Have the relations between Kosovo and Albania deteriorated, and if so, why?

Rama i Kurti
Source: Gazeta Express

Relations between Kosovo and Albania "have never been this bad", "they are the worst in recent decades", and "the lack of communication between Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Prime Minister Edi Rama is harming Kosovo". These are just some of the observations made by Kosovo politicians and analysts in recent weeks, mostly blaming the Kosovo Prime Minister for the disturbances in the Pristina-Tirana relationship.

Even if some of these claims are exaggerated, the celebration of Albanian Independence Day, or the Day of the Albanian Flag, on November 28, showed that the relations between Kosovo and Albania are not as they were in previous years. While in 2021 they held a joint session of governments and in 2022 a joint session of the two parliaments, this November lacked such joint activities. Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti attended the ceremony in Vlora, where he was seen shaking hands with Edi Rama, but not much more, while Vjosa Osmani that evening attended a reception hosted by Albanian President Bajram Begaj.

On the occasion of the 110th anniversary of the declaration of independence of Albania, during his visit to Tirana last year, Kurti called for the strengthening of cooperation between Albania and Kosovo and expressed the wish that the two governments meet not only on holidays but also work together more frequently and accept mutual criticism. In the period of 12 months, almost everything has happened to the contrary. The joint session of the two governments scheduled for June 2023 in Gjakova was canceled at Rama's initiative, and the criticisms that Rama directed at the Government in Pristina in the previous period were not received as constructive and welcome.

An analyst from Tirana, Mentor Nazarko, says for Kosovo Online that there has been a cooling in the relationship between the Prime Ministers of Kosovo and Albania, Albin Kurti and Edi Rama, but that this does not reflect on the level of cooperation between the two governments or the collaboration between ministries. He believes that the main reason for this attitude between the two heads of government is the way Kosovo and Albania currently view their relationship with the West. He also assesses that this distancing can have a positive aspect.

"The West is, in one way or another, a mediator in the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia but also the main support for the Albanians, i.e., Albania and Kosovo in their aspirations for European integration and guardians of their sovereignty, especially in the case of Kosovo. Viewed in this context, Albania is more cooperative, and more open to accepting the advice and recommendations of the West, while the current leadership of Kosovo does not have the same approach. In my opinion, this is the main cause of this 'coldness' between the two prime ministers", Nazarko stated.

According to him, Albania is seeking Kosovo to be more cooperative with the West.

"In this sense, when Kurti was cooperative at the last meeting with the three heads of state of the European Union, accepting the draft of the Statute of the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities, including the Ohrid and Brussels Agreements, Rama applauded him. On the other hand, the distancing between the two countries can also have a positive aspect because it can be interpreted that they are not acting according to the 'Greater Albania' scenario or something similar", Nazarko assesses.

The opinion of the political commentator from Pristina, Fadil Lepaja, is that there are no functional problems in the relationship between Kosovo and Albania, but differences exist in how Tirana sees the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

"There are no functional problems in the relationship between Kosovo and Albania, and there are no major differences in their policies regarding their mutual relations. Albania has recognized Kosovo, but differences exist in how Albanian politics sees the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Albanian politics in that regard wants to mediate more or less. The relationship between Rama, Vucic, and Thaci was known, and they even discussed territory exchange; however, it is known that the European community and the current Western policy actually do not want that, do not want to play with borders anymore", Lepaja says for Kosovo Online.

He claims that Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti has set new foundations on which the normalization of relations should be built, while earlier discussions revolved around completely different frameworks.

"Simply put, Mr. Vucic and Mr. Rama were somehow trying to avoid the factual reality that Kosovo is a state and that no normalization can be achieved without recognizing or accepting it as a reality", Lepaja says.

He also emphasizes that although Albania does not agree on everything with Kosovo, it certainly does not work against it.

"Albania is oriented towards Europe, is a member of NATO, and has a pro-Western orientation, and that is the border that no politician in Albania will cross. On the other hand, Mr. Vucic and Serbian politics need to decide where and how they will go, whether towards the West or the East, whether with NATO or against NATO. The choice is not for the Albanians, neither in Kosovo nor in Albania; simply, if Serbia turns towards Europe and the West, I believe that we in Kosovo will have almost no problems with Serbia. The Balkans will be Europe without borders, and it will not be known where that border used to be", Lepaja assesses.

The President of the Albanian National Council in Serbia, Demo Berisha, says for Kosovo Online that due to the cooling of relations between Tirana and Pristina, the citizens of Kosovo suffer the most. He also does not expect the relationship between Albin Kurti and Edi Rama to ever improve because, as he emphasizes, Kurti does not recognize the authority of Tirana and wants to be the leader of all Albanians, not just in the Western Balkans.

"The fight between Kurti and Rama has never stopped. I think that Kurti and Rama will never establish normal relations. Kosovo Albanians will never understand or accept that Albania is an older country. Based on the false patriotism that was created after the war in Kosovo, they believe that they deserve to be the leading country, not Albania", Berisha says.

He adds that tensions persist even after Kurti's protocol visit to Albania on the occasion of the Independence Day of Albania on November 28.

"They are now seeking the creation of an Albanian Macedonia. These criteria are growing every day. The problematic aspect is also the attitude of the European Union, which sees what is happening and takes no action against Kurti, all in pursuit of their idea of Kosovo's independence. It is well known that the Quint countries are crucial in influencing Kosovo; they are the ones supporting Kurti secretly but also publicly. The Albanians in Kosovo, therefore, believe that they deserve to be in charge. On the other hand, Rama has shown a different approach to all of this, and he is more oriented towards European Union politics. However, Rama's influence on Kurti is very small. Americans, on the other hand, exert pressure through President Vjosa Osmani, and she is the one who will control the political situation, including Kurti himself until the end of his mandate. When pressed on the key issue in the relationship between Pristina and Belgrade, which is the formation of the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities, he will then resign, leading to new elections in Kosovo. There is no other option for him to stay in power", Berisha believes.

Our interlocutor emphasizes that due to the cooling of relations between Tirana and Pristina, the citizens of Kosovo suffer the most.

"At this moment, we have two groups. We have Albanians as the majority population living in Kosovo, and they are focused on economic issues and what makes everyday life easier since there is currently no economic prosperity in Kosovo. We will see what happens after New Year. It is well known that 33 percent of employed people say that after visa liberalization, they will head to Europe. On the other hand, there is the civic initiative - this refers to the Serbs; they are the ones who will suffer the most. This constant pressure was felt in Zvecan during the celebration of the Independence Day of Albania. There was no need to move that celebration from Pristina to Zvecan. It is a form of soft pressure on the Serbs to make them understand that Kosovo is no longer a place of coexistence for them", Berisha says.

Although, on one hand, he believes that the relations between Kurti and Rama are generally poor, the President of the Albanian National Council in Serbia also sees some positive developments in the relations between Pristina and Tirana in recent weeks.

"This month it was evident that relations were moving in a positive direction. There were many events primarily related to the celebration of the 111th anniversary of Albania's independence. Some events were joint, including Vjosa Osmani's presence at the Third Summit of the Albanian Diaspora, where all Albanians from around the world gathered at the invitation of Edi Rama. There were also political representatives of the Albanians from Serbia, from the municipalities of Presevo, Bujanovac, and others. There were also ceremonies organized by Rama and President Begaj, and this indicates that relations are reaching a different level than in the previous period", Berisha believes.

As he adds, it is evident that efforts are being made to create a joint state.

"Considering that 79 agreements on mutual cooperation have been signed between Kosovo and Albania so far, this indicates the fact that analysts from Pristina predict - that the future is actually in a joint state. Given the security problem of Kosovo at the moment and, as they say, the danger from the Republic of Serbia, they are moving towards proposing the formation of joint security forces, i.e., the unification of the Kosovo Security Service with the Albanian Army. These relations are heading towards achieving the goal, even though there is a certain ban by Germany, especially when Angela Merkel was in power. She insisted that two independent states be created completely, with nothing in common, but that does not prevent them from cooperating. At this moment, it is evident that they are moving towards that goal", Berisha concluded.