The refrain of the old Balkan song about “Greater Albania” is repeated almost every year, depending on the dynamics of international and regional politics, marking a long trajectory with ups and downs. From sports to music festivals and to the high-level tables of the United Nations, “Greater Albania” returned this year to the “shooting table” for several countries, each for its own reasons. But according to experts, in no case is this narrative related to a real Albanian threat.
The narrative of “Greater Albania”
The mention that resonated the most was that of October 23, when Vasili Nebenzia, Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations Security Council, accused Pristina of promoting “Kurti’s ambition for Greater Albania”, “trying to destabilize the areas populated by Muslims in Serbia and is inciting centrifugal feelings in Macedonia”.
Lecturer Ermal Hasimja argues the lack of existence of an “idea”, much less the “threat” of “Greater Albania”, in three different aspects. The first, the historical one.
” Almost all the peoples of the Balkans have an idea of a larger national state that would supposedly include all their ethnicities or territories, present or past, real or supposed, minority or majority. Albanians are no exception.”
Another factor that shows the non-existence of this project is the lack of impact on state policies of calls for “Ethnic Albania”, which ultimately remains in the stadiums, without any impact on the general public opinion.
“In economic terms, Albania and Kosovo do not have any greater cooperation with each other than they have with other countries in the region. Relations between Albanian leaders throughout the last 3 decades have been characterized by contained but visible conflicts, just like the one between Rama and Kurti today.” – argues Hasimja, emphasizing the other indicator.
” The polls have never been able to confirm any dominant or imposing will of the Albanians for the unification of the Albanian states and no longer the will to realize a “Greater Albania” which is supposed to include territories inhabited by Albanians before the Balkan wars of over a century ago.” – he explains.
Regardless of the facts, the narrative about Greater Albania has stood the test of time.
Greater Albania is the ghost that Serbian nationalist circles or representatives of Russia are trying to build, in the assessment of lecturer and researcher of international relations, Ermal Hasimja.
Greater Albania is kept alive to be used as a “stick” to hit the West, argues the former ambassador of Albania to the UN, Agim Nesho.
” Russia and Serbia always mention Greater Albania, because they want to blame the international community that the support to Kosovo in 1999 was not principled and humanitarian, but a Western project to the detriment of the interests of the Slavic peoples of the Balkans.”
The mention of Greater Albania in the UN Security Council by Russia is not at all naive, Hasimja explains.
“The accusations hide, without much care, the Russian intentions to destabilize the Balkans and to open new engagement fronts for the attention of the Euro-Atlantic allies. The case of the current situation in Palestine clearly showed how a new crisis can draw attention away from the war in Ukraine.”
Former diplomat Nesho says that one way to destabilize the region is to return the Kosovo issue to the UN Security Council.
” Russia’s goal today is to return the Kosovo issue to the Security Council, where by returning SC resolution 1244, it will try to influence another compromise solution, giving something to Serbia. This political move can then be used as a precedent for Russia’s occupied territories in Ukraine.” – argues Nesho.
“Greater Albania” in Serbia
As for Serbia, the use of the “Greater Albania” narrative takes different forms and purposes.
Nikola Petrovič, head of ISAC Fund Serbia, identifies four main forms of this narrative. One of them and the most widespread is the use of “Greater Albania” by political elites and their media outlets to discredit politicians from Kosovo.
” Recently it has been used by Vučič to discredit Kurti, turning it into a general narrative that Kurti is not interested in Kosovo as much as he is interested in the creation of Greater Albania. “
Petrović argues that this is the most widespread narrative in Serbia, even being repeated by far-right politicians as an attack on Vučić who has ‘tolerated’ its creation according to them.
Another form in which the narrative of Greater Albania appears is when there is cooperation between politicians from Albania and other Balkan states where Albanians have political representation.
This narrative is also widely used by anti-Western historians or other “experts” when discussing Albanians in the Western Balkans, as well as in sporting events where symbols of Greater Albania are displayed, or when the sign of the double-headed eagle is used.
This narrative – Nikola Petrovič explains – as unrealistic as it is, is used to present the Albanians as a factor of instability in the Western Balkans.
It returns to attention when it is used by the political elite, but I really don’t think that the idea of ”Greater Albania” is considered a serious threat by the majority of the population” – concluded the expert from Serbia, Petrović.
Another thesis for the use of this narrative by Serbia is what the lecturer Ermal Hasimja mentions, according to which ” these accusations can serve Serbia the most to balance internal nationalism with the counter-figure of an external enemy “.
This repeated statement, which has Serbia as its regional speaker, during the second half of this year was often heard in North Macedonia as well. Albin Kurti’s visit to municipalities with an Albanian majority in Macedonia was used as a catalyst .
As was shown in the case of Albin Kurti’s visit to Tetovo and Çair, the narrative of Greater Albania is used as an instrument of internal politics in North Macedonia more than as an attitude towards Albin Kurti or even less Albania.
Filip Stojanovski, part of the Metamorphosis foundation, confirms this finding by pointing out that ” it is local pro-Russian political parties such as United Macedonia ( modeled after Putin’s United Russia ) that use aspects of this narrative to reopen wounds from the conflict armed in 2001 “.
” Levica, another openly pro-Kremlin party that has 2 MPs, also promotes a version of this “Albania” conspiracy theory , especially ahead of the upcoming elections in 2024. “
Despite the fact that the main Albanian politicians have promoted the concept of “Greater Albania” emphasizing EU integration to overcome border problems, certain events are used to provoke provocations and revive this narrative, argues Stojanovski.
Examples range from the 2014 drone incident in Belgrade, to conspiracy theories about the 2016 meetings of Albanian politicians in Tirana, to the visit of Kosovo Prime Minister Kurti in 2023 to Tetovo and the opening of the KLA Museum near Kumanovo . “
Evidence of the impact this narrative has according to Stojanovks is the way it is modified to fit different contexts, including the use of inappropriate jokes as a means of conveying disinformation, such as the case of the supposed ban of the Barbie movie in Serbia due to the use of the map of Greater Albania. EUvs.Disinfo notes that these humor misuse tactics, called “hahaganda,” are also a key part of pro-Kremlin narratives.
The narrative of “Greater Albania” is constantly used, sometimes as a tool to attack certain policies or individuals and sometimes as an argument for a possible danger. But despite the raising of this narrative by Serbia and even giving its voice by Russia to the UN Security Council, for experts the situation is clear.
The concept of an “Ethnic Albania” or “Greater Albania” is as much a part of folklore as other Balkan songs or legends. – assesses the lecturer Ermal Hasimja. “Greater Albania” has been used for internal politics in Serbia, even in North Macedonia. It was used as a tool of rebuke for Kosovo politicians or for the West itself, as diplomat Agim Nesho explains.
Experts estimate that the concept of “Greater Albania” never turned into a strategy, let alone a real plan, remaining in the realm of narratives.
* This article was produced as part of the Western Balkans Anti-Disinformation Center regional initiative