NATO helps Albania develop its democracy – former Albanian president

Former Albanian President Alfred Moisiu talked to RT about the benefits of becoming a NATO member and what expectations do Albanians have if their bid to join EU is accepted.

RT: Last April, Albania officially applied for EU membership. How, in your view, will this benefit your country?

Alfred Moisiu: I think Albania is a part of Europe; we are in Europe. Albania is certainly unable to live in isolation from other European countries because the economy is increasingly global nowadays, and entities are global as well.

So, the Albanians wish to be in the EU politically and economically. What do we think of our economic relations? Our economic development and our contacts within Europe will be the best possible ones. You should know that, after 1990, almost one million Albanians emigrated to Italy, Greece, Germany, the UK, and other countries. But although they live there, they help their families back home. Those ties should exist, all the more so because we are one nationality that keeps its traditions. Family ties are very strong. Even though they live and work there for possibly 15 or 20 years, they come back home for a break every year, and spend one or two weeks, depending on how long they can afford. That will become easier. Therefore, we believe that Albania’s EU accession will give us the best of prospects.

RT: What stage are you at accession-wise?

AM: We are expecting the EU to decide on Albania becoming a candidate for membership. It’s a very lengthy process whereby one becomes a real EU member like the others.

RT: How is Albania coping with the current economic crisis? Are you afraid that Albania will be affected by the same economic woes as Greece after it joins?

AM: Greece is living through a major crisis. Of course, our government is working to stop the crisis from spreading to Albania. According to official statistics, around 700,000 Albanians have immigrant jobs in Greece. If they are left without jobs, they will come back to Albania and that will certainly impact on our economy. Those unable to make as much as they did previously will not send as much to their families back home. This will certainly reduce the currency inflow to our country. And, according to our information, the Albanian economy, though still in the black, has slowed down its development rate.

RT: What are the main problems facing Albania?

AM: Nineteen years is not long enough for full-scale democracy. It’s not a construction that you can put up within a year.

I would say we are having a political crisis just now. We held elections last year. Even though we made much headway – and progressed in the electoral sense – but the final stage in any ballot is the vote count. It is very important because it shows the tally. We have two main parties – Democratic and Socialist. The Democratic Party is currently in power, while the Socialist Party is in opposition.

RT: In 2008, Albania recognised Kosovo’s independence. How, in your view, does the Kosovo situation affect other countries in the region?

AM: I believe – and this is not only my personal view, but also it is reality – that the Serb government made a lot of mistakes. They looked upon Albanians as second-rate citizens and that generated discontent. Uprisings were a recurrent thing in Kosovo.

Of course there were consequences in the wake of each such uprising, as administered by the Serb army. The situation reached a juncture where the Albanians could no longer go on living as they did.

Kosovo’s independence was proclaimed in 2007. I had numerous contacts with the Serb leaders, and I said to them that the historical truth had been redressed in the shape of Kosovo liberation. I think establishing a peaceful environment in the region is good for both Albanians and Serbs, because both groups did have problems. The former Yugoslavia was economically ahead of all Balkan countries – including Greece, an EU member.

But now Serbia’s economic level is very low. I think and I hope that it will soon become clear to everyone that the situation is irreversible.

RT: Belgrade has a separate view of its own on Kosovo. What is the current state of relations between Albania and Serbia?

AM: Albania and Serbia have good relations commercially, economically and politically. We maintain high-level contacts. For example, as president I held several meetings with Serbian President Boris Tadic. Of course, there is the Kosovo problem dividing us.

But still both the Albanian and Serbian leadership must be aware that they bear full responsibility for the peaceful state of not only the region but also their own countries, for their economic development, and so on. I believe relations should be improved in the future. For example, our foreign minister and Albania’s deputy prime-minister were on a visit to Belgrade a few weeks ago. He noticed the Albanians that continue to live in Serbia. We expect a governmental visit to Albania; the president might come as well, but I can’t give the exact date. For example, President Tadic came to Albania in 2006. I had invited all presidents of the region: Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Romania. We held a conference and established a tradition: several months later the presidents, myself included, met in Serbia. The following year they went on meeting in other countries. I always believed – and continue to believe – that political figures should have more such meetings.

RT: Albania joined NATO last year. What are, in your view, the benefits?

AM: Yes, that’s true. Albania did join last year. Albania took over some NATO business even earlier, when the Bosnia War was in progress, for example. Its troops are also involved in Afghanistan and Iraq. I think NATO is a political and military organization that has withstood time and has done better than all other previously-known organizations.

I think NATO also helps Albania develop its democracy and establish its army. It should be mentioned that, regrettably, we had a very big army as compared with the population numbers. Prior to 1990, we had a standing army numbering more than 75,000. It isn’t that small for a country with the population we had. Our military organization enabled us to mobilise half a million within 24 hours. That was the kind of strategy, tactics and policy at the time. The Cold War was in progress, and all countries and all states at that time – Albania too – had to spend a lot of money to accommodate that strategy.

RT: What kind of relations do Albania and Russia have today?

AM: The Albanian people became more aware of Russia from 1941, when the war began there.

Of course, they had some idea, but a very distant one, and they began having more personal feelings when the former Soviet Union was attacked by Germany. As I said, all Albanians followed the developments every day. We felt better seeing the Red Army score positive results. And before 1961, it should be said, we had very good relations politically, economically, diplomatically and militarily. But after 1961, as you know, Khrushchev was at the head of the Soviet Union, and he broke off diplomatic, political and economic relations. It was a total break.

I see your tourists coming to Montenegro, and meet in the south in Albania. I told your ambassador in Tirana that more should be done for our economic, cultural and political relations. We live in the Balkans and it is of importance for us that there should be peace in the Balkans. I think Russia is a big country with much influence in the Balkans and in Europe.

RT: And my last question to you. What do you see as your greatest achievement as Albania’s president?

AM: During my five-year term I did everything I could to help the development of democracy, the judiciary and levels of government.

The division of powers is important as well. It is inscribed in our Constitution, but it is one thing to write something and another to make the division of powers a reality. Each democratic country has a parliament, a government and, of course, a judiciary. The year 2005 saw political power being passed from one party to another in Albania. It was a major achievement, and I believe I made a contribution to that.