Saturday, February 16, 2008

No "Greater Albania" wave seen from Kosovo

Kosovo Albanian independence from Serbia will boost the confidence of Albanians in neighboring Macedonia, but prospects of EU membership will outweigh dreams of a "Greater Albania", political leaders say.

Albanians form a 90 percent majority in Kosovo, which is set to declare independence on Sunday. Macedonia's Albanians are a 25 percent minority.

Ethnic Albanian leaders say the best insurance against Macedonia breaking up in ethnic conflict as it nearly did in 2001 is the country's membership in NATO soon and in the European Union in a few years.

"Why talk about building or removing classical borders when Europe has drawn lessons from its old conflicts and decided to build a joint future for its states?" said Ali Ahmeti, head of Macedonia's main Albanian political party.

"We love this country as much as the Macedonians love it," he told Reuters. "Long-term stability in Macedonia will be achieved by solving the problem of Albanians living in Kosovo. It is a victory for us, too.

In 2001, Ahmeti led a 6-month uprising which came close to igniting full-scale civil war, before NATO and the EU brokered peace talks that resulted in more rights for Albanians.

Fears mounted during that period that Albanians were gearing up for a fight to unite all the lands they live in Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro, with the republic of Albania. The mountainous borders between them are porous, and weapons left over from Albania's paranoid Stalinist dictatorship abound.

But opportunities offered by a common future in the EU and the NATO alliance seem to have overtaken the old dream of a single ethnic Albanian state.

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