Monday, June 1, 2015

Great Albania project fails to deliver, by Ioannis Michaletos

Early May 2015 a group of veteran UCK members with some experienced also in the Middle Eastern battlefields, attempted to stage a series of terrorist attacks via Koumanovo to the rest of FYROM. 

Although the events that followed were mostly attributed to the efforts of various power circles to overthrow the current administration of Gruevski in Skopje, there are clear indications that the incident is related to a wider trial by hyper nationalistic Albanian circles to redraw the map in Western Balkans.

A few days after the Kumanovo battle, the ministry of foreign affairs of Albania under direct orders from the Premier Edi Rama, claimed in a diplomatic note Greek sea and land space in the borderline between the two countries. Right afterwards the Albanian party PDIU, which is closely related to the Turkish state, was admitted to the Albanian government and gained a prominent position. 

As a consequence of the above the Greek Prime Minister cancelled a scheduled visit to Tirana to participate in a regional intergovernmental forum, while quite obviously relations between the two capitals were negatively and most importantly, strategically affected.

Going backwards in mid-2012 the then Sali Berisha administration, outlined the "Great Albania" vision that would stretch "from Presevo to Preveza and from Tetovo to Sanjak (Raska) and from Skopje to Pristina". In simple terms the complete redraw of the borders with five countries, namely Greece, Kosovo, FYROM, Serbia and Montenegro. 

Following the above, in late 2013 Edi Rama, a seemingly protégé of the well-known financier George Soros, met with Hashi Thaci of Kosovo for the "1st head summit of Great Albania" in the city of Priznen and met with one staunch supporter of their vision, the Turkish current President Tayip Erdogan.

In early 2015 UCK takes responsibility for bombing the governmental palace of Skopje while in March 2015 Edi Rama and Mustafa Isa of Kosovo claim that they strive for "One county, one nation, one dream", by also declaring that the EU future accession would be used for such purpose, a rhetoric that was quickly denied by leading EU diplomatic circles both officially and most importantly unofficially through usual channels. 

Nevertheless, Albania and Kosovo signed eleven agreements the most important one being the merger of their foreign delegations abroad-bearing in mind that Kosovo is still not recognized by almost half of the UN members-.

On April 2015, a band of Albanians attacked a border post in FYROM and disarmed the local guards. They claimed to nullify the Ohrid agreements of 2001 and start a new fight. That became a reality on the 9th of May in Kumanovo resulting in 25 deaths and dozens of injured, but into a spectacular disappointment for the Albanian circles hoping to start their "project" by taking down the central government in Skopje. On a diplomatic level, results were even worse, since FYROM, a traditional close ally to Balkan-related US interests has been swayed towards Moscow which appears as a "bulwark" against its fragmentation, based on the rhetoric of Moscow. 

That presents yet another diplomatic player in the turbulent Balkan equation. Edi Rama nevertheless, arranged a meeting in Pogradec and invited the head of the governing DUI Albanian party in Skopje and other local politicians, without been able to persuade them for the need to disintegrate the country and essentially enact a new round of Balkan wars.

Continuing, on the 13th of May, the Turkish President Erdogan pays another visit to Tirana where he participates in the establishing of the county's largest mosque, which was financed by Turkey with around 40 million USD. Turkish neo-ottoman designs clearly embrace Rama's project, but in the sense of using him as a tool for Ankara’s grander strategy which is to spread Turkish influence up to Danube by taking advantage of the Balkan related ethnic, religious and social cleavages. 

Moreover, contrary to what most Albanians, Greeks and the rest of international commentators believe Athens and Tirana are still in legal terms in "war". Although in 1987 and during the last years of the Iron Curtain, Greece and Albania decided to sign a peace agreement, for concluding their engagement in WW2, that never took effect since it was not ratified by the Greek Parliament. Of course no peace treaty has been signed by both countries as well. 

Technically both countries are in war, which means that a deterioration of the relations would automatically provide to the stronger side certain swift and painful measures that would be in line to the international established principles, such as: Border closing, expulsion of Albanian citizens from Greek territory and re-arming of the borderline land forces camps and expedition forces.

One can imagine that more or less the same measures would be taken by all Albanian and Kosovo neighbors, resulting in a first-class economic catastrophe of the population, which already leaves en mass and heads to the North of Europe due to the dire economic situation. Furthermore, the military balance of powers in the region along with the denial by any EU power to accept such a "project”, plus Russia, clearly does not enable a military solution by either Tirana or Pristina.

Thus the key question arises, why all the fuss? A logical conclusion would be that the key issue is not "Great Albania" but simply the need of Kosovo to have access to the Sea (Adriatic) otherwise it cannot be economically sustainable in the long-run and especially when international donors will start decreasing their assistance. 

Thus the merge between Kosovo & Albania becomes an option, primarily for the former, which in turn obliges Tirana to launch a hyper nationalistic tone in order to be able to "lead" such a union and not be overburdened or even "annexed" by a more dynamic Kosovo-Albanian political class.

It should also be noted that the EU's and USA-led "Southern natural gas corridor" which is a system of pipelines connecting the Caspian offshore reserves via Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP), Trans-Adriatic (TAP) to Italy and Ionian-Adriatic (IAP) to Croatia, will have a critical transit via Greece and then Albania. Thus any Albanian re-draw of the current state of affairs in the region, destructs such grand energy project and the tremors have wider geopolitical consequences of negative status. Furthermore, the eventual inclusion of the whole of the Western Balkans in the EU and NATO would be blown out of course, while it has to be noted emphatically that a significant segment of the Albanian elite in Tirana is not content with the pace Edi Rama is leading the country and the consequences that this may entail to the domestic stability. 

Regional differences inside Albania will be augmented if the administration pushes forward a plan that will lead to Balkan destabilization, since Albanian is traditionally characterized by autonomist tendencies of certain of its peripheral communal areas that barely conform to the central government. A stirring of nationalistic passions would lead to a series of unintended consequences, where the newly formed Tirana political-business elite could barely keep up, eventually leading to its demise.  

For all the above reasons, a great Albania project is a tendency which is mostly related to a union between Kosovo-Albania, a process though that is not guaranteed, smooth or even acceptable by the locals. Certainly the political environment is heating up once more in the Balkans and destabilizing forces would certainly try to stir up acts of provocations in various fronts and with various justifications both in the short and in the mid-term.