Published on: 15 May 2017

Interview of Minister Bushati with "Koha Ditore": Political crisis in Albania, a "stress-test" of justice

Interview of Minister Bushati with "Koha Ditore", Kosovo

15 May 2017

The deadlock created due to demarcation and its consequences but also of the difficulties of the big coalition, has naturally led to the need for a popular consultation, in Kosovo. Albania will continue to support without reservation a democratic, multiethnic and European Macedonia, where equality and the political and social rights of all its citizens are respected. 

Russia’s degree of implication in the region over the last two years is unusual. 

     By Bashkim Shala

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Albania, Ditmir Bushati, says that 2017 does not look so good for the Balkans which are losing serenity and normality. In an exclusive interview to the daily "Koha Ditore", the chief of the Albanian Diplomacy separates Macedonia, where the tense situation deserves a molecular analysis. As for the political crisis in Albania, Bushati describes it as a "stress test" of justice, where the greatest test that we have to overcome is that which causes resistance. According to Bushati, the aim of the duo Berisha-Basha is to prevent by any means the implementation of the justice reform, to overthrow the government and postpone the elections to an unpredictable date, by violating the Constitution, the accepted democratic practices and above all the democratic stability of the country. Regarding the situation in Kosovo, Bushati underscores that the deadlock created due to demarcation and its consequences but also of the difficulties that the big coalition has posed, has naturally led to the need for a popular consultation. Regarding the tense situation in Macedonia, the Foreign Minister of Albania says that the strict attitude and extreme aggression by important political actors has led the country to the edge of the cliff, where the acts of primitive violence in the Parliament were shocking, unacceptable but not unexpected, because in terms of hate speech that has long dominated the Macedonian political and social discourse, it was just a matter of time for such a thing to happen. However, according to him, Albania will continue to support without reservation a democratic, multiethnic and European Macedonia, where equality and the political and social rights of all its citizens are respected. As regards the “Great Albania” or the "small union" of Albania and Kosovo, Bushati highlights during the interview that there are no Albanian plans for unions or divisions in the region. According to him, it is quite incomprehensible that Albanians are still scared in the region when in fact everywhere in Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Presevo, Albanians have always lined up on the side of the progressive ideas of projects, in respect of democracy and legality, to strengthen cooperation and friendship in respect of their legitimate rights. For the Albanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Russia’s degree of implication in the region over the last two years is unusual, where Russia has in a few months made more public statements about the events in Macedonia than in the past two decades in the meanwhile continues to have an active and open opposing attitude towards Kosovo. In the point of view of the Albanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Russia’s influence can neither be positive nor welcomed, because it is an unreliable alternative for anyone in the region, therefore, its continuous alignment with the voices that talk about the Greater Albania should also be seen in this context​.

 

Koha Ditore: Events in Macedonia, accompanied by violent events in the parliament and other crises such as the strong political clashes in your country, but also in Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia. Are the Balkans heading towards turmoil and conflicts?

Minister Bushati: Your observation is right. 2017 does not look so good for the Balkans, which are losing serenity and normality. The prolonged crisis in Macedonia is based on the lack of enforcement of the rules of democracy and the normal functioning of institutions. The one in Montenegro is a clash between the Euro-Atlantic vision and forces that seek to maintain at all costs the country under the influence of actors who see NATO as a threat. The situation in Bosnia is even more complicated as a result of its domestic construction and operation as a legacy of the Dayton Agreement which indeed saved Bosnia from further conflicts, but now is is not any more seen as a common platform of state-building and European path. In Serbia, youth opposes the omnipotent Prime Minister-President elected Vuçiç. In Kosovo, I wish that early elections produce solutions to some of the most acute issues, which have long been waiting for a courageous solution. Last but not least, the situation in Albania is basically a product of fear of the change that is expected to come about due to implementation of the justice reform, a process that will also have a chain effect on other levels of public life.

Any comparison among these situations would be deficient. However there is a thread that runs through all: it is what I have described as the "stress-test" of justice. For everywhere you see the resistance to justice action, strengthening of rule of law and that of accountability, reflected in in various forms and ways. It is the big test that we must all pass and that is exactly what causes resistance.

However, if we exclude the tense situation in Macedonia, which deserves a molecular analysis, in the whole Balkan stability has not been violated, peace is not jeopardized, bilateral and multilateral regional cooperation has not been interrupted and I do not see there being enough ingredients which can lead us towards a turmoil. But we have to be alert and vigilant because the situation still remains fragile.

Koha Ditore: The opposition's claim in Albania for free elections has led to strong political clashes, up to the boycott of June 18th general elections, and there have been even calls for civil disobedience by slowing down the reform processes, in particular the long-awaited justice reform. In the meantime the opposition in Kosovo is using demarcation with Montenegro as its cause, by obstructing it, but at the same time hindering the further integration of Kosovo, especially the visa liberalization. Recently the pressure of conservative politicians which has been growing in Kosovo generated the fall of the government on Wednesday and going to early elections. Which is your comment on these developments?

Minister Bushati: Any request for free and fair elections is welcomed. In Albania political parties are co-responsible and co-guarantors of the progress of the electoral process and are consequently obliged to cooperate. Also, we always engage our partners, among which the most important ODIHR, which has formulated analyses and has given recommendations.

The situation created by the Democratic Party's decision not to participate in elections is unprecedented and incomprehensible. Because of the paranoia from the implementation of the justice reform, an artificial situation has been created which violates the naturalness of political developments in the country and as we see day by day, in fact it is leading to the self-sacrifice of an important political force.

The bet placed by Berisha and Basha cannot resist the facts. If the concern is about the election process, Prime Minister Rama has offered, repeatedly, the needed space in state structures to control and guarantee the process. But the aim of the duo Berisha-Basha is to prevent by any means the implementation of the justice reform, to overthrow the government and postpone the elections in an unpredictable date, by violating the Constitution, the accepted democratic practices and above all the democratic stability of the country. But power derives from the sovereign by free vote and is legitimized in the Parliament.

Everybody understands that the real problem is not the elections but the fear from justice. The duo Berisha-Basha have taken hostage the implementation of the reform contrary to what 93% of Albanians demand. They are also openly opposed to friends and international partners, who have been crystal clear through their messages to the opposition and the Albanian people. If it won’t get reasonable, the DP will face a situation where it would have to clarify before its members, international partners and the law whether it will continue to be a legal political subject or another kind of formation.

Regarding the situation in Kosovo, the deadlock created due to demarcation and its consequences but also of the difficulties of the big coalition, has naturally led to the need for a popular consultation.

Koha Ditore: Even after the formation of the parliamentary majority in Macedonia and the election of the Speaker of the Parliament Talat Xhaferi, President Ivanov has no new stance to mandate the new government. He continues to be of the idea that the current crisis in Macedonia is a consequence of the Tirana Platform. Will actions be taken by the Albanian authorities, in order to normalize the situation?

Minister Bushati: The prolonged crisis in Macedonia has been a source of concern for us and many others, and rightly so. Strict attitude and extreme aggression by important political actors has led the country to the edge of the cliff. We feel sorry that Macedonia's democratic credentials have declined and authorities have shown unusual deafness to the advice of their friends and partners.

The acts of primitive violence in the Parliament were shocking, unacceptable but not unexpected, because in terms of hate speech that has long dominated the Macedonian political and social discourse, it was just a matter of time for such a thing to happen. There were injuries but fortunately no casualties, and the great lesson is that violence does not bring solutions and in fact could not undo the decision to elect the Speaker of the Parliament, a beam of light towards the exit from the deadlock.

We hope and wish that President Ivanov to step out of his so far position, to respect and implement the Constitution of his country and exercise his responsibilities.

Macedonia today needs to restore the logic of normal institutional functioning, to recover as soon as possible the discontinued reforms, to restore confidence in the general public and among state-forming communities, advance in finding a solution to the name issue with Greece in order to channel their energies to Euro-Atlantic integration. We will continue to support without reservation a democratic, multiethnic and European Macedonia, where equality and the political and social rights of all its citizens are respected.

Koha Ditore: Albania has been identified by internationals as a stability factor in the region. But Prime Minister Edi Rama recently sent a clear message to Brussels' politics that it would face a "nightmare" if the Balkan’s EU integration hopes disappear, adding that "the small union" of Albania and Kosovo can become a reality if Brussels turns its back on the region. Western officials have rejected and expressed concern over Rama's statement. While Serbia, not the only country in the region, has reacted fiercely to these statements. What is the comment of the Chief Albanian diplomat regarding this issue?  Also, is Serbia trying to take the baton of peacekeepers and stability provider in the region?

Minister Bushati: We are in touch with our partners and friends and have an open, sincere, good dialogue on every issue. There is no concern in this area.

Regarding all those who are eager to speak about unions and divisions, for large and small states, as you have said, we have not been given much importance because they are repetitive, old, and generated by the same sources. It is basically the same refrain, except that this time, to spice up some rusty statements, an expression full of fantasy has also been added for supposedly implications of countries, intelligent services outside the region.

I am really sorry for anyone who still continues on making noise and spend time with an idea that has not originated in us, which has never been advanced by Albania but is born of the fears historically carried by others. It is quite incomprehensible that Albanians are still scared in the region when in fact everywhere in Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Presevo, Albanians have always lined up on the side of the progressive ideas of projects, in respect of democracy and legality, to strengthen cooperation and friendship in respect of their legitimate rights.

All serious surveys show that Albanians, without exception, regardless of where they live are the most pro-westerners in the region. Therefore, the obsession of seeing and compressing the spectrum of the so-called Great Albania even when it actually expresses our inevitable and irreversible engagement in the major European project that guarantees peace, prosperity and stability for our region is not serious and deserves contempt.

Anyone who has read a little bit about Albania, who has visited it, is full aware that Albania has no idea or project, less any hidden agenda for changing borders in the Balkans. There are no Albanian plans for unions or divisions in the region. We have said it and I want to strongly emphasize it: we strictly and unequivocally respect the borders in the Balkans, we are fully committed to policy of good neighborliness, building and developing cooperation relations at all levels and strengthening stability in the region. We do this every day with all the countries surrounding us and, I want to particularize it, we will immediately transmit it to the new authorities we expect to be mandated in Macedonia.

Koha Ditore: Mr. Minister, allow me to be e little more specific: the declarations refer to an interview by Prime Minister Rama in the Politico magazine and other reactions that followed up.

Minister Bushati: Prime Minister Rama’s interview is public and anyone can read it. In the best case it is misread and misunderstood, and in the worst case, as always happens has been used for propaganda. Nevertheless, I believe there is a need to underline the basic message of the interview. Prime Minister Rama directly emphasizes the major importance of the present and future of Albania and our region, the concretization and realization of the European project. The Prime Minister says an undeniable truth:  European integration is our major project in which we have invested everything and being such it cannot be slowed down, neither to be delayed nor to fail, as its failure is also identified as our failure in everything we have invested in decades.

We all do agree that the actual crisis in Europe is unprecedented, incomparable to any challenge the European project has faced, is an existential crisis as a result of the birth and empowerment of the forces that want to destroy Europe. They are no more peripheral ideas or disconnected ideological currents. Today we talk about well-formulated political programs, structured parties that find widespread support by investing in fear, uncertainty about the future, economic crisis, unemployment, confusion created by globalization, migration, terrorism etc., by blaming the European project for everything that goes wrong. That was shown from the Presidential election in Austria, we also saw it these days in the Presidential election in France. Naturally, for us it causes great concern. No one can predict what can happen not only in the Balkans but also across the continent if reality is shaken and European perspectives vanished.

Koha Ditore: Mr. Minister, not only Dacic but also Kotzias in Greece has repeatedly made statements against Albania and lately he also joined the voices of the worried about the Great Albania. Has this caused you a concern regarding relations with Greece?

Minister Bushati: I would not like to align with that. I’m not longer surprised by the statements coming from Serbia, as there are many people who are keen to let their fantasy run wild when it comes to Albanians. The rhetoric does not bother much, because sincerely, it is not serious. I will pick up just one example: Do you remember the story of a train that went haphazard and could not find the station and when it was banned, by the highest levels in Serbia was given the alarm about alleged plans by the Albanians in the Diaspora to conquer Serbia's embassies in the world?

I understand that maybe we need more time to cooperate and meet more often in order that in Belgrade to understand that there will be no harm from the Albanians and that we want cooperation and not the opposite. We will do this in both: bilateral level and through new jointly initiatives, such as the Western Balkans Fund and the Regional Cooperation Office.

Regarding Greece, our relations, despite the ups and downs that are observed from time to time, are nevertheless constant: uninterrupted cooperation between strategic partners, between neighbors, who, even if they do not agree in everything, they share the vision and importance of developing good co-operation and good neighborliness relations, mutual respect and therefore, openly and without complex, discuss about everything. That is for what we have worked hard in the recent years.

I have often met with my counterpart Kotzias, perhaps more often than with any other European minister, and our ideas, thoughts, positions and attitudes are widely and thoroughly known in Greece. I would also like to emphasize that no-one in the region knows better than Greece that Albania is highly engaged and committed to the European integration process.

What we say to all of our partners in the EU, including our southern neighbors, is that we want to integrate into the EU with our efforts, capabilities and contribution, that we are fully and specifically committed to strengthening regional co-operation, to reinforce our contribution to a moderate and peaceful region, as has always been reflected in the reports of the European Union.

Albania does not threaten, condition or prevent anyone from moving forward and developing because it is convinced that co-operation, joint efforts and projects, solidarity and real interconnection are the right way, give better and faster results, bring countries and societies closer and contribute to social development and progress.

Koha Ditore: Statements of third countries (Russia) regarding developments in Macedonia, and not only, have been more frequent than those of the EU and the United States. Russia has also been strongly expressed about the risk of the creation of "Greater Albania" and against Haradinaj's release. Is Russia trying to position itself as an alternative of the EU and the US in the region?

Minister Bushati: Russia’s role, activity and influence in the region is worth analyzing carefully. In reality, Russia has never been far from the region due to different historical, political, economic, commercial, military and spiritual ties that it has with individual countries. But, its degree of implication in the region over the last two years is unusual. I would like to emphasize that we want to have normal relations with Russia and are willing to explore the areas of interest. But, in the meanwhile, we have a lot of things that divide us.

Russia opposes NATO enlargement in the region, expresses itself openly against the European Union's activity with our countries and is trying through its means of propaganda to promote values, principles and ideas that go in the opposite direction to those that the region has chosen. Russia has in a few months made more public statements about the events in Macedonia than in the past two decades. It continues to have an active and open opposing attitude towards Kosovo. Investigations on the failed plan to create chaos and to destabilize Montenegro, have led the authorities of that country to point their finger to Moscow. Russia loses no opportunity to point out that any difficulties encountered by the countries of the region originate in the European Union's external intervention. In this regard, its influence can neither be positive nor welcomed. Therefore, its continuous alignment with the voices that talk about the Greater Albania should also be seen in this context.

We think that Russia is not and cannot be a reliable alternative for anyone in the region. We do not believe anyone in the region is so naive to be tempted by the so-called Russian offer against what the Euro-Atlantic process offers. In any circumstance, this is not and will never be our choice.

But one thing has to be taken into consideration: third parties, whichever they are, will use any free action space found in our internal shortcomings and mistakes and created by EU’s and other partners’ lack of attention, attraction or apathy. That is why it is very important for the European project to be more dynamic, more concrete and faster and more effective. 

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