Up until the 1999 war many Kosovo Albanians saw unification with Albania as the ultimate goal. In the time of Tito the propaganda from communist Albania was quite strong in Kosovo and it promissed a golden future.
Then came the war and many Kosovars landed as refugees in Albania. It was a sobering experience that undid much of Enver Hoxha's propaganda. The Kosovars found Albania poor and chaotic (it was only 2 years after the pyramid riots). And the Albanians found the Kosovars ungrateful and a bit arrogant. The disappointment is reflected in opinion polls, such as a recent poll that showed that only 8% of Kosovo's citizens supports unification.
Western leaders - with their fear of a great Albania - see this as a positive sign and want to fix the situation in a Kosovo treaty. I think that this fear is more destabilising than the possibility of a greater Albania itself. Even if all Albanians were united in one state it would be only 6 million people - less than in Serbia or Greece.
But a public opinion is volatile. In 10 years the Kosovars may think very differently. I see good reasons to expect that in 10 years Albania will be richer than Kosovo and that might very well change Kosovo's public opinion in favor of a union:
- A look at the map learns that Albania borders Greece and Italy while Kosovo is surrounded by poor contries. So Kosovo will have to try harder just to achieve the same result.
- Everyone who regularly visits Albania knows that the country is modernising fast. In contrast to this the Kosovar leaders are used to blame all Kosovo's problems on outsiders, in the past the Serbs - now the internationals.
- Albania's citizens are better educated. The decade of home education in Kosovo under Milosevic has left a whole generation undereducated.
- Kosovo's bad treatment of its minorities may very well continue after independence - leading to international sanctions. It will also negatively cloud its relations with its neighbours - resulting in bad commercial relations.
- The territories have been united in the past: both in the Ottoman empire and during World War II.
- I estimate that at least a quarter of Kosovo's population descends from people who immigrated into Kosovo during World War II. You can't expect those people to feel very much attached to a seperate Kosovar identity.
If Kosovo's citizens at some time really want to unite with Albania there is nothing that will stop them. If the international community tries to stop them it may very well have a destabilising effect on the region.
The thinking seems to be that if their is no unification there will be no trouble in Macedonia. I think this is naive. Once Kosovo becomes independent you can expect trouble in Macedonia.
The international community tends to work with very rude guidelines in the Balkan: it's favorite of the moment is "no borders should be changed". Unfortunately you can't guide a region through a a turbulent period with such abstractions. Instead you need to look at the details of what both parties want and believe and what seems fair. "No borders changed" is miles from what the local people believe to be fair.
I am fully aware that a unification has some disadvantages too. My point is that the international community should not set this kind of restrictions unless it has very good arguments and it is sure that it can enforce them. Otherwise we are only creating camera opportunities for some rogue local politicians.