When the Italian football team Juventus isn’t playing, Edi Rama dabbles in politics. When he is not threatening that he will resign as president if the draft law for the establishment of Kosovo’s army doesn’t pass, Kosovo’s president joins Rama’s rhetoric, who recently told Politico that Kosovo and Albania would create “a little union” if they are not accepted by the “big union,” the EU. According to Rama, Balkan people may “go crazy” and Europe will be confronted with a “nightmare” if hopes for membership are lost.
Does anybody take these threats seriously? If Balkan people really want to go crazy, no one will be able to stand in their way. They proved this in the ‘90s – during the former Yugoslavia’s disintegration into pools of blood, and in Albania with fraudulent financial pyramids, during which even Zani Caushi, a bandit from Vlora, became an important political factor. The price of that craziness is still being paid by today’s generations, young and old.
Edi Rama spent most of the ‘90s away from the Balkans as a wandering painter, and that is why the words “accept us or we Balkan people may go crazy” slip out of his mouth so easily. Really? This sounds like an anecdote about a Croat and a Serb. Seriously preoccupied with his nationalism, the Serb constantly tells the Croat: “I’m a Serb.” At some point, the Croat responds: “Who’s to blame?” EU diplomats and leaders of large Western countries can ask Rama and other Balkan populists: “Who is to blame if you yourselves have decided to go crazy?”
The situation becomes even more comical when Hashim Thaci joins the fray after Rama, using even bigger words: “If the EU does not accept us, all Albanians will live in one state.” When you have a lot of free time like Thaci does, when your initiatives consecutively fail, when you have not made any important official visits abroad, then all that is left to do is to comment on Rama’s statements. The threats issued by this political duo are unlikely to be taken seriously by someone in the West. The quality of these threats is similar to a lost rabbit’s demeanor that tries to scare a lion.
First off, no one can stop the creation of a “little union” between Albania and Kosovo, if by union they mean close economic, inter-institutional, and cultural cooperation for mutual benefit. The problem is that the political elites of Tirana and Prishtina are so controlled by the oligarchs of the Albanian and Serbian economy and by the intersection of underworld interests, that even though Rama and Thaci have been talking about “unification” for many years, they only deepen the divide. What would the oligarchs of the Serbian economy do if there was a regulated power market between Kosovo and Albania? What would hundreds of companies from Serbia that cover the Albanian cookie market do, if Albanians weren’t consumers with little social and national awareness?
How well-coordinated the two governments are in their political approach is made visible by the recent debate about creating a customs union in the Balkans, initiated by Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic. This idea seems to have been received well by Rama’s government, while only a weeping choir was heard in Prishtina: we do not accept it, said the prime minister; we will never accept it, said the minister of foreign affairs. So, what meaning do all of the joint meetings between the two governments have, when after every summit of the Balkans states, Prishtina only issues complaints towards Rama’s cabinet for ‘falling into Vucic’s trap?’ What became of the “historic meeting” of the two governments in Prizren in early 2014 except for Thaci’s famously asking Rama, “do you feel cold?”
With their recent threats, Rama and Thaci want to pass the blame to the EU for the stagnation of the process of integration for the Balkan countries, especially with regards to Kosovo and Albania. Truly, the EU is going through the toughest crisis since its establishment, and if Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate in the French elections, wins the second round of voting in May, then the project of the EU will end, at least the way we know it. Apart from high politics, it must be said that it is the Albanian political elite in Tirana – the one which has behaved irresponsibly and almost criminally since the fall of communism more than 25 years ago – that have been closely followed and imitated by their political partners in Prishtina since 1999.
In 2017, international reports said that the collection and smuggling of cannabis has tripled during Rama’s administration (other experts argue that it has quadrupled). Albanian police officials flee to Western countries and some of them are even granted asylum with the justification that they are persecuted by the government because they were investigating drug lords. Just now they have started talking about creating a justice system, which since the 1990s served as an instrument to protect the interests of corrupt politicians and their underworld partners.
It is not Europe’s fault that ships full of cannabis are intercepted in the Adriatic sea. It is not Europe’s fault that they discovered a drug laboratory in Elbasan in 2015 or that the arrested smugglers have not yet been sentenced (among which was Enver Hoxha’s grandson and two Colombians). It is not Europe’s fault that Albania’s beaches are polluted and provide landing spots for Italian retirees with their small planes who come to load ‘the goods.’ Albania is a candidate to join the EU and for now, it is entirely in the hands of Albanian politicians if they want their country to progress in this regard. When all chapters of EU membership are negotiated and if then a country blocks Albania, then Edi Rama or whoever is the prime minister then will have the right to criticize Europe. Not today though, because some criteria have to be fulfilled to join the EU.
As far as Kosovo’s stagnation goes: it is the political parties, especially those that have been in power for a long time, that brought the country to this state. They’ve done so through senseless negotiations in Brussels, innumerable political affairs, criminal privatizations, the destruction of the education system, and nepotism. The result of these politics is the exodus of over 100 thousand people from Kosovo in the last two-three years.
Albanian politicians, like Thaci and Rama (and other rogues in power before them), look over this precipice and make empty threats to the EU: “Accept us or we’ll go crazy.”
This article was first published by Prishtina Insight.