The bogeyman of national unification

Originally appeared in Kosovo 2.0. Available in English, Albanian, and Serbian here

In this recent bit of weirdness from Euractiv, commentator Dusan Reljic calls for the EU to act “urgently” in order to prevent the rise of nationalism in Albania. Why? Because former Prime Minister Sali Berisha made references to a united nation of Albanians while attending the Munich Security Conference on the 100th anniversary of Albania’s independence. This, in turn, caused an ostensible “wave of nationalism” — even a “nationalistic delirium.” Sali Berisha’s Democratic Party lost heavily in the last round of elections despite Berisha’s patriotic phrasing, but Edi Rama’s winning Socialist Party has not given up on unification. And it’s this brand of Albanian nationalism that could lead to chaos in the Balkans.

Wait, though — hold on a minute. Have you talked to any Albanians recently? I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that if only 55% of Albanians want unification with Kosovo, then we’re not exactly dealing with a “wave of nationalism”. Nationalism is the last of Albania’s problems, and in a sense they are too busy dealing with themselves to worry about Kosovo. National unification was not a party platform for the Democrats (despite Berisha’s pandering remarks) or the Socialists, and to suggest that it is is misleading. Late last year, Edi Rama was heavily criticized for stating the following:

“National unification cannot be achieved through the old methods of destructive rancor. There is no room for phantoms of the turbofolk nationalism in our region. Let’s achieve national unification through the new road of Europe. Albanians are free today because of American support and European understanding. We cannot encroach upon this with the devastating old politics.”

Sounds exactly like this… right?

And what about the other side of the border, among the supposedly wildly nationalistic Kosovars? If 70% of Kosovars actually do want unification with Albania, is that intrinsically bad? Wouldn’t that a kind of union, entered willingly by the majority of the population, be better than the “union” that Kosovo had with, say, Yugoslavia? Kosovars are definitely more nationalistic than their Albanian counterparts — but maybe they have their reasons. It’s true that political parties such as Vetevendosje maintain national unification as part of their party platform, but until they are in government and the idea finds equal traction in Albania, it remains far from becoming a reality.

Perhaps a more important question to ask is one about how minorities are treated in Albania and Kosovo, and if either country is host to the sort of virulent nationalism that enters into hate crime territory. In both Kosovo and Albania, the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities are strongly discriminated against, and suffer from social, economic and political exclusion. In Kosovo, Serbian and Albanian communities continue to live in isolation, and the government is not doing enough to push for inter-ethnic dialogue and greater national integration (although the new autonomous Association of Serb Municipalities could help). Albania also has work to do in terms of correctly estimating the size and scope of its own minority communities, as well as toward providing avenues for their political inclusion. Hate crimes still occur, such as the defacement of Serbian graves in Kllokot earlier this year. Though the crime was condemned by Prime Minister Thaci, and the municipality paid for the graves’ reparation, the government is still not doing enough to address the greater issue of societal exclusion. Not enough, for instance, is done in either country to encourage the learning of minority languages.

This is where we stand, no better or worse than other countries in the Balkans — including Serbia. The bogeyman of nationalism and national unification does not apply here. The problem is much more depressing and mundane: it’s prejudice and racism. And that’s not something the EU can fix.

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