Last Tuesday I was in Boston to meet with Prime Minister Edi Rama of Albania about electricity theft. I met the Prime Minister, but not as expected. He was outside the meeting room, chatting into his cellphone. He gave me a hearty hello, but then went back to his conversation.
While waiting, I talked with one of the plainclothes security guards — sworn Massachusetts State Police officers working for Harvard, not Albanian secret service — and our conversation quickly segged from the NLCS (the Giants were going to play St. Louis around 6pm EST) to the ongoing Albania-Serbia match being played in Belgrade. A subminister joined our conversation; it seemed that the game had been stopped by a riot! Obviously the Serb fans started it, which under UEFA rules would mean an automatic 3-0 victory for Albania. (I that actually is the rule: Italy was awarded a 3-0 victory in 2010 when Serb fans broke up a Euro Cup qualifying match in Genoa.)
The prime minister then disappeared, which I thought was odd. We had the meeting with the energy subminister, the finance minister, and the economy minister. (The latter has a good shot at being prime minister some day.) After that, I flew back home to D.C.
Well. It turns out that somebody flew a remote-controlled helicopter carrying an Albanian-nationalist flag over the pitch. And not just any flag; this one was emblazoned with a map of Greater Albania, encompassing not only Kosovo but big chunks of Serbia proper. It also had portraits of Ismail Qemali and Isa Boletini. (The latter was from Kosovo and fought against Serbia during WW1.) A Serbian player grabbed the banner, then some Albania players tried to take it back, and a riot erupted.
Rumors have since flown that the prime minister’s brother piloted the drone. The brother has denied it. But the kerfuffle forced the PM to miss his meeting with us. And since then it’s gotten worse: the PM has had to cancel his planned visit to Belgrade. Serb fans have set Albanian flags on fire and there have been reports of attacks on Albanian-owned bakeries.
At the end of the day I am not particularly worried. The tensions are real, of course, but we are not about to see another round of Balkan wars. UEFA has not yet decided whether Albania or Serbia will be awarded a 3-0 victory; given the circumstances, it a good case could be made either way.
But it did ruin my trip up to Boston. No props to whomever flew in the flag, the players on the field, or the Serbs in the stands.