Presidenti i Republikës së Shqipërisë


President of the Republic, Mr. Bajram Begaj, from NATO’s Strategic Command for Operations in an interview with Albanian Public Radio-Television journalist Alban Dudushi, on the show “3D”

Journalist – Mr. President, you have just concluded your visit to NATO Headquarters, where you had a meeting with the Commander of Allied Forces, Mr. Cavoli.

Is there a message you can share with the public from this meeting and your entire visit?

President Begaj – Greetings, Alban! A pleasure! I just finished my meeting with General Cavoli, a friend of Albania and the Albanians, the Commander of NATO’s Strategic Command, Operational Command. The meeting was very fruitful. The discussion was comprehensive, regarding security as a whole, specifically regional security issues, the role of Albania as a NATO member country, and Albania’s contribution as a peace and stability factor in the Western Balkans region. I also thanked General Cavoli for all the support the Alliance has provided to Albania, most recently with the inauguration ceremony of the Tactical Air Base in Kuçova. Of course, we also discussed other matters of mutual interest.

Journalist – Meanwhile, we are in a context where the global situation is not the best possible. In fact, there are signals and warnings suggesting a situation that could escalate, becoming even more dangerous. What is Albania’s role within NATO in this context?

President Begaj – This issue was discussed with General Cavoli. As you also mentioned, the global security situation is unstable. Various challenges and threats are destabilizing the world order. Indeed, we must be prepared. Being a NATO member country gives us the opportunity to discuss potential scenarios of these crises and how to address them with other allies. Naturally, addressing challenges and threats cannot be done alone; we must all be united, as we are in the Alliance. Albania makes a tremendous contribution to the Alliance and, as a NATO member country, assesses the risks and threats of global and local situations. Based on this, the country’s strategic documents, such as the National Security Strategy, which was approved a month ago in parliament, are developed.

These scenarios are then addressed by the Albanian state, and responsible institutions take measures to implement them. Certainly, Albania’s contribution to NATO is valued. We also discussed Albania’s participation and increased contribution in various missions, especially in Kosova with KFOR. An important thing, which was mentioned and praised by partners and General Cavoli, was the message that every other country should do what Albania did this year: realizing a budget of 2% of the Gross Domestic Product for the Armed Forces. This way, we can invest in the modernization of our Armed Forces and in the enhancement of defensive capabilities. By increasing national defensive capabilities, we will be able to contribute even more to the Alliance.

Journalist – Is a budget of 2% enough for a country like Albania, which has shortages, let’s say? You were previously the Chief of General Staff and are well aware of the condition of the Albanian army, its armament, and all the equipment an army needs to be capable, modern, and able to handle crises, within the region or even more broadly? Is 2% enough?

President Begaj – From a financial perspective, 2%, or a little more, are never enough to meet all needs. We say that achieving the 2% of the Gross Domestic Product allocated for defense spending is a success because it is the fulfillment of the objective undertaken at Wells, according to which every NATO country should spend 2% of its Gross Domestic Product on defense and 20% of this amount should be spent on the modernization of the Armed Forces. Therefore, I believe that achieving this objective, as anticipated in the Wells Summit, is a success. I believe that in the coming years the budget will increase further and will become the subject of fulfilling the demands or needs of the Armed Forces, which need more modernization projects, enhancement of defense power, or assessment of the military personnel of the Armed Forces.

Journalist – I insist on our role in this grand concert of allied countries. We are a small country, after all, without numerical weight. That is, without a large army or significant military power. On the other hand, it seems like a fly riding on the back of an elephant, in a sense. What is the specific weight of Albania in this crisis situation? In fact, our security depends on the security that comes from NATO, our major allies, such as the USA. Not just us, but Kosova as well.

President Begaj – In fact, let me correct you; I do not agree with your comment. We are a small country, but I assure you that despite this, Albania’s weight and contribution are extraordinarily valued and significant in the Alliance. Our Armed Forces are present in all NATO missions. We have been evaluated in the Force Generation Conference because Albania will again increase its contribution, which shows that Albania, despite being small, has the utmost appreciation from the allies. Certainly, the country’s defense, as you said, has the support of the Alliance and our strategic ally, the USA, but I assure you that the defense of the country, besides being based on Article 5 of the Alliance, must also fulfill Article 3, strengthening the country’s defensive capabilities. We are working harder so that the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces fulfill this constitutional duty to defend the country.

Journalist – You mentioned earlier the operational air base in Kuçova, inaugurated last week, a very important event, naturally valued by our allies. There has been a long-standing idea from the Prime Minister and you about the Porto Romano base. Did you discuss with General Cavoli about Porto Romano port, to be put into operation for NATO? Has this idea progressed, and what needs to happen?

President Begaj – Of course, this topic had its place in our discussion. The opening ceremony of the Kuçova Tactical Air Base was highly appreciated, which, for Albania and the Armed Forces, is a strategic investment, while for NATO, it’s a strengthening of capabilities in that region. NATO is a military and political-military organization, where strength is not only in the military but also in politics and diplomacy. Being in that region, NATO sends a strong message that, as a defensive organization, it has no other purpose. Through defense, it protects the democratic values it represents.

Naturally, we also discussed another major objective Albania has for providing a naval base to the Alliance, and Porto Romano has been evaluated by the Operational Command in Naples, it’s in NATO’s plans to be determined and designated as a supportive naval base for the Alliance.

Journalist – So, it’s not just our wish…

President Begaj – It’s not just a wish, but it has been included in NATO’s conceptual plans to receive its political approval because it is assessed from the military strategy perspective and then gets the political approval to be designated as a NATO naval base.

Journalist – Many people, even a recent comment from the Kuçova base was that, foreign journalists who came to Albania, were surprised by a people who are all enthusiastic about American bases or NATO bases coming to our country, while in other countries there have been protests when there have been bases. Meaning, there’s always a difference in the public stance on these issues, even more so when there are clashes between different pacifists and people who see NATO as a security umbrella for our entire hemisphere.

Without extending this, what is the concrete benefit for Albania, not just military, because that is the most apparent part, but in creating a base, such as Porto Romano? Meaning, putting it into operation as a base for NATO.

President Begaj – As I mentioned earlier, the inauguration of the Kuçova Tactical Air Base is an investment not only military, beneficial for the Armed Forces, but also a strategic investment for Albania in the region. Certainly, having in Albania a tactical air base or a naval base in function and at the service of the Alliance, offers greater security for sustainable economic development. The tourists who came to Albania last year, a considerable number of 10 million people, I believe will come even more knowing that in this country security is stable.

Journalist – On the other hand, it creates economic opportunities for the port in Durrës, Porto Romano, which, as discussed, is associated with Corridor 8 and with…

President Begaj – Certainly, from the geostrategic perspective, Albania’s position was also evaluated during the Defender Europe 21 exercise. The distance to reach from the Port of Durrës and to access the Black Sea is linked to the strategic investment of Corridor 8. This becomes possible between a sustainable investment and gives geostrategic importance to the entire region, not just us, but also to North Macedonia, Bulgaria, to finish up until…

Journalist – Albania benefits even better.

President Begaj – Albania is a step ahead for the entire region.

Journalist – In fact, we see, it has been commented by observers recently, that Albania has made qualitative moves, let’s say, in terms of its exposure as a country that begins and takes a specific weight for the entire region. I remember here some summits organized consecutively in Tirana, where the last was the reception of Mr. Zelensky, the Summit for Ukraine and Southeast Europe, and the next day the Western Balkans Summit. Before there have been other summits, such as the visit of Blinken, the American Secretary of State, also, in Tirana. It seems like there’s another dynamic in foreign policy, a dynamic that is changing this policy qualitatively in terms of Albania’s image and its positioning in the region as a country now with a specific weight.

President Begaj – All the events you mentioned are a success of Albania’s foreign policy. I remind you that in October last year, for the first time, the EU and Western Balkans Summit was organized outside the European Union. Understandably, there was some skepticism about the security and performance that would be secured or not for the successful conduct of this summit and other summits you just mentioned, accompanied by visits from heads of state or the Secretary of State recently. This shows that Albanian diplomacy, foreign policy, has been very active and has made it possible to raise the prestige of Albania in the international arena. Understandably, there were some tasks of Albanian diplomacy beforehand, which were related to the successful fulfillment of chairing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in its mandate. Likewise, even in our mandate during the Security Council for 2 years, which ended in January 2024. These mandates gave a specific diplomatic weight to Albania and raised its name very high.

Journalist – We have had tourism diplomacy. Now it seems like we have summit diplomacy, because it’s a kind of form to call as many world leaders with international weight to our country.

What would be the next summit that raises Albania to another quality?

President Begaj – The Prime Minister declared, I heard in the meeting we had, the generous offer of Albania to organize the NATO summit in 2027. I very much hope that all NATO member states, now there are 32, will raise their hands and accept Albania and Tirana as the organizer of this important summit.

Journalist – From this, in fact, would come other world figures who would be part of this summit, and all the more so now that the concept has been broken: can we organize these summits in Tirana, do we have the security or not in Albania.

It seems we are stable in foreign policy and, always in relation to the region, from time to time we have begun to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the region.

Meanwhile, Prishtina, because of the political context that exists there, is in a not very comfortable position with the allies. Do you have any advice? How do you see this? Or do you not see it as a division?

President Begaj – When I say that Albania has organized events, summits, decides to organize the NATO Summit in 2027, it contradicts what you said, that Albania is small and the contribution of Albania is small. No. Albania is small, but Albania’s contribution to foreign policy is very large, especially in the region. In the region, Albania and the Albanian factor is a contributing factor for peace, stability, sustainable development. Kosova is a part of us. We are two states, one nation. Naturally, it is Albania’s greatest interest, it is a constitutional obligation to care about Kosova. Kosova is now a reality that cannot be reversed. The integrity and sovereignty of Kosova is indisputable.

Lucky that in Kosova we also have KFOR, which is another success story of the Alliance, guarantees the security, defense of Kosova, the border of Kosova. But, every decision that Kosova must take, every important decision-making to implement the obligations that belong to it as a state, it would be good to be made with counseling, with obtaining consent, they should listen more to the advice received from the United States of America, the main partner, and the European Union.

Journalist – We are stable and are seen as a stable country in terms of our orientation. Indeed, not only us, but as you mentioned earlier, the entire Albanian space, in our pro-Atlantic, pro-Western orientation, we are in complete stability and are seen as such. Seeing the turbulences that other countries have, the divisions that public opinion in other countries has, such as Serbia, Montenegro, why not also the eastern part of North Macedonia. This, of course, honors us. But, when it comes to domestic policy, it seems that turbulences are not rare and easy. There are strong turbulences and we see these in the Parliament of Albania, which seems to have been out of function for a long time due to the opposition, a part of the opposition, which is in what it calls “action of civil disobedience”. Even this disobedience was so civil, that it forced you not to hold the speech at the opening of the new parliamentary session in January. Do you have a comment on this situation?

President Begaj – The spirit and Euro-Atlantic orientations of the Albanians are immutable. Exactly this thing that factors us not only in the region but also internationally. For this, we have the maximum appreciation as a country to be a contributing factor not only in the region but even more. Foreign policy is doing very well. We mentioned it and it is seen.

In domestic policy, in fact, you said that I did not speak in Parliament

Journalist – You spoke at the Presidency.

President Begaj – I made the speech I had to make.

The President has addressed the parliament at the start of every parliamentary session and in every message from the President you will read that the political forces in the country should contribute with ideas, programs, with debates, to produce laws for the good of the citizens. Reforms are made to have the interest of the citizens. The President does not interfere in the political agendas of any party. It also does not interfere in the political action they undertake. But, for one thing, it is certain that the President addresses with a message, expressing that they should think more about the national interest than the personal political interest.

Journalist – Mr. President, allow me to make a brief history of the perception of Presidents in our country, your predecessors.

I remember that after 1997, President Meidani had his moments of conflict with Prime Minister Nano, even though they were from the same party.

Consensus President Moisiu, after the “honeymoon” period he had with both political sides, came a moment when he created his own authority with Mr. Berisha, who returned in 2005 as Prime Minister.

Then, Mr. Bamir Topi had his moments of clashes, especially with the majority. Mr. Bujar Nishani, also, with Prime Minister Rama after the first period when Prime Minister had Mr. Berisha, to come then to Mr. Ilir Meta, who had an almost open clash with the majority and, in a sense, in defense of the opposition action at that time.

You, until now, have not been seen, you have avoided. Even though you have been called to battle, you have avoided battles with political sides. Do you have within you the fear that perhaps this avoidance might perceive you either to the public or to politics, as a weak President?

President Begaj – Perception from the political side does not worry me. It worries me more if the President of the Republic is at the height of the duty he represents, or not. Does it implement the Constitution of the Republic of Albania? This worries me more.

Practically, I think that in the role I am in, the President of the Republic cannot be part of the politics of the day. The President should stay in his constitutional position, which is the neutral position, that lets political parties debate, do their work, and, at the moment when the President’s Institution and the President are required to take into account a certain issue, of course, it will be involved.

Journalist – I want to insist on this point a bit. There are two elements at this moment when there’s a clash between the majority and the opposition, and the parliament is not functioning normally. Does the President have a role to play, even to call the parties to a discussion to resolve the conflict? That’s the first point. Secondly, you often mention that you have not returned any decrees. Is there any decree in line that is expected to be returned?

President Begaj – It’s not true that I haven’t returned laws. It’s not true that the President has only returned the law on decorations because it violates his constitutional interest. The President has also returned other laws and remained silent on others. However, naturally, the return of a law is not based on personal bias but on the Constitution. If a specific law violates the Constitution, it’s certainly returned. The President is not guided by emotions but by what he represents. Of course, they might say, and might seek more debate from the President’s side. I think the Constitution gives the President some limitations, which he cannot exceed and cannot be involved in a political ideological debate that political parties have with each other. However, with public messages, as recently as January 15, the President has called on political forces for a functional parliament, accountability, transparency for the laws passed. I strongly echo the message that the opposition is necessary for the country; it’s essential.

Journalist – There’s another debate in Albania today regarding the new justice institutions, especially the SPAK.

Firstly, it must be said there’s public enthusiasm. This is evident from polls on the work being done by the SPAK, but we have political attacks. On closer inspection, there are explicit political attacks from the leader of what we call the Democratic Party, Re-establishment, Mr. Berisha, which are harsh attacks, calling the SPAK even a criminal organization, but there are also attacks from the Prime Minister, naturally more measured, more softened. The latest was an interview given to News Bomb, which speaks of, let’s say, overreaches by prosecutors and officers of the BKH.

I wanted your opinion on the SPAK’s work so far.

President Begaj – The SPAK and BKH, along with the new justice institutions, have been approved and function based on a justice reform, which was passed in the Albanian parliament with the maximum number of 140 votes. The implementation of this reform so far has found the maximum support of international actors. Therefore, the SPAK, BKH, and other justice institutions have not only had political support from international actors but also financial support. Fortunately, in all public surveys, we see that the SPAK and BKH have wide popular support, and lately, people believe that the justice bodies are working to deliver justice.

Certainly, I think and strongly believe these bodies will continue to carry this trust from international actors and the public to the end. For me, the SPAK and BKH have maximum support. It’s an independent institution and should continue doing its duty.

Journalist – You said they have maximum support from international actors.

President Begaj – And mine.

Journalist – Of course, yours. I was listing them.

They have maximum support from international actors, enthusiasm, and support from the public in Albania. The majority has also declared: We support the SPAK. A clear part of the opposition has declared they support the SPAK to the end. You say we support the SPAK and the justice institutions unreservedly. The problem is that all this support might create an illusion to those there, that they are untouchable and it’s taboo to criticize them, and tomorrow or the day after, (this is an opinion that circulates), let’s say a doubt that circulates, we might find ourselves in a situation of a “republic of prosecutors.”

President Begaj – I think these institutions are not beyond control. The performance evaluation of the SPAK, the Court Against Corruption and Organized Crime, is done by the established justice institutions, and there’s no place to have this kind of doubt. The performance evaluation of everyone will be done. Certainly, those who do not meet the criteria or are under-evaluated will be removed. But I don’t think there should be any fear about this.

Journalist – Mr. President, let’s return once more to your visit here, and this will be the final question, to conclude.

You will soon have a meeting with the Albanian personnel at the NATO headquarters.

What is your message to them?

President Begaj – They might call me biased towards my previous profession as a military officer because every visit of mine abroad is indeed tied to meeting our troops or representatives on missions. It’s a pleasure and an honor to meet these people who represent Albania in such high military and civilian institutions. Indeed, the meeting with them is a privilege, to thank them and to express gratitude for the work they do. Being a military officer, besides being a profession like any other to earn a monthly income to support the family, on the other hand, I see it as a mission, a national pride, representing the homeland, protecting interests, and elevating the name of Albania.

Journalist – Mr. President, I thank you for being in this interview for the Albanian Public Radio-Television and the “3D” show!

President Begaj – Thank you, Alban, for the opportunity! It was a pleasure!