Leader of the Lëvizja Vetëvendosje, Albin Kurti, stated that the second ‘Balkan mini-Schengen’ meeting was unexpected for him after he had talked with Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama few weeks ago. He added that the meeting “shouldn’t have been held” and “the haste” to hold it between the same three countries was “wrong and unexplainable”.
Albin Kurti, who is also Kosovo’s prime minister-in-waiting, implied that after their meeting with Rama in Tirana few weeks ago, the last weekend’s meeting in Ohrid, North Macedonia was an unpleasant surprise for him:
“I would have never thought that the Ohrid meeting would be held with the same actors [Vučić, Rama, Zaev] and without Kosovo after what happened in Novi Sad [only Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia participated]. It was unexpected for me that this meeting took place without consulting with others. Albania and Kosovo should not participate in regional initiatives without first consulting with each-other. […] Albania and Kosovo should have a common foreign policy.”
In fact, both governments have signed an agreement to align their foreign policy, but the so-called mini-Schengen initiative spearheaded by Serbia’s President Alexandar Vučić seems to have caused another rift between the two countries.
Outgoing Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj also had claimed earlier that Rama pressured him before other European leaders to revoke a tariff imposed on Serbian imports to Kosovo as a result of Serbia’s undermining of Kosovo’s statehood. Rama denied it.
Last week Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaçi refused the invitation to the second meeting hosted in North Macedonia to establish the ‘mini-Schengen’ area.
In yesterday’s interview, Kurti said he hoped Prime Minister Edi Rama had consulted with businesses in Albania and had done an analysis of potential costs and benefits for his country’s participation in the initiative.
He added that once his government is established, they will go through an analysis and consultations in order to understand whether Kosovo would have any benefits from it.
The Albanian government has not suggested they have done any analysis, neither have any consultations with business chambers been made public.
When asked about results of past meetings of leaders of both Albanian states, signing agreements and posing with symbols and patriotic gestures, Kurti replied that both governments should asses the implementation of more than 50 agreements signed so far, of which little results are palpable.
Kurti said he had no doubt that President Alexandar Vučić was seeking “a fourth Yugoslavia, with the same objective of expanding Serbia.”
He argued that both governments in Kosovo and Albania should work for closer integration among themselves first, and not only through regional platforms. Kurti urged the Albanian prime minister to prioritize working closely with the Montenegrin and Macedonian counterparts instead of Serbian President Vučić.
Whilst he underlined that his party is for regional cooperation, Kurti added that it is unclear why Kosovo and Albania should first get rid of barriers with Serbia before thinking to do the same among themselves.
He said that the Albanian government should not rush in this or similar initiatives, because “good intentions do not exclude mistakes.”
Only days after Serbia had signed a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and after the EU leaders’ failure to reach an agreement on opening accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia last month, Russia invited both countries to join the EEU.
It’s not clear what a mini-Schengen area might mean for the influence of Russian economy, through Serbia, in the Balkans.
Kosovo’s prime minister-in-waiting expressed his disagreement with what he called “a tendency to prioritize compensating Serbia for losing Kosovo”.
“The loss of the occupied Kosovo by Serbia is considered much more of a priority than the suffering Albanians went through. Just during the last war there were 10 thousand unprotected and unarmed civilians dead, 20 thousand [sexually] violated women, 120 thousand destroyed, burnt-down or damaged houses, 860 thousand people were forced out of Kosovo and over 1 million were forced from their homes, 1200 cultural artifacts robbed, and our bank deposits also robbed, as well as our pension fund. They [Serbia] did not pay us back a single cent. […] Serbia’s lamenting for Kosovo is being considered more of a priority than the suffering of Albanians which was inflicted by Serbia.”
Kurti argued that any regional initiative of this kind should take into account the fact that the Kosovo people have voted for a government of the former opposition parties LVV and LDK, and for policies of reciprocity toward Serbia.
Leader of Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) Isa Mustafa, whose party is expected to form a governing coalition with LVV, also opposed the mini-Schengen initiative. He argued that the move would mostly benefit Serbia and that it aimed at creating a new sort of Yugoslavia.
Upon returning home from the last weekend’s meeting, Montenegrin minister of economy Dragica Sekulić also dismissed the idea of joining the initiative.
She said that other countries in the region who had imposed tariffs and barriers on each other probably needed the initiative, but for Montenegro the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) was enough to guarantee the free flow of people, goods, services and capital.
Despite criticism from Kosovo and at home, Prime Minister Edi Rama firmly proclaimed he is going to finalize the creation of the Balkan mini-Schengen area. He announced the third meeting will be held in Durres, Albania, on December 21.