BU professor doubts the assertion that the Albanian opposition is under Kremlin influence

by Liridon Cecja

Vesko Garcevic, Professor of the Practice of International Relations at Boston University, served as the Ambassador of Montenegro in Brussels (NATO) and Vienna (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – OSCE and other International Organizations). He was a Montenegrin Ambassador to Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. During his diplomatic career, he held important positions at the challenging political time of the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and democratic transition of Montenegro. After Montenegro regained independence in 2006, he served as the first Montenegrin Ambassador to Austria and the OSCE.

Politiko.al: Mr. Garcevic, as you well know, in Montenegro, Serbia, and Albania, it has been two months since opposition political parties are protesting against respective governments. Do you find similarities in their actions?

Though the protests in Montenegro, Serbia, and Albania can’t be placed in the same basket they have many things in common. They indicate the growing discontent of people with political elites and their revolt against corruption, particracy, clientelism and the widening gap between losers and winners of the so-called democratic transition. However, they differ one from another. In some cases, like in Albania, the opposition overtly leads the protests, whereas in Serbia and Montenegro opposition at the beginning kept a low-key role to become more and more involved over time. In my opinion, there is a high probability for the nationalistic opposition in both states to hijack the citizens’ movements. The organizational capacity of those who are in charge of the protests is also not clear.

Politiko.al: In Albania, the government thinks that Russia is interfering and impacting the opposition to destabilize the country. What’s your opinion, bearing in mind the fact that both countries don’t have any historical, political or cultural ties, compared to say Serbia or Montenegro?

It’s difficult to answer this question since I’m not in the loop and don’t know what is exactly going on behind the scene.  It’s a historical fact that Moscow has never been able to make a strong impact on the Albanian cultural space or influence Albanian political actors. It had been the case even during the time of communism. With a sort of doubt, I would take the assertion that the opposition or any important political group among Albanians has been under the influence of the Kremlin.

Politiko.al: As an expert of international relations, do you think that Moscow tends to collaborate with the oppositions or the governments?

It depends on who is in power. I’ll give you an example – In sharp contrast to the Maidan street protests in Ukraine or demonstrations in North Macedonia, the official Moscow expressed full support to protesters in Podgorica. In these cases, official Russia used opposite narratives to defend its position. In the case Ukraine and Macedonia, the Kremlin took the side of governments, criticizing, as they called them, illegitimate and violent protests. Conversely, Russia disparaged the Montenegrin Government for joining NATO against the will of its citizens.

I believe that Moscow carefully follows what’s going on in the region backing its political allies. In Belgrade, the Kremlin has nothing to lose. Whoever wins will be an ally of Russia. Albania is also a clear case but on the opposite side. Whoever wins will be leaning towards the West. Montenegro can be a game changer. If the nationalist, pro-Russian opposition wins, they may decide to adjust the country’s foreign policy trajectory. They may, for example, decide to revoke the recognition of Kosovo what they promised to do if come to power.

Politiko.al: How do you see the future of the region, now that the United States and EU seem disengaged with the Balkan, at least compared to past years?

It was easier to advocate the Euro-Atlantic agenda 10 or 15 years ago.  The EU and the USA were proactive and more engaged in the region in the late 90s and the beginning of this century. On the other hand, I see no viable alternative to the full integration in the EU and NATO. If we want to transform our societies and make them more functional, more transparent our governments more accountable and less corrupted; that’s the only way to go forward. Given Brussels’ lack of appetite for new members the aspirant countries from the region should have convincing reform results to be able to keep the enlargement high on the EU’s agenda.