By Ahmet Kamberi/
In this retrospective essay, the former Albanian Minister of Health in the 1980s and well-known physician prof. Ahmet Kamberi sheds light on a little-known aspect of the Albanian-American relations in the healthcare sector, during a period of dramatic change and before the diplomatic relations between the two countries were re-established.
The second half of the eighties was characterized by a difficult economic situation in Albania, and The Labor Party of Albania (LBA) sought to solve development problems by trying to broaden an opening with the west. In a meeting of the Central Committee of the LBA held on the 18th of April 1990, Ramiz Alia had declared that “if the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. will change their position apropos Albania, as they maintain they will, then we have no reason not to welcome it.” This would open the way to the exploitation of every employable possibility in solving various problems facing specific sectors as well as the whole country.
In absence of diplomatic relations with the U.S., the development of trade and economic relations was unimaginable. And yet, the conditions being that both sides were working behind the curtains towards a mutual approach, it was reasonable to profit by advancing with activities in support of this approach.
In order to ease the difficulties in the health sector, I had to work hard to improve the relationships with the World Health Organization (WHO) and to approximate our health strategy with that of this organization. This was also reflected in September 1989 when I was elected vice president of the 39th European Regional Committee for WHO held in Paris. But it so happened that I also played a direct role in activities supporting the approach of Albania towards the US.
The [Albanian] Ministry of Health, which I headed at the time, among many difficult problems in need of resolution, was also facing the problem of a disparity between the advanced training of our specialists and the backward technology available to them. Scan imaging was one of the technological developments of the time and it was quite necessary for the diagnostics of some curable diseases. It was practically impossible to send all patients in need of this technology to be tested abroad. In these conditions the Ministry of Health tried to activate an agreement with Greece that I had signed in 1987, with the then Greek Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Jorgos Papulias who had come to Albania for an official visit.
With the understanding and help by Albanian Minister for Foreign Affairs Reiz Malile we made the decision to send, once a month, patients in need of scanner diagnostics, first over to Athens, and then to Ioanina. This was a provisional solution, with which the Ministry of Health was not at ease. It was excruciating for the patients to first be gathered in Tirana and then travel by ambulance to Greece and back. The two-year long efforts by the Ministry of Health to convince the Government to buy a scanner couldn’t produce any result due to difficulties in securing the necessary foreign currency.
At some point during the spring of 1990, Dr. Shpëtim Telegrafi, a sonographer at the Central Polyclinic of Tirana, made it known to me that Dr. Agim Leka, an Albanian who had immigrated to the U.S. at the end of WWII, some 45 years ago, wanted to provide the Ministry of Health some help. He had had a problem with his sister who lived in Tirana and had managed, after many efforts, to send her for scanning to Istanbul, Turkey.
Dr. Leka understood our difficulties and was offering to help us buy an imaging scanner at an affordable price for us. His son, Donald, who was president of a trading company, Syrius Systems Inc., could see to it. I welcomed such a proposition and I told Shpëtim to assure Dr. Leka that I would personally deal with this and that I thanked him for it. Yet the gap between saying and doing cannot be bridged in the blink of an eye. There were many hurdles to overcome. First of, we had neither diplomatic nor trade relations with the U.S.
Secondly, the scanner was a kind of appliance that was not allowed to be sold to certain countries, including Albania. Thirdly, in spite of recent liberalization trends, there was no precedent for such a relationship. I discussed this with the Foreign Minister, Reiz Malile. He was in favor of it in principle. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs may have had plans of its own, too. I also discussed it with the Prime Minister, Adil Çarçani. He hesitated at first, but then he telephoned me personally and told me that I could proceed. Nonetheless, there was plenty left to clarify and the best thing would be to address all issues in a direct manner.
I officially invited the President of Syrius Systems Inc., Mr. Donald Leka, to visit Albania. The visit took place during the second half of August 1990. From the meeting I had with Mr. Leka the very next day of his arrival, on the 16th of August 1990, I learned that Syrius Systems Inc. offered interesting cooperation opportunities, not only specific to medicine but also in general to Albania. They were ready to sell us two scanners at very favorable terms for us; offered cooperation in low-cost manufacturing of computers, both for internal consumption and for export; cooperation in the production of all types of batteries; cooperation in securing equipment for the emergency care center that was being built and for the heart surgery clinic; cooperation in the field of textile industry, but also in other industries that might be of interest to us.
During this meeting and that he had expressed the wish to send him his best regards. Dr. Agim Leka had requested of his son to leave the decisions regarding the relationship with Albania to him. It was obvious that his initiative to develop relationships with the Ministry of Health had been welcomed and encouraged by the State Department. It went to show that the State Department was considering reestablishing diplomatic relations with Albania. He gave the Ministry of Health the gift of a fax machine, to make possible and facilitate communication, since we did not have a fax machine at the time. Mr. Leka discussed the technicalities of buying the scanners and the other issues of cooperation with the representatives of Makinaimpex, which was an enterprise of the Ministry for Foreign Trade Relations.
We gave the President of Syrius Systems Inc. the opportunity to visit, not solely Profarma, the Antibiotics Plant, the Electromedical Production Plant and Repair Shop, but also several textile manufacturing plants. At the close of his visit I met with him again, but this time accompanied by Minister without Portfolio Farudin Hoxha, who was in charge of technological modernization. I believed that he, too, should listen to the offers made by Syrius Systems Inc. Mr. Donald Leka was very pleased with his visit and with the contacts he had established with the people he’d met. The high level of education of Albanians had impressed him, just as he was appalled at our technological backwardness. He was of the idea that given such a good education, a simple upgrade of concepts and convictions would be sufficient to speed up the possession of science and technology and the modernization of the country. He reiterated more or less what he’d offered in my first meeting with him.
After providing an exposition of the country’s development during the 45 years of popular rule, Minister Farudin Hoxha suggested that Albanian Americans could deposit their savings in Albanian banks with the same conditions as in the U.S. He was in favor of the cooperation with the Ministry of Health, but added that this cooperation must also extend to the production of batteries, which was a problem at that time for us. Mr. Leka was in favor of everything and we agreed that efforts should start for bringing groups of specialists in the respective fields to Albania, in order to both make possible the framing of the programs for cooperation and to sign the contracts.
Thus, by sheer accident, the Ministry of Health, due to lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries, found itself at an intersecting point between Albania and the U.S. There followed an intensive communication between The Ministry of Health and Syrius Systems Inc. during the subsequent months.
In one of the Government meetings I heard the Prime Minister speak of the difficulties we were encountering in wheat imports, while there was a pressing need for this grain. I called Dr. Agim Leka and asked him whether he could use his connections to secure the purchase of a quantity of wheat for Albania. He found this difficult, but said that he had a friend, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, who maybe could help. I hold to my conviction that individuals are not unimportant when they are given a chance to help their country. I had done it myself in my own field of medicine, with WHO, UNFPA, and the Red Cross. But this time, I was overstepping my feed. In my estimation, Dr. Leka was a true patriot and I was hoping he would do whatever he could to help us, all the more so since it was clear that the Department of State was siding up with these kinds of relations with Albania.
On the 25th of December 1990, The Washington Post published an article entitled “Albania Opening to Trade.” In spite of a few inaccuracies, the article mentioned the visit of the President of Syrius Systems Inc. in Tirana and the agreement for the purchase of the two scanning appliances, which also provided for the specialization of two medical doctors and two engineers in the U.S. The article emphasized that the businessman’s father, Dr. Agim Leka, an internal medicine doctor in Long Island, had opened the way for this visit after telephone talks with officials of the Ministry of Health in Tirana. The article also noted other purchases in the works: 50 pacemakers and two telephonic systems; as well as preparations for securing the necessary equipment for an emergency care center (about to finish being built next to the “Asllan Rusi” sports center), including 10 ambulances and a helicopter; while it also mentioned the efforts being made to facilitate the purchase, by the Albanian government, of 50.000 tons of wheat at a favorable price.
The article also announced the next visit by the President of Syrius Systems Inc. to Tirana and the fact that a textile company and a pharmaceutical company had expressed an interest in the matter. The article also emphasized the goodwill of Albanian officials to reestablish diplomatic relations with the U.S., as these officials had expressed it to [U.S.] Senator Tom Lantosh when he had visited Albania a year ago; as well as Ramiz Alia’s participation in the UN Assembly and his meeting with a group of Albanians in the U.S. The article clarified that the selling of scanners to Albania was made possible by a decision of the U.S. and the EU in the summer of that year, which allowed the selling of such equipment to Eastern Europe. “The acquisition of CAT scanners is part of a gradual opening of Albania, which for many decades has been one of the most isolated countries in the world,” said the article.
In a fax dated 27 December 1990, the Health Minister would call year 1990 as a year to be noted for Albanian medicine and Syrius Systems Inc., in view of their current and perspective cooperation. He expressed the conviction that 1991 would be the year of additional important achievements. He also had high esteem for his countrymen, who had brought honor to themselves by engaging in the development and the prosperity of the country; as well as for the efforts of the President of Syrius Systems Inc., together with his staff, in helping improve the quality of health care in Albania and also on behalf of developing, advancing and strengthening the country. In his response by fax, also on 27 December 1990, the President of Syrius Systems Inc. would write that “We are proud that the Ministry of Health, under your guide, and Syrius System Inc. of America, have been at the forefront of the relationships between the U.S. and Albania,” and that he foresaw that during 1991, the much expected diplomatic relations would be reestablished, too.
On the 3rd of January 1991, I was notified, through a handwritten note by Dr. Shpëtim Telegrafi, that Dr. Agim Leka had called to talk to him about issues that, given their delicate nature, he did not wish to make them known to me via the Ministry fax. He probably did not know that the fax was in my office, on my desk. I was thus being informed that on the 2nd of January 1991, Dr. Leka, together with Donald Leka and with Willian Contos, former ambassador of the U.S. to Pakistan, had had a 90 minutes talk with three high officials of the State Department. They had discussed the possibility of selling at a convenient price, or possibly donating to Albania, a quantity of wheat. Dr. Leka had explained that Ramiz Alia represented stability in the Balkans, which was in keeping with the interests of the U.S. in the region; that the declaration of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations would contribute towards this stability; that the Albanian people loved Ramiz Alia; and that he himself used to be an opponent of Alia, but now was vouching for Alia; that Alia’s program was progressive and Alia himself a peaceful and democratic politician; that he could steer the Albanian ship in the right direction.
Since Ramiz Alia had declared that the upcoming elections would be entirely free, they had asked whether an American delegation headed by Jimmy Carter could be sent to assist. Furthermore, he especially underlined the positive contribution by Mr. William Contos, a man close to George Bush and who had helped make the meeting at the Department of State happen; and he suggested that they both be invited for a visit to Albania, at a time of convenience to them. This, he underlined, would help dissipate the unpleasant memories of the Albanian-American relations in the recent past.
In keeping with the protocol of the time, I passed this information through the Sector of Foreign Relations to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while also discussing it with Minister Reiz Malile, who had direct access to the President. In the matter of the wheat purchase, I also notified the Prime Minister, who expressed surprise that I had involved myself in the matter. Nonetheless, later, he agreed to proceed with it.
On the 15th of January 1991, Dr. Leka faxed me a letter he had received from the Vice Assistant Secretary of the Office for European Relations at the State Department. With this letter he informed Dr. Leka of the actions being taken after their talk two weeks ago at the State Department in regard to the project of selling wheat to Albania in the frame of the Export Enhancement Program (EEP), actions that would surely demand time. On the 27th of January 1991, the President of Syrius Systems Inc. explained, through a fax addressed to the Minister of Health, how the letter of the Department of State dated 15 January in regard to EEP should be understood, and namely that the EEP implied a partial payment of the price of wheat from the U.S. Thus, if the price for one ton of wheat FOB for the European Union was a little over $90.00, for Albania it would be $75.00.
This, of course, demanded an official letter from the head of the Albanian Food Purchase Office, indicating the quantity of wheat and a price that would be sufficient in order to begin a specific proposal for the Export Enhancement Program for Albania. He added that, after consulting with the former Vice Secretary of Agriculture, no obstacles were foreseeable in the realization of this goal. In absence of diplomatic relations, he concluded, it was important to continue building upon working relations between the two countries with a vision towards the future.
It was clear that things were progressing well, both in regard to trading relations and in regard to reestablishing diplomatic relations between our two countries. On the 31st of January 1991, through a fax addressed to the Minister of Health, the President of Syrius Systems Inc. made it known, with obvious enthusiasm, that the Washington Post article of 25th December 1990 had echoed all over the American Press and had awoken the interest of the state of Oklahoma.
After a series of clarifying meetings between representatives of Syrius Systems Inc. and representatives of the Department of Trade of the State of Oklahoma, the latter had come up with concrete proposals with regard to investments in the Albanian ports of Vlora and Durrës; in infrastructure (transport and communication) with the aim of turning them into entry gates for Eastern Europe and especially the Balkans and establishing a trading bridge between these ports and the Mississippi ports in the heart of America; as well as in building big warehouses in Oklahoma for the storage of Albanian exports.
As a first step there was a request for the exchange of experts in the fields of ports, terminals and the practice of water and sea ways, and soon after, the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding for the recognition of the Plan of Action, and the issue of authorization for its execution. The Memorandum was to be signed by the Secretary of Trade of Oklahoma and the corresponding Albanian official. Besides this, he confirmed that he would arrive, with other colleagues, on the 17th of February 1991. Attached was the “Plan of Action – Ports, Water and Sea Ways; Technology and Transfer of Information” (The State of Oklahoma – The Albanian Government, February 1991).
Albania and Some Lost Opportunities
On our last issue, we started publishing an essay written by the well-known physician Prof. Ahmet Kamberi, in which he described the early cooperation efforts with the U.S. that he undertook, in his capacity of Minister of Health at the end of 1990 and the beginning of 1991, for bringing medical equipment to Albania and other projects. The second part of prof. Kamberi’s memoirs dwells on the same topic, while also describing the situation in the country at that moment and the progress in Albania’s contacts with the U.S. before diplomatic relations between the two countries were established.
The date of 31st January 1991 was also my last day in office as Minister of Health. During January I had intervened a few times in Government meetings in regard to the situation created in the country, interventions which hadn’t been favorably received. Two days ago, I had requested the resignation of the Government, reasoning that, given the situation of overall discontent, the government was not able to govern the country with the same style and methods as it had until then. But my request was not put to vote, since it was not backed by any of my colleagues. The Government “improved” itself by letting go only the Minister of Culture, Prof. Alfred Uçi, and me. A possible cause for our dismissal from the government might be related to the fact that, in December 1990, during the protests in Shkodra, some members of the government, among which Minister of Culture Prof. Alfred Uçi, Minister of Education Skënder Gjinushi, Minister of Construction Ismail Ahmeti, Minister without Portfolio Farudin Hoxha, Minister of Light Industries Ylli Bufi, General Director of Mechanical Industries Pandi Carapuli, and me the Minister of Health, after a short meeting in the office of Skënder Gjinushi, went to the President Ramiz Alia and requested that he discharge the Government. As agreed upon, Prof. Alfred Uçi spoke on our behalf, while I made some interventions in support of our request. But our request was not accepted and was not received well by the President.
In spite of this, I took well my dismissal from the Government, since I didn’t want to continue being part of a government whose resignation I had asked for myself. In fact, the government would fall after three weeks. In the letter I sent the Prime Minister, for the knowledge of the President, dated 31st January 1991, I added the following post scriptum: “Seeing that I wish to do one last service to the government, I’m attaching a letter that I received today from the President of the American firm Syrius Systems Inc., in regard to a project of investments on behalf our ports, etc., from the Department of Trade of the State of Oklahoma in the USA; a letter which this Department has sent to the representative of this firm; as well as the Plan of Action that this Department proposes to be signed.” I also wrote to the President of Syrius Systems Inc., to notify him of my discharge from the position of Minister of Health and expressed the pleasure of the two of us having started a fruitful cooperation for the good of Albania and of the Albanians who lived far from their land and who loved it. I also asked that he continue his cooperation with Albania, and I underlined that the process of democratization that was developing in our country created, and without doubt would create, new and greater opportunities towards this cooperation. At least, this was my conviction at the time.
Unfortunately the effort for equipping our health service with necessary contemporary technology would fail within a few months. The contract signed in January 1991 provided for a payment of US$400 thousand for two scanners and a six-month specialization in the U.S. for two electronic engineers and two medical doctors. The payment would be made in five installments. The first $80.000 installment would be paid immediately after the signing of the contract. This installment was paid by the Ministry of Health in January 1991, while I was still in office. The other four installments of $80.000 each would be paid respectively when the equipment would arrive in Trieste, when it would arrive in Durrës, after it would be assembled, and one year after being assembled. We had selected skillful specialists and we had determined the place where the equipment was to be installed. In August 1991 the equipment had arrived in Trieste, but the payment had not been installed and they were left there beyond the agreed-upon deadline. Around the beginning of December 1991, Mr. Luan Leka, Dr. Agim Leka’s brother, advised by the latter, came to me, at my house, and notified me about this. It was deplorable, but that’s what had happened. I felt bad. It was a job I had begun and now I was completely powerless to finish it. At that time, Mr. Niko Gjyzari was the deputy governor of the Albanian National Bank. He knew about the agreement to buy the scanners and I thought he was the only person that could help in solving the problem. Mr. Gjyzari, to whom I addressed, explained to me the financial difficulties of the country, but I insisted, knowing that he felt as bad as I did if the contract were not to be honored. Mr. Gjyzari made do somehow and the second installment was paid. To this day I feel indebted towards him for his understanding.
The way was cleared for the equipment to arrive in Durrës. In January 1992, a year after the signing of the contract, Mr. Luan Leka visited me again at home and brought me a letter sent to him by his brother Dr. Agim Leka. This letter was written on the 27th of December 1991 and Mr. Luan had been instructed to bring it to me. From this letter I learned that the scanners could well have been shipped to Durrës after all these vicissitudes, but the Syrius Systems company, taking into consideration the difficult situation in the Albanian government, had decided to pay the fines and let the equipment stay at the port of Trieste. This was an absolutely undeserved penalty. In this letter, apart from some instructions pertaining to the unloading and the maintenance of this equipment so badly needed for the improvement of the quality of our healthcare, he would also write: “Donald, as well as REMEDPAR factory, has kept to the contract signed in the beginning of this year, a contract that represents Albania’s first legal economic contact with the United States before the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, for which some of us have worked with fervor and with the belief that it was the only way to save our country of origin. Because of this and because of the first contract signed between Donald and the representatives of the Ministry of Health, it seems that this activity might not have been appreciated by everybody for what it is: a simple act love for the country and the destitute people, sons of which is also us Albanians of the Diaspora… So, when it comes to patriotism, every man should answer to his own conscience.” He asked that Mr. Luan thank “those officials of the Ministry of Health who had sincerely suffered together with us for the many and unnecessary problems that had arisen from time to time.” Mr. Luan did not take back this letter but left it with me.
Unfortunately, it would not end there. The two scanners were doomed to remain another three years locked up in their container in Durrës, until the installment of one of them would be celebrated at the Neurological Hospital in Tirana. A contract made in the time when we did not have diplomatic relations with the U.S., something only a few could imagine, in extraordinarily favorable terms and implementable in seven or eight months, was inexcusably dragged on by our side, to the detriment of the quality of the health care of the country and damaging of our American partner, even more so at a time when by then the diplomatic relations between our two countries had been reestablished since 15 March 1991.
Writing about the efforts to develop economic relations with the U.S., while there had been no diplomatic relations between our two countries, I thought of the reasons why the reestablishment of these relations had taken so long. We’re used to hearing different versions about our relations with the U.S. It was once said that it was them that were responsible for the break of relations with a country that used to be our ally during the antifascist war. Today we openly admit that it was us who were responsible. Yet I decided to look for explanations by searching important documents, accessible to anyone in the Internet. Then I thought it would be of interest also to others like me.
Albania is a small country and as such it needs a powerful ally. The 100 year history of the Albanian state is the history of a country the existence of which has been put to peril many times, even when Albania was aligned to the Allies in the world war against fascism; an alignment recognized by USA, Great Britain, and Soviet Union on 1942.
Albania came out of this war in ruins. The economy was in total collapse: destroyed roads, blown up bridges, burned houses, razed villages, hungry people, orphaned children, epidemics, but also people who had gotten rich through war profiteering, and other people that wanted to keep their privileges, not to mention the quislings and war criminals who found shelter in the defeated Italy; the neighbor Yugoslavia that wanted to “swallow” us, as it was mentioned by its leaders in a meeting with Stalin in 1946, as well as the neighbor Greece that claimed half of our country, all the way to the Shkumbin river.
In such extremely difficult circumstances, international recognition was more than desired. But contrary to the feverish insistence of the provisional Albanian government that it be recognized by our great allies in the antifascist war, the chief of the British military mission in Tirana, General Hodgson, would ask of the supreme allied commander for the Mediterranean in August of 1945 to protest against “the aggressive act” (as he considered it) of invasion by Albania in the isle of Sazan, which had been under the Italian occupation since 1914 – even though Italy was now a defeated power – and liberated in 1944 by our partisan forces [sic]. Differently from him, the chief of the American Mission in Tirana, J. E. Jacobs, would request that the U.S. Government do not accept, on the one hand, this British demand, and make “a point blank request” to the British Foreign Office, on the other hand, for a clarification about its real politics regarding the establishment of an independent Albania and regarding the opposition groups in Albania and elsewhere. “In other words” he continued, “we need to know if the British Foreign Office really wishes and is prepared to support the establishment of an independent Albania. We need to make it clear that we know about the declarations of some British officials who prefer to see this country divided and its southern part annexed by Greece” (1. Binaj Dh. An Analysis Of United States-Albanian Security Relations in Light of The War on Terrorism. Naval Postgraduate School, December 2004). As a man who knew very well the situation of Albania back then, he would request from the government of his own country to recognize the Albanian government, to send here experts that would be of help, to accept selected students to study in various fields of education, industry, mines and agriculture, and to possibly send a financial help until it could stand on its own feet (2. Jacobs JE. Final Report of Special Mission at Tirana. 16 August 1945). But it didn’t happen. The British position triumphed.
A well-acknowledged participant in the great war against fascism, Albania was not invited, unjustly, in the San Francisco Conference for the founding of the UN, while it had also been a member of the League of Nations. Unjustly, Albania was also not invited to the Conference of the Foreign Ministers in Paris either. The Greek resolution presented in this Conference maintained that Albania, as part of the Italian Empire and with the active backing of the Albanian quislings, had attacked Greece, which is why it considered Albania as part of the Axis, and naturally, demanded its partition. Ironically, this resolution had the open support of Britain and had won over the silence of the U.S., even though the Senate had passed a Resolution presented by Senator Pepper on April 19, 1946, which supported the Greek claims over Northern Epirus. In regards to this, the American Government had given a vague clarification to the Albanian Government, that this Resolution by the Senate did not have anything to do with the position of the Executive (1. Binaj, ibid).
The U.S. did not have any interests in Albania at the time and it was in support of its British ally. Nonetheless, things turned out differently, since through a request by Yugoslavia and with the support of the Soviet Union, Enver Hoxha, the Albanian Prime Minister, was invited to take the floor; with irrefutable arguments he dismissed the Greek claims and documented the horrendous massacres that the bands of the quisling General Napoleon Zerva, alone or in cooperation with the Germans, had perpetrated on the Albanian population in some areas of the south of Albania: Konispol, Pogon, Zagori, and Dhrovjan. He also documented the efforts by Greece towards the cleansing of Çamëria from its ethnic Albanian inhabitants, by forcefully dispatching 35.000 Çams to Turkey in exchange of Greeks from the Asia Minor; as well as the monstrous massacres of the quisling Zerva over the Çam population during the antifascist war, forcing 20.000 of them to leave in inhuman conditions and to find shelter and protection in Albania. He reminded our allies in the antifascist war of their declarations in support of the war and the sacrifices of the Albanian people; of the material help that these people had given for the war; and he also reminded our American ally the extraordinary sacrifices and dangers the Albanian partisans had to go through, in order to save the 13 American nurses, whose plane was forced to land in a zone invaded by the Germans (3. Hoxha E. Speech Delivered at the Plenary Session of the Paris Peace Conference. August 21, 1946).
When Greece began to think that its resolution would not pass, they made a cunning move, by withdrawing it. The overturning of that resolution would have cost Greece to put an end, once and for all, to its absurd claims over Northern Epirus. But had that resolution been passed with the backing of our great allies, who had assisted in our Antifascist National Liberation War, who had recognized that war and helped in (the British had even lost 53 men in its support) then all of us Albanians should know very well and never forget it that today we would be speaking a language different from Albanian.
It is well known small nations are permanently interested in having the support of a large nation. It is also known that the interests of a large nation in relation to small nations are not stable. That’s why small nations cannot hope to evade danger, and even annihilation, if they make the wrong choice, or if they feed to themselves self-annihilating ideas. Albania had made the right choice by fighting fascism and paid for that war with an extraordinarily high price in human lives and wealth, but its existence remained nevertheless at risk. It was of necessary importance that Albania be recognized by the international community in order for it to escape this danger – and that’s why it was fervently asking for it. Only Yugoslavia had recognized Albania, in April of 1945. Our two great allies in the west did not give this recognition, despite any claims that they might have had. With good will their claims would have found a solution. E. Hoxha had even offered concessions on the prewar treatises otherwise overturned by the Congress of Përmet. The third eastern ally, the Soviet Union, which had not given any direct support to our war, had left it in the hands of Yugoslavia and was lying in wait; but in November of 1945 they gave their recognition too. But Albania was of so little importance to the Soviet Union that the Albanian Prime Minister was denied a visit to Moscow in 1946, and Albania was not invited in September of 1947 in the meeting for the founding of COMINFORM, where all other eastern communist countries were invited. On the other hand in 1947, Great Britain jointly with the U.S. (which the former had managed to pull to its side) had decided to overthrow with force the Albanian government that had come out of the common antifascist war, through general elections that had been recognized by these two powers and found to be free (1. Binaj, ibid). Albania had no other choice but to jump on the side of the Soviet Union, even more so since the majority of its political leaders idealized it.
Nonetheless, despite the ideological war against American Imperialism, Albania never ceased requesting the reestablishment of relations with the U.S. In February of 1946, E. Hoxha made an attempt to ease the U.S. through the Yugoslav ambassador in Washington during the meeting with Secretary Acheson, but Acheson said that the patience of the U.S. towards Albania had come to an end. The second attempt was made in 1949 through Behar Shtylla, our Minister plenipotentiary to France, when he was participating in a meeting of the UN General Assembly NY for examining the dispute between Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Albania. He told the State Department officials that the Albanian Government was willing to review the situation in the context of the new conditions that had arisen. But the American Government together with Britain had already decided what they would do (1. Binaj, ibid). In 1955, just when Albania had become a member of the UN, another unsuccessful attempt was made through our ambassador Reiz Malile in a meeting, requested by him, with the American ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge II (as related to the author by Mr. R. Malile himself). An attempt to get close to the U.S. was repeated in on October 5, 1966, after the break with the Soviet Union, through the Austrian Foreign Minister Lujo Tonic-Sorinj during his meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State Din Rusk. Referring to the desire expressed by Hoxha to a rapprochement to the west, he asked the U.S. Secretary if they expected any change from Albania. But Rusk thought it would be a great mistake by the U.S. if they were to attempt exploring Albanian intentions (1. Binaj, ibid). Maybe history wouldn’t have gone the way it went, if our Western allies had chosen a softer approach towards us.
Small nations are small nations and they should be perfectly aware of their stand. But the citizens of small nations should not live with a feeling of self-guilt towards a lack of achievements that is not only due to their shortcomings. They shouldn’t take upon their shoulders all of the weight of the lack of achievements even when that weight does not belong to them, but tell the truth openly, as they try to identify the painful areas in which a great friendly country should not be disturbed. On the first place this applies to us Albanians, who are often ready to criticize ourselves, without clarifying first what is the complete truth, or without wanting to know it – if that is our eclectic choice – while we bow down to others with a grimace on, taking upon ourselves even their fault, without even a blink.The rest is history. Albania had to pay a price for the independence and integrity that it safeguarded, fanatically, for 45 years. Yet, the time would come when Albania wouldn’t be so worthless for the U.S. any longer; and on March 15, 1991, the diplomatic relations between the two countries would be re-established. The Albanian community in the U.S. would become a major factor in bringing the two countries closer and keeping them so.
And nevertheless, Albania continues to suffer. Surprisingly, Albanian political leaders, once they come to power, cling by tooth and nail to the chair. Even when they’re yanked away from it, they never stop with their efforts to return. They identify our national interests with theirs and with the interests of their private circles. They identify the welfare of Albania with their own welfare. In order to raise themselves to a height that does not belong to them they use destructive language, invective, contempt, humiliation, stigmatization and damnation against their predecessors, young or old, as well as against the opponents who challenge them; language and behavior unworthy even of a simply immoral citizen. Their actions are covered by a thick veil that allows no ray of light to penetrate. The citizens, not used to think on their own and left in the dark, prefer to follow their shining Masters. The independence and sovereignty of the country is equalized with the independence and sovereignty of its rulers, to do whatever it suits them. This comes with a price catastrophic for the existence, freedom, development and prosperity of the country. Our national interests are not the interests of its rulers, neither of the EU, nor of the international community. If it passes through our mind that our existence within our actual boundaries is guaranteed, we’re making a big mistake! If it passes through our mind that the time of conflicts in the Balkans has ended, we’re making a big mistake! All of these can happen, with politicians who live with such dreams and do not work seriously towards determining our national aims, our national interests, and our treading lightly on the basis of priorities, without impinging on the interests of others, but also without allowing that others impinge ours.
The educators and the historians should open our eyes. More than anybody else they are today before a great test: Either help Albanian citizens to learn to think on his own, or stultify them even more and let them walk blindly after the diabolic leaders, capable of cheating and manipulating and telling grandmothers tales, where they make themselves to be the good ones and the others evil, so that they should be rulers while others should obey them. Dividing people and pitting them against themselves is their best weapon. They reach the point where they convince themselves, through their confabulation, that their “wisdom” would leave anyone who listens to them open mouthed. Too much wisdom is the curse of its owner, say in Shkodra, but until the curse reaches the destination it will have plenty of time to wreak unimaginable havoc.
It is clear that Albanians have much more to do. But let’s begin, firstly, to doubt the tales we are told and demand believable proof; and then understand that a democratic system can never be implemented without free and fair elections; that those who will do wrong to the country and the people must be punished by justice according to law – applicable equally to all; that we should punish the sowing of discord and national disunity as well as its perpetrators; that we should appreciate friends and allies by their deeds and help them love us, not do our job for us.
Caption: From Left to Right: Donald Leka, Dr. Agim Leka, Drini Leka/