Presidenti i Republikës së Shqipërisë


Interview of the President of the Republic, H.E.Mr. Bajram Begaj, for Klan TV – “Opinion”, by journalist Blendi Fevziu

Blendi Fevziu: Good afternoon, Mr. President. It’s a pleasure to see you. 

President Begaj: Welcome! It’s great to see you too. 

Blendi Fevziu: It seems like you have quite a busy schedule these days. 

President Begaj: Indeed, these days have been extraordinarily hectic. 

Blendi Fevziu: Particularly considering the situation in Kosovo. Where were you when you found out – in Albania or the U.S.? 

President Begaj: Actually, I was in Vienna, returning from New York, when I learned about it. 

Blendi Fevziu: What was your initial reaction? 

President Begaj: I was quite taken aback because the entire international community had been pressuring the involved parties to come to an agreement, to engage in dialogue about publicly agreed-upon matters. Unexpectedly, we encountered quite a severe terrorist act instead. 

Blendi Fevziu: Also notable is the fact that all those weapons, all those devices—which, according to Kurti, were worth 5 million [currency unspecified] in just the first haul—imply this wasn’t a minor local operation. 

President Begaj: Certainly, the seized weapons and equipment do have a significant monetary value, but that’s not the crux of the matter. 

Blendi Fevziu: It indicates logistical backing. 

President Begaj: This uncovers what the intentions were with these weapon stockpiles. 

Blendi Fevziu: Apparently, the goal was to ensure an agreement would never come to pass. 

President Begaj: I believe the aim was to impede the progression of the agreement while both parties claim that someone is guilty. 

Blendi Fevziu: Is there any intel suggesting Russia’s involvement in this event? Russia has always seemingly had a presence. 

President Begaj: Certainly, while this event is still under investigation, there might be third parties, perhaps in the region, who are interested in destabilizing it and Kosovo—but considering these two the whole Europe can be destabilized.   

Blendi Fevziu: Mr. President, did you receive information from our intelligence structures, i.e. secret services, or directly from our partners? 

President Begaj: Yes, the developments in the region, especially in the north of Kosovo, have been at the forefront of the information received either from the institutions responsible for obtaining the information or from actors of international organizations operating in Kosovo, who are responsible for the security and stability of Kosovo. 

Blendi Fevziu: In the meantime, what was your initial reaction to the event? 

President Begaj: My reaction was immediate. As I mentioned, I was just returning from New York, and upon receiving the information, I felt it was necessary to make a public statement. In it, I expressed steadfast support for Kosovo in any circumstance and called on the international community to exert pressure to condemn this terrorist act, which has gone beyond the scope of a mere terrorist act. 

Blendi Fevziu: I also get the impression that it wasn’t just a mere terrorist act and that initially, it came directly from official Serbia. Do you believe that official Serbia—the state, not just some Serbs who might hold dual citizenship—bear direct responsibility for this event? 

President Begaj: The order and security of a sovereign country like Kosovo had been violated and considering the fatal shooting of the police officer in line of duty Afrim Bunjaku, along with the injury of two others, such suspicions naturally arise. However, I think these are legitimate suspicions: the deployment of the Serbian army along Kosovo’s border, or the presence of military equipment and armaments in a monastery, which wouldn’t just happen in a mere 5-minute interval, or even the fact that all members of this terrorist group were of Serbian nationality, and publicly identified by the deputy chairman of the Serbian List, certainly leads to reasonable suspicions. 

Blendi Fevziu: The Prime Minister of Kosovo has also released footage of their training sessions in Serbian military bases, indicating that they came with the support of the Serbian state.  

President Begaj: Certainly, the transparency provided by the government and the Prime Minister of Kosovo is vital in understanding the motive and objectives of these aggressions, as well as identifying which agencies supported them. 

Blendi Fevziu: It provoked an immediate reaction from the international community, especially among Albanians, that Serbian President Vučić declared a day of mourning for four individuals who were not only killers of a security person, a Kosovo police officer, but also engaged in a terrorist act within the territory of Kosovo. They received the deserved response and were eliminated, yet he mourns them. 

President Begaj: In any circumstance, no parity should be indicated between a terrorist and one who falls in the line of duty. This is a provocative act towards Kosovo, the European Union values, and the Euro-Atlantic Community. 

Blendi Fevziu: Have you been in touch with the main authorities in Kosovo during this week? Ten days? 

President Begaj: I am in contact with all authorities in Kosovo. 

Blendi Fevziu: Even with Prime Minister Kurti? 

President Begaj: Yes, I’ve spoken with the President of Kosovo, Mrs. Vjosa Osmani and Prime Minister, Mr. Kurti, offering Albania’s support. 

Blendi Fevziu: So, there’s been direct communication. What was their reaction? 

President Begaj: Understandably, we must stand united on this day, and all Albanians are together. 

Blendi Fevziu: Given your constitutional role as the head of state, you have a duty, or commitment, to Albanians wherever they are globally. Undoubtly, the Albanians of Kosovo are an integral part of the Albanian population outside Albania’s borders. Has there been any concrete offer, or has it all remained within the bounds of communication and expressions of readiness? 

President Begaj: A concrete offer has been made, in line with the constitutional obligations of the President of the Republic, wherein I’ve offered Albania’s support to Kosovo in any situation. 

Blendi Fevziu: Mr. President, there seems to be a cooling in the relations between Albania and Kosovo recently. This cooling reflects in the personal relations between Prime Minister Kurti and Prime Minister Rama, among other things. However, one certainty is that this is perhaps the worst situation in the last 24 years since the independence of Kosovo. It’s the worst situation when the heads of two governments have almost no communication between them. Not delving into specifics, such as the Kosovo Prime Minister not receiving the Albanian Prime Minister during a Balkan tour in Prishtina, we know very well that there’s been a cooling. Do you feel it too? 

President Begaj: I don’t really think that’s the case. I believe there’s communication between the two governments and their leaders. 

Blendi Fevziu: But practically, while there is communication, there appears to be a tension that should not exist under these circumstances. 

President Begaj: There are misunderstandings that we, as Albanians, should sit down and resolve. 

Blendi Fevziu: And Albanians, despite misunderstandings, never resolve them by sitting down. 

President Begaj: No, we’ve learned that we will address our internal issues within our own house. 

Blendi Fevziu: How would you describe your personal relationships with the leaders of Kosovo? 

President Begaj: My relationships with President Osmani and Prime Minister Kurti are exceptionally good. As you know, at the beginning of September, there was a state visit in Tirana, where we discussed many issues that were of international interest, as well as national issues. The visit was quite successful. Similarly, I’ve met with Prime Minister Kurti several times this year, participating in the Prespa Forum and the League of Prizren, and visiting Kosovo twice on state visits. 

Blendi Fevziu: So, there’s been robust communication? 

President Begaj: Yes, we’ve intensively communicated, sharing thoughts and opinions on matters of mutual interest. 

Blendi Fevziu: Mr. President, it appears a statement by the Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, requesting KFOR to take control of the northern territory of Kosovo—a request which was articulated by [Serbian President Aleksandar] Vučić—has escalated the situation. What’s your viewpoint on whether KFOR should or should not take control of the north of Kosovo? 

President Begaj: KFOR is a success story very important for the stability and security of Kosovo and the region. KFOR mission is not determined by our desires. Since 2008, the institutions of Kosovo have remarkably progressed, maintaining order throughout its territory. The border area is monitored and guarded by KFOR for the security, stability, and free movement.  

Blendi Fevziu: It seems like the main objective was to control the entire north, which, frankly, has been unmanageable by Kosovo for 24 years. 

President Begaj: Currently, considering the serious events threatening order and security in Kosovo and the region, discussions about KFOR’s presence in Kosovo are ongoing. I’m not aware that the mission is being discussed. 

Blendi Fevziu: Have you discussed this issue with partners and leaders? 

President Begaj: I’m all the time in touch with the KFOR commander, discussing all issues of mutual interest, partly due to our personal acquaintance from my previous duty. 

Blendi Fevziu: While an increase in force numbers seems likely, KFOR has indicated that Kosovo will handle its territory’s security matters. 

President Begaj: Indeed, it’s stipulated that the law enforcement institutions of Kosovo are responsible, and KFOR is the third in line to respond, after the Kosovo Police and EULEX. 

Blendi Fevziu: This incident seemed to validate Prime Minister Kurti’s warnings to international entities about what’s being orchestrated on the other side, providing Kosovo a significant advantage at the negotiating table. Yet, it appears the negotiating table is the only definitive solution to the crisis. Given the situation—a martyr on the field and a terrorist group entering and being defended by Serbia—do you believe negotiations can continue? 

President Begaj: Dialogue is the sole path; there’s no alternative to resolving the dispute between Kosovo and Serbia. Serbia needs to be put under more pressure from the international community. After this event, it is necessary a new approach to dialogue, and certainly Serbia should clearly state it is in favor of peace, good neighborliness, and dialogue.  

Blendi Fevziu: The only issue, Mr. President is that geopolitics often takes precedence over rights. The international community can pressure Vučić, but currently views him as a more convenient solution than a nationalist who might create issues or have ties with Russia. Consequently, Kosovo might face unfair additional pressure. Have you felt this from international entities, or not? 

President Begaj: I believe the Albanian factor in the region should unequivocally understand that our strategic partner, the USA, views us as peace and security contributors in the region. Heeding their advice, I affirm that dialogue is the only way to achieve the normalization of disputes between Kosovo and Serbia, is dialogue.  

Blendi Fevziu: So far, the Prime Minister of Kosovo has expressed no concerns about relationship with the United States of America but has been critical of the European Union’s engagement and stance. Before Kurti, the former Prime Minister and the former President of Kosovo, Thaçi stated the same eight years ago (if I’m not mistaken), so it seems there is a dislike regarding the policies of EU, more than for the USA. What’s your take? 

President Begaj: I believe we should heed our strategic partners, the USA, in resolving this conflict. Individual personalities aren’t crucial; what’s vital is our policy and strategy that we must follow to realize the Albanians’ Euro-Atlantic dream. 

Blendi Fevziu: Mr. President, how did your meetings go at this year’s United Nations’ Assembly? 

President Begaj: The meetings, mentioning it was my first time visiting the United Nations General Assembly were quite successful. My focus was on delivering a precise message during the assembly and on bilateral meetings with other country leaders. These meetings addressed not only bilateral relations between Albania and these countries but also Kosovo’s recognition. Additionally, significant meetings took place with the Albanian community in New York, the governor of New Jersey, and the mayor of New York.  

Blendi Fevziu: Were you satisfied with the visit’s outcome? 

President Begaj: Yes, I believe so.  

Blendi Fevziu: Is it accurate that you traveled to the United Nations with a thirty-person team? 

President Begaj: My focus was on previously discussed objectives, and non-verifiable, fake news isn’t of concern. The Letters of Credentials of the Albanian delegation, led by the President of the Republic, are deposited at the UN, and easily reveal the actual number of the President’s team. 

Blendi Fevziu: That accompanied him as part of the official delegation. 

President Begaj: Correct.  

Blendi Fevziu: Recently, in the last two days, shocking news emerged regarding attempts on the lives of two prosecutors, based on a justice confessor’s testimony, involving a gang rivalry from the Lushnja area. Given the vital security question this raises for law enforcement and judicial entities, what is your stance, Mr. President? 

President Begaj: Indeed, the news was startling. Upon hearing it, I immediately contacted the head of the Special Anti-Corruption and Organized Crime Structure (SPAK) and expressed my willingness about the event on behalf of our institution. The battle against Organized Crime is constant, and we must secure personal safety for all those, including their families, who are combating it. It’s a daily struggle, and we need to back them in every situation. 

Blendi Fevziu: But surely, it’s essential to also reinforce laws against such actions, correct? Taking the life of someone in the line of duty fighting crime should incur a particularly harsh legal penalty, shouldn’t it? 

President Begaj: Absolutely. I’m particularly appreciative and value the meeting organized with the High Judicial Council, the Interior Minister, the Heads of the State Police, and the National Guard, to explore ways of supporting them. It is crucial that we not merely respond to incidents after they occur but also take necessary preventive actions for the safety of the public and those combatting crime. 

Blendi Fevziu: Mr. President, there have been ongoing comments about your work with Prime Minister Rama, unlike in the past. How would you describe your relationship with him? 

President Begaj: My relationship with the Prime Minister is purely institutional, as it is with all institutional leaders, wherein we undertake a constitutional, legal, and institutional assessment for any significant matter. 

Blendi Fevziu: Have there been any clashes, or has everything been orderly? 

President Begaj: Our relations have been very orderly and institutional. 

Blendi Fevziu: One last question: This has been an impressive year for Albania in terms of tourism, with visitor numbers exceeding even our most optimistic forecasts. How do you assess this year, and does this bolster Albania’s international image? 

President Begaj: Indeed, a surge in tourism enhances Albania’s reputation. Albania has earned international recognition for its foreign policy, whether in the Security Council or its alignment with the European Union, and assuredly, the enhancement of economic and tourist conditions, particularly along the Albanian coast, has attracted a high number of tourists who have chosen to visit Albania. We must diligently work to assure optimal conditions for visitors, so the quality of tourism will be even higher next year. 

Blendi Fevziu: I’ve noticed you’ve toured various places in Albania and attended various events. Have hospitality and accommodation infrastructures evolved in Albania? 

President Begaj: I can assure you that Albanian hospitality remains top-notch. This year, I visited various municipalities and locations, witnessing firsthand the significant role ordinary people’s hospitality plays. 

Blendi Fevziu: One final question: Where is your preferred vacation spot in Albania? 

President Begaj: My favorite place? 

Blendi Fevziu: Yes! 

President Begaj: In Qerret (laughs) 

Blendi Fevziu: Is that where you spend most of your vacation? 

President Begaj: That’s where I spend it. 

Blendi Fevziu: Thank you, Mr. President, for this interview! I appreciate it very much! 

President Begaj: The pleasure is mine! Thank you very much!