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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Editorial: US report on Albania economic climate should serve as a wake up call

Editorial: US report on Albania economic climate should serve as a wake up call

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL If Albania’s government was looking for good news on the economic front, this wasn’t a good week. Despite much touted official numbers showing steady economic growth and lower unemployment, a US report out this week shows what

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Editorial: Back to the future: The return of borders and migrants

Editorial: Back to the future: The return of borders and migrants

Increasingly, when it comes to borders, Europe appears to be going back to the future. A decade after most countries under the EU banner shed barriers dividing them to allow the free movement of people and goods within the bloc,

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Editorial: From the fall of the justice system to the fall of justice in Albania

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TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL For all intents and purposes, day after day, we are currently witnessing the fall of the justice system in Albania. This is happening through the removal from office of the majority of officials in key judicial institutions

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Editorial: The problem with newsless summits

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It has been a week of important international summits for Albania on paper. First, Western Balkan leaders met with key EU counterparts in London to discuss the region’s EU future as part of the Berlin Process. Then, NATO held its

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Letter to the editor: The double standards in Albania’s diplomatic service

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Shortly after the Socialist Party came to power, they decided to change the law on diplomatic service. A group of Albanian diplomats with a long history in foreign diplomatic service whose names were better left unknown then and are still

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Editorial: With transparency concerns, Albania-Greece sea border deal enters danger zone

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Editorial: Albania and the EU: A tougher road ahead

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The European Union has decided to postpone a decision on whether it will open accession negotiations with Albania — neither supporting nor rejecting the European Commission’s recommendation for an unconditional opening of these negotiations. The European Council, made up of

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                    [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

 
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                    [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 ) [2] => 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 ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138185 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-08-02 19:53:46 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-02 17:53:46 [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL If Albania’s government was looking for good news on the economic front, this wasn’t a good week. Despite much touted official numbers showing steady economic growth and lower unemployment, a US report out this week shows what many feel on the ground in Albania: the business climate is not healthy and things are getting worse, not better, as major investors and skilled workers are forced to leave. In its 2018 investment climate statement for Albania, the US State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs says foreign investors cite corruption, particularly in the judiciary, lack of transparency in public procurement and poor enforcement of contracts as continuing problems in Albania. With the judicial reform ongoing and the entire system in disarray, hopefully there will be improvements in the mid to long term in the judiciary once the dust settles, but the report makes it clear that many of the issues making Albania inhospitable to investors are political and government-related. For example, the US report notes that major foreign investors in Albania report pressure to hire specific, politically-connected subcontractors. This naturally raises red flags for US companies that have to be accountable to their country's own rule of law, as in compliance with the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Political pressures have other ways to manifest themselves. For example, public private partnership, which are commonly being awarded through unsolicited proposals favoring proposing companies through bonuses that make them eventual winners in tenders. These are  also cited as a concern in the American report. That’s the case because they narrow the opportunities for competition, including by foreign investors, in infrastructure and other sectors. The US Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs also expresses concern over the long-standing issue of unclear property titles and uneven enforcement of legislation as barriers to doing business in the country. The high tax burden, government bureaucracy and monopoly and unfair competition have been the main barriers to doing business in the country for the past few years, according to annual surveys conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Albania representing some of the key foreign and local investors in the country. It is no wonder then, that at least two major investors with US ties have actually left Albania after having operations here, as the report notes. And an untold number might have simply been too afraid to enter the market. The problem is by no means limited to US investors and the report is not saying anything that tens of other similar international and domestic reports have not already said. But it is coming after the government started to pat itself in the back for “reviving Albania’s economy,” and, as such, it should serve as a wake up call for the Albanian political leaders to stop drinking their own kool aid and address the concerns faced by businesses. This week’s report by the US State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs shows Albania’s government is failing to create a better business climate. As such, it must be a sobering read for officials.   [post_title] => Editorial: US report on Albania economic climate should serve as a wake up call [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-us-report-on-albania-economic-climate-should-serve-as-a-wake-up-call [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-08-02 19:59:13 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-08-02 17:59:13 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138185 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138082 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-07-27 09:59:55 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-27 07:59:55 [post_content] => Increasingly, when it comes to borders, Europe appears to be going back to the future. A decade after most countries under the EU banner shed barriers dividing them to allow the free movement of people and goods within the bloc, borders and ad hoc barrier fences are popping up everywhere. These are a response to the wave of non-European migrants and refugees in recent years and these fences are coming up from north to south and vice versa. Even though the flow of migrants has ebbed, concern across Europe is high with populist parties benefiting from some legitimate fears of uncontrolled migration. As the momentum of anti-migration sentiment carries forward, the walls and fences have slowly encircled the Western Balkans, a non-EU enclave of the European Union -- and are now scheduled to come up at Albania’s doorstep as Montenegro is looking to build a fence on the border with Albania to cut off what increasingly has become the Adriatic route of migrants trying to get from Greece to Western Europe, transiting through Albania. They are forced to do so since all other land routes had been cut off by fences and walls long ago. Albania had enough mountains to be considered too much of a hassle to get through, but as desperation of migrants stuck in Greece grows and trafficking groups become more inventive, Albania is back on the board, and trickle of migrants arrives every week. Some ask for asylum in Albania, which of course is not their desired final destination, as it is a poor country with little ability to host a migrant population. This fact is well known to the Albanian government, which nonetheless keeps flirting with the idea that it can turn this country into a non-EU way station to help EU countries stem the flow in return for possible benefits Albania’s own relationship with the EU. Simply put, borders and fences are no solutions to these problems. Addressing the war and poverty driving these refugees and migrants away from their homelands would solve the issue, but that won’t happen any time soon. So dealing with the issue in the most dignified way for all concerns is the way forward we now. Albania should help, but proportional to its size and ability, no more no less. And Albania should work with the neighbors and the EU states to manage the migrants arriving at its borders, as the it is clear Albania is not a desired final destination, rather seen as a transit country. The Albanian people are sympathetic to the plight of these refugees and migrants fleeing war and poverty. That’s because the Albanian people are not strangers to borders. For more than 100 years they were unwillingly split by hard borders in different countries by decisions made by the Great Powers of the time. For 47 years the communist regime created an almost hermetical border for Albania. And when that communist regime fell, the Albanians began to leave the country in droves, becoming a nation of migrants, with a third to half of its people having migrated to other developed countries. And they know about European walls too -- having been forced behind a visa wall for two decades. (The Albanians in Kosovo are still waiting for that wall to fall.) As Albania looks to get entry into the EU in the next decade or so, looking to get its own taste of full free movement of people and goods within the bloc, what it finds when it actually becomes a member, might be something very different from the union it applied to join several years go.   [post_title] => Editorial: Back to the future: The return of borders and migrants [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => back-to-the-future-the-return-of-borders-and-migrants [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-07-27 10:04:24 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-07-27 08:04:24 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138082 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138007 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-07-20 12:26:49 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-20 10:26:49 [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL For all intents and purposes, day after day, we are currently witnessing the fall of the justice system in Albania. This is happening through the removal from office of the majority of officials in key judicial institutions as the vetting process, part of justice reform, goes on. And it appears there is no plan to quickly replace the many judges and prosecutors being kicked out the system. The Constitutional Court, a key pillar of the state, has been virtually emptied of justices. The High Court appears to be next. Of the 19 judges it had before the reform, there are now only five left. It will likely go on with the appeals courts and others. The main issue is that many judges and prosecutors are failing to prove the sources of their wealth. This is, of course, disgraceful for a poor country. Indeed, in the short-term, perhaps even in the mid-term, the justice reform's vetting will inflict greats costs to the justice system. As such, it wouldn't be unfair to say that it can lead to a complete fall of the system, which means a consequent fall of justice itself in Albania The justice reform's positive outcomes and benefits for the people of Albania are expected in the mid to long term, but what we are seeing so far are the negative implications, and there are many of them. It appears at this time that the reform’s proponents and organizers did not properly predict the vacuum being created in the justice system by the vetting process, and thus, they did not create a mechanism to quickly deal with the matter. The other underlying problem that may have serious implications is that, according to the experts, we are also seeing a double-standards policy. Local but also foreign experts have noted that different standards are applied depending on the person being vetted. For example, the same criteria or reasons used to dismiss one justice official are not applied on the same situation faced by the next. The famous saying from George Orwell's book “Animal Farm” rings true at this time: All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. Last, but not least, the opposition claims that in addition to creating a powerless judiciary to keep the government in check in the short to medium term, a longer term danger looms -- that the current government is trying to capture the judiciary through both the vacuum and the people that will replace the sacked judges. For a republic like Albania to work well, a strong and independent judiciary is needed to keep the other branches of the government in check. Thus a political capture of the courts is something Albania should avoid at all costs.   [post_title] => Editorial: From the fall of the justice system to the fall of justice in Albania [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-from-the-fall-of-the-justice-system-to-the-fall-of-justice-in-albania [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-07-23 09:28:26 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-07-23 07:28:26 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138007 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 137866 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-07-13 10:06:56 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-13 08:06:56 [post_content] => It has been a week of important international summits for Albania on paper. First, Western Balkan leaders met with key EU counterparts in London to discuss the region’s EU future as part of the Berlin Process. Then, NATO held its major annual gathering in Brussels. Both summits were attended by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama with a group of accompanying officials. The outcome of both were a lot of photos and statements repeated year over year of the importance of the region’s EU future of the transformative role of being under NATO’s security umbrella, etc. Important as these things might be, there has been little substantial news for Albania at both summits. In an age of short attention spans and sensationalism, some might see appearing on the BBC social media for wearing tennis shoes at a formal group photo as news -- an old and tired tactic of an attention-seeking small country prime minister. No publicity is bad publicity after all. But in terms of what Albania got out of the Berlin Process summit in London, there is nothing substantial. In fact, the summit was a major dud. Germany’s public broadcaster, DW, went so far as to call it “grotesque.” The very organizer and host, the British foreign minister, Boris Johnson, could not be at the opening ceremony because he had just resigned over Britain not getting enough of a clean break from the European Union, the very body the Berlin Process aims to promote in the Western Balkans. The NATO Summit is important for Albania, because as an alliance member for a decade, the country has both rights and responsibilities, like increasing its military spending to meet NATO expectations, for example. Instead, the news related to Albania was the typical the assortment of handshake photos of Albania’s prime minister with the likes of US President Donald Trump or German Chancellor Angela Merkel. There was even a viral video of Rama peeking over Merkel and UK Prime Minister Theresa May watching Croatia beat England in the World Cup semi final.  Like Albanian leaders before (and those likely to follow), the head of the Albanian government has the bad habit of seeking to legitimize his rule at home through photo ops abroad. We suspect the readers of this newspaper know better. For Albanian leaders, who are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobbyists during campaigns to secure a photo with the US President it, be it Barack Obama once or Trump today, such summits must seem like a golden opportunity for these photos. (Think of all the funding that could be going to schools and hospitals instead of campaign photo ops more associated with third-world leaders than European ones.) The NATO Summit is not there to take pictures and create political propaganda for domestic consumption. It is there so Albania can play a role, no matter how small, to help the alliance in which it is a full member. In perhaps what could be the best source for domestic news, on the sidelines of these summits, Albanian and Greek leaders met to discuss the strategic new maritime border deal. Here too, photos and empty words were distributed, and again, the Albanian public received no substantial information. And, if the summits to the West were not enough, there was one to East too, in Bulgaria, were the 16 Plus One initiative members met to discuss cooperation with China and its Silk Road trade initiative. Again a lot of photos, no substantial news on new tangible projects related to Albania. The axiom that no news is good news, does not stand in this case. To the Albanian public, newsless summits are useless summits.   [post_title] => Editorial: The problem with newsless summits [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-the-problem-with-newsless-summits [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-07-13 10:06:56 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-07-13 08:06:56 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137866 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 137800 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-07-06 10:23:14 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-06 08:23:14 [post_content] => Shortly after the Socialist Party came to power, they decided to change the law on diplomatic service. A group of Albanian diplomats with a long history in foreign diplomatic service whose names were better left unknown then and are still better left unknown now - sent the following e-mail to a number of EU, US and German representatives through third parties: “Our diplomatic service is facing a deadly blow with the new draft law due to be passed on Thursday by the parliament majority. The law puts the foreign service completely under political control. The hitherto law foresees 20% of the ambassadors as political appointees. The new law removes this figure thus enabling 100% political appointments; not just ambassadors but also other diplomatic posts. Even some MPs like Arta Dade have failed to avoid that from happening. It's not strange that even the opposition keeps silent about it. They can use the law politically, too, when back to power. Such practice goes against EU practices, even though, as candidate EU country we are supposed to make legislation according to EU standards. There is serious concern and despair among career diplomats who see no future for their career under the new law and we feel powerless about it. Years of investment in the service could be rendered useless. This never happened before, at least injustice was never legalized.” Unfortunately, our warning fell on deaf ears and, for the last years, we’ve seen a number of our predictions come to life and seriously harm competitiveness, fairness and a chance at a career. While any "street man" may become an ambassador, it takes at least 14 years for a career diplomat to be posted as ambassador. Most of the current Albanian diplomats serving abroad have little or nothing to do with the foreign service and often have no experience at all. A "street ambassador" is supposed to have 10 years of work experience dealing with foreign relations in what is a very broad and abusive definition. Meanwhile, a career diplomat must serve not less than 14 years in the foreign ministry to get the title of counsellor, let alone ambassador, a paradox a normal country diplomat would never believe. But, instead of speaking generally, let us refer to some concrete cases that had us compile a second letter and make it public. The Albanian Ambassador to Stockholm for starters, is a former retiree who has been renamed in service, although he was once only a presenter at the Albanian National Radio-Television during communism. Similar is the case of Belgrade, where the ambassador is a retiree, while the Albanian Ambassador to Vienna had to return home after reaching his retirement age. These kind of double standards have even devalued the altered law, bringing it down to new lows. Some ambassadors, such as the ambassador of Albania to the OSCE, don’t even fulfill the base requirements, such as the “ten years of foreign work experience.” In Ankara, the ambassador is a former Socialist Party financier, while the head counselors in Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Bari, Milano and Istanbul have little to no connection with the diplomatic service. In Washington, too, the serving ambassador is a political appointment, someone with no connection to the diplomatic service at all. The same applies to the cases of Switzerland and the Netherlands. In other, even more flagrant cases, such as those of Middle East countries, the embassies are run by ambassadors who have even been involved in corruption cases, while the Vatican is lacking an ambassador altogether, for the least five years. According to sources, an ambassador who has run an embassy in an Arab country, and who was fired for being involved in a sensational criminal case in Albania, has been appointed secretary in another embassy in a European country. This has brought about some worrying effects - the most worrying of all being that “street diplomats” are leading career diplomats - the people who have been in the service for 10, 15 and even 20 years and who have acquired the skills of diplomacy by actual experience. In Ernest Geller’s notion called “tyranny of cousins” one can see a lot of Albania - by definition, the tyranny of cousins describes a primitive stage of society, one still ruled by the power of the tribe and by family ties, a phenomenon Albania is still unable to shake after years of communist rule. Today, this tyranny of cousins has come to include more harmful things - political ties, economic ties, interest ties - leading to a tyranny of incompetence, which has been supported by law for the last three years and which will continue to harm Albania if our warning calls keep falling on deaf ears.       [post_title] => Letter to the editor: The double standards in Albania’s diplomatic service [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => letter-to-the-editor-the-double-standards-in-albanias-diplomatic-service [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-07-12 19:45:57 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-07-12 17:45:57 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137800 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 137797 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-07-06 09:53:01 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-06 07:53:01 [post_content] => Concerns over transparency in negotiations between Albania and Greece on a new maritime border agreement are growing to the point that when a new deal is reached, it might be so contested domestically in Albania, it could become dead on arrival. The opposition says it and the relevant parliamentary institutions have neither been consulted nor informed on the negotiations. Some politicians, like former Prime Minister Sali Berisha, have warned a new conflict between Albania and Greece could be the result if the deal is reached without transparency. Albanian institutions, with the exception of the government, and the public at large are getting more information from Greek news media than Albanian officials involved in the talks. Diplomatic sources told Tirana Times that in fact the agreement was negotiated as early as last year and as late as the first two months of this year. However, according to the official record, these negotiations officially started only a month and a half ago, when the government received the official permission to negotiate from the President of the Republic. Moreover, diplomatic sources confirmed that the Albanian side was given a new agreement with some partial and technical corrections from the Greek side, which were nonnegotiable, and the rest of what appears like negotiation is just for show. Officially, three rounds of negotiations concluded last month between Albania and Greece to reach a new maritime border agreement to finally divide the sea shared by the two countries. The Albanian public simply got a rubber stamp press release, saying the last meeting was “constructive and it developed in a positive, friendly and cooperative climate.” As a result, the Albanian public has had the Greek media as a main source of information on how the delimitation of the maritime border will take place. Similarly, the Socialist-led government has completely excluded the possibility of consulting with the opposition, much like its predecessor, the Democratic Party. The ruling SP doesn’t even need the opposition MP numbers in parliament to seal the deal. Instead clarifying what Albania will get from the sea border dispute, the Albanian government has been much more open in declaring as “wins” issues included in the “package of negotiations,” such as the recognition of Albanian driving licenses and apostille stamps, as well as the removal of the Law on the State of War. Although these are agreements that will benefit a number of Albanians living in Greece, foreign policy experts have said it is wrong to include them in the same package of negotiations as the maritime border agreement, as their benefits to citizens will only be peripheral. Albania does not have a good history with these agreements. DP’s own 2010 agreement was rendered useless by Albania’s Constitutional Court for violating the country’s interests and the constitution. However, at this time, Albania’s Constitutional Court is frozen due to lack of judges -- as the judicial reform takes place -- thus placing a great question mark on who will ultimately have a say on the constitutionality of the latest deal. If the deal is hurried through parliament without further wider consultations, and without the Constitutional Court filter, the deal could enter a dangerous zone in terms of the Albanian public opinion and its legality under domestic and international law. [post_title] => Editorial: With transparency concerns, Albania-Greece sea border deal enters danger zone [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-with-transparency-concerns-albania-greece-sea-border-deal-enters-danger-zone [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-07-06 09:53:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-07-06 07:53:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137797 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 137703 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-06-29 10:00:06 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-06-29 08:00:06 [post_content] => The European Union has decided to postpone a decision on whether it will open accession negotiations with Albania -- neither supporting nor rejecting the European Commission's recommendation for an unconditional opening of these negotiations. The European Council, made up of member state foreign ministers and heads of governments, decided that negotiations with Albania and Macedonia could open in June 2019, if the two countries show progress in reforms. There were no guarantees of automatic opening of the talks next year. The European Union member states put in place a number of conditions related to the further implementation of the justice reform, the fight against organized crime, the electoral reform -- all fundamental to further steps on the road to Albania’s European integration. The European Union will look at how these conditions are met and evaluate a new report prepared by the European Commission in the coming spring. Under these conditions, even in the most optimistic scenario, a decision will be taken next year and then the actual talks will start in the spring of 2020. The latest decision at first looks better than the worse case scenario: an indefinite time frame on whether to negotiate or not. In that sense, we now know that the EU will consider the issue of opening negotiations with Albania and Macedonia in a year’s time. A positive decision is difficult, but not impossible. Yet the EU future of Albania and Macedonia has now taken a trajectory that is unsafe and quite unpredictable. This is because following elections for the European Parliament next year, all the institutions that will evaluate the next steps for Albania could be revamped in the light of the election and the potential increase representation of Eurosceptic forces in the European Parliament. The decision not to take a decision on the opening of negotiations for Albania and Macedonia is an error on the part of the EU in the geopolitical context and it makes little sense to toughen up on enlargement on two out of six states that are part of an island surrounded by EU member states. Because in view of the enlargement policy and in a geopolitical context, the European Union has weaker and more indecisive than ever, it faces many uncertainties that will affect Albania’s chances and time frame of membership. These include issues related to the future of functioning the EU and the reform process within the EU. The French perspective for the future is also essential as is the role that France is crafting for itself within the Union. In addition, due to the issue of migration, EU cohesion is at one of its lowest points ever. Italy’s interior minister, the leader of the Eurosceptic Lega Nord Party, said this week the EU might not exist in a year’s time if the migration issues persist. Moreover, right-wing and Eurosceptic parties are growing in strength across the continent, emboldened by Brexit, the threat of terrorism as well as migration issues. So EU’s decision not to take a decision leaves Albania at the mercy of an unsympathetic audience. In addition, the one-year timeframe set in the delay might not be enough to showcase achievements and impress new EU institutions, governments and leaders produced by the upcoming elections. Lastly, but more perhaps more importantly, we need to look at the political response in Albania, which has been divisive, with the government trying to sell the EU decision as a big win while the opposition projecting it as huge failure of the government. None of this is new in Albania’s harsh political landscape, but this newspaper hopes there will some deep reflection by the political class and a renewed understanding that only through working together domestically will Albanians ever stand a chance in EU’s new hostile environment.   [post_title] => Editorial: Albania and the EU: A tougher road ahead [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-albania-and-the-eu-a-tougher-road-ahead [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-06-29 10:00:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-06-29 08:00:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137703 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => 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 ) [queried_object] => stdClass Object ( [term_id] => 30 [name] => Op-Ed [slug] => op-ed [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 30 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 812 [filter] => raw [cat_ID] => 30 [category_count] => 812 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Op-Ed [category_nicename] => op-ed [category_parent] => 0 ) [queried_object_id] => 30 [post__not_in] => Array ( ) )

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