Saturday, March 22, 2014

Serbia’s Albanians Turn Kosovo–Crimea Parallels on Their Head, Ask Tirana to Annex Preševo Valley

Residents of Preševo, Serbia, celebrating the centenary of Albanian independence in 2012 (BBC)
Diplomacy over the Russian Federation’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula this month has swirled around the question of whether Crimea can or cannot be legitimately compared to Kosovo, the ethnic-Albanian “autonomous” province in southern Serbia which declared independence in 2008 after a 1999 bombing campaign by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) chased Serbia’s ultranationalist government out of the area.  Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, declares that if NATO can unilaterally carve a new territory out of the Republic of Serbia, a Russian ally, citing Serbian oppression of the ethnic-Albanian minority that is a majority in Kosovo, then by the same token Russia can unilaterally separate Crimea from a newly westward-tilting Ukraine by citing Ukrainian government persecution of the ethnic-Russian minority that is a majority there.  Just as the international community has so far not recognized Putin’s annexation of Crimea, Putin himself uses Russia’s veto power as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to block the Republic of Kosovo’s membership in the U.N. General Assembly, even though it is recognized as sovereign by a (slight) majority of the world’s countries.  The United States and NATO reject Putin’s argument, among other things pointing out, quite rightly, that Serbian violations of Kosovar Albanians’ human rights in the 1990s was all too real, while the so-called “fascist” and “neo-Nazi” Ukrainian government’s persecution of ethnic Russians is a shoddy myth perpetrated in the echo chamber of Russia’s (and eastern Ukraine’s) Kremlin-controlled media.  But George W. Bush’s bald-faced lies in defense of his 2003 invasion of Iraq make it easy for Russian nationalists to smirk at such hair-splitting.

Reunification with Albania is a popular idea in Kosovo.
And so the arguments go back and forth about whether Kosovo is equivalent to Crimea.  But this week leaders from the small ethnic-Albanian minority in the non-Kosovo parts of the rump Serbia are using the analogy to equate Russia’s moral position with that of Albania and Kosovo.  To understand this, one must understand that Serbian nationalists have always accused Kosovar separatists of secretly wanting to reunify eventually with Albania in a “Greater Albania” which would also include ethnic-Albanian bits of Montenegro, Macedonia, and even Greece and Serbia.  In this, their fears have been vindicated—sort of.  The leadership in both Albania and Kosovo speak now of Albanian reunification, but only within the context of eventual membership in the European Union (E.U.), and in this view Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia could be members as well (Greece already is one)—with the free movement of peoples making all these borders irrelevant.

The municipalities of Serbia’s Preševo Valley shown in red
Jonuz Musliu, deputy mayor of Bujanovac (Bujanoc, in Albanian), a predominantly-ethnic-Albanian town in southern Serbia’s Preševo Valley, said this week, “If Moscow wants Crimea, then Tirana and Priština should unite with the region of the Preševo Valley” (referring to Tirana and Priština, capitals of Albania and Kosovo, respectively).  Bujanovac and Preševo are both municipalities of between 30,000 and 40,000 people that make up the Preševo Valley region, wedged in the extreme south of Serbia between Kosovo and Macedonia.  Ethnic Albanians make up only one-half of 1% of Serbia’s over 7 million people.  Musliu, who in addition to his municipal role also heads the Party for Democratic Prosperity (P.D.P.), an ethnic-Albanian political party which operates in both Serbia and Macedonia, referred also to a 1992 referendum in which Preševars opted for joining Kosovo.  In those days, Musliu headed something called the Liberation Army of Preševo, Medveđa, and Bujanovac (Ushtria Çlirimtare e Preshevës, Medvegjës dhe Bujanocit, or U.Ç.P.M.B.), which aimed for three municipalities to secede from what was then the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (i.e., Serbia–Montenegro).  Medveđa is a much smaller Serbian municipality to the north, along the Kosovo border.

Serbian mayor, Albanian flag: Jonuz Musliu would like to redraw some borders.
The rebuke from Serbia’s cabinet minister in charge of Kosovar matters, Aleksandar Vulin, came swiftly.  Vulin called Musliu’s statements a “threat to the territorial integrity of Serbia” and “urged the international community to loudly and publicly condemn such statements and show that it is against such attitudes,” adding, “When it comes to the latest threats to the territorial integrity and wholeness of the Republic of Serbia, this time arriving from Musliu, I wish to warn that any such statement is very dangerous and could have devastating consequences in the whole territory of Serbia.”

Serbia’s minister for Kosovo affairs Aleksandar Vulin,
portrayed here by the actor Steve Buscemi, reacted angrily to Musliu’s declaration
It is unclear what kind of game Musliu is playing.  Perhaps he is engaging in political theater, voicing support for a politically impossible proposal as a way of pointing up the absurdity of the equivalency between Crimea and Kosovo made by Serbian and Russian nationalists.  Or perhaps this represents a very real Albanian nationalist shift toward making future dreams of “Greater Albania” a crisis on the ground in today’s Balkans.

A very expansive view of a Greater Albania,
based on historical borders, not current ethnic ones.
Either way, Musliu’s comments will cheer ultranationalists among the ethnic Albanians who make up about 5% of Montenegro’s population, and fully a quarter of Macedonia’s.  (In addition, there are about half a million Albanian citizens living in Greece as immigrants, dwarfing the minuscule Albanian-speaking population in the border regions.)  And they will cause pan-Slavic nationalists among the Serbian population—including the fiercely autonomist Serbs of North Kosovo—to dig in their heels.

Another rendering, this time by district/province.
Already, the idea is catching on elsewhere in the Balkans.  In Bosnia and Herzegovina—which in 1995, after a bloody war of secession from Yugoslavia, was separated into two halves—the ethnically Serb half is talking about splitting into two independent states.  Milorad Dodik, president of the Republika Srpska, said on March 18th, fresh from a meeting with Russia’s ambassador to Bosnia, “Bring back to Republika Srpska the powers that it had under the Dayton agreement and it will not leave Bosnia.  If you do not bring the powers back, our conviction that we have to move on will get stronger.”  The Serb half (the other half is composed of Croats and Muslim Bosniaks) has gradually ceded many more powers to the federal government in Sarajevo since 1995.  The original Serb goal, during the Bosnian War, had been to attach that half to the Serb-dominated remainder of Yugoslavia, and Serbia–Republika Srpska reunification is a dream that many Serb nationalists have never abandoned.  The parallels with the Soviet break-up are multitudinous.

Bosnia’s internal partition today.  The “Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina” half
is sometimes called the Muslim–Croat Federation.
By claiming that the Russian government has the right to intervene militarily to protect ethnic Russians anywhere, he has opened Pandora’s Box.  Now every ethnonational group with an ultranationalist streak will be dreaming of a “Greater Such-and-Such” spilling over its neighbors’ borders.  Just watch.

Kosovar and Albanian flags are both common sights in Priština.
(In other Kosovo news, the Greek government announced this week that it was prepared to grant diplomatic recognition to Kosovo, and Slovakia and Romania are apparently to follow suit.  This leaves only Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia itself as the only immediate neighbors still opposing Kosovo’s independence.  This will leave Spain and the Republic of Cyprus as the only two of the 28 E.U. members with no diplomatic ties to Kosovo.  Spain is fearful to set an example for separatists in Catalonia and the Basque Country, while Albania’s interests in Kosovo are a bit too much like Turkey’s in the puppet state of Northern Cyprus for Cyprus’s comfort.  On the whole, the Crimea crisis has been good for Kosovar recognition.  Greece, Slovakia, and Romania are surely feeling now that E.U. unity in the face of aggression is now more important than fretting about needlessly antagonizing Serbia, which had been at the source of their waffling on the Kosovo issue over the years.)

[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  (That is shorter than the previous working title.)  The book, which contains dozens of maps and over 500 flags, will be on shelves and available on Amazon in February 2015.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]


  1. Albanians never had more teritories in their state than they have now in entire history.
    Great Albania is project of facistic Italia in WW2,that they still want to acomplish.
    If world dont recognize this treath,things will be ugly soon.

  2. Albania is the only country in Europe surrounded by itself


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