Presidenti i Republikës së Shqipërisë

Arberesh 1


President Begaj’s Speech on “Arbëresh Day” within the framework of the third Diaspora Summit

Dear Arbëresh,

Honored guests and attendees,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am grateful for the opportunity to address this summit, which holds special significance for all Albanians across the world.

I am honored to speak on this day dedicated to the Arbëresh, not only because this is the first time we gather in such an event within the Diaspora Summit, but also because a month ago, I had the fortune to visit 13 Arbëresh villages in Calabria for the first time.

I will begin my speech by sharing some extraordinary experiences from my visit and thanking the Chairman of the Regional Institute for Arbëresh Community in Calabria, Dr. Ernesto Madeo, and all the mayors who made this visit possible.

In Falconara Albanese, there is a rock above the village where the red and black flag proudly waves. According to an ancient ritual, the youth used to go to this rock and, under the shadow of the national flag, vow to preserve their language, traditions, culture, and identity.

In Palagorio, there is a church whose bells bear Albanian inscriptions and face towards Albania, reminding residents of their origin whenever they ring.

And it doesn’t stop there. Every village or “katund,” as the residents call it, preserved typical traditional clothing. Every reception was like a magical scene filled with the colors of folk costumes. In the village of San Demetrio Corone, an 8-month-old girl was fully dressed in traditional costume. Furthermore, in many communes, public squares were named after our national hero, Gjergj Kastrioti-Skënderbeu.

It is truly impressive how every element reflects love for the homeland. In the Arbëresh, we see ourselves in the mirror of history. They constitute an invaluable treasure for learning not just who we were, but also for understanding better who we are.

Their exodus was dramatic, but their story is one of success. They are an example of integration and the development of an organic relationship between two neighboring peoples. Albanian in origin and now Italian, the Arbëresh have proudly preserved the traditions and language of their ancestors.

Not only that, but they established institutions that educated and graduated personalities of the Italian and Albanian Renaissance, like the Collegio San Adriano in San Demetrio. This college has produced many figures who have contributed to the state formation of both Albania and Italy. One of them was Jeronim De Rada, one of the most important figures of our Renaissance. He was the one who published the first newspaper in Albanian: “L’Albanese d’Italia” (“The Albanians of Italy”).

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a rare thing in the world to encounter a community as unique as the Arbëresh, and we Albanians are fortunate to have a treasure preserved by time, constituting a linguistic, customary, and identity treasure.

Many peoples have preserved documents, but we have a living community that has brought us the echo of our history for 6 centuries.

The Arbëresh have given us much more than we could ever give back to them. Unique in example, they have kept alive a vital part of Albanian identity without asking for anything in return.

Therefore, today the question is not what we should do for the Arbëresh, but what should we do to preserve, cultivate, protect, and inherit this part of Albanian identity?

I believe we have all the opportunities to write a new chapter in our relations with the Arbëresh. Our historical responsibility and action must be immediate, as the consequences will affect future generations. It should focus on preserving and cultivating Arbërisht among the new generations.

Arbërisht has long been listed by UNESCO as “definitely endangered” in the “Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.” This means, among other things, that Arbëresh children at home no longer learn Arbërisht as their mother tongue.

The survival of Arbërisht is not just a scientific matter. For us Albanians, it is fundamentally an identity issue and, as such, it is important for the interests of the Albanian nation. In this context, I appreciate the initiative that Arbërisht be part of the curriculum in all schools in Calabria.

I also value the initiative to start broadcasting programs in Arbërisht by RAI Calabria. Likewise, I appreciate the initiative that the Albanian Public Radio-Television is undertaking with the creation of a television channel for the diaspora, which will certainly promote Arbëresh language and culture.

Building a new relationship with the Arbëresh should also focus on exchanges of experiences and human interactions. We should visit each other more often. Personal experience is different from what you read or hear from others.

Therefore, I invite Albanians, when visiting Italy, to make room for regions where Arbëresh live.

In this context, it is time for Albanian schools to be active in twinning with Arbëresh schools. This would serve the recognition and education of the new generations about the culture and create interpersonal connections with the Arbëresh.

Naturally, a structured relationship must include all actors in Albania and Italy, such as academic institutions, civil society, local and central government bodies, and actors in the everyday cultural life of the Arbëresh, as the challenges are such that require cooperation and coordination.

The establishment of the Center for Studies and Publications for the Arbëresh was a step in the right direction. In collaboration with the Institute of History, the Academy of Sciences, and sister academic institutions in Italy, such mechanisms should create conditions for the expansion of Albanian studies.

I take this opportunity to commend the initiative of the Albanian and Italian governments, as well as the academic institutions of both countries, for nominating the Arbëresh spring rituals, known as “Moti i Madh,” to UNESCO. I particularly want to congratulate Professors Francesco Altimari and Matteo Mandala for their dedication to gathering this heritage.

Certainly, within the framework of cooperation, economic collaboration should not be overlooked. It can and should be expanded into areas like tourism and culture, agriculture and the food industry, and other fields of mutual interest.

The new collaboration should look towards the future, but must not forget history. The time has come for Albania to have a Museum for the Arbëresh, to showcase and promote this extraordinary 600-year history.

This is a story of success that conveys belief in high and noble ideals based on cultivating love for the nation and its cultural heritage.

In conclusion, I believe this summit will serve as a comprehensive platform for concrete projects serving to strengthen our national identity and the preservation and transmission of our cultural heritage across generations.

Thank you!