Entitled to what we deserve

I feel deeply privileged to greet you as the Prime Minister of the Republic of Albania: ‘I am glad to have come and find you!’ I am here to assure you that my Government and I will not rest and keep working not only to revive Albania, but also to renew the hopes and trust of every single Albanian, wherever they live.

I am deeply grateful for such memorable welcome and this utterly dignified organization that will certainly remain imprinted on my memory and shall, with no doubt, dictate the course of an extraordinary commitment by myself and all of us in Tirana to be near you and work together so that anyone here and, particularly, every boy and girl who is present in this hall, high school graduates, and all young people have an open path that will lead them towards fulfilling their own ambitions and always find an open door in Albania to carry out their studies and receive a degree that will provide them with the opportunity to work here, as well.

What I wanted to share with you here, in this meeting, following intensive talks with the Prime Minister of Serbia and the Serbian government team, is that by the last hours of yesterday evening we signed an agreement on youth exchange and, what is of particular importance for us, on the mutual recognition of diplomas.

That means that we have managed to turn a new page for all those who with their degree earned in Albania would want to exercise their profession and pursue their ambition. The degree earned in the Republic of Albania shall no longer be a mere unrecognized piece of paper, but rather a document that is acknowledged and bear an equal value with the degree earned here in the Republic of Serbia.

Regardless of the understandable challenges and the known disagreements, allow me to tell you that I am fully confident of having opened a new page in the relations between Albania and Serbia. It is my utter conviction that, by doing so, we have taken over our share of responsibility in preventing both Albanian and Serbian young generations from inheriting the trauma and the devastating consequences bred by an impossibly long-drawn conflict, which both the Albanian and Serbian children do not deserve.

That is a responsibility which the Government of Albania has taken over fully, being cognisant of its obligation and, despite what those who prefer to thrive on past slogans and rhetoric might say, by holding true to this commitment and with such national awareness, we will do our best to give a dignified future to every Albanian, irrespective of where they live, or where they reside and regardless of whether he/she is a citizen of the Republic of Albania, a citizen of the Republic of Kosovo, or a citizen of the Republic of Serbia or the Republic of Montenegro and so on.

We are convinced that we have been given a historic chance. Such is the historic opportunity of a peace missing for decades, for centuries in this region that has been worldwide identified with war, globally associated with hatred, universally linked to an inconsolable division.

Today, in 2014, 100 years following the World War I that erupted exactly in our region, the Balkans and all of us, as part of it, find ourselves with the chance to turn this moment of peace that comes as a result of the end of a dramatic disintegration process of Yugoslavia and is crowned with the last year agreement signed between Kosovo and Serbia, into a sustainable peace worth living for.

Our awareness is deep, and since this is not the first time for me to visit Presevo, allow me to humbly tell you that I am utterly conscious of your grief, your challenges and lack of possibilities that have often come your way not because of you. These are difficulties you are frequently faced with, no because you wanted to, obstacles you come across your way and you do not deserve. I am confident that by taking advantage of this extraordinary moment of peace and stepping up the efforts altogether to turn that into a sustainable path of peace and cooperation, we will put an end to past wounds that unjustly affect the minds and hearts of the children in the houses of the Albanians here today. We shall undo the hardships that come as the result of a past that keeps threatening the Balkans. Be convinced and trustful that we shall remove all barriers that prevent Albanian boys or girls from feeling equal Europeans among equals, regardless of where they live.

This is not only some brotherly duty or a mere political commitment or governmental responsibility. It is instead a constitutional obligation, fully based on the Constitution of the Republic of Albania, that no Albanian Government or Albanian Prime Minister, whoever he is, forgets in any moment that the rights and freedoms of all the Albanians, wherever they live are untouchable and, as such, must be defended, despite the difficulties that emerge in the way of doing so and notwithstanding the challenges we altogether come across in our path to safeguard them.

It is based on this constitutional right that I want to highlight today that new times lie ahead of us of which we have to be aware and, at the same time, work with one another to act accordingly. It is not us who find it difficult to let the past go. We want to and all together we will be the new Europeans of this region, for which time has come to join Europe once and for all, because unlike many years ago or the recent past, it is not only us, the people of the region who need the United Europe, but also the European Union that needs us all.

On the other hand, allow me to proudly state in front of you here, in a country where Albanians face difficulties that, for the sake of truth, are not present in other countries they live, that the Albanians of Albania and the Albanians of Kosovo, the Albanians of two States which are warrantors of the peace, stability and democratic progress of the region, can fully affirm to be proud of the way we respect the minorities.

We can be truly proud, fully entitled to feel that way, not based on Conventions or papers, but rather on facts that testify before the entire world that: “Yes, there are commendable models of co-existence both in Albania and Kosovo; there are admirable models of respect for the rights and freedoms of the minorities!” With such pride and looking at ourselves, we are entitled to ask for the same from the others.

Today, there is a Greek community in Albania, who does not even for a moment feel any difference, let alone discrimination, in relation to the other Albanian citizens and individuals of Albanian nationality. Albania has today a very small Macedonian community, who not only feels no differences or discrimination vis-a-vis the Albanian population, but furthermore, after the new territorial division, shall have its own municipality, although very small in number. Because it is not numbers that should determine how we behave with one another, but the way in which we see and what we want for ourselves. That is why, us, Albanians should be proud, as we do not deny others of anything we want for ourselves. On the other hand, though, what we give to others, no one can deny to us!

It is of particular importance that these territories turn from a difficult area where there is no need to meet people, but one can realize just by looking around that there is a significant difference in a place where differences should be inexistent, in a zone within the very territory of the Republic of Serbia, where, if looking around, one should not feel the opposite of what they sense in the rest of the Serbian territory. That is what I communicated about directly, openly and frankly in my tete-a-tete meeting with Prime Minister Vucic, to whom I made rather clear that we Albanians are not joining in any common battle towards some sort of Greater Albania, but are instead fighting all together towards a Greater Europe, where there is room for all Albanians and which must include all Albanians, together with the others.

Those who nourish our same aspiration should not allow hard conditions, endless challenges and discriminatory behaviours drive people into an entirely opposite direction. The future looks ahead in the direction of the equal rights and freedoms for every citizen of Europe. As citizens of Europe, today, we are together in our right given to us by God and our country to be vocal in defending the right and freedom that everyone living in these territories has not to feel different discriminated from anyone else.

On the other hand, I do believe this project, the blueprint of peace and the programme transforming it into the reality of every family and individual, regardless of their nationality or place of residence, requires without any doubt the union of all the Albanian factor here in the Valley to tackle the real problems, which, thanks to my consultations with your leaders and representatives, I addressed with the Serbian Prime Minister. These are problems of education, of health, issues related to infrastructure and the socio-economic development of an area which, in addition to all that, is also in need of a cultural life that is free of obstacles, rid of walls, a cultural life that is not frowned upon, but is rather seen as an asset.

In this peace that we all should work to mould into something worth living for, minorities can no longer be a source of division, but rather bridges that link our destinies that converge towards the future. No one must feel bad or in a difficult position and no one has to feel as if they are God-cursed because there are minorities in their country. On the opposite, everyone should feel fortunate that minorities are also present therein, because it is the way we behave towards them that defines who we are.

In order to be Europeans until the end, it does not suffice that we speak in the Brussels’ language, but we should, instead, provide everyone with the opportunity to speak in their own language freely. We must give everyone the possibility to be free to learn their own language. Opportunities should there for everyone to see the other’s language not as a threat, but as the fortune of living in a diverse society, with different cultures, traditions and identities that fill in the mosaic of the United Europe which we want to join, as its missing piece.

I know that things are easier said than done. There is quite a relevant saying we as Albanians have for that: “There is a vast sea dividing words from deeds.” That is, however, our challenge! And, it is as arduous to move forward with mid and long-term projects and programmes, as it is indispensable. As part of that imperative, all the Albanians in the Valley must be fully represented in the public administration and they should be offered thorough possibilities to be part of the institutional life of this country and all ways should open in order for all projects to become reality through representation and institutional life, otherwise that vast sea lying between said and done shall be impossible to cross. And, as history has shown in the Balkans for more than once in hundreds of years, when failing to cover such distance, people naturally choose to turn their back on the sea and fight one another.

It is clear that the issues experienced in the Valley have to be addressed with the State and institutions of Serbia. Nonetheless, the Albanian State shall not draw back from its constitutional obligation to constantly commit to strengthening the dialogue and cooperation with Serbia, reinforcing, as a result, its position to protect and sustain the aspirations of all the Albanians living in the Republic of Serbia. I see no reason for us to step back. Quite the opposite! I affirmed this clearly in the meeting held with the Prime Minister, I stated it in the press conference yesterday and will continue to repeat that: “There is no reason why the Albanians of Presevo Valley should be entitled to less freedoms or rights than the Serbs in Northern Kosovo.” Equally so, no ethnic or cultural minority throughout the region can be discriminated on grounds of their origin, if we are all serious and committed to this fantastic opportunity of putting an end to a century of conflicts and divisions and creating a new path to peace, not  by words, but by deeds.

It has to be said openly, clearly, frankly that the reflection upon and fulfilment of the rights of Albanians in line with European standards is an EU integration requisite. It would be impossible for us as a region to become a part of the European Union, unless everyone here feels part of the European project and is treated as if they were part of the European Union. The latter is fundamental for the new era that has begun in the region. That is why the question of Presevo Valley, like that of any other minority, is crucial not only to us Albanians, but to everyone inhabiting this region.

On the other hand, the realization of the rights and freedoms  is a great power that both States or States between themselves give to one another to boost cooperation and reverse the course of an old and exhausting enmity into the path of new friendship, where there is a place under the sun for everyone and where possibilities abound for all people, irrespective of their nationality, notwithstanding their citizenship, to fulfil their ambitions as human beings and feel unobstructed as men to breathe and bring their dreams and hopes to life.

As the Prime Minister of the Republic of Albania, I want to congratulate the Albanian parties of the Valley for their representation in the Serbian Parliament and the institutions of this country.

This is yet another example Albanians give to show their will for dialogue, where such opportunity exists, and their determination to cooperate with the State they are living in that, in turn, grants them automatically the right not just to ask more, but for much more from it.

On the other hand, I would see this as an opportunity that your representatives must give you, in that they become the heralds of the dreams and aspirations of the younger generations and sacrifice a little of themselves as political beings to give more to your being here, as the expression of an unbreakable, inalienable and impossible to be assimilated identity.

We are entitled to our right to hope all together that politics pursued throughout all Albanian communities is quite different from what it used to be traditionally, with narrow, partisan interests, interests that maybe were legitimate but rather non-representative of our major national   interest prevailing over the interests of common people.

It seems to me that the establishment of a National Council of the Valley is a light persistently guiding in the right direction out of a long tunnel. While congratulating all the stakeholders and protagonists, I would like to assure them that by coming together in this Council, not only do they empower themselves, but also bring more reason to Albanians’ strength to be both contributors and beneficiaries in this State.

I want to further congratulate the cooperation fostered between the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia and the OSCE Mission with the coordination body of the Republic of Serbia with Presevo, Bujanovc and Medvegja communes and the Novisad University that managed to establish the branch of the Subotica Faculty of Economics in Bujanovc, taking a meaningful step towards fulfilling the collective right to higher education.

I would like to seize the opportunity hereby to give some specific examples sustaining what my honourable friend Ragmi Mustafa touched upon. We are going to double the admission quota for the faculty medicine for the young girls and boys of the Valley and there will be no limitations applicable to them for all other areas of study.

You know that we have embarked on a radical reform of higher education. Additionally, you have been acquainted with the fact that we have managed to have the highest number of lawyers and economists per square meter in Europe, but have lost away as a result many years and many crafts. For that reason our government has strongly focused on creating an alternative for young people, that is, the vocational education, which like in every normal country in the world benefits employment and the enhancement of vocational and entrepreneurial skills of the next generation.

It is quite natural, subsequently, that we could no longer continue having a higher education system that had turned into a manufacturing industry of useless diplomas. But for as much as all I’ve said applies in the territory of the Republic of Albania, it cannot become a deterrent where a reasonable reduction of quotas is the case – for example, in the medical faculty upon request of the latter – turning into a situation that negatively influences and closes the doors for those of you who want to be trained as doctors or in the entire higher education. Thus, feel like you have more than one open door. I am convinced that, by doing so, we shall grant every one of you who chooses to study in the Republic of Albania, an opportunity to do so.

We are aware, however, of the difficulties you have in the Valley to find textbooks and we know about the allocated fund of assistance together with the Kosovo Government, but that is insufficient. For that reason, together with the Prime Minister Vucic we focused on the indispensability to view the state of education infrastructure in the Valley from a critical perspective, together with the quality of education, which obviously includes textbooks.

We will work both with the Government of Serbia and the representatives herein so that the situation changes. I asked the Serbian Prime Minister explicitly and will repeat it out loud here, if necessary, that the Serbian Government and he himself personally engaged to improve the school and hospital infrastructure, in order to get it over with the unacceptable ordeal of all young mothers having to go dozens of kilometres, in order to give birth to their children. He explicitly answered “Yes”. I hope and trust that he holds true to his word, as, otherwise, I do not want him to cry provocation, when telling him he failed to deliver on the promise.

I would want to say so much and it is understandable, I believe. But I do not want to keep you here for long, so let me add something else. We Albanians are quite right to be impatient. We are right in Albania, following many years of great expectations and major disappointments, to ask for everything we have been missing – and that is not something others have taken away from us, we have done it to ourselves. We have all the right to be impatient in Kosovo for our want of everything to run smoothly, with no institutional crisis or disagreements whatsoever as years pass us by so quickly. We are right even more so to be impatient here, where I met with pleasure some elderly people, who have spent their lives in this Valley and hardly did they come to see any joy in their lives, except for the birth of their children.

In the meantime, those who belong to the post-Berlin Wall generation are in the marrying age and when looking back feel trapped. So, as you see, there are so many reasons for us to be impatient, but just turn your head back. Where were Albanians in the 1990s and who among us could even fathom Albanians as they are today in this region, with so many more things accomplished and not simply a road here and a bridge there, but with major accomplishments?

And, I believe that never have we been more respected and our voice heard more than today. Obviously, that will not make an excuse for us to stop and say: “Okay, we shall endure.” I can ask for everything from these girls and boys but patience. They are right to be impatient.

That is so because of two elements I want to underline:

First, because Albanians have succeeded where even the most optimistic among us never thought we could – in having another State. That is because Albanians have never asked for something that belonged to others. Albanians never fell in the trap of a nationalism of sorts that could turn a man or an entire country blind to start wars that were not seeking to gain back freedom, but rather prevent someone else from being free.

Albanians as a people, as a nation, have always been instinctively capable of distinguishing between the blind alley of a primitive nationalism and the direction of European patriotism. If today Albanians are in such a position eager to move forward and strong to face what comes in the way, there is one thing we should never forget. All this has been a result of us being worthy of the trust of our great strategic allies, the US and EU.

Hence, while recognizing the right of everyone even to go insane, since that is a human right, too, we cannot go after someone derailed who comes and tells us: Look, there is a shortcut.” But the short cut a long delay makes, according to the wise.

Our road lies ahead. Our road is straight. If today we have the right to feel good when looking where we came from and feel uncomfortable when seeing where we want to go, let us take the history that brought us to this point and read it properly. Let us make history together to reach where we are aiming at and will ultimately arrive for sure.

Thank you!