Otranto, commemorative evening at Kateri I Rades sculpture 

*Prime Minister Edi Rama’s remarks at solemn commemorative evening at the memorial sculpture of Albanian navy ship Kateri I Rades in Otranto:

 

During an earlier visit to Brindisi sometimes ago, I unwittingly said something that sounded irrelevant to local citizens in Bari. I said that Brindisi is a more beautiful city than Bari.

I would like to apologize to the Brindisi citizens, because I have to admit that Otranto is more beautiful than Brindisi. I really mean it and I feel very honoured and happy to be here today and be able to admire this city’s exceptional beauty, which definitely adds to what has been etched to our memory as the beauty of the spirit of the people on Puglia coast that opened doors to us 30 years ago, when we were the today’s Afghans, fleeing a pretty similar hell in its essence. Because, although the then Tirana’s regime was not an Islamic or fundamentalist regime, yet it was an ideological regime based on terror and on complete denial of the others’ rights,

I would really like to express the most profound gratitude to the Mayor of Otranto for the fact that it is him the one who hosted this commemorative event, which allows us to meet each other, but also not to forget. By not forgetting, we are provided the opportunity to project the future, which nevertheless is based on this very important memory.

I am really happy to be granted the opportunity to see this artwork closely, which has been designed by a great artist. I have the honour to know this artist and admire him, not only through his works, but also in person. I also had the pleasure to hug him a bit earlier. I don’t know whether he is still here with us or he has already immersed himself in a new project.

This is an artwork very significant to me and for us, the Albanians. It is something really making us think about the women and children, who lost their lives on this ship, but also reflect how fortunate we have been and continue to be by being close to Italy and Puglia region in particular. Puglia looks like Italy’s Albania.

It definitely teaches us a lot and we can learn that Puglia’s progress, especially everything done in terms of the future-oriented innovations, is not based solely on the benefits we can reap from tourism or natural resources. This progress makes Puglia an excellent source and an example of good governance.

But apart from that, I think it is necessary that I express a special thank and gratitude to every rector of Puglia universities, who are attending this event, because at some point along our path towards Albania’s modernization and development, as they are helping us to deliver – hopefully not in a distant future – make a dream come true. It is the dream about the opportunity to open the doors of Albanian universities to the curricula and degree programs of the Puglia universities and allow Albanian students to attend Puglia universities without having to leave Albania, but instead keep staying at their homes.

This is something very important and I am convinced they will keep assisting us to attract other European universities by demonstrating them this fantastic example of “the good pollution” as one of the rectors named it.

In addition, I would like to underline that I feel particularly honored to represent here today the government of a country that 30 years ago emerged from a long, painful history of terror and that today is able to pay back the honor that it was offered by opening its doors to friendly countries, just like we were back then fleeing another kind of regime, but from the same sort of terror, fear and pain.

It is an honour that we can repay that favour today, because, as we have already learned when we used to be the ones fleeing our own country, just like when we were the ones going through hardship and sufferings, there comes a time in life when you have to beg and receive, but there also comes a time that you give away and embrace those being through the very same situation you were experiencing once. Of course it is somehow an impressive fact that Albania is the country having to host a much higher number of Afghan refugees compared to many other wealthy European nations, but we are doing this for no other reason but just to honour our history, to honour our ancestors, who made Albania become the Europe’s only country, where after the World War II, there were even more Jews than before the war, since not a single Jew was handed over to Germans. Not only that, but there were Albanians who perished in the Nazi concentration camps, defending Jews by sacrificing their own lives, assuming the responsibility to protect them by pretending to be Jews themselves. They left Jews with their families back home and lost their lives in the concentration camps. Therefore, honouring such a history is really a great honour.

I have also to underline that it is important to do so today also for our children, because Albania is not a rich or wealthy country, it is not rich in considerable material wealth that our children can inherit, but, in my view, this is a much more significant wealth that should be passed on to our children, humanism, the feeling of being a passer-by, the feeling of not being or thinking as being an owner of the earth, where we all are lucky to live temporary, but where we are obliged to always think that earth belongs to the future generations and our descendants too.

I very much hope that there never comes the day in Albania when disappointment, the feeling of being marginalized or all the problems marring our developed society becomes a reason to slam the door to all of those in need.

Albania is a country that should deliver on a justice reform so that not only the country gains access to the European Union, but also becomes a nation where the rule of law is a reality of institutions. Building several institutions that work and are capable of delivering services to its citizens without influence of strong powers and corruption, it is something easier said than done. Given our tradition, we haven’t inherited that much in terms of democratic or institutional culture, because our history has not been quite generous. We have been through one empire to the other, without being provided the opportunity to choose and live in a free space, with everyone having his own voice and a say. However, I believe we should be proud of the fact that our earliest constitution, although not a genuine constitution but a Kanun, not designed to establish democratic institutions – of course it was written in the Medieval times – yet it created a moral institution, which is still important to Albanians, and that is the institution of hospitality.

There’s an old proverb written in the Kanun: “Before the house belongs to the owner, it first belongs to God and the guest.” The perfect translation would be as following: “the house belongs to God and the traveller,” because, no matter the reason, when someone knocks on your door, you have to open it up, because it is the God’s will that he is knocking on your door. So, even if the one knocking on your door is a stranger, it means that he has arrived in front of your house because this is the God’s will and you should simply obey it. Anytime one needs your hospitality, you should offer him hospitality.

Kanun contains a whole chapter on hospitality, which my great friend, magistrate Mikele and other friend of mine Francesko, would really love. You have so many magistrates here in Italy and I am very happy some of them are my friends. Fortunately, I happened to meet them after having worked as magistrates. Their institutional justice rests with their very own spirit and not the way they work. As such, they will be very happy to find out that the Kanun envisages really a harsh penalty against all of those who refuse to open the door and fail to honour the hospitality obligation to all of those in need. The Kanun stipulates that he who doesn’t respect the guest should be barred from partaking in any public event, but in funerals, and he would be condemned for life.

I am not for the condemnation of those who think otherwise about this matter, but I very much hope that together with wealth, which nevertheless grows, the memory doesn’t turn into a desert right at the heart of Europe, which certainly suffers, which certainly faces its own problems, but when looking around and when looking at new realities, then they should think and realize that the Europeans live in a paradise. In this paradise, it is important that we preserve humanism and that the core of European project, which inspired the founding fathers, is not transformed into an automated teller machine and people are than divided in haves and have nots and the latter should now annoy or disturb us, but instead they should remain outside this space, when there is an opportunity for everyone. This is not the Europe I would dream about our children.

I think such comments can be made in a place like this, because this is Puglia and here in Italy we are in Europe. Puglia region and Italy clearly demonstrate that things can be done differently, because “the Afghans”, who landed here 30 years ago seemed dangerous, but Puglia didn’t turn its back to them, Italy didn’t turn its back to them and all of those who seemed to be a reason for fear back then are now contributing to the Italian economy. There are more than 40,000 Albanian-owned enterprises operating in Italy. They are bringing up their children in Italy and they speak both Albanian and Italian perfectly. To conclude, it means that it was not only humanism to win because of the Pugliese and whole Italy gesture by opening their doors, but it was also the future of Italy to win economically, socially and in many other aspects.

This is the example we would need to tell and convey to our children so that they are not abandoned in the hands of fear and let them not alone in front of all of those who are seeking to take advantage of fear.

*Simultaneous interpretation