Wide debate about the appointment of the new Albanian ambassador in the Vatican

Wide debate about the appointment of the new Albanian ambassador in the Vatican

IBNA Special Report

Tirana, February 10, 2015/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Edison Kurani

A wide political and social debate has broken out in Albania about the name of the new ambassador to Vatican. Foreign Ministry appointed in this post the dissident publicist, Visar Zhiti, former minister of Culture in the government of PM Sali Berisha.

The power for the appointment of ambassadors belongs to the President of Republic, therefore his name was sent for decreeing at the president’s office. But Nishani has decided to say “no” for Zhiti and several other names. The official reason? There have been no consults between the Presidency and the Foreign Ministry about the new appointments in embassies.

But, beyond this refusal and the reason for it,  a debate broke out strengthening suspicions that the reason for the refusal to appoint Zhiti is not that simple.

The Albanian Catholic Church mentions the fact that Visar Zhiti is a Muslim by origin. Italian leaders of the Albanian catholic church diplomatically say that “it would be more appropriate if the new ambassador were a catholic”.

Who is Visar Zhiti

One of the most prominent writers and publicists in Albania, Visar Zhiti has suffered for many years the consequences of his dissidence in the prisons of the communist regime.

In the recent years, he engaged in politics, by becoming an MP and then he served for a while as Minister of Culture, Tourism, Youth and Sports.

Earlier, Zhiti has been a cultural attaché at the Albanian embassy in Rome, from 1997 until 1999.

During this time, he has never abandon publicity.

Most of it is dedicated to the Christian Catholic history in Albania and its links with Vatican and beyond.

His catholic ties are so strong that he even named his son Atjon (our father). A few weeks ago, Visar Zhiti suffered a tragedy, when his 21 year old son, Atjon Zhiti lost his life in a car accident. The deceased was a student in Italy and had come to Albania to spend holidays with his family.

The president refuses to decree

A “cold war” often exists between the government and the presidency and this is mostly associated with declarations by institutions and their heads, without confronting each other on the issues that they raise.

This was also the case in the recent days. Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati and PM Edi Rama, proposed Visar Zhiti as the ambassador of Albania to Vatican.

But, Zhiti’s nomination has not been accepted by the head of state.

Sources from the president’s office said that Nishani has not decreed Visar Zhiti because the PM and Foreign Minister have not consulted the Presidency on this proposal.

According to the new law on foreign service, which is being discussed in parliament, the president has 30 days to decree the proposed candidacies.

Meanwhile, the current law that the Presidency is applying, there’s no time limit.

Article 92 of the Constitution of Albania says that “upon the proposal of the Prime Minister, the president appoints and relieves from duty the omnipotent representatives of the Republic of Albania in other states and international organizations”.

The president has warned that he will not decree any ambassadors unless the government consults with him beforehand. PM Edi Rama has reacted by considering this as a presidential attack against the government. Rama said that the president has made the wrong choice for his constitutional role, while attacking the government for everything.

Rama doesn’t want to be harsh, but he says: “I tell the president whatever I have to say to his face. Of course, after June 23, we have a president that attacks the government, but this was the president’s choice and not ours”.

Heads of the Albanian Catholic Church: It would be more appropriate if the ambassador were catholic

General Secretary of the Archbishop Conference of the Albanian Catholic Church, George Frendo, has commented Zhiti’s appointment as Albania’s ambassador to Vatican. He says that “it would be more appropriate if he were a catholic” and adds: “Up until now, before appointing the ambassador, the government has consulted with the hierarchy and archbishops in Albania. And the ambassador has always been a catholic. For these reasons, we would have wanted a catholic and we would want the government to consult archbishops on the name”.

But, what can be considered as the culmination of debates against the appointment of Mr. Zhiti as ambassador in the Vatican, was the letter of the Archbishop Conference of Albania, the highest representation instance of the catholic community in the country.

“Albania’s Archbishop Conference is disappointed about the fact that that a person not belonging to the Catholic community was not appointed as Albania’s ambassador in the Holly See, not wanting to contest the abilities of Visar Zhiti. We’re also surprised about the fact that we were not consulted on this issue. Since the resumption of diplomatic relations between Albania and Vatican, a catholic has always been chosen for the role of Ambassador in the Holly See. Fortunately, there are many Catholics who have the ability to lead this diplomatic mission at the Holly See. The ambassador at the Holly See also participates in religious services. This is why we demand for the Ambassador to be a person who belongs to the Catholic Church”.

This was written in the letter sent to President Nishani, PM Rama and also to the Secretary of the State of Vatican, Paroli.

Political debate, the candidate is approved unanimously as a sign of challenging

Although majority and opposition seldom agree, in the case of the new ambassador of Albania in the Vatican, the candidacy of Visar Zhiti received the full support of the sides.

In the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, leftists and rightists unanimously approved the candidacy of Mr. Zhiti. Politicians have commented the desire of the Catholic Church for the new ambassador to be a Catholic and not a Muslim.

Ben Blushi, a socialist MP, says that nobody can be imposed upon a laic state, in appointing ambassadors or the creed that they must belong to.

Ben Blushi says that Zhiti’s name has been discussed due to his creed. He said that besides the fact that Zhiti deserves to be ambassador, there’s also another mission.

“To defend the laic state in Albania and I believe that this is our first duty today. The Constitution doesn’t name religion as a criterion for employment. Nobody can impose this upon us, not even the Church which has involved itself in a debate where it has no place”, said Blushi.

“It’s time to defend the Republic and the laic nature of the state. The name of Visar Zhiti returned in politics and this committee must offer its full support, not only about what he represents, but also to protect the laic state in Albania”, writer Bushi added.

The head of the parliamentary committee, Mrs. Arta Dade, praised the diplomatic career of the ambassador nominee for the Vatican and expressed her conviction that Zhiti’s name will be decreed by the president.

“Visar Zhiti is a man of letters and the history of Albania is reflected in his life. With his nobility, he has overcome the suffering of the regime and destiny. Zhiti is a career diplomat and I’m convinced that president Nishani will decree this strong nomination”, said Mrs. Dade.

All the members of the committee were in favor of Mr. Zhiti’s nomination. Democrat MP and former speaker of parliament, Jozefina Topalli said: “Visar Zhiti is like a treasury for the country. Perhaps, more than an ambassador in the Vatican, we’re appointing an Albanian apostle”.

Zhiti: The Vatican is very important for Albania

The poet, Visar Zhiti defended his candidacy. He said that according to him, the Vatican is a world spiritual super power,  which can help Albania.

He added: “Vatican is very important to Albania and we can use it for divine pilgrimage. Albania is a symbol of religious harmony and this is why Pope Francis chose Albania for a visit. We’re the country of religious harmony and of martyrs. I believe that Albania’s integration in the EU would be out of merit and not pity”, said Zhiti.

Nano: There’s no reason to turn tradition into a nightmare

Prominent political analyst, Mustafa Nano says that Zhiti’s case is another detail that adds to the “conflict between the highest institutions of the Albanian state, president and prime minister”.

Nano stresses the fact that “it’s the Catholic Church that doesn’t agree this time” and adds: “The President has breached the election procedure, while the Catholic Church has come out against the proposed name. Because he’s a Muslim!”

Nano quotes the Italian priest, George Frendo, a priest that exerts the function of assistant archbishop in the dioceses of Tirana and Durres, and at the same time, that of the General Secretary of the Archbishop Conference of the Albanian Catholic Church.

According to Nano, Frendo “on behalf of the church has informed the President of Republic on his objections, but is it not surprising that besides his claims over the procedure, he’s also motivated by the concern of Catholics, although he hasn’t said such thing explicitly and would very likely not say it even if it was true?”

The fact is that Albanian ambassadors in the Vatican have always been Catholic. Mr. Nano says that “there’s no reason for this tradition of the appointment of Catholics as ambassadors in the Vatican to turn into a nightmare” and adds that in any circumstance, the Albanian state will be served in the Vatican, because this state is clearly laic.

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The parliamentary committee unanimously passed Zhiti’s name, in spite of the reminder of the Catholic Church that the ambassador at the Holly See participates in many religious services and that this was the reason why a catholic ambassador was demanded.

This way, this is the first time in 25 years that an interstate incident is registered with the Catholic Church.

This had happened before with the Orthodox Church and the same situation continues, where its head, Anastasios Janullatos is objected by the majority part of politics and society. This had also happened with the Muslim Community for disputes regarding properties and the presence of several Islamic foundations.

But, there has never been a problem with the Catholic Church and which has been made public.

The clash with the ambassador comes a few months after the Vatican Pope chose Albania as the country to hold his first visit in Europe. /ibna/