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News 23 Jul 13

Call For Greater Albania Launched in Munich

An initiative to collect signatures for a petition supporting the unification of all Albanians in the Balkans has been launched among expatriates in Germany.

Besar Likmeta
Nevai Salihov, a 48 year-old ethnic Albanian, plays a ciftelia on a street in the Old Bazaar in Skopje, Macedonia, Thursday, July 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

According to German media reports Koco Danaj intends to collect a million signatures from Albanian expatriates living in Europe in order to convince Western governments of the need to unite all Albanians in one state.

Danaj, who served as an adviser to several Albanian prime ministers, says the creation of a "Natural Albania would the last step in the national unification of Albanians in the region".

Danaj argues that a "natural" Albania should include all areas inhabited by Albanian speaking people, both where they are the ethnic majority today, and areas where they were a majority in the past but were expelled over the past century.  

He says a “Natural Albania” is different from a “Greater Albania,” because the latter term is used negatively by Albania’s neighbours to suggest that Albanians are seeking some form of territorial expansion.

As a consequence of the Balkan wars of 1912-13 and the subsequent rearrangement of borders, large numbers of Albanians live outside the country, in neighbouring Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.  

The Albanian government’s stance over the past decade has been that the unification of Albanians can come about only through the broader process of regional integration into the European Union.

Despite the media hype that Danaj’s petition has received in the German press, he does not have many supporters among Albania’s cultural and political elite.

Albania’s new Prime Minister, Edi Rama, who will take office in September, has stayed clear of the idea of national unification, arguing that such nationalist ideas “could destabilize the region”.  

The outgoing Prime Minister, Sali Berisha, who toyed with the pan-Albanian sentiment during the 100th anniversary of Albania’s independence last November, did so mostly to garner support ahead of the parliamentary elections.

The only party in Tirana that clearly backs national unification is the Red and Black Alliance, which won little more than 10,000 votes during the general election, less than 0.3 per cent of the electorate.

The Alliance had proposed a similar petition to hold a referendum in Albania and Kosovo seeking national unification.

Florian Bieber, professor of south-east European studies at the University of Graz, notes in a recent blog that espousing nationalism has not done much for the Albanian politicians that toyed with it.

The Red and Black Alliance "failed to break the polarized Albanian political system between the Socialist and Democratic parties”, Bieber noted in a recent blog.

Berisha's efforts to stoke Albanian nationalism "provided him with no electoral advantages”, he added.  

Ardian Vehbiu a popular Albanian commentator agrees. The fact that Danaj is seeking signatures from expatriates shows that Albanians at home have other priorities, he says.

“The fact that the Red and Black alliance turned into little more than hot air and disappeared from the political scene after the elections suggests that a ‘nation state’ is not a necessity for Albanians,” Vehbiu writes.

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