Albania and Serbia in constructive phase

"In 2016, we witnessed a kind of turnabout in relations between Albania and Serbia, from a predominantly negative phase, with several incidents, undiplomatic statements, verbal conflicts, into a very constructive phase..."

Genc MllojaSource: Albanian Daily News

Veran Matic, B92 News Editor- in- Chief and President of B92 Board of Directors, is of the opinion that Albania and Serbia have entered a constructive phase and both countries have best recognized the benefits of cooperation in the frame of Berlin's process.

Mr. Matic, who is also a well-known publicist, made a shrewd comprehensive overview of what happened during 2016 in the Serb-Albanian ties and their impact on the improvement of the economic cooperation, on the region and the prospective of EU integration. But he regrets that the prepared inter-state Memorandum on Cultural Cooperation hasn't been signed yet and expects the signing of other memorandums in fields of tourism, education including military agreement as well.

The establishment of regular communication between Prime Ministers Aleksandar Vucic and Edi Rama is applauded by Mr. Matic, who has the impression that both leaders would play a crucial role in the relations between the two countries in a longer period of time. "They have visions of bilateral relations, but also regional relations, and all of them together had a common denominator that leads towards European and Euro-Atlantic integrations, with maintaining their specific traits," he pointed out.

But Mr. Matic insists that Albania and Serbia also need Memorandum on Military-Technical cooperation because, according to him, that agreement would surely positively influence the pacification of potential tensions. "I am confident that this could have a positive impact on the safety of citizens in Kosovo," he said, adding that all should become NATO members. Mr. Matic thinks that leading people from Kosovo, i.e. President Hashim Thaci, Prime Minister Isa Mustafa and others that hold power today in Kosovo, need to take part in all these processes.

Making an appeal whereby Western Balkans people don't need to lead politics that would play with stereotypes established on wrong policies, the policies of the criminals and the crimes, Mr. Matic expresses the strong wish for building "our Balkan Union steadily and on our own, that should become natural part of European Union" in the interview which follows:

- What has 2016 brought about with regards to the relations between Albania and Serbia and which are your expectations?

VERAN MATIC: In 2016, we witnessed a kind of turnover in the relations between Albania and Serbia, from predominantly negative phase, within which we had several incidents, undiplomatic statements, verbal conflicts, we entered into a very constructive phase, primarily within Berlin's process, where, it seems to me, Albania and Serbia best recognized the benefits of this kind of cooperation, including establishment of bilateral communication on the highest level, between prime ministers Edi Rama and Aleksandar Vucic. Economic cooperation which can offer the most best speaks about very dynamic communication on this field, revealing that these are not just empty words.

Large number of Albanian businessmen had participated on the Business Forum with Serbian businessmen in Nis, under the patronage of both prime ministers. This was not an imposed event, but a sincere and natural desire of the business to expand where it is possible. In Albanian-Serbian economic exchange, there is especially large potential for expansion of trade exchange.

I believe that this is the best opportunity to establish the foundation of cooperation, and to make them institutionalized, to strengthen them, to link them as much as possible to the European integration of both states, as well as with Euro-Atlantic integrations. Cultural institutions should follow the example of businessmen. I had taken part in preparing inter-state Memorandum on Cultural Cooperation. I regret that it hasn't been signed yet, although it was ready two months ago. I expect the memorandums in the field of tourism to be signed as well as there are big potentials there too, along with the field of education, and generally, I would welcome some military agreements as well.

- Do you think that the Forum of businesses of both countries in Tirana and the establishment of the Joint Chamber of Commerce will help promote the economic and trade exchanges between the two countries and people?

VERAN MATIC: I am convinced that the establishment of the Joint Chamber will greatly help and strengthen our relations. It is crucial to establish an institution that is rather efficient in dismantling stereotypes that we have about one another, that often present a strong limitation when it comes to establishing business cooperation. Secondly, adequate and relevant information should be given to the entrepreneurs, sending them a strong support of the other side in his/her business activity and within the country. Very direct cooperation has been established, without intermediaries that are often speculators from Kosovo, Macedonia and other states. What seems to be most encouraging is the fact that practical cooperation has commenced and is carried out prior to formal operations. Cooperation between Kosovo and Serbian Chamber of Commerce can be a good role model, as the scope of exchange is amounting to almost a billion, while the chambers intensely work on the resolve of everyday issues that every entrepreneur faces with. Both Chambers and both Governments are very active in this process. Such cooperation gives good perspective that the businessmen will find much more favorable forms of cooperation, better partners, make more competitive positions for their business in their own country, but also for the expansion in the region, where predictable results and support awaits them.

- Do you think that the Rama-Vucic exchanges and other relevant activities have set a new course in the relations between Belgrade and Tirana and how can that influence positively on the preservation of peace and stability in the region?

VERAN MATIC: I believe that poor regional policy of all Balkan states is their main weakness, along with the lack of strong local partnerships, and merging, such as Visegrad Group within which Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland help each other in the process of EU Enlargement and Euro-Atlantic integrations, but also through joint performance they managed to preserve all their regional specific traits. I believe that we have a chance partially through Berlin Process to start act in this way. After a period of mutual considerations and findings, prime ministers Rama and Vucic had met on similar wavelengths, by establishing regular communication and mechanism for quick resolve of misunderstandings. They had established a vision of relations that is primarily linked to establishing highway traffic, starting with airline Tirana-Belgrade that functions great, with more than 10 weekly flights, and large potential to be increased, and promoted second highway that pertains to the highway Nis-Pristina, that continues into the highway Pristina-Durres. Based on this highway traffic, it is possible to easily accomplish further expansion of mutual ties. One Albanian port is being mentioned to be used for the transportation of goods from the Balkans, and I believe that a case study is done about that.

It is of utmost importance for the leading people in the region to have responsible mutual relations and direct communication with each other. They have visions of bilateral relations, but also regional relations and all of them together had common denominator that leads towards European and Euro-Atlantic integrations, with maintaining their specific traits. Those who are capable of cooperating more intensely with Russia, China, Turkey, Arab states, can only assist further regional development, without jeopardizing European integrations, at the same time strengthening regional connections, and thus contributing to more balanced wealth growth. I get the impression that both prime ministers Rama and Vucic would play a crucial role in the relations in a longer period of time, so it is necessary to establish wider social consensus that would give them necessary tailwind in order to maximize the profit from those relations and the relations between Serbian and Albanian institutions, civil societies, individuals...

I had already mentioned that we also need Memorandum on Military-Technical cooperation, and this agreement would surely positively influence the pacification of potential tensions, and directed a way towards cooperation without military options, as there was no direct military conflicts ever in the history with Albania. I am confident that this could have a positive impact on the safety of citizens in Kosovo. We should all become members of NATO Alliance, U.S. military base Bondsteel on Kosovo, presence of other states, military cooperation between Albania and Serbia needs to be raised onto the higher level, thus insuring best safety for the citizens in Kosovo, as this is precondition for establishing necessary trust and relation building, dealing with the past and establishing reconciliation process. Of course, leading people from Kosovo need to take part, i.e. President Thaci, Prime Minister Mustafa and others that hold power today in Kosovo.

I am certain that partnership of this kind is possible and would be very useful, primarily in order to resolve very specific issues and problems of the citizens, starting with missing ones, via the court proceedings for war crimes, to the property issues, thus contributing to the reconciliation process.

- As a follow up do you think that the rapprochement between Belgrade and Tirana can promote the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo?

VERAN MATIC: I think that we are on the good path of establishing minimal trust on all three sides, although it takes patience, diplomatic wisdom and well-intentioned allies...

We have to use all the possibilities as we are not the same even within our nations. Croats from the Herzegovina are completely identical to the Serbs from Herzegovina, and they have not much in common with the Serbs from Belgrade or the Croats from Zagreb, that are closer to one another than their fellows from Herzegovina or some other regions. In the same time, I believe that some Albanians from Albania and closer to Belgrade Serbs that to Kosovo Albanians, etc. And I am sure that this has nothing to do with patriotism but simply the conditions in which representatives of a certain nation had developed in specific circumstances. I am a Serb, and yet I am confident that I like some Albanians from Kosovo more than other Albanians from Kosovo like them, the same as I can find more things in common with some Albanians from Albania than with some Albanians from Kosovo.

It is clear that we go through the phase of childhood illness when it comes to those attempts, and that there is jealousy involved, exaggerated criticism i.e. of Prime Minister Rama from the circles close to the Government of the President of Kosovo. I find it hard to understand that there is no understanding as to how much activities of Prime Minister Rama in communication with Serbia, apart from not causing any damage to the interests of Kosovo Albanians, are being criticized although this is the best strategy and the most constructive assistance to the Kosovo political and social establishment. Starting from changing stereotypes about Albanians in general, to the projects that can present real economic strengthening of Kosovo as well, by establishment of good conditions for the lost trust to be redeemed. There is no paternalism in this relation or an attempt of abuse. I think that we need open hearts and sincere intentions, and reduction of party interests in the pre-election campaigns, and in that case, we will accomplish good result together.

As the youngest nation in Europe, with large number of young unemployed persons, Kosovo presents both social and security problem, and I am certain that we must build solutions for this particular problem, together with European Union that is not so willing to tolerate migrants from this region anymore, so we have more and more those who return without any solution for them.

I think that it is possible to make agreement with Germany and Austria as was the one when people in the sixties used to work there and in other countries, so this reverse process should have a kind of system that will not present new burden to those countries in which those young people return. We need to make a program for them that would allow them to get a job through certain projects, through education for deficient professions, strong educational programs, such as computer programming, etc. In this case, we need to act regionally, those are connected states and by offering solution on another region, we in a way offer solution to the possible future problems of our own that do not look so important at this point.

In order to make more serious breakthrough, it is absolutely necessary to initiate the process of reconciliation with Albanians, wherever they might live, and the Serbs wherever they are, the same goes for the Croats and the Serbs, Moslems and Serbs... even Serbs and Serbs...

We need to establish ties, creative pro-active environment in our relations through direct projects. I am under impression that this need is comprehended by political elites, but they are still entrenched in their pre-election campaigns, giving preference to internal over foreign regional policies, and in that process, all the visions disappear, along with good will and intentions, and all the efforts are wasted, although it is said that this will last only until the elections. We will treat you bad, we will expand hatred as this will help us in local elections, by pandering the worst kind in our nations, and when this need ends after the elections, it often happens that even worse hatemongers occupy executive positions, even fascists, and this is wholly irresponsible politics that is hard to mend... as it gets us into a negative spiral.

It comes to this: we don't need to lead politics that would play with stereotypes established on wrong policies, the policies of the criminals and the crimes. We need to draw the line, and turn over the matrix of communication and the relations within the region once and for all.

- There has been an abundance of books translated from Serbian into Albanian and vice versa. Likewise there was a Memorandum of Understanding between B92 and Tirana- based daily Albanian Daily News last November. In your opinion how can they help in the growth of knowledge of the two people, their literature, life, events, political and economic, customs?

VERAN MATIC: We don't know anything about each other. Often, we don't know much about ourselves. We are educated and raised on the ideological interpretations of history, based on national renaissance or communist pattern or post-communist roaming... Primarily in our own states, while relations between the states get new spins and complete ignorance. My publishing house Samizdat B92 had published the best book of the best Albanian actor Bekim Fehmiu on the life of Albanian family of intellectuals prior to Second World War. Those are the facts that no Serb ever knew, and a few Albanians as well.

We had published the first volume of Petrit Imami's book entitled "Serbs and Albanians through the Centuries" in Albanian and Serbian, and one of these days, we will print the second volume of this title, followed by a third. This is a capital edition amounting to more than 2.000 pages. Stated facts tell about our relations better than we perceive them for the last century. We were allies through the centuries, we mixed, made friends, were on the same side, helped each other...

Albanians kept Serbian sanctuaries safe on Kosovo, and they managed in doing so for the five centuries, and when so-called civilized international governance appeared, those same churches had become targets of the same or other Albanians that used to preserve them since the 10th century up till now. Someone simply made discontinuity of several centuries' alliance, falsifying history, making stereotypes, facts were defeated by the myths, and brought us into unnatural position. Our cultures are so rich, our heritage is so big and has common points and is pervasive. So the key of restoration of good relations is in turning towards this rich heritage, promoting national songs of the Middle Ages, customs through the stories, testimonies, games and promoting honor as a top common value.

- Seeing things from the prospective of Serbia-Albania progress of the relations, what would you say about the future of the Western Balkans? Will it continue to follow the EU path?

VERAN MATIC: Western Balkan was for years in the state of chronic depressive negativism. The state of all our nations has been very negatively oriented, by diverse politics that were led so far, but also due to the fact that there is no strong entrepreneurship initiative.

Taking things into our own hands, determining our own future... strong activity in reality... Instead of that, we are waiting for something out of a habit of several decades of socialist heritage, expecting that a party or political leader will solve all the problems.

We need to change overall approach and this is the first level of responsibility of the government, as this is not the issue of subsequent weakness of the citizens but several decades of learning to be passive, that had the function of anesthesia on the political level. Nowadays, we have the same tendencies, and on one hand, we have promotion of entrepreneurship and on the other, everything is done through social demagogy and by pondering to making an illusion of so called social state, etc.

I believe that this chronic depressive negativism needs to be recognized in the right way, and then political and social elites should deal with it in the right way. People cannot be blamed for the depression and negativism. If a government wants to give priority to progress, then it needs to deal with this phenomenon, not in a violent way, but through re-education, transformation, reforms, and by giving personal examples.

The leader giving personal example that is being immediately neutralized by unscrupulous and ignorant attitude of his close associates is our chronic problem that has to be eliminated.

Establishing sincere regional union, based on joint values and goals, starting with true facing with the past and reconciliation, to the bonds established by France and Germany for years after the Second World War, with parallel reconciliation and cultural and educational cooperation, along with business unions, that all led to the creation of European Union. Therefore, we have to build our Balkan Union steadily and on our own, that should become natural part of European Union, but this is the road we should take, and nothing can be done fictitiously and led by other interests. All needs to be done so that our people can fully comprehend this process as natural, making clear to them why it is best for all of us.


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