By Edona Peci, Besar Likmeta and Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Albania’s announcement that it plans to offer speedy citizenship to ethnic Albanians across the world has stirred huge interest in Kosovo while ruffling feathers elsewhere in the region.
Kosovars have been crowding outside the Albanian embassy in Pristina in larger numbers than usual lately, in the hope of obtaining an Albanian passport that might ease their travels in Europe.
“The interest among Kosovars is big. But Albanians from the diaspora, who already have EU passports, have also shown increased interest in gaining Albanian citizenship,” Lorena Gjana, secretary in the Albanian embassy, told Balkan Insight.
But she warns that many of the recently received applications “cannot be processed because they don’t meet the criteria for consideration”.
Kosovars are keen to obtain second passports as their country is the only one in the region whose citizens still need visas when travelling into the EU’s so-called Schengen zone.
“If Kosovo could obtain visa liberalization with the EU, we wouldn’t need Albanian citizenship,” Arber Mustafa, a Kosovo Albanian, told Balkan Insight.
What has caught the imaginations of Kosovars recently is a promise by the Albanian Prime Minister, Sali Berisha.
Last Tuesday, he announced that a new law would “offer speedy citizenship to every Albanian who applies, no matter where he is”.
The draft law is planned to come into force after the summer of 2013 when parliamentary elections are scheduled.
Berisha has asked for understanding from neighbouring countries and the international community.
But some experts say the promised law is unlikely to be adopted. Ditmir Bushati, head of Albania’s EU Integration Parliamentary Commission, says Berisha’s statement was a piece of flag-waving bluff.
“Such anachronistic nationalism could put at risk Albania’s visa-free regime in the Schengen area,” he said.
He recalled that before Tirana obtained a visa-free regime with the EU, Albania had to pledge to abide by rules which, among other things, prohibit easy grants of passports to foreign citizens.
While Kosovars are mainly interested in the practical benefits of Albanian passports, in neighbouring Macedonia, Berisha’s pledge has caused alarm among the ethnic Macedonian majority, who see it as a sign of his pan-Albanian aspirations.
A former Macedonian ambassador to Albania, Risto Nikovski, said the announcement was a provocation that went against Macedonia’s interest.
Ethnic Albanians make up a quarter of the Macedonian population.
“This is in line with his previous rhetoric about a greater Albania and the unification of all Albanians in one state,” Nikovski said.
“It is a new provocation that must be answered in a serious manner,” he added.
Last month, marking the 100th anniversary of Albania’s independence, Berisha stirred controversy across the region by speaking about “Albanian territories from Prevez [in Greece] to Preshevo [in Serbia], [and] from Skopje [in Macedonia] to Podgorica [in Montenegro]”.
Berisha maintains that he was speaking only about the historical circumstances of the Balkan region in 1912, but his words have rattled some officials in Athens and Skopje especially.
Skopje political analyst Albert Musliu says that granting Albanian citizenships is a populist notion but also a harmless idea.
Macedonia also offers citizenships to its people living abroad, he noted.
“I don’t see why Macedonia would feel threatened by such activity and how it could be brought within a context of the idea for great Albania”, he told the daily Dnevnik.
The Macedonian government has so far refused to comment.
Macedonia’s biggest ethnic Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, which is in government, also restrained from commenting, saying it first needed to see a concrete proposal.
Menduh Thaci, head of the ethnic Albanian opposition party, the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, defended Berisha’s idea as “just”.
Furthermore, he told Macedonian reporters that he already has an Albanian passport.