The forum “Cooperation between Albania and Serbia”

Speech of Prime Minister Rama at the Forum “Cooperation between Albania and Serbia”

Thank you for this presentation!

To begin let me share with you something confidential. My main concern about me being here was who would do the translation, because we live in a region that for decades has lost itself in translation and to translate directly has actually been a frustration. But I hope that the translator has done a good job. What was said earlier, what I said, in fact, earlier, is that in the Balkans, all we need Europe as our future, but Europe needs us more than ever. This is a belief that I have based on the fact that without the Balkans Europe is not only complete, but it is also at risk. Anyway back to the topic of this day, here.

Firstly, I would like to thank the Forum for International Relations and everyone who invited us to be part of it, which gives me the opportunity to reiterate the fact that we wish to open a new page and possibly even a new chapter in the relations between Albania and Serbia.

I am very grateful also because I think that this is a really honored venue to discuss how to revitalize relations between Albanians and Serbs today, more than ever, when both these people are actors and factors for peace and stability in the region, but also for the European future of the region. Because I truly believe that our fates are interconnected with one another. Our challenge to be successful in our journey towards European integration is increasingly linked to the success of others in the region. Our chances to be successful on our own, without being connected with one another, are in fact lower. We would actually be more successful if we walked forward as groups of countries and peoples, who are finally ready to join the European Union and leave behind the events of history that we have shared for decades, and who are in fact now so close to one another.

I think we have a fantastic opportunity to live in a fantastic moment for the whole Balkan region. The year 2014 marks the 100th Anniversary of the First World War, which began in the Balkans. So, it is the first year without conflicts in any of the boundaries here.

After the peace deal between Kosovo and Serbia, an era of the past is over. A new ear has begun, of course with many things to resolve, many problems to be addressed, with some very important issues, which are still issues that underlie the disagreements between us, but, however, we have entered a new era, in which the quality of our life together in the Balkans can change dramatically. This is because of better relations that may exist between us.

It is clear that many people from outside but also from inside have difficulty to believe in the sustainability of this peace. Even we have ourselves for many years fueled certain ideas in the region. Actually, Maria Teodorova explains very clearly in her work on the Balkans and let us admit that for many years the Balkans has been a metaphor to distinguish the conflicting and uncivilized parts from the rest. Of course, they are a family of countries which, having walked in their path towards the EU, have refused to be called Balkan countries, although this became fashionable later. I hope being from the Balkans will become fashionable in the whole European region. To be honest, none of us, neither Serbs nor Albanians, could make it to back out of belonging to the first category, from which none of us has benefited. So, I say that today we are living in a very important and fantastic moment, when we can make peace in this region, a peace from which can benefit both our peoples. A peace that is worth living. So, war and conflict have been something that we have seen and the business of some, of few, and they were not in fact a life that was worth for many people.

This peace, in which we are living today, certainly is fragile, weak, and vulnerable. But, we can transform it into a peace in which it is worth living. I cannot accept the fact that relations between us can be so vulnerable that they can be damaged by people from different groups that belong to the past. And, in particular, in these times when not only the Balkans, for which living in the past or with the past has been a way of life, but also throughout Europe, extremists, extremist groups are increasing or are benefiting increasingly from difficulties. It is clear that real difficulties in fact exist elsewhere. Serbia today is dealing with fiscal consolidation, with a tough policy, the reforms that are really needed and which require courage, boldness and which cannot be extended further. I believe the same is true for us, although it can be said from a different angle. But anyway it’s the same thing, even to other countries in the region.

But ultimately, we all, we must agree, and there is no difficulty for this that our economies are small economies and our budgets are weak, that our chances are not numerous. Therefore, we cannot walk very far if we try to do everything just for ourselves.

Let me give you an example for the region and for collaboration in it. I had to go to Macedonia, after we won the elections. Since the beginning of politics – since when I remember politics following the fall of the regime and I remember the prime ministers of Macedonia and Albania in joined press conferences – I remember one thing which has been repeated since the beginning as an oath: “We will work together to build our railroads connecting parts!”

We haven’t seen these railroads connecting parts yet. So, when I went to Macedonia I told the Prime Minister: “Please, let’s leave this, because I do not want to say it in the press conference.”

“Why? – he asked, -this is important”.

“Of course it is, but we must not do this”.

I am sure that every prime minister has said this, they have really believed to succeed in this, of course together with Macedonian colleagues, but actually this has never happened because it is impossible. It is a small part, a very small, but it is impossible with the budgets that we have. So at the end of the year, anyone who deals with government expenditures knows that there are different priorities and the railway connection between Albania and Macedonia is postponed for another time.

This is the part which could explain the missing parts in infrastructure, energy infrastructure and other interconnecting sectors in our lives in the region. How can we achieve this?! How can we finally succeed that Albania, Montenegro and southern Croatia can be connected with the whole network of the southern Mediterranean, which ends in northern Croatia, where many great efforts have been made with their budget to build a highway and in practical terms, I would say it is a missing part that separates all our countries from a sustainable tourism development. So, it is impossible!

How can we make it possible with our budgets what Prime Minister Vucic cited as a priority for connection in the region, the railway from Belgrade to Nis, then to Podgorica and Tirana?! It’s impossible!

There are many things that are not just things of the Balkans, but are simply a matter of Europe that can be made possible if we move rapidly from an era of non connection, of the lost in translation, in a new era, first of all being connected with each – other, communicating with each – other, by sitting with each other, listening to, come out with large projects which have the credibility, reliability and peace that we are building together. Not just the credibility of that project, but a peace that we wish to build with each other.

I believe that the existing cooperation can and should be developed starting with economy. We have an exchange of approximately 100 million Euros; we have approximately 65 Serb-owned enterprises in the country. There are not many. Obviously, it is not great figure, but there are not few either. It is a figure that shows that people, our people, your people have been quick to understand where the challenges are, how this joint space can be transferred in a shared space and how profit can create opportunities and chances for this shared space.

The creation of a regional common market should be the common goal! We should not think about this as if it was something too big. Because many studies show clearly that things that to us, who look at them from far, seem simple, have been more difficult for the Benelux countries. However, these countries were wise to not exaggerate obstacles, to not get stalled before these obstacles and had the will, the goodwill, to move in parallel and to build, while talking about things they didn’t agree on.

So, they agreed to not agree on certain issues.

This was very important.

This is a pragmatic approach in a world that moves too fast to wait for us and too quickly to allow us to capture it, to reach it, if we lose this fantastic opportunity that is given to us. What happened in the Benelux countries is that they did not exaggerate and accepted that, whatever we imagine ourselves and how we design our greatness, we are in fact small countries. We are small countries, so that the planning of our greatness is, in fact, a disease of the small country. We need to accept this. To leave it aside and understand that only through cooperation we can represent an interesting and competitive market.

On the other hand, we, Albania and Serbia, are two candidates for membership in the European Union. It can also provide unique incentives for this process in the region. We should talk about this somehow. We must decide how we want this process to happen. Will we allow this process to continue with inertia?! With the inertia of bureaucracy that is left towards Brussels and to be left in a trap, in a situation where a lot of things are defined by this fear of enlargement and that relate to internal problems in the EU?! Or will we have a proactive approach and European with Europeans. They are the European Union, but we must be “E” and “EU”.

We must be Europeans. We must believe that our country is in Europe and we are ready to show and to give all the arguments why the European Union needs us, today, at least, as much as we need the EU. So the situation is not the same as it was some years before, because we see how fragile Europe has become, we feel it. Let’s talk here about some issues that are on the doorstep of Europe. So the loss of the Balkans is actually to Europe a big risk and it is a much bigger risk than that of the Balkans not being part of the EU.

Nobody expects the Serbs and Albanians to challenge Brussels with projects that are part of a page being built step by step, but that are also part of a new vision, a new imagination for our future in the Union European. So, we have to do this step, to have the vision, to have the courage and walk together. Because we will not only be seen as the strongest, but we will really be strong. I truly believe and I am convinced that our destinies are increasingly more interconnected with one another, the destinies of Albania and Serbia. We can do something historic by transforming what has prevented us in the past to work together in what is the basis of working together. For now we are living in a totally different time. And in the end we cannot in this region simply to feed our voters the flags and ghosts of the past, with myths, heroes, etc .. People want a better life. People want a better quality of life. People are no longer separated from the rest of the world. Internet, i-phones, everything that has changed brings the world much closer to every doorstep, in every village and it is bringing a new reference system.

The last thing I want to emphasize – hoping that questions will make this a more interactive conversation – is what will happen with the new generation, the youth?! Because, I have noticed that we often forget to ask this question. What is happening with the young generation?! With Serbs, Albanians. How will they be in the future? What will their values be? What will their vision for the future be? How will they see each other? And, possibly, how can we have cooperation among cultivated people in Serbia or Albania? Many people know the Japanese authors, or Chinese filmmakers, etc .. But tell me a Serbian poet. Tell me his or her name. None! I think it will be the same for you here.

Perhaps only a few names. Here we are not talking about something that can be neglected. We are talking – since we live next to each other’s door, – about what will the younger generations live in the future, the young generations who are young Europeans, those who go to school today. In what school do they go, what education do they have, what history do they learn? How much can we do that might give them a common ground, give them a common goal or objective? For, the most we work with each other, the less we will have the vulnerability of the past and the less it will affect activities, and we will see who in the world would start propaganda, for example, for a football match. To be honest, these things happen only here, in the Balkans.

These were short the issues I wanted to emphasize.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that when we talk about the future, the future is actually happening now. The future is not something designed by us. The future is happening right now.

Therefore, I wish to thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak before you. I would be more than happy to answer questions from the audience here in the forum, probably something that I did not explain.

By the way, I learned that I have been occasionally asked to share with you information that has not been for the public, but I apologize, because I cannot give you food for your curiosity.

I can say something I heard, and I agree with Prime Minister Vucic, we had a meeting that was actually tough. It was difficult, but according to me it was very healthy, because it was true, it was straightforward and it was a very good basis on which we can work in the future, to continue towards the future. Therefore, if we played the game of being good to each other, to my opinion, it would be simply a show without continuity. But, in fact, despite that we had a difficult meeting, despite that we had a lively press conference let’s say, we continued to work and we agreed, for example, and finalized the agreement for youth cooperation, which was not completed. So, this is an expression of a desire and goodwill from both sides. We hope that Prime Minister Vucic will come to Tirana, next year and of course, you are all welcome to come even before him, in order for us to continue this conversation.

Today I had the opportunity to meet an old friend of mine, about whom I have heard accusations in the early 90s as being a ‘pro-Serb’, ‘anti-Albanian’, a ‘traitor’, etc., you know how people talk. Pajic is a fantastic artist, whom I have known during my years of art and travel in Europe, for whom I have written an article in an Albanian newspaper, and he was probably the first in fact, but I don’t know if it was the last, but at least it was the first article written by an Albanian saying good things about Serbs. It is about the years ’93 -’94, a time that was not easy. We have not opened an exhibition of his works in Albania yet, which is not good and should definitely do. There are fantastic artists here in Serbia, who must be known to the Albanian public and of course there are fantastic Albanian artists who should be known to the Serbian public, because we are not so numerous as to have the luxury to not know each other, or what each of us produces in the arts and culture. We have to share the culture and art with each other. It was really a pleasure to be with you here today.

Thank you!

Answers to questions asked to Prime Minister Rama in the Forum:

I am not aware of any veto that Albania has exercised with regard to Serbia. Albanian civil society is pretty exciting. I was saying that we haven’t exercised any veto. On the contrary, we’ll be happy to see Serbia embarked and part of Euro-Atlantic integration and cooperation.

But since you asked this question, I cannot say just this and I have to be totally honest with you. It is not about a veto, but about the way it works. Because, this is how relationship in the NATO family work. So, in the NATO we deal with a group of states who have embraced some core principles and values that have a common understanding, respect for each other. The definition of these values and principles that were mentioned and here, was simply part of the discussions within NATO, but it has not been a veto at any time, and it has never occurred to us and there has not been any moment to determine the veto.

On the contrary, we are very encouraging and will support any step that Serbia will take to join the Euro-Atlantic Family.

As for the first question, I am amazed that the football continues endlessly. While I think that in another perspective we can find some peace between us, we can find some peace with ourselves.

In terms of the agreement, I should say something that I learned during this process which was a big “WOW”. There are 17 agreements prepared to be signed by Albania and Serbia since 1978.

None of these agreements has been signed to date. We imagine that there is a lot we have to do together. Today we signed an agreement on customs, which is a common platform in terms of customs administration. We are also willing to sign, after we agreed on the wording, the agreement on youth cooperation. We decided to start work on mutual recognition of university diplomas, between Albania and Serbia, which in our opinion is important. While we have set a deadline together with the Serbian side, a period of 90 days, to begin the process of mutual recognition of diplomas. I hope to accomplish this process even faster than we have envisaged.

At the same time, we will formalize another deal to free movement, based on identity cards. Mr. Prime Minister Vucic was very willing to implement it once the deal is completed, and why not immediately. So these are the basic elements we discussed.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, need to sit down and work hard to identify and then prepare some projects of common interest, face to the process of Berlin and face to the relationship with Brussels. Meanwhile, railroad is a proposal made by your Prime Minister in Berlin. It is a project on which we agree completely. On the other hand we have put on the table another document that we have ambitiously titled “The new agreement for the Balkans”. It is a document that contains elements that can support our mutual cooperation. I think there is an endless horizon of possibilities open to us. I think we are dealing with a major challenge and should be able to seize this opportunity. For, although it is not easy to be said between us, it is clear that it is easier to be said than done.

Let me conclude with a Serbian proverb that I love, that says a lot about the difficulties of the path towards knowledge. I have the impression that we have learned it the hardest possible way. I hope that, although it is difficult, the path to knowledge is possible. The same goes for the Albanian minority here.

I listened to Deputy Prime Minister with great interest and I want to add something. He said that it is difficult to imagine a more liberal legal framework for minorities. I would say that if you look at the framework minorities in Serbia, is a fantastic achievement. This achievement is the result of leadership, vision and courage of both parties in the dialogue between the countries. Meanwhile, personally I strongly believe that the way we treat minorities, the way that defines us, is the way it shows how ambitious we are and how we are and who we are. So, the better we treat minorities, the better it will be for us. I completely understand the difficulty, I understand the whole context, but I believe that there are things that really can make a difference. I am sure that if we focus in Presevo on investment, things will improve. At the same time I want to believe the words of the Prime Minister. I’m sure that if we will cooperate, and I think that if people who are part of the minority will be treated better, we will create a very strong friendship and we will build cooperation bridges. We want to become friends with you. We will do everything necessary to make this thing a reality, although it will be difficult. On the other hand I am sure, that the more difficult this process will be, the stronger the process of friendship will be in the end.

Thank you!

– I would like to greet the Prime Minister of Albania, Mr. Edi Rama. I want to use this meeting and I wanted to say about the results of this meeting, it is a historic moment for both countries and for their integration into the European Union. Despite we heard that it was a difficult meeting, with different attitudes on some topics, I want to stop on the life of Albanians in the Presevo Valley. In order for the attitude towards us can be changed, I would like to ask a question. How much will the solving of problems of Albanians in the Presevo Valley be affected, regardless of what Mrs. Minister said previously, with regard to the use of language and institutions?

What I can say is that we talked this issue with the Prime Minister of Serbia. I felt that he was really interested to hear my thoughts, and extremely interested in understanding the approach that Albanians in Presevo have and had towards us, in terms of their problems to their demands. He informed me about the efforts made by him and by the Serbian government. He explained me the situation and then promised me that he will see in detail the issues, problems that will arise from the information that I myself will have after I hear people in Presevo, as far as conditions are concerned.

However, I truly believe that we should put a great emphasis on education in particular and we should show special care towards young people wherever they are in our region, Albania, Serbia, where Serbs are a minority, where Albanians are a minority. Because I truly believe that these countries in the region do not have enormous differences from developed countries when it comes to how much we give our young people, our children, whether they are Albanians or Serbs, if we give them the opportunity to be educated, the better we will prepare them for the future. Of course, tomorrow we will have the opportunity to talk more in detail about the things that you want to tell me. I honestly believe that what is happening today and for which we are committed to develop further through this cooperation between Albania and Serbia, will be for the benefit of Albanians living in Serbia. I truly believe this and I am sure that this is not just my ethical obligation, but also my constitutional obligation to represent and to say out loud, to speak for the rights of Albanians wherever they live, respecting Constitution and laws of the respective countries.

Briefly, this is what I wanted to say on this issue. If you really want my honest feeling, I have more confidence today than I had yesterday about the future.

Thank you!