Kosovo Must Come to Terms with Reality

Rather than dream of unification with Albania, Kosovo must focus on getting a deal with Serbia.

President Hashim Thaçi of Kosovo visits Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, September 29, 2017
President Hashim Thaçi of Kosovo visits Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, September 29, 2017 (US Army/Elizabeth Fraser)

Last month, the president of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi, dropped a bombshell, calling for unification with Albania.

Kosovo is majority ethnic Albanian, but unification would actually hinder the progress of both countries. Here’s why.

Eyes on Europe

Albania and Kosovo both aspire to integrating into the European system, which means playing by European rules.

Albania is officially an EU candidate. Although it is unlikely to be admitted any time soon (read my previous story on this), it cannot jeopardize its chances with talk of border changes and unification.

Kosovo is only a potential candidate for EU membership, but it must be even warier of antagonizing the West. Its entry is linked to its dispute with Serbia. If Kosovo ever wants to join the EU, it must first reach a compromise with the state from which it separated.

Let’s say Kosovo did join Albania. Neighboring countries, which have their own ethnic Albanian minorities, will fear a domino effect. The repercussions could be felt across the region, destabilizing an already volatile part of Europe.

Stunt

So why did Thaçi call for it?

Observers have called it a political stunt. Thaçi has lost support due to his “border correction” policy, which would trade land in the north of Kosovo inhabited by ethnic Serbs for ethnic Albanian enclaves in Serbia’s south. Even Thaçi’s former prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, has spoken out against the proposal.

But Thaçi is exploiting Albanian nationalism. He knows many Kosovars believe in the creation of a single Albanian state.

Best chance

Kosovo’s best chances lie not in fantasies of ethnic homogeneity but rather within the realm of its own territory.

It should attempt to breathe new life into talks with Belgrade. A compromise with Serbia would not only bring stability to the Balkans; it could lead to more countries recognizing Kosovo’s independence. (Five EU countries, including Romania and Spain, still don’t.)

Relations have not been good. Despite being advised by the United States to remove a 100 percent tariff on Serbian goods, the tax remains in place. Prime Minister Haradinaj resigned last month on account of alleged war crimes, which has created a political vacuum in the country. There will be new elections soon, but, until there is a change in policy, the situation will remain the same.