By Ditmir Bushati
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Albania
“Does Albania have a foreign policy?”
This question probably sounds absurd to some people, but taking into account the current international context, it is a normal question for a Foreign Minister.
Albania comes from an interrupted history of development, with sudden leaps from one historical order to another. This is also reflected on the long and difficult transition of our country towards the establishment of the rule of law.
This 25-year old transition also coincides with a deep crisis of belief in oneself and institutions which represent us.
It is precisely this crisis that has transformed yesterday’s paranoiac rejection of foreigners into an often unconditioned worshipping.
The transition from one extreme to the other has resulted in suspicions –sometimes justified and sometimes not – as to whether Albania had a genuine doctrine of Foreign Policy.
As a small country that, until lately, was out of the political map, groups and frameworks which determined the fates of the region, the Albania of the ‘90s moved ahead towards memberships and inclusions into many international organizations.
Today, however, in a chaotic world, due the lack of a clear world order, or, in other words, a “zero-polar” world, it comes natural to reflect on the orientation of our foreign policy.
Never before has the world undergone a transformation imposed by risks stemming from globalism, unstoppable urbanism, demographic changes, migration flows, financial crisis and deepening of economic and social inequalities.
This insecure world, without an order or balance, causes dilemmas that affect all countries of the world, whether big or small, strong or not.
With regard to the above, the following question is posed: “What are the axes that orient the foreign policy of our country?”
Normally, Albania interacts with and has obligations within the Euro-Atlantic framework. However, our foreign policy is oriented, first of all, by our national interests, which are protected by:
1) Values and principles, which constitute the essence of our policy’s continuity.
2) Transforming willingness, which implies defining clear objectives and drafting relevant strategies for their achievement.
3) Use and creation of diplomatic action instruments – which materialize the strategy into concrete and measurable results.
Thus, one should begin with the unalienable principles and values upon which our diplomatic action is based.
While the circumstances and position of Albania in the region and beyond are continuously changing and being updated, values and principles remain unaffected.
First of all, I would like to emphasize what is called “the red line” of our foreign policy: our western affinity and commitment towards Euro-Atlantic values.
Everyone is aware of the special dimension of our relationship with the USA. However, until a few months ago, we still had no actual political document to structure such relationship.
This spring, we signed the “Joint Declaration of Strategic Partnership” in Washington, as well as the Action Plan to materialize it in the upcoming years.
The Document of Strategic Partnership constitutes the most advanced form of bilateral cooperation and instrumentalizes the coordination in a capillary-like form, by including:
Partnership for global and regional matters;
Security: which includes the fight against violent extremism and cooperation in international operations;
Strengthening of the rule of law;
Based on our years of experience as NATO members, the participation in the Alliance has transformed Albania into a country, which generates and should radiate stability.
Meanwhile, the process of EU membership is a national objective, in view of the democratization and transformation of the Albanian society, in accordance with the values and principles of the united Europe.
An essential element in this regard is the fact that during these past two years, we have remained consistent in the 100% alignment of our views with those of the European Union.
Obtaining the recommendation for opening accession negotiations constitutes the priority of our political and diplomatic action. The justice reform and that of the rule of law in economy remain crucial for achieving this goal.
The Berlin Process, as a promising and complementary process, aimed at the creation of conditions for a better interconnection of the region, as well as the turning point and transformation of the Western Balkans into a true region.
In this process, Albania has been forerunner by coordinating its action with that of Germany, as a country which pays special attention to our region. For Albania, Germany has been and continues to be a strong partner and tough critic.
Secondly: Our foreign policy is oriented towards the promotion of peace, security and prosperity, above all in our region.
By region, we mean the immediate space (around 1-1,5 hour flight from Tirana), bordered by Vienna in the north, Athens in the south, Ankara in the east and in Rome in the west.
Everything that happens within this rectangle automatically constitutes a direct interest for us.
This is not merely a geographical extension but also the space wherein Albania’s national interests are articulated: thus, locked in the Balkans and open in the Mediterranean.
The relationship with Italy, as a promoter of Albania’s European ambition and determinant of the Mediterranean dimension of our foreign policy, carries a special strategic significance.
The exceptional relations with Austria date back from the genesis of the establishment of the first Albanian state, up to the current dynamic role of Austria in support of regional integration processes.
Also, relations with Greece and Turkey have a strategic dimension as NATO and EU member states, whose influence and radius of action remains crucial in the Balkans and the Mediterranean.
But, we must not forget that our immediate region, the Western Balkans, even though located in Europe, consists of states which, as they try to move away from influences of fallen Empires of the 19th century, are still taking their first steps in their efforts for democratic state-building.
We believe that “the return of Albania and the region to Europe” goes through the normalization of relations in the Western Balkans.
To us, the peace that our region is experiencing is not just pacifism, nor status-quo, but a dynamic process where the ongoing and unhampered dialogue restores faith to ourselves and others.
To us, being a good neighbor means facing challenges, by agreeing that the European spirit and the international law constitute the cornerstones of dispute resolution.
Relations with Greece and their progress in recent years
Relations with Greece are highly sensitive to the public opinion. When I assumed office, relations with our southern neighbor were almost frozen and dominated by a spirit of distrust and lack of high-level contacts.
Actually, due to what I call the “policy of small steps” we have enabled a diplomatic action concentrated in the achievement of concrete results and not in rhetoric swollen by nationalist pathos.
The settlement of the issue of “toponyms” marked the beginning of our efforts to overcome challenges inherited from the past. During these last two years, the activity of bilateral committees resumed, while Greece admitted that the Law on the state of war creates an abnormal and unacceptable situation between neighbors.
Our consistent stances have demonstrated that with Greece, we can discuss as equal parties on issues which should be addressed, ‘face to face’, without reluctance or complex.
There are no taboo topics anymore, only challenges to be overcome. We have already entered a new phase in which we are drafting a new document to address inherited problems and release the positive potential of our relationship.
The approach without any taboos and reluctance is also evident in the development of our relations with Serbia.
The symbolism of mutual visits has been followed by some normalizing steps within the framework of the Berlin process, such as the initiative on youth cooperation based on the Franco-German model.
I am and remain realistic in terms of difficulties that our relationship with Serbia contains.
Beyond our positions on the major issue of Kosovo, I think that what mostly separates Albania from Serbia is the western inclination of Albanians and the fragmented identity of Serbia in this regard.
Thirdly, the focus of our foreign policy is related to the role of Albanians in the region, as a state-building factor and promoter of Europeanization of the region.
Ismail Kadare rightfully said: “Europe is the natural condition of Albania. The only one”. And in my opinion this applies to all Albanians.
With this in mind, the strategic partnership with Kosovo, institutionalized in the Meeting of Prizreni on 11 January 2014, is a fundamental instrument which aims at materializing the European course of the Albanian factor in the region.
Our commitment towards Kosovo in the process of recognition and its membership in international organizations remains a constant priority of our foreign policy.
Thanks to the diplomatic operation of Albania, Kosovo’s membership in the most important regional platforms has given a true meaning to regional cooperation. While the signing of the SAA with the EU marks Kosovo’s anchoring into European mainstreams.
Kosovo deserves the membership in UNESCO and we will continue to provide our support in this regard, in full accordance with our strategic partners, because we believe that peace is achieved through cooperation and inclusion, not isolation.
Another constant of our diplomatic action in the region is the promotion and protection of Albanian rights in Montenegro, Macedonia and the Presevo Valley.
Through integration processes, we aim for Albanians in the region to enjoy all instruments that not only enable them to protect their hardly-gained rights, but also to become part of political processes with equal rights.
Historically, Albanians in the region have shown that they are conveyers of universal values of tolerance and inter-religious brotherhood.
Therefore, at the UN Council of Human Rights, which we joined last year for the first time, we are committed in promoting the most advanced models of human rights protection, by sharing our radiant experience.
These efforts were also reflected in our agenda during the UN proceedings, thanks to the cooperation with the Holy See, Jordan and the Alliance of Civilizations.
I tried to introduce some of the main axes that guide our foreign policy: European integration, the transatlantic partnership, good neighborliness accompanied by a more efficient projection of Albania in the Adriatic-Ionian region and greater interactivity towards regional and international organizations.
But of course, like every endeavor, there’s element without which nothing can be achieved: it is the human element, the diplomat and how he adapts to challenges posed by time.
By this, I mean that areas which until recently were unimaginable, today are part of the daily work of a modern diplomat.
Terms such as energy diplomacy, public and digital diplomacy, are examples which not only show the development in the field of diplomacy and international relations, but also the large number of actors involved.
As I mentioned to the Albanian diplomatic corps, nowadays, diplomats no longer have the exclusivity of diplomacy.
Today more than ever, we need professional and self-acting diplomats. Because being a diplomat is not just a profession, but above all a lifestyle, in which the ability to face unpredictable situations is one of the most important qualities of a successful diplomat.