NEW YORK: There are few forms of human suffering in the world today that Albania, a Balkan country, has not experienced throughout its suffering-filled journey in the 20th century.e century.
Albania experienced an isolation comparable to that of North Korea when the repressive Stalinist dictatorship that ruled it from 1945 to 1985 cut it off from outside information and influences, not to mention its failure to be a country historically obscure and inaccessible.
Enver Hoxha cut ties not only with the West, but also with the former Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union itself, and ultimately China.
Under his 41-year rule, Albanians had experienced what contemporary Syrians know only very well — the cruelty and absurdity of life under a totalitarian regime, with countless deaths and the enforced disappearance of loved ones in prison camps, while the rest of the country plunged into economic deprivation and misery.
Like the Lebanese and Yemenis of today, the Albanians then had known only a life of queuing for bread and fuel.
The grand Ponzi scheme to which the Lebanese have woken up and which they continue to suffer from since 2019 also has a precedent in Albania. In the 1990s, the country was rocked by the dramatic rise and collapse of pyramid schemes, but in a more literal sense.
Hundreds of thousands of Albanians lost their savings. As the systems collapsed, riots broke out across the country, the government fell, the nation descended into anarchy and a near-civil war ensued, in which 2,000 Albanians were killed .
And like Afghans, Ukrainians and the more than 200 million other migrants on the move in the world today, Albanians know the pain of exile and displacement. During the civil war, they fled the country en masse. Many Albanians who tried to escape were shot. Again, in the late 1990s, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians fled Kosovo to escape marauding Serbian forces.
But the break has come. In December 1990, just over a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the communist government of Albania fell, marking the end of history, after which Albania could only follow one path. — towards capitalism, democracy and freedom.
Ferit Hoxha, Albania’s permanent representative to the United Nations, clearly remembers a world violently split in two: before and after authoritarian communism.
He stated to Arab News: “I grew up in a country where there is only one newspaper, only one voice, only one line, and where one does not have the right to think. My parents told me to think twice about what I said and who I said it to.
“Freedom begins when you question what you hear. Freedom doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. No. Freedom is built through institutions, laws, rules, accountability, justice,” he added.
The quest for freedom has a deep resonance in a country like Albania, whose chronicle of political history, according to Hoxha, has a recurring theme: domination.
“Through the centuries, Albanians have fought to really find their place, their rights to define their future. They haven’t always had the opportunity,” he said. He mentioned that Albanians have always resisted thanks to “language, culture, identity”.
He recalled a time when his country was an outcast in the world. “And certainly when you’re a small country and not a big country like we were then, you’re just forgotten. You may think you are the center of the world, but in reality you are forgotten.
Thirty years later, Albania is all but forgotten. As the world experiences unprecedented upheaval, with misfortunes ranging from the coronavirus pandemic and war in Ukraine to drought and impending famine in Somalia, Albania has been one of the strongest voices in defending those left behind from its seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Member countries, who often campaign for years for a seat, have a say in the Council’s peacekeeping missions and other approaches to hotspots of conflict, as well as a strong voice in international peace and security issues.
How did this happen? What, over the past 30 years, has made Albania go from being a pariah state to that of a great defender of universal values on the international scene?
Hoxha clarified, “What happened was a transformation. The progress and changes seen (in the early 1990s) were unlike anything Albania had seen in the past 2,500 years. The change was so radical, the desire so strong, and the transformation so profound.”
He is aware that Albania’s painful past will seem familiar to people in many countries, even in these postmodern times.
His impassioned speeches to the Security Council carry with them the conviction of lived experience. When he included the Charter of the United Nations and the universal principles in his declarations, these took on a new meaning. His words in the room take on the sound of truth and clarity.
At a recent Security Council meeting on Syria, for example, Hoxha began by saying that there was no other place in the world where the phrase ‘no end in sight’ applied. than in Syria.
He stressed that after 11 years of violence and “all the crimes committed by many, but especially by the regime that started it all, the solution in Syria now lies in the political process, and I do not believe there will be a meaningful political process without accountability”.
Hoxha added: “If I were an elderly person in Syria today, despite all that I may have suffered, despite the number of my family members who are dead or missing among the 130,000 missing, and despite the fact that many members of my family are in the regime’s notorious prisons, I would ask myself a question: Can I build my future with the same people? Can I build my future with the same domination of one part of the country over all the rest?
“If the answer is yes, then we are going to see the next chapter of the war begin.”
“Because there is one thing we have learned through thousands of years of Albanian rule — at the end of the day, whatever we do, people want freedom, peace and prosperity. Deep down inside you have this burning desire to really live a worthy life. There is no human being on Earth who would like to live without a minimum of dignity,” he said.
He continued: “That is why for me, without accountability, Syria will see no end.”
From Palestine to Yemen, via Libya and Lebanon, there was one commonality, according to Hoxha, and that was “instability.” While every situation is unique, Hoxha blames the instability on political classes that have failed to unite or move from their narrow interests to those of their people and their country.
He added: “This is one of the great weaknesses of the political class. When the political class is not really able to unite, then you have weak institutions that do not allow the country to really move forward.
“So there is a big test of maturity for many countries to acquire. Do we want to build things for all of us, or just for some of us?
Hoxha said, “That’s why we are now so keen to support the truce, extend it and resolve the remaining issues, such as road closures in and out of Taiz, lack of cooperation from Houthis, etc.
“There is one thing we have learned through the thousands of years of Albanian rule — at the end of the day, whatever we do, people want freedom, peace and prosperity.”
Ferit Hoxha, Permanent Representative of Albania to the UN
In Libya, the problem was legitimacy, according to Hoxha.
He said, “Today we have two governments in Libya, two parallel frameworks and nothing good can come of it until some legitimacy is restored.”
Just as Albania had friends supporting its people as it struggled to find its bearings in a new world after years of isolation, Hoxha believes the Middle East can benefit from ‘positive energy’ that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries can breathe into an otherwise miserable region.
Hoxha stressed that their role was nowhere more necessary than in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He described Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf countries as important players that are becoming more active.
Hoxha continued, “Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries can be extremely helpful in advancing not only the cause of women, peace and security, and advancing rights everywhere, but also, more than anything, they can help infuse the countries of the greater Middle East with positive energy, to enable them to emerge from the rut in which they have been stuck for 70 years or more.”
Hoxha said the power of the Gulf countries was “tremendous”, their influence was growing and their capacity was there, but they needed to act in a more coordinated way.
“Because they are important in their own right, but they also have friends and connections with other powers. And I hope that will be used not only bilaterally, but also regionally and globally, to really push for peace and for a solution for the Middle East.”
“We are asking for a bigger and better coordinated role with other actors to make sure we have a process that would really help everyone move forward in the most complex and tragic conflict we have seen since the Second World War, namely the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he argued.
This text is the translation of an article published on Arabnews.com