Albania, the latest candidate for European Union membership, made a small piece of history at the University Monday with a lecture given by the country’s president Bujar Nishani.
Nishani spent his 48th birthday lecturing about Albania’s history and its transition to democracy before an audience of approximately 550 at the Rackham Auditorium. He also met with University President Mark Schlissel prior to the event and presented him with a statue of Mother Teresa, who was an ethnic Albanian.
Rachel Brichta, a communications specialist at the University’s International Institute, said Nishani’s visit was made possible by a student who approached the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies about bringing the Albanian president to speak at the University.
Prior to being elected president in July 2012, Nishani served as Albania’s minister of justice and minister of the interior. He spoke about the evolution of Albania since the fall of the communist regime there in 1991, and discussed Albania’s candidacy for European Union membership. The Council of the European Union, made up of one representative from each EU member state, endorsed Albania’s bid on June 27.
“During the last 24 years, Albania has undergone the deepest, widest and most intensive transformation known by our national history,” Nishani said.
Nishani noted that EU membership is a top priority for the country and hopes Albania will be prepared to become a member within 10 years.
“No other people in Southeast Europe has supported with such determination … the European integration like the Albanians,” Nishani said.
Political Science Prof. Anna Grzymala-Busse, director of the Weiser Center, helped coordinate the lecture. She also introduced Nishani and noted that the Weiser Center wanted to hear Albania’s perspective on its transition from a repressive regime to a NATO military allowance member and candidate for EU membership.
“Albania, the country that once built bunkers to fight against the West, became in 2009 a NATO member. Albanian citizens who once were the most isolated in the continent, now travel in a visa-free regime in Europe,” Nishani said.
Nishani spoke about Albania’s long-standing religious tolerance, a relevant topic considering the nation hosted Pope Francis II last week. He said religion is part of Albania’s national heritage and mentioned the peaceful coexistence of various religions within the country, as well as its protection of many of its Jewish citizens during World War II.
“Although a small nation, it can provide a great contribution with its model for religious tolerance and coexistence and of accepting the others who are different,” Nishani added.
He spoke about Albania’s role in the history of the Balkans and emphasized that neutrality in the conflicts of neighboring countries has always been a priority.
He also focused on relations between Albania and the United States, which he said have largely been positive dating back to former U.S. Ambassador Charles Telford Erickson’s days in the early 1900s. Though there was some tension during the World War II era, and a freeze during the Cold War, Nishani said both nations continue to be “close friends, loyal allies and strategy partners.”
Nishani described Albanian citizens as hardworking.
LSA senior Linda Camaj, president of the Albanian American Student Organization, said the group does not have a specific political preference and added that Nishani’s visit was well received.
“As a group we are very supportive just to have someone from our country coming to the University,” Camaj said. “There has been 100-percent positive reaction to the president coming here.”
An audience member questioned Nishani on the country’s notoriety for corruption in its judicial system. Nishani admitted that the system still has shortcomings, but noted that under his presidency, there has been a substantial increase in the number of judges evaluated.
“The justice system reform is one of the most crucial and needed steps that we need to have in our agenda now in Albania,” Nishani said.
Nishani also acknowledged that crimes committed during the communist era have to be properly dealt with and noted there are efforts to build institutions for restitution and compensation of nationalized private property during the communist years.