REMARKS OF AMBASSADOR FERIT HOXHA PERMANENT REPRESENTARTIVE OF ALBANIA TO THE UNITED NATIONS AT THE 25th ANNIVERSARY OF THE ALBANIAN AMERICAN CICIL LEAGUE & ALBANIAN AMERICAN FOUNDATION/*
When a British Zionist traveled to Albania in 1935 to see whether the country could serve as a Jewish national home, a government minister told him, “In Albania, religious intolerance is quite unknown. ”
Herman Bernstein, the American envoy to Albania during the pre-war period, wrote in 1934 “Albania happens to be one of the rare lands in Europe today where religious prejudice and hate do not exist.”
Last September, Pope Francis chose Albania as his first destination in Europe – to confirm 80 years later, exactly the same thing, and pay a high tribute to the nation as a model of inter-religious harmony.
In the yearly US State Department reports on religious freedom in the world, Albania stands resolutely as a firm rock of religious freedom and tolerance.
I could go on with plenty of other examples and testimonials to confirm one important fact that has become an unchanged reality: Albania is a prominent if not a unique case of religious tolerance, harmony and respect. Throughout its recorded history, Albania has never experienced religious conflicts, a remarkable achievement in a continent whose history is marked and often defined by centuries of religious conflicts and wars.
It would need more than the few minutes I have to explain why, and dwell on the tradition of Albanian culture that is not defined by religion but rather a predominant patriotic feeling, a distinct belonging. It has been perfectly summarized in the words of a nineteenth century Albanian poet, Vaso Pasha, who stated: “The religion of Albanians is Albanianism”. Being and feeling Albanian is first, religion comes next, in a society based on strong requirements such as: honor, loyalty and respect.
Yet, there is one another example that I need to highlight and that illustrates at best this Albanian exception. During those terrible times of Holocaust, when almost everywhere in Europe, collaboration, submission or indifference were leading a whole nation to its planned extinction, Albanians, Christians and Muslims alike, everywhere in the country, opened their doors, at the risk of their lives to save Jews. The result is simply remarkable: no Jew was ever handed to the Nazis, the whole community, those residing and those traveling to Albania, all survived, and Albania had ten times more Jews after the war than before. We did not have Schindlers or Wallenbergs: we had an entire population equally dedicated to preserve humanity and save human life. Albanians gave a solemn promise to Jews, their BESA, and they kept it. Wherever there is an Albanian, there is BESA.
It looks distant in time but it was yesterday. We know what happens when we forget or when we are indifferent to what happens to others. We cannot export our reality but we can prove that it is possible to leave in harmony and respect. We Albanians, we belong to three different religions, we pray to God in different ways, but we have managed to preserve the unchanged mutual respect for our different each other. This is in striking contrast with the terrible realities in various parts of the world when millions are persecuted and killed not because of what they do, but simply because of whom they are.
Every 27 January we celebrate in Albania the International Holocaust Day. I have had the pleasure to organize, among other activities, in 2014, together with B’nai B’rith at the UN a dedicated session on Holocaust Remembrance Day on the story of Jew in Albania.
Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi was one of the prominent speakers and with her in-depth knowledge on the matter, based on more than two decades of dedicated work on the Albanian rescue as Director of the Albanian American Foundation, was instrumental to its success.
Shirley together with the remarkable contribution of Joe DioGuardi, both as a Member of the US Congress and in other capacities, with his unparalleled energy and devotion, have uninterruptedly for the last 25 years in the Board of the Albanian American Civic League, greatly contributed for peace and stability in Southeast Europe. We Albanians are there, in the first row, to testimony and prove it. A big, warm and heartfelt Thank You! to Shirley, Joe and all members of the Albanian American Civil League and Foundation for their relentless efforts to help Albanians everywhere in South East Europe.
Let me conclude by adding one last note: Albania’s main drive today is to strengthen democracy and develop its economy in its path towards EU integration. We know what it takes and we work closely with our friends, partners and allies. But I need to say clear and loud that in our path to freedom and our struggle to the future, we are lucky and proud to have one great friend, one important ally, our strategic partner, the United States of America.
*Sunday, June 14, 2015/Grand Hyatt New York/