Sunday, December 21, 2014

Great Albania project via economic unification, by Ioannis Michaletos

The so-called "Great Albania" project, which is merely the unification of Albanian scattered populations in the Balkans, is being sought after by a variety of often conflicting in between them, nationalistic circles, with little chances of success. 

Nevertheless, "mainstream" personalities and organizations are following a more methodical and gradual approach which places value into "economic integration" of the Albanian communities that will subsequently evolve into a political union. Interested parties and in that case most Balkan countries, should take notice, because the plan is in full swing and is fervently supported by Turkey, which estimates that this project will ultimately benefit itself, although that remains to be seen.

A well-researched story by the Southeastern European Times in January 2014, reported that "Kosovo and Albania signed an agreement for co-operation and strategic partnership, enabling the two governments to implement joint political, socio-economic and cultural policies.....A new energy agreement was reached to build a 110-kilowatt transmission line as part of an effort to create an energy highway between the two states, following a similar agreement last month to build a 400-kilowatt power transmission line." Energy integration plays a key role also in the sector of the proposed natural gas pipeline "Trans-Adriatic" (TAP) and its Western Balkan spur "Ionian Adriatic Pipeline" (IAP). 

Both are scheduled to pass through Albania, the first traversing Westwards to Italy and the latter northwards to Montenegro and Kosovo, before eventually reaching up to Croatia. Although Albania does not possess any gas market of infrastructure, its potential consumer & purchase base is miniscule, and the path of the pipelines will face great financial costs due to the rugged physical environment along with the lack of local expertise; nevertheless, after intense lobbying by Tirana the route was decided to cover that country as well before spreading elsewhere. Thus an energy link of importance will play a key role in any further discussion regarding the Great Albania project. 

 Furthermore regarding a joint Albanian economic space that would be the primary basis for unification, the Albanian Konfindustria threw first the idea of an Albanian regional market in 2008, whereas the idea about a common economic space between Albania and Kosovo was enacted by Kosovo government officials in 2011. They were reinforced especially by Behgjet Pacolli in some of his speeches in Albania: Pacolli claimed that the economic union would increase competition towards the EU. Pacolli's ideas were endorsed by the Party for Justice, Integration and Unity. 

Nowadays the Rama Administration, despite the fact that is battling myriads of internal problems and disputes, is actively promoting the common space having in mind an eventual overthrow of the so-called "old guard" in Kosovo and its replacement with "moderate & Europeanized" politicians that will use this joint space as a main argument for both to join the EU at the same time. 

The Albanian Premier himself stated, quite interestingly in his official visit to Belgrade-that was characterized by a show off of hyper nationalistic sentiment" that Tirana and Pristina are striving for an economic union that will be materialized by 2016 and make borders between those two invisible. 

The issue of importance here is who is going to call the shots, from 2016 onwards when and if crucial projects such as TAP-IAP and electricity interconnectors are in place. The Kosovo society is more traditionally formed in both societal and political structures with kinships of endurance to the most Northern parts of Albania and those in Montenegro. On the contrary the Tirana proper is becoming "Westernized" and in a bad sense in a fast mode, having formed its own "internationalist elite “which tends to focus more on becoming well-connected with soft power structures, whilst the South is fully dependent on Greece and Italy both on economic and on cultural and political levels. 

Thus a key point arises that will play a significant role on where things are heading and if the Great Albania project may become instead of a unifying platform for the Albanian populations; rather an issue of division between all these different segments that are also inexorably related to wider geopolitical spheres of influence. 

Turkey by itself is trying along with its "Neo-Ottoman" policy, to enact an even stronger role in the Albanian territories, so as to use them as a strong card vis-a-vis its relations both with the EU, Russia and USA and of course with its bilateral antagonisms with Greece, Serbia and even Bulgaria. Apart from the religious factor and cultural entities that have been formed-and discussed widely in previous articles- Turkey is well-placed in an economic level, It already controls the international Pristina airport that was inaugurated by P.M. Erdogan himself, whilst Turkish Enka construction corporation is a major contractor of the highway Pristina-Tirana, an infrastructure of great geo-economic importance for the issue at hand, that its costs may well exceed 2 billion USD. 

In the meantime Turkish companies are vying for the control of the container terminal of Durres, which is all plans aforementioned are materialized, it will become the de facto commercial outlet of the whole of Kosovo, thus the likely owners will have a significant impact in all trade, including the perennial  thriving illicit transnational sectors.

The official data on the Turkish foreign ministry's database are very interesting in showcasing Ankara's commitment to Albania. Therefore we can pin point the following:

Turkey is the second major trade partner of Albania. 

The total value of Turkish investments in Albania is over 1 billion Euros. 

-Construction and building materials: ENKA, Gintaş, Armada, Metal Yapı, Aldemir, Servomatik 
-Telecommunications: Çalık Holding/Türk Telekom, Makro-Tel/Hes Kablo 
-Banking: Çalıkbank/Şekerbank-BKT 
-Iron and Steel Industry: Kürüm 
-Health: Universal Hospital Group - Mining: Ber-Oner, Dedeman, 
-Manufacturing / Consumer goods retail: Yilmaz Cable, Merinos, Everest, Pino, RM Kocak 
-Education: Gülistan Foundation, Istanbul Foundation, Epoka University 
-Transportation: Albanian Airlines (Evsen Group) 

On a security/defense levels, of interest are: 

Teams assigned by the Turkish Land, Naval and Air Forces have been training Albanian Armed Forces and supporting them in logistics and modernization aspects, while Albanian soldiers assigned to Afghanistan within NATO framework are serving their mandate within the Turkish troops deployed in this geography. 

Moreover, financial assistance in military terms if being provided by Turkey to both Albania and Kosovo, along with SOF training and there is continuous and frequent intelligence services exchange of information for a wide range of issues. Of importance is a recent visit in November 2014 of the chairman of the Turkish Parliament to Tirana where he spoke of "special bonds" between the two countries and the "Balkans are a territory vulnerable to the mighty nations, thus Turkish-Albania cooperation fosters both to be stronger... and many wonder who is the name of the country that is causing both problems, but you all know about" leaving a lot of questioning, who is the mighty country that affects both countries that in turns makes them to cooperate even stronger. 

In fact taking into account that the Western Balkan territory is effectively out of the "Euro-Atlantic" structures, the basis of Turkish policy looks like is to fill this gap with its own presence, playing upon the traditional fears of the Albanian society on exclusion and as being on the sidelines of both Balkan and European history. 

The coming years, will be crucial for the materialization of all the above and eventually geopolitical tendencies will culminate to a boiling points, since the region is used in forming and dissolving confederations often in a bloody manner. Time will tell on which direction things are moving along and greater attention should be placed by all interested parties in the situation unfolding, as well as, into the analytical prospective on things, since there are extremely few people globally that comprehend on a practical level the "mentalité" of the Albanian communities and the inner workings that take place. 

In most respects the EU is out of the picture when it concerns having the necessary human capital to understand the "undercurrents" of history shaping form at present day and how "small things coming out of the Balkans” can really shake up the entire Continent. History has proved that it does not teach lessons, despite continuous repetitions of the same motive and in the same more or less territory.