By Ljubiša Malenica for the Saker Blog
The Greater Albania project has its roots in the nineteenth century and idea of the Prizren League to unite in one territorial unit all areas that were allegedly originally inhabited by Albanians. The Prizren League itself can be seen as an extension of the Ottoman authorities, since it was founded in 1878, immediately after the end of the war between Russia, Serbia and Montenegro against Turkey.
Given that Turkey was defeated in the war, Istanbul had to look for other methods of protecting its own interests during the peace process. League was equipped with weapons and ammunition by the Porte, members of the organization were individuals well known for their loyalty to the Sultan, and Ottoman authorities took upon themselves the responsibility of paying for congress in Prizren. All these facts support the thesis claiming Prizren League was an organization created as expression of Ottoman interests in the Balkans.
Turkey’s interests have been significantly undermined by the San Stefano Peace Treaty and the Berlin Congress, and, as might be expected, the Prizren League took a negative stance towards both peace conferences. Moreover, during the Berlin Congress, the League sent a memorandum to the major powers asking for recognition of the Albanian national identity, a very illustrative fact in itself, and the realization of autonomy within the Ottoman Empire for all territories that would compose the so-called “Greater Albania”.
Simultaneously with these documents, an additional memorandum was sent to the Berlin Congress, called the Skadar Memorandum, requesting from Great Britain to take upon itself the role of a guarantor for the creation of the Albanian state. Considering the role of London as a self-proclaimed balancer whose main goal was to maintain the status quo in continental Europe, the Albanian choice is not surprising.
In terms of political relations during the period in question, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro have already been allies of Moscow on several occasions. The same could be expected if Greece became independent. The development of the situation at that moment was already, obviously, to the detriment of Istanbul, and any future conflict in the Balkans would mean a further liberation of the territories previously occupied by the Ottomans. The First and Second Balkan Wars are illustrative cases in point. Given that all Slavic countries in the Balkans, at that period, had an interest in preserving the alliance and cultural ties with Russia, the eventual withdrawal of Turkey from the Balkans and the re-establishment of Slavic statehood would create a situation in which most of the Balkan Peninsula would find itself within the Russian sphere of influence.
London could not afford such a development given the understandable, and on many previous occasions expressed, fear of a united continental Europe in whose presence the British Isles would be a negligible force, probably subordinated to cultural and political dictates of the continental center of power.
The realization of Albanian ambitions did not come with the Berlin Congress, but they did not have to wait long for creation of their own state, with the blessing of official London. After the end of the First Balkan War, the Ottoman Empire was completely expelled from the majority of Balkan Peninsula. Despite the fact that the Albanians did not play any role in liberation of the occupied territories from Ottoman rule, London Agreement of 1913 established the independent state of Albania.
In addition to earlier mentioned documents created by the Prizren League, Albanian pretensions towards the territories of the surrounding peoples can be seen in this period through the actions of Ismail Cemali. In the midst of the First Balkan War, Cemali gathers representatives of the Albanians in city of Vlora, where they proceed to adopt the declaration on independence of Albania.
If we take into account that representatives in question came from all parts of the four Ottoman provinces (vilayets), i.e. Kosovo, Skadar, Janjina and Bitola, back then inhabited by Albanians, it can be assumed that Albania, imagined by the present delegates, included the territorial totality of all four mentioned provinces. Claims on lands of others become clear when one realizes that Albanians represented a minority in a significant part of the four provinces. Representatives gathered in Vlora were not elected representatives, so it is unsurprising this declaration of independence was completely ignored by both the Ottoman Empire and the then great powers. The Albanian state established during the London Conference was defined within significantly more modest borders.
During the Second World War, Albania was known as Greater Albania in the period from 1939 until 1943, and had status of an Italian protectorate which incorporated, after the fall of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, parts of Serbia. During their rule, the Italians found a natural ally in the irredentist aspirations of the Albanian elite towards the territories of the neighboring peoples where Albanians lived, regardless of the numerical ratio between them and the domicile population. It is a historical fact that period of Italian occupation was accompanied by a large number of crimes committed by Albanians against the local population in the occupied territories.
After the collapse of Italy and defeat of Germany, the short-lived state project of “Greater Albania” ended like the Independent State of Croatia, but the aspirations remained. After the fall of communist regime in the early 1990s, irredentist claims again occupied a significant part of the political and intellectual thought within Albania.
Considering the influence of United States in the Balkans during the last three decades, there can be no doubt that activities in question, intentionally or not, were in favor of the idea of Greater Albania. Both during the conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, and during war in Kosmet, Washington’s position was obviously in favor of Serbian enemies. The conduct of organizations under the influence or direct leadership of the United States, both during military operations and in peacetime, was undoubtedly directed against Serbian interest in any shape or form. This fact alone was enough to strengthen the position idea of Greater Albania had within Albanian population, given that over time its realization seemed to become more and more probable.
Ethnic cleansing of Serbs from the Federation of BiH and Croatia, carried out with silent blessing from the West, served as a pattern of behavior that Albanians could apply during the Kosovo conflict without fear of criticism or intervention. There was no trepidation Tirana could be bombed by NATO planes due to the ethnic cleansing of Kosmet by the KLA.
Revitalization of the idea of Greater Albania, in its core, is not so much about the American relationship with the Albanians as it is about US perception of the Serbs.
The statement of George Kenney, a former Yugoslavia desk officer at the US state department, is an illustrative example how was Yugoslavia perceived as a state, and by extension, Serbs as a people who were most interested in its preservation. In a 2008 statement to the British Guardian, Kenney pointed out that “In post-cold war Europe no place remained for a large, independent-minded socialist state that resisted globalization”.
In addition to American interests, the role of Germany, which immediately after its unification took a hostile attitude towards Yugoslavia and the Serbs, should not be forgotten. Considering the last one hundred and twenty years of European history, one gets the impression that the desire for domination of the continent by Germany is the main catalyst for a significant part of the misfortune which befell Europe.
In a world characterized by the hegemonic role of the United States, after the disappearance of the Soviet Union, it was inevitable that the ideological features of the victor, in this case capitalism, globalism, free trade, multiculturalism, and democracy, would become a model for transformation of other countries, regardless of their wishes and desires of the domicile population.
The characteristics of the victorious ideology were, of course, largely beneficial to the United States themselves, given that the system was established with the aim of reproducing, into infinity, American, and to a lesser extent West European, global dominance. It is not surprising that all serious forms of opposition to the imposed system were seen as a danger, given that at the same time they represented a departure from the propagandist illusion there were no alternatives to the new state of affairs, that the system represented the best way to regulate social relations and that everyone benefited from it.
The fact that the new system quickly took on the outlines of a neocolonial model of behavior, especially towards Eastern European countries, with pronounced demographic and economic parasitism embodied in legal structures and norms of both the European Union and other world organizations such as the IMF and World Bank, was supposed to remain hidden behind an appropriate smokescreen of consumer culture and a general degradation of cultural standards in behavior and action.
The geopolitical interests of Washington, and of the West in general, in conjunction with their economic interests, were not to be called into question by opposition, especially by a state such as Yugoslavia or a people such as Serbs. Allowing the general narrative of globalization and the norms and quality of the Western model to be questioned by small states and peoples was unthinkable, given that it would simultaneously point to the existence of imbalances and problems within the model itself and would further give the impression that the model itself was subject to change through dialogue and consensus. As we have already mentioned, the very purpose of the model was contrary to this development and force, both in legal and physical terms, remained the only way to protect interests of the original creators of an ideology that until recently was considered irreplaceable.
The easiest way to deal with Yugoslavia and the Serbs was to encourage internal divisions and recruit non-Serb local elites into implementation of American goals. One obvious example was the influence of Warren Zimmerman on the beginning of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Gathering representatives of all three sides in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Portuguese Ambassador to Sarajevo at that time, Jose Cutileiro, and the British Lord Peter Carrington succeeded in creating a plan for the division and decentralization of Bosnia and Herzegovina that was, to an extent, satisfactory for all three sides.
The agreement, also known as the Lisbon Treaty, was signed by representatives of all three sides on March 18, 1992. Ten days later, US Ambassador Warren Zimmerman arrives in Sarajevo where he meets with Alija Izetbegovic. Soon after, Izetbegovic quickly withdraws his signature from the previously reached arrangement. Although there is no documentation, or other direct record, of what was said during this meeting between Zimmerman and Izetbegovic, sequence of events is far from accidental and indicates a high degree of connection between the encounter and the outbreak of war in BiH.
According to unofficial information, during the meeting, Zimmerman gave Izetbegovic a firm assurance that United States were ready to recognize Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent country. The fact that Washington recognized BiH as an independent state only nine days after the meeting, on April 7, 1992, just as Zimmermann claimed, gives credence to the unofficial information about the nature of the Zimmerman-Izetbegovic meeting. Recognizing independence of a certain state, in itself as a process, is not something that happens spontaneously and quickly, especially due to the situation Bosnia and Herzegovina found itself in at that time. Given that it took the US administration less than ten days to make such a decision, implies that decision had already been made. US only awaited a suitable moment in order to make the decision public.
During a statement for Canadian CTVNews in 2012, former Canadian Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, James Bissett, gave additional weight to earlier claims regarding Zimmerman’s role in the beginning of the Bosnian civil war. Namely, during the conversation, Bissett pointed out without hesitation that “the trigger was really when the American ambassador persuaded Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim leader in Bosnia, to renounce his signature and withdraw his signature from an agreement that had been reached earlier, negotiated by the Portuguese foreign minister…That meant that Bosnia could become independent, but there would be three autonomous regions. They all signed that, but my neighbor that lived across the street from me, Warren Zimmerman, the US ambassador convinced Alija Izetbegovic to renounce that agreement and declare unilateral independence, and that the United States would immediately recognize an independent Bosnia…”
Events related to crisis in Kosmet followed a very similar pattern. Albanians in Kosovo served the interests of Washington in the same manner that Muslims did on the ground in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Just as Muslims were promised support and independence of a state which they saw exclusively as their own, so the Albanians were, in essence, offered the opportunity to realize the idea of a Greater Albania.
The August 1993 New York Times article, surprisingly professionally written, conveys the opinion of most US officials, who largely agree that Washington made a mistake in insisting on an independent and multicultural Bosnia and Herzegovina despite domestic leaders agreeing to divide the country. This view of the situation recently reappeared on the scene with the texts of Timothy Less, who proposes supporting the unification of the Republic of Srpska and Serbia as compensation for the recognition of independent Kosovo by Belgrade.
Of course, Less looks at things from perspective of interests of the United States and expects Serbs, after American blessing of unification, to approach the United States and turn their backs on Moscow. Whether American diplomacy will accept these suggestion remains to be seen, but the fact that this option is being discussed at all should serve as a lesson to Serbian neighbors that in the last three decades they have not fought against Serbs so much for their own interests as they did for American ones.
As author stated earlier in the text, the Balkan problem of Washington, from the perspective of the United States, comes down to the question of Serbs. An illustration of this can be found in the New York Times article mentioned above. Namely, part of the article is dedicated to the statement of Warren Zimmerman, who, defending the earlier American policy, pointed out that “our view was that we might be able to head off a Serbian power grab by internationalizing the problem…Our hope was the Serbs would hold off if it was clear Bosnia had the recognition of Western countries. It turned out we were wrong.”
Although a short statement, it is very indicative and leads to several important questions. If we take into account the nature of the Lisbon Treaty, which Ambassador Warren torpedoed during his conversation with Izetbegovic, why was the power takeover by the Serbs a problem? Moreover, since the territorial units envisaged by the Carrington-Cutilier plan were based on the national principle, Serbs, by taking power in their areas, would do the same as the other two groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina. On the other hand, why was the internationalization of the problem necessary? The problem was already, in large part, nearing a solution that was accepted by all three parties. Why were Serbs expected, almost by some kind of automatism, to give up their interests and demands in a situation where West recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina declaration of independence?
All these questions make sense and their answers are relatively obvious if we accept position that the moves of American diplomacy were not aimed at defusing the situation or achieving solution to crisis in BiH, but against the interests of Serbs. The language used by Zimmerman implies Serbs are the destabilizing factor and threat to the situation within the country at the time, despite all the facts to the contrary. The American vision of BiH, interpreted through Zimmerman’s statement, implied complete political domination of Sarajevo and the Muslim political leadership, a unitary state structure accompanied, for the sake of US internal propaganda, with labels of multiethnicity and multiculturalism. Serbs, and partly Croats, were expected to give up upon their own interests.
The irony of history is reflected in fact that the Dayton Agreement itself, which achieved peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, was relatively similar to the Lisbon Agreement.
For a better understanding of American policy towards Serbs during the 1990s and after conflict in the former Yugoslavia ended, it is necessary to pay attention to the previously mentioned victorious ideology which, after collapse of the USSR, gained status of a globally applicable template for shaping societies.
Due to the specifics of American history, a thread of racial relations between the inhabitants of the United States always ran through American society. Over time, this led to the development of complexes which were twisted by the political forces in United States, particularly the Democratic Party, into political and social power simultaneously encompassing both white and black population. Within the Hollywood dichotomy of guilt, whites in the US were assigned the role of malfeasants while blacks, along with other minorities, became victims. The former developed a guilt complex while in the latter, victim complex was encouraged. In both cases, the encouragement of these complexes took extreme forms and was from the very beginning completely divorced from historical facts. Resistance to these processes did exist in the United States, and still exists today, but the foundation of the future American society was laid.
Multiculturalism, as one element of the new world order, introduced a whole range of other minorities into the previously outlined social formula, which mostly referred to the American population of European and African descent. New minorities encompassed both minorities based on their nation and groups that became minorities because of a particular characteristic, such as sexual orientation or a specific view of one’s own gender. The artificial multiplication of minorities led to a specific development of the earlier abuser-victim relationship, and soon, in opposition to white “malfeasants”, a mass of “victims” appeared, diverse in their minority status but monolithic in their role of victims.
Globalism, as one of the key elements of American ideology, transferred the insane perception of racial relations within the United States to the global level, predefining “good and bad guys” without taking into account the local context events or their development.
The European left, by its very nature inclined to such ideological ramshackle, and itself without an original idea, accepted this view of history and society, thus providing support to the Americanization of European nations. In his book “Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Towards a Secular Theocracy”, Paul Gottfried points out that “for the Left, especially in Europe, the post-Cold War United States is the enforcer of “antifascist” and multicultural ideas that are triumphing in American society and among its human-rights allies. The long-demonized American capitalist empire no longer upsets the European Left as monolithically as it once did…For the Left, at least until the recent war against terrorism, the United States has become an indispensable partner in promoting its work, against obstinate European nationalists and antiglobalists.”
In the early 1990s, America was seen by leftists as a utopia. The combination of leftist ideas and predatory capitalism, intertwined with the image of an “exceptional nation”, led Washington’s aggressive stance on the global field. Anyone opposed to the cultural and economic aggression in question eventually faced a military aggression.
American leftists, who managed by “long march through institutions” to install their cadres within a large number of important positions both in American society and American political structure, recognized Serbs as historical actors perfectly fitting the constructed stereotype of “bad guys”. As a white nation, the stigma of “white guilt” could be immediately applied to them, only in this case the “oppressed minority” were not the blacks or other minority populations within the United States, but the Muslim population in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosmet. As a nation aware of its history and national identity, and interested in preserving both, Serbs commit the additional sin of reflexive suspicion towards globalism and resistance to the processes associated with this phenomenon.
The desire of Serbian people for existence within a homogeneous nation-state, derived from historical experience which confirmed the unstable and violent tendencies of heterogeneous societies, was interpreted as a rejection of the multicultural framework for social organization and was thus branded as unwelcomed. From the perspective of the American administration, regardless of historical facts and specific circumstances of events in former Yugoslavia, a multicultural society had to be insisted on. If multiculturalism can work in the United States, then it can work in small Balkan countries. However, if there was to exist a place in the world where it is objectively quite clear that multiculturalism is neither possible nor desirable, it would be only a matter of time before someone within the US questioned why were American politicians, on the domestic scene, so insistent on multiculturalism and why does this phenomenon becomes a taboo subject when its more negative characteristics become apparent.
Lessons from disintegration of multicultural “brotherhood and unity” within Yugoslavia have not been learned by the creators of American policy, and events within the United States today are the fruits of those missed historical lessons.
Doug Bandow, a senior fellow of the well known Cato Institute, during his testimony before the congressional committee in March 1999, clearly points out that there are no objective reasons for NATO intervention in Kosmet against Serbs and in favor of Albanians. In a transcript of Bandow’s statement, he explains that “despite the administration’s best intentions, its proposal to bomb Serbia and initiate a long‐term ground occupation of Kosovo is misguided in the extreme. The administration would attempt to impose an artificial settlement with little chance of genuine acceptance by either side. It would attempt to micromanage a guerrilla conflict, likely spreading nationalistic flames throughout the region. It would involve America in an undeclared war against a nation which has not threatened the U.S. or any U.S. ally. It would encourage permanent European dependence on America to defend European interests with little relevance to America. It would turn humanitarianism on its head, basing intervention on the ethnicity of the victims, allied status of the belligerents, relative strength of the contending political interests, and expansiveness of the media coverage. Most important, it would put U.S. troops at risk without any serious, let alone vital, American interest at stake”.
During his testimony, Bandow pointed out that NATO supporting KLA would only give additional impetus to the advocates of Greater Albania. Probably one of few American analysts from that period, Bandow warned involvement in the Balkans carried a risk of losing a much more important game related to Russia. Bandow emphasized that “Moscow’s future development remains worrisome and uncertain. Yet NATO attacks on and occupation of Yugoslavia, which shares longstanding Slavic ties with Russia, would exacerbate tensions already inflamed by the expansion of NATO”.
Twenty years after the events in Kosmet, we live in a world that Bandow partially predicted. The aggression on Yugoslavia represented one of the turning points in Russian-American relations and influenced the shaping of the world as we know it today.
Support for a unitary Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Greater Albania project is undoubtedly present within American politics, given that planners in Washington recognize these projects as useful for their own interests. This is perhaps the most important reason for support. Serbophobia, as a derivative of Russophobia, exists within the American administration, but the question is to what extent does the phenomenon in question influences the shaping of Washington’s policies towards the Serbian people. Albanian politicians should have learned lessons from the history of Yugoslavia itself in the early 1990s. For a certain time, ex-Yugoslavia suited Americans and they supported its existence. As soon as the American interest changed, the US did not hesitate to take an active part in encouraging its disintegration. Even in the event where Albanian project is realized, it would be a creation with a limited lifespan. Formed with American blessing, Greater Albania would depend on the goodwill of “friends” from Washington and their backing.
In the treatise that made him famous, Niccolo Machiavelli points out that “auxiliary troops—armies borrowed from a more powerful state—are as useless as mercenaries. Although they often fight well, a prince who calls on auxiliaries places himself in a no-win situation. If the auxiliaries fail, he is defenseless, whereas if the auxiliaries are successful, he still owes his victory to the power of another.”
This seems to be a lesson that none of the Serbian neighbors have learned. Today, Bosnia and Herzegovina is an international protectorate and a dysfunctional country. Croatia is a reservoir of labor reduced to the tourist destination of richer European countries, and at the beginning of the 2020, through intervention of the American military commander in political life of “independent” Kosovo, one could perceive real distribution of power on Kosmet. While Croats, Albanians and Muslims in Bosnia spent themselves in wars against “evil” Serbs, Western states imperceptibly placed a noose of economic and political dependence around their necks, all the while helping cultivate their victimhood narrative.
At this moment, the Serbian political leadership can act simultaneously in three directions. The first involves regional action towards countries also threatened by the idea of a Greater Albania. This raises the question whether there is political will among potential allies to take steps against the realization of the Albanian idea in the current conditions where the emergence of a larger Albanian state affects only Serbian interests. The political mood in the countries in question will most likely depend on the escalation of Albanian ambitions and actions.
The second course of action is to reject any recognition of Kosovo as an independent state and to insist on such a position within international institutions. The work of Serbian diplomacy has been somewhat successful in this regard in recent years, but the work of diplomats must be supported by efforts to strengthen Serbian institutions and influence in Kosmet itself.
The third set of activities concerns efforts to undo, within a seemingly increasingly multipolar world order, the Western-imposed status quo in the Balkans, almost entirely ranged against Serbian interests. This would entail an initiative for reconsideration of events which took place during the break-up of former Yugoslavia and to, furthermore, question the final results of those events, such as Kosovo’s self-proclaimed independence or the narrative of alleged Serbian guilt for various war crimes.
The idea and narrative of Greater Albania are a danger to Serbian statehood, but the very idea of Greater Albania bears the seeds of its disappearance. The full realization of Albania’s pretensions entails the creation of a hostile disposition within four neighboring states. The project of the Albanian irredentists was previously realized only in conditions of serious foreign support. As is usually the case with a hegemon that is slowly losing its status, the United States is facing growing challenges around the world, and support for Albanian interests by Washington is not assured. At the moment, it seems that time is working for Belgrade, which should use this opportunity to full extent and cease to react reservedly for the sake of EU membership, an illusion by this point.
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