A Balkan Success Story

By MacShane, Denis | Newsweek International, March 22, 2010 | Go to article overview

A Balkan Success Story


MacShane, Denis, Newsweek International


Byline: Denis MacShane

Albania shows its neighbors the way.

Only yesterday Albania was the world's joke nation. Ruled over by a King Zog and then a weirdo Stalinist turned Maoist, En-ver Hoxha, Albania was communist Europe's answer to North Korea. Even Hollywood got in on the Albania-mocking act. Two movies in the 1990s, Wag the Dog and Tune In Tomorrow--, treated Albanians as global jokes.

Time to update the image: Albania is emerging as a beacon of foreign-policy stability in the western Balkans. Alone in a region that only a decade ago produced the worst European fighting since World War II, Albania is moving beyond conflict with its neighbors, working to minimize ethnic hatred and establishing itself as a steady ally of the West. Albania has enthusiastically adapted to NATO membership, and its tough, well-trained commandos are welcomed in Afghanistan--in contrast to more and more European countries that have lost the stomach to fight.

It's a striking contrast with less frequently spoofed Balkan powers, particularly Serbia. Surly Serbia is still unable to come to terms with the loss of Kosovo (where the Serbian minority is now ruled by Muslims). But Albania refuses any support to separatists among the Albanian minority in Macedonia. Albania's President Bamir Topi also speaks sensitively about Serbia's difficulties in coming to terms with Kosovo's independence, even though Kosovo is mainly Albanian. Belgrade rejects the recognition by Washington, London, Berlin, and Paris of Kosovo's independence and instead relies on Moscow in the East and Madrid in the West to maintain the fiction that Kosovo is still part of Serbia. Albania just ignores Belgrade's claims, yet all the while builds good relations with Serbia and encourages Serbs to vacation on its Adriatic coast.

No other regional power has shown a similar willingness to abandon old grudges. Macedonia is still locked in a politics-of-the-absurd squabble with Greece over whether it can call itself Macedonia, so Greece still blocks it from joining the EU, NATO, and other international institutions. Albania, meanwhile, has forgotten its Cold War rivalry with Greece and has thrown open its doors to Greek investment. Croatia is locked in an unedifying quarrel with Slovenia over a tiny stretch of coast that controls Slovenia's access to the Adriatic. …

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