement. It can thus be safely concluded that the prospects for the creation of a Greater Albania in the short run are negligible. However, things could change in the long run, given the interplay of several developments and factors: Despite the aforementioned ethnic, religious and historical differences, the Albanian peoples ultimately have much more in common. Over time, travel, intermarriage and growing economic and political ties will probably bring the various Albanian communities in the western Balkans into much closer contact and understanding, producing increased levels of solidarity. Furthermore, if Kosovo becomes an independent but non-viable state mired in corruption and organized crime, representatives of the international community, as well as many Albanians, may begin to argue that the only realistic and stabilizing option would be the new country’s incorporation into a larger Albanian entity. But even in the more optimistic scenario, according to which Kosovo and Albania move rapidly along the path leading to EU accession, various European capitals may see some virtue in having only one Albanian state (and – crucially – vote) to deal with in the future. Three scenarios If a serious movement favoring the creation of a Greater Albania is created in the future, then three scenarios become plausible: 1. The European Union and the international community steadfastly ignore such pressures, and successfully insist on the existence of the separate state entities of Albania, Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). 2. A Greater Albania is created through the joining of Albania and Kosovo, and possibly FYROM’s Tetovo region. Such an outcome would be highly negative, since it would utterly destabilize FYROM and would further create a dangerous precedent in the western Balkans – a region in which most states harbor ethnic minorities within their borders. 3. The creation of a more limited Greater Albania, comprised of the union of Kosovo and Albania. Such a development would, as indicated, undoubtedly create tensions among the new country’s Albanian population and raise delicate issues of ethnic identity and political dominance. Furthermore, neighboring states would view this outcome with justifiable concern. Nevertheless, if a Greater Albania does become a reality in the future, it is the union of Albania and Kosovo that will constitute the most likely scenario. Predicting the future in the Balkans is of course a notoriously hazardous exercise. Still, contemplating the issue of a Greater Albania allows certain conclusions: 1. The short- and medium-term prospects of such a development are minimal. 2. Although without any doubt premature, the discussion of a Greater Albania in the long run is not necessarily merely theoretical in nature, especially if certain conditions are fulfilled. 3. There can be no effective guarantees that future pressures toward the establishment of a Greater Albania will be entirely peaceful or non-confrontational. Nor is the geographic extent of a possible Greater Albania automatically clear. Crucially, the precise parameters of Kosovo’s final status will influence the issue of Greater Albania. For example, the new republic (assuming it becomes independent) could be prompted towards officially accepting renunciation of any change in its borders. This renunciation, probably through the signing of a treaty under the auspices of the United Nations, would not exclude the possibility of incorporating new territories through peaceful means. Although unusual, such a development would not be unique in Europe’s history of international relations. Austria’s 1955 State Treaty, for example, prohibited Austria from entering into political or economic union with Germany. A similar treaty for Kosovo would have advantages: First, it would create serious difficulties to any partition scenarios while reassuring nervous neighboring states over the possibility of a Greater Albania or a Greater Kosovo. Further, all militant irredentist groups would be discouraged, officially and unambiguously. Finally, the UN Security Council would almost certainly welcome this development, many of its permanent members endorsing measures that qualify the Westphalian sovereignty of newly independent states. Ultimately, though, the best way to deflate the whole question of a Greater Albania is to assist the Euro-Atlantic integration for the entire region of the Western Balkans. Within a NATO and EU framework, once-divisive issues will hopefully become questions for peaceful multilateral diplomatic efforts amidst prosperity, security and stability. (1) Dr Aristotle Tziampiris is lecturer in International Relations at the University of Piraeus and research associate at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP). The views expressed are strictly personal.