A debacle of a football match between Serbia and Albania has triggered a new wave of Balkan political tensions that deepens a traditional gap between the two nations whose historical collision has become an inseparable part of Balkan identity. The night after the football match was abandoned, Albanians attacked the Serbian embassy in Tirana, there were nationalist anti-Serbian protests across the Kosovo and protest of Kosovo high-schools students promoting "Greater Albania". Meanwhile, Serbs burned the Albanian flag in Belgrade and broke windows of Albanian bakeries in Northern Serbia.
According to UEFA investigation responsibility falls on both sides. However, there is no explanation as to why did UEFA ignore alerts they had received prior to the match? Who gambled with the Balkan powder keg? Can objective responsibility be measured on both sides?
The Serbian half is responsible for the complete disorganization of the match and violence against Albanian footballers in the stadium. Serbian local hooligans, once again, ignored the heavy police presence and chanted: "Kill the Shiptar" ( pejorative name for Albanians), which was later used as a justification for Albanian counter-reaction with drone. The fact that the drone was launched at a time when the Serbian security apparatus should have been at the height of its preparedness for an upcoming military parade and official visit of President Vladimir Putin, testifies to a serious weakness in national security including gaps in the Serbian intelligence service. Although the military planes had "terrorized" the ears of Serbian citizens for days, a small but potentially dangerous toy flew in "Serbian airspace" without any problems . No one identified or tried to stop it. It is quite clear why Michael Platini was very disturbed :
"Just imagine that a drone carrying a bomb instead of a flag comes to a ground. Everything is becoming dangerous, especially in the countries where there are a great deal of political tensions."
However, Albanian footballers and football fans see themselves as the exclusive victims of Serbian "racism and fascism", although it is obvious that drone incident is a premeditated provocation.. It remains a mystery why some of Albanian players frantically engaged to protect ultra-nationalist flag with an unofficial symbol of Albania. Even the Albanian Prime Minister, Olsi Rama, distanced himself from it saying to Deutsche Welle: "It is neither our national flag nor the flag of any "Greater Albania," but a flying bugbear that we saw for just the first time".
Albanian footballer Taulunt Xhaka attacked the Serbian player Stefan Mitrovic whom "shot down" the drone that officially triggered the chaos in the stadium. The lack of political neutrality continues to be evident among some Albanian players after the match. They have supported the idea of "Great Albania" on their Facebook and some of them have verbally insulted Serbs calling them „skijes" (a pejorative for Serb in Albanian). Xhaka is a leader of online provocation.
Welcomed as heroes across Kosovo and Albania, they enjoyed absolute media protection. On the other hand, some of their rare compatriots criticized their behavior in Belgrade and are now labelled as a national enemies.
Dasar Maltezi, a granddaughter of Albanian ex - PM Sali Berisa condemned her fellow Albanians for "uncivilized behavior and false patriotism" . The Kosovo newspaper Express accused her of "supporting Serbian hooligans." This initiated an avalanche of public outrage among Albanians and she has since received death threats.
"Breaking the rules is nothing more than a lack of civilization" she wrote on her FB adding that she cannot understand that Albanians remained proud in spite of ruining the football match. Berisha's granddaughter stated that the Albanian national football team came to Belgrade to play football and they should have played it, instead of "boxing" with Serbs .
Serbian media has also been unprofessional. They do not contradict the party line of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic who is well known for his revanchist impulsiveness. In local mainstream media it is difficult to find any critical analysis of the incident. Instead, Serbian media covered Vucic's anti-Albanian propaganda based on his own obsession with "Greater Albania" that directly collided with his unrealized political dreams about "Greater Serbia" in the 1990's. Instead of sophisticated, diplomatic vocabulary, Vucic employed hooligan jargon joining Twitter's war between Serbian and Albanian opponents.
"Great Albania is nightmare of the whole world so we will do everything to prevent it ." he wrote on his Twitter. However, "the world savior" was unable to prevent it in his own home before he would takes an international mission. He obviously trapped himself in his own bitterness.
Albanian Ambassador to Serbia tried to calm the situation stressing that "concept of Greater Albania has never been part of the official idea of the Albanian government". Perhaps he consoled politicians and the masses, but he failed to convince the Serbian historians as to the veracity of his claims.
They argue that the idea of Greater Albania (unification of all Albanians in one state) has existed since the 19th century, warning the world that what happened in Belgrade could be the revival of Greater Albania project. The Greek historian Spirydon Stefas joined them and recalled the incident that happened in Greece a year ago when Albanian footballer wore the shirt with the flag of Great Albania the KLA.
However, Serbian and Albanian politicians dialed down the hostile rhetoric after Angela Merkel pressured them. Consequently, Serbian and Albanian PMs will meet in Belgrade in the first days of November to discuss how to clamp down on nationalism in the Balkans. Otherwise, the two nations risk being viewed by the rest of the world as no more than aggressive Balkan tribes incapable of even playing a football match without a violent confrontation. As both countries work towards EU ascension the siege mentality promoted in the abandoned match must be subordinated to contemporary values.