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WED, 16 MAY 2001 00:06:07 GMT

The Impossible Equidistance of Tiranja with Podgorica and Belgrade

AIM Tirana, April 30, 2001

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic probably waited for a long time for a telegram of congratulations on his victory at parliamentary elections of April 22 to come from one of his few allies in South-East Europe - Albania. But it never came and this fact, in the context of special relations that Tirana and Podgorica have been developing for a long time, reflects the current difficult position of Albania in its relation with Podgorica and Belgrade.

Actually the reactions of Tirana officials to elections in Montenegro have been rather reserved and unusual bearing in mind Tirana's support for President Milo Djukanovic's policy. During his visit to the town of Shkoder on the Montenegrin border on the day of Montenegrin parliamentary elections, Foreign Minister Pascal Milo expressed Albania's determination to cooperate with any Montenegrin Government that would be formed after the elections. Not one of high Albanian politicians or officials welcomed the victory of Milo Djukanovic's coalition as the victory of the course of independence, which Tirana supported openly and officially, at least until October 25, 2000 when the Albanian President, Rexhep Meidani stated at the Summit of South-East European Countries in Skoplje, in the presence of new Yugoslav President Kostunica, that Albania was in favour of Montenegro and Kosovo as independent units or entities.

At the same time, the official Tirana kept encouraging the Albanian minority in Montenegro to cooperate and vote for Djukanovic's coalition and his policy of democratic reforms and independence. However, the Montenegrin parliamentary elections were held in a new international climate in which, at these difficult times, Tirana tried to find some kind of middle course so as to satisfy both the old ally Djukanovic and the traditional Western allies, who sent her new warnings against Montenegro's independence. During his visit to Sweden on April 26, the Albanian Foreign Minister only expressed his wishes for Montenegro to respect the will of the people in the interest of preserving security and stability of the region.

What makes this lack of Albanian reactions even more interesting is the fact that the Albanian opposition showed more or less the same reluctance as the Government and did not display much enthusiasm over the victory of Djukanovic's coalition. On April 23, the Democratic Party Foreign Relations Secretary, Besnik Mustafaj even welcomed Djukanovic's victory as a score for the right forces, although the ideological position of Montenegrin coalition, which won the elections, represents the least important thing for the Albanian politics. Taking a middle course, the DP's representative also urged the political forces of Montenegro to maintain the constructive spirit and by observing democratic standards ensure their country's integration in the European family. A representative of another opposition party, Tritan Shehu, former Foreign Minister and the Democratic Party's Foreign Relations Secretary assessed the elections in that same spirit.

There is obviously some reluctance, especially of the opposition, in expressing open support for the course and intention of President Djukanovic to win the independence. That is not a result of the fact that the authorities and opposition in Albania have changed their attitude towards the Montenegrin President and his course of democratic reforms and pursuance of independence. Actually, both the authorities and the opposition in Albania were unanimous in their support for President Djukanovic and his efforts at separating Montenegro from the Yugoslav Federation. During Milosevic's rule, Governments of both wings in Tirana pursued selective policy towards Montenegro in contrast to Serbia.

It was all easy for the official Tirana while the Federation was run by President Milosevic, who has been charged as the international war criminal. It can be even said that Albania and Montenegro managed to create a special status of inter-state relations, thus additionally provoking Belgrade. In February 2000 they signed a bilateral agreement on the abolishment of visas for all types of passports between Albanian and Montenegro and in April 2000 a Memorandum of Understanding in the field of economy, trade and cultural exchange between the two countries. In that context, a Joint Albanian-Montenegrin Commission for the application of this Memorandum was formed. Foreign Ministers exchanged official visits last April and November, and Montenegro opened the border crossing Bozaj (Bani i Hotit), which links Albania with Montenegro and which was blocked for several years. Also, both sides agreed to open two new border crossings between the two countries: in Vrmos and Murican.

The special role Albania attached to its relations with Montenegro is also attested to by the first trilateral summit organised between three Prime Minister: the Albanian Ilir Meta, Montenegrin Filip Vujanovic and Macedonian Ljubco Georgijevski in Ohrid, Macedonia, in January 2000, as well as a subsequent Summit of these three Prime Ministers in Durrese, Albania, in July 2000. Albania also strongly supported Montenegro's participation in projects and international meeting organised within the Stability Pact.

However, the change of regime in Belgrade and, especially, the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Albania and FR Yugoslavia this January, brought Tirana in not only delicate, but also difficult position when it comes to keeping equidistance between Podgorica and Belgrade. The fact that a regime, which the West considers democratic, has come to power in Belgrade has created unfavourable climate for expressing the support for Djukanovic's plans for Montenegro's secession. At the same time, Tirana should bear in mind the fact that it now has diplomatic relations with a country which is called the Yugoslav Federation and in which every public stand towards one part of that Federation might affect relations between Albania and FR Yugoslavia.

However, this is not the main factor that forced Tirana to be reserved in expressing its support to Montenegro. The main factor is the stand of the West, European Union and USA, who immediately after the elections of April 22, rushed to demand of President Djukanovic not to be hasty in undertaking unilateral actions, but to try and imagine Montenegro as a part of one democratic Yugoslavia. Tirana did not adopt this Western formula and it is highly unlikely that it will due to internal political circumstances, but one way or the other, it is incapable of disregarding the stands of Western countries opposing Montenegro's independence. Therefore, although not fully agreeing with the idea of Montenegro under Serbia, Tirana opted for silence, as that would, although unsatisfactory for either Podgorica or Belgrade, deprive both sides of grounds for accusing Albania as being partial.

AIM Tirana

Arian LEKA