AIIS and HSS public opinion on foreign policy: Albania’s relations with Serbia, Kosovo and N. Macedonia.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 13, 2020 15:00

AIIS and HSS public opinion on foreign policy: Albania’s relations with Serbia, Kosovo and N. Macedonia.

This year the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS) with the support of Hans Seidel Stiftung (HSS) carried out a national survey to measure and analyze the perceptions of Albanian citizens about the relation with key countries in the region: Kosovo, Serbia and North Macedonia. The answers reveal a complex tapestry of judgments, expectations and interpretations that citizens harbor in relation to the countries in the region and also in relation to the foreign policy of Albania itself.

Taken together, the results point clearly at the importance that citizens place on the development of economic relations with all the three countries and on the need of the Albanian government to protect the interests of Albanian communities living in the region.


General evaluation of the relations and their future

Albanian citizens, around 41-44 percent, believe that relations between Albania and Serbia and the two respective governments are largely neutral, hence neither good nor bad. There are more people who believe that relations between the people of the two countries are indeed good, about a third of the total sample.

There is a general public acknowledgment that these are important strategic relations. Half of the citizens believe these bilateral relations are important and another fifth of the sample say they are very important. However when asked to predict the future of the relations citizens are split into two equal halves between those who believe that they will improve and those who expect more of the same. A very small group of just 7 percent expects these relations to deteriorate.

The same dichotomy and confusion persists on judging whether these two countries are ready to build a friendly relation going forward with a fifth of responders saying they don’t know. The majority is again split into equal halves that agree and disagree with the statement.

‘Economy’ is the keyword that the citizens mention when asked where should the focus of the development of these relations stand. About 27 percent say the key stands in the economic relations followed loosely by 24 percent that mention political relations. However it is interesting to note that more and more citizens are bringing up other area of cooperation such as culture (percent), strategic and security cooperation (combined 19 percent) and society (14 percent)

Citizens seem much more determined to point out which are the obstacles to the future development and improvement of bilateral relations with Serbia in equal importance the answers indicate three reasons, each at around a third of the sample: historical enmity between the two peoples, Serbia’s refusal to recognize Kosovo and Albania’s membership to NATO.

These final results indicate that much more work needs to be done in order to educate the public and especially the young upon the nature of these factors and how viewing them as obstacles might be a myth or misunderstanding. The historical enmity can be deconstructed as a concept and seen through an accurate and critical historical analysis whereas also the NATO membership should be viewed in the light of the fact that Serbia for years now cooperates with European defense and security missions as well as having in place also a relationship of cooperation with the Alliance.

Are Albania and Serbia, two countries ready to have a friendly relationship?

Finally, addressing the elephant in the room citizens were asked to judge the specific importance of Kosovo in the Albania-Serbia relations. 51 percent of respondents said that Kosovo is very important followed by another 37 percent who say that it is important. Clearly the relations depend a lot on the dynamics of dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo which are immediately reflected in Albania as well.

Human connections

About two thirds of Albanians would like to be tourists in Serbia whereas 24 percent of them prefer not to have this experience. On the other hand only 20 percent of those asked have ever travelled to Serbia in reality.  On the other hand the majority of Albanians believe that Serbian tourists are welcome in Albania, an assertion that is also evidenced by the consistently growing number of Serbian tourists visiting Albania in the summer.

Cultural exchanges are an important part of the process of knowing and appreciating each other. A majority of Albanian citizens, 81 percent have not read a book by a Serbian author. This is partly due to the fact that translated Serbian literature is very limited in Albania.

In the field of movies, things look on the slightly brighter side. 38 percent of those asked have watched films by Serbian directors, also due to the fact that Serbian moviemakers are among the best known in the region. These results show that there should be more opportunities for citizens to be in touch with arts and culture from other countries in the region.


General evaluation of the relations and their future

Albanians believe that relations between Albania and Kosovo are good or very good, both options chosen by 42 percent of the sample. Around 10 percent say that relations are neutral. There is a slightly different dynamics perceived for the relations between the two governments. Here only a third sees the relations as very good whereas the number of those who judge them as neutral increases to 14 percent.

Again economy is chosen as the key field where the development of the relations should be focused. A third of the sample choses economy compared to 20 percent that say the focus should be on political relations. Around 15 percent of the respondents chose culture and another 15 percent social relations whereas a combined 17 percent believe the focus should be on strategic and security cooperation.

Looking outward to the future half of the citizens believe that the relations should be deepened whereas 37 percent believe that the countries should come as close as possible to each other. Only ten percent think relations are fine and should go as they are.

Current hot issues

The 100 percent tariff on Serbian goods has been the subject of extensive media coverage and contentious debate in Albania. However most Albanians citizens believe this was the right decision with 49 percent of the respondents endorsing it. Another 12 percent goes even further saying it should have been imposed before. A quarter of the sample of those asked disagrees with the tax. However when asked whether Albania should do the same, hence impose a similar tax on Serbian goods, citizens beg to differ. Most of them, 48 percent, don’t think this should be done whereas 34 percent think it is the right thing to do.

Slightly more than a half of citizens, 54 percent support an increased role of Albania in the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia compared to 31 percent that think this role should be limited.

Regarding the very hot topic of a potential agreement between Serbia and Kosovo that would allegedly include territorial and/or population swaps most citizens do not support this option. 63 percent of them are against it while only 17 percent support it. There is a large number of them who don’t make a choice with 20 percent of respondents saying they don’t know. Around 60 percent of Albanians believe that the development of relations between Albania and Serbia has the potential to help Kosovo. A quarter of the sample disagrees with the statement.

Albania’s role in Kosovo

When asked to evaluate whether the role of Albania in Kosovo has changed, citizens are split in two roughly equal groups between those who say it has remained the same and those who say it has increased. Each group has about 40 percent of answers. Only 14 percent of respondents believe the role of Albania in Kosovo has decreased.

The majority of about 70 percent believe that the increase in the role of Albania in Kosovo is a good improvement whereas 18 percent deem it as neutral. Citizens are very realistic and inward focused when asked what the best thing is that Albania can do for Kosovo. Hence their answers point at the need for Albania to be a better state itself, have a better democracy and focus on economic relations with Kosovo. These answer from the overwhelming majority compared to small groups of people who pick other options such as potential granting of Albanian passports or assistance with international recognition. The last options do not go above 5 percent of the answers. In the same vein of practicality, 68 percent of those asked do not agree with the road toll in the Nation’s Highway which earlier this year caused violent protests as well as concerns in Kosovo. Only 30 percent of people agree with the necessity of the road toll.

The final reconciliation between Albanians and Serbians in the Balkans is subject to the issue of Serbia recognizing Kosovo according to the majority of citizens, about 42 percent. Another 35 percent believe that reconciliation means precisely between Serbia and Kosovo. Only 10 percent of respondents believe reconciliation can happen between Albania and Serbia. Overall citizens believe that such a process is possible with only 5 percent of the answers claiming that reconciliation in the region cannot be done.

Unification support

Vetvendosje, the only political party in Kosovo with a clear political platform advocating for unification of the two countries registered this year a nongovernmental organization in Albania since the Albanian law prohibits the establishment of foreign parties in Albania. This development caused ripples in the media coverage. Citizens though seem largely not moved by this event. A third of the respondents believe that the registration of the political party Vetvendosje with a branch in Albania is a good thing whereas another third associates no particular positive or negative value to it. Only 12 percent believe it is bad.

How would you vote in a referendum on Albania and Kosovo's unification?

In case of a referendum about unification with Kosovo 60 percent of Albanian citizens would vote pro, 23 percent against it and 17 percent do not have a specific answer. About 48 percent of those asked believe that unification is possible or even very likely compared to 30 percent who say it’s largely unlikely and percent who claim it is impossible. However 58 percent believe unification would be a good thing compared to 24 percent who say it’s a neutral development hence neither good nor bad and 10 percent who say it’s outright a bad development.


General evaluation of the relations and their future

A large majority of Albanian citizens, about 70 percent combined believe relations between the two countries are good or even very good. Only 20 percent believe these are neutral relations, hence neither good nor bad. The same exact figures are given for the relations between the specific two governments.

The same dynamics is revealed also when citizens are asked to judge the relations between the citizens themselves based on their contacts, experiences or their knowledge. Once again the majority of 69 percent say these relations are good or very good and virtually none believes they are bad. 80 percent of citizens believe these bilateral relations are important whereas the rest deems them neutral in terms of importance.

57 percent of respondents are confident that relations between Albania and North Macedonia will improve in the future whereas 23 percent believe they won’t change.

Citizens pick economy as the first field where these relations might be focused with 42 percent of the answers followed by political relations with 30 percent and social and cultural relations at a combined 22 percent.

Current issues and role of Albania regarding Albanians in North Macedonia

Albanian respondents seem split into two groups when asked about a potential change of the role of Albania on the Albanians living in North Macedonia. About 41 percent think this role has recently increased compared to 37 percent who say it has remained constant. About 9 percent believe the role has actually decreased.

70 percent of respondents judge that the increase in the role of Albania is a positive development and another 15 percent say it is a neutral thing. Indeed two thirds of the asked sample believe that Albania should pay a bigger role among Albanians in North Macedonia compared to 17 percent who disagree.

Slightly more than half of these asked do not believe that Albanians in North Macedonia enjoy the rights they are entitled to. Only a quarter of the respondents believe they do whereas a large number of citizens don’t know. However more than 80 percent of Albanian citizens believe it was the right thing to do for Albania to support North Macedonia’s NATO membership. Only a small minority of 7 percent  disagree.

In your judgment, how can the Prespa Agreement be described in relation to the Albanians living in North Macedonia:

The most interesting question posed about these bilateral relations concerns the recent development of the Prespa agreement which resolved the long standing dispute between Greece and North Macedonia. Only about half of the citizens in Albania believe this was a positive development for the Albanians living in north Macedonia. 21 percent believe this was neither good nor bad for them whereas one in ten respondents thinks it was a negative development for the Albanian community living in North Macedonia. A large number of respondents (about a fifth of the sample) also say that they don’t know.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 13, 2020 15:00