Undivided for Albania

Speech of Prime Minister Edi Rama at the opening of the first Summit of the Albanian Diaspora:


Dearest President of the Republic of Kosovo, my dearest friend, Hashim Thaçi!

Dearest fellow nationals!

Ladies and gentlemen!

Let me thank all of you without exception for being here, thank you for sharing among you the news about this first meeting of the Albanian peregrinators in the home country, to meet and hear each other, share concerns and ideas about where we are and where we want to go together, divided by geography but united in the land of our spiritual Albania. The Albania of our forefathers and of our children who will have children, here or anywhere in this world that today provides us with terrific opportunities to communicate and interact through infinite digitals networks that zero the physical distance from the homeland when it comes to speaking to each other about projects and work plans.  

I thank also those who, although they were not able to be here physically, are with us spiritually, or also virtually thanks to high-tech communication and interaction. Many of you don’t know this Palace, the Palace of Brigades or the palace of the great loneliness, a kind of narcissist that has been contemplating itself in its isolation until being flooded by sadness, since the first day its construction was completed and for many years after, when Albania was transformed from kingdom to dictatorship, and from dictatorship to democracy.   

This is the last royal palace built in Europe, which makes it unique among other similar palaces, both in terms of architecture or in terms of its interior design, thanks also to Gio Ponti, a great master who was asked by the promoter king to deliver this service, and who is today widely regarded as one of the fathers of modern design. But this is the only palace in the world where no king has ever slept a single night. This is a separate story within the history of the Albanian kingdom itself which was created by the will of a former Interior Minister, later Prime Minister, just when the ideology of the new world threatened to transform in ruins the old world.

Since a few years we’ve opened the doors of this Palace for those who embody the strength of a dream, for the excellent students, the distinguished professionals, prominent artists, skilled and respected people of the Albanian community, where the good examples are often underestimated or forgotten in the multitude of protagonists or of the expressions of everyday banality that have invaded the virtual scene in which the public life of today’s Albanians is reflected. This building ordered by the king was baptized by its new owners in 1944 as the Palace of Brigades, and in fact it remained locked as if it were the prison of the old world which was reversed along with the reactionary class declared as an enemy by the dictatorship of the proletariat, making the members of that class flee away and join the Albanian diaspora in the United States, Europe or anywhere else in the world.

Your meeting this evening in this Palace was as much unimaginable with the eyes of the past as it is inspiring with the eyes of the future. And since you are here this evening in this Palace that is still hidden for many, - you are here so that you can be tomorrow and the day after tomorrow together with us in order to think, speak, share opinions, discuss and decide on how we can unite the strength of our dreams, ideas and also of money, and make next generation Albania better, stronger and more prosperous, - allow me to confess you a little secret.

In September 2015, I was in New York to attend the next session of the United Nations. That organization, the most unifying in the world, was pompously celebrating its 70th anniversary, and at the same time there was in New York also the exemplary embodiment of the largest European diaspora in America, the Italian diaspora, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, better known as Pope Francis. On that day of a special emotional intensity, I had the chance to meet many Albanians, whether collectively through their organized networks, or individually with friends or with unknown Albanians in the streets of New York, or even at an internationally acclaimed Albanian table in New York, that of Bruno’s, together with the President of Kosovo Hashim Thaçi. Actually we had been trying since long to find new ways and increasingly involve diaspora in the life of our country, but surely that special frame of circumstances in the heart of that volcano of dreams, which the United States are, and just in New York, the capital city of all of diasporas, made Linda, my spouse, who had joined us at that table, launch the initial idea of this Summit.  

It's no secret that I am a stubborn man, but seeing the success of the origins of this initiative, I do not want to keep secret the truth that sometimes I like my wife’s ideas better than those of my own. Therefore, I beg your pardon if I act as an atypical Albanian man and thank Linda, who could not be here because she has to take care of the “next generation Albania” we have at home. I thank also with brotherhood feelings my friend Hashim who told me “Go for it”, as soon as he heard of that idea.

The documentary that was just screened reminded me a somehow paraphrased quote by Gustav Mahler: memories and traditions embodying ashes are not their worship, but rather the care about the lively flame which should never be extinguished. Gustav Mahler, a brilliant composer, deeply romantic and European, was a Jew who converted to Catholicism due to the power of the Christian aesthetics, and therefore he used to say he was three times a stateless person; Bohemian in Austria, Austrian in Germany and a Jew around the world. And surprisingly, progress and vocation for integration, and their adaptability, have made Albanians since long capable and open to the three gifts that seem to be almost innate; have a foster homeland, another homeland selected as the destination of the dream for their own homeland, and also to preserve and cultivate what I would call not the homeland of the heart, for after all the heart has its ups and downs, but the homeland of the roots.

I’d like to recall here before you the enigmatic nun in the movie “La Grande Bellezza”. She would feed herself only with roots, and when asked why she did this, her answer was: “Because roots are important”. The roots that keep today the foundation of both our homes in the middle of Europe, of Albania and Kosovo, have already created since centuries that green and vast crown that keeps increasingly intertwining to bear new fruit of the coming generations, in addition to the fruit borne by past generations.

Had there been foreign diplomats, today, in this evening that is exclusively yours, in this Palace that belongs to all of you as much as it belongs to its own history, I’m afraid that there would have been panic that, through my descriptions of the Albanian roots and greenery, I am stealthily evoking the natural Albania, or even worse, the Greater Albania.

But, in fact, here you are today, nearly a thousand people from 40 countries around the world, from USA to Australia, from Egypt to Scandinavia, from the Presevo Valley to Greece, from Macedonia to Montenegro, not as peregrinators of the ghost of two empty concepts that fill so much the ultranationalist propaganda "in favour" or "against" Albania, but as the most authentic embodiment of what I like to call and look at with much hope as the Albania of the many sons and daughters who, regardless of where they live on this land, are fed with its roots, of this small portion of land that is called the homeland of the Albanians. For roots are important. 

Since the French and industrial revolution put on the tracks of progress the human locomotive more than two centuries ago, the famous call of Guizot, a French intellectual and liberal statesman has been echoing: “Enrichissez-vous”/”Enrich yourselves”.  

For this writer and historian, and also Prime Minister for some time, who ranked France among the most open countries to development, this call had within the thrilling message to counter a mind-set according to which people are called in a war against the rich on behalf of the poor.

Meanwhile countries get rich by creating for people freedom and fair competition to get rich, and not by fighting those who get rich thanks to their talent, courage and will. For the affluent, the talented, the wise, the courageous and the strong-willed people who pave successfully their path, cannot be the problem of poor countries. Poverty is. And poverty is rooted in the lack of freedom and knowledge.

With its thousand gazes, its thousand personal and collective histories, the Albanian Diaspora is the root of a high trunk of fantastic experiences, made possible precisely by freedom and knowledge. And getting closer to diaspora and doing more for diaspora, Albania and Kosovo can become the land where diaspora’s fantastic experiences will thrive in both our homes, with freedom and knowledge.

Without diaspora, Albania is more curtailed than a territory fragmented in thousands of pieces. Without each of you and of those whom you represent here, we are an unfulfilled, incomplete community that cannot develop its potential. Therefore, being grateful to you who have travelled from 40 countries to be here, is the least we can say.

By answering a call which we launched like a bottle in the open sea, you became, perhaps until today, the only living refutation of the great father of the nation in diaspora, who, although he was very cynical, was for the sake of truth unfortunately almost always right when he talked about the Albanians. In a letter to Visar Dodani, a distinguished member of the Bucharest colony, in 1897 Faik Bey Konica wrote: “I have no hope that anything is going to be done, and I am sure that those who think a little bit will agree with me. In order for us to have some hope, Albanians should have today sound committees in a thousand countries, we should have propagandists who go village to village across Albania, they should have newspapers in all the lands of Europe, but they have nothing, and what is worse, the rich don’t say a word, the indigent don’t work.”

In the 19th century, Albania couldn’t rely yet fully on her children separated due to misery and oppression. They fought just to survive. It was the first generation of the Albanian diaspora having however a national consciousness.

In the past 25 years after the fall of the dictatorship, despite its poverty which was not as much material as it was moral, and the political stagnation that risked to turn into a national infirmity, Albania became for diaspora some sort of fruitless destination; some sort of destitute edifice, some sort of heritage limited by debts.

Whereas the money you’ve sent, your investments, the limitless support and the fantastic lobbying which all of you and all of those whom you represent have been doing for the homeland, where the most brilliant example in history remains your support for a free Kosovo, without asking almost anything in return, are not only the most direct support that you might have given to your relatives in Albania, Kosovo, and to their societies on their arduous path to recovery, but they’re the most meaningful example of what Albanians can do, if they succeed in joining together.

And all this and many other things which can be brought to attention and which will undoubtedly be talked about during these two days, are lessons for us who should be aware once and for all that Albania is your country as much as it is ours.

Meanwhile, if we see what have done for Albania those who fled, it seems that Albania was more theirs than ours, in terms of love, devotion and unconditional loyalty to the country. Rather than a shame, it’s not quite a small consolation saying that due to you, due to the way you act and live, due to the way you experience your homeland, we should understand here in Albania how and how much more we can and must love our country.

Albanian Diaspora is in fact a true school of life. It has been a true school of life for all those who fled later and was taken by the hand from those whom they met abroad, but it’s a true school of life for us who are were, and just as those whom you found there have taken you by the hand and have helped you in your first steps towards success, diaspora also must help Albania and take it by the hand in its first steps towards success.

I’m telling you this very frankly. Perhaps we’ve got nothing to teach you, but we have organized this summit because we are aware that we have much to learn from you. And what we want, what I dream, is that this Summit of Diaspora will turn into a seasonal university that instead of hosting the omniscient people of a society that does nothing but talks, will host success stories, the human stories of those who might have become very famous, or of those whom nobody knows, stories that will make all of us without distinction proud of our national fellows. Proud also of those here among you who are totally unknown to the public, but who on their life path, in the countries where they live, have done as Albanians much more than many others here in Albania who flaunt their deeds on every television and on every podium.

And our goal for this summit is simple, because it is straightforward. We have neither a prescribed receipt nor a project already prepared, and we don’t want the summit to be a theatre where we pretend we gathered, talked, decided, and at the very end you leave without leaving behind any imprint of your experience. What we want is sit together, speak frankly, look at each other in the eyes in order to better understand what we can do more together, and obviously to better plan together what we can invest for next generation Albania in terms of knowledge and money. This is what we’ll try to do during these two days and afterwards.    

I want to apologize to everyone who is following us right now, probably feeling eager to be here but didn’t receive an invitation. I want to apologize to everyone who has received the invitation but maybe didn’t understand this plain purpose of ours. And I want to apologize also to everyone who decided at the last moment not to come in order to avoid messing with the Communists. All of them deserve an apology due to a great lack of trust developed over many years towards the government in Tirana following the attitude of politicians who, more than to listen to what diaspora has to say, would appear in front of them in order to be on Albanian televisions.   

On the other hand I want to assure everyone that if we went wrong with somebody to whom we could not extend an invitation, if we went wrong with somebody else to whom we extended an invitation but didn’t give the chance to speak, if we went wrong with any third party, though I do not know for what reason, all these have been innocent and not deliberate mistakes.

I would ask all of you to forgive us if you find any flaws in the organization of this summit. I’m apologizing in advance because this is a very tough organization which has been made for the first time, and the truth is that in over 20 years nobody did even think of keeping records of where the Albanians are. We haven’t inherited any statistics on where they are, what they do, in which fields they operate. We know little or sporadically about some talents who are known worldwide, and therefore we know about them. Indeed it is about time, and we have already started to register every Albanian in every corner of our continent, and this will be the basis to give all those who live abroad the right to be part of a democratic process and vote without being required to come to the polling stations here, and stay at their father’s house, or at their father-in-law’s house.

To conclude, my dear friends, I assure you that this Palace has never been this warm, not due to the central heating that doesn’t work well, but because the largest human group is gathered here this evening, and the flame that each of you has inside might have us take off our shirts, if we want to. But I’m not going any further, for in seeing me you might think of something more than the short sleeves.   

I am concluding with the truth that time has come for us to find ourselves around that historic echo coming from the pyramids of Giza from which, as Bonaparte used to say at the height of his youthful entrepreneurship, “40 centuries contemplate us”, as much as the diasporas represented here today.

And this is how Thimi Mitko, a pioneer of the Albanian colony in Egypt, describes this echo in a letter of 1888: “Gather fraternally all together, be as smart as you can, and show that Albania lives and was not lost; we wish all of our brothers good health, and pray the Lord of life to provide them with a good and generous heart for this sacred duty we have taken.”

Long live Albania!

Long live Kosovo!

Long live the Albanians wherever they are, live and work!

Many thanks!


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