Mini-Schengen Conference Leads to Tension in Kosovo and Albania

The third “mini-Schengen” meeting held between Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, and Serbian President Aleksander Vucic caused significant tension this weekend.

Kosovo declined to attend the meeting with President Hashim Thaci saying that any regional initiative was “meaningless” while not only does Serbia deny the existence of Kosovo as an independent country, but they also deny massacres of Kosovar Albanians during the war.

Rama stated that this stance was harmful not only for Kosovo but for the region as they had decided to cooperate with a common market.

Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj immediately responded to Rama’s criticism from afar by stating that the Tirana summit was only intended to put pressure on Kosovo to abolish 100 per cent tax on Serbia. Rama then responded to Haradinaj by insulting him as ‘ignorant’ and ‘liar’.

The idea of a mini-Schengen and the perceived closeness between Rama and Vucic has resulted in controversy and protests in Albania and Kosovo with some calling for him to be declared as a “persona non grata”. 

Democratic Party Deputy Orjola Pampuri also publicly demanded he be considered non-grata, stating that Albanians could not forgive Rama for what he has, and hasn’t done for Albanians. She added that he should have taken “a firm stance on Vucic recognizing Kosovo” and accused him of using hate speech against Haradinaj.

Leader of the Democratic Party Lulzim Basha said that the mini-Schengen puts Albania at risk of its EU membership aspirations noting that “this initiative was proposed after the EU refused to open negotiations with Albania and Northern Macedonia. It leaves the impression of creating a new economic and political bloc as an alternative, or challenge to the EU”.

He also criticized Rama for failing to demonstrate empathy for “the untold wounds of Kosovo” after its citizens offered help and solidarity following the 26 November earthquake.

President Ilir Meta also condemned the idea, and the behavior of Serbia saying that their position was “not very reasonable and not at all constructive”. He added that he is against the mini-Schengen initiative because there should be no barriers between the countries of the region.

Protests broke out in Tirana on Friday and Saturday where citizens against Vucic’s presence in the capital clashed with police. They held banners that denounced Vucic’s denial of massacres committed by the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic and the fact that he was Minister of Information at that time. 

Earlier this month, Vucic called described the 1999 Recak massacre were 45 ethnic Albanians were murdered by Serbian forces as “fabricated”. The Massacre was one of the key factors that led to the 1999 NATO bombing campaign which ended the bloody two-year war between Kosovo and Serbia.

They also opposed the mini Schengen, saying it would create a new Yugoslavia of which Serbia would be the beneficiary.