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NEW YORK CITY: There are few forms of human suffering in the world today that the Balkan country of Albania has not experienced throughout its tortured 20th century journey.
It experienced North Korean-style isolation when the repressive Stalinist dictatorship that ruled it from 1945 to 1985 cut the country off from outside information and influences, in addition to Albania’s disadvantage of being a country historically obscure and inaccessible.
Absolute leader Enver Hoxha severed ties not only with the West, but also with the former Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union itself, and ultimately China.
Under his 41-year rule, Albanians had experienced what contemporary Syrians know only too well: the cruelty and absurdity of life under a totalitarian regime, with countless deaths and the enforced disappearance of loved ones in prison camps, while the rest of the country plunged into economic deprivation and misery.
Similar to the Lebanese and Yemenis of today, the Albanian people then had known only a life of queuing for bread and fuel.
The grand Ponzi scheme to which the Lebanese have woken up and which they continue to suffer from since 2019 also has a precedent in Albania. In the 1990s, the country was rocked by the dramatic rise and collapse of pyramid schemes, but in a more literal sense.
Hundreds of thousands of Albanians lost their savings. When the schemes collapsed, riots broke out across the country, the government fell, the nation descended into anarchy, and a near civil war ensued in which 2,000 Albanians were killed.
And like Afghans, Ukrainians and the more than 200 million other migrants moving around the world today, Albanians know the pain of exile and displacement. During the civil war, they fled the country en masse. Many Albanians trying to escape were shot. Again, in the late 1990s, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians fled Kosovo to escape marauding Serbian forces.
But then came the breakup. In December 1990, just over a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the communist government of Albania fell, ushering in the end of history after which Albania could only follow one path: Towards capitalism, democracy and freedom.
Ferit Hoxha, Albania’s permanent representative to the UN, clearly remembers a world violently split in two: before and after authoritarian communism.
He told Arab News: “I grew up in a country where you have one newspaper, one voice, one line, and you are not allowed to think. My parents told me to think twice about what I said and who I said it to.
Freedom, he says, begins “when you question what you hear. Freedom doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. No. Freedom is built through institutions, laws, rules, responsibility, justice.
The search for freedom has a deep resonance in a country like Albania, whose chronicle of political history, according to Hoxha, has a recurring theme: domination.
“Over the centuries, Albanians have fought to truly find their place, their rights and define their future. They weren’t always lucky,” he added. And he noted that Albanians have always resisted through “language, culture, identity”.
He recalled a time when his country was an outcast in the world. “And of course when you’re a small country and not a big country like we were back then, you’re just forgotten. You can think of yourself as the center of the world, but in reality you’re forgotten.
Thirty years later, Albania is all but forgotten. As the world experiences unprecedented upheaval, with misfortunes ranging from the coronavirus pandemic and war in Ukraine to drought and impending famine in Somalia, Albania has been one of the strongest voices advocating outsiders from his seat on the UN Security Council.
Member countries, who often campaign for a seat for years, have a say in peacekeeping missions and the council’s other approaches to conflict hotspots, as well as a strong voice on peace issues and international security.
What over the past 30 years has transformed Albania from a pariah state into a staunch defender of universal values on the international stage? What happened along the way?
Hoxha said, “What happened was the transformation. The progress and changes seen (in the early 1990s) were unlike anything Albania had seen in the past 2,500 years. So drastic was the change, so strong was the desire and so profound was the transformation.
He is aware that Albania’s painful past will feel familiar to people in many countries, even in these post-modern times.
His impassioned speeches to the Security Council carry with them the conviction of lived experience. When he enshrines the Charter of the United Nations and the universal principles in his declarations, these take on renewed meaning. His words in the bedroom ring true and clear.
At a recent Security Council meeting on Syria, for example, Hoxha began by saying that there was no other place in the world where the phrase “no end in sight” applied. to Syria.
He stressed that after 11 years of violence and “everything in the book of crimes committed by many but especially by this regime that started it all”, the solution in Syria now crucially hinged on the political process, “and I don’t think not there will be a meaningful political process without accountability.
Hoxha added: “If I were an elderly person (in Syria) today, despite all that I might have suffered, despite the number of my family members who would be dead or missing among these 130,000 people disappeared, and despite many members of my family being in the regime’s notorious prisons, I will ask a question: can I build my future with the same people? Can I build my future with the same domination of one part of the country over all the rest?
“If the answer is yes, then we are going to see the next chapter of the war begin.
“Because there is one thing we have learned from thousands of years of Albanian rule: that at the end of the day, whatever we do, people want freedom, peace and prosperity. Deep inside you have this burning desire to truly live a dignified life. And there is no human being on Earth who would want to live without a modicum of dignity.
“That’s why for me, without accountability, Syria will see no end.”
From Palestine to Yemen, via Libya and Lebanon, there was a common thread, according to Hoxha, and that was “instability”. While each situation is unique, Hoxha blamed the instability on the feet of political classes that had failed to come together or move from their own narrow interests to those of their people and their country.
“It is a great weakness of the political class. When the political class can’t really come together, then you have weak institutions that don’t allow the country to really move forward.
“So there’s a big test of maturity that many countries have to learn: do we want to build things for all of us, or just for some of us?”
This, he said, was the case in Yemen, for example, where a “big push” of investment in a process initiated by the Yemeni political class would provide a buffer against and significantly weaken the many outside influences from selfish countries. who were bearing on the Yemenis.
“That’s why we are now so keen to support the truce, extend it and resolve the remaining issues, such as road closures inside and outside Taiz, lack of cooperation from the Houthis, etc
“The goal is to get the necessary attention and support from the board. The support of the Security Council is crucial because it is this kind of positive tsunami that you cannot go against,” Hoxha added.
There is one thing we have learned from thousands of years of Albanian rule: that in the end, whatever we do, people want freedom, peace and prosperity.
Ferit Hoxha, Permanent Representative of Albania to the UN
In Libya, the problem was legitimacy, according to Hoxha.
“Today we have two governments in Libya, two parallel contexts, and nothing good can come of it until some legitimacy is restored.
“Everywhere we saw power grabs by force or by other means, or by proxy, it didn’t last. It may have lasted for a while, but it failed to win people’s hearts and minds.
Just as Albania had friends who stood by its people as they struggled to find their bearings in a new world after years of isolation, Hoxha believes the Middle East can benefit from “the positive energy” that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries can radiate into an otherwise miserable region.
Hoxha stressed that their role was nowhere more necessary than in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
He described Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf countries as important players that were becoming more active.
“They can be extremely useful in advancing not only the cause of women, peace and security, and advancing rights everywhere, but also, more than anything else, they can help inspire countries in the Middle East. East expanded positive energy, to enable them to break out of the rut in which they have been stuck for 70 years or more.
Hoxha said the power of the Gulf countries was “tremendous”, their influence was growing and their capacity was there, but they needed to act in a more coordinated way.
“Because they are important in themselves, but they also have friends and relations with other powers. And I hope that will be used not only bilaterally, but also regionally and globally to really push for peace and a solution for the Middle East.
“We are asking for a bigger and more coordinated role with other actors to make sure we have a process that would really help everyone move forward in the most complex and tragic conflict we have seen since the Second World War. , which is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he added.