For the EU, the Western Balkans always a geopolitical competition issue

For the EU, the Western Balkans always a geopolitical competition issue

By Alba Cela Jan Claude Juncker has come a long way in these few years from the first time he took over the Commission and delivered a Bush-patterned ‘read my lips- no more enlargement’ statement. In the latest EU State

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Editorial: Kosovo and Serbia: the grim return to ground zero

Editorial: Kosovo and Serbia: the grim return to ground zero

The idea of discussing new ‘corrected’ borders between Kosovo and Serbia, in an alleged attempt to reach a final solution to the most complex issue in the region, has been the subject of so many news and analysis everywhere these

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Greek foreign policy towards Kosovo and the region – implications for the Albanian-Greek relations

Greek foreign policy towards Kosovo and the region – implications for the Albanian-Greek relations

By Dr. Ledion Krisafi – Senior AIIS researcher Introduction Kosovo’s February 2008 declaration of independence was confronted with different reactions by different countries of the Balkans and the Southeastern Europe in general. These reactions depended on different factors. Geopolitical calculations,

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Editorial: The sad spectacle unfolds as TVs go dark

Editorial: The sad spectacle unfolds as TVs go dark

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL The evening of the 10th of September as well as a few days after that one could observe a sad show outside of the shop doors of the companies that sell decoders and subscriptions to cable TV

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Editorial: In parliament, new season, old divisions

Editorial: In parliament, new season, old divisions

It’s a new parliamentary season in Albania, but the same old story of deep political divisions continues. And in the process, it is creating a negative climate that focuses on narrow interests of the elite, and places public interest in

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Beware of Serbia’s gift

Beware of Serbia’s gift

By Arian Koci  When after ten years of war and constant siege against Troy, the ancient Greek army retreated leaving a wooden horse behind as a gift to gods, a Trojan priest called Laocoon is said to have told his

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Why China-Albania relationship is warming up again

Why China-Albania relationship is warming up again

By Simon Shen* Ever since the outbreak of the Greek debt crisis, the ports of Greece have become beachheads for China to advance into Europe under its “One Belt, One Road” initiative. Meanwhile, Albania, which was once China’s closest friend,

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Perils of Balkan partition

Perils of Balkan partition

By Janusz Bugajski After several provocative statements by Serbian and Kosovar politicians and in the midst of relative silence from Washington and Brussels, suppositions are growing that a territorial exchange is being planned between Belgrade and Pristina. Kosovo’s President Hashim

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Border conflicts in the Balkans

Border conflicts in the Balkans

By Prof. Dr. Blerim Reka  Almost three decades after Yugoslavia’s dissolution, the new borders of the Balkans are still not fixed and will likely remain so for the next decade. Only a few bilateral demarcation agreements between the former federal

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Border corrections are Balkan recipe for disaster, Washington Post writes

Border corrections are Balkan recipe for disaster, Washington Post writes

TIRANA, Aug. 11 – An opinion published at the globally renowned Washington Post on Thursday said that proposing new divisions in the region as a solution for the future of the Balkans in general, and the Euro-Atlantic integration of Serbia

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                    [post_date] => 2018-09-21 11:15:36
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                    [post_content] => By Alba Cela

Jan Claude Juncker has come a long way in these few years from the first time he took over the Commission and delivered a Bush-patterned ‘read my lips- no more enlargement’ statement. In the latest EU State of the Union Address he spoke just a few words about the Western Balkans and their perspective but they hit home:

“Europe can export stability, as we have done with the successive enlargements of our Union. For me, these are and will remain success stories – for we were able to reconcile Europe's history and geography. But there is more to be done. We must find unity when it comes to the Western Balkans – once and for all. Should we not, our immediate neighborhood will be shaped by others.”

This statement is crucial as it comes in the last address before the elections in May of 2019 where EU voters will shape the next EU Parliament. In electoral times skepticism about enlargement or anything remotely similar to it peaks. Calling for both caution and courage at this time is the right thing for the EU, which needs to be a real powerful actors in shaping the dynamics in its immediate vicinity.

Recognizing the return of geopolitical games and influence calculations in the Balkans is something Brussels has not been very good or quick at. Third actors such as Russia, Turkey, China and others have been present lately in many forms: investments, political maneuvers, and religious agenda to say just the main components.

The EU has taken strong steps only in the last two years, primarily resolving the double democracy and name crisis in Macedonia and urging Albania to complete the justice reform. Both these achievements have come with the significant help from the US.

Geopolitical developments though are also intensifying. The latest talked about potential plan to resolve the Kosovo-Serbia issue with land swaps is a key test for the stability of the region. Key member states are not on board but many others seem to view this as a unique opportunity to put the hottest conflict point in the region at a final rest.  The discussion brings Russia and China to the table automatically as members of the UN Security Council. With Brexit kicking in soon, France is the only EU voice in that platform.

The wait to achieve significant milestones in the region is getting longer, burdensome and more discouraging every year. Reforms are advancing at a snail pace. Young people are leaving in droves to the Western EU member states.  This reality should also be present in the EU’s thinking about the region in addition to the right geopolitical concerns. Yes other actors should not be given ample sphere to influence. But neither should that space be taken by poverty, autocracy and the pervasive lack of hope for youth or economic stagnation.

It is true that out of all EU institutions, the Commission has been the most eager to advance the integration agenda for the region.  Member states have been skeptical and worried mostly for their domestic reaction.  One can only hope that like the Head of the Commission they will also recognize the new realities and make up their minds.
                    [post_title] => For the EU, the Western Balkans always a geopolitical competition issue
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                    [post_content] => The idea of discussing new ‘corrected’ borders between Kosovo and Serbia, in an alleged attempt to reach a final solution to the most complex issue in the region, has been the subject of so many news and analysis everywhere these last hot summer days. Serbian President Vucic and his counterpart Thaci seem intent and content with a proposal that is shaking the status quo to the core. Translated in broad terms, the idea is to design some sort of territorial exchange in which Serbia would gain the communes of North Kosovo (Mitrovica) and in return Kosovo would get the Albanian populated areas of Preshevo valley. This would mean recognition of Kosovo’s independence by Serbia and therefore substantial better chances of Kosovo being part of the UN and the EU.

This article wants to suggest that this is a bad idea, its core elements are unjust and dark, its implications are dangerous and finally the way the interested parties are conducting themselves around it is undemocratic.

First of all, this proposal is the complete undoing of the Ahtisaari plan, which is the ultimate legal and international consensus basis for the independent, multi-ethnic state of Kosovo. Based on this plan, major international powers, alongside roughly 100 other states, recognized Kosovo. The Ahtisaari plan has respected to the letter the administrative borders that Kosovo had under the Federation of Yugoslavia. The same borders have been the final ones for all the other countries which were members of the Federation. Reopening the issue of borders means going back to ground zero for the whole status of Kosovo issue, including its international recognition. Borders are a fundamental issue, unlike the long list of technical issues that were the content of the EU sponsored dialogue so far. Undermining the process with a radical, upheaval inducing idea poses several questions.

Reopening the issue of borders, or correcting them, is something usually done between two states that recognize each other and therefore have all the institutional guarantees that they will respect the deal. The independence of Kosovo was decided by the international community, which means that any substantial issue like this brings it back to the United Nations Security Council. The presence of Russia and China there will make sure that Serbia’s list of demands will be prioritized. The need for a new agreement that would transcend Ramboulliet will definitely re-gather all major powers, which is frighteningly reminiscent of the conferences of the start of the last century, which decided about countries in our region. Either way it removes it from the hands of Western powers and makes it subject to the new context of international relations. 

The objectives that this supposed deal are to reach are very questionable. If the objective is the dark one of achieving state functionality by creating ethnic homogenous states, then the counterargument is clear. In a region like the Balkans the ethnic composition resembles that of a leopard skin. Violent experiments to reach ethnic purity have been the most dramatic and destructive for the region’s history.  In fact, the tension-ridden reaction from other countries in the region testify to this sad past. They also ring loud alarm bells about the implications this idea has on regional stability. The territorial and population exchanges not only bring back harrowing memories and scratch painful wounds. They also reopen dark options for many nationalistic and extreme actors on the ground, especially in Bosnia and Macedonia.

From the functional point of view there are multiple glitches that need to be mentioned. From the functionality perspective of Kosovo, the Ahtisaari plan has already accommodated the political participation of the Serbian communities, giving them ample powers which sometime even determine the government’s formation. This “new borders” idea does not solve the need of accommodating Serbian minority in the South, or even worse it implies the possibility of some sort of ethnic cleansing (complete with the move of those Albanian families that still hang on in north Mitrovica). Additionally it takes for granted the willingness of Albanian communes in Serbia, which have been part of Serbia constitutionally for quite some time, to join Kosovo. This might come as a surprise to some, however Albanian citizens in these communes are already mentioning regular pensions and visa free travel, benefits that they enjoy now under Serbian administration.

Now on to the most important question of the debate. It is very unclear what the proposal is trying to reach especially for Kosovo. It seems that the proposal stems mostly from personal power reasons. In the case of President Thaci it resembles an investment in his personal freedom now that the risk of him being investigated by a special Court for potential crimes during the war is more than just a hypothetical option.

The way President Thaci is going forward with this is beyond the current constitutional design of the country which makes Kosovo a parliamentary and not presidential republic. Thaci is pushing forward by engaging the accumulated underground powers, ignoring the opposition and Prime Minister, refusing to make this issue subject of an inclusive debate. More than anything it is a testimony of how badly Kosovo has been led in all these years and an explanation of its current backward isolated situation.

For President Vucic the personal credit of even just reopening this issue, so unthinkable before, is already materializing. With maybe a Nobel Peace prize in sight, but at least a consolidated historical record at home, Vucic is the most interested party in this discussion. The Serbian institutions have already started an effort to prepare their public that taking back Kosovo in its entirety may not be possible but a nevertheless ‘sweet’ deal is within reach.

However a few lines are necessary to examine the reaction from the Western countries which so far has enabled this debate to move at an undesirably quick pace. It seems the west is uninterested to protect its own major project: a free and multi-ethnic Kosovo. The realities of the new American administration are glaring for most of observers. It is an entirely different context which Kosovo should come to terms to very fast. The Trump administration through the words of security advisor John Bolton have shown disdain for the risks of this proposal. The new actors may be on to different aims, perhaps even accommodating Serbia so it does not slide in favor to Russia. Whatever their stakes, it is frightening to imagine a decision upon this issue just by a tweet so one even hopes the White House chief will be indifferent about it.

Sadly the European reaction is no better. It seems we are back in the days when European countries despite having this hot issue just in their front yard are either unwilling to deal with it or worse ignorant of the danger it poses.  With the exception of a single statement from Germany, the EU seems positive about this option and willing to include it in the dialogue. They may be making their biggest foreign policy mistake. The EU needs to step up and protect a safe, multi-ethnic Kosovo. This is not done by closing an eye to likely experimental disasters but by adding efforts to sustain the dialogue as well as quicken its process of integration.

The silence from Albania is deafening as well. For many it implies some sort of tacit acceptance which would be completely unforgivable. So far only Albanian President Meta has dismissed it as a populist trick. PM Rama, so eager to comment on anything from Trump’s election to Markel’s reelection, is curiously silent. Albania should be the first to recognize the implicit dangers of the idea and encourage the comeback of the attention and efforts of the Western countries to the table.

The only long-lasting solution to the Kosovo-Serbia dispute is reconciliation. And reconciliation cannot be achieved with shock and awe single measures however revolutionary they may seem. It requires durable commitment, gradual healing, and overarching communication. Talking about borders in today’s context of Serbia and Kosovo means going back to the 19 century, not embracing the 21st.

 
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                    [post_content] => By Dr. Ledion Krisafi - Senior AIIS researcher

Introduction

foto1Kosovo’s February 2008 declaration of independence was confronted with different reactions by different countries of the Balkans and the Southeastern Europe in general. These reactions depended on different factors. Geopolitical calculations, historical and religious ties between Serbia and the other countries or Kosovo and the other countries, determined the acceptance or not of Kosovo’s independence.

The Greek reaction towards Kosovo’s independence has been a mix of geopolitical calculations and historical and religious ties with Serbia. But, the Greek initial reaction, in the day after the declaration of independence, was neutral. It emphasized the need for the involved parties “to refrain from actions that might spark dangerous tensions”, and “the stability and security of the region”.[1] While Greece at first recognized that “yesterday’s decisions in Pristina undoubtedly shaped a new reality in the particularly sensitive region of the Western Balkans”, it left the issue of recognition for a future time, when it has examined all of the developments in depth; all of the dimensions and consequences these developments have for regional security and Greece’s interests.”[2]

Ten years after Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in February of 2008, Greece is one of the five EU member countries, which haven’t yet recognized Kosovo’s independence. Contrary to the other four countries, Spain, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus, which have internal problems with large minorities, concentrated in a certain part of the territory of that state, Greece has no such problem. There is no large minority concentrated in a part of Greece that may seek autonomy or independence. Having this in mind, Greece’s not recognition of Kosovo’s independence and its politics towards Kosovo and what this means about the Albanian-Greek relations, needs an explication.

In January 2017, during a visit in Serbia, the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras affirmed the Greek support for Serbia in the Kosovo issue. Tsipras said that Greece desired to help Serbia in solving this issue, but the maintenance of stability was the crucial issue.[3] He didn’t say explicitly that Greece will never recognize Kosovo; Greece has never said this, but with the emphasizes on the “solution of the Kosovo issue” may be understood that Greece will recognize Kosovo only after a mutual agreement between Serbia and Kosovo. This was emphasized by the former Greek President Karolos Papoulias during a three-day visit in Belgrade in 2009. Papoulias said that only a mutual agreed solution to the Kosovo issue is acceptable for Greece and this solution should be inside the international law.[4]

As late as October 2017 the new Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said that the Greek stance towards Kosovo has changed.[5]

Nevertheless, of all the five EU countries that haven’t recognized Kosovo, Greece has been the most cooperative with Kosovo.[6] There have been several meetings between high officials from Greece and Kosovo, especially with the foreign minister of Greece, but Kosovo in those meeting hasn’t been represented as a state. Greece has recognized Kosovo’s passports and has given a reluctant support for Kosovo’s bid to become part of the international organizations. During the voting for Kosovo’s UNESCO membership, Greece was one of the countries that abstained. But, since the beginning, Greece’s position in regard to Kosovo’s independence and its recognition has been unequivocal.

In 2014 Kosovo Foundation for Open Society conducted a survey with more than a thousand Greek citizens. Almost 70% of them said that Greece and Kosovo should have good relations, but without recognition.[7]

 

The two-fold foreign policy of Greece

Since the fall of communism in Albania, former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, Greece has positioned itself as the main promoter of the European perspective of the former communist countries of the region. The Thessaloniki Summit in 2003 and the “Thessaloniki Agenda”, adopted during Hellenic Presidency of EU in 2003, have been the main guidelines for the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. Fourteen years after the Thessaloniki Summit the integration processes of the region have gone according to the plan laid out in Thessaloniki. All these years Greece has fully supported the EU perspective of the region.

But at the same time Greece has pursued a foreign policy in relation to the other Balkan countriesbased also on its national interests. The case of ‘’Macedonia’s’’ name has been going on for more than two decades and Greece hasn’ttaken a step back from its position. On the contrary, it expects that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to make a step back and to obey to Greekproposition that the name Macedonia should be dropped off. For Greece the issue of FYROM’s name is not just about history and symbols, it is above all about “the conduct of a UN member state, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which contravenes the fundamental principles of international law and order; specifically, respect for good neighborly relations, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”[8]This is not to say that the Greek position is wrong, but this serves as a case to understand Greece’s foreign policy. The European integration of FYROM would have a stabilizing effect in the Western Balkan region, but for Greece its national interest in this case comes first, not the European integration of Macedonia.

Also in relation to Albania, Greece has pursued two different and parallel lines in its foreign policy. Greece has been a great promoter of Albania’s EU integration processes and the candidate status to Albania was given during the Hellenic Presidency in 2014. Greece also has accepted hundreds of thousands of Albanians emigrants since the beginning of the 90s and considers them as “a bridge” between the two countries, but also it has focused on issues of national interest for Greece as the rights of the Greek minority in Albania, cemeteries of Greek fallen soldiers during the war between Greece and Italy in 1940-1941 and the issue of the maritime border between Albania and Greece. Many times Greece has threatened to condition Albania’s EU integration processes based on the developments of the issues that are of national interests to Greece.

The Greek stance towards Kosovo’s issue should also be seen in this two-foldforeign policy with the other Balkan countries. Greece has recognized Kosovo’s passports; mainly in order to benefit its tourism industry, and also Greece is part of the foreign armed forces still stationed in Kosovo. Greece also has opened a liaison office in Prishtina and Greek businesses are activein Kosovo. But Greece hasn’t recognized Kosovo and the last visit of the Greek Prime Minister in Serbia confirmed the Greek stance of not recognizing Kosovo as an independent state. Greece has done all of the above about the passports and UNMIK because of its role as a promoter of peace and European integration in the peninsula, but the non-recognition of Kosovo as a state serves its national interests and the larger geopolitical interests of Greece in the region.

This situation is explained with a twofold view of the geopolitical calculations and interests of Greece. On the one hand,this non-recognition of Kosovo and the Greek stance towards Kosovo has its roots in the wars in former Yugoslavia in the beginning of the 90s and it goes beyond mere political and geopolitical considerations on the part of Greece. History, culture and religion play a similar important role as the national interests of Greece in regard to Kosovo and Serbia.Since the beginning of the 90s and during the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Greece has constantly been a close partner and supporter of Serbia’s actions in the region. Greece evaded“United Nations sanctions and, according to the International Criminal Tribunal, contributed considerably towards Milosevic's war machine”.[9]

For Greece and the Greek public with their Christian Orthodox sympathies about Serbia and Serbs in general, it is difficult accept the independence of another Muslim-majority country in the Balkans. In 1999, 97% of Greeks were against the NATO intervention in Serbia.[10]

On the other hand, the Greek policy towards Kosovo is not linked only with cultural, religious considerations, but also with the case of Cyprus. Since 1974, the island of Cyprus, inhabited by a majority of Greek-speaking population has been divided into a Greek zone and Turkish zone. If Greece recognized Kosovo’s independence, it would give legitimacy to the Turkish zone in Northern Cyprus. It is hardly believable that Greece will recognize Kosovo’s independence without a final solution of the Cyprus case.

These cases illustrate the complex foreign policy of Greece towards the Balkans. Historical, cultural and religions considerations and feelings play an important part, and the perspective of EU integration of the entire region would be beneficial to Greece, but also there are the Greek national interests and there is the case of Cyprus. All of these are equally important in the Greek foreign policy and they are never important on their own, without the others. In this light should be seen the influence that Kosovo’s issue and Kosovo’s independence has in the Albania-Greece relations. If one analyzed only one of the variables mentioned above – history\culture\religion, EU integration, national interests, Cyprus;the view would have been partial and misunderstood.

All the variables above should be taken into consideration when one considers the Greek foreign policyincluding that towards Albania and Kosovo. In international relations even small countries like Albania could use different variables when conducting their foreign policy, but in difference with other larger countries, the small countries can’t use all of them at the same time to gain some profit,exactly because of larger countries in their region that have more variables and because of them more maneuverability. Greece has the luxury to use all of them in our region.

 

Kosovo and Albania-Greece relations

In a recent survey by the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS), Albanians think that Greece is the main “enemy” in the region. This stance is perfectly understandable because of the many issues still to be resolved in Albanian-Greek relations and also because Greece is the only country with which Albania confines that is much bigger geographically, economically and militarily.The other countries like Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo, with whom Albania confines, don’t pose a similar “threat” to Albania as Greece and there aren’t so many unresolved issues as with Greece.

In the beginning of the 90s Greece was the only stable country in the region. Yugoslavia was engulfed in successive interethnic wars, the fall of communism in Albania sent hundreds of thousands of refugees in Italy and Greece and later the 1997 collapse of the government exasperated further this situation, and Bulgaria and Romania had their problems in establishing the rule of law. Greece’s EU and NATO membership made it the natural starting-point for all the European processes of the region. Greece as the only light in a dark neighborhood, took all the responsibility of being the guidance for all the others and Greece took this responsibility because not only it supports the EU integration of the region, but also because being in the EU and having unresolved issues of different natures with almost all the countries it confines with, this responsibility gave Greece also the potential to condition the EU integration of these countries with the resolving of the problems with them. Greece has done and threatened to do this until now.

The issue of Kosovo hasn’t directly influenced the relations between Albania and Greece. Almost in every meeting with their Greek counterparts, the Albanian foreign ministers since 2008 have demanded from Greece to recognize the reality in the Balkans, which is Kosovo’s independence.[11]The Greeks, from their part, have repeated the same things without taking a definite position about Kosovo’s independence. In their public declarations, the high officials of Albania and Greece haven’t gone beyond these positions about Kosovo and it is unlikely that this situation will change in the near future. The issue of Kosovo has never been directly an issue in the relations between Albania and Greece.

This has happened because Kosovo’s issue hasn’t been a direct issue between Albania and other countries of the region, neither with Greece nor with Macedonia or Montenegro or even countries a little further like Bulgaria or Croatia. Albania’s role in this issue has been to recommend to all these countries Kosovo’s recognition as an independent country and to explain why this would benefit the entire region, but nothing more than this. Kosovo has its institutions, has its Prime Minister, its Foreign Minister, which have the responsibility and all the capacities to deal directly with the countries of the region, without the influence of Albania.

In order to find and understand the influence of Kosovo’s independence and Kosovo’s issue in general in the Albania-Greece relations, one should look at the geopolitical calculations that Albania and especially Greece do in relation to their Balkan policy.

On the one hand, the stability that the Kosovo independence has brought to the general security of the Balkans is something that Greece cherishes, because an unstable Kosovo directly influences in the Greek immediate neighbors Albania and Macedonia and an unstable Albania and Macedonia has direct consequences for Greece.

But on the other hand, Kosovo’s independence has weakened Serbia’s position in the Balkans, which is a close and historical ally of Greece. Also Kosovo’s independence was unilateral, was a changing of the borders without the consent of the two states, in this case of Serbia and Kosovo. In the 18 February 2008 statement of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece it was said that “Greece has always believed and continues to believe that the best solutions to differences and problems arise from mutually acceptable arrangements. From dialogue and negotiations. Not from unilateral actions and accomplished facts. This position, founded on respect for the principle of the peaceful resolution of differences, also determined our policy on the Kosovo issue.”[12] This is a point that Greece has repeatedly emphasized and has pushed for direct talks between Serbia and Kosovo to reach a final agreement between them.

The Greek recognition of Kosovo’s independence and its right to secede unilaterally from Serbia should be seen also in the light of the Northern Epirus issue. This issue is not an official issue of the Greek foreign policy but it is a sensitive issue for the Greek public in general. If Greece recognizes Kosovo, why should it refrain from demanding more on the Northern Epirus Issue? Political organizations and even political parties like the Golden Dawn, the third major political force in the Hellenic Parliament, have been vocal in the last years about this issue. The Greek recognition of Kosovo’s independence would give legitimacy to their demands and this could have an impact on the relations between Albania and Greece.

Even in these times of great European integration, states, by their very nature, tend to vie with each other about influence and Greece is not an exception to this. Since the fall of communism in the Balkans, Greek economic influence in the countries of the region has been enormous. By conditioning the EU integration of several countries of the regionwith issues that are mainly in the national interest of Greece, it has tried to render its political influence in the region as important as the economic one. Also, in the last decade with the growing economic power of Turkey and its attempt to translate this new economic power into political influence in the regions once part of the Ottoman Empire, there is also an indirect and silent rivalry between the two countries for economic and political influence in the region. Albania and the Kosovo issue also have their place in this indirect rivalry.

The problem of Kosovo in general is part of the “Albanian issue” which became an issue after the Great Powers in 1913 divided the Albanian nation into several states. Only in Albania, the Albanians were the largest nation. In the other countries, like Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and Montenegro, the Albanians become a minority inside those countries. Kosovo’s independence is the solution of one of the parts of the “Albanian issue” in the Balkans. But the fear of the other countries has always been that Kosovo’s independence will increase the demands for more rights for Albanians inside their respective countries and even more than that. This has happened already in Macedonia and Montenegro.

A supposed consequence of the Greek recognition of Kosovo’s independence would be the greater pressure by Albania about the Cham issue. This is unlikely to happen because the Balkan foreign policy of Albania in the last two decades hasn’t worked this way, and Albania has been a positive influence in the region, but Greece may perceive it this way. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia hasn’t expressed any irredentist views concerning the Greek Macedonia, but regardless of this, Greece accuses FYROM of irredentist aspirations. In international relations, in many cases what is perceived to be the intention of a state by another state is more important and has more impact than what really that state aims to do.

The rivalry between Greece and Turkey in the region is not only direct, but also through their allies and their potential influence in the region. Since 2003 and especially since the influence of Turkey’s former Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmet Davutoğlu’s neo-ottoman political ideology, Turkey’s foreign policy in the Balkans has been concentrated more on the Muslim-majority countries or the Muslim-majority areas of the region: Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Sandžak in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In this case, the Greek recognition of Kosovo’s independence would strengthen an ally of Turkey and would weaken an ally of Greece. Therefore, Greece’s recognition of Kosovo’s independence and establishing full interstate relations between them would strengthen the “Albanian factor” in the region,namely Albania and Kosovo, which in turn is more oriented towards Turkey and would weaken the “Serbian factor” which is oriented towards Greece and Russia. Albania and Turkey are the only countries of southeast Europe that Kosovo has excellent relations.Kosovo has signed 21 agreements with Turkey, more than with anyone else and Turkey and Albania had a diplomatic presence in Kosovo even before the independence.[13]The Greek recognition of Kosovo’s independence would give more legitimacy to the Turkish influence in Kosovo and in the Albanians in general in the Balkans.

But, this silent rivalry for influence and power in the region is not confined only to the geopolitical calculations of the Greek foreign policy. It stretches also to the feeling of sympathy and antipathy that Greeks have for certain major global powers and these feelings in a certain measure determine the influence that these major global powers have in the Balkans. They project their influence in the region in those countries where they feel that they are appreciated and make those countries a starting-point for their policy and influence in the region.

This strengthening of the ‘’Albanian factor’’ in the Balkans, mentioned above, for Greece would be a furtherstrengthening of the United States in the region, given the enormouspolitical, economic and military investment of the United States in Kosovo, and would weakenthe influence of Russia in the region, which is directed mostly towards Serbia and less to Greece. There is a well-known and well-documented anti-Americanization in the Greek public in general. ‘’The extent and intensity of anti-Americanism in Greece, as registered by Pew, Gallup and other public opinion surveys, is indisputable’’.[14]As, on the other hand, there is a well-known sympathy for Russia, mainly connected with the common Christian Orthodox faith, which is very important for the identity of the two nations.[15]As was mentioned above, religion is a very important factor for the Greek foreign policy.

Greece, of course, is not a starting-point for Russia’s influence in the region (the Slavic countries, especially Serbia retain place of pride), but the enormous role that the US played in ending the war in Kosovo and the role that the US has played since in all the difficult steps for Kosovo’s international recognition and in the building up of its institutions, have made Kosovo in the Greek public, to be a US project in the Balkans. This is not so easily acceptable for the Greek public in general. ‘’It’s about the US pursuing its own expansionist strategic interest’’, cited New York Times in 1999 a young Greek girl participating in a rally against NATO’s bombardment of Serbia.[16]And many shared her views. At that time 95% of Greeks opposed the bombing, 63.5% of those polled by the largest daily newspaper Ta Nea, had a favorable view of Slobodan Milosevic and 94.4% of them had a negative view of Bill Clinton.[17] In this view, the anti-Americanization of the Greek public in general and the influence of the Greek public opinion in the country’s foreign policy in this case, shouldn’t be excluded.

In the end it can be said that Kosovo is not a direct issue in the Albania-Greece relations, it has never been. A Greek recognition of Kosovo’s independence would be welcomed in Albania and it would change almost nothing in the direct bilateral relations between Albania and Greece. But Kosovo is part of the ‘’Albanian issue’’ in the Balkans and Kosovo’s independence and the Greek recognition of it plays a part in the general foreign policy of Greece in the region and in this way it affects the relations between Albania and Greece. The issue of Kosovo is inseparable from the Greek religious and historical ties with Serbia, but also with geopolitical rivalry with Turkey for influence in the region. If the issue of Kosovo would have connected only with the stability and security of the Balkans, Greece would had already recognized Kosovo, because Kosovo’s independence has considerably minimized the potential for security problems and war in the Balkans.

Also, Kosovo’s recognition by Greece would reopen the issue of Northern Epirus in the Greek public in general, even though it may not have any influence in the bilateral relations between the two countries.

 

[1] Statements of FM Ms. Bakoyannis following the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council https://web.archive.org/web/20120503235708/http://www.mfa.gr/www.mfa.gr/Articles/en-US/190208_alp_1300.htm

[2] Ibid.

[3] Tanjug, Cipras Nikoliću: Grčka podržava Srbiju kada je u pitanju Kosovo i Metohija, http://www.blic.rs/vesti/politika/cipras-nikolicu-grcka-podrzava-srbiju-kada-je-u-pitanju-kosovo-i-metohija/5thmh1f

[4] Srbiji je mesto u Evropskoj uniji, http://www.rts.rs/page/stories/sr/story/9/Srbija/71181/Srbiji+je+mesto+u+Evropskoj+uniji.html

[5] Pavlopulos za RTS: Grčka ne menja stav o Kosovu, http://www.rts.rs/page/stories/sr/story/9/politika/2890965/pavlopulos-za-rts-grcka-ne-menja-stav-o-kosovu.html

[6]EraldinFazliu, Recognition denied: Greecehttp://kosovotwopointzero.com/en/recognition-denied-greece/

[7]TëjeshGrek, tëjesh Kosovar,,FondacioniiKosovëspërShoqëritëHapur, 2014

[8]http://www.mfa.gr/en/fyrom-name-issue/

[9]Helena Smith, Greece faces shame of role in the Serb massacre, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/jan/05/balkans.warcrimes

[10]TëjeshGrek, tëjesh Kosovar,,FondacioniiKosovëspërShoqëritëHapur, 2014

[11]Konferenca e përbashkëtpërshtypBushati-Kotzias,http://shqiptarja.com/skedat/2724/konferenca-e-perbashket-per-shtyp-bushati-kotzias---304867.html

[12] Statements of FM Ms. Bakoyannis following the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council https://web.archive.org/web/20120503235708/http://www.mfa.gr/www.mfa.gr/Articles/en-US/190208_alp_1300.htm

[13]Kosova në kontekst rajonal. Marrëdhëniet politike bilaterale.Instituti Kosovar për KërkimedheZhvillimetëPolitikave, Maj 2014

[14]Ted Couloumbis, Athanasious Moulakis, Are the Greeks Anti-American?, Global Europe Program

[15]Henry Stanek, Is Russia’s Alliance with Greece a Threat to NATO?, The National Interest

[16]Alessandra Stanley, CRISIS IN THE BALKANS: ATHENS; NATO bombing, Tears at Greek Loyalties, Reawakening Anti-Americanism, New York Times, April 25, 1999

[17]Ibid.

 

References
  • Alessandra Stanley, CRISIS IN THE BALKANS: ATHENS; NATO bombing, Tears at Greek Loyalties, Reawakening Anti-Americanism, New York Times, April 25, 1999
 
  • Eraldin Fazliu, Recognition denied: Greece http://kosovotwopointzero.com/en/recognition-denied-greece/
 
  • Helena Smith, Greece faces shame of role in the Serb massacre https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/jan/05/balkans.warcrimes
 
  • Henry Stanek, Is Russia’s Alliance with Greece a Threat to NATO?, The National Interest
 
  • Konferenca e përbashkët për shtyp Bushati-Kotzias http://shqiptarja.com/skedat/2724/konferenca-e-perbashket-per-shtyp-bushati-kotzias---304867.html
 
  • Kosova në kontekst rajonal. Marrëdhëniet politike bilateral. Instituti Kosovar për Kërkime dhe Zhvillime të Politikave, Maj 2014
 
  • Pavlopulos za RTS: Grčka ne menja stav o Kosovu, http://www.rts.rs/page/stories/sr/story/9/politika/2890965/pavlopulos-za-rts-grcka-ne-menja-stav-o-kosovu.html
 
  • Ted Couloumbis, Athanasious Moulakis, Are the Greeks Anti-American?, Global Europe Program
 
  • Të jesh Grek, të jesh Kosovar,,Fondacioni i Kosovës për Shoqëri të Hapur, 2014
 
  • http://www.mfa.gr/en/fyrom-name-issue/
 
  • Tanjug, Cipras Nikoliću: Grčka podržava Srbiju kada je u pitanju Kosovo i Metohija, http://www.blic.rs/vesti/politika/cipras-nikolicu-grcka-podrzava-srbiju-kada-je-u-pitanju-kosovo-i-metohija/5thmh1f
[post_title] => Greek foreign policy towards Kosovo and the region - implications for the Albanian-Greek relations [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => greek-foreign-policy-towards-kosovo-and-the-region-implications-for-the-albanian-greek-relations [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-14 15:33:23 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-14 13:33:23 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138492 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138468 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-09-14 07:43:17 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-09-14 05:43:17 [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL The evening of the 10th of September as well as a few days after that one could observe a sad show outside of the shop doors of the companies that sell decoders and subscriptions to cable TV in Tirana. As the analogue signal was interrupted, part of the nationwide campaign to conform to EU rules about digital transmissions, many families in Tirana and Durres which relied on their simple antennas to watch the free TV channels saw themselves in the dark. Faced with this situation, many families and especially pensioners rushed to the doors of the shops to get a decoder, which is a must unless you have a last generation TV set which has an in-built digital receiver. The average price of a decoder is 3000 lek, about 10-20 percent of a monthly pension. The crowds outside the shop doors provided for a sad spectacle. Old people clutching their decoder boxes, sharing a few resigned jokes between each other; some of them protesting loudly, some of them pushing others in line.   One can imagine their families supporting them, wanting their elderly parents to have the comfort of the screens in the evenings, to follow their beloved soap operas or political talk shows. After all what other options do they have? Albanians are big TV consumers. They get their news mainly from TV. TV is one of the few entertainment and information options for the majority of families. Only young people have the mindset and skill to switch online to get their music, films and news. All Albanians regularly pay the tax for the public broadcaster, embedded in their utilities’ bill so that they can’t escape it. They should have the public right to get the small set of free TV channels without having to enrich the pockets of some companies. If the move from analogue to digital is indispensable then the government should have forced these monopolies to provide free decoders at least for certain categories of the public including pensioners. Or perhaps they can be exempt of the broadcaster fee for roughly 30 months. After the first day went by and the reaction in the social media was one of clear feelings of outrage and indignity, the sudden U-turn came by. The institution in charge, AMA, reversed the decision and gave citizens more time, up until the beginning of next year. Ironically, the first one to greet this decision was the chief of the executive who spoke about the need to guarantee access for all. The extra time will not refund the citizens whoa already made the expense, nor find ways to provide the decoders free of charge for the rest. It will just thin out the lines outside of the shops, release the tension of the reactions as people reorient their attention to their daily survival struggle. Up until January 2019, most people will have bought the decoders and the whole thing will be just a memory. However the sight of them, this sudden sad show, reminds us once again, the extent to which all policies in this country, go one way or the other to the benefit of the oligopoly at the expense of the most vulnerable. [post_title] => Editorial: The sad spectacle unfolds as TVs go dark [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-the-sad-spectacle-unfolds-as-tvs-go-dark [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-14 07:43:17 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-14 05:43:17 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138468 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138395 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-09-07 10:03:57 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-09-07 08:03:57 [post_content] => It’s a new parliamentary season in Albania, but the same old story of deep political divisions continues. And in the process, it is creating a negative climate that focuses on narrow interests of the elite, and places public interest in the back seat. The ruling Socialist Party has again expressed its determination to move forward with plans to override presidential vetoes on controversial laws like the one that would see the old National Theatre Building demolished and replaced with a complex built under a public-private partnership. It is being done through a first ever law in Albania that actually mentions the selected company by name, dropping any pretence of fair competition mandated under Albania’s domestic and international legal obligations. It is no wonder then that the opposition calls it corrupt and unconstitutional, as do many civil society activists. But the new new flagship opposition program deals with fighting crime, after a wave of mafia-style violence in several Albanian cities.   On Tuesday, a united opposition gathered in Shkodra in what it called an extraordinary session to send a message of resistance to the recent crimes that have occured in the city. On Thursday, it followed the same tactic, gathering in Elbasan -- which the head of the opposition, Lulzim Basha, calls the epicenter of organized crime. The government has countered with accusations that the opposition is trying to destroy the image of Albania, an old and tired PR tactic that does not address the core of the issue -- the rapid criminalization of Albanian society in recent years. The judicial reform, which has left the country bare of courts and judges and the electoral reform, another EU condition for Albania to open accession negotiations within 2019, remain other points of contention that require the two sides to work together, cooperation that sees to be missing from any short-term forecast.    All this, of course, makes for an unhealthy situation for Albania, its people and the ability to of the country to attracts investments and grow the economy, steps needed stop the out-flow of people, so alarming that according the recent studies could see Albania with less than a million people after two decades. More than 5 years after it first came to power, the Socialist government of Edi Rama is starting to show the strain of power. It can now choose to reflect and have a more tolerant approach to the opposition and the hot issues it has sought to address or continue under the current path of what it calls -- governing with the people -- which is anything but. The current model has produced growth and a better life for the few, to the detriment of the many. Delegitimizing the valid concerns of the opposition and civil society through the tools given by political and economic power can only go so far. A first step is sitting down and creating more political consensus so that political parties can move beyond their narrow interests and actually fulfill their mandate to work for the good of the Albanian people.   [post_title] => Editorial: In parliament, new season, old divisions [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-in-parliament-new-season-old-divisions [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-07 10:03:57 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-07 08:03:57 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138395 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138318 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-08-30 11:09:09 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-30 09:09:09 [post_content] => By Arian Koci  When after ten years of war and constant siege against Troy, the ancient Greek army retreated leaving a wooden horse behind as a gift to gods, a Trojan priest called Laocoon is said to have told his people to ‘burn the horse, as I fear the Greeks even when bringing gifts’. Most Trojans, tired of war, ignored the warning and dragged it inside the city walls as a victory trophy.  That fatal night after much celebration, as Troy slept in a drunken stupor, a group of elite Greek soldiers climbed out from inside the belly of the wooden horse and opened the gates letting in the Greek army that had returned.  Troy was burned and pillaged and the Trojan horse forever became a symbol of trickery and a warning to future generations to always be on guard of the foe’s intentions. Virgil’s line in his epic poem Aedeid, ‘Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes’, has often been quoted in English as ‘beware of the Greeks bearing gifts’, or in other words, watch your back even when your enemy is making a peace offering.  Kosovo leaders need to pay attention to this lesson from history and beware of the ‘Serbian gift’ of territorial exchange. It was no surprise that when the idea was first floated in Belgrade a few weeks ago, it caused a stir and strong reaction in the Balkans and further afield. The United States and European Union, with the exception of Germany, have supported it.  What was surprising was the Kosovo president Hashim Thaçi’s endorsement of the plan. Regional reactions have been mostly negative, because of the fear of the domino effect it might cause in other disputed and ethnically mixed areas of the Balkans. This concern has dominated the western discourse  and so far little attention has been paid to Albanian concerns.  In Kosovo, despite Mr Thaçi’s euphemistic efforts to minimise it effect by calling it ‘border correction’, the proposal has been met with shock and panic and the opposition has put forward a parliamentary motion to adopt a resolution affirming the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country.  Many in Kosovo openly question President Thaçi’s right or his power to negotiate a territorial exchange with Serbia. The idea of ending the conflict in Kosovo through a land swap with Serbia is not new.  It has been mooted several years earlier by the Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, but has, until now, been dismissed as naiive at best and dangerous at worst.  Its supporters argue that the agreement would enhance regional peace and security and unlock Serbia’s European integration impasse.  Many in Belgrade also hope it will provide a much needed precedent for any future negotiation of absorbing Republika Serbska within Serbia. Kosovo’s benefits from the process are much less clear. Supporters of the deal in western media prefer to point out that it provides land exchange parity through a straight swap of Serb-majority municipalities in the north where the Kosovo government exercises no authority, for those in Presevo Valley in southern Serbia with a mainly Albanian population.  Crucially, the argument goes, the deal will open the way for Kosovo’s membership to the UN and eventually the EU.  However, these are untested assumptions and even if the deal removes Serbia’s intransigence, it is no guarantee of Kosovo’s membership to these organizations. UN membership is conditional on the Russian and Chinese veto and despite Moscow’s indications that it will go along with any deal acceptable to Belgrade, this is not guaranteed.  Neither is China’s attitude or those of the five EU countries. They have refused to recognize Kosovo out of concerns for their own domestic situation rather than in sympathy to the Serbian plight.  Also, the proposals provide no territorial exchange parity.  By losing its northern municipalities, Kosovo is denied access to two of its most valuable natural resources, the large industrial complex in Trepça and the Gazivoda Lake which provides most of drinking water. In return, it would receive a few impoverished half empty villages.  Why is then president Thaçi going along with this Serbian proposal? Perhaps, like the ancient Trojans, he is tired of the ‘frozen conflict’ as he described it recently.  He failed to mention that the current state of affairs owes much to Serbia’s efforts to ‘freeze’ any progress in Kosovo.  If this is the case, Mr Thaçi, could always exercise his right to step aside and allow a more energetic skipper to take the helm.  He should not be tempted to find short cuts and steer Kosovo is dark and unchartered waters just because he is running out of steam.  His legacy in Kosovo’s history is secure - he won the war and has not yet lost the peace.  Kosovo already has a plan to integrate the northern municipalities through the implementation of the Association Agreement in accordance with its constitution.  If Serbia is stonewalling it, that should be to Serbia’s detriment, not Kosovo’s.  Hashim Thaçi has a strong card in hand, Serbia’s desperation to move forward in its EU path which cannot be achieved without a deal with Kosovo.  Lack of progress so far is not entirely Kosovo’s fault and that’s why Ivica Dacic and Aleksandar Vucic are pushing forward the territorial exchange plan.  This is the more reason for Hashim Thaçi to listen to Berlin, which opposes Belgrade’s plan and holds its key to EU integration.  He should ignore Belgrade’s pleas and promises, or those coming from mediocre politicians in Brussels who change long standing policies on a whim with no regard for the consequences on the ground. The nativist winds blowing in Washington are an anomaly and no indication of the long-term American interests in the Balkans.  John Bolton and Jared Kushner, as the main supporters of the Serbian proposal, have neither the knowledge nor the inclination to find a long-term solution for Kosovo.  If Thaçi is truly a ‘snake’, as his nom-de-guerre suggests, he should know how to prolong the negotiations till there are favourable winds in Washington, and he may not have to wait as long as the Serbs had to. Ivica Dacic and his boss, President Aleksandar Vucic speak of the need to recognize a new political reality which they themselves have meticulously created. The Serbian policy towards Kosovo has not changed, no has its main diplomatic drive, it’s the world that has moved on.  In these negotiations with Serbia, Kosovo will not be an equal and will not start from a position of strength.  When the weak are tempted to take politically realistic decisions, they should first consider another lesson from history.  ‘Right, as the world goes’, says Thucydides in his seminal work the ‘Peloponnesian War’, ‘is only a question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must’. [post_title] => Beware of Serbia's gift [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => beware-of-serbias-gift [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-08-30 11:24:53 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-08-30 09:24:53 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138318 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138273 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-08-22 10:33:31 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-22 08:33:31 [post_content] => By Simon Shen* Ever since the outbreak of the Greek debt crisis, the ports of Greece have become beachheads for China to advance into Europe under its “One Belt, One Road” initiative. Meanwhile, Albania, which was once China’s closest friend, may also enter into an economic honeymoon period with Beijing. Mainlanders of the previous generation must be very familiar with Albania. During the years of the Cultural Revolution, when China was at odds with both the United States and the Soviet Union, Albania was chairman Mao Zedong’s only foreign ally. And in order to express its deep gratitude to Albania for its steadfast friendship and loyalty, China, which was itself extremely impoverished in those days, provided tens of thousands of tons of food and billions of dollars in foreign aid for its European friend, which Mao referred to as the “true socialist lighthouse of Europe”. However, the “romantic” relations between Beijing and Tirana ground to a sudden halt in the early 1980s when Enver Hoxha, the former political strongman of Albania, strongly criticized his Chinese counterpart Deng Xiaoping for “taking the revisionist path”. Since then Sino-Albanian relations had remained at rock bottom for decades, until the dawn of the “One Belt One Road” era, when China began to “rediscover” the strategic and geopolitical value of Albania. Earlier on, China has concluded the so-called “16+1” agreement with Eastern European countries. And Albania, which is regarded by Beijing as its strategic outpost in the Balkans, has once again become its partner under the “One Belt One Road” strategy. Apart from being able to serve as a bridge between China and Europe, Albania is also of great value to Beijing in other respects: its rich natural resources, oil, and minerals such as chromite are extremely attractive as well. In 2016, the Geo-Jade Petroleum Corporation of China acquired the Bankers Petroleum, which was formerly known as the Albanian National Oil Company. As far as Albania is concerned, Chinese investments and capital are also key to resuscitating its economy. In fact, over the years, Albania has remained one of the poorest countries in Europe, thanks to its decades-long policy of seclusion. Even though the Albanian government has carried out numerous reform initiatives in recent years, and the national economy has been slowly recovering, the country’s infrastructure and railway system have remained very poor and unreliable. For instance, currently the only decent highway across the entire Albania is the one that links the capital city Tirana and the second largest city Durrës, not to mention that the country only has one international airport. Even Tirana, Albania’s capital, is probably the most run-down city across the Balkans, and is at best comparable with third-tier cities in China in terms of the overall level of development. Worse still, at present the unemployment rate in Albania stands at 17 percent, and the poor economic environment has driven many Albanians out of the country in a desperate bid to seek a better life abroad. That probably explains why the Albanian government is so eagerly looking to Chinese investors to come to its rescue by providing jobs and rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. However, although Tirana needs Chinese capital so badly, China and Albania are unlikely to become as close as they used to be in the coming days. After all, Albania has already joined the NATO and has become a candidate for future European Union membership. Given that, while Tirana is eager to develop closer economic ties with Beijing, it’d rather keep the latter at arm’s length politically. Besides, Albania is apparently well aware of the potential risk of having all of its eggs in one basket. It is working aggressively to make good use of its own Islamic background and draw investments from other Muslim countries such as Turkey, Qatar and Iran. Simply put, Albania will no longer “lean to one side” in its foreign policy because it has learnt the historical lesson the hard way.   *Simon Shen is an associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 9   [post_title] => Why China-Albania relationship is warming up again [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => why-china-albania-relationship-is-warming-up-again [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-08-22 10:33:31 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-08-22 08:33:31 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138273 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138250 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-08-17 09:52:30 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-17 07:52:30 [post_content] => By Janusz Bugajski After several provocative statements by Serbian and Kosovar politicians and in the midst of relative silence from Washington and Brussels, suppositions are growing that a territorial exchange is being planned between Belgrade and Pristina. Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci has asserted that the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue will include talks on “border corrections” – a term that implies the exchange of territory and not simply demarcation agreements as recently concluded between Kosovo and Montenegro. Some Serbian officials have repeatedly put forward the territorial option to normalize relations between the two states but thus far the issue has not been seriously considered. In a move that inflamed rumors of secret exchanges, Thaci stated that talks with Belgrade should consider the unification with Kosova of the Presevo Valley, a part of southern Serbia with a majority Albanian population. Thaci clearly wants to bring Presevo into the discussion and not be faced with a unilateral surrender of northern Kosovo, in which Serbs form majorities in four municipalities. The United States and the EU have consistently opposed any border changes, viewing such moves as dangerous in a still volatile region. But rumors are now swirling that Washington and Brussels may seek to resolve the Serbia-Kosovo dispute through a territorial option and have launched a trial balloon to see what Belgrade and Pristina can agree on without direct international mediation. In recent media statements, the U.S. ambassador to Kosovo and a spokesman for the European Commission did not rule out territorial revisions, simply asserting that Belgrade and Pristina needed to reach a solution. At the same time, Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, claimed that he had discussed a possible partition during a visit to Washington. Only German Chancellor Angela Merkel has openly rejected any border changes during a recent meeting in Berlin with the Bosnian Prime Minister. Historically, partitions are nothing new, whether through post-war adjustments by the victorious parties or on the basis of democratic plebiscites or inter-governmental agreements. While Yugoslavia was dismembered through wars and elections, Moscow was unable to hold the Soviet Union together by force, and Czechoslovakia was amicably divided by Prague and Bratislava. In each case, however, the new countries were former federal subjects possessing clear administrative borders and elected governments. The potential division of Kosovo would legitimize a new principle – the partition of states that emerged from the defunct communist federations. Such a process would require at least four conditions to be realized peacefully. First, because only sovereign states can exchange territory, Serbia and Kosovo would need to recognize each other as independent countries and not block entry into international institutions. Second, popular approval in both countries would need to be secured either through parliament or a public referendum. Third, international mediation would be essential to implement any territorial agreements. And fourth, the citizens affected by the land swaps would have to be assisted in relocating to the state of their choice. But even if all these conditions were met, border changes in the Western Balkans are fraught with perils and would be interpreted throughout the region as legitimizing national homogenization. With the principle of multi-ethnicity evidently jettisoned, demands for mono-ethnicity would escalate and potentially unravel several countries. Western institutions and NATO forces may find themselves woefully unprepared for the wave of instability that could subsequently engulf the region. In Kosovo itself, the Serbian Orthodox Church vehemently opposes any loss of territory especially as most Serb religious sites and over 60% of the Serbian population are not located in the northern municipalities. Radicalized Serbs and Albanians could incite violent protests in order to expel the other ethnicity from their assigned territories. And a similar process can be envisaged in the Presevo valley if a land swap is agreed. The territorial revisions would also raise support in Kosovo for unification with Albania. Such momentum could rapidly spread to Macedonia where at least a quarter of the population is Albanian. Threats to Macedonia’s territorial integrity would intensify ethno-nationalism, potentially scuttle the name deal with Greece, and bring both Bulgaria and Albania into an expanding conflict. Meanwhile, the Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina could demand the application of the Kosovo precedent in order to join Serbia; the Croat population may petition for western Herzegovina to be absorbed by Croatia; and the Bosnian population could campaign for Serbia’s Muslim-majority Sandjak region to unite with Bosnia. Montenegro would also be caught in the middle of this maelstrom, with Bosniaks, Serbs, and Albanians all demanding slithers of the country in which they form local majorities. And all this is unlikely to occur in a peaceful political and political climate but may be peppered with violent incidents to prove that separation was necessary. Although such a scenario sounds like a Balkan bonanza for the Kremlin and could contribute to justifying its partition of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, it would be premature for Moscow to celebrate the division of any Balkan state. Such developments would underscore that the Russian Federation itself, containing 85 federal units, may also be territorially divided according to ethnic, religious, or regional principles. Paradoxically, the partition of Kosovo or Bosnia could serve as a prototype for Russia’s future dissolution.   *This article was initially published at the online journal Europe’s Edge   [post_title] => Perils of Balkan partition [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => perils-of-balkan-partition [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-08-17 09:52:30 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-08-17 07:52:30 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138250 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138230 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-08-13 11:16:02 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-13 09:16:02 [post_content] => By Prof. Dr. Blerim Reka  Almost three decades after Yugoslavia’s dissolution, the new borders of the Balkans are still not fixed and will likely remain so for the next decade. Only a few bilateral demarcation agreements between the former federal units have been signed, and each of the countries has unresolved boundary issues that may remain open for years to come. These territorial disputes will most likely lead to a delayed stabilization of the Balkans. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said, there is still a “fragile peace” in the region. Less likely, the EU and NATO may accept new member states from the Balkans despite the border issues. Historically, borders in the Balkans have been drawn and redrawn many times, from the Berlin Congress in 1878 to conferences in London (1913), Versailles (1919) and Paris (1945). Border issues in the Balkans have generally been reopened by wars and closed by diplomacy. In 1975, the parties at the Helsinki Conference promulgated a key principle of maintaining the territorial status quo at the time, but once the Cold War ended, the borders were again changed. Through it all, the region’s boundaries have always been drawn in pen but backed up by bullets. Eight open disputes  In November 1991, at the commission advising on legal questions regarding the breakup of the republics, President of the International Peace Conference on Yugoslavia Lord Carrington asked whether the internal boundaries between Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina could be considered borders under international law. In its report, the commission replied that as Yugoslavia was in the process of dissolution, the former internal boundaries should become frontiers protected by international law unless otherwise agreed. It was expected that this interpretation would be respected by all the former Yugoslav republics. But 27 years later, the new states have not resolved all of their border disputes. Only this April, Montenegro and Kosovo ratified the Demarcation Treaty (it was signed in 2015), just as Macedonia and Kosovo did in 2008.
Unresolved border issues may have serious consequences for EU candidate countries.
Eight border disputes remain unresolved, involving new Balkan states that emerged from Yugoslavia, existing EU and NATO member states, and several Balkan countries that are currently candidates for entry into the EU. The consequences of unresolved border disputes may be especially significant for those candidates’ chances at integration. Alliance members clashing  Slovenia and Croatia, both NATO and EU members, are fighting over 670 kilometers of sea borders in Piran Bay. Though both governments signed the Drnovsek-Racan Agreement in July 2001, it has only been ratified by Slovenia, not Croatia. An arbitration agreement was signed in November 2009, and a court ruling decided in 2017 on the final demarcation between the two states. That decision has still not been accepted. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has called for an “urgent bilateral solution,” warning that such disputes will not be tolerated of new EU member states. In June 2018, Slovenia decided to take Croatia to court for non-implementation of the arbitration ruling. On its border with Montenegro, also a NATO member, Croatia faces a dispute over the Prevlaka peninsula, in the Adriatic Sea. In practice, under a 2002 interim regime with a land border in Konfin, the disputed land is Croatian and the sea a “mixed zone.” It is unlikely that the Montenegro-Croatia dispute will harm bilateral relations between the two countries. Not going away  Many of Serbia’s borders are at least somewhat contested, and the country is involved in two of the region’s thorniest border disputes, which are likely to remain unresolved for at least another decade: with Kosovo and with Croatia. The dispute between Serbia and Kosovo will be the hardest border dispute in the region. Due to a lack of bilateral diplomatic relations, resolving it will likely take years. To fix interstate borders, both countries should mutually recognize each other, but that is unlikely in the medium term.
Serbia is involved in two of the region's thorniest border issues, likely to remain unresolved for at least a decade.
Serbia insists that Kosovo is an “integral part” of its territory and treats Kosovo’s borders as “administrative.” For Kosovo, its borders are international. Kosovo made official its demarcation agreements with Macedonia and Montenegro, in 2008 and 2018 respectively, and maintains an international border with Albania. Only its Serbian border dispute remains unresolved. Having officially established several of its international borders, Serbia is not likely to convince Kosovo of a different border regime than it has with its other neighbors. But for Serbia, not fixing the dispute with Kosovo will have political and technical consequences. Insisting that Kosovo should be part of Serbia – even though realistically, Belgrade has no sovereignty there – will remain the main obstacle when it opens the EU’s Chapter 35 on resolving “other issues” before integration. As Chancellor Merkel made clear to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during his visit to Berlin in April 2018, new EU members should not have open territorial issues. That same line has been repeated in Washington and by the NATO Quint (an informal decision-making group consisting of the United States, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom). Abroad, Mr. Vucic is seeking support from Russian President Vladimir Putin. But inside the country, only 46 percent of Serbians consider Kosovo a top priority, and it is unlikely that Belgrade will ignore this kind of “advice” from the West. One scenario is that Serbia will recognize the Republic of Kosovo unconditionally, and then ask for compensation in the form of Northern Kosovo – a so-called “Serbian secret plan.” Most likely, Kosovo would not accept the loss of its territory, but it would be possible (though unlikely) that the international community would allow the change. If they do, the only realistic outcome would be a territorial swap based on ethnic criteria: Northern Kosovo (majority Serb) for Southern Serbia (majority Albanian). The idea became a top media theme this summer after a Brussels meeting between Mr. Vucic and Kosovar President Hashim Thaci. Surrounded by uncertainty  Serbia is engaged in further disputes on three other borders. After the war, both Serbia and Croatia have tried since 2003 to resolve their border dispute along the Danube River at a point near the town of Backa Palanka. Croatia insists on 11,500 hectares on the eastern side of the Danube, while Serbia, based on a law passed by the Vojvodina Assembly of 1946, is asking for 900 hectares on the west side of the river. In February 2018, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Serbian President Vucic declared that border negotiations would not start for at least two years. Recent tensions between the two countries will most likely delay any further attempts at a resolution. The dispute will probably postpone Serbia’s integration into the EU, as Croatia is already a member state. Another hot issue for Belgrade is its border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. In a somewhat unlikely scenario, three difficult border disputes may be resolved in the coming years: Ruda, in southern Bosnia; the hydroelectric area by the River Drina; and 12 km of Bosnian territory that Serbia wants for a railway to Montenegro. Other than these three areas, the hardest issue that will threaten the countries’ future relations will be Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated entity in Bosnia.
Another summit on the Balkans is wishful thinking, particularly given President Putin's resurgent Russia.
Finally, for Serbia, while its border with Macedonia near the Prohor Pcinjski Monastery is unresolved, it is unlikely that this low-level dispute will present serious problems. The monastery, built in the 11th century and reconstructed by Serbian kings, has religious importance for Serbia. But Macedonians hold it dear for political reasons; in 1944, it hosted the first session of the Anti-Fascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM), an early foundation stone of the state. Rich waters  Another regional dispute concerns Croatia and Bosnia, though not very significantly. The countries share a 1,000 km border and both signed the Tudjman-Izetbegovic Agreement, which was ratified by Bosnia but not Croatia. The main remaining problem is the seaport of Neum, which is Bosnia’s only access to the Adriatic Sea. The city may also have energy importance, after recently-discussed plans for a possible liquefied natural gas port there. It is unlikely that this dispute will heighten tensions between the two countries. Lastly, the region’s eighth dispute divides Greece, a member of the EU and NATO, and Albania, a NATO member that is on the path to EU integration. The conflict has two dimensions. Technically, the two countries are still at war due to Greece’s “Law on War” with Albania (1940), which has never been abrogated. Based on that law, the Cham Albanian population was expelled from its native territory on the coast of the Ionian Sea, with their land sequestered by the Greeks. More than 1,800 such land cases belonging to Cham Albanians have been noted, but Athens refuses to return their property. In 2008, Greece raised another dispute with Albania over the Ionian Sea, for economic reasons. These borders have been decided by many acts of international law, from the London Conference of 1913 through a 1925 agreement and the Final Act on the delimitation of Albanian borders (1926). Although Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias recognized the 1926 agreement, Athens has requested a new border drawing.
Mutual enmity persists in the Balkans, and thousands of people are still missing from the last wars.
The foreign ministers from both countries signed a bilateral agreement in April 2009 but it was not enforced after a legal ruling in Albania over the loss of six miles of Albanian waters. This contested area is rich with resources, including 4 billion cubic meters of oil and 1.5 billion square meters of gas; together, it could be worth $20 billion in the next two decades. In 2013, the new Albanian government abolished that agreement and in 2015 Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama declared that he will protect the territorial integrity of the country. New bilateral negotiations started in 2017, but before it was expected to be concluded by the visit of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, it was canceled in the last moment and postponed for June 2018; now, the negotiations are continuing. Three scenarios  There are three possible scenarios. The most likely is that the border disputes in the Balkans will not be resolved for at least another decade, due to lack of political will on behalf of the former enemies of the Balkan wars. If soft demarcation cases that were actually resolved took three years to conclude, the harder border cases will take longer. For example, the case of Serbia-Croatia may be solved in the next five years, but not the Kosovo-Serbia dispute, which will not even see the end of five years of “Brussels Dialogue” until 2019. Only after a normalization of their bilateral relations – which would likely be concluded in 2020 by a legally binding agreement – can their issues be solved. Under this scenario, a final map of the Balkans would not come before 2025, which coincides with the timeframe announced by Mr. Juncker of a new EU member state possibly joining the club. It is likely that Serbia will continue to receive support from Russia, and likewise Croatia and Kosovo from the West. Alternatively, though less likely, Serbia may ignore “advice” from Washington and Brussels on EU membership, expecting a veto in the EU Council regardless from Croatia. As far as the case of Albania and Greece, a resolution would require involvement not only of big powers, but also regional factors. If Athens insists on new border lines in the Ionian Sea, it will push Albania toward Turkey, which itself has a history of territorial tension with Greece over Cyprus and the Aegean Islands. The recent Turkish plan to build Albania’s second airport in Vlore, a city near the contested coastal border, is one example. And NATO recently decided to build an air base in Kucove, Albania, which would be its first in the Western Balkans. Eight border disputes in the Balkans 
  • Piran Bay, a sea border between Slovenia and Croatia
  • The Prevlaka peninsula, contested by Croatia and Montenegro
  • Kosovo’s border with Serbia, which still claims the state as its own territory
  • Backa Palanka, near an area claimed by both Croatia and Serbia
  • Three contested siteson the Bosnian-Serbian border
  • The Prohor Pcinjski Monasteryclaimed by both Serbia and Macedonia
  • Neum, a Bosnian port on the Adriatic Sea with areas contested by Croatia
  • The maritime border between Albania and Greece
Another scenario is that the border disputes, instead of being fixed bilaterally, may be resolved by a new multilateral territorial exchange package. Here, again, the hard bargaining would be between Serbia and Kosovo. If it is not able to take northern Kosovo, Serbia will ask for Republika Srpska; Kosovo, for its part, would ask for the Presevo Valley, which controls Corridor 8 and the Belgrade-Athens highway. That scenario would work only with significant international involvement, and with other crises raging in places like Syria, Iran and Ukraine, such an effort is not likely to happen in the short term. Another Balkans conference after the one in 1991 is wishful thinking, particularly when one compares President Vladimir Putin’s resurgent Russia with Boris Yeltsin’s version. The least likely scenario is a quick resolution of all border issues – a desirable but unrealistic outcome. Mutual enmity persists, and thousands of people are still missing from the last wars. One hundred thousand people were victims of those wars and another 100,000 were displaced, not to mention the approximately 500,000 who emigrated. In these conditions, conflicts cannot be solved quickly. In the Balkans, an objective problem (the borders) has a subjective component: the victims. Without real reconciliation, it is hard to expect a prompt solution to any territorial disputes. *This report was initally published at gisreportsonline.com  [post_title] => Border conflicts in the Balkans [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => border-conflicts-in-the-balkans [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-08-13 11:16:02 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-08-13 09:16:02 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138230 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138222 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-08-11 13:14:47 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-11 11:14:47 [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 11 - An opinion published at the globally renowned Washington Post on Thursday said that proposing new divisions in the region as a solution for the future of the Balkans in general, and the Euro-Atlantic integration of Serbia and Kosovo in particular, is actually “a recipe for geopolitical instability.” The opinion, written by Carl Bildt, comes after almost two weeks of ongoing debate in the region, stemming from Kosovo President Hashim Thaci’s idea to “correct” Kosovo borders in the context of EU-mediated talks on normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Although it was Thaci who first spoke of the idea of border correction, translated by a number of analysts and experts into Kosovo’s territorial division, Bildt says that “discreetly, Serb and Albanian political leaders have been exploring the possibility of sorting out their differences using territorial swaps.” The idea of sorting out territorial disputes by exchanging territories is not foreign for Belgrade’s political circles, however it lately seems to have also gained momentum in Albania as well. Theoretically, this “correction” would include the separation of the Serb-inhabited North, and also the possible exchange of the North of Kosovo for the Presevo Valley, an Albanian-majority region south of Serbia. “The idea is certainly not new, but it was dangerous in the past and it remains so in the present. Serbia’s strongman Slobodan Milosevic and Croatia’s leader Franjo Tudjman conspired in the early 1990's to divide up Bosnia between them. But the international reaction put a stop to these plans,” Bildt writes. So far, the EU and US policy has been stated clearly: preserve the borders that were in old Yugoslavia and seek solutions within them. More specifically, the European Commission issued a statement on Friday, saying that Serbian President Aleksander Vucic and Thaci have had “intensive and productive talks in the context of the deal to fully normalize relations and that they have agreed to intensify the work done,” while adding that a permanent solution implies a realistic, stable and possible solution in agreement with international law and with both Kosovo and Serbia. Under the assumption that Kosovo is now warming up to Serbian claims for this particular solution between the countries, Bildt writes that “to further Balkanize the Balkans is to open the region for further conflict and bloodshed.” In Bildt’s account, Vucic has been actively toying with the idea, which has lately, according to his sources, also made Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama receptive to it. On Thursday, Vucic said said he is engaged to separate Serbians and Albanians in Kosovo. “I am in favor, and this is my policy, to separate from Albanians, because having a territory that we don’t know who is in charge of and who it belongs to is a constant source of conflict,” Vucic said, while adding this deal can only be successful if accepted by the Serbian people and beyond, as “it takes two to tango.” Bildt, however, echoing the concerns of a number of local and international analysts, firstly lists the opposition coming from the Serbian Orthodox Church and its leadership in Kosovo. “They argue that a division of this sort will be a betrayal of the Serbs living in Kosovo south of the river Ibar and in all probability will lead to a complete ethnic cleansing of the area, with threats also to the historic Orthodox monuments in the area. A territorial swap would likely be followed by a population swap to create ethnically homogeneous territories. While some claim that this might pave the way for more stability, eventually including a greater union between and coming together of Albania and Kosovo, this is hardly likely,” Bildt writes. In addition, considering the region’s wider conflictual context, this deal between Serbia and Kosovo could also risk opening up a Pandora’s Box over the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina - “an opportunity hardliner Bosnian Serb leaders will certainly welcome.” Lastly, Bildt lists the issue of Macedonia - another country where Albanians are a substantial part of the population. “If the Albanian areas of the wider region start coming together also through a process of territorial swaps, there will certainly be those asking why this should not apply to Macedonia as well. That would seriously be playing with fire,” Bildt argues. In the face of the international good-will to further the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of both countries, Bildt writes that a compromise should certainly be found between Prishtina and Belgrade - “a compromise which might well include a greater degree of decentralization to Serb parts of Kosovo and could mean admitting Kosovo into the United Nations as well” but should in no way toy with borders and divisions in the Balkans that were dangerous back in the 1990's and which remain dangerous to this day.   [post_title] => Border corrections are Balkan recipe for disaster, Washington Post writes [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => border-corrections-are-balkan-recipe-for-disaster-washington-post-writes [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-08-15 16:56:35 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-08-15 14:56:35 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138222 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138570 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-09-21 11:15:36 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-09-21 09:15:36 [post_content] => By Alba Cela Jan Claude Juncker has come a long way in these few years from the first time he took over the Commission and delivered a Bush-patterned ‘read my lips- no more enlargement’ statement. In the latest EU State of the Union Address he spoke just a few words about the Western Balkans and their perspective but they hit home: “Europe can export stability, as we have done with the successive enlargements of our Union. For me, these are and will remain success stories – for we were able to reconcile Europe's history and geography. But there is more to be done. We must find unity when it comes to the Western Balkans – once and for all. Should we not, our immediate neighborhood will be shaped by others.” This statement is crucial as it comes in the last address before the elections in May of 2019 where EU voters will shape the next EU Parliament. In electoral times skepticism about enlargement or anything remotely similar to it peaks. Calling for both caution and courage at this time is the right thing for the EU, which needs to be a real powerful actors in shaping the dynamics in its immediate vicinity. Recognizing the return of geopolitical games and influence calculations in the Balkans is something Brussels has not been very good or quick at. Third actors such as Russia, Turkey, China and others have been present lately in many forms: investments, political maneuvers, and religious agenda to say just the main components. The EU has taken strong steps only in the last two years, primarily resolving the double democracy and name crisis in Macedonia and urging Albania to complete the justice reform. Both these achievements have come with the significant help from the US. Geopolitical developments though are also intensifying. The latest talked about potential plan to resolve the Kosovo-Serbia issue with land swaps is a key test for the stability of the region. Key member states are not on board but many others seem to view this as a unique opportunity to put the hottest conflict point in the region at a final rest.  The discussion brings Russia and China to the table automatically as members of the UN Security Council. With Brexit kicking in soon, France is the only EU voice in that platform. The wait to achieve significant milestones in the region is getting longer, burdensome and more discouraging every year. Reforms are advancing at a snail pace. Young people are leaving in droves to the Western EU member states.  This reality should also be present in the EU’s thinking about the region in addition to the right geopolitical concerns. Yes other actors should not be given ample sphere to influence. But neither should that space be taken by poverty, autocracy and the pervasive lack of hope for youth or economic stagnation. It is true that out of all EU institutions, the Commission has been the most eager to advance the integration agenda for the region.  Member states have been skeptical and worried mostly for their domestic reaction.  One can only hope that like the Head of the Commission they will also recognize the new realities and make up their minds. 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