By Fatjona Mejdini and Dia Morina
After Kosovo became the main topic of a recent debate between Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, the general public, diplomats and analysts in both Kosovo and Albania have started a heated debate over the role that Tirana should play in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and in Kosovo’s affairs.
Naim Ramizi, 34, a former student of Kosovo Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj in the faculty of Philosophy in Pristina, told BIRN that “no other state, neither the US nor the EU, has right to speak before Albania for Kosovo.”
“We know that the last war that brought freedom to Kosovo had its roots in Albania,” he said.
“We have to appreciate the great work that the Albanian Foreign Ministry has done for the recognition of Kosovo and also for representing us with dignity in international forums where it [Kosovo] has no right to participate … Telling Albania not to speak about Kosovo, is the same as telling a mother not to take care of her child,” he added.
Fitore Hoxha, 27, an architect in Pristina, told BIRN that the tensions between two countries started at the time when Kosovo created its own football team.
“The tension created [between Kosovo and Albania] is unreasonable. In the diplomatic context, Albania does not need Kosovo, but we do have a need for Albania’s help,” she said.
On the other hand, Ilir Bulku, a businessman in Tirana, told BIRN that Rama’s comments in Belgrade on Kosovo’s economic issues were overblown.
“Rama has to understand that Kosovo is another state and cannot interfere in their economic problems with another state [Serbia]. Imagine if [Kosovo PM] Isa Mustafa did the same – how would we feel?” he wondered.
During the debate on October 13 at the Belgrade Security Forum, Rama reiterated his belief that Serbia needs to recognise Kosovo as an independent state, which he said would open to door for closer collaboration in the region.
In his speech at the forum, Rama added remarks on the economic disputes between Kosovo and Serbia, especially over the disputed Trepca mining complex in northern Kosovo, which Serbia lays claim to.
“Trepca is a mine in Kosovo’s territory, so what you are going to do, transport it to Belgrade?” he asked. “In Kosovo, they have to understand that Trepca is in Kosovo’s territory and that it belong to Kosovars, Albanian and Serb,” Rama said.
He also criticised arrests of Kosovo Albanians who entered Serbia, presumably referring to the recent arrest in Serbia of the Kosovo Police director in Mitrovica, Nehat Thaci, although without naming him.
While some in Kosovo questioned Rama’s right and competence to discuss Kosovo so freely with his Serbian counterpart, a statement by Kosovo Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj fuelled the debate even further.
On October 14, speaking to TVArt, an Albanian-language television station in Macedonia, the minister said Albania should not interfere with the Kosovo-Serbia normalization process.
“In the normalization of this relationship, only Kosovo is a political player and I believe that Albania is politically clear about this and will be more so in future,” he said.
“Kosovo is an independent state and Albania is not a global actor as the US and EU are, while the latter two have instruments that can impact [on the dialogue],” Hoxhaj continued.
While some analysts in Kosovo and Albania accused Rama of exceeding his right to speak out on behalf Kosovo, and even of being paternalistic, the Albanian ambassador of Kosovo, Qemal Minxhozi, suggested that this was unfair.
In an interview for a newspaper in Kosovo, published on October 17, Minxhozi advised Albanians on both sides of the border not to let an non-existing issue get out of hand.
“Prime Minister Rama did not speak in the name of Kosovo but in the interest of Kosovo,” he said.
“Kosovo has its own institutions and is an independent democratic state like Albania. But this does not mean that Rama cannot speak for the interests of Kosovo, of Albania, and of all the region,” Minxhozi said.
Mero Baze, director of TemA website, told BIRN that Albanian Prime Ministers feel they have a right to speak out on issues that concern all Albanians in the region.
“The preamble to the Albanian constitution emphasises the country’s role in the prosperity of the entire nation, so Rama has a right to care about issues that concern Albanians in Kosovo too,” he said.
Baze said the debate on Rama’s alleged interference in Kosovo was artificial and was being whipped up for political gain.
“The debate is being pushed by Rama’s political opponents in Tirana, fueled by the fear of politicians in Kosovo that Rama is stealing their role in the relationships with Serbia,” he said.