Kosovo-Albania: Unification or Re-Unification?

The Albanian Eagle is a uniting symbol for all Albanians across the Balkans, yet, under the surface lie levels of complexity. As a result of the past, Kosovan national identity, culture, and dialect have created an unique entity, separate from Albania. For instance, the history of Kosovo can be understood through the development of dialect and language in Kosovo. The official languages of Kosovo are Albanian and Serbian, whereas Bosnian, Turkish and Romani are recognised languages spoken in other regions of Kosovo. It is not uncommon for words from these languages to be intertwined within the Albanian language. Neither is it uncommon for families, especially of a mixed heritage to communicate through several languages. One must remember that as part of Yugoslavia, marriages between ethnicities and religions was not as divisive as it may be now.

Kosovo is truly a land shared amongst Albanians, Serbs, Turks, Bosniaks, Romani and Gorani. This is permanently symbolised through the stars on the Kosovan flag, each representing an ethnic group in Kosovo. The shared experiences of Kosovan people have shaped national identity, culture, and dialect. The Albanian Eagle, the flag and the symbol, should be celebrated by anyone who feels something towards it. However, knowing the oppression faced by Kosovans during the Serbian occupation and the imposition of Serbian identity on Kosovans, Kosovans should deliberately avoid enforcing the Albanian national identity on other ethnicities in Kosovo, something which unification may encourage. In other words, unification should not be established at the expense of minorities. As a young country, Kosovo truly has the opportunity to become a multicultural society and reject the Balkan obsession with ethnicity, identity, and nationalism.

The origins of Kosovo-Albania unification

The prospect of Kosovo-Albanian unification is part of the wider discussion concerning the concept of a Greater Albania. This idea encourages the unification of predominately ethnically Albanian-occupied lands and historically Albanian lands that neighbour Albania. These regions include Kosovo and the Preševo Valley in Southern Serbia as well as areas of Southern Montenegro and Western Macedonia. The concept of a Greater Albania emerged in the late 19th century as a result of the Albanian organisation, The League of Prizren, officially known as the League for the Defence of the Rights of the Albanian Nation. The Ottomans occupied Albania for five centuries and under Ottoman rule, Albania was divided into four vilayets: İşkodra, Yannina, Monastir and Kosovo. Despite existing under the control of the Ottoman Empire, Albanians experienced some unity within the four vilayets. However, the slow decline of the Ottoman Empire following the end of the Russo-Turkish War in 1878 signalled the possibility that the Albanian inhabited lands, namely the vilayets, would be partitioned between Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece. In response to this, the League was created to prevent the transfer of Albanian land. They also demanded the unification of the four vilayets into one autonomous Albanian state within the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. Despite the failure of the League to establish its desired Albanian state, it was the birthplace of pan-Albanianism.

Those of us familiar with the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and its consequential conflicts, understand that expansionist nationalism is a dangerous venture in the Balkans. The notion of a Greater Albania had a significant impact on the rise of Serbian nationalism in the 1990s, in relation to the Kosovo question. Serbian nationalists truly believed that Kosovan-Albanians had a two-point plan; ensure the creation of an ethnically Albanian Kosovo and then unite with Albanian to form a Greater Albania. False narratives regarding the establishment of a Greater Albania only strengthened calls to tighten the Serbian grip on Kosovo and became a source of justification to continue the domination of Kosovans. In truth, Kosovo sought and fought for freedom from Serbia.

Whilst false narratives concerning Greater Albania circulated, the world watched the violent formation of a Greater Serbia. There are similarities between the two ethnic expansionist nationalisms, just as there are significant differences. However, both ideologies encourage the unification and centralisation of their ethnic group to create an ethnically homogenous land. In the case of Greater Serbia, the Yugoslav conflict shows the extent to which minorities are sacrificed for this cause. The brutal creation of the Republic of Serbian Krajina in Croatia and the reinstatement of Kosovo as a Serbian province demonstrated the path taken by Serbian nationalists to achieve Greater Serbia. Moreover, the current existence of Republika Srpka in Bosnia, an entity founded entirely on the basis on ethnicity illustrates the problematic consequences of expansionist nationalism. As victims of the Greater Serbia ideology, Kosovans should know the dangers of encouraging expansionist nationalism. A conscious effort should be undertaken to distance themselves and openly reject this type of nationalism, which caused pain and suffering for so many communities including their own.

From a Kosovar perspective, supporters of unification believe that a Kosovo-Albania union would end Serbia efforts to undermine Kosovo’s sovereignty and international presence. A poll conducted in 2019 regarding unification revealed that 64% of Albanians in Kosovo and 75% of Albanians in Albania would vote in favour of unification if a referendum were to happen. Despite the support from Albanians and Kosovan-Albanians, the current constitution of Kosovo does not allow Kosovo to merge with another country. In addition to this, another obstacle on the path to unification is the international community. There is no doubt that Serbia would challenge this union especially with the presence of Serbian enclaves in Kosovo, but the European Union alongside other Balkan neighbours have also rejected the thought of a Kosovo-Albanian union. However, as long as the European Union alongside other international political and economic organisations such as Interpol and the United Nations fail to include Kosovo, and in some other cases Albania, both states will turn inward rather than rely on external powers to decide the future of their state. In regard to the referendum, the current Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, has publicly shown interest in holding a referendum in changing the constitution as well as uniting the two states. Moreover, Kurti has stated that he would vote in favour of uniting Kosovo with Albania. However, sceptics have highlighted the longevity of the political narrative surrounding a Kosovo-Albania union, stating that its sporadic rhetoric demonstrates how unification is being utilised by political actors to gain leverage against international organisations as well as being exploited as a source of support and votes from nationalists.

Perhaps, Kosovo and Albania progress together in unison rather than through unification.

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