Albanian MP in Serbian Parliament Shaip Kamberi/ Serbia Sees Albanians as Its ‘Permanent Enemies’

By Genc Mlloja
Senior Diplomatic Editor

The Albanian Deputy in the Serbian Parliament, Shaip Kamberi does not believe that the administration of the new US President Joe Biden will raise the issue of changing borders between Kosovo and Serbia something which is strongly opposed by the EU, and especially Germany seeing it as a threat which can influence the entire Balkans through the 'domino theory'.

In an exclusive interview with Albanian Daily News MP Shaip Kamberi, who is the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Group of the united Albanian opposition in the Serbian Parliament, spoke about the political discrimination exerted on Albanians in the Presevo Valley where the economic discrimination is another factor creating an insecure situation for the younger generation who are leaving for the EU countries.

Kamberi whose career includes being a journalist and human rights activist was pleased with the support by Albania and Kosovo to the Albanian population in the Presevo Valley but looked forward to the harmonization of a joint plan of the governments in Tirana and Pristina together with the Albanian political spectrum in the Valley to finance concrete projects and a greater raise awareness of the question of Albanians in international structures.

In a comment on the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue MP Kamberi thought: “Our goal is to raise the issue of the rights of Albanians in the Presevo Valley in the context of Kosovo's talks with Serbia in the spirit of setting common standards of mutual respect for the rights of communities. This is the last chance, according to us, which should be used. Otherwise, an eventual agreement between the two states would make it deficient if the issue of Albanians in the Presevo Valley is not addressed.”

A strong critical voice in the current Serbian Parliament Mr. Kamberi whipped ‘democracy’ in Serbia telling the full parliamentary hall in the inaugural plenary session on October 28 this year that the “situation of democracy in Serbia is worse than under former president Slobodan Milosevic… We cannot vote for such a government and parliament speaker.”

Asked about that statement Kamberi told ADN that there was an angry reaction by the Serbian leader Vucic after his speech in Parliament, especially following the request for the discovery of the mass graves in which there are remains of Albanian civilians. “A topic which had been "forgotten" in Serbia in recent years suddenly came to the surface. This angered the Serbian head of state. But, this is their problem,” he said.

According to him, A. Vucic and his government are proving that they do neither intend to reach an agreement with Kosovo nor to redefine their relations with Albanians in the Balkans. ”I am already seriously suspicious that the Serbian President is only trying to win time not to face the hot issue of Kosovo by playing the role of a balancer in the regional relations as a ridiculous copy of Tito's Yugoslavia. It is naive to expect Aleksandar Vucic to become a Charles de Gaulle!” said the Albanian Deputy in the Serbian Parliament, Shaip Kamberi in the following interview:

Albanian Daily News: First of all, let me welcome you, Mr. Kamberi, to this conversation with Albanian Daily News, which has continuously reflected the course of events in the Presevo Valley. It would be interesting to learn from you about your ‘journey’ and of Albanians to achieve representation in the Serbian parliament. How much is such representation valued by the Albanian community of the Presevo Valley?

Deputy Shaip Kamberi: Thank you for the space provided by ADN because the Presevo Valley needs to be even more present in the media of the Republic of Albania and Kosovo. The participation in parliamentary elections of Albanians in Serbia dates back to 2007 when we participated in elections for the first time since the fall of Milosevic. However, it must be said that a large part of the Albanian political spectrum did not support this idea, and therefore they boycotted the participation in these elections. For many years there has been a profound divergence in political views for and against participation.

The "boycotters" were justified by mentioning the lack of Serbia's readiness to recognize Albanians as equal citizens, while the "participants" had as their argument the removal of the discriminatory alibi used by Serbia according to which "it is the Albanians who refuse to exercise the guaranteed rights." In addition, it was the international community that has never justified the boycott policy.

The year 2020 was the first time that five Albanian political parties jointly through a list participated in the general elections of Serbia. The acting Minister Gent Cakaj has made an extraordinary contribution. We also succeeded in increasing our representation from one to three deputies in these elections, but despite our representation power Serbia has not shown the will to consider the Albanian representative as a partner even this time.

-Please, Mr. Deputy, can you tell us what role you hope to play in Parliament in defending the rights of Albanians, and secondly being the only opposition voice how much seriously do the ruling authorities of Belgrade consider you? What contacts do you have with them and how are the issues you raise, especially the situation of Albanians, received by Serbs?

- Since we remain the only parliamentary opposition - three Albanian MPs and three Bosniaks, our commitment to the many issues will be reduced only to awareness raising, especially addressing the international community on issues that aggravate Albanians’ lives. In a political system such as that of Serbia, where everything depends on the will of one person rather than that on the government, being in opposition does not allow cooperation with the parliamentary majority. In the eyes of that majority you remain an "enemy" being in opposition, and in our case we are seen as both political and national enemies.

- In the meantime how do you assess the current political, economic and social situation in Serbia given the consequences of the pandemic and in particular how is the situation of Albanians in the Presevo Valley when they are persistently considered by Serbia as 'permanent enemies'? I am particularly interested in the impact of this on the younger generation.

- The political discrimination exerted on Albanians in the last 20 years by the Serbian governments, has had a direct impact on the economic situation of our region. First, the presence of numerous military forces makes the image of the Presevo Valley dangerous for investment. Political uncertainties prevent our Diaspora, which is an important asset, from investing in this region. Meanwhile the criminal privatization of the economic assets at the time of socialism has caused the complete destruction of them.

Therefore, in addition to the discrimination on ethnic grounds, the economic discrimination is another factor that creates an insecure situation for the younger generation who are leaving for the EU countries.

- There have been cases when the highest official authorities of Belgrade have made promises to the highest officials of Tirana for positive measures in order to improve the situation of Albanians in the Presevo Valley. What is the truth about this and are you satisfied with what official Tirana is doing in support of the Albanian population?

- It is worth mentioning the last two decisions approved in Prishtina and Tirana. The Government of the Republic of Kosovo has approved the decision to open a special office for the Presevo Valley, while a decision to establish a Joint Fund for the Presevo Valley has been adopted by the governments of Kosovo and Albania.

These are two decisions that could mark an important turning point in the institutional care of Prishtina and Tirana for the Albanians here. But, these decisions must be accompanied by a concrete budget and action plan for being implemented.

This year the Republic of Albania has distributed textbooks for primary school children to us through the Albanian National Council. These are important initiatives, but they should have a follow up.

It is worth mentioning some donations that the governments of Pristina have given for concrete projects, especially the assistance worth 500,000 euros to fight the pandemic and the assistance given by the government in Tirana to the Albanian National Council.

However, the commitment to improve the position of Albanians in the Presevo Valley implies the harmonization of a joint plan of the governments in Tirana and Pristina together with the Albanian political spectrum here in the region, needs special budget lines that would finance concrete projects and a greater raise awareness of the question of Albanians in international structures which support stability at the expense of democracy in Serbia.

- The same can be said of the Pristina authorities, and in this frame what is your opinion on the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, especially the idea of border changes? What is your position on this?

- The Albanians of the Presevo Valley are engaged in a dialogue sometimes slow and sometimes interrupted with the Republic of Serbia for 19 years in a row. This dialogue has caused many frustrations and disappointments among Albanians. It is a process that has produced only some modest results, which have not significantly affected the general situation of Albanians. It is very clear that without any major influence, in the first place by the international circles, Serbia will not be ready to take beneficial measures for the Albanians whom it considers "permanent enemies".

Therefore, our goal is to raise the issue of the rights of Albanians in the Presevo Valley in the context of Kosovo's talks with Serbia in the spirit of setting common standards of mutual respect for the rights of communities. This is the last chance, according to us, which should be used. Otherwise, an eventual agreement between the two states would make it deficient if the issue of Albanians in the Presevo Valley is not addressed. It should also be made clear to Serbia and especially to the international community that an incomplete agreement will remain a source of future interstate conflicts and an obstacle to long-term peace in the Western Balkans.

-Since we are talking about Kosovo there is a development that we can call dramatic: the trial in The Hague of some key UCK figures. How do you consider this occurrence and how is this being experienced in the Presevo Valley when it seems that the Milosevic genocide has passed into oblivion?

- Dealing with the past is an obligation of the Western Balkan states as a precondition for building neighborly relations. I hope that the Special Court does not create new injustices, especially not to use this process to relativize Serbian crimes in Kosovo, which is the goal of Aleksandar Vucic’s Serbia.

Wars are not divided into clean and dirty. They are divided into right and wrong. In this context, the struggle of the Albanian people in Kosovo against Milosevic's forces was an anti-fascist war, a struggle against a doctrine which was implemented in the name of the Serbian people and state for the extermination of the Albanians. For this, the international community has condemned them with the bombings of 1999. This is a premise which should not be affected at no time and for no reason whatsoever.

-You have presented as an alternative for improving the situation of the Albanians of the Presevo Valley its inclusion of this issue in the talks between Kosovo and Serbia. How much support does this option have and I want to note that in addition to the EU-mediated dialogue, there is another so-called economic dialogue mediated by the US and personally by the outgoing President Donald Trump?

- I do not believe that President Biden's administration will raise the issue of changing borders. The EU, and especially Germany, opposes this strongly as a threat which can influence the entire Balkans through the 'domino theory'. Therefore, in the context of these geopolitical circumstances, our demand is for reciprocity similarly with the rights of Kosovo Serbs.

- Mr. Kamberi, you have already become a strong voice in Parliament in defense of the rights of Albanians by denouncing Serbian discrimination. You have previously been a journalist and human rights activist. This attitude of yours has caused anger to the highest Serbian instances. Do you have contacts with the diplomatic corps in Belgrade, what is the position of foreign diplomats on the issues you raise and the fact that you are the only opposition voice in the Serbian Parliament which is supposed to be multi-party?

- There was an angry reaction by the Serbian leader after my speech in Parliament, especially following the request for the discovery of the mass graves in which there are remains of Albanian civilians. A topic which had been "forgotten" in Serbia in recent years suddenly came to the surface. This angered the Serbian head of state. But, this is their problem.

If they had the sincerity and good intention to redefine relations with the Albanians, then they themselves should have insisted on confronting their dark and criminal past in Kosovo. Trying to silence even those who talk about this topic, to hide the omitted crimes, A. Vucic and his government are proving that they do neither intend to reach an agreement with Kosovo nor to redefine their relations with Albanians in the Balkans.

I am already seriously suspicious that the Serbian President is only trying to buy time not to face the hot issue of Kosovo by playing the role of a balancer in the regional relations as a ridiculous copy of Tito's Yugoslavia.

It is naive to expect Aleksandar Vucic to become a Charles de Gaulle!/ADN