In the first visit to Serbia by an Albanian head of state for almost seven decades, President Bujar Nishani was welcomed in ethnic Albanian-majority areas but got a frosty reaction from Belgrade.
President Bujar Nishani on Tuesday became the first Albanian head of state to visit Serbia since Communist dictator Enver Hoxha in 1948. Nishani visited Bujanovac and Presevo, two municipalities in the south of Serbia where the majority of people are ethnic Albanians, but did not meet any Serbian state officials and got a frosty reaction from politicians in Belgrade.
According to Albanian media, Nishani visited Serbia to mark the 130th anniversary of the first Albanian-language school opened in the area near the border and was invited by Bujanovac mayor Shaip Kamberi. Nishani said he had talked with Albanian political leaders in southern Serbia about education, culture, civic values and the economic development of the Bujanovac and Presevo municipalities, and insisted that there was nothing provocative in those meetings.
He said that the relations between Albania and Serbia were getting better, and that it was important that both countries were in the process of European integration, because that would help solve their mutual problems. He also made a plea for coexistence.
“For the benefit of all our peoples, it is desirable to look to the future and to develop tolerance,” he said.
Serbian media reported that he was welcomed by more than a thousand people with Albanian flags. However, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, the candidate of the ruling Progressive Party at next month’s presidential elections, warned that Albania should not get any ideas about claiming territory in southern Serbia.
“Nobody will be allowed to dream any dreams at the expense of our territory and our nation’s vital interests,” Vucic said, according to Tanjug news agency.
“We are not scared by anything. We are an open country, everyone is welcome, but those who thinks he can or may undermine the integrity of the country, my answer is not to do that,” he added.
His comments came as the political crisis in Macedonia is receiving extensive coverage in Serbia, where the media are accusing ethnic Albanians of seeking Macedonia’s destruction, terrorism and a ‘Greater Albania’ with help of the West. The vice president of right-wing party Dveri, Predrag Mitrovic, called Nishani’s visit “a brutal interference in [Serbia’s] internal affairs”.
“The territorial integrity of our country is seriously threatened,” Mitrovic claimed.
Relations between Serbia and Albania have long been poor, and worsened sharply during the conflict in the late 1990s in Kosovo, then a province of Serbia with a mainly Albanian population. In 2008, Kosovo declared independence, which Serbia does not recognise. Belgrade and Tirana have since tried to put past differences behind them and improve regional cooperation in the framework of the EU’s diplomatic push to normalise relations between Serbia and Kosovo.
Although two countries had put a lot of effort into improving their relationship in the past two years, relations remain fragile.
Source: Balkan Insight