Albanians met with protests the third meeting of “Mini Schengen” initiative between Balkan leaders, and in particular Serbia’s president Alexandar Vucic’s presence in Tirana.
Leaders of Albania, Serbia, North Macedonia and Montenegro are in Albania to discuss the establishment of a free economic zone in the region. Kosovo has repeatedly refused to attend.
In two separate protests on Friday and Saturday, protesters held banners denouncing Vucic’s denial of massacres committed by the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic, and the fact that Vucic was minister of Information when massacres happened. They opposed the “Mini Schengen” initiative, saying it was designed to create a new Yugoslavia, in which Serbia would be the main beneficiary. Protesters also said the initiative will fail in a similar fashion with Vucic, Thaçi and Rama’s support of territorial exchange between Serbia and Kosovo.
On Friday, the Albanian branch of Lëvizja Vetëvendosje staged a protest, denouncing Vucic as a “war criminal” whom Prime Minister Edi Rama was trying to present as a “humanitarian”.
The Balkan leaders were scheduled to attend a charity concert for earthquake victims on Friday. The next day Rama would show them the ruined areas in Durres.
Earlier this month, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic sparked outrage in Kosovo when he described the 1999 Reçak massacre as “fabricated”. The Reçak massacre took place in the homonymous village of Kosovo in 1999, when Serbian forces killed 45 ethnic Albanian civilians. The massacre was one of the factors that led to the 1999 NATO bombing campaign which ended the bloody two-year war between Kosovo and Serbia.
Protesters further demanded from Serbia war reparations for Kosovo, accept responsibility for war crimes against Kosovo, to reveal the location of the Kosovo Albanians who went missing during the war, and to stop attempts to undermine Kosovo’s statehood.
“The plan to portray Vucic as a benefactor of those affected by earthquake in Albania was once again discredited. The mini-Schengen project will fail, just as the project of partitioning Kosovo failed, because the protests will continue in the future until justice is done. We need to strengthen Albania-Kosovo cooperation, not a new Yugoslavia,” Vetëvendosje stated after the protest.
A day later, a citizen-organized protest also took place against “mini Schengen” and Vucic’s presence in Albania. They also called out Rama for its government’s alleged close collaboration with Serbia at the expense of Kosovo. Protesters held banners reading “Shame”, “Kosovo is the heart of Albania”, “Rama, traitor” and “Rama leave”.
Kosovo leaders from all major political parties have opposed the country’s participation in the Mini Schengen initiative. They have also criticized Rama for spearheading the initiative with Vucic, while having not developed closer ties between Kosovo and Albania.