EU Visas and the Western Balkans
EU Visas and the Western Balkans
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Pan-Albanianism: How Big a Threat to Balkan Stability?
Pan-Albanianism: How Big a Threat to Balkan Stability?
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 168 / Europe & Central Asia

EU Visas and the Western Balkans

The EU’s present visa regime with the countries of the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia-Montenegro including Kosovo) is fostering resentment, inhibiting progress on trade, business, education and more open civil societies, and as a result contributing negatively to regional stability.

Executive Summary

The EU’s present visa regime with the countries of the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia-Montenegro including Kosovo) is fostering resentment, inhibiting progress on trade, business, education and more open civil societies, and as a result contributing negatively to regional stability. Full visa liberalisation for all will probably have to wait until the Balkan states are much closer to EU membership. But selective liberalisation for certain identified groups, and visa facilitation for all applicants – involving a simplified, speedier, less painful process – would go a long way toward showing governments and citizens alike that reforms do pay off.

Immigration in general is a serious concern within the EU, as demonstrated by the widespread growth in support for far right and xenophobic political parties. The German visas scandal which broke early in 2005 and the riots in French cities in recent weeks have not made things easier. But the EU committed itself to a more liberal visa regime for the Western Balkan countries at the Thessaloniki summit in 2003, and it is not implementing that commitment, even though it has started negotiations on visa facilitation with Russia, Ukraine and China. This sends an unfortunate message about its priorities. Internal security dominates thinking to the detriment of practical policy, with future member states’ citizens being marginalised by inflexible visa restrictions, in the short term compromising their freedom to travel and in the longer term exacerbating regional insecurity.

The present visa barriers are a source of deep resentment to honest travellers, undermine the credibility of the states of the region (as their citizens seek passports – legally or not – from more favoured jurisdictions), and function less as an obstacle than an opportunity for organised crime and corruption in the EU and the region. The present system restricts mainly those who should be allowed to benefit from the EU’s proximity, with the majority being made to pay for a criminal minority. The efforts of the governments in the region to reform are still on shaky ground because their citizens have seen few tangible rewards. It is time to offer some.

Belgrade/Pristina/Sarajevo/Skopje/Brussels, 29 November 2005

Report 153 / Europe & Central Asia

Pan-Albanianism: How Big a Threat to Balkan Stability?

Pan-Albanianism is seen by many observers as a serious threat to Balkan stability. A century of shifting borders has left ethnic Albanians scattered across Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Greece. The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the National Liberation Army (NLA) in Macedonia, and other groups have all waged campaigns of violence in support of enhanced rights for ethnic Albanians. Where is the ceiling to their ambitions?

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Executive Summary

Pan-Albanianism is seen by many observers as a serious threat to Balkan stability. A century of shifting borders has left ethnic Albanians scattered across Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Greece. The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the National Liberation Army (NLA) in Macedonia, and other groups have all waged campaigns of violence in support of enhanced rights for ethnic Albanians. Where is the ceiling to their ambitions?

ICG’s research suggests that notions of pan-Albanianism are far more layered and complex than the usual broad brush characterisations of ethnic Albanians simply bent on achieving a greater Albania or a greater Kosovo. It is instructive that both the KLA and NLA started to gain popular support in Kosovo and Macedonia respectively at precisely the time when they moved away from their initial pan-Albanian nationalist goals and concentrated on more rights for their own people. The “Albanian National Army” (ANA) which overtly advocated a “Greater Albania” agenda, never managed to gain popular credibility. Violence in the cause of a greater Albania, or of any shift of borders, is neither politically popular nor morally justified.

In Albania since the arrival of multiparty politics, poverty and internal political conflict have eclipsed any aspirations towards expanding the state’s boundaries. Albania is more interested in developing cultural and economic ties with Kosovo, whilst maintaining separate statehood; and successive Albanian governments have opted for a strategic partnership with Macedonia as both aspire towards membership of NATO and the European Union.

There remains a risk of conflict in Kosovo, where the question of future status has not yet been resolved. The desire of the vast majority of Kosovo’s population for independence is supported by most Albanians elsewhere in the Balkans. However an independent Kosovo is quite a different matter from a Greater Albania. The international community’s problem is to manage the process of dealing with Kosovo’s final status without destabilising its neighbour.

In both Macedonia and the Presevo Valley of Southern Serbia, conflict was ended in 2001 by internationally brokered peace agreements, respectively the Ohrid Agreement and the Covic Plan. While there is dissatisfaction with the pace of implementation of these agreements, and with the delivery of promised reforms, this has not yet reached the point of crisis; the ANA’s attempts to capitalise on local discontents in Macedonia and Southern Serbia failed. Continued international attention will be necessary to ensure that all sides deliver on their promises. Montenegrin Albanians, on the other hand, have thus far resisted any form of paramilitary activity.

The large Kosovo Albanian diaspora communities living in the United States, Germany and Switzerland have played – and will continue to play – a key role in the current and future economic, social and political development of Kosovo, as well as dictating military events on the ground. They could easily open up new fronts if they wish to keep up the pressure on the numerous unresolved Albanian-related issues. For these reasons it would be advisable for the Albanian and Greek governments to try and settle the long-standing issue of the Chams displaced from Greece in 1945, before it gets hijacked and exploited by extreme nationalists, and the Chams’ legitimate grievances get lost in the struggle to further other national causes.

In the long term, Albanian nationalism will be tamed by full implementation of internationally-brokered agreements and respect for Albanians’ place in Macedonian, Serbian, and Montenegrin society, together with consistent pressure on Albanian extremists and politicians who appeal to them. The process will be assisted by European integration - as the borders open between Albania and its northern neighbours, and economic and educational opportunities increase across the region. Decentralising power in Macedonia, and giving Kosovo conditional independence in return for an assurance from all the Albanian entities in the Balkans that the present borders of south-eastern Europe will remain unchanged, would also help stabilise the situation.

Tirana/Brussels, 25 February 2004

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