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from issue no. 12 - 2003

THE BALKANS. Tirana towards Euro-Atlantic integration

Realism, dialogue and collaboration

The geopolitics of Albania four years after the humanitarian war. Interview with Alfred Spiro Moisiu, President of the Albanian Republic

by Giovanni Cubeddu

In the center of the photo, 
President Alfred Spiro Moisiu at the 
SEECP Summit, Belgrade, April 2003

In the center of the photo, President Alfred Spiro Moisiu at the SEECP Summit, Belgrade, April 2003

From now on October 19, the day of the beatification of Mother Teresa, will be a national holiday. So the Albanian Parliament decided on September 25 last, thereby satisfying the wish of the President of the Republic, Alfred Spiro Moisiu, to restore Mother Teresa to her people of origin, and thus to win a point in favor of Albania in the “holy” and silent diplomatic dispute between those– Albania, Macedonia and India – who claim for themselves this admirable witness to Christ and the Church. This political decision falls opportunely in a 2003 rich in celebrations for Albania, and which the local Church has declared a jubilee year: it is 300 years since the first Council of the Albanian church, held in 1703; 10 years since the journey of the Pope to Albania, the first Balkan Country visited after the collapse of Communism; and 10 years since the reinstating of the hierarchy (the Pope nominated four bishops in 1993) after nearly 50 years of absence under the communist regime. This year the process of canonization of the Albanian martyrs (of whom the best known is the Jesuit Giovanni Fausti, a schoolmate of Pope Montini) has also begun.
We asked the President of the Albanian Republic Moisiu, in office since 2002 after a long political and military career – also in the sphere of NATO – to explain contemporary Albania to us with his usual authoritativeness. We thank him for having accepted.
On 4 February this year both Houses of the Yugoslavian Parliament approved the Constitution of the new Serbian and Montenegro Union. Thus the term “Yugoslavia” disappears definitively. What impression has all this made, considering that recently Albania reopened diplomatic and commercial channels with Belgrade and Podgorica?
ALFRED SPIRO MOISIU: Albania has always declared itself favorable to a policy of good neighborliness with Serbia and the other countries of the region. The democratic changes in Belgrade have made possible the creation of a new climate of collaboration and of dialogue between the two countries. As is known, I made a visit to Belgrade in the context of the SEECP summit (South East European Cooperation Process), thereby becoming the first Albanian Head of State to visit this city after many decades. I met President Marovic, with whom I have excellent relations, on various occasions and the reciprocal meetings were also continued at parliamentary and government levels. We signed some agreements, predominantly economic, and our objective is to further consolidate this positive spirit. Albania has abolished visas and we are expecting that the Serbian and Montenegro Union will do the same thing in our regard. Albanians, along with most citizens and politicians in the region, are aware that the past will never return again. We have always declared this understanding in the official meetings in Belgrade. We have suggested that we be realists, that we forgive and look ahead rather than to the past. There have been some signs and moments, for the most part isolated, caused by old “mentalities of conflict”, which have created concern, but in general a spirit of dialogue and cooperation prevails.
Kosovo is today a protectorate administered by an international force. In the new Constitution of the Serbian Montenegro Union it is said that Kosovo is a province of Serbia. Is it a solution you consider well deliberated and rightly definitive?
MOISIU: Albania considered the reference to Kosovo in the new Constitution on the part of the Serbo-Montenegran Parliament [which declares it an integral part of Serbia and Montenegro, ed] not only as a partial, mistaken decision and evident of a mentality of conflict, but also as a challenge to the UN and the Security Council. Kosovo is no longer under the administration of Belgrade but that of international forces. In Kosovo great democratic advances have been made, local institutions have been established, the most important standards of democracy have been guaranteed and the goodwill to continue in this direction exists. The merit for that goes to its citizens but also to UNMIK and other international bodies operating in Kosovo. We consider that the moment has arrived to open with no waste of time dialogue on technical questions between Pristina and Belgrade, always with such international bodies as the EU, NATO, the USA present. UNMIK must preside over the Kosovan delegation.
At the same time, I maintain that the way to achieve democratic standards and the effort to establish the definitive status of Kosovo must go ahead in parallel fashion. Its future will be decided by the citizens of Kosovo itself, with the consent of the international agents. In this process no other Balkan capital can participate or impose its own presence.
Four years after the so called “humanitarian war”, how do you judge the political balance in the Balkan area?
MOISIU: We are all aware that the Balkans have changed greatly. They are no longer a source of crisis and conflict and now the area presents a new, positive, image. The new culture of dialogue, of understanding and collaboration is replacing that of nationalistic conflicts. I can affirm that in the course of the last year the presidents of our region, apart from the numerous bilateral meetings, have also often met collegially, a fact that up to five years ago would have been unimaginable.
In a world which appears ever more uni-polar, what are the international political priorities of your country? What is the place of Albania in the world? Close to whom?
MOISIU: Euro-Atlantic integration is the dream and objective of every Albanian. No one is against that prospect; on the contrary it enjoys the full support of the citizens and the political class. We are committed to this and will continue to be so until Albania becomes part of the EU and of NATO. Naturally this demands much time and commitment. You must know that Albania has a dramatic past and has emerged from a long, fierce and unique dictatorship in Europe, whose negative inheritance is still a factor which impedes economic and political reforms.
We have taken steps forward, particularly in military and political issues. The political forces in general have renounced the conflictual choices of the past and are collaborating to resolve the principal questions which preoccupy the citizens and the Country. The political confrontation taking place in Parliament and the new climate of dialogue made possible the start, in January 2003, of talks for the Agreement of Association and Stabilization with the European Union.
You were a general in NATO. Do you find inclusion in the Atlantic Pact perfectly easy for your country? And what are the comparative advantages that this will bring to Albania?
MOISIU: We have made progress in our efforts to draw closer to NATO. The Atlantic Summit of Prague appreciated Albania’s efforts to join and confirmed the open-door policy. We are optimistic in believing that with the reforms undertaken we will succeed in obtaining, at the next summit, the invitation of join. As is known, the Albanian army is modernizing on the basis of Western experience and models, getting great support and positive influence from Italy. By now we have a positive balance-sheet for the international commitments we assumed for restoring peace in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, and we have satisfied the major part of the military parameters required for membership of NATO. And also, with Croatia and Macedonia, we are pledged, in the context of the “Adriatic Charter 3”, to satisfy the standards of membership.
CORRIDOR 8.  Moisiu says: “It is vital for the Albanian economy and will link even more the Balkan economies with Italy”

CORRIDOR 8. Moisiu says: “It is vital for the Albanian economy and will link even more the Balkan economies with Italy”

There are those who affirm that some of the recent international decisions on the Balkans, including the military ones, have been shaped by wish to guarantee the safe-passage of the so called energy “Corridors” (number 10 crosses the region and number 8 cuts Albania itself in two). What do you think of that?
MOISIU: The construction of Corridor 8 is vital for the Albanian economy. This is our economic priority and will continue to be so until full implementation. Corridor 8 is not just an Albanian project but a project of regional interest and beyond. Its construction would considerably influence greater development in Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Albania, and would link the Balkan economies even more with Italy, in a particular way with the southern part and with the other part of Europe. Precisely in view of this importance, I, along with the Bulgarian President Parvanov and Trajkovski of Macedonian, undertook a tour of the three respective Countries, in the aim of making international opinion even more aware of the project. We have and do greatly appreciate the American and Italian commitment to the realization of this project and meanwhile we are awaiting stimulus and concrete support from the Italian presidency of the EU.
The other regional projects, such as Corridor 10, have the same importance for various countries in the region. Nevertheless, we consider that the regional advantages from the Corridor 8 project will be considerable and will bring our countries closer to a united Europe. The Corridors approved up till now are vertical, while this Corridor is the only horizontal one. Corridor 8 represents the continuity and renewal of the “Egnatia” Roman road.
In December 2002 you met the Pope. What did you say to each other?
MOISIU: The meeting of 1 December 2002 with His Holiness Pope John Paul II, is certainly one of my most beautiful memories. His Holiness represents the image of a historic dimension and he is a friend and supporter of Albania and of the Albanians. You must know that Albanians of all religions received him magnificently during his visit to Tirana in 1993, treating the event as a national holiday. This means that Albanians greatly value his role and his image, as they also value the role and support given by the Holy See. During our first meeting of last year, I passed on to His Holiness the feelings of respect and gratitude of all Albanians. I thanked him for his commitment to the beatification of Mother Teresa, for the support which His Holiness and the Holy See showed in respect of the democratic process in our country, for the work undertaken for the construction of places of worship and for the consolidation of religious harmony in Albania.
Do you consider the Holy See a full interlocutor of your country?
MOISIU: The relations of Albania with the Holy See are frequent and as old as Christianity. As you know, Albanian Christianity is one of the oldest in Europe. When the Catholic Church was instituted in Europe, it came through the Illyrians, of whom we are the descendants, and we are accordingly proud of our history and of the history of our relations with the Catholic Church. Albania has produced outstanding religious figures, who have not only made a great contribution to their own country, but also to the Holy See, and have demonstrated throughout the whole world their concern for humanity. The Albanians gave the Vatican the Pope of Albanian origin, Clement XI [Gianfranco Albani, born in Urbino in 1649; died in Rome in 1721; elected on 23 November 1700, ed]. Our national hero, Gjergj Kastrioti [born in Kruja, Albania, in 1468, ed], was considered a defender of Christianity. These are the figures who make us proud of the contribution they made to the enriching of the values of Christianity and of mankind.
What role does the Catholic Church have historically in Albania? And how are Church-State relations regulated, considering that the principal faiths for you are, in order, Islam and Orthodoxy?
MOISIU: In the historical context, the Catholic Church was valued by the Albanians as an institution of learning and of culture. During the last decade, the Catholic Church has greatly helped in the development of education, families in difficulty, health etc. The relations between the State and the Church, between citizens of the Christian faith and of the other religions, and between Albania and the Holy See, are extremely good. It’s clear by now that the culture of Albanian society has a very positive aspect: harmony and religious co-existence. In Albania there are three religions, which have for centuries lived together in total harmony, also with many mixed marriages; children are born and new generations grow who further deepen the harmony and religious tolerance. In this way, Albania offers a remarkable example of dialogue and of inter-religious understanding, which in these times has immense value for the dialogue between cultures and civilizations. To reinforce this value and to share it with others, we are organizing for November of this year an international symposium on the theme. Relations between the State and the religious communities have also been regulated legally and no conflicts occur.
Mother Teresa has been proclaimed blessed: what does this mean for Albania?
MOISIU: All Albanians are proud to have their first Albanian saint, Mother Teresa, a symbol of humanity, of help and of hope. Mother Teresa is the Albanian of the large heart who, through her commitment to helping the poor, gained the respect of the whole world. Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize and many other awards and titles, but more than anything else she won the great gratitude of every citizen. We are grateful to His Holiness Pope Paul II for the commitment and great support given to Mother Teresa when she had her humanitarian missions throughout the world and now, after her death, we are grateful to him for her beatification. It is a great event for the Catholic Church, for the Holy See and for all humanitarian and religious people in the world. In a particular way, it is an historic event for the Albanians and for Albania, it is a national holiday and a moral support of extraordinary dimensions.

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