This article has been written for Albanian Free Press newspaper and www.albanianfreepress.al
By Plator Nesturi
The recent hours have been so tense. Hours filled with movements of cruisers and airplane carriers, with threats of rockets and bombardments, and the term conflict may go much further than the eastern corner of the Mediterranean. In Albania, we have filled the day with news of the permanent conflicts between political sides, while news from the world and the region are not that many and when they come, they are muffled by the hoopla that we have here. Meanwhile, there are more important things going on. The movement of the American, French and British troops toward the Syrian coasts and the declaration that there will soon be a response against the use of chemical weapons, has put everything on a state of alert. A counter response from Russia and Iran to protect Assad makes the situation reach a point of explosion. While everyone thought that the meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Rouhani in Istanbul could serve as a starting point toward establishing peace in Syria, the events have escalated in a different way and the biggest players of the West have emerged on the stage.
As if this was not enough, clashes between Turkey and Greece are going further than the usual tensions between these two countries. The media talks about military scenarios. The region will not be the same and everything is happening so close to us. And in both cases it will affect us.
We’re very close to the hot zones, but we have not yet come out with an official stance on these issues through our foreign ministry. In the case of the engagement of the US, Great Britain and France in Syria, our stance may be implied, because being a member of NATO, we all know which side we’re on. But, when it comes to the tensions between Turkey and Greece, both of which are NATO member countries, both of them considered by our government as strategic partners, both of them neighbors, what will be Albania’s stance in this case? Do we support Erdogan or Greece and the EU? Europe’s borders start where Greece’s borders with its islands start. But our institutions have not issued any reaction. Of course, the events are being followed attentively, but we cannot go on like this forever.So, how will we align ourselves?
Everything that is happening will have an influence on our region. Being so close to the hot zone, the flames in the Balkans wouldn’t need too much to be kindled. What’s more, different players will attempt to exploit ethnic conflicts in the region. This was announced some while ago by The Economist. Mentioning the existence of a pact between Vucic, Rama and Thaci on the possibility of exchanging territories between Serbia and Kosovo, in its analysis, the British newspaper says that this would have a domino effect on the entire Balkans, where the issue of borders is a real mess. According to the newspaper, this would open “the gates of hell”. In fact, the situation between the countries of the region is always brittle, especially with the new states created after the dissolution of former Yugoslavia. Each state has enclaves of other ethnic groups and for 100 years, this situation has served as enriched oxygen for every nationalist’s mind or leaders who take advantage of ethnic feelings to gain as much power as possible or to preserve the leadership’s status quo.
So far, besides the fiery rhetoric and a situation which is on the brink of conflict, the Balkans has not seen any changes of borders. The only case is in which they have changed was when former Yugoslavia was dissolved through the military conflict that accompanied it. But even in this case, the borders of the new states were decided based on the borders of the federal republics that comprised it. What happened in these 100 years was not a change of borders, but an exchange of populations. Based on the exchange of populations between Turkey and Greece, this tradition further continued with the Muslim populations in former Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, during the civil war in former Yugoslavia, this situation precipitated even further with the horrors and gruesome things that accompanied the ethnic cleansing. Thousands and thousands of people were killed and slaughtered just because they belonged to another ethnic group and some hundreds of thousands were forced to leave their homes, leaving behind destruction and hate. This situation emerged in a horrific form at the end of last century in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo.
However, all other states, old and new in the Balkans have all kinds of minorities and in this mosaic of ethnic groups, so many conflicts may emerge that could jeopardize relations between the different states and disrupt balance in the region. Therefore, the EU and the West have always paid close attention to every issued declaration or statement which could threaten to set fire to the Balkans. Meanwhile, as part of the conditions that were imposed on Balkan countries regarding their path of integration, the European Union has insisted that countries lower their nationalist tones and to be engaged in preserving stability in the region. What’s more, one of the obligations where the Balkan states have proven to be lagging behind in terms of the consolidation of the state and the democratic functioning of their institutions, which is an instrument that the EU uses to ease tensions within countries or between the countries, is the obligation to protect human rights and the rights of the minorities.
Seen from this point of view, with this many ethnic groups within the territories of each state, regardless of how they get along, the Balkan countries are like the Siamese brothers; every infection that one of them gets, is passed on to the other. Every agreement between two countries, resonates on a third country too. The proof for this was the statement issued by PM Rama for a joint president between Albania and Kosovo, which sparked reactions in Belgrade. The same also happened when former Prime Minister Berisha declared on the 100th anniversary of the declaration of independence that he was ready to issue an Albanian passport for every Albanian in the region.
Despite the reasons that encourage leaders to issue these statements, everyone is clear about the fact that they are mere words which are not supported by the big ones of this world. Nevertheless, they manage to shake the seismic territory of the Balkans. This rising temperature in the region doesn’t interest anyone. But this does not mean that we should not pay attention to these developments which seem to be escalating rapidly. In case a conflict breaks out close to us, nothing will be the same in the region. Calm will need time to be restored. At least, we should try to act as responsibly as possible.
Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Albanian Free Press’ editorial policy