The power within the powerless: How Albania can contribute to the EU
Written by Dosti Banushi
In the early ’90s, dreams overwhelmed the incredulous abysses of Albanian’s souls. Once the communist isolation was over, it was time for freedom to be experienced. This firstly meant that wishes could be said out loud. And so, it happened. “We want Albania to be like all of Europe” was the first outcry of a 50-year long banned from speaking society.
The scream stemmed from the pain of being stuck in time. Europe was freely developed, simultaneously with the Red regime imposing itself as Albania’s only alternative. Therefore, with this wrong colour’s erasure, the remaining white canvas helped Albanians realize that they finally had the freedom to desire. “We want Albania to be like all of Europe” was the protesting student’s slogan in December of 1990, which represented the paradigm they sought to build the future on. That was the dream! A dream that never came true.
Caught under the trap of history, in December 2018, the students again abandoned their auditoriums to pour into the streets, in a protest almost symmetrical to the riots of 28 years earlier. The request was similar to those of their peers in December 1990: Better study conditions. The call was also the same: “We want Albania to be like all of Europe”. Unlike before, the time had not stopped; but it was not moving forward either. This roundabout in history’s timeline was an invitation to reflection: Why does the wish for European integration remain unfulfilled?
Albanians love Europe. 97% of us aspire to be part of the European Union European, the region’s highest rate. Even at the policy-making level, Albania is one of the only countries that has never acted against EU foreign policy. This was best evidenced when our government rejected the US request to move the Albanian embassy in Israel to the city of Jerusalem, arguing that “in foreign policy, Albania is completely aligned with the EU, which recognizes Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel.” Consequently, it cannot be said that European integration is lacking because it is not strongly desired. However, to love is one thing, knowing how to love is another.
In our country, Europe is loved as an impalpable and beyond reach entity. Such an understanding has created the inferiority complex, which prevents us from thinking that we should and can contribute to it. The whole integration debate is based on the hope that the EU will offer us something. The obligation to provide it with something in return is obliterated. The history of the European Union, on the other hand, proves that the precondition for integration is the usefulness and ability a country evinces to Europe. Thus, it should be understood that the privilege of receiving and the responsibility of giving go hand in hand.
Unfortunately, Albania cannot build such a relationship on political-economic terms. Europe is economically divided into North-South where, unlike the southern countries, the northern ones enjoy excellent standards. The EU is also politically divided into East-West. In western countries, the rule of law and democratic values prevail, while they fade in the east. Albania is in the South-East. It has neither a sound economy nor high democratic standards. According to the World Bank, we can only reach Europe’s parameters after 60 years. This is bad news.
The good news is that the integration process is not only examined through the optics of standards. After all, they belong to each state’s internal affairs and serve the well-being of their society. Raising standards is a need that Albania must meet to advance itself. Concerning European integration, the focus must be on values. We cannot contribute with economic-political exports, but we can export values that Albania has and Europe needs.
Like any important project, the European Union has its problems. The most dangerous of them all is the rise of radical right-wing populism, which exploits nationalist affairs in a Europe aiming towards federalism. The populism of the extreme right is a political force that has grown enormously, with support rising from 7% to more than 25% in 20 years. Populist parties are now part of nearly a dozen European governments. They are mainly strengthened through the rifts created by nationalist identity, religious identity, and contempt for foreign immigrants and refugees.
It is precisely in this issue that Albania can support the EU. Right-wing radicalism’s force can be fought with religious tolerance and sincere hospitality, two values in our nation’s cultural mentality. In Albania, Muslims do not work when Christians celebrate their holy days. Everyone can freely believe without being enslaved to prejudice. Also, characterized by a strong sense of solidarity, Albanian hospitality has never discriminated against anyone. It is a historical fact that Albania was the world’s only country where there were more Jews after World War II than before it. Our nation was the only one that hosted and did not hand over any Jews to the Nazis. A good friend of Europe stood out during its worst time.
We do not lack the potential to stand out even during these times. By ennobling the value of religious tolerance, we can show Europe that the country that was previously crushed under the weight of an imposed atheism has now become an oasis of freedom of religion. We can attest to the injustice of being labeled a Muslim country, despite being a secular and detoxified one. By embracing the value of hospitality, we are the real example that confirms solidarity’s triumph over fear. A fear that was once the red regime’s excuse to isolate Albania and is now the blue radicals’ justification for restoring fierce nationalism in Europe.
These Albanian emblems attach to some of the European project’s values, such as solidarity, respect for human dignity, and human rights, which are being challenged by right-wing politics. Symbols are significant in politics, and unifying ones are vital in a political age where divisions are deepening. Albania, therefore, can make its contribution to Europe by offering it such unifying symbols. Understanding religion as part of a personal identity that does not interfere with socio-political interactions is a virtue! Understanding hospitality as a mindset that develops and does not hinder a culture’s worldview is also a virtue! They are symbols of humanism, a universal stance that may be lost in identitarianism’s upsurge. It is up to us to serve these values to Europe, completing our country’s conversion from an unwanted one by the radical right into an example that restrains its intensification.
To achieve this, we must first free ourselves from our inferiority complex, rethinking our society as a contributor to a better and stronger Europe. Only by sharing can we receive. “We want Albania to be like all of Europe” is a dream which awaits its realization. A difficult dream that raises us to the challenge it contains. And like any challenge in history, this too cannot be overcome by desire alone. Action is needed. The path to integration has Europe as its final destination, but it starts here in Albania.
*Material i përgatitur nga portali SCAN. Ripublikimi mund të bëhet vetëm kundrejt citimit të autorësisë dhe burimit origjinal.