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News 15 Feb 13

Leaked US Memo Pans Albania PM

A leaked US State Department memo condemns Prime Minister Sali Berisha's nationalist rhetoric, calling it a danger to regional stability.

Besar Likmeta
BIRN
Tirana
Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha

The undated memo seems to have been sent to Prime Minister Sali Berisha after Serbia took down a memorial to ethnic Albanian fighters in the southern Serbian town of Presevo in January.

The State Department says that Albanian leaders are veering away from their traditional constructive role in the region.   

“Recent public statements made by Albanian politicians on the Presevo monument have crossed the line from responsible political discussion to counterproductive, potentially dangerous rhetoric,” the memo reads.

“They not only promote more inflammatory behavior and distract from the region’s priorities but also potentially incite violence, erode peace and stability and impact our relationship,” it adds.

Queried by Balkan Insight on the authenticity of the memo, a spokesman for the US Embassy in Tirana said: “We do not comment on diplomatic exchanges.”

Berisha declared that the removal of the monument showed that Serbia was a racist state, adding that ethnic Albanians in the Balkans ought one day to unite in one country.

“This act shows once more that there is only one way, the unification of the Albanian nation, for Albanians to enjoy the freedom they earned by shedding blood,” the Prime Minister said.

The memo downplays the importance of the monument, noting that it was erected illegally and that it was meant to provoke the Serbian authorities.

It also highlights efforts by the OSCE mission in Belgrade and the US Embassy to negotiate an agreement between Presevo Albanians and the government of Serbia on the dispute.

The memo underlines that Berisha’s statement made negotiations harder and they were an intervention into Serbia’s internal affairs.

Two nationalist parties, the Red and Black Alliance and the Party for Justice, Integration and Unity, PDIU, have appeared lately on the political scene in Albania.

The PDIU, which is a junior government partner, represents the Cham minority, Albanians expelled from Greece at the end of World War Two, and targets its rhetoric at Athens.

The Red and Black Alliance focuses on the potential unification of all ethnic Albanian lands and has lashed out both against Albania’s neighbours and against Berisha, calling him an autocrat and a traitor.

Under attack, and with few successes to show off before the June 2013 parliamentary elections, Berisha has increasingly appealed to pan-Albanian sentiment.

The State Department memo says the upcoming election should not serve as an excuse for “irresponsible rhetoric and negative political messages”.

It urges Albania’s political elite to stay out of Serbia’s affairs and concentrate on its EU integration process, holding free and fair elections and on improving the economy.

“You are not making a good impression just as we prepare for a new State Department leadership,” the memo says. “Don’t make us condemn you publicly,” it warns.

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