Albania and Kosova - The Centrality Of Economics

Albania and Kosova - The Centrality Of Economics 
Tirana Times -  

By: Albert Rakipi, Ph.D, 

Perhaps less so than in Prishtina, but nevertheless enthusiastically, Tirana celebrated the second anniversary of Kosovo's independence. In these two years, Tirana and Prishtina have been on a quest to establish bilateral relations as two independent states. There seems to have really emerged an ironic case of two very neighborly neighboring countries, at peace with each other, no dispute between them, yet two neighborly neighbors that do not have an easy time establishing relations and cooperating. And neither side is to be blamed. The past, the long separation and the long lack of communication between the two societies, markets and to a certain degree also between the two political elites makes cooperation now difficult. A slightly more careful look than is usually given to current Albanian-Kosovar relations would have a hard time finding much substance. 

From a strategic perspective, Albania and Kosovo both see their future as members of the European Union, as opposed to a future together, as a Greater Albania so often speculated about. There is no such project, in fact. There is no political party, organization or influential individual in Albania or Kosovo that support any other project but that of EU integration. 

On a political plane, there is a clear and strong inclination for consolidated and close cooperation shared by the entire political spectrums of both countries. Albanian foreign policy has been aggressive in seeking to expand international recognition of Kosovo as an independent state through active international lobbying. Even though Albania's clout and the actual effectiveness of its policy may be low, the country still stands higher chances of success than Kosovo itself. Kosovo is by now recognized by a considerable number of the community of democratic states and big powers of the international order. Chances of Albania expanding that circle are not null and perhaps what needs to be done (or should have already been done) is a coordination of the diplomacies of both countries. 

Albania's efforts to strengthen its relations with Serbia, despite the latter's relations with Kosovo, seem to have found a cold welcome in Prishtina. Albania must definitely not limit bilateral relations with Serbia because of Serbia's relations with Kosovo. However, the rush to display its enthusiasm for bilateral relations when Serbia appears almost entirely indifferent is incomprehensible, unless it is an attempt to enhance legitimacy and international support. The success and stability of relations between states is determined by the degree of reciprocity. 

Albania is also a NATO member country. And when Albanian Minister of Foreign Affairs visits Belgrade he represents a NATO member country, an alliance that opposes the parallel structures that Serbia encourages and finances in Kosovo. It is common sense that Albania, as a member country, ought to voice this position. 

Economics reveals other discrepancies between the inclinations to cooperate and reality. The emergence of an ethnic market between Albania and Kosovo may appear a piece of cake, a matter of natural development based on the historical affiliations between the two countries. Now that Kosovo is an independent state in a less than warm surrounding, the natural inclination seems indeed to be that of economically integrating with Albania. Yet, economics is one of the weakest links in relations between Albania and Kosovo. In order to understand what appears as an anomaly in the relations between the two countries, one must first of all look back. 

During the past century, the markets and the economies of the two countries have operated in isolation, separately from each other. The trade links of the beginning of the twentieth century, as affected by long Ottoman rule, were disrupted for decades. Kosovo became part of the wider Yugoslav market and Albania progressively closed in on itself. The precarious years of the nineties, as communist regimes fell, and as Yugoslavia reluctantly disintegrated, were certainly not good years for legal business. 

Second, for many decades, both economies have been mainly agrarian, and very often so at a subsistence level. Similarly to all other countries in the Balkans, in fact, the degree of industrialization in both Albania and Kosovo remains low to date, hampering integration in the lucrative sectors of the world today. 

Third, the markets and economies of Balkan countries are generally steered towards EU member states, starting with the frontline ones such as Italy and Greece. Market exchange among non-EU Balkan countries is still far from meeting its potential as they remain poorly functional. 

Strengthening economic relations between Kosovo and Albania is essential for both countries’ economic viabilities. Through Albania, Kosovo reaches an outlet to the sea as well as an expansion of its very small market. The Durres-Kukes highway, also known as ‘the highway of the nation’, has generally brought remarkable changes to the road infrastructure between the two countries, and will specifically ease Kosovo’s access to the port of Durres. 

Albania’s benefits are also many. First, as Albania’s tourism currently relies on the so-called ‘ethnic tourism’, the highway again offers great opportunities by diminishing infrastructural hardship on potential holiday makers from Kosovo. Second, the natural market that Kosovo’s main cities were for Albania’s impoverished northern and eastern regions can now be easily regenerated again. 

Another sector of mutual strategic importance for the two countries is energy. The spontaneity that has thus far driven cooperation in the sector, slowly leading to the creation of a common energy market ought to become a matter of serious policy. 

There are parallel trends though. And what can easily challenge the politically motivated drive towards EU member states, and the economic rapprochement between Albania and Kosovo, is a kind of a ‘back to the future’ trend in Balkan economics. And that is the return of the former market of trade, of trade routes of the Federation.