Religious Tolerance: Albania. Conference. Summaries

Publisher: Bjoern Andersen


Version 1.0 - 040605

An international conference »Religions and Civilization in the New Millennium: the Albanian case« was organized in Tirana on November 14-15, 2003 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Albania in collaboration with the Albanian Center for Human Rights, the Helsinki Albanian Committee, the Albanian Media Institute and the House of Books and Communication under the auspices of the President of the Republic of Albania, H.E. Mr. Alfred Moisiu, and the UNESCO Executive Director, Mr. Koichiro Matsuura.

Introductory texts and pictures are to be found at:

The following texts are downloaded from: day before the conference.doc (and transformed slightly technically)

A day before the conference

The religious tolerance and harmony, a value to be proud of

A press conference of the Executive Director of the Albanian Center of Human Rights, Kozara Kati.

A day before the start of the International Conference on the subject: "The Religions and the Civilizations of the New Millennium- The Case of Albania", the Executive Director of the Albanian Center of Human Rights, Kozara Kati, held a meeting with journalists and reporters of home and abroad, as well as with correspondents of foreign agencies, in the hall of Tirana International Hotel. This meeting was intended to inform the public on the goals and the organization schedule of this important activity.

"The conference is organized under the high patronage of the President of the Republic, Mr. Alfred Moisiu, the General Director of UNESCO, Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, as well as under the direction of our writer of renown, Mr. Ismail Kadare" Ms. Kati told reporters adding that in it will participate people from Albania, Albanian inhabited territories, the region and the other countries of the world. Among those there are personalities of public and political life, clergymen pertaining to different religions, scholars and experts of the domain, representatives of media and of the civil society, who will discuss important interreligious issues of the time we live."

After providing some details on the proceedings in separate sessions, Ms. Kati declared: It is a well known fact that Balkan region is a place where the dramatic experience of the last decade coexists with traditional positive experience, the last remaining still partially unknown. And this is just the aim of the present Conference, to convey here as well as in international arena, the image of the Albanian people, of a nation of values worthy of pride, amongst which beyond doubt is the harmonic coexistence of different faiths.

Albania, as a country of a rich and complex religious past, where religious faiths have found nowadays the harmony of coexistence, appreciates the value of such an experience, and wishes to share it with other nations as well.

As Director of Albanian Center of Human Rights, a non-governmental organization coordinating this important event, let me make present to you the partners of the preparation and management of this conference:

The Presidency of Republic of Albania
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Albania
The Embassy of the United Kingdom in Tirana
The Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Tirana,
The Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands in Tirana
USAID/World Learning Office in Tirana
OSCE/ ODIHR Representative in Warsaw ".

The journalists present in the press conference asked for information about Albanian and foreign personalities that had accepted the invitations and confirmed their participation, for the further steps the Center will undertake to disseminate the ideas and the messages of the Conference, for the overall number of the invited, etc.

News and detailed informative chronicles of the informative programs of national and local TV (Klan, Top Channel, Shijak, TVA, Norba, Alsat, ETV, Teuta, Real TV, ATN1, Tirana TV, Vizion Plus, News 24 and Adriatik) and of radio waves (Radio Tirana, Top Albania, +2, Alsat, RASH, Deutsche Welle, BBC and VOA) were broadcast several times during the day following this activity, referring to the press conference of December 13th of the Executive Director of the Albanian Center of Human Rights, Ms. Kozara Kati

From Conference Proceedings


Friday, November 14th, 2003.

The opening ceremony

Mr. Alfred Moisiu - President of the Republic of Albania
Mr. Ismail Kadare - Chairman of the Organizing Committee
Ms. Makbule Çeço - Vice Speaker of Parliament of the Republic of Albania
Ms. Rosa Guerreiro - UNESCO Representative

The President of the Republic, Alfred Moisiu, in his congratulatory speech of the opening of the Conference, made present to the participants the actual and the historical reality of what he called "the excellent model of religious harmony, tolerance and coexistence in Albania". "This model constitutes quite a positive aspect of the Albanian culture of society" the President said, " from which other nations may learn. It has not changed, notwithstanding the past regimes, country isolation, the prohibition of faith or the multilateral opening towards the world. Moreover, it has remained intact and has further developed and strengthened, becoming a precious identity value for Albanian society and family. We feast the weddings and other joyful events together, and also share the sorrows with each other.

Contrary to many other countries and states, it is impossible in many cases for us Albanians to ascertain the religious identity relying on family, personal or progeny names. Moreover, in zones renowned for the conservation of religious rites even in times such a practice was prohibited by law, it was customary to name the children according to other faiths, or to establish marriage alliances and other family links with families pertaining to other faiths. Those were not formal developments or links, but natural ones and inherited from generation to generation. They have already become a tradition and normality, as Vaso Pascia taught us, when he stated at the beginning of the 20th century: "The religion of the Albanians is Albanianhood".

The religious communities in Albania and in all Albanian lands, as rarely found elsewhere, never have experienced misunderstandings among them, but have achieved to develop and cultivate the culture of God's faith, of harmony, of collaboration and coexistence. People are equal before God, and God is one for all: Moslems, Orthodox and Catholics alike. Everybody is free and has the right to choose what faith he likes. In cases of religious or national holidays we witness with admiration the fact that the leaders of those communities pay visits and respect each other, send mutual messages of goodness, peace and brotherhood", the President stated, among other things.

A special attention during the opening ceremony was devoted to the speech held by the great writer, Ismail Kadare. He stated that the history of religious harmony in Albania is not an idyllic one. It is, and has remained, dramatic in its essence. He continued he was not alluding at such episodes as the tragic-comical farce of the prohibition of the religions by the Communist regime. Neither to the malediction in the name of religion of the Albanian alphabet and to the Albanian Orthodox Community reading it. With regard to the pro-Turkish rebellion of Haxhi Qamili, the history was dramatic in its essence, for it was constantly pregnant with grave risks. Today in the democratic Albania all the survived past risks are still possible. They remain such, as it was stated here, for all of Europe, and no doubt, for the world over. Just because of that, as they still remain fairly possible, we have gathered here to talk and show our concern about them.

The religious harmony, as grandiose building as it is, also is brittle. The first serious crack, one of the faiths radicalizing, and the building comes down. In the case of Albania, all the three faiths, as we have already seen, are bound to the nation, to its very existence. No irresponsible behavior, no forgetfulness, no carelessness is allowed to us in the maintenance of this building. And even more prohibited are mean passions, sidling, not to mention here provoking and provokers, said among other things the great writer Ismail Kadare, who at the same time also directed the organizing Committee of the Conference.

From her part, the vice Speaker of the Parliament, Makbule Çeço, underscored the recent improvements of Albanian Legislation, which, according to her, "warrants and respects the religion and all its institutions, establishing the exercise of religious rights and freedom for each citizen, according to his/her convictions."

"The truth is that in our country the different faiths, Moslem, Catholic and Orthodox alike, have coexisted and developed historically in harmony with each other " continued in her congratulatory speech Ms. Çeço, " without creating conflicts and discord. I want to state once more that our people historically has not established relations within the Albanian community basing on religious dissensions, but on the contrary the religions and believers have coexisted and collaborated in Albania as if they were of the same religion, in good will and harmony, respecting each other's religion, even being friends.

It is a historical reality that first, the national feeling, and also the religious faith, have always been a basic factor for the very existence of this people and state. I want also to underline that the relations among faiths in our country serve as a model for all the aspects and elements, actors and factors of the Albanian society and particularly for the political pluralism in Albania, which unfortunately, in many historical moments, has developed through unrelenting conflict up to class struggle, which mentality time and again transforms itself into negativism, creating obstacles for the calm and normal development of the democratic processes in Albania. Thus the message conveyed by the normal coexistence of the different faiths in Albania is useful and functional for the development of the Albanian pluralist policy and for the moral values of our people."

As the Director General of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura, was in a working mission in India, Ms. Rosa Guerreiro read in the Conference his congratulatory speech. "I sincerely regret I cannot be among you on the occasion of this very important International Conference, aiming at the promotion of a new dialogue among cultures and religions on the wake of the Third Millenium, was stated in the congratulatory speech of Mr. Matsuura. First, I want to congratulate the President Alfred Moisiu for this initiative, abiding the fruitful dialogue that started in Ohrid some months before. This demonstrates in real terms his devotion to put to practice what established the Ohrid Declaration. I highly appreciate his work to gather together all religions in Albania in order to ensure their peaceful harmonious existence- as an example of coexistence among peoples and of tolerance.

There is no other country capable of organizing such an event, enabling the gathering of participants from the world over in Tirana. There are three main confessions in Albania: Moslem, Orthodox and Catholic. Their citizens live peacefully and communicate trustworthily.

This is an uncommon trend in a region renowned for the close relationships of religion and nationality, and in the name of religion fratricide wars have been fought. I hope that the historians taking part in this conference will be able to show the resuscitation of what we call religious feeling is so remarkable in Albania after the atheistic years. This feeling undoubtedly leads to the tolerance supported by the respect for the values of "the other".

The history of Albania itself is an exemplary case of the dialogue since the ancient times- since pagan practice, which merged with new religions: from Greece to Rome, from Christianity in its different sects, to Islam and its different mystical traditions, which are the feature of the Balkans. This rich religious legacy teaches the dialogue and the sincerity towards each other. Albania shows the way to a renewed religious dialogue and common experience".



Directed by Mr. Predrag Simic - Director of the Academy of Diplomacy, Beograd - The Union of Serbia and Montenegro


Mr. Franz Lothar Altmann - The Institute of South East-Germany
Mr. Marcus Braybrooke - President of the World Congress of the Churches, London - England
Mr. Janusz Bugajski - Director of the Studies for Southeastern Europe, Center of Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC, USA
Mr. Veton Surroi - Director of Media Company "Koha", Prishtina - Kosova
Mr. Gazmend Kapllani - Philosopher, Athens - Greece

In his paper, the researcher Franz Lothar Altmann, from the Institute of South East in Berlin, pointed out the fact that "some events and developments in the recent past seem to confirm the inevitability of Huntington's thesis, bearing in mind Bosnie- Herzegovina conflict, the Palestinian conflict, or the already mentioned places of conflict as Nigeria and Sudan. On the other side, main conflicts are noted or may have been noted in regions where cultural differences seem to be nonexistent or at most, of a negligible content, as in Northern Ireland, the Pays Basque or in Corse. No doubt that minor cultural differences may be used to mobilize groups or people to create hostilities between neighbors or co-nationals, as it happened between Irish Catholics and Protestants, or Croatian Catholic and Serbian Orthodox communities. Even for those not believing in the major conflict between civilizations, some of the latest ones seem to fit to the label of cultural conflicts, or at least of conflicts where the cultural differences have been used to fuel them or to justify developments, otherwise very difficult to explain. If things thus stand, then inevitably comes the question why such conflicts arise and if we can do something in advance to prevent them. If humanity believes in the conflict of the civilizations, then it starts behaving accordingly! When Huntington states the inevitability, then he, however, ignores the complex interrelationship among the main civilizations of the world. On the contrary, a true global world conception implies a conscience of both, for cultural differences and the links of cultural bases."

Rev. Marcus Braybrooke, parson of Baldons, near Oxford, who is President of the World Congress of the Religions, Patron of the Inter-religious National Center and Co-founder of the Forum of Three Religions, also lectured in the first panel. The lecturer reminded once more the tragic events of September the 11th in USA, that fatal day, as he put it. " A young Moslem from Pakistan was evacuated from the World Trade Center where he worked. He saw a dark cloud coming towards him. Trying to save himself, he fell. A Hassidic Jew extended his hand, saying: " Brother, a cloud of glassware is coming towards us, take my hand, and let us come out of this alive".

People of all faiths have condemned that act of terrorism; they united hands to support and help each other, they were united in prayer. As the young Moslem put it: "We must continue to unite in order to form a more just and peaceful society." In the same tune, Kofi Annan, General Secretary of the United Nations, has declared: "September the 11th did make us look at each other faiths with new eyes…We must unite."

Notwithstanding that, the world has turned to be a riskier place to live in. Although the danger of terrorism has now become quite clear, the fight against the terror has claimed many innocent lives. The gap between rich and poor is widening. The Chinese word for crisis is made, as far as I know, of two characters - one stands for Risk and the other for Opportunity. In this sense, we are experiencing a critical moment in the relations among faiths. It is the time for both risk and opportunity alike.

The risk has become much obvious in the increasing rate of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racism, as well as in the warlike situations, especially in Israel/Palestine and India /Pakistan cases. There is alarming gossip in some countries, but I think it is an ill-oriented one, about the clash of the civilizations.

But still the risks of the situation do stress the immediate importance of the mutual understanding and collaboration among faiths. Recently, the Foreign Office organized the Week of Foreign Policy and Faiths, including a seminar where a number of religious leaders were invited to meet the Foreign Secretary and some prominent members of Foreign Office. This conference represents another sign of welcome in the sense the governments acknowledge the vital importance of promoting understanding among faiths as a contribution to social cohesion and international peace."

The analyst for questions related to Southeastern Europe, Janusz Bugajski, from the Center of International and Strategic Studies, Washington, DC, in his speech underlined three reasons why the concept of civilization, according to him, in fact, hinders and not helps the dialogue and understanding and may become factually a reason or pretext of conflict.

First, the term "civilization" in itself recalls negative or polarized images, as e.g. of the civilized Greeks living in cities contrasted with that of rural or nomadic Barbaric tribes, of the Romans respecting the law contrasted with that of lawless Vandals, of the cultured Chinese against that of bloodthirsty Mongols, so in short, of the civilized against the uncivilized, of the progressive people against primitives.

The term "civilization" is often used as a shortcut to distinguish the West, very narrowly defined, from others, and to humiliate or degrade non-Western societies. The use of the term "civilization" not only radically positions the conflicting and different societies, but also slyly classifies those societies according to their so-called material and moral values, in higher "civilizations" and lower ones and even in non-civilizations. Such an implied or direct differentiation encourages the feeling of superiority, on one side, and the feeling of hatred and victimization, on the other, and may even serve to justify the conflict and the violence, which may be called a justified defense.

Second, the concept of "civilization" when related to a religious or faith system, even when used by people of goodwill in a non-prejudiced manner, is extremely inexact. Does anything called Moslem or Christian civilization truly exist? Or, are the subcategories of those two presupposed categories so numerous and so complex, so superimposed in different faiths and nominations, that ultimately the simple religion is not any more the key defining element? Today, the so-called Islamic-Christian League is quite up to date in the political and strategic communication, but what it often lacks is a deeper historical and cultural viewpoint, based on concretely studied cases and in sound analyses.

By the way, why Christians and Moslems, for long periods of time (especially in the Balkans) have lived together in peace and relative coexistence, and why certain societies are more liable to act relying on propagating stereotypes turning towards violence? In fact, are the categories of Moslem and Christian simply excessively general while nationality, ethnic identity, clan, region, political ideology and ambition, factors more important in the relations and enmities among groups? Albania is a precious example where religion has not assumed a decision-making and classifying role in social and political relations. The problem is how the politicians and the demagogues in some states have succeeded to fuel the prejudices and stereotypes in order to divide and mobilize their societies according to religious lines even where religion is not the main source of identity or of the identity of group. Without studies, and without a serious understanding of such topics, the policy-making and the productive dialogue will suffer from serious limitations.

Third, the notion of "civilization" presently is used for permanent divisions and specificities, and I would have confronted the conflicts with the concept of international cooperation, interstate integration and globalism. Can integration and globalism coexist in divided religious, social and cultural identities? Which are the links between those two dynamics? The requirement for an acceptable balance is one of the major challenges of our time and it is closely linked to the discovery of a formula of peaceful and fruitful link among groups. Unfortunately, the term "civilization" implies permanent differences, even genetic predisposition towards well-defined features of behavior and cultural norms. This presupposes somebody from a country where the majority of the population agrees that they are Moslems will have just a number of irreconciliable values and aspirations, even warlike ones, than somebody coming from a country nominally Christian. This reduces the agreement hopes, brings forth justifications when the dialogue falters or fails, and may rise obstacles instead of leveling them".

The publicist from Kosova, Veton Surroi, stated among other things that the common Albanian is raised in a atmosphere where the religious difference is implied. The fact of one of the Albanians being Moslem, Orthodox or Catholic, of conviction or origin, does not represent a boundary for the other.

When the differences are implied and do not represent boundaries, it results the state of a born, natural tolerance which is not a part of a scholar doctrine, of any idea imposed by the superstructure. To be Albanian born, in a conspicuous measure means to be born tolerant towards religious difference. Often, even more, without any recognition of religious difference at all. Such a big advantage, conditioned by the geography and history of the nation, is made so implied as to leave us nearly unawares, in order to impose us the organization of this International Conference at least to note it, to remember to ourselves and to the others for the existence of this advantage.

Our geography and history may provide the paradigms of this advantage, both for ourselves and for the conflicts of the century we are entering, which in the end of the preceding one was announced as an era of the confrontation of religions and civilizations.

The basic Albanian paradigm, introduced in a simple form, is that there has never existed the religious conflict within this country, and when there has been a conflict with other countries, it has not assumed religious dimensions"- said Surroi, among others.

The last lecture in the first section of the Conference was that of the researcher Gazmend Kapllani entitled "The culture of the compromise". "Today, we speak more than in all times for the clash of civilizations. First of all, the term civilization is a term to be used with much reserve. We must be quite suspicious for all approaches that deal with the DNA of the Albanian, Serb, Greek, Moslem, Christian, etc. civilization alike. Therefore, a little arbitrarily, I prefer to use the term culture, also for the reason that the said term is compatible with multiple dependencies. Thus, e.g., the pensioners' or adolescents' civilization does not exist, but the culture of adolescents and pensioners does, and also the culture of autochthonous and that of the emigrants, the culture of husbands and that of wives, the culture of the believers and that of the atheists, the culture of the rich and that of the poor.

What does it mean to pertain to a culture? To pertain to a certain culture means to possess a preliminary organization of the world, a map that orients and decodes in a certain manner the world. From this viewpoint, the culture pertains to the past, to the present and to the future. Every individual participates in many cultures. E. g., I participate in the Albanian culture. Because of certain circumstances obliged me to emigrate in another country, today I also participate in the Greek culture. At the same time, I also participate (or I believe I participate) in the European culture, or in what we often call "western culture".

And I participate in these multiple identities ("contradictory" sometimes) keeping concurrently unchanged some values and my personal credo: I believe in democracy but not in theocracy. I prefer individual freedom to the communalism.

I trust more in what we may call "multiple identity" but I am not affected in particular by the idea of "genuine national identity". Furthermore I think that such an idea -especially in Balkans - represents a myth cultivated of much fanaticism and ethnic genocide, precisely because identities in our region have been mixed and interlaced with each-other before the creation of state-nations (which were often transformed in calamities). I do believe as well that cultures are not bunkers placed in front of other cultural bunkers, but they are an assembly of values of many streams and nuances. That is why I assume there are not genuine cultures and mixed cultures: there are cultures aware of their mixed character and cultures that aim to deny, or more precisely to conceal it, by using frequently "brain-wash" indoctrination of physical violence.

I believe also that cultures change with time, since those that remain unchanged are predestined to be reduced into dead languages. (e. g. Latin became a dead language the day it lost the capability of changing)".


Subject: Relationship between: Religion and Democracy, Religion and Politics, Religion and the Nation in Transitional Societies

Headed by Mr. Bernard Fisher, Historian, USA


Mr. Arbën Xhaferri, Politician
Mr. W.Cole Durham, ODIHR, Director of Brigham Young University International Centre for Law and Religion Studies, USA
Mr. Predrag Simic, Director of Diplomatic Academy, Belgrade, Union of Serbia and Montenegro
Mrs. Elira Kokona, Lawyer, European Court for Human Rights, Strasbourg, France
Mr. Artan Fuga,Professor at University X, Paris and University of Tirana, Albania
Mr. Shkëlzen Maliqi,Journalist, Analyst, Prishtina, Kosova

The renowned Albanian politician from Macedonia, Arbën Xhaferri, in his lecture "Religion, politics, Albanians", after having analysed the inter-religion relationships in Bosnia, with reference to the bloody conflicts in its territory, was focused on the Albanian example, by pointing out that three monotheist religions live together harmoniously also in Albania, but contrary to the Bosnian case there is no conflict even though different strategic centres, in Belgrade or elsewhere, are very active in inciting them.

The first reason, which influences in non-manifest enmities, is the special way of the creation of the national identity of Albanians. This identity was formed based on ethnic relevancy, on common tolerant tradition, that does not generate the segregation of any relevancy. The main element in forming this national identity, during all its historical phases, it is constantly not the religion, but the language, and consequently the tradition and culture, founded on this base.

Albanians have a precise national origin and they do not need other conspicuous elements, to trigger the phenomena of fetishism of particular details. The Albanian people, unique and homogenous, compared to the peoples of Bosnia, or other peoples, that experience religious conflicts, is similar with the individual who has different affinities and attributes he succeeds to equilibrate in a harmonious and exceptional way. He feels these qualities, these attributes as his own, as a part of his identity and not as contradictions breaking up its personality.

The second argument why the conflict didn't happen in Albania is the historical moment. In the first case, in Bosnia-Herzegovina case, we had to do with an abnormal historical context: the disintegration of Yugoslavia and opening up of separate national causes.

In Albania, by reason of the monolithic character of its population, the disbanding didn't take place. In fact, in 1997 there was a decomposition of the form, actually of the regime, but not of the content. During this year of crises a miracle happened in Albania, which is difficult to be explained rationally. People robbed arms from the depots, but it didn't happen even a single or assassination on religious, ethnic, political or regional basis. All conflicts were of criminal nature or personal revenge.

This can be somehow explained with the fact that historically in Albania projects did not exist provoking inequality of any basis that could stimulate those thymotic energies needed to accelerate the modification of unequal relations in society. To conclude my reflection: in 1997 the regime or the form collapsed, but not the substance, the inner cohesion of the Albanian society.

The preponderance of the religious factor, as a factor of conflicts, is attributable to political projects, but certainly not to religious ones. In the history of mankind always have existed proto-fascist energies that have never converged with the religious option, but their action was tolerated because of the incapability to control them, or because of the opportunism of the religious factor".

"Religion, democracy and the politics of transition: the importance of international norms governing freedom of religion and belief in a pluralistic world" was the paper presented by Professor W. Cole Durham, Director, Brigham Young University International Centre for Law and Religion Studies, USA.

"Freedom of religion is the oldest of the internationally recognized human rights, with roots extending back into the 16th Century and before. In many ways, both as a matter of history and as a matter of philosophy, the right of religious freedom has been fundamental for the evolution of the other human rights, the lecturer pointed out, adding that as a result, it is fair to speak of religious freedom as the grandparent of other human rights. In our secular age, it sometimes seems to be a neglected grandparent as we focus on seemingly more urgent tasks of modern life.

But it is a grandparent that we neglect at our peril. Evidence is increasingly clear that religious life is not about to wither away. The secularization thesis that has long held sway at the center of sociology of religion-the belief that religion will steadily give way to more secular modes of social organization-is losing its grip. If religious spirit could survive here in Albania, in what was without question one of the most atheistic of all regimes, it is likely to survive anywhere and everywhere.

At the same time, it is clear that the trend of history goes towards the increased pluralism. While there continue to be countries where one or a small number of religious traditions are dominant, there are no countries-particularly within the boundaries of the OSCE-where numerous religious traditions are not present. As others have noted at this conference, there are a large number of protestant communities, many of which have been in Albania for decades. Other widely known communities such as Adventists, the Witnesses of Jehovah and the Mormons have taken root. Many other religions, old and new, have attracted adherents in Albania. The shrinking of the world, the increasing mobility of labor, and the general forces of globalization are ensuring the religious pluralism as a reality everywhere. It is the trend of history. In a shrinking and pluralistic world, it seems obvious that if we don't find ways to respect and accommodate differences, as religious freedom requires, we allow the pain of myriad minor injuries to simmer until they boil over in unrestrained outpourings of violence, hatred, and misunderstanding.

We need to remember that everyone represents a minority in most parts of the world. The major religious communities in Albania constitute tiny percentages of society in my home state, where Muslims, Orthodox, Catholics and Jews together would not add up to 5% of the population. We also need to remember that we live in a highly interconnected world with instant communications. When a group is in power, or in a dominant position in one place, it needs to remember in its dealings with others how it would want to be treated if it were in the minority, because virtually any group clearly has co-religionists who are in a minority position elsewhere."

Elira Kokona, lawyer at European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, highlighted some aspects of freedom of belief recognized by this institution.

"The European Covenant of Human Rights, considered as the precious stone in the crowns of covenants and accords residing in the foundations of the democratic Europe, puts emphasis in Article 9 , that "everyone will have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change one's religion or belief and freedom, to manifest one's religion or belief, either alone or in community with others, in public or in private, through worship, teaching, practice and observance".

In the early practice of the European Court for Human Rights it is emphasized that freedom of thought, conscience and religion, is one of the foundations of the democratic society. The religious dimension is one of the most vital elements, making possible the identity of the believers and their concept of life. It is also an important value for the atheists, agnostics, laics, etc. The religious pluralism is an indivisible part of the democratic society and it dependent on it. As, the French judge of European Court, Jean Paul Costa has stressed: "The freedom of belief is important both for those who believe in Heaven and for those who do not believe in it".

As freedom of religion is a primary issue in the belief of individuals, it presumes the freedom to manifest the individual belief in public or private environment, either alone or in communities. In the reaffirmed practice of the Court, in the right to manifest the belief includes also the right to change it.

The Court has emphasized that in a democratic society, the religious coexistence of different groups, may need in some cases limitations on manifestation of religious freedom necessary to satisfy the interests of all the groups, and to ensure respect of everyone's belief. In exercising the regulatory authority in the personal sphere of the individual, the state should remain neutral.

Limitations in manifesting the freedom of belief should be explicitly defined by law, following a legal purpose, or should be undertaken when necessary in a democratic society", mentioned lawyer Kokona in her speech along with other points of views.

"Behaviour of today's Albanians with regard to the religion" was the subject presented by Prof. Dr. Artan Fuga, part-time lecturer at the Faculty of Social Science, Tirana University, and researcher at the laboratory LADYSS (CRNS-University of Paris X), France. Focusing in some characteristics of the Albanian model, the speaker emphasized that religious institutions and religious beliefs in Albania, in particular after the grave persecution of the Catholic Church immediately after the liberation of the country, lost the prospect to become again the fundamental factor of the anti-totalitarian politic and cultural resistance, as it was the case of Poland and of the Polish Catholic Church. They came out relatively weak from the past which complicates their relation with broader layers of the population, and makes rather difficult the rise of the cultural level of the middle and low level clergy, creating intricacies of all kind in the elaboration of a moral and social doctrine with a big social impact as a substantial part of religious preaching. The institutions of laic communication in Albania, as schools, newspapers and electronic medias exercise a much greater impact on public opinion compared to religious institutions.

The social-religious groups in today's Albania which form different religious communities do not represent common social, economic or ethnic interests, as in the case of Arab-Jewish conflict. (Rodinson, M., Peuple juif ou problème juif. La Découverte, Paris, 1997). They are not superimposed on socio-economic or targeted national groups as it happens in some countries, as for example in ex-Yugoslavia, (Roux, M., Les Albanais de la Yougoslavie, Economica, Paris 1990), in ex-Soviet Union or in Northern Ireland (Peyronnel, V., Economie et conflict en Irlande du Nord, Ellipses, Paris 2001). From this point of view the economic and social conflict in Albania does not acquire religious nuances and does not aggravate the religious conflict. The last and the religious identities do not express ideologically a real contradiction amopng the main groups of social-economical interests.

The Albanian transition, accompanied by a massive rural exodus towards bigger urban centres and towards the neighbouring countries, members of European Union, with an elevated percentage of the population of Christian religious tradition, didn't allow the creation of active conservatory resistance centres in the remote or peripheral rural areas of the country, aggressive towards the today's economical, cultural and political changes, which would make use of the language of religious belief to contest the economical and political model in power, as it occurred in the Iranian case.(Rauffer, X., La nébuleuse: le terrorisme du Moyen-Orient, Fayard, Paris 1987). In particular among young generation, which has a predisposition to emigrate or to be strongly influenced by the western media, the tolerance and kindness with regard to religious beliefs are commonly widespread. They transmit to the entire society a very flexible attitude towards other people religion and consider the religious belief simply as a private issue of the individual.

The Albanian economical and political elite, depending politically, economically and institutionally on western international factors, has no interests or predisposition to give to the ideological or cultural models, that sanction their power, a religious form or nuance promoting them into the official ideology of the state, as in the case of Iraq during Saddam period, Saudi Arabian regime or Afghanistan under the Taliban rule. (Mahdi, F., Fondements et mécanismes de l'Etat en Islam: l'Irak, l'Harmattan, Paris 1991).

The Albanian political and economic elite has adopted as a leading ideology the western liberalism of nowadays, which enables the legitimacy of their practical action in a market society and politically built upon political pluralism and formal division of power. This kind of ideology consents the ruling elite to create the favourable operating environment in the framework of internal local territory, and to ensure political coherence to the monitoring factors of the international political life in the European framework and over a broader range. Religious diversity, relying not on empiric social-economic differences, hinders the opportunity that consciousness, religious communities and institutions inspire political groups with massive support by electorate, oriented toward an integrative model and created and consolidated as a reaction towards the phenomena of prolonged economical, politic crises, and corruption of national elite or economic recession, as it turned out in the Algerian case.(Touati, A., Algérie, les islamistes a l'assaut du pouvoir, l'Harmattan, Paris 1995)".

The analyst from Kosova, Shkëlzen Maliqi, in its speech "Relations between religion and politics in societies in transition", mentioned among other things the fact that establishment of the democratic systems in the last decade of the 20th century influences even the renewal of religious practice among Albanians.

"This has been important particularly for Albania, where Enver Hoxha's regime, since 1960, forbade the activity of religious institutions and any form of religion practice, proclaiming Albania an atheist state. Thus the revitalisation of religious beliefs became an inseparable part of democratic processes in Albania, as well as in other territories inhabited by Albanians. Out of this revitalisation the democratisation processes have never suffered even the slightest damage, even though there was the impression, that in the re-establishment of the institutions and especially in presenting the missionaries and in the forming of new sects, there was a kind of abusive fury vis-à-vis the extreme poverty of the Albanian society.

However, in the broad relations between religion and politics in Albania, as well as in Kosova and in other Albanian territories, the society have not experienced turmoil or relevant problems, deriving from religious practice or from their claims to increase the influence among believers. Moreover, even when there were problems, they were generated and defined as such by policies, which have prejudiced and misinterpreted the role and influence of religions in the social life. This was due to the fact that during transition processes, the revitalisation of religions was a second range event, compared with the primary importance of politics, economy, and the setting up of the democratic system, institutions and procedures.

In other words, I support the thesis that none of the big events that have coloured the historical developments of the Albanian world during the last twelve years can be associated either with the religion or with the revitalisation of religious institutions and practices. Their renewal and relative strengthening occur in the most marginal part of the developments, and not in their mainstream. It is understandable that this does not mean that religions had no impact in politics. My consideration has to do only with the low and marginal level of this influence in the political and social processes.

Traditionally Albanians have escaped the politicisation of religions because of fear of motivating internal inter-confessional conflicts, which would destroy the national cause. Historically the reason of this fear was conditioned even by the fact that the representative authorities of confessions active amongst Albanians were not Albanian. In the liberation wars of Albanians, they had to fight even for the autonomy of their religious institutions dominated by foreign churches and clergy.

Throughout their history Albanians never had national institutions of whatever religion, which would play a more prominent role in liberation wars and people's self-awareness. There were patriot clerics, but not churches standing behind them. It is different with some neighbouring populations where the national churches have assumed important roles, though non-decisive, in the formulation of national ideologies and state- forming ideas. I mean the Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian orthodox churches, but also the Croatian Catholic Church.

The lack of a national Church for Albanians has had even positive effects, because their identity was built based on language, territory and ethnic relevancy and not on the basis of a common religion.


Subject: Greetings from representatives of religious communities.

Headed by Mr. Muhamet Kapllani - Adviser of the President of the Republic of Albania

Greetings from:

Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia - Leader of Saint Egidio Community
Mr. Ermir Gjinishi - Vice Principal of the Moslem Community in Albania
His Eminence Bishop Ilia - Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox Church
Monsignor Rrok Mirdita - Archbishop of the Diocese of Tirana and Durrës, Albania
Monsignor Mark Sopi - Archbishop of Kosovo
Father Edmond Brahimaj - Bektashian Community - Albania

In his speech, the vice-chairman of the Albanian Moslem Community, Ermir Gjinishi reiterated the indisputable fact that Albania at all times has been well-known in the world as a relic country for its values of religious harmony, cohabitation and tolerance: "These are values of the century-old Albanian culture, historically represented with dignity by the Albanian people and all the clerics, representatives of religious communities in our country. Religion is the God's message, as all the humans are His beings", said Gjinishi, adding that: "On the basis of this principle, the Islam faith grants the peace and fairness to the whole mankind. The religious tolerance in Albania has been and it continues to be a paradigm: different concepts, co-exists in a common absolute peace, whereas the same concepts have been used by other people as causes of hate, conflicts, divisions and wars. Perhaps are those faiths the same in Albania? What's their secret?

It is only the determination of the man's will to be a believer of divine standards and to reflect these holy values, without changing them, for the benefit of the society and, on the other side, its ambition to meet the personal passions, out of the religious criteria, even for the detriment of the society.

Religions, whatever they are, have not impeded their followers to cooperate for the progress of the Albanian people. All of them in their teaching preach love and collaboration of people. In Islam religion, two of five fundamental principles are: the belief in all the Prophets and the belief in all the holy books. Thus, these two principles position in an absolute way the main basis of respect and collaboration with the other religions.

Under the holy hymn: work together with mutual respect and devotion, clerics and Moslem believers were engaged in all the historical, social and cultural significant events of the Albanian people, being a real unification factor, towards the country integration. This is evident in their involvement in Prizren League, in the proclamation of the independence, in the Congress of Manastir, in the launching of the Albanian schools, in the publication of books and magazines, in establishing of cultural associations, in collaborating with other communities, etc., being at the same time patriots, intellectuals, believers and citizens. The religious culture in our country is an inseparable part of civil culture.

On the other side, historically the Albanian politics, with its neutrality, has been another important partner, in the preservation of religious values, which already are an inestimable national treasury for Albania.

Inter-religious peace and harmony, this jewel of Albanian culture, follows the tradition even today, thus being in the same line with public institutions in the course of the integration of Albania, where Albanians have chosen to go.

The high cleric of the Catholic Church in Albania, the Archbishop of Tirana and Durrës diocese, Monsignor Rrok Mirdita, stated in his speech, among others, that "every society, in every époque has confronted the issue of religious belief, to embrace it or to avoid it, to cultivate or to deride it, to find it useful for man, and consequently for the mankind, or to find in it his indolence, with the idea that religious belief leads the individual or the society towards escape from the history.

The big unresolved issues, the unmitigated enigma of the existence that means the grandiose mystery of what is beyond our limits, which we experience every day and the most dramatic expression of which is the death, not only have obliged humans to embark on the way out, on the way of exodus from the constrained experience of material existence toward the vision of the unknown, but also have entered the limited history of the mankind with all the supremacy of their far distant light. Mystery is a part of humans, therefore man is looking where it comes from, looking for mystery's lands, where he hopes and believes that he will find the unlimited, which is characterised by everlasting happiness that is not an attribute of this world tormented by the burden of guilt and sin. Mystery's lands are called heaven, paradise. If we would like to define with a few poor words the phenomenon of religious belief, it is that power of mystery which enlightens man in the innermost of his existence and leads him in the search of the happy eternity.

I made this prologue on the quintessence of religious belief, because without its perception it is impossible to have a right vision of different religions. Different religions are the ways that lead people towards the core of religious belief, which is the encounter with God. This is the only reason that justifies their existence, reason without which the religion would be parasitic, for man and for the whole world.

Inter-religious conflicts and contradictions, temptations for violent reciprocal imposed submission, emerge only as a consequence of intentional or unintentional lack of this fundamental vision. Anytime different religions enter in conflict with each other, they betray their fundamental nature, which is the search for God. God cannot be found under the ruins of violence exerted on His behalf. Or if He can be found under those ruins, will be found violated by those who pretend to be the protectors of faith in God.

That is why inter-religious tolerance is an indicator of loyalty that different religious belief have to the quintessence of faith. It is quite natural and in full conformity with faith to express sentiments of contentment when there are news that in the area of another religion people come close to God more and more and are affected by divine goodness to love people more and more and to make more divine the co-existence in this world. It is immoral and diabolic to hate on behalf of your religion people, which forge their soul in the grace of another religion.

It is too much spoken and it will be always mentioned (I believe even in this conference) with laudatory tones about the intra-religious harmony in Albania. The religious leaders and the devoted believers can be somehow proud and flattered of laudations in our address regarding the intra-religious tolerance, which is doubtless a good example even for people with a cultivated civil tradition. But, honourable guests, it is painful when we think we are praised because we have done what is an inalienable quality of religious nature: friendly acceptance of each other in the same Albanian society. If we love our faith in God, if we love our religious relevancy and we love our relevancy to this Albanian land so much tormented and exhausted of absurdities, we must continue to live in this harmony not with the feeling of doing something extraordinary, because like this we would make the harmony fragile, but with the rejoiced and comforted feeling that we are living the most natural trait of our religious spirit, which is tolerance and harmony".

Monsignor Mark Sopi, Bishop of Kosova, emphasised in his speech that "The case of Albania with regard to religions and civilisations in the new millennium (bitter as it may be and unique from many points of view) might provide support for a better understanding of our God Providence in the course of history.

The local church in Kosova, as well as all the other churches of Arbëria, can be an example of resistance and of evangelist co-existence not only during this sacred and jubilee year for all the Albanians, but even for the new millennium, hoping that the divine clemency of God's hand will consecrate the way of justice and peace in those very languishing lands.

Our incessant efforts for welfare and peace will be a definite guarantee for ecumenism and sincere dialogue among our Christian churches and all the other religious communities".

His Excellency, Bishop Ilia, representative of Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Albania, said to the participants that "this two-day international conference is a testimony that modern Albania can face today every kind of problem, putting in evidence important subjects, presenting them from different point of views, as for example that of different religions and civilisations.

This subject requires a new examination in the view of world history of the last fifty years. Because religions, as well as civilisations have passed through circumstantial changes, showing clearly that man cannot be isolated and that in the end, the aspiration of Lord, that nations and people may live together in a clime of tolerance, goodness and peace, definitely materializes.

In the educational aspect, religions enable the relation between human rights and the concept of human being. Under the impact of religions, and through religious consciousness, prosper the ideals of individual freedom, fairness and human dignity.

The Orthodox Church in general and with its two thousand years history supported also by theological development based on Holy Scripture and in the Divine tradition, motivates a way of thinking which forms the consciousness with pledge and conviction. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem said "the way of sanctification is composed of two elements: the hope-giving doctrine and the virtuous action." Therefore, His Eminence, Monsignor Anastasi, the Archbishop of Tirana and of all Albania, in his recently published book, "Facing the World", underlines: "Human Dignity is not some vague kind of civic pride, bur arises from the certainty that each human being is indeed a sacred person, the creation of a personal God." (page 60).

On behalf of Bektashian Community, Father Edmond Brahimaj and Professor Doctor Sokrat Ahmataj greeted the conference.

"We consider religion as one of the most important components of the society. Many historical events of the daily life have their direct origin in the good or bad treatment of problems related with religion, independently from the fact that the causes of these events are often searched elsewhere. In a more general aspect, respecting or non-respecting the religious guidance, that in other words are God's commandments, is exclusively in the centre of all human experience. That means religions, especially in Albania, deserve to be treated seriously, as a factor that in time has an un-limited role in preserving and shaping the human society. They should not be considered, as it happens very often, as an atavism and phenomena of the past, or as an inevitable burden.

Such attitudes are promoted by ignorance and lack of accurate information on religions and religious issues. The greatest calamity is that people, or what is worse, the statesmen and politicians, which have in their hands the fate of the human society, assume this position apriori, accepting as an axiom the atheistic point of view "religion is an opium for the people" But, as Imam Ali, one of our great teachers says "people are hostile toward the unknown". In the end, the greatest disgrace is the fact that this position is accepted even by scientists and erudite, to whom religion and God have relied their great hope for the real emancipation of the society".


Saturday, November 15th, 2003


Subject: The inter-religious relations in Albania, the history, the present, the future

Directed by Mr. Sabri Godo - Writer and politician-Albania


Mr. Roberto Morozzo della Rocca - Writer and historian, Rome, Italy
Mr. Nicholas Pano - Historian, USA
Mr. Shaban Sinani - Director of Archives of State- Albania
Mr. Bernd J. Fischer - Historian, USA

The Italian historian, Roberto Morozzo della Rocca, pointed out in his lecture that the religions in the Balkans have historically been an element of ethnic divide and national conflicts. Each nation has its own religion. The Polish historian Marek Waldenberg labeled this phenomenon "the ethnicity of the religions", to show that religions are used by nationalism. This situation becomes possible because religious communities represent a decisive element of the character of every nation. Notwithstanding religions naturally have in their essence and cultural heritage a message of peace, they have been exploited to cause wars. This exploitation has been empowered by the political and military leaders, but it occurs also because of the weakness of religious leaders, who have not had enough power to resist to the prevailing ideologies and to transform the content of their faiths into a culture of civil society.

The case of Albania is different in this general Balkan background. The Albanians are both Christian and Moslem, they are both Catholic and Orthodox, Sunni-s and Bektashians. There exists in Albania a remarkable religious pluralism. The religions do not represent a source of conflict for Albanians in general, and especially for those living in Albania. The religious communities have always succeeded to coexist peacefully during the history of Albania, although they have been separated and somehow jealous for their respective privileges.

The Albanians are marvelous: Orthodox Christians and Catholic ones, Sunni Moslems and heterodox ones, as well as Bektashians, all coexist peacefully and even friendly. This is due to the fact they are well aware they pertain to the same people, and the Albanian people has a strong ethnic identity, forged in centuries of its fight to survive. We all know the phases of religious difference in Albania. Those phases were the product of outer irresistible factors. The division of the ancient Roman Empire between East and West caused, in the long term, the division of Albanian Christianity. The Ottoman Empire caused the dissemination of Islam. The Albanians weren't those who chose those differences in their relation to the religions. It was not a free an inner choice and the Albanians know that as well as their history.

The religious borders within Albanian world have always been vague. Many histories of chroniclers and native travelers of the past speak about the multireligious membership of Albanian families, which had a Christian or a Moslem progeny according to their need and advantage. Another phenomenon is to be mentioned: the covert Christian faith of the people who have declared themselves Moslems, but retained in their spirit the Christian faith. Even when Islam was at his peak, the Albanian Moslems considered that their ancestors had been Christians; this prevented them from the fanaticism in the new religion.

The antireligious policy of Enver Hoxha confirmed, in a certain measure, the good relations existing among Albanian religious communities. Under the pressure of the atheistic State, they created new forms of covert solidarity. The believers tried to help each other in a difficult context. I can here mention the history of the first bell of the present Orthodox Cathedral in Tirana; it was put to safety by a Moslem, was preserved by a Catholic, who gave it to the Orthodox when the freedom of faith was reestablished. It is not something new in history that the most sincere ecumenism has been that of the suffering and of martyrs. In the most difficult years, the Christians and the Moslems have been more close to each other.

The religious peaceful pluralism of Albania is a value for the country, for the Balkans, for the Europe. It can serve as a model of coexistence for an Europe with many religions, which experiences difficulty as a crucible of cultures. The multireligious character of Europe is not related to ethnic homogeneity, as in Albania, where the sharing of values, language, and culture alleviate the coexistence among religious communities. But the Albanian model may inspire Europe and help the Europeans to be proud to be Europeans, as the Albanians are proud of being Albanians. The deep feeling for a common European motherland will make the coexistence of religions much easier.

Nicholas Pano, a US historian, held a lecture entitled "The religion in Albania: The legacy of the Communist era", where he, among other things, underlined that the different Albanian religious communities have got ethical, technical and financial support from their respective religious communities abroad to rehabilitate their places of worship and for the training of their clergy, taking the different liturgical provisions and other materials needed to carry out the service and to support financially their activities. From the three main religious groups, the Moslems and the Roman Catholics were more advanced soon after start with regard to the normalization of their situation.

The mosques were restored during the years '90, or were built nearly in all the places they have existed prior to 1967.The senior preachers and the teachers of Islam faith were re-trained in Albania or in different Islamic countries. The Albanian Moslem Community continues to receive foreign financial aid and technical support while he seeks to re-establish his influence in Albania. The rehabilitated Islam appeal in post-Communist Albania, however, seems to be quite limited only to the old generation of the faithful and in a smaller number of youngsters of school age, some of which aspire to be qualified studying in one of Islamic countries.

…Although the Catholic Church has experienced the highest degree of persecution during Communist regime, it has notably progressed towards regaining its position in Albanian life. The restoration of the administrative organization of the Albanian Catholic Church was accomplished in April 1993, when the Pope John Paul II visited the country to ordain four Albanian bishops, three having survived Communist persecution. By this time, there were 65 priests, 38 monks and 150 nuns, performing humanitarian and spiritual activities.

The Catholic Seminary in Shkodër recorded in 1995 nearly 100 candidates for priesthood, together with other Catholic youths in different phases of their preparation for a career in religious life. The capability of the Catholic Church to reinstate a hierarchy made of ethnic Albanians along with the fact that a significant percentage of the Catholics have preserved their faith to the Church despite the pressure exerted against them facilitated the restoration of Catholicism. The unswerving Catholic anticommunist population, concentrated mainly in the North of Albania, has been one of the fundamental sources of support for the democratic transition, as well as for the anticommunist political parties.

….The restoration of the Albanian Orthodox Church, however, has advanced with more difficulty. Such a situation followed from the fact that all the members of Church hierarchy were dead during the period 1967-1990, so there were no qualified candidates to fill the vacant places of the bishops. After due consultations with the Albanian government, the Patriarch of Constantinople in July 1992 nominated Archbishop Anastasios Janullatos, a Greek citizen, to serve as the Head of Albanian Orthodox Church, till an Albanian will assume the charge.

This nomination was welcomed by the Greek minority in Albania, but was greeted with suspicion by the big segments of Albanian Orthodox Community. They feared Janullatos would seek to "hellenize" the Church and use its influence to support the claims of Greek ultranationalists as in the case of the bishop Sevastianos Oikonomidis for the Greek annexation of the southern regions populated with Greek population, or the proposals of Ethnic Greeks inside Albania for autonomy in those regions they were mainly concentrated"

The Professor of History and Head of the Department of History in the University of Indiana "Fort Wayne", Bernd J. Fischer, stated at the beginning of his lecture that the religious tolerance in the West is often measured with the treatment of Jews-aspect for which the Albanians have fulfilled their duty at their best. The others in the Balkans- and markedly in the other part of Europe- have institutionalized the discrimination, have taken part passively or even often enthusiastically in some of the more heinous crimes against humanity in relation to the Jews, while Albanians, often at their risk, have opened their country and often their homes not only to the Jews of Albania, but also for foreign ones.

This is precisely the aim of this short lecture, to analyze some aspects of this issue in the context of the period between Wars and during the Second World War- I would especially like to concentrate in the following items:

1.The policy of Zog for the nationalization of religion and the encouragement of further religious diversity in Albania.

2.The Jews in Albania during the Second World War

3. A short comment about some possible motives behind those different stands towards Jews in Albania.

Later, Fischer examined in detail the issue "Zog- the nationalization of religion and the encouragement of further religious diversity in Albania.", where he underscored the following: "It is clear, I think, considering the religious policy of King Zog in its entirety, he regarded it as a possible disintegrating potential, which might impede the way towards the creation of a unified, modern and western-style state he sought. Zog was decided to reduce the possible disintegrating effect of the religion in Albania following a policy of the nationalization of the religion, stimulating and supporting the political and administrative independence of different religions in Albania from every foreign influence, and following a policy which might be described as a further advancement of religious diversity.

From the nationalization of religion viewpoint, the policy of Zog towards the majority of the Churches is well known, but let me make a short summary. Zog was oriented in a certain measure by his Monarchic Constitution of the year 1928 and by his Law "On Religious Communities in Albania", approved by the Parliament controlled by him in January 1930, which declared Albania a non-sectar country, reserving the right to the State of controlling the religious communities, requiring-relying on Article 8 of the Law-"the religious leaders, their immediate dependents, bishops with their parsons, must be of Albanian origin and language". Notwithstanding that, he at the same time declared the individual religious right for all Albanians. The Constitution of the year 1928 warranted that "All religions and faiths are honored and the freedom of their practice is ensured. The religion in no way can create judicial obstacle and cannot be used for political purposes.


Subject: The legal framework of the religious issues;the religion and the law in democratic societies

Directed by Mr. Luan Omari - Academy of Sciences-Albania


Mr. Sokol Hazizi - Vice Minister of Justice
Mr. Kristaq Traja - Lawyer, The European Court of Human Rights, Srasbourg-France
Mr. Fatos Beja - Politician - Albania
Ms. Aurela Anastasi - University of Tirana-Albania
Mr. Ledio Bianku - University of Tirana-Albania

In his speech, the vice Minister of Justice, Sokol Hazizi, underscored the fact that the democratic process in Albania has already assumed a well-defined political and juridical physiognomy and has become more complete. "It is a continuing process, an uninterrupted movement, an endless perfecting. Naturally in the substance of this process the establishment of the democratic institutions is of special importance. But those processes would not normally function without the constitutional and legal regulations.

During those 13 years of democracy in our country, although with many problems and difficulties, the legal coverage of democratic institutions, their normal functioning and the creation of accurate relationships has been one of the priorities in the activity of the government.

We are now engaged in the fulfillment of legal and juridical needs our legislation may become more suitable to that of EU countries and for the achievement of democratic standards necessary for Albania membership in this structure. In the excessively difficult and complex variety of problems of the democratic process in our country, we must highlight as a very positive occurrence the rebirth of the religious faith in Albania despite the fact our country from the year 1967 had destroyed the religious institutions and in the Constitution of the year 1976 had declared Albania an atheistic State. The said rebirth of the traditional religious faiths was carried out without any problems.

And what is most important to point out is the pristine rebirth of the great national religious treasure, of the inter-religious tolerance, understanding and coexistence. Of course the traditional religious faiths in Albania had their former statutes and regulations that were constantly improving, but this did not suffice".

"The religion and the justice as components of social order and of conscience" was the subject of the following lecture of Mr. Kristaq Traja, a lawyer in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

" The explanation that Albanians are not great believers, and that religion is not deeply rooted in Albania, even if it were true, does not convince me", the lecturer expressed his opinion, adding: " It would result, the weaker the religious feeling of a people, the greater the harmony among religions. But a weak religious feeling brings nearly always the weakening of moral and juridical rules in a society, thus the result would likely be the opposite, clashes and perhaps violence. It would have resulted that an inter-religious harmony is possible only where the religions are superficial, and for this reason, are not capable of causing dissension in people.

This view silently is derived from the premise that considers religion as a factor of separations and dissension. Nothing is more distant from the truth than this. If many sins are committed against the calm and the social peace during transition, this is not due to the fact that in Albania the religions have been weak and the faith superficial. No, the roots of the conflicts ought to be sought first in politics, in the political life.

The religious and the political pluralism are manifested up to this date as of a different nature. The first is an example of understanding, the second an example of quarrel; the first has conveyed messages of tolerance, the second messages of conflict. The political, governmental and legal structures have been stronger than the religious ones, nevertheless the clashes precisely occur in that sphere of hard tools, and not in the sphere of soft religious convictions. The different religions represent different cultures, and as such, supposing true the propositions of Huntington, we would expect fights among the religious communities. Neither has this happened yesterday, nor today.

I have read Huntington's book "The clash of civilizations". Many things that are told in this book, if superficially considered, that is, as they appear at the first sight, seem like true. The book seems to make a great discovery, pretending to serve as an explanation, or even the best explanation, of human history.

The civilizations have different cultures in their foundations, and just because of this, they are tempted to confront each other. The values change, the mentality and the rules of behavior also change; the traditions follow different tracks, they justify different, even contradictory standpoints. There is some truth in all places, nobody negates the difference of traditions, that there often occur clashes because of diversity. Those cases are demonstrated by the new and the old history, and nothing suggests they shall not be confirmed in the future".

The parliamentary representative and the politician, Mr. Fatos Beja, stated, among others, in his lecture that in the social behavior of the Albanians have survived, arm in arm, keeping alive even today, customary elements of pagan, Christian and Moslem origin, preserved during centuries, without excluding each other. In centuries, we cannot negate episodes of contempt and distancing among each other. But the awareness that "the other" was of the same country, of the same blood, of the same language, then of the same nation, in the surrounding Balkan environment, obliged that "the other" be not considered as an enemy, and consequently, the Albanians, though being constantly engaged in wars, did not shed each other's blood on religious issues.

The Albanians came during centuries as a multi-confessional people, where the preceding religion persisted while the other was introduced, and this up to this day. Always being aware of their former membership in the preceding confession, which is witnessed by the oral family and ethnic tradition, of the same family names for ethnic groups of Catholic, Orthodox and Moslem confession, in the adoption of Christian names from Moslem families of Labëria when the firstborn died, in the respect and in the treatment as "sacred places" of the old churches in the completely Islamized villages, in the common pilgrimages in places belonging to the Saints of the other confession, etc.

Thus it is not simply an obligatory coexistence, but more than that. It is the respect of each other's faith with a complete conscience, and this is the reason that our representatives of national Renaissance put it as the basis of our patriotic ideology, providing a precious help in its strengthening and in the civilization of the Albanian society. The Albanian clergymen have the undeniable merit of supporting this spirit which even today honors our people".

As. Prof. Aurela Anastasi, in the University of Tirana, held the lecture "The freedom of faith in the Constitution of Albania". Shortly examining the freedom of faith in our country, she from the start underlined that Albania, in all the tradition of its independent State, has not practiced the interconnection of faith and State. Once the independent Albanian State was created, its neutrality as to the questions of freedom of conscience and faith was immediately stated, which was inspired beforehand from our representatives of national Renaissance as a political program, and was sanctioned in the masterpiece of the Albanian Renaissance "Albania: what it was, what it is, and what it is to be".

This clearly expressed the emancipation of the Albanian people, who notwithstanding the long submission to the Moslem Turkish regime of the Sublime Porte, which created a Moslem majority in Albania, succeeded to reestablish itself since the very start, as a lay and neutral State. The Constitutional Acts of the period of the Independence confirm the separation of State and religion, the freedom of conscience and of faith, and that of religious practice. Those were established in "The Organic Statute of Albania", that was "a donated Charter" of the European Great Powers of the time, and later on, by "The Statute of the Albanian State" of the year 1922. The last one sanctioned: " The State does not recognize any official religion. All the religions are honored and the freedom of their practice and outer exercise is guaranteed. The religious difference does not imply any obstacle or juridical handicap for the possession or exercise of civil and political rights."

In this disposition one is impressed by the fact that the formulation of the freedom of faith is not only closely related to the principle of the neutrality of the State in its regard, but is formulated as indissoluble from this principle, within the same Constitutional disposition. Even after the proclamation of the Republic of Albania in 1925, the principles of the neutrality of the State with regard to religions and of the freedom of conscience and of religious faith, principles that were reaffirmed, principles that were reaffirmed in the Statute of the Kingdom of Albania of the year 1929. During all the period 1920-1939, the policy of the State aimed to establish strict national principles for the activities of religious institutions, as well as a general control of the State on religious communities. This policy was elaborated aiming to achieve4 the coexistence and the understanding of the three religious communities in Albania, and to transform them into supporters of Ahmet Zog's regime.

…After the Second World War, this neutrality was replaced by denigrating policies gradually leading towards its complete negation. The history of the freedom of conscience and of religious faith in the period of Communism is the history of its gradual negation. In the Constitution of People's Republic of Albania of the year 1946, the freedom of conscience and of faith was guaranteed, as well as the freedom of their practice and exercise, warranted by the laity and the neutrality of the State. But the fourth paragraph of the Article 18 of this Constitution, which prohibited the abuse of church and religion for political ends, served as a basis for the persecution of tens of clergymen who were accused for political participation aimed at the overthrowing of the regime.

The most elementary formulations of the freedom of conscience were completely obliterated in the Constitution of the People's Socialist Republic of Albania (1976), sanctioning the policy of the Communist State followed since 1967 for the fight against the religious communities up to their complete elimination. This Constitution affirmed the principle of atheism (Article 37), stressing that the State does not recognize any religion and supports and develops the atheistic propaganda to implant in people the scientific materialist philosophy. Thus, all religious propaganda was prohibited, as well as the creation of whatever organization of religious character, along with the prohibition of organizations of a fascist, antidemocratic, religious and antisocialist character (Article 55).

After the democratic changes of the years 1990, the freedom of religion and the rights of the old religious communities in Albania were reestablished. Moreover, a series of new religious faiths were introduced to exercise their practices and rites. The freedom of conscience and of faith were reaffirmed according to International Standards, by the law "On fundamental freedoms and rights of People" (1993), which represented a Constitutional Law, addenda to the law "On main Constitutional dispositions" (1991), which served as the main Constitutional Law in the country, up to 1998. During all the period of the democratic transition, the State has not shrunk from stating all its neutrality and for a population of several religions, as it is the case for Albania, State neutrality seems to be a suitable solution. But I think neutrality does not mean indifference. Following this indifference, during all those years, we have lacked a complete law for the regulation of the relations in this domain".

In the last session of the Conference, the pedagogue of the University of Tirana, Ledio Bianku, held the lecture with the subject: "The freedom of thought, faith, religion and the law".

"In order to warrant the society from every insanity of lack of tolerance, said the lecturer among other things, an old Latin saying must be followed, ubi societas, ibi ius, that is, where a society does exist, there is also a legal regulation. The Western societies, which are often referred to as the developed ones, cannot be held as being more tolerant than the Albanian society, but they are undoubtedly essentially more legally regulated and the possible excesses are far less probable.

This viewpoint imposes to us the task to enhance the moral values to the level of sanctioned and State values, obligatory to all. This can be achieved only if there are laws defining the conditions that allow the respect of the freedom of thought, faith and religion. Naturally, this regulation will consist of two elements. On one side, in the positive obligation of the State to regulate the tolerance, to foresee the permissible and to prohibit what is not such. On the other side, in the horizontal application of the legal dispositions which regulate the respect of the freedom of thought, faith and religion."

The final speech of the Conference held by the President of the Republic, Mr. Alfred Moisiu

Honorable participants,
Ladies and gentlemen,

After two days of lectures, speeches, debates and exchange of views among the honored participants from our country and all the world, the conference "The religion and the civilization in the new Millenium-the case of Albania" is coming to an end. It is my pleasure to note that the proceedings of the Conference constitute an obvious success.

I wholly agree with the thought here expressed that we have not made any new discovery and nothing unusual. We have only presented the excellent model of the religious coexistence and harmony in Albania, a model that has been already transformed into an inseparable part of the life and of our civil culture.

Considered in the light of the nowadays developments in the region and in the world, the value of the Albanian case we have presented with such a dignity and competence in this Conference goes beyond the Albanian borders from the point of view of the interest. The global developments, the integrative processes, the strengthening of the democracy and the collaboration among the peoples and countries represent challenges requiring multidimensional efforts to be met successfully. And the culture of the dialogue among different religious faiths and communities, its transformation into a bridge of unity and communication, the exchange and a more solid connection between humans and countries, constitutes a phenomenon deserving more attention and care from all parts.

The history of the four last wars in the Balkans teach us that the religion did not become a cause of war, but unfortunately in different times it was used and put in the service of war. As the leaders of the honorable religious communities put it, the sacred books advice the humans on peace, goodness, love, harmony and faith- the believers must apply the advice. What it is worth mentioning is that they derive from sacred books, which make appeal to all people, and that in Albania are read by all people. Therefore the Balkans and other different regions of the world where citizens of different religious faiths live, may find in and take from the Albanian case what is humane and civilized.

Honorable participants, I also cannot ignore what was noted in the Conference: that Albania for the Europe of today constitutes a beautiful case, from which truly one can learn, not because we want and say, but because it truly is. Albania is not identified as a country of a particular religion, but as a country of three different faiths, which live in harmony with each other. In today civilization, when the religious pluralism of Europe is being enriched with the Islam faith, the Albanian case offers a successful model of harmony and religious tolerance. Thus we offer a precious value and we are ready to share it with the others.

In this spirit, allow me repeat once more the idea of holding a Meeting of the Heads of State of the region to discuss on inter-religious dialogue. I am sure this initiative will contribute to the strengthening of peace, development and of the advancement in the region and beyond. This we think to organize in close collaboration with the organization of UNESCO.

This Conference, owing to your precious contribution, put in evidence the need that Albanian State and society further their efforts towards the perfection of inter-religious harmony. I fully support the expressed views that the State ought further improve the legislation on religions as well as other aspects of State-religious faiths relationships. The Parliament and the Government have a primary role in the fulfillment of this important responsibility. But to achieve our aim does not suffice only the active role of the State institutions. An important part is that of the Academy of Sciences of Albania, of the scientific institutions as well as of the media in all its variety. It is of much importance that the papers of this Conference be published and put to the use of the public, within the country and abroad. It is a step in the right direction, but it must be accompanied by further measures enabling the enlargement of knowledge and of the debate among all the interested people. Along with it, highly appreciating the messages of the representatives of the four religious communities, I would add that they have and will have an irreplaceable role. Their ideas have to be elaborated together and to be conveyed to the followers of those faiths.

I wish to thank once more all the participants for the active contribution in this Conference and also the UNESCO and other donators for the support they provided. In a special manner I want to thank the honorable personalities coming from different countries of the world, the distinguished Albanian personalities, as well as the honored leaders of the religious communities. My thanks go to the organizing Committee headed by Mr. Kadare and all those that were engaged in the preparation and in the development of this very important and dignified activity, representatives of our small and long suffering people, but much respected all the same.

Thank you!

Opinions of the participants in the Conference expressed for the media

Which are the main factors that make Albania an example of the religious tolerance and harmony?

Prof.Dr. Artan Fuga: "The factors that bring this tolerance and religious coexistence in Albania ought to be considered separately: in historical and in actual factors.

The historical factors are those considered beforehand: the fact that our national Renaissance was founded on an ideological basis, which raised the national problem, avoiding religious dissension, on behalf of the political strategies of the time. The fact that in Albania the different religions were not strictly separated in the social level, on the contrary there were marriages between individuals of different confession, etc. To those historical factors we can add the fact that for 50 years an atheistic policy has been followed in the time of the monist period. But notwithstanding that, those are purely historical factors. Those factors by no means can serve as a sure basis. They cannot provide us clues on the present or future. Because from the philosophical point of view we would commit a grave methodological error, we would slip into determinism, according to which there is no historical time, but there is only an eternal repetition of the past. This can happen in no country and in no time, for this would have implied the exclusion of the concept of time. I am suspicious personally, from the philosophical point of view. The historical factors are important, but not decisive. We have to include also the present factors. I think those factors as numerous, but the primary is related to the fact that different religious groups, as relevancy or tradition in Albania, neither are, nor can they be transformed into groups of economical or social interests. Thus, the economical or political conflict here will not assume any religious nuance, for the religious and socio-economical groups are not superimposed."

Ermir Gjinishi, vice-chairman of the Moslem Community of Albania: "The primary factor that ensures the tolerance and coexistence in Albania is related to the proper culture of the Albanian people, who was wise enough to classify all faiths, and to attribute them the proper place in the society.

Second, according to my view, comes the role of the leaders of the religious communities that have always nurtured the spirit of harmony and coexistence in their followers. An outstanding role during the last 13 years has had the fact that the Albanian policy has not intervened in the religious matters in Albania, conserving its neutrality. That has influenced in the strengthening of those values of the harmony and of the religious coexistence in our country".

Monsignor Rrok Mirdita, Archbishop of the Diocese of Tirana and Durrës: "I think that the primary merit goes to the leaders of the religious communities. The history and the reality show that in different countries of the world this tolerance does not exist as it exists here in Albania. These same leaders inspire the intolerance, followed by the believers. The statement on the existence of the tolerance in Albania is not only mine, but also of the others, of the politicians, of the governmental authorities, who have stressed with pleasure that owing to the engagement of the spiritual leaders of the religious communities, it exists in Albania such a tolerance to be envied by many other countries of the same religious pluralism as ours.

I have to remember here the words of the Holy Father, the Pope John Paul II, during His historical visit in Albania in 1993, when he paid tribute to this country, as an outstanding example of inter-religious tolerance, inviting Albania to preserve such a level, as an example among its other Balkan neighbors. Sharing 100% this view with the Holy Father, I think that the tolerance is here at the highest level, deserving admiration. Even when efforts are made to break up this harmony, it has nonetheless been always preserved".

Bernd J. Fischer, Historian, USA: "In two issues, Albania can be considered as an example for the region: the first is the religion, and the other is the nationalism. Regarding religion, one can state Albania is a multi-religious society, where the nationalism has not become mixed up with religion. Contrary to what happens in Serbia or Greece.

All the leaders of the religious communities that took part in the Conference held the view that not only the harmony of coexistence is possible among the communities, but also a fruitful collaboration for the welfare of the whole State. I suggest that religious communities serve as a model for the political community. Thus I think the religious presence will play a positive role if those relations improve. It would be better they improved, for there is some tension among the Albanian religious communities at the moment. But let us hope they will not increase. With no tensions, I am convinced religious communities will offer to the policy a way out. But naturally, it is the policy the first that has to decide. Albania is experiencing a Constitutional crisis. This crisis must end at once, for it leads only to a dead end.

The partners collaborating in the organization of the Conference

The Presidency of the Republic of Albania,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Albania,
The Embassy of the United Kingdom in Tirana,
The Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Tirana,
The Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands in Tirana,
USAID Office/ World Learning in Tirana,
The representative body of OSCE/ODIHR in Warsaw

The organizing Committee

Ismail Kadare
Llesh Kola
Kristaq Birbo
Lisien Bashkurti
Kozara Kati
Piro Misha
Remzi Lani

The working group

Kino Buxheli
Yllka Dida
Elma Tërshana
Klodiana Bushati
Nazmi Hoxha
Arben Muka
Ndue Zef Toma
Najada Fani
Ermira Lina
Sonila Murati
Enver Dorda

The translation/interpreting unit

Albana Qazimi
Ilir Baçi
Adelina Albrahimi
G. Kromidha

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