Albania demands reciprocity from Greece: Rama

Full speech of Prime Minister Edi Rama, at the meeting with compatriots in Athens before the Albanians:

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama while speaking at the meeting with compatriots in Athens, May 12, 2024
 Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama while speaking at the meeting with compatriots in Athens, May 12, 2024
Thank You for welcoming me to your second home, in neighboring and friendly Greece!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this touching welcome under this great roof, which you make seem so small.

Your warm welcome, your humble enthusiasm, but above all your lives and deeds fill me with inspiration for Albanianhood and with great pride for you, ordinary people from all corners of Albania, who have become the extraordinary embodiment of pride for our homeland in this part of Europe.

Some here in Greece were surprised, others were saddened, and some even said that I should not come for a visit to you, but perhaps when they see this display of familial joy, they will understand that I have not come to meet their former servants, but I have come to engage with the equal masters of this household.

I have come to speak with the equal citizens of democratic Greece, in democratic Europe, where Albanians are no longer the impoverished newcomers from the mountains or the barbarians driven by the seas, but are the representatives of a proud country which is our Albania.

Albania has finally lifted its head, bowed for centuries by the violence of its tragic history, and today it sees everyone with the same respect it deserves and demands from everyone.

You Albanians in Greece are now an added value to the work, economy, knowledge, and culture of this blessed country where for 25 centuries lies the cradle of philosophy and democracy and with which we are linked not only by proximity but also by a millennia-old history.

Throughout this history, our destinies, our customs, the paths of our lives and the streets of our homes, our wars, our dances, our songs, our tales, our relationships, have always been much more interconnected than they have appeared or than they have been allowed to appear by the clouds, mists, and dust of the politics of our two countries.

Even today, as we speak, two decades and some years after the end of the 20th century, the appearance of our relationship says much less than the reality, the intensity, the intertwining of lives and the inevitable intertwining of the paths of the common future of Albanians and Greeks.

On the surface of today's written culture, where information channels and social networks give the face of today's politics to this ancient relationship, offering people the delicacies of folkloric nationalism and the poppy of populist demagoguery to warm up electoral beds and to lull the citizen's brain to sleep, it seems as if between Albania and Greece there have only been enduring problems. Meanwhile, the daily life between Albanians and Greeks, outside the noisy café of short-term political interests and beyond its verbal media mirrors, continues normal, active, and productive.

Albanian exports to Greece increased by 1/4 more last year than the year before. And in the first months of this year, Greece ranks third on Albania's list of trading partners. Thanks to the commitment of economic operators here and across the border, we are in the final steps of establishing the First Albanian-Greek Chamber of Commerce and Industry based in Athens.

Thanks to the encouragement of enlightened people in this community in Greece, everything is ready and only the approval of the Greek government is expected to open the Albanian cultural center, for which our government has also allocated the necessary funds. Thanks to the increasing demand of the real lives of peoples living outside the stormy waters of political-media storms, the number of travelers moving between both countries has increased tenfold.

Albanians have long been in love with the magical shores of Greece, but conversely, more and more Greeks are discovering touristy Albania where they feel like in their second home. Greeks have been, are, and will always be welcome in Albania, not only to relax but also to work, open shops, establish companies, start investment lines, and to benefit from a much lower tax regime than here in Greece. In fact, Albania is so welcoming to Greeks that it creates no trouble for them, on the contrary, it creates all the conditions even for some misunderstood Greek politician who comes to protest there, then loses the elections here. Welcome, just like in your own home!

You Albanians in Greece are the greatest, strongest evidence of this unbreakable connection with millions of intertwined threads of fate in the history and daily life of the two peoples. Just as Greeks are Albanians of the Greek minority in Albania, Albanian citizens of the Greek minority in Albania, a precious treasure of our society which operates today within a legal framework of guarantees for minorities which "de facto" makes Albania one of the most advanced examples in this direction among all Council of Europe countries.

The Greeks of Albania have concerns, have problems without a doubt. We must and will do even more for them, but the great truth beyond the small field of square ball political games is that no trouble and no problem of theirs is different from the troubles and problems of all Albanian citizens.

In a country like ours that progresses every day where the wounds of the negative heritage of the recent and distant past are not yet completely healed, but never, ever, in any case, in Albania in the last 10 years, has an ethnic Greek had any trouble or problem because of his nationality. Never, ever, in any case, has an ethnic Greek been arbitrarily denied by the Albanian state their right to belief, their right to language, their right to property. Never, ever, in any case, have Greek citizens of Albania been denied by the Albanian state their right to vote or to choose because of their ethnic origin.

And if we talk about properties, here you are the national representation of Albania, from Tropoja to Konispol, from Shkodra to Korçë, from Dibra to Durrës, and whoever among you has a house or land from those areas where the distribution of property titles has not yet been completed for a thousand and one reasons, can say the opposite, that this problem is a problem of Albania and not just a problem for the Greeks of Albania. To seek and discover such cases, one must dig into the darkest corners of nationalist culture where there is no boundary between history and myths, facts and prejudices, official documents and commissioned articles.

Albania has no other claim against Greece except mutual respect, mutual care for fellow countrymen living in both our states, mutual relations of friendship and good neighborliness and not only that. Albania sees Greece as a natural strategic partner, whether for issues to be resolved between us, or the great challenges of this new era, opportunities, but also threats to the Balkans, Europe, the democratic world we see as major reasons to approach each other more, to know each other better, not to leave any need for more communication unmet, to find the most reasonable solutions for both parties. To project together into the future by continuously nurturing trust in each other and strengthening our ties with each other.

And above all, we believe that the complexity of our relationship in this time of local and global challenges can never be an excuse to drown in every drop of water brought by the daily politics in our common courtyard. No! This complexity must be a great incentive for Greeks and Albanians to finally and reciprocally convince themselves that our destinies are inseparable and those who undertake to represent Albanians and Greeks must finally convince themselves that they cannot find the answers for the future in the past but in the present of the intertwined fates of Greeks of Albania with Albanians of Albania, with Albanians of Greece, with Greeks of Greece.

You brothers and sisters came to this cradle of ancient Greek civilization to escape the ruins of the communist regime and its curse of extreme poverty. You crossed mountains. You slept in parks, in churches, on street benches. You went out without seeing daylight to wait in squares like horses in a live animal market, for the masters who took you for a black-arm job. You broke your backs with the heaviest work! You faced all sorts of brutal expressions of the rich neighbor's arrogance towards the poor neighbor. You did two or three jobs a day that never ended, enduring hunger with a meal a day to set aside the meager earnings for two meals!

You experienced the oppression of the black villages at the end of the 20th century when they dragged you out of your homes in the middle of the night to deport you to Albania as in a new movie of a very old time of forced displacements of our ancestors from their homes in northern Greece.

Many of you changed names given by your mothers and fathers to get work documents and register your children in school.

You Albanians of Greece had your children drown in tears because the best came out in school, but they were not given the right to the flag ceremony and the child's fault was that they came from the bilingual fold of Albanian and were not born under the protection of the white cross but here you are. You Albanians of Greece never surrendered and triumphed because you are the blood and spirit of a nation that saw everything and endured under this sky, but no power or injustice of this world could erase from the face of this land.

Step by step, you emerged from the darkness of survival as scarred residents of this country into the light of life as equal citizens of this state, with your values of the given word, completed work, and correctness towards the stranger. You managed not to be foreigners anymore in this country. You made your place in Greek society by earning the respect of the employer, the trust of the neighbor, and the dignity of the free man in a democratic country. You came, fought, won! And never forget; by law and by custom, Greece is now yours as much as it is of the Greeks themselves. Along with the Greeks, you Albanians are the Europeans of Greece.

Today you have your homes, shops, businesses here, well-educated children in the Greek education system, your circle of friends where Greeks and Albanians are indistinguishable, your contributions to the Greek economy through honest work and the taxes you pay to the Greek state. Meanwhile, you increasingly return to your homes in Albania where you have supported your elderly parents, brothers, sisters, nephews, and nieces over the years with your unparalleled financial assistance, and where you have also started to invest, especially in villages, with your savings. I know, and I want to tell you: not all differences have been resolved for everyone forever; I know that things don't always go as they should for everyone. I know that the ghosts of prejudice and the shadows of disdain occasionally manifest themselves to some through words or actions from the past on your open path with the magnificent force of example, but I also know that your time, the time of Albanians in Greece, never turns back.

Not only Greek society, the majority of which, thanks to the sensitivity of ordinary people who are like two peas in a pod, became your support from the beginning of your heroic odyssey in search of the island of a new life in Greece, but also Greek politics. The decision-makers of this country today are fully aware that Greece needs you just as you need Greece.

Greece and the Albanians of Greece have become indispensable to each other. Anyone who still doubts this truth doubts the sun that rises every day, while anyone who opposes this truth falls headfirst into the mirror when they see only themselves.

My friends, the borders between our countries have always been political borders, imposed by certain elites, often fantastically exaggerated for their low aims, sometimes to feed the delirium of provincial grandeur, stopping the time of the peoples with force, sometimes to show their love for their homeland by nourishing hatred for the homeland of others, sometimes to pump up their power muscles against internal rivals, creating external problems, but never, unfortunately never, calculating the damages and lost chances from the division of two peoples who have grown up since the dawn of humanity, close together like two children in the same yard.

Therefore, the political borders between our two peoples have never been spiritual borders, not only because the spirit of peoples knows no borders, but also because no artificial division can erase a great truth, a heavy historical truth that has been engraved in our collective common memory for centuries; this truth is that our common, Mediterranean, and Balkan culture has been shaped long before our states were born.

The model of the city-states of Hellas extended from Athens to Sicily and from Anatolia to Durrës, long before the Greeks of today identified themselves as Greeks or the Albanians of today as Albanians, in times when history was the history of cities and elites, urban centers, communication networks, trade, diplomacy.

Therefore, anyone today who approaches our common cradle of history in this geographic basin, layers and layers of historical cultural categories and boundaries with today's definitions, not only finds it difficult to avoid the Balkan quagmire of the type "Who are we, who are you", but is a step away from falling into the pit of nationalist primitivism where the snakes of wars, conflicts, disputes, which have stung, poisoned, bloodied, toppled, and hindered us many times along our common and inseparable path as Albanians and Greeks, thrive all day long among and within us.

Let me give you an example, a very simple example among tens, hundreds, and perhaps thousands of disagreements among the oligarchs of Epidamnos, present-day Durrës, mentioned by Thucydides as one of the causes of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta in one of the most classical texts that is now taught with the highest regard in international relations; can anyone tell me which of the present-day states that did not exist back then belonged to Epidamnos, Corinth, or the ancient Corfu, impossible.

We have overcome common suffering, faced the same challenges, inherited our traditions in social systems that have risen and fallen, sometimes joining our paths of coexistence, sometimes dividing them. During our joint journey in the sky of the Ottoman Empire, today's Greek and Albanian centers spoke not only in their own languages but also in other languages, such as Turkish, Hebrew, Armenian, and many others, and of course also in the languages of Western hegemonic cultures, French or German.

Only after the crisis of the empires did today's Europe, the Europe of sovereign states, begin to emerge, where independence became necessary to survive and where the heroes of different peoples took part in each other's wars. Where is there a better example than the legendary Greek independence heroine Laskarina Bouboulina, born in a prison in Istanbul, born of Albanian descent, a legendary fighter for the freedom of Greece, the first female admiral in the world, at the head of a naval military fleet. Now, who stops us from being proud together with the Greeks for the contribution that heroic woman with Albanian descent from a family where Albanian was spoken has given to Greece?

Therefore, what - although all the black threads have escaped me and these white ones are rarer threads - I still do not understand, is whether it is not simpler to cherish the old history of our people as a treasure that belongs to us all, exalting it with open minds in the eyes of our European children, not manipulating and using it with the wrinkled hands of Balkan politics, to which this corner of Europe has only seen strife and shenanigans.

Isn't it more honest towards our nations to divide it, to divide it undoubtedly, without temptation, what belongs to the people, from what belongs to the states? What belongs to the states from what belongs to the parties, and what belongs to the parties for the future elections, from what belongs to future generations for the quality of peace and the quantity of prosperity?

Isn't it more logical and much more productive for Albania and Greece to share in a close, strategic partnership the path of democracy, prosperity, and ongoing brotherhood of Albanians and Greeks, instead of consuming the time and energy of the 21st century for the political calculations of some parties here and there and for the appetites of some pseudo-patriots, which we have in majority, both here and there, just like living fossils of the 19th century?!

How many centuries do we, Albanians and Greeks, need to live in this neighborhood of modern Europe to learn and accept without any nationalist complexes, without any feeling of superiority towards each other, a simple truth, that not only do the spirits of peoples know no borders, but also that our common Mediterranean and Balkan culture has been shaped long before languages became swords and flags were raised like stakes to divide and incite peoples into wars, conflicts, and turmoil.

Then how can we, how can we still continue with these charades dressed in new costumes, instead of making that simple truth the common bed where efforts are united, but also the resistance of our peoples in a world where the existence of humanity is threatened by destruction, not far from global warming, and even from faster destruction, God forbid, from nuclear madness.

And instead of cultivating and reaping the fruits of our common gardens under the example of their peoples, where since the dawn of time there has been fertile ground for the best of European science, knowledge, and art, political elites in the history of our neighborhood as states - Greece for two hundred years, Albania for a little over a hundred years - have dug and dug and dug for so long, so relentlessly, so mercilessly, the pitfalls of conflicts have raised so many dark clouds of resentment towards each other, and they have so badly tarnished the neighborhood with the mud of animosity, that we have over thirty years in a new chapter of history, even of friendship, where it seems like we can hardly wait to burn a blanket for a quilt.

We could have planted, and we could have harvested much more in these over thirty years, the fruits of joint success as neighbors, as friends, as strategic allies, by using our resources, opportunities, energies as complementary sources of the growth of the power and welfare of our two peoples and by becoming a shining example for the entire region instead of entering from one seasonal cycle to another, from deadlock to deadlock, where after autumn comes winter, spring lasts very little, and summer never comes.

"On the third day of my arrival in Athens," writes in his memoirs the founding Father of the Albanian state Ismail Qemali: - I was received in audience by King George I, who showed me great friendship and care - a care with which he honored me for the rest of my life.

The hospitality that was offered to me everywhere, in that capital that I loved and admired since childhood, touched me so deeply that it seemed to me I was in my homeland and going from one festivity to another. Staying in the capital of Greece brought to the surface the old sympathies, and politicians of Albanian origin showered me with gifts of friendship as if they were responding to the inner call of early memory. They seemed undecided whether I, with my compatriots, should cooperate with them for the good of Greece or if they should take along the stones of their second homeland, for a move that would support the revival of their original country?

I was so proud and happy to see how national feeling was so deeply rooted among Albanians regardless of the centuries of different political-social conditions. I had great pleasure in morning walks under that wonderful sky of Athens, hearing Albanian spoken in the streets and markets, but the greatest feeling of joy was given to me by what the king's assistant told me, who came from one of the heroic families of Albania as we passed from the parade ground to the royal audience; "Bej," - he addressed me, "do not give yourself up to these hot heads, do the best for free Albania so that we can return and join there together."

And to conclude this part, because we haven't seen each other in a long time, and my speech is not as short as usual, our founding Father continues: "Although political developments took a different direction from our feelings, I am convinced that sooner rather than later, the common love of Albanians and Greeks for freedom will lead them to understanding and to creating a counterbalance in the Balkan peninsula for the good of all".

Bravo, think about it, the wise old man of independence published these memoirs in 1920 when relations between our two states had become very difficult, and unfortunately Ismail Qemali's visionary at that time was much further away, it was beyond the horizon of the times that followed his meeting with the king of Greece.

World War II, the hermetic closure of Albania in the communist iron circle, divided Europe into two and pushed until the end of the 20th century the possibility of returning this vision of our founding father to the table of fully established relations between two states after the fall of communism. But the 20th century also passed, the middle of the third decade of the 21st century is coming, and instead of Albania and Greece being today a triumphant counterbalance of friendship turned into a strategic asset, geopolitical in the Balkan panorama and an attractive example for all other neighbors to follow for the peace that produces welfare, security, and future on the table of our interstate relations, the law of war between Greece and Albania is still in force. The law of November 10, 1940 determines what happens to the properties and citizens of countries at war, and on the same day by royal decree the state of war with Italy and Albania is legalized. In 1947, Greece ratifies the peace treaty with Italy and the state of war ends. While with Albania, the decree of the state of war and consequently the consequences of the war law, remain in force today, although in 1998 both states have ratified the friendship treaty. But how is it possible between two states that have signed a friendship treaty, that have been together in NATO for 15 years, that the state of war along with the consequences of a war law of 84 years ago has not yet been abolished?

In these years, both I and our government have tried as much as we could to remove this absurdity from the table of our relations, just as we have endeavored to address all remaining issues between our two states with dialogue and understanding, because I am firmly convinced that if there is goodwill and mutual determination, all inherited disagreements can be resolved without waiting for another 84 years to pass.

The truth is, my friends, that with the current Prime Minister of Greece, I have found the most open interlocutor in these 10 years. Meanwhile, I must say, it has been impossible for me not to mention that I have found it very difficult to understand the approach and opinions of our left-wing brothers in the Greek opposition, except as an internal political struggle. But it's not my place to give them advice, even though we are in the same European political family, and we could advise each other, nor is it my right to interfere in their affairs, especially when in Albania we also have an opposition that does exactly the same thing whenever it deals with Albania's foreign affairs, futilely pandering to the sources of electoral nationalism. But I would kindly say today, as I am here in Athens and they surely listen, that when they intend to mention Albania and comment on the positions of the socialist government of Albania, surely direct communication with their brothers in Tirana would help them form their opinions more accurately. On the other hand, it is equally true that although my current interlocutor in Maximus Palace is the most open and interested in closing the chapter of lingering issues, the work to solve them has progressed slowly and has occasionally stalled. Nevertheless, I have faith, and this is not just diplomatic rhetoric; I truly believe that the best lies ahead for Greece and Albania, and I have this faith armed with the readiness for us to resolve all issues between us as farsighted Europeans of the new century, not to continue dragging them as Balkan quarrels of the old century, only to turn them into apples of discord whenever electoral bargaining tables are opened. Meanwhile, I am truly sorry that these cyclical squabbles have prevented the progress we have made in some important directions from being recognized.

Finally, with the current government, because with the previous ones it was not even discussed, we have managed to open negotiations at the expert level for the agreement on pensions with Greece. It is an agreement for which until yesterday we saw no light at the end of the tunnel, while we believe that after the realization of the pension agreement with Italy, we have a very positive reference because in fact, that with Italy and this one with Greece, are the two most complex agreements due to the weight of the Albanian factor in both countries.

I also believe that this interests you a lot; we have also opened bilateral technical-level dialogue on the issue of residence permits and the naturalization procedure, and there has been significant progress, and I am confident that you will receive very good news very soon.

Another common strategic aim, agreed upon between our two governments, is the coordination of economic needs and opportunities of our two states for access and positions in the integrated European energy market.

Today, work is underway on the project for the second line of 400 kV transmission Fier - Arachtos, a project of strategic importance for both countries, which not only consolidates the transmission network but also strengthens the physical connection between Albania and Greece to fulfill the conditions of integration into the European energy market by creating security that prices will be more competitive, but also by expanding the export capacities of energy produced from renewable sources in both countries.

Another beautiful aspect of cooperation and rapprochement, we have opened with our proposal and the immediate consent of the Greek government to integrate, by making a cross-border integration, the Vjosa National Park, which in the coming years will be an ever more powerful engine of our new tourism industry but turning into an integrated European park where there are no borders, but nature triumphs that has united us since we came into this world. It will be a magnetic example for what we can do together, Albania and Greece with each other, for each other, and for our Europe, both for tourists and visitors from around the world.

By 2030, Albania will have achieved its full energy independence and will be a net energy exporter. This means that not a single penny more from Albanian taxes will be spent on buying energy from abroad, but on the contrary, more money will flow into the budget of Albania from selling the energy produced domestically.

For some time now, we have been preparing a special program for all Albanian emigrants who want to invest their savings in villages and mountainous areas of Albania to turn their homes and lands there into links in our new tourism chain. We have examples from Thethi and Valbona, in Tepelena and Permet, where with the savings from work abroad and thanks to knowledge, experience, and work culture gained away from home, those who have returned from emigration have opened agrotourism farms and lodges that are full of tourists, bringing in much more income at the end of the year than the wages earned abroad.

Some have returned for good, others live between the country where they are and their homeland, but everyone sees that the investment in their homeland pays off the best.

Albania in 2030 will be a land of free choice, no longer forced by distress or inability for all those Albanians who think of seeking their fortune as free people of this world where the borders of their homeland and the state where they spent their childhood until adulthood cannot be an obstacle for anyone who moves towards new horizons and realities. Beyond the fog of disinformation spread by fabricated news day and night by the worst Albanian minds, minds we have had behind us since 1912, changing people's names, changing people's forms, but not changing their content, and speaking the same things through the language of different people. Take, for example, the decrease in unemployment in Albania by 1.5 million beyond the black smoke of political warfare with the phenomenon of emigration, which at different times and cycles has affected all countries of this world, let alone Albania, which emerged from half a century of imprisonment, from a prison where the keys were thrown into the sea. Beyond all projects, reforms, work, and new opportunities and beyond all regions, beliefs, convictions, and political preferences, it is now entirely achievable to be possessed as the will of all Albanians wherever they are, the peak of Albania 2030.

In this ancient history of European civilization where the harvest of bright minds, association with deities in the west, demi-gods, or simple people who dreamed of becoming gods and where the history of this common basin was born in this city, the only system of governance that returns freedom to the individual by respecting the will of the majority, blessed by the ancient Greeks with the blessed name of democracy, the new history of Albanians in Greece is the contemporary chapter of an exemplary affirmation of the eternal value of individual freedom and citizenship rights and it does not fall into repetition, but I wanted to add that democracy is a system as challenging as it is meaningful, as the very term finds its roots in the Greek word kratos, a force that for some reason always associates with the Albanian divine word 'create'. The creative force of democracy as a non-destructive force, as a elevating force of society, not divisive and denigrating, as a force that brings opportunities, increasingly equal for all, not deepening inequalities and discriminations, Albania 2030 must take the best possible through the power of all Albanians that the red and black flag of Skanderbeg and Ismail Qemali be raised alongside the flags of the member states of the European Union, there in the center of democratic Europe.

Today, when you come, you see Albania, you hear about Albania when they speak to you, you read about Albania when they pull you out of all sorts of channels and portals – but today Albania has started to resemble you. It has started to resemble more and more the Albanians of the exhausting migration routes who, thanks to the titanic efforts of recent years from the half-dead and exhausted paths of mountainous trails and coastal shores, have revived, have risen, and have become masters of their fate in Europe.

Albania today has revived in the eyes of the world and is no longer associated with the dark place of all evils but with a destination to be discovered, to be touched. With a country of hospitable and ambitious people who are changing the face of Albania, with a state that at the doors and halls of Europe and the world is no longer seen with doubts or regrets, but with respect and appreciation.

Today, you no longer lower your head when you say, "I am from Albania." And as your homeland has always been supreme for you, today you have the right of God to be supreme for Albania.

The Albania of the past could not hold you, the present Albania is getting ready even for any of you who wants or may want to return, but Albania 2030 will be the country where whoever returns will have their own Albania, as themselves, for themselves; a European state in the heart of Europe, a democratic state where finally, after centuries, equality before the law for all and no one above the law.

The times when others decided how far the Albanians could go have died.

The time of Albanians and Albania in Europe has come.

Dear friends, sisters, and brothers,

May you be blessed for honoring me so much!

Let the community be the name of every new day for you, families, relatives, all those whom you love.

You are an example, you are energy, you are strength for me.

I cannot open my heart and mind for you to enter and see what is inside, but I cannot leave today without telling you a few words.

I may have made many mistakes up to this point, in these 10 years.

I apologize for any mistake you think I have made, but never, under any circumstances, have I betrayed those who have trusted me, even once with their vote for this extraordinary honor.

There is no greater honor that can be bestowed upon a person in life than to lead their country, so there is no material force in this world, political, economic, financial, individual or state, that, my lord, could tempt or force me to bow down to benefit myself behind your back, to undermine the public and private interests of Albanians that I do not recognize, but I know very well that they know me, or to bow down to the unassailable heights of the national interests of Albania.
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