Statement of Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Ditmir Bushati to the Conference to Advance Religious Freedoms 26th of July, Washington D.C

Dear Secretary Pompeo,

Dear the President of the Session,

Dear Colleges,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the outset, I would like to thank US Department of State and the Secretary Pompeo on convening us here in Washington DC to discuss and exchange views on the freedom of religion which is one of the most fundamental freedoms that a society can and should give to its citizens. It is also significant that this conference is held in the United States of America, a country whose own existence is based on freedom of religion. I take this opportunity to express also our determination to host a similar conference, in close cooperation with you, in our region.

Freedom of religion is a prerequisite for a country’s social and economic development. It allows us to think, express and act upon on what we believe. It is also a multifaceted issue that is closely related, among others, to the protection of human rights, economic development, social cohesion and security issues in the broader sense of the word.

Often, we are facing a false opposition between two fundamental rights, freedom of religion on one hand and freedom of speech and expression on the other hand. This false opposition demands a serious discussion about the role of religion and secularism in public and political life, as well as about the ability to speak freely while not causing injuries to the beliefs of others.

I believe that far from opposition, these two fundamental rights are very much related to each other. After all, historically, freedom of speech emerged out of debated concerning religious tolerance. Nowadays, religion has gained special importance specifically in the context of extremist groups who try to distort the fundamental rules of true religious doctrine by instrumentalizing the differences between different faiths. In the current complex state of affairs we are living at, the questions posed are not so simple. How to tackle the rising religious conflicts? How to improve dialogue between religious communities in order to provide a channel of communication, not a divisive wall? How to reduce discrimination of minority religious communities? How to bridge the gap between religious communities? How far should the government intervene in regulating religious life overall? How to handle religious fanatism and terrorism and its spill over effect of terrorist fighters returning to their own countries of origin?

We must work together in addressing these common challenges, with our neighbours at the regional and sub-regional level.

Since 2015, Albania has invested tremendous time, energy and resources in building a regional network of coordinators and institutions focused on countering violent terrorism. Indeed, we integrate countering violent terrorism in our national security strategy and the office of official coordinators work in tandem with all institutions in daily basis. We have expanded our circle of collaborators and partners in the area of violent extremism and terrorism, working closely with U.S., whose assistance in this respect is very much appreciated.

In order to reduce differences and improve understanding and empathy, we have to appeal to education as the first step and the most important basis for the formation of human personality. This is why in Albania we started in cooperation with the UN, a program in developing curricula on history of religious and universal values which are enshrined in every religion. Being a multi-confessional country, we know how fragile tolerance and coexistence can be, particularly in complex times like these. Therefore, teaching and learning of what unites rather than what divides different religions, for us is a matter of ethical as well as pragmatic nature.

Another challenge we need to tackle jointly is economic development and employment prospects. The lack of perspective can push young people to the arms of sinister actors who seek to win their hearts and minds.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are a small country, but with a strong traditional interreligious harmony. Four Roman Catholic Popes were of Albanian descent. Mother Teresa, a great and humble woman whose worldwide known charity work earned a Nobel Prize, was Albanian.

Nowadays there are 5 religious communities who live in harmony. In reality, this climate of coexistence and cooperation between different kinds of religions in Albania encouraged Pope Francis to undertake His first European visit to Albania in 2014. From Tirana He addressed to the whole World by saying: “What is happening in Albania shows, though, that peaceful and fruitful coexistence between people and communities with different religious affiliations is not only desirable, but possible and realistic. This is something of value which needs to be protected and nourished each day, by providing an education which respects differences and particular identities, so that dialogue and cooperation for the good of all may be promoted and strengthened. It is a gift which we need to implore from God in prayer”.

Thank you for your attention.


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