Presidenti i Republikës së Shqipërisë

Interviews, News

Interview with the President of the Republic, His Excellency Bajram Begaj, for the TV program “Real Story” on “ABC News”, conducted by journalist Sokol Balla

Sokol Balla: Welcome to “Real Story”! I extend a warm welcome to the program to the first citizen of the Republic of Albania, President Bajram Begaj.

Mr. President, good evening. Thank you for being with me tonight on “Real Story”. It’s a pleasure.

President Begaj: Thank you for the invitation. It’s my pleasure as well.

Balla: I’m delighted that an old friend of mine holds this position today, just as with Igli, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs. It’s heartening to note that, even in Albania, there are individuals who acquire prestigious positions as career highlights rather than as a result of sponsorships. Nevertheless, let’s discuss your visit to New York as the head of the largest-ever Albanian delegation, which includes the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. What does this mean for you as the President, given it’s your visit, indeed of the highest level?

President Begaj: Participation in the United Nations General Assembly carries significant weight. State leaders are invited to share their concerns and, of course, their visions. Today’s challenges are shared challenges, evident during the Covid-19 pandemic, subsequent crises post Russia’s unjustifiable aggression against Ukraine, felt by developing countries, and significant climate changes causing immense harm to our planet. Attending the UN General Assembly is a responsibility, and this forum provides an opportunity to voice matters concerning Albanians, especially those living outside Albania.

Balla: When you refer to outside Albania, do you mean Kosova?

President Begaj: We indeed discuss the situation in Kosova and the circumstances of Albanians in the Presheva Valley.

Balla: You shared a lovely photo of yourself with the President of Kosova, Vjosa Osmani, with the caption “Together”.

President Begaj: Of course, we are together. We are one nation and two states. The Albanian nation has proven to have a European spirit and a Euro-Atlantic trajectory in its DNA. In this journey, which is the dream of all Albanians, we must be together with Kosova.

Balla: Sometimes it seems we don’t think alike, at least at the executive level. However, I’ve noticed you have a special relationship with the head of state, Mrs. Osmani.

President Begaj: I’m glad my communication with the President of the Republic of Kosova is at these levels. Our communication is excellent, and I naturally have good relations with every Albanian and every citizen of Albania based on the Constitution of the Republic of Albania. Our relations should be consolidated. I refer to it as a relationship between siblings in a family, whereas the President of Kosovo as a relationship between a sister and a brother.

Balla: Do you think relations at other levels should be the same?

President Begaj: That’s how they are.

Balla: Is it the same at the Prime Ministerial level?

President Begaj: That’s exactly how it is. You have an incorrect perception.

Balla: We wish it were like that…

President Begaj: Although it may appear that way to you, our relationships are terrific.

Balla: We really want Albania, Kosova, and all Albanians to always look towards the West and uphold Euro-Atlantic values. Mr. President, you have your agenda during these days in the USA. How significant is the situation for Albania, which has recently assumed the Presidency of the Security Council? Albania’s name has also stood out because the USA and the Republic of Albania co-signed many resolutions over the past 18 months.

President Begaj: The agenda for participation at the United Nations General Assembly is pre-determined, including the delegation head’s speech, scheduled for the 21st. There will also be meetings with heads of state with whom we have formal relations. But we also plan to meet with other countries to forge new friendships and advocate for the recognition of Kosova. This is my second mission at this forum. This week’s meetings also include meetings with the Albanian diaspora. As I previously stated, the diaspora is a significant economic and intellectual force for our country, and their right to vote is undeniable. I believe the Electoral Reform Commission will consider their voting request for the upcoming elections.

Balla: I apologize for interrupting, but I’ve strongly supported this idea myself. Political parties constantly promise to make it happen, but they never do, as evidenced by the recent electoral reform. However, this will be the first electoral reform under your presidency. How will you ensure this promise is intact for the 2025 elections?

President Begaj: No matter who the President is, all Albanian citizens with voting rights who are residing overseas are denied this right. I’ve also highlighted the need for electoral reform and political consensus to enable this category to vote during the opening session of the Parliament. I’ll make every effort to make this happen. It’s a promise from the political parties and a decision by the Constitutional Court addressed to the Parliament regarding citizens’ voting rights abroad.

Balla: This is excellent news if it comes to fruition. You’re committed to it.

President Begaj: Can I continue with the second part of your question since you interrupted me? Because the question you just posed about Albania’s representation on the Security Council or the success story of Albania’s leadership of the OSCE is very interesting.

Of course, all the international positions granted to Albania are not personal favors or personal honors. They are all well-deserved, demonstrating that the international community is convinced of Albania’s political maturity. This has been evident in our leadership of the OSCE and presiding over the Security Council in the past two years. In this interview, I want to express my gratitude to the United States for its support and assistance to our team, especially as co-penholders on the Ukrainian issue, where they strongly condemned Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and demanded accountability. I would also like to thank all our diplomats who, throughout our tenure at the Security Council, issued numerous statements related to human rights, peace, security, stability, and various other matters that the international community is very pleased with.

Balla: Mr. President, the annual assembly where heads of states, prime ministers, presidents, kings, princes, etc., gather is a remarkable event. Only when you attend do you truly understand the gravity and burden this city faces when the United Nations General Assembly convenes, discussing, as you mentioned, inter-state issues and other regional concerns. Rightly, as you said, your second mission is forging new contacts for Kosova’s recognition. Nevertheless, in foreign policy, we do face some regional challenges. You gracefully declined Prime Minister Mitsotakis’s invitation to attend an informal dinner in Greece, and to be honest, I felt this was the first sign in many years of our nation’s seriousness, which, regardless of internal discussions, maintains a unified external image: one face, one voice, one figure. I believe this was a good thing. However, the ongoing debate about the Beleri issue with Greece could again be the focus of your meetings with representatives from Greece.

President Begaj: I’m addressing the question, not your comment. Naturally, the international committee, the European Union, and our strategic partner, the United States, support the Republic of Albania’s foreign policy. It aligns with the EU and the USA; such a foreign policy develops over time. Of course, an invitation from counterparts or heads of states is welcomed. To my knowledge, I haven’t declined any such invitation. Yes, the invitation was considered, and a response was sent, seeking understanding for not attending this informal dinner due to a prior engagement.

Balla: So, are you saying you would have attended the informal dinner if the Greek Republic’s Presidency had invited you?

President Begaj: I’m saying every invitation is appreciated and considered based on feasibility and existing agendas. Of course, such invitations are coordinated in advance by the respective cabinets.

Balla: Mr. President, the United States recently stated unequivocally, “Only the Albanian justice can address the Beleri issue.” Meaning that Albanian justice institutions should be heard on the case. Meanwhile, a foreign official source told me, “We didn’t invest in Albanian justice for nothing. The reform ensures its independence not only from the Albanian government but also from the Greek one.” What is your view as President on this?

President Begaj: As long as the issue is in the hands of justice, we should let justice be heard. All 140 deputies of the Albanian Parliament voted for a justice reform which is bearing fruit. Justice must be heard before anybody else, just like it would for any other citizen of the Republic of Albania.

Balla: You appointed Mr. Igli Hasani as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, a career diplomat inactive in politics. Firstly, I’d like your opinion on the Minister of Foreign Affairs, given that he is your main contact with the government due to constitutional duty. Secondly, do you think someone outside domestic politics should pursue foreign policy, or should it be a politically influential person?

President Begaj: We do not initiate the nomination or decree of someone as a minister solely on personal acquaintances. Indeed, the Council of Ministers who take the oath should be a team that closely collaborates with the President of the Republic. This is because, during that oath, everyone commits to serving the citizens’ best interests and upholding Albania’s dignity. As a result, the selection of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, whether from inside or beyond the political ranks, could be of better significance. What’s crucial is seriousness, maturity, and responsibility in fulfilling their duties. The role is crucial.

Balla: Mr. President, how hard is it – and I ask without drawing too much attention to it – for someone with a military background like you, transitioning from a significant position like the Chief of General Staff, to avoid political noise, especially from Tirana?

President Begaj: Please allow me to clarify that I do not define the state’s political noise. Obviously, we come from a legacy that lacked a foundation in democracy. Thus, I believe that political maturity in Albania has grown over time. Let’s not forget that we are a member of NATO, have chaired the OSCE, and are currently a non-permanent member of the Security Council with glowing reviews from the international community for our work. These are achievements that deserve recognition and respect.

Balla: Mr. President, excuse my persistence. As you mentioned previously, we have this long past, an unfortunate and aggressive transition. We also have a recent past where our national leaders, one of your predecessors, was highly active in his political actions. How do you manage to distance yourself from this aggressive political virus that tries to pull you into the political arena meanwhile, I know that you don’t take sides?

President Begaj: To recall the opening session of Parliament, I stated that petty political disputes should give way to real political debate. Political parties have a significant responsibility as they must prioritize the well-being of the citizens, especially in their home country – in this case, Albania. When they cross communication boundaries, they must return to debates worthy of democracy. In a democracy, ideas are debated, and the one with more votes wins.

Balla: Moreover, as you said, they must focus on the well-being of those who voted for them. I mention this because I recently interviewed the Prime Minister of Montenegro, Mr. Dritan Abazovic. It’s striking how an Albanian breaks the tradition, becoming the Prime Minister as a representative of a minority oppressed until a few years ago. He came into power without seeking revenge but instead worked towards the progress Montenegro had achieved one or two years ago: wages, pensions, and the highest economic growth in the region. Hence, given my occupation in politics, my question is, why do we find the amount of noise we hear daily to be so bothersome?

President Begaj: It is the President’s constitutional duty not to engage in daily politics but to uphold and implement the Constitution of the Republic of Albania responsibly and be above the political parties, serving as a unifying force. The election of an Albanian Prime Minister in Montenegro signifies the importance of Albanians in the region, acting as a strategic factor for peace, security, and stability. We cannot achieve economic, social, or environmental well-being without these.

Balla: Mr. President, thank you for this brief yet intriguing conversation. I hope we’ll have more extensive discussions soon, as the Albanian people are keen to know more about their President and his family. Best wishes!

President Begaj: Thank you very much for the interview.

Balla: It was a pleasure.