Belgrade – Tirana, 68 years later
This seems to have been one of the toughest days for Serbian government and its prime minister Aleksandar Vucic. Of course, there were days like this in the recent past, one of which was definitely the day of the drone incident, and another, some time ago, the day of kneeling in Brussels before the signing of the Agreement. In any way, our burden was always connected to the Albanian issues. Whether it is about politics or translating Albanian. And these issues are returning regularly and becoming harder, because nothing is being done to resolve them.
For example, we waited sixty eight years for an Albanian official to come to Belgrade and continue the dialogue on cooperation which was established between the leaders of Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia and Albania. Only briefly, though, as agreements on economic cooperation, trade exchange and loans signed during the historic visit by Enver Hoxha (23.6 – 2.7.1946), failed after only two years. When the relations changed within the Communist Party of Albania itself, with pro-Soviet and pro-Yugoslav attitudes (conservative and reformist) constantly at odds, the environment for the implementation of the agreement also changed, until the crisis of 1948, when the Albanian leadership finally sided with the Cominform. We should not forget, however, that this visit by Hoxha was preceded by a period of the best possible relations between the two countries. The Yugoslav leadership argued for admission of Albania to the United Nations and the treaties of friendship and cooperation between the two countries were ratified. There were even ideas of federalization. But none of it survived. Pro-Yugoslav orientation has cost many Albanian officials their lives, and hostility towards Tito’s regime was fostered even after Stalin’s death. Albania under Enver Hoxha isolated itself from the rest of the world and became bunkerlike, its ruins now a tourist attraction. Yugoslavia’s path, of course, was completely different: de-stalinization, liberalization and prosperity, within the possibilities of that time, of course. And it all lasted for a while.
The war and breakup of Yugoslavia led to regressive processes, so that the culture of Belgrade’s diplomacy, which revealed itself in all its glory during the visit of Albanian prime minister Edi Rama, was far below any acceptable level. Of course, Yugoslavia is long gone, but the memory of greatness remains, fostered by almost every Serbian leader after the disappearance of the common state. As it turns out, quite inappropriate to the format of their diplomatic capacity. So prime minister Vucic openly demonstrated his ex-Radical Party notion of diplomacy in a “dialogue” which sounded more like a new episode of Teska rec on TV Pink, than a civilized diplomatic gesture. Since the arrival of Edi Rama, prime minister Vucic’s body language and facial expressions showed that has was doing something with aversion, which he can’t and won’t conceal. The highlight was a series of remarks and threats he directed at his Albanian counterpart, blaming him for everything he could think of, almost as by a list, like in a dispute between two squabbling neighbors in a Serbian village. At that point prime minister Vucic revealed his internal affairs face, as if the visit of prime minister Rama was just another “dumb accusation of plagiarism,” which he wanted to brush off. His words came from the distinctive register of communication with members of the government or the local nuisances from the media or the OSCE. Suddenly, the prime minister’s smile meant for Chancellor Merkel disappeared; even the childlike amazement with which he watched the stunts of Strizi, standing next to the indifferent president Putin. Only scowls and teeth grinding remained for prime minister Rama. All in the spirit of the desire for “turning over a new leaf in our relations”. Of course, all this wouldn’t be important if the whole thing wasn’t raised to the level of a diplomatic incident by mentioning independent Kosovo.
Following this event by the minute, the media which competed in fighting against the Great Albanian drone a month ago were now trying to discredit and humiliate Edi Rama. From the primitive presentation of ceremonial bows to the national insignia of the host country, to the set of prohibitions and permits which regulated the movement of the Albanian prime minister during his two-day visit to Serbia. They insisted on whether he was allowed to speak, about which subjects, in front of whom, in open or closed areas, and so on. They monitored every gesture but forgot to translate the speech of prime minister Rama. Luckily, prime minister Vucic had an excellent signal from the interpretation booth, so he covered for the media in his own manner. In this whole charade, we were deprived of information about the actual conversation between the prime ministers, as well as the agreements which were signed on that occasion. Something about the status of minorities and infrastructure projects could have been heard by the end of the day.
All in all, prime minister Vucic’s undiplomatic reaction caused an additional wave of anti-Albanian sentiment in Serbia. Judging by the filtered comments on the internet, a Serbian People’s Party consensus was reached that it would be best for Edi Rama to go away forever and never come back. Meanwhile, we will retreat to our bunkers, like Enver Hoxha did in 1948. The situation, however, changed dramatically in these sixty-eight years. Back then, the pro-Soviet attitude pulled Albanian leaders backwards. It seems to me that the pro-Russian faction in the Serbian government today could do something similar to Serbia. Prime minister Vucic’s gestures showed that he failed to understand the importance of yesterday’s event. I believe that the people from his immediate surroundings congratulated him on his conduct at the end of the day, but that this pat on the back could prove to be too expensive. Not one of his closest associates – Stefanovic, Djuric, Sertic – who attended the plenary session, is up to this job. It will turn out, to the detriment of us all, that yesterday Vucic spoke the language of the past, and Edi Rama the language of the future. Let’s just hope that we won’t have to wait another seven decades to realize that.
Translated by Marijana Simic