Tempering the dream of a `Greater Albania'
WORRIED that ethnic ambitions in the Balkans could cause war to spread beyond Bosnia-Herzegovina and turn into an international conflict, the West, particularly the United States, is leaning on Albania to temper its support for nationalists beyond its borders.Skip to next paragraph
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Strong US diplomatic pressure on Albanian President Sali Berisha to moderate his backing of militants across the border in Serbia's restive southern province of Kosovo and in Macedonia appears, at the moment, to be paying off.
Mr. Berisha and Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov met recently in an attempt to defuse the worsening ethnic crisis in Macedonia, the newly independent and vulnerable former Yugoslav republic, which has an Albanian minority estimated to be about 30 percent of its 2 million population.
US Defense Secretary William Perry visited US troops based in Macedonia July 19. The secretary met with a contingent of 500 Americans assigned to United Nations peacekeeping forces (along with troops from Nordic countries) stationed as observers on the borders with Albania and Kosovo to prevent the spread of ethnic unrest in the region.
``Every peaceful day that passes is a tribute to your success,'' Mr. Perry told the troops during a week-long tour of the Balkans region that includes stops in Albania and Bosnia.
Macedonia has been tense since it voted for independence from the former Yugoslavia in September 1991. It immediately faced a challenge from Greece, which demanded that the country not use Macedonia as its official name, a situation the Greeks insist reveals territorial ambitions in regard to Greece's northern province of Macedonia. Internally, relations between Macedonians and the Albanian minority have become strained, with secessionist sentiment growing among Albanians.
But Macedonian officials say Berisha pledged to support the moderate, integrationist wing of the main Albanian party in Macedonia after backing a younger, radical faction.
Mr. Gligorov's government, too, has offered an olive branch to the Albanians. Responding to a long-standing Albanian demand rejected by Macedonian nationalists, Skopje conducted a national census, which ended July 10.
In regard to Serbia's Kosovo Province, where 2 million Albanians are under Serbian police rule, Berisha has recently switched tack and is calling for talks between the local Albanian leadership and Belgrade.
``Greater Albania,'' a would-be country of some 6 million uniting Albania proper with Kosovo and western Macedonia, remains a dream of Albanian militants everywhere. A yearning has existed among many Albanians, as among other Balkan peoples, for creation of a state encompassing those neighboring areas. The impetus for pursuing a Greater Albania received a major boost with the reemergence of nationalist sentiments fueling the breakup of former Yugoslavia. Many Albanians, including the country's political leaders, harbor these aspirations.
IF attempted in the current combustible Balkan atmosphere, it could turn into an all-out war. But Western pressure on Tirana to recognize the inviolability of its frontiers with Serbia and Macedonia seems, for the moment at least, to have tempered Albanian ambitions.
``For us, the first priority is the prevention of a conflict,'' Berisha said in an interview. ``We have already lost 50 years under hard-line Communism, which in the 20th century is like losing hundreds of years in the distant past.''
Berisha said he agreed that the borders of Macedonia and Serbia must remain intact. He has urged Albanian leaders in both countries to do the same and reach some form of accommodation with Belgrade and Skopje, he added.
With Kosovo, however, the minimum Berisha is prepared to accept is that the province regain the autonomous status it had within former Yugoslavia until stripped of it in 1990 by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Berisha favors the region becoming a republic like Serbia and Montenegro within the rump federation, a claim certain to be rejected by Belgrade, as republic status would also presumably entail enjoying the right to secede.