EU Integration, a catalyst to make up for the lost time

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 27, 2015 11:00

Albania’s coming to terms with its past

By Ambassador Romana Vlahutin*

Twenty-five years ago there was an unprecedented explosion of freedom on the European continent, explosion of optimism and trust that after the fall of Berlin wall, no walls will be built ever again.

At the time, the European Union understood its historical responsibility and created the most strategic and most successful European policy ever, the enlargement. European leaders of the time understood that interests of European nations were not defined within their borders, but in unity that makes each of them individually much stronger.

However, the transition process was not easy.

Millions of people had to pick up the pieces of their lives and lives of their communities, states and economies, and make a transition to fully functional democracy. Along the way they also had to learn the greatest lesson of all – it is not enough to be free. You need to do something meaningful with that freedom.

Adam Michnik once said that the worst thing about communism is what comes after. For many nations in Eastern Europe it took a lot of work and courage and bold decisions to come where they are now. More than anything, it took the strength to deal with their own deficiencies and weaknesses, mistakes and demanding truths.

I grew up in one of those countries, which beside the transition also had to go through war. I am from the generation whose lives this year will be equally split between times lived in communism and times lived in democracy. And those experiences taught me one thing – freedom is not about just being free to do what you wish, freedom is first and foremost about responsibility, to yourself and to the others.

To rebuild the society and be able to focus on the future, you also need to come to terms with your past.

Albania had one of the most difficult and tragic to come to terms with. An estimated number of 7,000 opponents of the regime were executed during the communist era from 1946 to 1991. Tens of thousands were imprisoned or sent to labor camps. 6,000 people disappeared and are buried in unmarked graves.

Until this year, Albania was one of the few countries in Europe where communist era secret police files remained confidential. I hope that the law on the opening of communist files approved in May will provide for a better legal framework and we look forward to the establishment of the body that oversees that initiative.

These people need justice, and recognition. They deserve our utmost respect.

And the best way to honor their lives is to build a free and fair society they suffered and sacrificed for.

Recently, I spoke with a group of very smart young people, who all studied abroad and came back to Albania, and are having a hard time trying to reconcile their dreams with reality.

One of them told me: In Albania it is all about revenge, and not about justice.

I don’t know if this is true, but it was tough to hear.

All countries in transition had many similar challenges like Albania, but did not have a deficit that is so painfully evident here. A deficit of dialogue.

How do you reconstruct a state and society if people, and their political representatives, don’t discuss things with each other? And if they treat each other not like political opponents but like worst enemies?

Transition on its own is hard enough, and transition in such a deeply divided political context is even harder.

The reform work ahead of us is so demanding that Albania cannot afford to waste its time and energy on useless political feuds. What this country needs is a unity around some key national interests, and integration in the European Union is for sure one of the most important.

The enlargement process is probably the best modernisation tool available. Albania has the opportunity to use the resources and capacities made available, to focus and make up for the time lost in the past.

This would be the best use of freedom gained 25 years ago.

Gjergj Fishta, one of the founding fathers of independent Albania, said:

Homeland and statehood … is not merely the vast territory inhabited by people who share the same blood, language and religion. It is instead a country where people live with one another and share not only the blood and language ties but concerns as well, thanks to which living a life can be easier and more fruitful.”

This is true for any community, be it Albania or the European Union.

25 years after the fall of communism in Europe, it is yet again a moment to rise to the historical challenges that are before us.

Because Europe as a whole, free and at peace has not been accomplished yet. And although our blood and languages might be different, our concerns are the same.

More than that, today they seem even more dangerous and challenging than 25 years ago.

* This is the speech of the Head of EU Delegation to Albania, Ambassador Romana Vlahutin, at the symposium “Albania 25 years after the fall of communism: Rebuilding the state and society” held in Tirana on Nov. 25, 2015. Tirana Times, the official media partner for the conference, is publishing a series of presentations made at the symposium in its op-ed pages this week. Organized by the Albanian Institute for International Studies with the support of Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the U.S. Embassy.


Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 27, 2015 11:00