NATO General: The Alliance sees the region’s future in Euro-Atlantic integration

NATO General: The Alliance sees the region’s future in Euro-Atlantic integration

Interview by Ani Ruci with General Petr Pavel, the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee What is NATO planning to do to strengthen security in a fragile region such as the Western Balkans? How will the NATO concept of Collective

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Shifting to the right priorities in foreign policy

Shifting to the right priorities in foreign policy

By ALBERT RAKIPI Albania’s parliamentary commission on foreign relations had its first meeting in the new legislature, and according to media reports, the head of the commission said that the current priority issue is football stadium drone flyer Ballist Morina’s

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Editorial: European integration: a fleeting dream or still a guiding compass for Albania?

Editorial: European integration: a fleeting dream or still a guiding compass for Albania?

The last State of the Union address from Commissioner Juncker made a brief mention of enlargement, comforting enough for some, yet re-iterating the negation of any significant enlargement decisions until spring of 2019. A few concrete and hopeful words were

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Editorial: Albanian society has given up on itself

Editorial: Albanian society has given up on itself

By Jerina Zaloshnja Fildes Hafizi, a mother of two, was killed last week in Tirana by her ex-husband, a crime that exposed the frightening level of violence against women in Albanian society — a society still involved in a transition

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Editorial: The more things change, the more they stay the same

Editorial: The more things change, the more they stay the same

During the last Assembly of the Socialist Party a few days ago, in a speech much anticipated for weeks even months, the Prime Minister of Albania outlines the vision for the governance in the next four years and perhaps longer.

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Editorial: Challenges and questions as new government set to form

Editorial: Challenges and questions as new government set to form

At the end of this month, Prime Minister Edi Rama will likely publish the list of people he is going to have in his new cabinet, the first in eight years in which the winning party does not need a

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Albania-Serbia cultural cooperation, mostly sporadic and on individual initiative

Albania-Serbia cultural cooperation, mostly sporadic and on individual initiative

By Monika Maric* Although political relations often cast a shadow on cultural cooperation, cultural exchanges between Serbia and Albania have been in constant growth. Cooperation is primarily based on individual initiatives, where networks of civil society represent the main communication

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Editorial: An Albanian version of the chicken and egg theme

Editorial: An Albanian version of the chicken and egg theme

Some time ago in an interesting expose of his understanding of the problems in Albania, current Albanian Prime Minister offered some thoughts on a key question: is it the system which is at fault or are the single individuals failing?

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Editorial: Women and justice reform in Albania – a new opportunity

Editorial: Women and justice reform in Albania – a new opportunity

It comes as a good omen for the justice reform in Albania that qualified women with the right experience are being selected at the top of key new institutions that shall oversee the most important overhaul of the judicial sector

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Kadare: ‘I have waved neither the dissident, nor the conformist flag. I wrote normal literature in an abnormal country’

Kadare: ‘I have waved neither the dissident, nor the conformist flag. I wrote normal literature in an abnormal country’

Albania’s internationally renowned writer Ismail Kadare, a perennial nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature, says his works written both under communist and in the post-1990s have remained the same in content, form and messages. In an interview with Germany’s

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                    [post_content] => Opening of the NATO Military Committee ConferenceInterview by Ani Ruci with General Petr Pavel, the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee

What is NATO planning to do to strengthen security in a fragile region such as the Western Balkans? How will the NATO concept of Collective Defence be implemented in the region?

- The Western Balkans is a region of strategic importance for NATO and we have invested in the security and stability of the Western Balkans for more than two decades. With that assistance, the region has made significant progress since the 1990s. NATO has helped end two ethnic wars in the Western Balkans. Stability and security in this region benefits stability and security in Europe. We intend to maintain our presence, our focus and our engagement in the Western Balkans for as long as our help is required, and support the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of countries in the region.

This being said, the security environment has changed significantly over the last couple of decades. NATO allies, including those in the Western Balkans, are facing a wide range of complex challenges, ranging from a more assertive Russia, to turmoil in the Middle East, terrorism and the resulting migration as well as hybrid threats and cyber-attacks.

For almost 70 years, we have preserved the stability and peace because we have been able to adapt. To be able to defend against any opponent or threat, NATO must have credible defence and deterrence.

These new security challenges have triggered the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War. NATO must ensure that it has a range of capabilities and options to respond appropriately when required. We have increased the readiness of our forces, and our ability to deploy them quickly if needed. We have reinforced our Eastern flank with our Forward Presence and our multinational Battle groups. At the same time, we have increased our presence in the Black Sea region – on land, in the air and at sea. We are also strengthening our coordination with other organisations, including the European Union.

These adaptations send a clear message that an attack against any Ally will be met by the Alliance as a whole. This includes the NATO Allies in the Balkans. Should one of them invoke Article 5, Allies will stand united, determined to defend NATO territory and deter any possible aggression.

 

What are the factors that put at risk and make vulnerable peace and stability in the Western Balkans in NATO’s viewpoint?

In today’s security environment, the threats and challenges at our periphery and beyond are as diverse as they are many. One of the challenges currently at our borders is a more aggressive and assertive Russia – a Nation with whom the Alliance worked to build a partnership for more than two decades following the Cold War. The other is the fight against terrorism where we need to ensure we address not only the immediate problems but also the root causes.

Nations can and must prepare to face these external threats but vulnerability can also stem from internal challenges.

Democratic values, rule of law, domestic reforms, and good neighbourly relations are vital for regional cooperation and stability. It is not an easy path. It demands real commitment, real progress in reforms, and in reconciliation. The Alliance sees the region’s future in Euro-Atlantic cooperation and integration for those who want it and we are determined to help the countries of the region to implement real reforms for the benefit of their citizens, regardless of whether they want to join NATO or not. We respect their choice, whatever it is.

 

What is the core of NATO’s short- and medium-term strategy to neutralize new geo-political influence, particularly the Russian one, from penetrating into the Western Balkans?

NATO fully respects Nations’ right to choose their own political and security arrangements. This is a fundamental principle of European security that we have all signed up to, including Russia, as enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act.

However, we have seen an increase in attempts from outside sources to intervene or influence democratic processes in the different countries in the Western Balkans. Any external interference, whether with hacking, propaganda or inciting unrest, is contradictory to the principles of good international relations.

We encourage local governments and institutions to increase their resilience against these types of interventions and to make sure that their democratic institutions remain strong, fight corruption, modernize and implement necessary reforms. NATO will continue to work with the different partners in the region to help strengthen their different democratic institutions and help reform their armed forces.

 

What are the preconditions and chances for the two aspiring Western Balkans countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia to join NATO? What about Serbia and Kosovo?

NATO’s door remains open to all European democracies which share the values of our Alliance, which are willing and able to share the responsibilities and obligations of membership, and whose inclusion can contribute to our common security and stability.

In June, we welcomed our 29th Ally, Montenegro. This proves that NATO’s Open Door policy works. But let me be clear this is not an easy nor is it speedy process. It is a long and demanding process. So quite naturally nations grow impatient because they want to see immediate results. On the other hand, the process is naturally long because to implement these substantial reforms requires, not only resources but it also requires time and determination.

Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia both have a Membership Action Plan (MAP) which is NATO’s programme of advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries aspiring to join the Alliance. Both Nations are actively working to fulfil the conditions set by the Allies in the MAP. But as I said this is a long process and I would call for aspiring members to have what we could call strategic patience.

I would advocate that NATO membership is the ultimate goal but not all Nations aspire to join NATO. Take Serbia, for example. Serbia does not wish to join NATO and it has a right to choose its own security arrangements. We do not force Nations to join our Alliance.

Some of those Nations who do not want to be NATO members do choose to be NATO Partners. NATO cooperates with more than 40 countries around the world. And these partnerships are a real success story. They help to preserve peace, reinforce stability, and promote progress for all of us. These countries enjoy the access to this very broad cooperative framework. That is extremely important in itself, not only getting access to all the expertise and experience of NATO countries but also getting access to courses, exercises, and operations. And we simply cannot forget the political support that is behind a strong sign of NATO partnership. And this very expression of strong partnership also sends a strong message to potential opponents. So I believe that there is a great value in itself in strong partnership.

 

The Western Balkans is not immune to terrorist threats. What did the NATO Military Committee Conference in Tirana propose to avoid them?

The NATO Military Committee’s first meeting in Tirana was dedicated to NATO’s efforts in Projecting Stability, the NATO Chiefs of Defence discussed a number of concrete proposals with regard to military contributions to support a comprehensive, systematic and coherent approach. They welcomed the Hub for the South achieving its Initial Operational Capability, the important role it will play in improving NATO’s regional understanding and ability to anticipate crises in the region, and stressed the importance of continued cooperation with other relevant stakeholders, namely the European Union.

Our work to fight terrorism involves many different lines of effort and types of activity. Ranging from our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, to our training for Iraqi forces, to developing new technologies for de-mining or bomb detection.

We are now a full-fledged member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and we have stepped up the contribution of our AWACS surveillance planes, which give the Coalition a better air picture. We are also working to improve our awareness and the way we share information, so that Allies can take swift preventive actions against the threats we face, including terrorism.

But we need to bear in mind that terrorism has no religion or boundaries. It cannot simply be defeated militarily, but it has to be dealt with on several layers – social, economic, political as well as, when needed, military. There is no simple solution. Terrorism is not in itself new, but has reemerged in recent years, most significantly in the form of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or as it is also known Daesh. To be able to deal efficiently with a problem, we need to understand it and we need to use all the tools available. I believe that the Alliance’s efforts coupled with those of our Partners and multinational organisations can greatly contribute to the demise of terrorism, but it will take time, resources and determination. There is no quick fix solution.

 

What is NATO’s stance on the timing of Albania Armed Forces in their transformation from their support role in NATO missions, to Armed Forces fully in line with NATO standards?

I am very grateful for Albania’s strong commitment to our Alliance and your contributions to NATO missions, operations and activities, namely our missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo as well as our deployment in the Aegean Sea. You do not have a very large Armed Forces, but you contribute as much as possible.

You also contribute to NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence with troops to the Canadian-led Battle group in Latvia.

You also provide strong support to our partners, including contributions to our Trust Funds for Ukraine, helping with cyber defence and military career transition. In addition, Albania plays an important role in the fight again ISIL, providing equipment and Special Forces trainers to Iraq.

Albania also helps build stability closer to home, by promoting cooperation throughout the Western Balkans. You are a strong advocate for NATO’s Open Door policy, and for integrating your neighbours into the Euro-Atlantic family.

Albania has also offered to host a NATO Centre of Excellence on Foreign Fighters. NATO and Albania are coordinating the way ahead.

Albania makes valuable contributions to international security and you are a promoter of stability in the Balkans and beyond.

 

Is there anything else important General Petr Pavel would like to share regarding the outcome of the NATO Military Committee’s first meeting in Tirana?

Let me first thank Albania for the great support and warm hospitality we received during the Military Committee Conference in Tirana, (15-17 September 2017).

The Military Committee Conference was an opportunity for NATO Chiefs of Defence to discuss some of the important items on NATO’s agenda such as the need to fill the current CJSOR shortfalls in our Resolute Support Mission.

RSM’s purpose is to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces and institutions and it continues to provide an essential contribution to the fight against terrorism. NATO currently has over 12,000 troops in our Resolute Support Mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan forces. In recent months, more than fifteen nations have pledged additional contributions to enable our troops to continue delivering the kind of assistance required by Afghan security forces, especially with regard to Special Forces, the Air Force, and the development of new leaders.

And although some work still needs to be done, the force generation process continues. The NATO-led Resolute Support Mission is an essential contribution to the fight against terrorism. And it is key to Afghanistan military progress and sustainment.

 
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                    [post_date] => 2017-09-20 12:08:03
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                    [post_content] => By ALBERT RAKIPI

Albania’s parliamentary commission on foreign relations had its first meeting in the new legislature, and according to media reports, the head of the commission said that the current priority issue is football stadium drone flyer Ballist Morina’s potential extradition from Croatia to Serbia. It is, of course, an issue that can feed the appetites of populist local politicians as a part of the Albanian public is sensitive to it. However, the clear solution is to implement European and international laws on the matter.

It is very legitimate to ask whether the system of justice in Serbia can meet international standards in protecting the rights -- even the very life -- of Morina. This newspaper believes it would not be a smart move for a trial to take place in Belgrade as there aren’t sufficient guarantees Morina will escape nationalist, populist, even extremist tendencies he is likely to face in Serbia. His very life would be in danger in a Serb prison, an even more important reason not to extradite him there.


On the political side, an extradition would negatively affect bilateral relations between Albania and both Serbia and Croatia -- and even between Serbia and Croatia themselves. Already there are conspiracy theories out there that Croatia is trying to worsen Albania - Serbia relations with the prospect of extradition. As such Albanian diplomacy needs to do its job to help Morina return to Albania while protecting its international relations with both two countries involved.


That said, Morina cannot be the headline of Albania’s diplomacy, as there are currently a number of very important issues that need attention. These include relations between Greece and Albania -- relations that are stuck into patriotic and populist gear.

Current issues to be solved include seeting the maritime border between the two countries following the collapse of previous agreement as well as the paradox of the ‘law of war’ between the two countries. Then there are issues relating to Albanian migrants in Greece -- their pensions in particular. There is of course the Cham issue too, often dealt with a populist approach by Albanian politicians. On the Greek side, there is the recent problem with property rights for ethnic Greeks in Albania, an issue recently raised by Athens.


These are concrete issues, and just a few examples of what’s on the plate. European solutions to these issues should be a priority of Albanian foreign policy. They need substantial solutions -- not facades -- to be solved in order to to ensure a European future for Albania and the region.


Economic relations with Serbia are almost nonexistent. And while the Government of Albania preaches the spirit of economic diplomacy, it should stop thinking and acting as a representative of Kosovo too, an independent state that cannot be represented by Tirana.


Relations with Kosovo have also fallen in a populist and nationalist propaganda trap. Since its independence, economic relations lack substance and are at a lower level than relations between Kosovo with Serbia. There are plenty of meetings, but very little has been accomplished.


Relations with Macedonia must also be a high priority for Albanian diplomacy as are those with Montenegro.


Meanwhile, it is also important to reflect on relations with Turkey as a return of geopolitics to the Balkan requires a full understanding and potential action from Albania.

The entire Balkan region with its numerous problems must be a priority of the Albanian diplomacy. It cannot be Ballist Morina.

Based on Prime Minister Edi Rama’s recent speech to Albanian ambassadors abroad, economic diplomacy will be the priority. But one could not help but remember the highly critical and humiliating way in which he described the job done so far. As such the foreign policy committee should set as a priority to reform the services and human capacities of the Albanian foreign service, which are currently based on patronage, clans and in everything else but laws and procedures.

 
                    [post_title] => Shifting to the right priorities in foreign policy
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                    [post_content] => The last State of the Union address from Commissioner Juncker made a brief mention of enlargement, comforting enough for some, yet re-iterating the negation of any significant enlargement decisions until spring of 2019. A few concrete and hopeful words were given for Serbia and Montenegro, the forerunners of the process while Albania and the rest of the region aspirants had to be content with a dry re-affirmation of their European perspective.

The rising complexity and worse insecurity of the enlargement process is starting to dawn over even the most optimistic pro-EU societies like Albania. European integration is included in the key priorities of the new government program unveiled this week. Yet the confusion persists. Prime Minister Rama omitted integration from his first speech outlining the governance spirit and included it in the Assembly presentation, expressing hopes for opening of negotiations next year.

Opening of negotiations however seems like a significant step in the enlargement framework, one of those steps which seem to be postponed after spring 2019 if we are to take the State of the Union address to word.

Is the European integration project then a fleeting dream?

For almost all the transition years integration has been the rationale, the framework and the spirit of major reform sand developments. It is reassuring that it continues to be so.

Albania is just starting to implement the justice reform, one of the key demands of the process. The difficult and fragile surgery into the organs of justice and the very core of the functionality of the state has just begun. And given from the results we are seeing it is at least exposing the illness at full extent. The vetting process has already unmasked some of the incredible vastness of wealth of the highest judges in Albania, and most importantly has highlighted the fact that it is unjustified, unaccounted for.

Justice reform and vetting process were not only approved with substantial push from European actors and institutions but more importantly are going to be done under careful guidance and monitoring from the EU. This adds valuable efficiency and legitimacy to the process.

The justice reform might be the most important and the most talked about right now but it is certainly not the only one powered by the European integration objective.

If integration continues to fuel this reformation of the state, the improvement and transparency of institutions, the setting of standards and the ultimate economic and social development of the country, then it continues to be a guiding compass that we cannot afford to lose.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: European integration: a fleeting dream or still a guiding compass for Albania?
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                    [post_date] => 2017-09-08 10:45:34
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                    [post_content] => By Jerina Zaloshnja

[caption id="attachment_133704" align="alignright" width="300"]Fildes-Hafizi-1 Late judge Fildes Hafizi[/caption]

Fildes Hafizi, a mother of two, was killed last week in Tirana by her ex-husband, a crime that exposed the frightening level of violence against women in Albanian society -- a society still involved in a transition that has been taxing, chaotic and violent -- and which is unable to protect women, mothers and girls from violence. The failure is not the society’s alone. All state institutions failed in their duties to protect her too.

The case of Fildes Hafizi, just like dozens of other cases of violence against women that often ends up in murder, has conclusively demolished Albania’s facade of a modern and advanced society resembling other European societies. Nowhere is this truer than in the case of the state facade of a gender-balanced government and the increased number of women in governance.

But there is more.

Fildes Hafizi was a judge, and that takes this case to an entire different level. Courts, prosecutors, police, the High Council of Justice, and all other relevant bodies failed not just to protect the life of a woman and mother -- but a judge too. To make things worse for authorities, this judge had asked for help from all the relevant state institutions.  She was failed by them all.

The sort of extreme violence she suffered goes against the very foundations of a democratic society and her murder is proof the Albanian state cannot provide security and fundamental freedoms to mothers and victims of domestic violence -- a fact that has been a public secret for years.

But it gets worse.

In addition to asking for help officially from prosecutors, judges, police chiefs -- even the High Council of Justice -- Fildes Hafizi also wrote a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to Tirana, asking him to help protect her life. This is not an uninformed citizen we are talking about. It’s about a judge that knows the system well and believes that seeking help from a foreign diplomat is the safest bet to protect her life from threats. It's a deserved slap in the face of Albanian institutions that routinely fail to protect victims. Fildes Hafizi is proof of the failure of the state, the justice system and law enforcement -- it’s proof this society is morally bankrupt. When there was nothing else she could do, the last appeal was to the U.S. ambassador.

Her appeal was not unique. In a territory that has nominally a state and a government, the U.S. ambassador is seen as the last appeal for all sort of issues. At times, EU and other international representatives are also thrown in the mix. Victims of the communist regime looking for compensation from the state write to the ambassadors, media have routinely reported in the past. People stripped of their properties during communism also write as they receive no solutions from the Albanian state. Relatives of the victims of the January 21 demonstration also write. The list goes on.

When President George W. Bush visited Albania, soon after he received a letter from an Albanian retirees organization protesting the Albanian government’s failure to increase their pensions. This is a true story, and not meant as a joke. Truth is stranger than fiction sometimes.

And then there are political representatives, the elected officials, the highest state representatives too -- always complaining to ambassadors when the government or the opposition does something they don’t like -- seeking international mediation for mundane and perpetual crisis.

The writing is on the wall: Albanian society has given up on itself.

Why else would there be a pervasive culture of humiliating dependence in place? Where is this unconditional surrender coming from, this total and fatal dependence on foreigners, even if they are representatives of great countries that want to see Albania do well?

Montenegro is a tiny country of 600,000, but neither judges nor politicians make it a trend of writing letters to U.S. and EU ambassadors. Croatia is about the size of Albania, and we don’t dare to think about a Croatian judge having to ask for help to save her life from an American, French or German ambassador, or even the head of the EU delegation.

There is not country on earth where salvation, a great life and prosperity have been gifted from outside. It has not happened, and it will not happen, and as long as Albanians believe that is the case, the situation will continue to be helpless.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Albanian society has given up on itself 
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                    [post_content] => During the last Assembly of the Socialist Party a few days ago, in a speech much anticipated for weeks even months, the Prime Minister of Albania outlines the vision for the governance in the next four years and perhaps longer. He presented the principles that he believes will be key in the governing strategy and finally presented the cabinet that is supposed to bring them to life.

This was an interesting speech, composed by two parts: one longer detailing the spirit, the philosophy and the elements of governance and one, shorter detailing names and some reasons for picking them. The two pieces could not be any more at stark contrast to each other.

In the first part the Prime Minister spoke about setting up a new relationship with the governed, a ruling coalition where citizens are direct stakeholders, a direct communication at least weekly between voters and the elected members of parliament. He spoke about the necessity to reduce the “torturing influence of the administration on the lives of citizens” and one economic activity, about the need to eliminate, reduce and reform institutions, directories and procedures. His analysis was correct and his communication simple and genuine. It connected very well to the audience which can easily see the arguments behind the new course of governance. He enveloped all his thesis in a promise to rule at the service and common good of all Albanians in response to what the socialist are calling ‘black and red’ mandate.

Even those who have not voted for Rama can find the logic to stand behind his proposals. The need to have a small, functioning and modern state for a territory less than 30.000 km square and inhabited by less than 3 million people is within the grasp of many who just exert common sense. And with cumbersome, greedy coalitions out of the way there might just be the right opportunity to downsize the many fake, absurd and corrupted public officials breathing down the neck of citizens and businesses.

However putting to practice these principles is also connected to the team in charge of things. And here we come to the second part. Whereas this first part was all about hugging the new, the second one was a dry affirmation of the old.

The cabinet chosen by the Prime Minister was the same one as in the past. All the most important names did not change, despite the Prime Minister’s very personal lack of enthusiasm and growing doubts about them. His insisting request to the Assembly not to applaud as he was spelling out names was at the very least baffling. He repeated several times that the Party won not because but in spite of the past performance, a thoughtful and self-critical remark that surely endears him to many ordinary voters. The only reason one can think about this choice of sticking it out with the old is loyalty. None of these names would pose a threat, an alternative and therefore they are safe bets. Loyalty is after all since the times of the Ottoman Empire the most important ingredient that nourishes authoritarianism.

The cold celebration of the past was furthermore ingrained in the choice of the Speaker of the Parliament, a politician that has survived all storms of transition having been a former Minister of Interior Affairs in the communist regime, a heavy baggage despite all claims to the contrary.

Another bitter detail witnessing carelessness, was the complete lack of mentioning of the European integration as part of the vision for the next years. In the counting of names of ministries the Prime Minister did not speak one word about the Ministry of European Integration, which apparently had been merged with that of Foreign Affairs although it was not clear in the speech. It was announced haphazardly in the online media only later after several people commented on its sudden disappearance.

This speech outlining the future of the Albanian executive was therefore strife with internal contrast and discrepancy instead of being a reassuring one. Let’s hope that the next days shall bring more transparency over the upcoming changes in the institutions and sectors, because as far as names are concerned it is already clear. The more things change the more they stay the same.

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: The more things change, the more they stay the same
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                    [post_content] => At the end of this month, Prime Minister Edi Rama will likely publish the list of people he is going to have in his new cabinet, the first in eight years in which the winning party does not need a coalition party to rule.

Rama himself has indicated he wants a lean cabinet with fewer ministries. The questions that now remain relate to what ministries will be merged and how. The core ministries of the interior, defense, healthcare, education will likely remain as they are but all others are candidates for merging or restructuring into new bodies. The ministries of economic development and finance would like merge into a single institution, for example.

Other questions relate to who the ministers will be. Will any opposition-nominated minister make the cut, as some have suggested? If the Democratic Party does have some sort of participation in government, it would widen the appeal of the government but then it could also weaken the opposition, as critics of any grand coalition have suggested.

One thing is certain, however, Rama can rule alone. He has a comfortable majority for day-to-day governance in parliament. He is now free to act on his ideas without being burdened by other parties looking “to get a piece of the pie” as Rama has put it.

Rama’s campaign and actions following his victory in the general elections have created certain expectations among citizens. He has chosen a populist move to hold public hearings across the country, seeking “a co-governance with the people of Albania.” His findings from the hearings are not surprising – people want jobs and better infrastructure. They want quality healthcare and education. They want their property rights to be better protected.

It remains to be seen how and if Rama will be able to meet their expectation in this second mandate. What we do know is that Rama will likely start with a purge in the public administration. Some of the higher officials have already been sacked or forced to resign. Lower level purges are likely to continue. We can only hope this will lead to better services for Albanian citizens rather than simply opening the way for one party’s activists to get the jobs of activists from other parties.

Albania has major challenges ahead. Despite a more optimistic economic growth forecast this year, it must be translated into job number and better wages to stem the massive exodus of young and qualified workers leaving the country in droves to look for better jobs elsewhere.

Albania’s bid to open membership negotiations with the European Union will also likely be an uphill road. In addition to domestic issues related to organized crime, drugs, corruption and poverty – Albanians are now realistic about expecting little in terms of a push from Brussel.

As European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker put in an interview this week, he is “not in favor of the Western Balkans joining the EU soon.”

The region and Albania for now will continue to better serve as the boogeyman for the union and others. In Junker’s words: “If you take away the European perspective, then we will again experience what we experienced in the 1990s. In this respect, the stability of the composition of the European Union is a prerequisite for the Balkans not being at war again.”

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Challenges and questions as new government set to form
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                    [post_content] => By Monika Maric*

Although political relations often cast a shadow on cultural cooperation, cultural exchanges between Serbia and Albania have been in constant growth. Cooperation is primarily based on individual initiatives, where networks of civil society represent the main communication channel

Potential membership in the European Union (EU) is the main foreign policy priority of both Serbia and Albania. In accordance with their European orientation, both Serbia and Albania are willing to prove their commitment to the promotion of regional cooperation. After 2005, Serbia and Albania have signed the following joint documents: agreement on the avoidance of double taxation, agreement on economic and trade cooperation, agreement on cooperation in tourism and several protocols.

Although political relations often cast a shadow on cultural cooperation, cultural exchanges between Serbia and Albania have been in constant growth. Cooperation is primarily based on individual initiatives, where networks of civil society represent the main communication channel. Since 2000, various institutions, art groups, amateur theaters and others, have established cooperation and constant exchange of cultural content. To mention only a few of them, there’s the participation of the Children's Cultural Center from Belgrade at the Children's Festival in Durres (October 2007), the 2009 Serbian-Albanian co-production of the "Honeymoon" movie by Serbian director Goran Paskaljevic in cooperation with Genc Permeti from Albania.

The main channels of official cooperation, at the state level, have been established through multilateral initiatives and programs such as the Council of Ministers of Culture of South East Europe (First Round Table: Tourism, Culture and Inter-University Cooperation), Cultural Heritage: The Bridge to a Common Future in the field of culture and cultural heritage established in 2004).

In 2016, the Forum for International Relations of the European Movement in Serbia (IPA) and the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS) launched the project on the Joint Centre for Albania-Serbia Relations, with the support of the Federal Republic of Germany. The cooperation between Serbia and Albania has a strategic importance for the European integration of the Western Balkans. Main obstacles to the establishment of normal and fruitful relations between Albania and Serbia include the lack of knowledge about each other and the lack of opportunity for contact and mutual cooperation. Bearing all this in mind, the Albanian Institute for International Studies initiated the establishment of a joint center that would encourage interaction between experts, journalists, researchers, artists and decision-makers of the two countries. The project will help young people fight against mutual prejudice, pave the way for media cooperation etc.

 

20th century cultural relations

During the 20th century, Albania-Serbia relations included short periods of cooperation and good neighborly relations. The first official contracts between the National Committee for the Liberation of Yugoslavia (NKOJ) and the Provisional Government of Albania were set on 20 February 1945. For the beginning of cultural support and help by the Yugoslav authorities to a neighbor, it was of great importance Article 5 of the Treaty on Association and Mutual Assistance between Albania and Yugoslavia that insisted on maximizing the development of cultural and economic cooperation.

On July 20, 1946, the Albanian State Choir performed in Rijeka and in Opatija. After that, the stay of the Yugoslav art group during 1947 in Albania lasted for 23 days. During this time, members of the group performed in 17 events and three radio shows. There were also attempts to organize an art exhibition. Cooperation also involved the education of Albanian cultural workers in Yugoslavia, in Zagreb. The Albanian Committee for Culture and Art sought cooperation, and in particular the creation of repertoires (programs and texts for Albanian art institutions), they sought professional literature on theater arts, school programs for music, theater and painting schools. Albanian cultural workers received the greatest help in the development of classical music. For this purpose, the Yugoslav Committee for Culture and Art sent a conductor and music professor Bojan Adamič. At the beginning of May 1947, a mixed choir was established with the association for the cultural cooperation of Albania with Yugoslavia in Tirana. The conductor of the choir was Milo Asic. After 1 July 1948, all interstate agreements were terminated.

 

Literature

The Department for Albanology (Albanian Studies) at the Faculty of Philology of the University of Belgrade has a long tradition in educating new generations of teachers of Albanian language, literature and culture. According to the latest curriculum or the faculty, each year there are 19 places for the future students at the department. Since 1990, 283 students have been enrolled in this department, with 69 of them having successfully graduated by May 2010. This Faculty has cooperation agreements with the universities of Shkodra and Tirana. Currently, two professors from the University of Shkodra are teaching at the Faculty of Philology as visiting professors. In May 2010, the Department hosted a delegation from the University of Tirana.

Although it has been more than twenty years since diplomatic relations between Serbia and Albania were renewed, and in recent years there were regular visits and meetings between government officials including a cultural cooperation deal, literary cooperation between Serbian and Albanian authors remains at an extremely low level. Literature from Albania available in Serbian remains limited to several old Kadare novels and some isolated translation in anthologies or a "missed" translation from surrounding countries.

On 26 May 2017, the Joint Center for Albanian-Serbian Relations organized the cultural event "Unknown Albanian literature," dedicated to the Serbian-Albanian literary and cultural cooperation. The aim of this event was to get acquainted with the contemporary literature of Albania, to present the latest translations, and encourage its publication as a comprehensive anthology, as the countries in the region already have. In addition, this meeting was at the same time an opportunity to consider opportunities for broader literary and cultural cooperation between Serbia and Albania. Among the guests from Albania was also Arian Leka, (Durres, 1966), a prominent Albanian poet, essayist and translator, and founder of the influential magazine and cultural club "Poeteka", which promotes translations and cooperation in the Balkans.

As for the translation from Albanian to Serbian language and vice versa, until now the following books have been translated from Albanian:

 

Ismail Kadare 

The General of the Dead army (1968)

The Siege (1977)

Chronicle in Stone (1979)

The Palace of Dreams (1991)

The Fall of the Stone City (2008)

The Belgrade-based publishing house "Književna radionica Rašić" has published in Serbian language "Ormar", a book of essays by writer Arian Leka. The book consists of two main parts: "In search of the lost shirt" and the essay "Born in the Province". The book, translated by Natalija Žaba Stojilković and Sabri Halili, is accompanied by a preface by writer Andrej Nikolaidis, one of the most esteemed literary authors of the region.

In 2006, two books from Milovan Djilas were translated into Albanian: “The Unperfect Society: Beyond the New Class” and “The face of totalitarianism.”

Ivo Andric has had his Bosnian (Travnik’s) chronicles (2012) translated into Albanian. It is interesting that the books of Vuk Draskovic, who is a politician, were translated into Albanian language. They include “The Judge” and “The Memoirs of Jesus.”

Two of Milorad Pavic's books have also been translated into Albanian - Dictionary of the Khazars (2012) and collection of the “Terrible Love Story.”

Albanian publisher Onufri has published the luxury edition of Hazar, while Nikola Sudar did much to bring Serbian literature closer to Albania with the translation of “Terrible Love Stories.” Both books had a solemn promotion at the latest Book Fair in Tirana.

Chief-editor Lidija Kusovac said that the publishing house "Samizdat B92", which has been operating for 23 years, has paid special attention to books by Albanian authors and is also planning to provide translation of Serbian titles into the Albanian language.

During 2016, in addition to the novel "The Palace of Dreams" of Kadare, they repurchased the copyright for his collection of stories that will soon come out. "Samizdat" has published, following the "Millionaire" novel and essay publications under the title "Ambassador and other Heretic Notes", another novel by Veton Surroi - "All Love of Marija Gjakoni".

"Samizdat" also translated and published in Serbian "Sacrifice," the latest book by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama on the eve of his 2016 visit to Belgrade. And in Albanian, this publisher translated the first and second autobiography of famous actor Bekim Fehmiu "Brilliant and terrifying".

"Samizdat B92" also published bilingually, in Serbian and Albanian, the book of Petrit Imami "Serbs and Albanians through the ages", which demystifies established historical misconceptions about Serbian-Albanian relations.

 

Filmography

“The Hornet” is a 1998 Serbian drama film directed by Gorčin Stojanovic. The film tells about love between Albanians and Serb women on the eve of the war in Kosovo.

“Besa” (Solemn Promise) is a 2009 Serbian drama film directed by Srđan Karanović. The film was selected as the Serbian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards, but did not make it to the final shortlist. The film portrays the drama between Azem, an Albanian man, and Lea, a Slovenian woman married to Filip, a Serb. The film speaks about love, the sacred Albanian promise ‘Besa’, as well as the cultural, ethnic, and language barriers in the Balkans. The movie shows how the sacred given word can be stronger than love and temptation.

“Honeymoon” is the first Serbian-Albanian film from 2009. It was directed by Goran Paskaljevic, who also wrote the script along with Genc Permeti. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival on September 5, 2009, and had its Belgrade premiere in November 2009.

Honeymoon, as the first Serbian-Albanian co-production, at least attempts to demolish self-imposed barriers and unnecessary taboos.

“I honestly believe that the Honeymoon can be an important step in the process of approaching two nations who have been living since forever as neighbors, but who turned their back to each other,” Goran Paskaljevic has told Serbian magazine “Vreme” in an interview.

“Certainly, cultural cooperation with Albania will continue to develop,” he added.

Other sporadic cooperation events include mixed theater performances and classical music in Tirana and in Belgrade.

 

Cooperation prospects

Future cultural cooperation should continue to be based on individual initiatives, but the governments both in Serbia and Albania have to support and encourage initiatives, events, travel and other exchanges.

Bearing in mind everything that has been done so far in the field of culture, but mostly in the past few years, I believe that cultural cooperation will increase. As we can see, both sides are interested in getting to know the neighborhood literature, so publishing houses are also interested in translating and publishing books. Both sides are interested in movies, theater performance and music (about what I will write on another occasion). Student exchanges should increase, there should be more summer camps and school to overcome prejudice and learn about culture. Young people should be familiar with cultural festivals and events that exist in both countries. The media plays a key role in promoting culture, so both countries should be promoted this way.

*Monika Marić has graduated in Albanian language from the University of Belgrade at the Albanian Language Department of the Faculty of Philology.  She is currently doing a “Cultures in dialogue” Master’s at the University of Belgrade. Monika is the third Serbian fellow of the Centre for Albania-Serbia Relations at the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS) in Tirana.

 
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                    [post_content] => Some time ago in an interesting expose of his understanding of the problems in Albania, current Albanian Prime Minister offered some thoughts on a key question: is it the system which is at fault or are the single individuals failing? To elaborate it just a bit more: is the system built in a such a way that it makes away with accountability and therefore leaves mistakes and crimes unpunished or are individuals skillful of such levels of corruption that they overcome any systematic barriers?

These are important and difficult questions that have bothered many who try to make sense of the long and torturous Albanian transition. The Rama answer a few years ago was that the system was to blame, it ultimately corrupted the individuals. Fast forward and he seems to have changed his mind.

It is becoming a usual, however disturbing occurrence that the Prime Minister calls a meeting with head of institutions of a certain sector, berates them on live broadcast in front of the cameras and urges them to resign. It is unclear whether his is an order, a suggestion or a threat, most likely all of the above. So far the property registration offices and hospital managers have been the prey.  His argument, which bears considerable and hurtful truth, is that these two sectors have shaped the connection of citizens with the state and due to their negative performance are the source of shame and disappointment. Again there is a lot of truth here, no doubt. The collective sigh and curse of Albanians when faced with the long lines at the property office or with the filthy corridors of the public hospitals is and has always been loud enough to be heard even without the wide consultations performed in the last weeks.

It is interesting to see how quietly these directors, managers and administrators sit in these meetings tilting their heads down, silently contemplating the misfortune that has come to their door. None of them has been shown to protest, to offer a counter argument, none has been canny enough to remind the PM of his system-central approach of some time ago.

Yet their silence does not make it right. In going after these sensational solutions with populist appeal, this government, which will be formally constituted next month, is already exposing a frightfully authoritarian intent.  Additionally the approach is not even as practical or efficient as it seems.

How will these new, supposedly clean and strong incoming leaders and managers outshine the systemic obstacles and built in incentives for corruption? The system has not ceased to be a problem just because the PM has changed his mind. How will the new property registration directors outperform the old ones when the digital data system in Albania is still dysfunctional and the state requires notarized documents even to recognize its own institutions, its own certificates? How will the new hospitals managers eliminate the barriers of medicine provision put up by the lucrative concessions or the party led employment requests for staff recruiting?

What will be done to assist the new heads of the sector not to fall into the same habits, the same traps, the same failing and dragging routine? These are questions that are not addressed in these meetings and since there is no official program yet, are not addressed anywhere. In this context playing the loud blame game does not serve governance but publicity purposes.

Is it the system or the individual? Who came first the chicken or the egg? The difficult questions persists.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: An Albanian version of the chicken and egg theme 
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                    [post_content] => It comes as a good omen for the justice reform in Albania that qualified women with the right experience are being selected at the top of key new institutions that shall oversee the most important overhaul of the judicial sector in the country.

Natasha Mulaj was selected a few days as Head of the Appellate Chamber. She follows Genta Tafa who was recently elected as Head of the Independent Qualifications Commission usually known as the famous Vetting Commission. Other prominent women of Albanian justice such as former Attorney General Ina Rama and Secretary General of the Assembly Albana Shtylla are also part of the Appellate Chamber. It is equally telling that the Head of the International Mentoring Mission that closely oversees the reform is also an influential woman of justice in the EU, Genoveva Ruiz Calavera. Rumor has it that the next Justice Minister of the Rama 2 cabinet may very likely be a woman with considerable legal experience.

The justice reform’s importance for Albania’s future development and for its progress on the European integration path is impossible to overstate. These women shall have the unique opportunity to shape what life will be in this country for years to come and to establish solid foundations so that Albanian citizens can have professional judges and prosecutors that act with integrity and are held accountable if they don’t.

The social science research over whether women are less corrupted and more efficient in relevant leadership positions is appealing yet inconclusive. There is not an inherent quality in women that makes them less prone to corruption. A few weeks ago a woman judge in Albania was given a harsh sentence for corruption and the President was formally asked to remove her title as a judge. Other women judges have been the frequent subject of investigative articles questioning the source of their impressive and allegedly unjustified wealth.

However there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggest that women may do better in high pressure reform times. There are good examples that that come from other countries. In Romania Laura Kovesi, the prosecutor heading the special anti corruption unit DNA became the fright of corrupted politicians bringing the career of many high level representatives to an end. In neighboring Macedonia, Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva appointed to investigate the wiretapping scandals held strong against immense political pressure from the previous government.

The women that apparently shall lead the reform in Albania have, in addition to their unquestionable expertise, substantial levels of support from the international community and should use it to their work’s advantage.  The expectations of the Albanian citizens from these women at the helm of important institutions are quite high. The success of this reform is the perhaps the single key condition for the country to make a significant qualitative jump into a better future. Let’s sincerely wish that the women in charge will succeed. 

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Women and justice reform in Albania - a new opportunity
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                    [post_content] => Albania's internationally renowned writer Ismail Kadare, a perennial nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature, says his works written both under communist and in the post-1990s have remained the same in content, form and messages.

In an interview with Germany's Die Welt newspaper, the Albanian writer says he repents of no book he has written and continues upholding the formula that "I wrote normal literature in an abnormal country."

Kadare's interview with Kosovo-born, Germany-based journalist Vjollca Hajdari came as the Albanian writer translated into more than 40 languages since the early 1970s, had one of his latest novels, "E penguara" (A girl in Exile) translated into German.

Tirana Times translated the full interview.

 

Mr. Kadare, you are Albania’s most famous writer around the world. Thanks to you the Albanian literature has its seat on the international stage. What does this achievement mean for you, Albanians and especially Albania?

-Allow me to reiterate the well-known idea that literature, as the most generous spiritual heritage of our planet, has two fundamental characteristics: it is universal and eternal. As a result, everybody talks about it anytime. Maybe this is the reason that talking about it seems easy, but it must be added that making mistakes is even easier.

No writer creates literature for themselves. Even less, no people. From its very first day, it is created for everybody. For England, even if it wants to keep its Shakespeare for itself, it’s not up to them. He belongs to everybody. There is no map of peoples where literature can be produced and another map where this is impossible.

 

As a small and isolated country Albania was unknown to the world. How would you introduce Albania to foreign readers and how would you acquaint them with Albania and Albanians? 

 -Literature is not created to make peoples known. For this, atlases, history books and similar stuff are enough. The art of literature is so independent that in every language it is translated into, literature is reborn. This is the gist of its magic.

Of course, getting to know a country or people where specific literature is born comes naturally, but this is never a goal in itself.

The ancient city of Troy is the most shocking example. When the Greeks destroyed it, their goal was eliminating every memoir and trace and even wiping out its name. But the other way round happened. Thanks to literary art, Troy nourished for about 3,000 years, and continues to this day nourishing human memory everywhere.

From this point of view, it can be said that the Trojan case is the most spectacular paradox of our world.

 

You have been nominated many times for the Nobel Prize for Literature. In addition to great expectations by your admirers, you have not been awarded it. Why? What do you think, what’s the problem?

 -Frankly speaking, I have no answer to your question. Questions of this kind are among the habits of our world. There are colleagues who worry about them. I think there is no room for worry. By contrast, I think it’s a good habit that, in the run up to the prize award, the same to the Christmas eve, when familiar questions like where are you going to spend the holidays are made etc., many ask about this award. I think literature should be grateful to such attention, be it somehow naïve, of the global public.

 

Rumor has it that you haven’t been awarded the Nobel prize for Literature because, according to them you were “in harmony” with the then communist regime, at a time when you were known as the universal voice against totalitarianism.  Isn’t this claim in contrast to your stance? Is it time to get rid of such statements once and for all?

-I will start from the end. You are right but it is not a writer’s job to deal with such explanations.

The question of literature relations with a tyrannical regime is usually complicated. History does not unveil any regime that had no exacerbation with literature. Regimes, especially totalitarian ones, try to hide this exacerbation. Often, they even flatter literature, at a time when they do anything to put it under control, intercept it, and remind it of prison and even death. Antagonism between literature and tyranny stems naturally because of the nature of both of them. It is known that literature has freedom, emancipation, democracy in its gist, the same as tyranny has the opposite. In case of renowned writers, the bigger the recognition, the more dramatic the problem becomes. A dictatorship cannot stand parallel authority, not to mention rancor, the number one trait of every ruler.

A common paradox appears in this case: a world-class literature can be developed in a cruel regime. The regime tries to take advantage of it. There are well-known clichés about literature honoring the country etc. implying, even the regime. Literature has never done this. If it’s about honoring, it has honored itself.

Dictatorship regimes are not famous only for cruelty, but also cunning. For several years, they prepared secret files about writers, especially flinging mud at them.

After the collapse of communism in Albania, I was one of the first to request the opening of secret archives. This has not happened even today that we are talking together, 27 years on. Even when any archival document was accidentally discovered, instead of triggering further research, it was surrounded by silence.

Few years ago, I accidentally came across, a 1982 report by the Albanian secret investigation unit.

Because the report was published and republished in the local press, I am telling you just to have an idea of what these secret files, which everybody talks about, but nobody has seen, are.

 

What is this report about?

-This report tries to prove that the writer you are talking to, I.K., [Ismail Kadare] was a member of a plotters band that aimed at overthrowing the government. As you can see, this is not trivia, but “serious” stuff of that kind that took one to execution.

If you are curious, you can easily find that report. It’s the text of the interrogation of [former] Albanian Health Minister Dr. Ziçishti, who died under torture the same year.

The report contains the “plot details” and the name of the investigator who is still alive in Albania and untroubled by anybody. Asked by a young Albanian journalist, the investigator has admitted to the authenticity of the text.

 

What happened later?

-That was all. The ‘scandalmongers’ you mentioned in this interview (there are even foreign journalists among them) showed no interest in this document which unveils the nature of a writer’s relationship with the dictatorship regime. After the collapse of communism, I never thought about bragging that I participated in a plot against the government, because this was simply not true, but the secret file is still there. It clearly shows that the government had already arranged a coffin for the writer and was only waiting for an order about it. That had happened in many other cases.

 

Could you further elaborate on the phenomenon based on this fact? 

-A writer doesn’t work wonders. He can’t settle the misdeeds of a country on the verge of collapse, as was the case of communist Albania. In the meantime, a writer is held responsible for the literature he creates, under all circumstances, including those seemingly impossible. Especially, for a renowned writer. The greater the popularity, the more sensitive responsibility becomes.

Since we are talking together and you asked me the question, allow me to accurately answer on my case.

I didn’t become popular after the collapse of communism when you could describe its gloom without risking anything. I would like to add that I didn’t write my works in any Switzerland lake area, i.e. outside tyrannical Albania, but inside the country.

This is what exactly happened.

In 1960 I was a very popular writer in Stalinist Albania. Meanwhile, in 1970 something uncommon happened. After the translation of a book in Paris, in a short time I gained global popularity, which at that time meant Western recognition.

The shock was quite evident for such a case. For the writer himself, his readers, the communist country where he lives. In the meantime, what seemed like an incredible event, could suddenly turn against you. And that’s what happened. A writer finds himself in constant doubt. The gist of doubt is the question: why the western world, “the bourgeoisie,” our sworn enemy, while they hate our heroic and Bolshevik Albania, love you so much?

I am not elaborating on the situation that followed. The paranoid Albanian government found themselves unprepared. There was silence and secret files against me, maybe like the one I told you about. But nothing was said in public. As far as I understood, they were waiting that I myself was going to “deal with bourgeoisie.” In other words, that I stated: You like me, but I am your enemy!

Nothing of this kind ever happened. Under global pressure, a meeting of “bourgeoisie” journalists was allowed with me. There are dozens of interviews that can be found and that I am telling you in full moral responsibility that there is nowhere, no paragraph, of those that Albanian Stalinists dreamt of.

This was the first ordeal I overcame and when the government, I am not ashamed of telling, bowed to.

 

Was this tough?

-Of course. All you have to do is making up your mind in order not to distort the gist of truth.

I would like to underline that Western journalists, considering my tough position, were careful not to further aggravate it. However, whether they wanted or not, the dangerous moment came quite suddenly. That was especially when there were live TV interviews.

 

What was such a moment like?

-I can remember such a case, exactly in Germany, at a Berlin TV. The journalist suddenly asked me a question, which, how to put it, was fatal for Eastern writers. ‘Mr. Kadare can you write against the regime?’ The question, even though not meant to be provocative, was in itself the most intrusive of all. I had heard, many writers had been left speechless because of it. Answers of the kind that such a thing didn’t have to be discussed as long as the interviewed writer had no problem with the regime etc. seemed in all cases poor.

A short silence followed, and I was lucky to remain cool and answer with a “no.” And soon after, explaining the reason: In my country such a thing is banned by law.

The answer seemed more courageous than it really was. Returning to Albania by plane, I thought about how to defend myself if this answer was deemed “bad.”  The first thing that came to my mind were the thousands of plaques littering Albania reading “Long live the proletarian dictatorship.”

This country did not hide it at all that it was a dictatorship, in other words that it allowed nothing to harm it, to proceed with ban of “bourgeoisie propaganda” etc. etc.

 

Was it more difficult or easier with fiction?

-That depended on the circumstances. From 1970 until the collapse of communism, despite the recognition and acceptance by the Western world, I was considered a socialist realism writer.

I gave no importance to this naming as long as it did not play any role in my work. In addition, I used the term so naturally that some of my close friends, half-jokingly, told me that apparently, I called what I had written myself that way. According to him, there was nothing I could do but call the other dogmatic, Stalinist literature decadent literature.

Although this looked like laughing, there was a true gist. Deep inside me, I believed that as much paradoxical it sounded, the dogmatic literature of that time, such as the Albanian, Soviet or Chinese ones, in the real sense of the word, were nothing but “decadent.”

As far as literature produced in a totalitarian regime is concerned, there are still misunderstandings even today. The use of the “Socialist Realism” term itself, helps in a kind of chaos. For some, this is an accused naming and they are ready to deny every kind of creativity related to it. For others, the term doesn’t have to be taken that seriously.

I have always thought that literature stands above prejudice, especially labeling. This is the reason I have maybe become boring with the formula that I wrote normal literature in an abnormal country.

The truth is I continue upholding this formula. During our talk, I believe it is well-understood that I wrote in three different eras: the first two decades from 1950 to 1970 was a typical time of Socialist realism involving both the government and the readers. In the second two decades 1970-1990, there was again a socialist society, but with two different kinds of readers: the Albanian and international ones. Lastly, the third era, the post-communist one of full freedom.

With full moral responsibility, I can say that my works written in three different eras, with about 40 titles, in and outside Albania, are the same, in content, form and messages. I have denied no book. I have waved neither the dissident, nor the conformist flag.

I was only a writer. I reiterate, the same in all three eras. Sounds unbelievable? Let me tell you a curiosity: While we are currently talking together London is hosting the Man Booker Prize competition about the best foreign book published in Great Britain. Twelve countries have been selected for the 2017 competition. Among them is also Albania, my country. The curious thing is that the book representing Albania, my novel “Kamarja e turpit” [The Traitor’s Niche)] was written 40 years ago in Albania. Allow me to be more punctual: in Stalinist and Bolshevik Albania, the number one enemy of the West, including Great Britain!

 

And nothing changed in this book, I mean was it published in the original form?

-No page has been changed in the book. Should I add it’s a novel about state terror? Even this is correct.

 

In 1990 you sought political asylum in France. Could you explain the reasons of your departure? Why did you exactly choose France?

 -For Albanians and for all Balkan people, France became a close ally especially during Napoleon’s era, as an example of inspiration to depart from Ottoman rule. Chronicles show that in the Balkans, especially in Albanian regions, there was a time when “La Marseillaise” was sung as a local patriotic song! I sought political asylum after harsh correspondence with [former, late] President Alia, after I finally understood there was no hope with him, at a time when many people believed he could become an Albanian Gorbachev.

 

What is your relationship with the mother country and how much has your relation with Albania changed compared to the previous years?

-I had no relations of misunderstanding with the wider public. On the other hand, there was full understanding in all cases.

The peoples of the Balkan Peninsula, in Europe’s eyes are usually perceived as very harsh, more prone to quarreling than lyrical passion. I have to admit that there is something true in this assertion.

Meanwhile, I can’t deny that it is exactly these people, among them Albanians, who love literature so much,  even sublimate it. This is really a surprise related to other paradoxes such as, for example, the stance toward women and love. Allow me to repeat the idea that young women and women, more than in their lives, when the stance toward them was not to be envied, were lucky in art.

There are few regions around the world where they are treated as goddesses. It is likely that literature has benefitted from this.

 

By the way, since we are talking about women. What role did your wife Helena, who is also a writer, play and currently plays?

-It is difficult for me to perceive how my daily literary creativity would develop without her assistance. Above all, she has been during all the time we have lived together, my first reader, i.e. my first opinion about the work, which for many writers, including me, has an irreplaceable importance.

Her literary taste is unmistakable. I am not talking about the other assistance: her supervision of the whole process of preparing the manuscript, its computer typing, the first correction and editing and whatever technical issues which the writer needs so much.

 

Last year, a great Albanian woman, Mother Teresa, born Anjeza Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, was declared a saint in Vatican. What’s your comment about it?

-You can guess my answer. It was legitimate pride. In the meantime, I would like to add that there was a dramatic dimension under communism.

While she was admired all over the world, there was a time in Albania when it was not talked about her for two main reasons: the first one because she was religious and the second because she was considered to be part of the Western world. The pressure was so strong that despite her pleas, she was not allowed to visit her family, or just take a bunch of flowers to their tombs.

 

If we leave out the communism era, Albania is one of the unique countries around the world for its religious tolerance. Albanians have another approach toward religion and do not identify themselves under religious belief. How do you explain this?

-This is true and I don’t hide it, this makes me feel proud. I would like to add, that for us, Balkan peoples, bragging is something easy. It is not a much enviable characteristic, but in this case Albanians are right to take pride.

The explanation should be complicated. Religious harmony is one of the rarest characteristics in   peoples’ history. Albanians have had this characteristic under all historical circumstances: under the Ottoman occupation, after becoming independent from it, during the time of the Albanian kingdom, during fascism, and surprisingly even under communism, when tolerance seemed to have bid goodbye to Albania forever.

I would like to add that the other legitimate pride, the continuous protection of Jews, especially during the World War is apparently related to the harmony mentioned above.

 

Did you know that Berlin has a school, which since 2014 is named after Refik Veseli, the Albanian photographer of “The Righteous among the Nations” who saved two Jewish families during World War II?

-No I didn’t know. I am learning it from you. And of course I am pleased to hear about this.

 

When did you visit Germany and what are your impressions about the German government?

-Germany was present in Albania since its return to Europe. Under a tradition that was being put in place in the Balkans, the first European-Albanian royal dynasty was Germanic, since 1914 with the approval of the Great Powers. Unfortunately, this first stage of Albania’s European integration, (a dream which still continues, now that we are currently talking together) was ruined by World War I.

After an Albanian kingdom that concluded dramatically, Albania ended up in a Fascist country, which collapsed together with the Italian-German axis. Then what followed was the already known story of the establishment of communism, the very passionate friendship with the communist camp, and the same passionate hostility toward it, the friendship-animosity with the Chinese, the desperate isolation under the collapse of communism.

During all this time, West Germany was the only Western country which taking advantage of Albania’s animosity with the communist camp, tried to push it toward Europe. The mission undertaken by Strauss [West German politician Franz Josef Strauss] was impossible because Albania, being really hostile toward its ex-communist allies, was in the meantime more Stalinist than them!

It was not easy to understand this. In the meantime, there was some hope with “German chance.” The thing was about West Germany. Two or three trips I made, because of publications in German, happened exactly in this “Capitalist” Germany. I first entered Berlin half-secretly!

I am not going into details about this grotesque story which continued until Albania found itself, eventually, together with present-day Germany, at the North Atlantic Alliance.

I am quite convinced that despite the paradoxes created by history, there has always been a positive feeling about Germans and Germany in Albania. It is likely that the explanation for this could be related to gratitude toward German scientists who dealt with the Albanian language, more thoroughly and seriously than anybody else, including Albanians themselves. This might seem exaggerated if you are not aware of the unlimited admiration toward the language, which in Albanians’ eyes, had undertaken the aureole of a martyr, especially after its ban under an Ottoman government decree.

 

Thank you for the very impressive curiosity. Allow me to conclude our conversation with a final question. Three years ago Turkish president Erdogan was in Kosovo and called Kosovo Turkey. What do you think of this?

-I am aware of this statement by him and the only thing I can say is that I didn’t believe my eyes when I read it.
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            [post_content] => Opening of the NATO Military Committee ConferenceInterview by Ani Ruci with General Petr Pavel, the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee

What is NATO planning to do to strengthen security in a fragile region such as the Western Balkans? How will the NATO concept of Collective Defence be implemented in the region?

- The Western Balkans is a region of strategic importance for NATO and we have invested in the security and stability of the Western Balkans for more than two decades. With that assistance, the region has made significant progress since the 1990s. NATO has helped end two ethnic wars in the Western Balkans. Stability and security in this region benefits stability and security in Europe. We intend to maintain our presence, our focus and our engagement in the Western Balkans for as long as our help is required, and support the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of countries in the region.

This being said, the security environment has changed significantly over the last couple of decades. NATO allies, including those in the Western Balkans, are facing a wide range of complex challenges, ranging from a more assertive Russia, to turmoil in the Middle East, terrorism and the resulting migration as well as hybrid threats and cyber-attacks.

For almost 70 years, we have preserved the stability and peace because we have been able to adapt. To be able to defend against any opponent or threat, NATO must have credible defence and deterrence.

These new security challenges have triggered the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War. NATO must ensure that it has a range of capabilities and options to respond appropriately when required. We have increased the readiness of our forces, and our ability to deploy them quickly if needed. We have reinforced our Eastern flank with our Forward Presence and our multinational Battle groups. At the same time, we have increased our presence in the Black Sea region – on land, in the air and at sea. We are also strengthening our coordination with other organisations, including the European Union.

These adaptations send a clear message that an attack against any Ally will be met by the Alliance as a whole. This includes the NATO Allies in the Balkans. Should one of them invoke Article 5, Allies will stand united, determined to defend NATO territory and deter any possible aggression.

 

What are the factors that put at risk and make vulnerable peace and stability in the Western Balkans in NATO’s viewpoint?

In today’s security environment, the threats and challenges at our periphery and beyond are as diverse as they are many. One of the challenges currently at our borders is a more aggressive and assertive Russia – a Nation with whom the Alliance worked to build a partnership for more than two decades following the Cold War. The other is the fight against terrorism where we need to ensure we address not only the immediate problems but also the root causes.

Nations can and must prepare to face these external threats but vulnerability can also stem from internal challenges.

Democratic values, rule of law, domestic reforms, and good neighbourly relations are vital for regional cooperation and stability. It is not an easy path. It demands real commitment, real progress in reforms, and in reconciliation. The Alliance sees the region’s future in Euro-Atlantic cooperation and integration for those who want it and we are determined to help the countries of the region to implement real reforms for the benefit of their citizens, regardless of whether they want to join NATO or not. We respect their choice, whatever it is.

 

What is the core of NATO’s short- and medium-term strategy to neutralize new geo-political influence, particularly the Russian one, from penetrating into the Western Balkans?

NATO fully respects Nations’ right to choose their own political and security arrangements. This is a fundamental principle of European security that we have all signed up to, including Russia, as enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act.

However, we have seen an increase in attempts from outside sources to intervene or influence democratic processes in the different countries in the Western Balkans. Any external interference, whether with hacking, propaganda or inciting unrest, is contradictory to the principles of good international relations.

We encourage local governments and institutions to increase their resilience against these types of interventions and to make sure that their democratic institutions remain strong, fight corruption, modernize and implement necessary reforms. NATO will continue to work with the different partners in the region to help strengthen their different democratic institutions and help reform their armed forces.

 

What are the preconditions and chances for the two aspiring Western Balkans countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia to join NATO? What about Serbia and Kosovo?

NATO’s door remains open to all European democracies which share the values of our Alliance, which are willing and able to share the responsibilities and obligations of membership, and whose inclusion can contribute to our common security and stability.

In June, we welcomed our 29th Ally, Montenegro. This proves that NATO’s Open Door policy works. But let me be clear this is not an easy nor is it speedy process. It is a long and demanding process. So quite naturally nations grow impatient because they want to see immediate results. On the other hand, the process is naturally long because to implement these substantial reforms requires, not only resources but it also requires time and determination.

Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia both have a Membership Action Plan (MAP) which is NATO’s programme of advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries aspiring to join the Alliance. Both Nations are actively working to fulfil the conditions set by the Allies in the MAP. But as I said this is a long process and I would call for aspiring members to have what we could call strategic patience.

I would advocate that NATO membership is the ultimate goal but not all Nations aspire to join NATO. Take Serbia, for example. Serbia does not wish to join NATO and it has a right to choose its own security arrangements. We do not force Nations to join our Alliance.

Some of those Nations who do not want to be NATO members do choose to be NATO Partners. NATO cooperates with more than 40 countries around the world. And these partnerships are a real success story. They help to preserve peace, reinforce stability, and promote progress for all of us. These countries enjoy the access to this very broad cooperative framework. That is extremely important in itself, not only getting access to all the expertise and experience of NATO countries but also getting access to courses, exercises, and operations. And we simply cannot forget the political support that is behind a strong sign of NATO partnership. And this very expression of strong partnership also sends a strong message to potential opponents. So I believe that there is a great value in itself in strong partnership.

 

The Western Balkans is not immune to terrorist threats. What did the NATO Military Committee Conference in Tirana propose to avoid them?

The NATO Military Committee’s first meeting in Tirana was dedicated to NATO’s efforts in Projecting Stability, the NATO Chiefs of Defence discussed a number of concrete proposals with regard to military contributions to support a comprehensive, systematic and coherent approach. They welcomed the Hub for the South achieving its Initial Operational Capability, the important role it will play in improving NATO’s regional understanding and ability to anticipate crises in the region, and stressed the importance of continued cooperation with other relevant stakeholders, namely the European Union.

Our work to fight terrorism involves many different lines of effort and types of activity. Ranging from our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, to our training for Iraqi forces, to developing new technologies for de-mining or bomb detection.

We are now a full-fledged member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and we have stepped up the contribution of our AWACS surveillance planes, which give the Coalition a better air picture. We are also working to improve our awareness and the way we share information, so that Allies can take swift preventive actions against the threats we face, including terrorism.

But we need to bear in mind that terrorism has no religion or boundaries. It cannot simply be defeated militarily, but it has to be dealt with on several layers – social, economic, political as well as, when needed, military. There is no simple solution. Terrorism is not in itself new, but has reemerged in recent years, most significantly in the form of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or as it is also known Daesh. To be able to deal efficiently with a problem, we need to understand it and we need to use all the tools available. I believe that the Alliance’s efforts coupled with those of our Partners and multinational organisations can greatly contribute to the demise of terrorism, but it will take time, resources and determination. There is no quick fix solution.

 

What is NATO’s stance on the timing of Albania Armed Forces in their transformation from their support role in NATO missions, to Armed Forces fully in line with NATO standards?

I am very grateful for Albania’s strong commitment to our Alliance and your contributions to NATO missions, operations and activities, namely our missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo as well as our deployment in the Aegean Sea. You do not have a very large Armed Forces, but you contribute as much as possible.

You also contribute to NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence with troops to the Canadian-led Battle group in Latvia.

You also provide strong support to our partners, including contributions to our Trust Funds for Ukraine, helping with cyber defence and military career transition. In addition, Albania plays an important role in the fight again ISIL, providing equipment and Special Forces trainers to Iraq.

Albania also helps build stability closer to home, by promoting cooperation throughout the Western Balkans. You are a strong advocate for NATO’s Open Door policy, and for integrating your neighbours into the Euro-Atlantic family.

Albania has also offered to host a NATO Centre of Excellence on Foreign Fighters. NATO and Albania are coordinating the way ahead.

Albania makes valuable contributions to international security and you are a promoter of stability in the Balkans and beyond.

 

Is there anything else important General Petr Pavel would like to share regarding the outcome of the NATO Military Committee’s first meeting in Tirana?

Let me first thank Albania for the great support and warm hospitality we received during the Military Committee Conference in Tirana, (15-17 September 2017).

The Military Committee Conference was an opportunity for NATO Chiefs of Defence to discuss some of the important items on NATO’s agenda such as the need to fill the current CJSOR shortfalls in our Resolute Support Mission.

RSM’s purpose is to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces and institutions and it continues to provide an essential contribution to the fight against terrorism. NATO currently has over 12,000 troops in our Resolute Support Mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan forces. In recent months, more than fifteen nations have pledged additional contributions to enable our troops to continue delivering the kind of assistance required by Afghan security forces, especially with regard to Special Forces, the Air Force, and the development of new leaders.

And although some work still needs to be done, the force generation process continues. The NATO-led Resolute Support Mission is an essential contribution to the fight against terrorism. And it is key to Afghanistan military progress and sustainment.

 
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