By Ditmir Bushati*
Vjosa Osmani’s messages during her visit to Tirana, beyond the partisan interpretations and unacceptable epithets that were used against her, once again highlighted the dramatic need that Albanian society has for an epistemic regime: A marketplace of ideas where people collectively hammer out what is real. In democratic societies, this regime is a decentralized ecosystem of academics, clergy members, civil society, journalists, businessmen and others who disagree about a lot, bur agree on a shared system of rules for weighing evidence and building knowledge. A regime that is struggling with the age of “alternative truths” and the brutal race for more clicks.
In the absence of an epistemic regime, politics dictates to society a media agenda, even on issues of national interest, which does not allow a narrow group of ideas survive collective scrutiny, but focuses on the artillery of slander and contempt. Let’s take a look at some of the elements that should constitute the guiding principles of a healthy pan-Albanian debate.
Ioannis Kasoulidis, former Cypriot Foreign Minister and one of the elegant minds of European diplomacy, did not hesitate to admit in conversations that “for well-known historical reasons, the epicenter of Hellenism is Athens and not Nicosia”. This is self-evident for us Albanians as well. For Albania, Kosovo has been a major issue since the founding of the state in 1912, despite geopolitical circumstances, various forms of regime, governments that have served in Albania, and the evolution of the Kosovo statehood project.
It can be argued and debated in detail about the weight and influence of Albania in Kosovo, about the relations between politicians and political forces, but the irreplaceable role of Albania cannot be questioned. Moreover, Albania is the mother country of all Albanians in the region, not just those living in Kosovo. Thus, stakes on Albania are always high, as well as its responsibilities. A prerequisite for an effective policy is non involvement of Albania, or at least not being perceived as involved in the daily political debate in Kosovo.
The same maturity should be shown in terms of orientation and support that Albania provides for the strengthening of the Albanian political factor in North Macedonia, Montenegro and the Presevo Valley. Whenever unity was aimed and the common interest, results have not been lacking.
It sounds strange, but we must repeat to ourselves that the advancement of the positions of Albanians in the region goes in direct correlation with the construction of a strategic relationship between Albania and Kosovo, which should be capillary in every area of life.
Consequently, the building of good relations with other neighbors in the region is influenced by this axis and by the division of responsibilities and roles between Albania and Kosovo. For example, Albania cannot build direct relations with Serbia, overcoming Kosovo, as it does not know it well, nor can it see Serbia without the eyes of Kosovo. Equally, Kosovo is not familiar with the Mediterranean nor can it guarantee participation in regional initiatives without Albania.
Sensing this vital need, the political program of the Socialist Party, which was supported by the majority of the people in 2013, foresaw the mechanism for achieving this goal. In January 2014, in Prizren, just a few months after we swept into office, we signed the strategic partnership document. This document, along with the practice of joint meetings of the two governments (G2G) was criticized in Tirana and Pristina as unnecessary; while it was loudly opposed in Belgrade, Banja Luka and Moscow, as a threat to the region.
It should be said that the document was a product of a well-thought work of the state structures of Albania and Kosovo, in consultation with strategic partners, drafted in a careful language, fully in accordance with international commitments, without compromising any of the historical achievements of Albanians. One of them had to do with the inviolability of borders, in line with the commitments of the Helsinki Final Act.
The document defines Albania and Kosovo partnership as strategic for us, stabilizing for the region and orienting for its Euro-Atlantic future. If the spirit and coordination mechanism provided in the document based on four pillars would be respected:
(i) foreign and security policy;
(ii) justice and home affairs;
(iii) economy, energy, transport, tourism and environmental protection;
(iv) culture, education and science, today we would have a molecular cooperation with a significant impact on the citizens on both sides of Morina (main cross border point between Albania and Kosovo), which would at the same time precede the regional cooperation with the neighbors.
Today we would also have two more functional states and a forward looking debate about the role and contribution of Albanians in the XXI century, in this corner of Southeast Europe and not “imports of interests”. We must not forget that representation in politics is as vital as the pulse for man. Politics – and even more so the national interest – cannot be like the football market where football players can wear the Real Madrid jersey for a season and the Juventus jersey for another one. In politics, history and geography are insurmountable elements.
In case the topics that keep the media space alive, related to the partition of Kosovo, Mini-Schengen, the Special Court or relations with Serbia, would be addressed through the mechanism built by the strategic partnership document, while ensuring the broadest possible political and social understanding in Albania and Kosovo, these topics would produce more unity and less division. They would probably never be part of the political agenda, or dictated to the public through propaganda oligarchs. Unfortunately, these topics divide Albanians like never before.
The lack of an epistemic regime, coupled with the disregard of the above guiding principles, diverts us from strategic objectives, weakening the role of Albanians in the region. So let’s stop the path of self-destruction and focus on building a mutual trust that unleashes positive energy./ibna
*Ditmir Bushati is a former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Albania