Albanian Slide: The Roots to NATO's Pending Lost Balkan Enterprise

By Blumi, Isa | Insight Turkey, Spring 2019 | Go to article overview

Albanian Slide: The Roots to NATO's Pending Lost Balkan Enterprise


Blumi, Isa, Insight Turkey


Introduction

Things were looking good for a while. At least that is what both Albanians living in the Balkans and abroad were telling themselves. With laudatory reports from indigenous politicians and a growing social media infrastructure, it was hard not to share in the optimism. As they awaited integration into the European Union (EU), all the distinct Albanian constituencies (inhabiting North Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Presheve, Medvegje, and Bujanoc in Serbia, Montenegro, and the various adopted homelands overseas), exclaimed a pride and giddy self-assurance. The popular media in particular, be it Twitter or Albanian-language journals, offered plenty of evidence that the once feisty rhetoric of determined independence and nationalism had turned into a calming monotone of contentedness.

Of critical value was the apparent presence of Albanians--self-acknowledged or not--in the larger world. Albanians like Rita Ora, Bebe Rexha, and Dua Lipa top the music charts. Albanian sports stars win gold medals in Judo and score spectacular goals for the best football squads in the world. The best chef in the world, the most beautiful model, the hottest club scene, undiscovered coastlines, and membership in NATO, all constituted acknowledgements of Albanians' place in the world. For a people long ignored by the critical institutions of power, even derogatory statements about just how evil the Albanian mafia, is constituted publicity that reassured Albanians. Until recently, Albanians throughout the world felt they had gained access (at the expense, some old Marxist rebels lamented, of basic principles), to the Western table.

Alas, Albanian delusions were no panacea to reality. Beset by grinding economic austerity measures and structural adjustments agreed to by corrupt politicians in the 1990s and 2000s, Albanians throughout the Balkans have not seen a return for their considerable material and moral sacrifices. They are beginning to openly protest these conditions. Students shutting down the streets of Tirana and Pristina are only the latest in a series of collective action protests against egregiously unfair relations. (1) The growing popularity of those organizing the protests and the evidence of them turning violent, demands some introspection.

As with Kosovo's disgruntled population, in the Republic of Albania, integration into Europe required different, ever-expanding demands before actual accession negotiations began. Ongoing delays in the process have undermined previously reliable political alliances. (2) In the two other countries with important Albanian populations, North Macedonia and Montenegro, similar turmoil has emerged as both populations see no clear path to joining the union. While both countries are now NATO members, as Albanians elsewhere can attest, surrendering control of a country's military capacities does not translate into a smoother path into the EU. (3)

The resulting protests ultimately point to a common failure in Brussels and Washington to reward the peoples of the Balkans for their sacrifices. Instead, they are now faced with what is likely a global recession, hitting their region the hardest. Albanians, like Bosnians, Serbs, and Greeks, observe incredulously a shift taken by Washington that hints at more economic austerity and less funding to maintain a modest national budget. These changes, lament commentators, will have regional political consequences. For one, there will likely be a bigger role for outspoken nationalists as they push to open the Pandora's box of Southeast Europe: the redrawing of national boundaries. (4)

The following explores how this anger, manifested among Albanians, could threaten regional stability, and once an anticipated global economic slowdown impacts the region, contribute to tensions within a NATO alliance forced to adapt. The resulting crisis will ultimately underwrite a new discourse about what various parties' interests are as a new generation of political actors evoking ethno-national agendas throughout Eurasia gain popularity. …

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