Dialogue with Adrian Haskaj, Consul General of the Republic of Albania in Bari
There is a great deal of expectation for the important works to increase commercial traffic by sea between Albania and Italy. To what extent have they been carried out so far?
Just in these days we have started to its conclusion the fundamental part of a project started almost two years ago with the AdSP of Bari (Port System Authority of the Southern Adriatic Sea, Editor’s note). To facilitate and increase maritime traffic between Albania and Italy, one million six hundred thousand euros have been invested. We have found a way even shorter than that foreseen, in order to realize a solid agreement on this plan of economic development of great importance and interest also for us Albanians, that, with the help of the Puglia Region, of the Municipality of Bari and, exactly, of the local harbour Authority, is going to be accomplished. I am very happy, first of all because in this way we were able to ensure the improvement and, secondly, because we have shortened the time by a lot, so that in a few months will already be fully operational. It is an ambitious and exciting challenge, which has been postponed in the past, but which will finally be successful.
The Albanian people have had a marked capacity to be very willing to conform with our country, with our culture, with our traditions. Can you confirm that you are among the European peoples who perhaps love Italy most?
The roots of the bilateral relations between our peoples and our territories are secular and visceral, so much so that they originated when our countries did not yet have the names that they currently have. From 1443 to 1468, with our Christian hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu – known to all as Scanderbeg and celebrated in 2018 also by President Mattarella and Pope Bergoglio – we prevented the Turkish-Ottoman Empire from invading Europe. As you know, Albania was martyred by the Communist dictatorship, but already before, in 1913, many of the Albanian territories were ceded to Yugoslavia and Greece.
Today, in Macedonia as well as in Montenegro and Kosovo, the Albanian communities have aligned themselves with the European progress underway, making a significant political contribution, as the “needle of the balance”. I can say with great pride that the Albanian community is the best integrated in Italy. We are more or less 450,000, regularly registered in Italy, of which more than 300,000 work.
The others, for example Romanians or Chinese, are in fact even more numerous, but do not reach 250,000 registered with the I.N.P.S. I am therefore very proud that all citizens of Albanian origin are a consolidated example of harmonious coexistence. We are a working people, as you have always been. We make a contribution in Italy and, at the same time, the Italian spirit in Albania is always extraordinarily successful and almost everyone speaks or understands the Italian language well. Cooperation and integration are the watchwords.
The Italian economic model has been inherited as a point of reference and development, while other peoples of the Balkans have closed down, despite their dictatorships. Yours is also one of the first countries that is better able to finalize the contributions made available by the European Community. Many Italian companies have established branches in Albania and vice versa. Would you like to tell us more about this fruitful cooperation between Italy, Albania and Europe?
Since 1991, the first trade exchanges were with Turkey and China. The Albanians, who have gradually and laboriously arrived in Italy, have favoured the strengthening of a real bridge between Italy and Albania. Let me take my story as an example. I arrived in the ’90s. I worked, I did a bit of everything, from the waiter, to the farmhand in the country, to the factory worker. After a year – and a week, exactly – I returned to my native land with the help of some Italian friends, exporting the know-how acquired, to open a business that trades and exports coffee (Moncafé), starting from a very modest roasting we came to great results. They started with a garage and with typically silvery and “anonymous” packaging. Today they have established a brand, with a roasting plant of one million euros, while I have a family business, which makes eight million euros a year, using all Italian technologies. We have exported to Albania the pleasure of drinking coffee and we also offer training courses for baristas, teaching them how to prepare a good cappuccino or an excellent espresso, also training technicians who will work on high-end machinery and strictly Italian. An Italo-Albanian success story.
What were the effects of the communist regime?
Devastating. It was also forbidden to watch Italian TV, as well as German TV. I am an electrical engineer and I must confess that sometimes we secretly modified devices to allow people to watch foreign channels. We also risked imprisonment for this freedom. After forty years of darkness, after the fall of the regime, everyone wanted to escape from Albania.
We had no monetary strength. The Albanians started from “minus zero”. Every Albanian has a different story of individual success. Now that we are a country in growing development, we have the desire to reciprocate the opportunities that have been offered to us by the Italian people, who have generously welcomed and hosted us. We are grateful for this and we like to be grateful.
Instead, you want to tell us about your next diplomatic career: how did your passion for diplomacy come about?
Almost five years ago in Bari the consul Ermal Dredha – my friend from Vlora – was appointed and I began to help him with the Italian language and the culture of dear Puglia. I told him that I didn’t want any compensation, but that I would have done it willingly for my country and for two years it was like that, supporting him especially for the developments in the commercial field. After that he received the post of Ambassador to the Arab Emirates and they proposed to me to take his place as Consul General, given also my deep-rooted knowledge of the territory.
What kind of requests do you receive and what kind of facilitations and help do you provide to your community?
Mainly for everything related to the formal documentation to move in Italy. We are a team of only seven people, but we offer the services that Albanian families and individuals need. Unlike other Consulates, luckily, I can continue our assistance even outside the hours. Not to mention the numerous activities and events that we constantly promote.
What is the employment situation in Albania today?
Unfortunately, we still have a still high unemployment rate of 13%.
Not very different from Italy, then, where youth unemployment is even around 40%, unfortunately?
Unfortunately, yes, it is. Italy’s figures have deteriorated recently. The public debt itself has reached 130%, without this being accompanied by a growth rate that we all hope will soon be consolidated.
What can you tell us about security in Albania, to obviate prejudices and clichés?
For example, in Tirana, the responsiveness of the police is impeccable. From the moment an offence is reported, the maximum time a steering wheel can take to intervene is only seven minutes. Moreover, thanks to the Consulate, Italy is always active in an incessant exchange of information, through an effective, direct and immediate cooperation.
In the photo on the right Adrian Haskaj, Consul General of the Republic of Albania, with the President of the region Molise Donato Toma
If you could travel into the Future with a time machine, being able to see your country in five, ten, twenty years, how would you imagine it?
I am extremely confident, because my country will be a well-developed country, a European country. It will grow a lot, especially in tourism. To date, the Albanian population is about three million on an area of almost 29,000 square kilometers, similar to Puglia itself. I see Albania in twenty years, but also before, much more beautiful than now, developed in the Tertiary Sector and through the use of funds from the European Community, through the projects that the Common House prepares. When the negotiations are opened, new chapters are opened in parallel and we hope that the Italians and the companies of the beautiful country will take advantage of this opportunity, investing in Albania.
In a perspective of promoting tourism in Albania, there are many enchanting places, such as the naturalistic oasis of Lake Shkodër, a favorite habitat of peculiar animal species, even as a landing place before migration. Is the naturalistic aspect also a factor capable of becoming the driving force behind an even stronger bridge between nations?
Of course it is. Albania is not only Tirana, it is not only its coasts. There are the wonderful countryside, though not devoid of their difficulties and there are enchanting places, which it is hoped that the world will rediscover. We are talking about more than a thousand and six hundred sites, including archaeological sites, between two seas, with varied landscapes. There are many travelers who go to Albania to visit these places, from North to South. All the tourists who come to Albania – Germans, Poles, Czechs, Dutch… – already know exactly where they want to go. There are also museum cities, such as Berat and Argirocastro, rich in history and culture, all to visit.
Today Albania is constantly changing and developing, so much so that it is said that from one year to the next one might not recognise the same place that was previously visited: is it true?
An Albanian who has been missing for five, ten years, coming back, risks not recognizing it, it is true. We have a strong development at urban, political, cultural and artistic level. A very fast development. We have eliminated the bureaucracy behind the implementation of the projects, in agreement with our institutions.
Are tourism and hospitality traditionally considered sacred for the Albanian people?
Absolutely, yes, I confirm it.
How, finally, is the Albanian people’s relationship with Religion?
In Albania there are four different types of confessions. My generation has certainly been penalised by the dictatorial regime. We grew up without Faith, in schools there was only atheism. My grandmother was forced to practice religious rites in secret, because it was forbidden to believe and apply worship. We have thirty-eight Martyrs of the Catholic Church. My wife is Orthodox, I am Muslim and my son was born and raised in Italy. A real mix of cultures, eloquent fruit of an all-round integration.