The Idea of Greater Albania

Western Balkans. Albania. The population is 3 million and entirely homogenous. With its 2 million people, Kosovo is almost homogeneous, and North Macedonia, with a population of 2 million, 25–33 % of whom are Albanian, is heterogeneous. And the idea of Greater Albania is once again a hot topic in the region. But what are the chances for unification? Is there a possibility of a Greater Albanian state in today’s world? Analysis.

Albanian and Kosovo Flags (photo: tiranaobservatory.com)
Albanian population in the Western Balkans (photo: populationdata.net)

2. Whitout Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although many experts anticipate that Bosnia and Herzegovina would likely get involved in establishing a Greater Albania, I am not one of those people. It is about the Albanian nation-state, not a Muslim state. One of the main reasons for this is the whole idea of Greater Albania, which is rooted in creating a nation-state of Albania, not a Muslim state. Bosnian Muslims are Slavs converted to the Muslim faith.

3. Role of Monetengro. Many experts believe that Montenegro would support the birth of a Greater Albania because many Albanians live in Southern Montenegro (mostly in Ulcinj and its surroundings). Yes, I know the phrase „Never say never,” but it will not happen. Montenegrin Albanians living in such proximity to the Kosovo-Albanian border could likely cause a domino effect and some problems in the country, but the chances of area loss are zero. Furthermore, Montenegro is a NATO state with a low nationwide proportion of Albanians at only 5%.

4. Carefully changing rhetoric from Tirana. The independent Albania, which has existed for more than a hundred years during Kosovo’s independence, thanks to its democratic and Euro-Atlantic commitment, could not officially support the unification of Albanian-majority territories because it threatens the territorial integrity of other states. This policy, this rhetoric has carefully but visibly changed for now. We can check the statements of the Albanian PM in the last several years. In the longer term, we cannot rule out entirely that Tirana will stand behind the aspiration to create a Greater Albania in a more favorable historical moment.

5. Continuous convergence between Pristina and Tirana. We can observe a continuous convergence between Kosovo and Albania, and there are many examples from recent years to support that. For instance, in 2017, then Prime Minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, declared the Independence Day of neighboring Albania (November 28) a national holiday of Kosovo.[3] In addition, the process of removing borders dividing the two countries — which would allegedly facilitate the movement of people and goods — is constantly on the agenda. The Lëvizja Vetëvendosje (Self-determination Movement) party is the primary flag bearer of the Greater Albanian issue in Kosovo. It has repeatedly voiced its ambition to hold a referendum on reunification. However, the Kosovo constitution does not allow to hold a referendum for reunification with another country. But, there is no doubt that such constitutional provisions can only temporarily impede the exercise of the will of two countries because to change this, “only” parliamentary authority is required.

A Greater Albania supporter. (photo: balkaneu.com)

6. North Macedonia as a future big opponent. North Macedonia has faced many challenges in recent years and still does. The Greek — Macedonian name dispute, domestic political crisis, historical — language dispute with Bulgaria. Although the current Prime Minister, Zoran Zaev, does not oppose the abolition of borders between Western Balkan states. One of his reasons is its positive trade effects.[4] Creating a united Albanian state would mean the disintegration of territories for North Macedonia, which would undoubtedly lead to civil war in the country. In North Macedonia, the Albanian parties, albeit in a coalition, came to power. We can also see that their ethnic representation is strengthening, and their requests are becoming more and more prominent in politics. For all these reasons, I think it is conceivable that at some point, they would try to join the emergence of a single Albanian state by dividing the Albanian-majority North Macedonian territories. Still, the local Slav population and political elite, who will likely be the majority in the next few decades, will not contribute.

7. Lack of support from the international community. It is almost impossible to extort any support from the international community to create a united Albanian state. Russia? China? No way. The EU is like a lame duck, too slow, too bureaucratic, and too focused on events taking place in other countries. Neither North Macedonia nor Montenegro can go into the dismemberment of their young state for the sake of Greater Albania. Possible border changes would destabilize the region to such an extent that war would be inevitable. And that is common knowledge in Washington. If, on the other hand, only Kosovo and Albania were to be united, leaving out the North Macedonian and Montenegrin Albanians, it would cause severe frustration outside of Albania.

8. The Serbian Lobby. The Serbian international lobby against Kosovo is a factor that we can by no means underestimate. In recent years, we have seen many examples of Belgrade successfully lobbying countries or international organizations about Kosovo’s sovereignty. However, if the Albanian unification process moves ahead, Serbia will further its lobbying activity against it.

Conclusion.

The idea of Greater Albania is a highly complex issue. In my brief analysis, I have highlighted some influencing factors, but of course, the list could go on. Briefly, today, the emergence of a Greater Albania is only an Albanian pipedream. Because its destabilizing factor for the region is so decisive, there is no great power to support it. And without it. Kosovo’s independence is a sui generis. If it were not, there would be many other issues like the issue of the Republika Srpska, where more than 1 million Serbs live outside the bordering motherland.[5] I think we all get that. However, today, Albanian unification is typically a topic that is only suitable for temporary domestic political outcomes: votes. Today!

What will happen in 5, 10, or 50 years? That is a different story.

References:

[1] Noel Malcolm, Kosovo: A Short History, p. 226.
[2] Győri Szabó Róbert: Kisebbség, Autonómia, Regionalizmus, p. 305.
[3] Kosovo sets Albania’s Nov. 28 independence day as a holiday, AP News, November 23, 2017,
https://apnews.com/article/0c62701e8a574e0f8e6dd11820862da9
[4] Three countries agree mini Schengen in the Balkans, Julija Simic, Euractiv, October 14, 2018,
https://www.euractiv.com/section/enlargement/news/three-countries-agree-mini-schengen-in-the-balkans/
[5]
Republic of Srpska, Institute of Statistics, https://www.rzs.rs.ba/

international relations analyst