Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Albania Torn over Brethren's Plight Next Door Officially, It Keeps Cool on Kosovo. but Many in North Are Now Primed to Aid Their Northern Neighbors

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Albania Torn over Brethren's Plight Next Door Officially, It Keeps Cool on Kosovo. but Many in North Are Now Primed to Aid Their Northern Neighbors

Article excerpt

The battle lines in Kosovo seem clear-cut.

The Albanian minority wants independence. Serbia - which, with Montenegro, makes up postwar Yugoslavia - steadfastly rejects it. And the West prefers something in between: autonomy reinstated to the Serbian province, where Albanians outnumber Serbs 9 to 1.

But to neighboring Albania, the situation is far from black-and-white. Indeed, it finds itself in an unenviable pinch: sandwiched between its utter dependence on the West for financial aid and its loyalty to the Kosovo Albanians. Seemingly everyone in northern Albania has a cousin across the border; these blood ties may drag the state into war with Serbia. Yet so far, pragmatism has won out over idealism: Albania toes the diplomatic line on the Kosovo question. "I haven't seen them say 'no' to the West on anything," says a Western observer who heads a nongovernmental organization in Tirana, the capital. But Albania's leaders - ex-communists elected last summer after anarchy swept the country - are quick to defend their foreign policy as sovereign. "We are not supporting the ideas of the West because we are weak or in crisis - we think this is the best solution now," Foreign Minister Paskal Milo told the Monitor. "The Kosovo Albanians need to understand that in politics there are compromises. And when you have two extreme positions, it's impossible to work without compromise." Mr. Milo insists that theirs is a well-intentioned attempt to introduce a "new philosophy" to an Albanian nation with no tradition of democracy. Indeed, Albanians are a small but ancient tribe long conditioned to iron-fisted leadership. Centuries of domination by the Ottoman Empire were followed by four decades of Stalinist repression under dictator Enver Hoxha. In 1992 came the post-communist, but increasingly authoritarian, regime of Sali Berisha. He was ousted last year. Yet Western-style diplomacy has elicited mixed reactions among ordinary Albanians. Far from the Kosovo border, in central and southern Albania, is a public preoccupied with its poverty, not Kosovo. Already Europe's poorest country, Albania sank even deeper when several huge pyramid-investment schemes collapsed a year ago. The ensuing chaos left some 3,000 dead. "Albanians have many problems of our own to solve first before we start fighting again," says one young woman in Tirana. To them, Kosovo is a perpetual problem out of their hands. They no longer consider themselves to be one and the same with the Albanian Kosovars, as they are known. Complete isolation under Hoxha prevented any interaction between the two communities. Meanwhile, Kosovar culture suffered under Yugoslavia. Even the Albanian language is somehow distinct. Where support is strongest But the mood is different in the rugged mountains of northern Albania. Here in the city of Kukes, 14 miles from the Kosovo border, locals don't appreciate the moderate language of Prime Minister Fatos Nano. Albanian "patriotism," they say half-jokingly, is gauged by how much you hate Serbs. Widespread joblessness fuels that enmity; the bustle of daytime street activity is actually restless men moving from one cafe to another. …

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