At their most recent football match in Belgrade riots broke out between Albanians and Serbians over a propaganda banner. Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama told DW that both countries want to look forward together.
Deutsche Welle: Mr Rama, you wanted to travel to Belgrade this week to meet with your Serbian counterpart, Alexander Vučić. Why was the visit postponed?
Edi Rama: After the football match against Albania, the incidents on the pitch and outside the stadium, Serbia was no longer willing to hold the meeting on the agreed date. Prime Minister Vučić called me to share his view of the events and I described mine, which was the complete opposite of his opinion. But we have agreed that we will look forward and that we must push on with the recently begun process, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel initiated on August 28 at the Western Balkans Conference in Berlin. At this conference, all of the state leaders of the Western Balkans sat together for the first time - not to quarrel over borders, but to pursue together a way to political, economical and social cooperation.
How would you describe the current relationship between Tirana and Belgrade?
Anyone can imagine that after the incidents in Belgrade Stadium the relationship is in a very early phase. For more than a century, there was no cooperation, and all that is remembered is war, conflict and discrepancies.
Are the Albanian and Serbian elites in a position to hold talks?
Up until now, 2014 was the best year for the Balkans and their history. It's the first peaceful year in the entire region without border conflict. It was by chance that it happened just 100 years after the start of the First World War, which broke out here in the Balkans. It is a significant coincidence which makes us realize how long the journey has been to reach this point. This moment should under no circumstance be wasted. I firmly believe that we'll manage to move forward together. And I am determined to do everything to prevent the past getting in the way of a united Europe. We have to go hand in hand with each other and with a united Europe. Europe for its part must also understand that it needs the Balkans just as much as the Balkans needs Europe. The "enlargement fatigue", in the EU is now a "patience fatigue" towards the Balkans. We must do everything to ensure that this fatigue does not hinder us in the future, because the consequences would be disastrous for both sides.
Out on the pitch, the Albanian footballers championed the "Greater Albania" flag. You say, Mr Rama, that you're proud of the players. Is this flag your flag?
Two things have struck me: for one, a banner - with some Albanian national symbols, which is neither our national flag nor the flag of any "Greater Albania," but a flying bugbear that we saw for just the first time - managed to provoke such a huge political frenzy in Belgrade. I had expected the match to be "heated" - an international Serbia-Albania match is ultimately, without doubt a derby in the Balkans.
For this reason I advised against our fans travelling to Belgrade. But I couldn't have imagined that after just 40 minutes, "Kill the Albanians! Kill the Albanians! Kill the brothers of the Croatians"!" would be shouted in Belgrade stadium. Nor that after the game the official Serbian rhetoric would join in the racist anti-Albanian chants of internationally outlawed hooligans who ran onto the pitch to hit our players over the head with chairs.
And secondly - and that was the pinnacle: I could have never imagined that the western media would lose the balance of their reporting to such an extent that they would favor the propagandistic national Serbian press and declare my brother as the perpetrator of the riot, without even interviewing him or at least another source. How can a person be lynched worldwide by reputable media, known for their ethics, without asking him for his view of things? And how can it be that reputable media focuses on this piece of cloth and not on the racism and physical violence against the guest team at a Euro qualifiers match - just because the allegedly responsible person is the brother of the country's Prime Minister? As for our players, I'm proud that they haven't fallen into the trap of psychological and physical violence, but instead played better that the Serbs, had many chances and, without doubt, played with dignity.
Let's return to the symbolism: How big is the danger of a "Greater Albania" to nationalism in the region?
The term "Greater Albania" reflects a primal fear of the Serbs - it is not an Albanian project! "Greater Albania" is not on any political agenda and no political party in Albania has this goal. Not even the dreamiest Albanian Nationalist can realize his dream in this banner over the Belgrade stadium. Most Albanians want a "Greater Europe" with Albania, Kosovo and all the other countries from the region in which they live, within the EU.
Nationalism is, without doubt, a great danger in a region in which unemployment and poverty is rife. Then there's the social injustice and the feeling of being excluded from a united Europe. We must also not forget that the Balkans comprise a multi-ethnic and multi-religious region. This fact makes the peaceful coexistence that we have achieved even more valuable, but also increases the explosive potential, should it not be supported by European projects for integration, collaboration, employment and productivity.
Where does Albania stand in relation to Albanians in the neighboring countries of Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Greece?
Our attitude is clear as day: united on the way to Europe!
Edi Rama has been prime minister of Albania since 2013 and is the leader of Albania's Socialist party, the successor of the the former Albanian Communist Party. Also an artist, Rama has previously exhibited paintings in Paris.