Though not quite the United Nations compound in New York, Aventura in downtown Ann Arbor hosted Albanian President of Albania Bujar Nishani as he concluded his activities in Ann Arbor Tuesday with a large breakfast.
The tightly-secured event had about 150 attendees, including members of the Albanian-American Student Organization, Michigan Albanian community and University faculty and staff. Aventura, a Spanish tapas restaurant, is owned by an Albanian American, Sava Lelcaj.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Nishani said he was especially proud of the success of Albanian-American culture in Michigan.
“My message was just to congratulate them for their achievement here,” Nishani said. “We have a very good and strong Albanian-American diaspora here in Michigan, a number which has increased year after year and most of them have been very successful in their life.”
The southeastern European country, whose population totals more than three million, is the latest candidate for European Union membership. He spoke Tuesday about his country’s development in recent decades, focusing on reforms since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Although it was never part of the USSR, Albania maintained close relations with Moscow until the 1960s when it aligned with Communist China after the Sino-Soviet split.
LSA senior Linda Camaj, the president of the AASO, said funds raised by the breakfast will go to a new fund from the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia that assists University students with experiences in Albania. Tickets for the event were $250, Camaj said.
Klementina Sula, director of International Giving and Engagement at LSA, said Nishani’s visit provided a good context for establishing an endowment fund as a way of commemorating his visit. The fund was created three weeks ago and recently surpassed its goal of $100,000, Sula said.
Nishani said he was impressed by the harmony among Albanian Americans and especially among different religious communities. This tolerance, he added, is essential to Albanian culture.
“Above all, I asked them, the Albanian American community, to preserve their identity, to preserve their culture, even to make the culture of their origin country a part of the culture of this country, which is already a rich one,” Nishani said.
Nishani said while reforms are still needed, Albania is progressing in terms of democratic and institutional development, economic growth, and social mentality. Among the many dramatic changes he believes the country has undergone, Nishani highlighted that young Albanian people now travel and study abroad. He said he hopes these students return to Albania and help the country to further prosper.
“He is pretty interested in Albanian students here and he obviously wants us all to go back and be involved with Albania,” Egli Lika, Engineering freshman and a member of the AASO said.
Nishani said he advocates creating an education-driven environment in Albania.
“I have supported the objective and aims of the government to do a ranking of high schools and universities in Albania, but it must be transparent, it must be a real one and it must be considered by appropriate mechanisms and institutions.”