The Balkan known for its traditionally uneasy state seems to enter into a period of stability following Kosovo`s declaration of independence in 2008. Thus, the Albanian people have currently two states in the region. The Politicon speaks with Ms. Olta Totoni, a lecturer from the University of Tirana in order to obtain some insight into the Albania-Kosovo relations.
Huseynov: Some experts refer to Albania and Kosovo ‘neither separated nor united’. How would you assess the current state of Albania-Kosovo relations?
Totoni: There are many historical, cultural and economic elements that link Albania to Kosovo and the countries always will be connected together. The people living in both Albania and Kosovo share the same ethnicity, speak the same language (in different dialects) and are identified as Albanians. The separation exists only in terms and terminology because we are spiritually bound to each other. It is the same nation in two separate states. The Albanians of Kosovo have undergone a lot of brutal experiences caused by the Serbs` ethnic discrimination. They have their own patriotic conscience which is more developed than that of the Albanians of Albania. They have suffered from the Yugoslavian oppression and they still praise the role of Kosovo Liberation Army that has an important place in the country’s history. There are specific terms that describe better the relations of the two countries ‘Ethnic Albania’ and ‘Autochthonous’. Ethnic Albania includes not only Kosovo but all the territories left out in the Conference of the Ambassadors in London in 1913. It includes territories from FYR of Macedonia, Montenegro, Greece and Serbia. Even though the relation between Kosovo and Albania has been more apparent than that with FYR of Macedonia. Even in this country, there are traces of the Albanian ethnicity and they are doing their best to preserve all the traditions and culture of what we call the Motherland Albania.
The concept of Greater Albania incorporates also Kosovo as the land of ethnic Albanians. Is the movement of unification of Albania and Kosovo still on the agenda? Or the two states have decided to pursue different paths of development?
Historically, Albania has been under the Ottoman Empire for 500 tiring years; during some period the Albanians led by Skanderbeg fought for the liberation of the country. After chaotic experiences, Albania declared the independence in 1912 and the Conference of the Ambassadors left Albania without the territories that unfairly were taken away. After the separation, the Albanians of Kosovo suffered from the ethnic oppression. While Serbia claimed that ‘Kosovo is Serbia’, confrontations between Albanians and Serbs took place in the region. Even today one can observe sporadic examples of confrontations between the two ethnic groups. For instance, during a football match between the Albanian and Serbian national teams within the UEFA Euro 2016 qualifications when a drone entered the stadium in Serbia with the flag that showed the map of the Greater Albania writing ‘Autochthonous’ and the presence of two important historical figures of Albania; one representing Kosovo (Isa Boletini) and the other representing Albania (Ismail Qemali).
Nowadays, there are good attempts to bring the two countries together because many organizations are trying to minimize the ethnic conflicts and create a peaceful environment for Serbs and Albanians. The ethnic Albania has always been a dream of the Albanians of Kosovo, Albanians of Albania and Diaspora. Even though Albania and Kosovo are separate countries in geographical maps, the countries are too close and will stand by each other in good and bad. The fraternal bonds were especially improved in 1999 when Albania opened the doors for Kosovars fleeing Serbian oppression.
Kosovo and Albania have the same unified education, the same culture, trade and heritage. It remains a lot to be done about the politics and the economy of the respective countries. We can’t walk separate paths because we are inseparable. We will support each other’s initiatives. There are no boundaries for us.
Has Kosovo become the last newly independent state in the Balkans? Do you think the region has finally found stability it had lacked for a long time? Or the Kosovo precedent can encourage separatist movements in other countries?
Kosovo proclaimed its independence in 17 February 2008. It has been the second independence declared after that of 1990. The assembly of Kosovo unanimously wanted the freedom for Kosovo from the Serbia’s oppression. Today, Kosovo remains a partially recognized state.
Meanwhile, Serbia’s candidacy to join the EU required dialogue, tolerance and compromise between the two countries because it was essential for the integration of Serbia and was done with the affiliation of UN.
The stability in the Balkans seems to be reached as far as there is good cooperation between Serbia and Albania but the history remains there haunting the present of the two countries. There have been several meetings between Albanian and Serbian Prime Ministers. The past sometimes mocks the present but they have found the common sense to reach agreements and collaborate. The Albanians of Kosovo have a different attitude toward Serbia. They do not forget the pain caused by the injuries of Serbia’s actions. There is no place for unprecedented ethnic movements as far as it is in the interest of the entire Balkan to have good cohabitation, cooperation and collaboration. Kosovo is neither Serbia nor Kosovo at the moment; it is now an independent and sovereign state that can move forward and have a greater future.