Kosovo Albanians And The Solidarity Of Their Ethnic Brethren

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Subject: Kosovo Albanians And The Solidarity Of Their Ethnic Brethren

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Kosovo Albanians And The Solidarity Of Their Ethnic Brethren

Kosovo Albanians And The Solidarity Of Their Ethnic Brethren
Maria Koinova
Institute on Southeastern Europe, Central European University
(30/4/1998, AIM Athens)
The escalation of the conflict in Yugoslavia does not seem to trigger
the same level of solidarity by Albanians in the "mother-state" as by
those, living in Macedonia. In the March demonstrations of Albanians
in Tetovo, Skopje and Tirana protesting against the killings in
Kosovo, the media reported that the demonstrators were "tens of
thousands" in the two Macedonian cities but only "thousands" in
Tirana. This low level of support from Albanians in Albania is
unexpected, if one merely compares population numbers. In Albania,
Albanians are 80% out of 3.4 million, while in Macedonia they are only
23% out of a total population of 1,93 million. Thus, a deeper look is
needed to understand the different level of solidarity.
Oppressed minorities
Albanians of Macedonia are potentially more supportive, since first
and foremost they "share" with Kosovars a similar bad fate as a
oppressed minority. On the other hand, Albanians of Albania, though
faced with many economic problems, sometimes mores evere than those of
the two former Yugoslavia regions, they have been and are nowadays the
sole rulers of their country.

>From 1974 until the collapse of communism in former Yugoslavia, the
two Albanian minorities enjoyed better constitutional status than they
do today. The 1974 constitution gave full autonomy to the Kosovo
Albanians, but the Serb government curtailed it in 1989. In a similar
way, Albanians of Macedonia were mentioned as constituent nationality
along with the Turks in the 1974 constitution, but they were no longer
mentioned as such in the new 1991 Macedonian constitution. Macedonia
is now a nation state of the Macedonian people, and the constitutions
only mentions Albanians as a minority. The struggle for a renewed
recognition as a constituent nation creates great tensions in
Macedonia. In 1997, the conflict was exacerbated when Macedonian
authorities ordered that the Albanian flag be removed from the
building of the Gostivar municipality. Protests and clashes with the
police followed, and three people lost their lives. In addition to
that, Gostivar’s mayor Rufi Osmani was eventually sentenced to 7 years

Albanians of Macedonia see another similarity to their own situation
with the Kosovars as far as the university education is concerned. In
Tito’s Yugoslavia, the two Albanian minorities were able to attend
mother-tongue courses at the University in Pristina. Nowadays they
lack this opportunity. Albanians of Macedonia may officially  study
only in Macedonian, and Kosovars in Serbian. An attempt to create
Albanian-language university in Tetovo in Macedonia was to a great
extend unsuccessful. It was ill-born, since even by its inauguration
in 1994 it faced violent resistance from the authorities. Today, the
university exists to a great extent undisturbed, but it is
unrecognized and, as a result of this, creates frustration among
students and makes them defensive nationalists.
On their part, Kosovo Albanians also lost opportunities to their
education in Pristina. According to the 1996 educational agreement
between Rugova and Milosevic, the university is supposed to be
reopened for Albanian students. However, that agreement is yet to be

Although relations between the Albanian minorities and the Slavic
majorities remains tense in both cases, Albanians of Macedonia face a
relatively better treatment. They have their political parties, the
Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) and the Party for Democratic
Prosperity (PDP). They are represented both in central and local
governments. Their right to state education in their mother tongue up
to university level has been recognized. Unlike them, Albanians of
Kosovo enjoy no such fundamental rights. Rugova’s party is not
represented in the state structures. Furthermore, his shadow-state,
and not the official state, cares for the Albanian-language education
of his compatriots. After the abolition of the autonomy in 1989, the
government curtailed Albanian-language education and made Serbian
compulsory for everybody in Kosovo. Albanians boycotted this decision
and took part in the parallel education activities of the shadow
state. In 1996 Rugova ended the boycott after signing the agreement
with Milosevic.

Historical and cultural experiences
There is no doubt that all Albanians belong to one and the same
nation, therefore they are expected to show solidarity with Kosovars
in the common crisis. However, the strong historical divisions -
starting almost from the outset of their nation-building in the late
19th century - are a next reason for the differences of the current
attitude of Albanians of Albania and those of Macedonia. Albanians
lived under a single state only in World War II under Italian and
German occupation; in other times they were divided. Even during the
Cold War, when they belonged to the socialist camp, Yugoslavia’s Tito
and Albania’s Enver Hodxha had tense relations, because of different
models of socialism. Yugoslavia was the socialist country most open to
the West, while Albania lived isolated from all countries, even from
those of the Eastern block. This isolation made many Albanians of
Albania lose connections with their relatives abroad.

Albanians of Kosovo and Macedonia have more intimate relations with
each other also because of the development of some personal ties.
Since 1990, many Albanians emigrating from Kosovo, settled in
Macedonia rather than going to Albania. Those who did the last were
strongly disappointed, because they were not received well in a
country with more economic problems than Macedonia. Nevertheless, some
of those who remained in Albania oppose nowadays the moderate policies
of the current Albanian government towards the Kosovo crisis. Recent
emigrants are more inclined to show support for their ethnic brethren
than people who are not bound by common experiences.

Political ties
The supposedly existing ties of political parties of Albanians of
Macedonia and Kosovo might also be a link for strong solidarity. Many
of their elites were educated at the University of Pristina. The
attitude of politicians of Albania towards the Kosovars has two faces.
The previous government of Sali Berisha’s Democratic Party was more
nationalist and more supportive than the current Socialist government
of Fatos Nano. Prior to the 1997 general elections which changed the
political currents in Albania, Tirana backed Rugova’s insistence of
total independence without, however, voicing that openly or even
recognizing his shadow-state. Currently, Nano’s government seems to
use a relatively conciliatory tone with Belgrade. This became visible
during a summit of heads of governments and states of Southeastern
Europe in Crete in 1997. Both countries’ officials have not met at
such a high level for decades.

Solidarity for Kosovars is expressed in Albania much more cautiously
than in Macedonia, because any active involvement of Albania in the
Kosovo problem goes beyond the dimension of protesting killings and
the defense of human rights, touching upon the issue of Albanian unity
that may be interpreted as irredentism. However, until now there are
no real signs of irredentist dreams. Albania is overburdened with its
own economic and social problems and relies too much for its economic
recovery on the West which would be opposed that idea.

In conclusion, from the number of ethnic Albanian demonstrators in
Albania and Macedonia protesting in early March 1998 Serbian police
violence and killings in Kosovo, one can find different extent of
solidarity with Kosovars. Macedonia’s Albanians are more inclined to
support them because both groups are oppressed minorities today and
share a common historical past. In communist Yugoslavia, both groups
enjoyed better constitutional status, educational and other rights
than they do today. Macedonian Albanians are more supportive also due
to the political ties between their ethnic party and the Kosovo shadow
state, as well as due to personal ties between emigrants who recently
escaped from Kosovo and settled down in Macedonia.

On the other hand, we see Albanians of Albania who, despite their many
economic hardships, enjoy self-rule. While both previously discussed
ethnic groups were not isolated from each other during the Cold War,
Albania was isolated from them, what explains part of the Albanians’
reluctance to be very intimate with Kosovo’s problems. Moreover, these
very hardships make many Albanians frustrated with the weight Kosovo
has in their country’s media and politics at the expense of efforts to
help solve their own problems. Albania’s state support for the Kosovo
shadow state is lukewarm at least on the surface, since a full-hearted
support would mean a support of Albania for internationalization of
the conflict.

Greek Helsinki Monitor &
Minority Rights Group - Greece
P.O. Box 51393
GR-14510 Kifisia
Tel. +30-1-620.01.20
Fax +30-1-807.57.67
e-mail: office@greekhelsinki.gr

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