Albanians want better relations with Serbia, survey finds

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 30, 2015 01:01

Story Highlights

  • Two leading think tanks in Tirana and Belgrade have joined forces to create the Center on Albania-Serbia Relations

Related Articles

The survey was made public at the first event organized by the Center on Albania-Serbia Relations, a joint project of two leading think tanks in Tirana and Belgrade, AIIS and the Forum for International Relations of European Movement Serbia. (Photo: AIIS)

The survey was made public at the first event organized by the Center on Albania-Serbia Relations, a joint project of two leading think tanks in Tirana and Belgrade, AIIS and the Forum for International Relations of European Movement Serbia. (Photo: Tirana Times)

Two leading think tanks in Tirana and Belgrade have joined forces to create the Center on Albania-Serbia Relations

TIRANA, Oct. 27 – A plurality of residents of Albania believe relations between this country and Serbia are normal and likely to improve in the future and such improvements are in the best interest of both countries, according to a national survey released by the Albanian Institute for International Studies.

The survey was made public at the first event organized by the Center on Albania-Serbia Relations, a joint project of two leading think tanks in Tirana and Belgrade, AIIS and the Forum for International Relations of European Movement Serbia.

“The findings of our first survey are encouraging, because they show Albanians want better relations with Serbs, because they believe it is in the best interest of both nations, not just due to factors such as European integration,” said Alba Cela, AIIS deputy director and the study’s author.

For example, 49 percent of Albanians believe relations with Serbia are important and 18.2 percent believe they are very important.

Albania and Serbia should deepen their relations because it’s in the interest of both countries, 90.7 percent of the respondents said.

About 43 percent of people surveyed in Albania see the relations between the two countries as normal, and 13.8 percent see them as good. In addition, 54.4 percent believe relations between Albania and Serbia will likely improve in the future.

The survey, which interviewed 1,200 people in all 12 counties of Albania through a statistically relevant selection, also revealed that of the 19.4 percent of Albanians that see their country as threatened by another country, ranked Serbia second at 27.8 percent, with Greece ranked at 31.6 as the number one perceived threat.   

The survey’s findings are available in full through AIIS.

A similar survey will be carried out in Serbia to see perceptions of residents there about Albania, according to Jelica Minic, who heads the Forum for International Relations of the European Movement Serbia, the AIIS Belgrade-based partner for the Center on Albania-Serbia Relations.

Milic, who was in Tirana for the opening event this week, said the Serbian civil society organization was happy to work together with AIIS on an initiative that was timely and needed. She added relations between Albanians and Serbs are multi-layered and a lot of positive interaction is already happening with people-to-people contacts.

- New center to provide boost for relations

Albert Rakipi, the AIIS executive director, said this initiative’s primary goal is to improve relations between Albania and Serbia.

“This will be a joint research center to encourage political cooperation and dialogue between Tirana and Belgrade as well as economic and cultural cooperation,” Rakipi said. “There will be a number a projects in all those areas, and there will also be particular focus on the younger generation and the media.”

Rakipi added the events surrounding the soccer match in Belgrade between the two countries last year highlighted that Albania-Serbia relations still face many challenges and deep-rooted misconceptions.

“Albania-Serbia relations have seen ups and downs — a year ago they hit a crisis,” he said. “The governments of the two countries for some time applied instruments of communication typical of the times of the Cold War.”

He added the idea to establish a joint center on Albania-Serbia relations was reinforced by that period’s developments.

- International support

The center is supported by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, and its head in the Tirana office, Frank Hantke, said the German foundation saw the reconciliation and improved relations between Albania and Serbia as vital for future progress in the region.

Hantke highlighted the importance of the normalization of the relations of the two countries following the good example of the Franco-German reconciliation process. He brought an example of his upbringing as beneficiary of a generation that enjoyed peace in Western Europe and stressed the need to have a positive, “even naïve” outlook for the future.

The initiative on stronger relations between Albania and Serbia and the new center also have the expressed support of the two countries’ international partners, including Germany and France, which had their ambassadors at the event.

The Balkans is the only region in Europe where conflicts still play a role today, said German Ambassador Hellmut Hoffmann.

“Many human tragedies have occurred in the past, and any initiative that will try to improve relations in the region is more than welcome,” Hoffmann said.

His counterpart from France, Bernard Fitoussi, agreed.

“EU needs Albania Serbia reconciliation more than Albania and Serbia need the EU,” he said. “So this region will not become the playground of outside players.”

Fitoussi also mentioned that the post-WW II Franco-German model of reconciliation is a good example on how Albanian-Serbian relations can improve.

The French ambassador brought up the example of the generation of his parents, who grew up with the idea that the Germans were the enemy. However, he said his generation was the first to benefit by the collaboration and exchanges by gradually eliminating stereotypes about each other.

A leading member of the foreign relations commission in the Albanian parliament, Aldo Bumçi, said this is a good time to further develop relations with Serbia.

“We live in normal times — the best time to push for better relations,” Bumçi said.

- Kosovo and Albania-Serbia relations -

But Bumçi also said relations between Albania and Serbia should also take into account the interests of Kosovo.

“Kosovo is an independent and sovereign country, and Albania should not undertake a paternalist position, when it comes to the relations between Kosovo and Serbia,” the lawmaker and former foreign minister said. “On the other hand, the normalization of the relations between Albania and Serbia should take into consideration the best interests of Prishtina.”

Rakipi said that despite the Kosovo issue standing in between the two countries, the new center would try to focus solely on Albania-Serbia relations.

German Ambassador Hoffmann agreed that the major problem in the relations between the two countries is the issue of Kosovo, which is now a sovereign state that can act independently.

“Both countries [Albania and Serbia] should keep their eyes on EU accession,” Hoffmann said.

Despite clear difference of opinion over Kosovo, the two countries need to cooperate, said Serbian Ambassador Miroljub Zarić.

“Serbia is committed to the development of positive relations with Albania,” he added.

Zarić said cooperation between Albania and Serbia is currently mostly focused on trade, agriculture and joint implementation of infrastructure and energy projects. He added that both countries should resolve some issues inherited from the past, such as the protection of minorities, trade issues related to the import of medicines from Serbia and the return of confiscated properties to Serbian citizens.

A discussion followed the two panels of the event with the wider group of civil society representatives attending the forum. Relations between the two countries face major challenges in terms of perceptions of youths and media coverage, according to civil society representatives.

Event photos

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 30, 2015 01:01