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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Albania's love of the U.S., and Kosovo's Desired Independence

The little nation of Albania has a history of being pro-American. The history of the tiny nation is full of it being dominated by outside empires and ideologies. After becoming a Roman Province, Albania was also ruled by the Byzantine Empire, as well as the Bulgarian and the Serbian Empire during various points during the Middle Ages.

From 1443 to 1468 Albania defended itself successfully against the invading Ottomans, which were the rulers of an Islamic empire poised to sweep across Europe. After 1468 resistance against the Ottomans continued with only moderate success until 1478, at which time the the loyalties and alliances created and nurtured in the region faltered and fell apart, and the Ottomans conquered the territory of Albania shortly after. Albanians, as part of the Ottoman Empire, fled to neighboring Italy. The majority of the Albanian population that remained converted to Islam under the threat of execution. Albania remained a part of the Ottoman Empire until 1912.

After World War I the nation faced being split up among its neighbors, but was rescued by the American President, Woodrow Wilson, who demanded that Albania must remain an independent nation. This lasted until World War II, when Albania was invaded by Italy, and annexed to Italy along with parts of Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Northern Greece. Albanian communists and nationalists actively fought against the Italian and German invasions in World War II. The communists took over the nation after World War II, gaining control of the government in November 1944. The Communist Party was originally created in Albania on November 8, 1941 with the help of Bolshevik Communist Parties, under the guidance of the Yugoslav Communist Party.

During the communist reign in Albania over 6000 Albanian citizens were executed for political reasons. The first major anti-communist protests took place in July 1990. Shortly after the communist regime made some cosmetic changes to the economy, hoping to gratify the citizens. At the end of 1990, after strong student protests and independent syndicated movements, the regime accepted a multiparty system. The first pluralist general elections were held on March 31, 1991, but the Communist Party won. Democratic parties accused the government of manipulation and called for new elections, which were held on March 22, 1992 and resulted in a democratic coalition coming to power.

In June of 1996 the Democratic Party won an absolute majority. The nation is largely secular, with a rich mixture of religions. Islam is the largest of the religions practicing in Albania, but currently co-exists peacefully with the other Christian and Jewish religions.

June 10, 2007, George W. Bush was enthusiastically welcomed as the first U.S. president to visit Albania. Even though Central and Eastern European nations are generally American-friendly, Bush's visit to Albania was met with gushing excitement. Even the war in Iraq is popular in Albania. The newspaper article I read about Bush's visit to Albania quotes one Albanian citizen as saying, "The U.S.A. has the right and the responsibility for all the world to protect freedom." Another was quoted as saying, in reference to protestors, that "these protestors are crazy, because democracy begins with America."

Albania has requested to be admitted to the European Union and NATO, which they hope will help the economy of the poor nation, as well as the safety of Albania. But the number one concern in Albania seems to be Kosovo, an ethnic Albanian province of Serbia. And Bush, during his visit to Albania, told the Albanians exactly what they wanted to hear, saying that he's running out of patience with Russia's objections to independence for Kosovo. "Sooner rather than later you've got to say `Enough's enough; Kosovo is independent."

I support a country driving for independence if such country is obviously under the dictatorial thumb of a foreign power, and not allowed to pursue its right to a democratic government and the basic tenets of liberty. But one wonders if granting Kosovo independence is truly a good idea.

Like Albania, the Kosovo region has been taken, retaken, and ruled by several empires. Technically, however, prior to 1945, Kosovo did not exist as a province or nation. Kosovo has been ethnically diverse throughout history, including Ladins, Turks, Roma, Bosniaks, Gorans, Jews, Janjevs, Serbs, and Albanians. During the early Middle Ages is twas ruled by Bulgaria and the Byantine Empire. Serbia has also seized control of the region a number of times in the past, as well as ruling over the province today. At one time the region also served as part of the Ottoman Empire. Following the First Balkan War of 1912, Kosovo was internationally recognised as a part of Serbia at the Treaty of London in May 1913. In 1918, Serbia became a part of the newly-formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Between the two World Wars the Yugoslav government tried to evacuate the Albanian population from Kosovo and Macedonia by sending them to Turkey and Albania and then recolonizing it with Serbs.

In 1974, with the passing of the Yugoslavia constitution, Kosovo gained virtual self-government. The province's government applied Albanian curriculum to Kosovo's schools. Throughout the 1980s tensions between the Albanian and Serb communities in the province escalated. The Albanian community in Kosovo called out for greater autonomy for Kosovo. Serbs prefered keeping close ties with the rest of Serbia. Kosovo has not shown any desire to unify with Albania itself, but Ethnic Albanians in the region have continually shown through organized protests that they wish for Kosovar independence as its own republic.

In 1989, the autonomy of Kosovo was drastically reduced by a Serbia-wide referendum.

The new constitution was strongly opposed by many of Serbia's national minorities, who saw it as a means of imposing ethnically-based centralized rule on the provinces. Kosovo's Albanians refused to participate in the referendum, portraying it as illegitimate.

Serbia has since cracked down on Kosovo, also disallowing the Albanian textbooks to remain in the region, as well as taking steps to control the media in the region. Kosovo Albanians were outraged by what they saw as an attack on their rights. Mass rioting and unrest from Albanians in February of 1990 led to a state of emergency being declared, and the presence of the Yugoslav Army and police was significantly increased to quell the unrest.

During Clinton's administration guerrilla warfare broke out in Kosovo, characterized by regular attacks on Yugoslav security forces, state officials and civilians known to openly support separatists. In March 1998, Yugoslav army units joined Serbian police to fight the separatists, using military force. In the months that followed, hundreds of Albanian civilians were killed and more than 500,000 fled their homes; most of these people were Albanian. Many Albanian families were forced to flee their homes at gunpoint, as a result of fighting between national security and Kosovar Liberation Army forces leading to expulsions by the security forces including associated paramilitary militias. An estimated 460,000 people had been displaced from March 1998 to the start of the NATO bombing campaign in March 1999.

The United Nations estimated that during the Kosovo War, nearly 640,000 Albanians fled or were expelled from Kosovo between March 1998 and the end of April 1999. Most of the refugees went to Albania, the Republic of Macedonia, or Montenegro. Government security forces confiscated and destroyed the documents and licence plates of many fleeing Albanians in what was widely regarded as an attempt to erase the identities of the refugees, the term "identity cleansing" being coined to denote this action. This made it difficult to distinguish with certainty the identity of returning refugees after the war.

The war ended on June 10, 1999 with the Serbian and Yugoslav governments signing the Kumanovo agreement which agreed to transfer governance of the province to the United Nations.

Large numbers of refugees from Kosovo still live in temporary camps and shelters in Serbia. In 2002, Serbia and Montenegro reported hosting 277,000 internally displaced people (the vast majority being Serbs and Roma from Kosovo), which included 201,641 persons displaced from Kosovo into Serbia, 29,451 displaced from Kosovo into Montenegro, and about 46,000 displaced within Kosovo itself, including 16,000 returning refugees unable to inhabit their original homes.

Since the end of the war, Kosovo has been a major source and destination country in the trafficking of women, women forced into prostitution and sexual slavery. The growth in the sex trade industry is believed by many as being fuelled by the presence of NATO forces in Kosovo, though it's difficult to say what the true cause is. The treaty allowing UN troops into Kosovo in 1999 stipulated that the province remains part of Serbia. However, in November 2005, a United States Department of State official hinted that the independence of Kosovo is possible, just that the Albanians "have to prove that they're worthy of it" and that negotiations on the status of the province would begin in January 2006.

Most of the province's Albanian inhabitants support the independence movement, as does Albania, while Serbs fear it would be a preliminary to further ethnic cleansing and the formation of a "Greater Albania".

Understanding the volatile history of the region makes one believe that Kosovar indpendence should be a no-brainer, but one wonders what it would do to the already unstable region. And considering that Kosovo is still technically a province of Serbia (and has been since the early 1900's) that is simply full of Albanians, it makes one wonder if by allowing Kosovo to become independent, shouldn't the same be granted to Northern Ireland, Quebec (who has actually hinted at such a number of times in history, desiring to become a "French Canadian Republic."), Vermont, San Francisco, and the Mexican dominated regions of the United States? Okay, perhaps I am being unreasonable, and it is true that each situation contains its own reasons and variables both pro and con regarding such a move. Perhaps some of these recommendations are truly silly and unnegotiable. Perhaps not.

But it does make one wonder what should be done with Kosovo.

Bush supports Kosovar independence. Albanians desire Kosovo to become an independent republic.

What say you?

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