AIIS Durres Forum – a platform for the normalization of Albania-Serbia relations

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 9, 2016 11:48

AIIS Durres Forum – a platform for the normalization of Albania-Serbia relations

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  • "It is no secret that Albania-Serbia relations have been difficult for decades. That's why we welcome the creation of this joint centre which will help advance cooperation. The region has made steps forward but as the English say it is not out of the woods yet," said German Ambassador to Albania Hellmut Hoffmann

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DurresTIRANA, May 9 – In October 2014 a drone with Albanian nationalistic and patriotic symbols flying over the Partizan stadium in Belgrade in the midst of a Serbia-Albania Euro 2016 qualifier put Albania-Serbia relations into a Cold War status quo.

One month later, Prime Minister Edi Rama paid a historic visit to Serbia, the first by an Albanian Prime Minister in 68 years, in a tense climate following the drone incident, but paving the way to the normalization of relations between the two countries which are considered key players for the region’s security, economic development and the Western Balkan’s European integration.

While relations between the two countries have taken a U-turn, with meetings between Prime Ministers Rama and Vucic now almost quite frequent and normal, the civil society is also playing a key role in the normalization of relations through a bottom-up approach.

A two-day forum in Durres last weekend brought together civil society representatives from both Serbia and Albania in a new effort to identify concrete cooperation opportunities that would normalize relations between the two countries which have remained difficult since the late 1940s when communist Albania and then-Yugoslavia broke-up their relationship as key allies. The Durres forum was held as part of the Joint Centre for Albanian-Serbia Relations, an initiative by the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS) and the European Movement Serbia.

AIIS executive director Albert Rakipi said it is time relations between the two countries are pushed forward by themselves with no foreign mediator and that the Franco-German model of reconciliation should serve as a reference point.

“It is a fact that initiatives on the normalization and strengthening of Albania-Serbia relations came from outside our countries. Three years ago, there was an initiative by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for trilateral meetings of senior officials as well as the Berlin Process which involved relations between Tirana and Belgrade. Of course these have been and continue being fruitful and crucial. The third party mediation is a widespread practice in international relations. But we think and strongly believe that it is now high time for local initiatives, which means between Albanians and Serbians themselves to strengthen relations. Proposals coming internally are more efficient. This is how it worked in the Franco-German relations, it is a model for the normalization and strengthening of relations which still remains current. The Franco-German model in addressing barriers and problems remains a reference point and inspiration in our strategic project for the Joint Centre of Albania-Serbia relations,” said Rakipi.

Jelica Minic, a former diplomat who heads the European Movement Serbia is optimistic about future Serbia-Albania relations after positive messages conveyed by both Prime Ministers Rama and Vucic.

“Civil society contacts are at advanced stage. This forum is promoting this. There is obvious progress even in the business sector. Political support is being reflected in the official communication between chambers of commerce from both countries. Monthly meetings and forums on sectoral topics with interest to the business community pave the way for exchange of potentials and investments. The synchronization with regional and global organizations is also an effort to attract important foreign investors. On the other hand, the Berlin Process, under the auspices of German Chancellor Merkel, projects in energy and infrastructure support the re-invigoration of exchanges, the strengthening of tourism industry, the free movement of people,” Minic told Deutsche Welle in the local Albanian service.

German scholar Franz-Lothar Altmann, who moderated  the entire Durres Forum sessions on EU integration, politics, economy, youth and culture and the media, said the interactive Durres Forum, was proof that the normalization of relations is on track.

“No topic can be untouchable, even when stances are extreme. Judgment cannot come closer and no compromise can be reached if ideas and alternatives are not introduced, if you are not patient in comparing the arguments and effects this or that solution or approach has. The Durres Forum fulfilled this standard, as a proof that further steps in the project will be on the right track,” said Altmann, a professor of intercultural and international relations at the University of Bucharest.

German Ambassador to Albania Hellmut Hoffmann said that EU has a strong interest to stabilize the region and Albania-Serbia relations are of great importance.

“It is no secret that Albania-Serbia relations have been difficult for decades. That’s why we welcome the creation of this joint centre which will help advance cooperation,” said Hoffmann whose government is financially supporting the project along with the Norwegian government.

“The region has made steps forward but as the English say it is not out of the woods yet,” added the Ambassador.

Parliament Speaker Ilir Meta said that the past still holds Serbia-Albania relations back but the way both countries see future relations has positively changed compared to two decades ago.

“It is now 16 years since Miloshevic left and Serbia entered a new stage, but we are not yet where we would like to be because we are still held hostage by the past and behavior typical of the Cold War. However, we now see the future differently from 25 years ago. Relations between Albania and Serbia play a big role because they are not simply relations between Albania and Serbia but broader relations reflected between Albanians and Serbs in the region and Albanians and Slavs,” said Meta.

Kosovo, which gained independence from Serbia in 2008, has been a tough issue in Albania-Serbia relations but the predominantly ethnic Albanian country now recognized by 112 countries and aspiring EU integration is normalizing relations with Serbia and is no longer seen as a barrier in Serbia-Albania cooperation.

Civil society representatives suggested that regional countries have to strengthen cooperation and overcome barriers and stereotypes as the Western Balkans remains fragile and “whatever happens in one country affects the other” creating a bad image which could hamper EU integration efforts and much-needed foreign investments in a region which is relatively poor and suffers high unemployment rates.

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 in late 2015.

“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.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 9, 2016 11:48