Meeting Of Ethnic Albanians In South End Of Waterbury Draws International Interest

                                                By John Murray

   The Albanian ambassador to the United States, Gilbert Galanxhi, right,, made a visit to the Albanian-American Community Club in the South End of Waterbury on January 11th, and his remarks have drawn interest from journalists in Macedonia and Albania. Galanxhi was joined in Waterbury by U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (left), Bekim Sejdiu, the Counsel General of Kosovo, Ziadin Sela, the mayor of Struga, Macedonia, and Neil O'Leary, the mayor of Waterbury, Connecticut.

  The meeting was originally scheduled to be an informal conversation between the Albanian community in Waterbury, and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, who has been attending Albanian festivals in Waterbury for eight years. Murphy, the youngest member of the United States Senate, is the chairman of a Foreign Affairs sub-committee overseeing Europe, and has a keen interest in Albania, and the political unrest on the Balkan Peninsula.

   The community center was packed with ethnic Albanians, many from Struga, Macedonia, who are frustrated and angry at the treatment they receive from Macedonians. It's a volitaile situation of shifting political borders, and a civil war broke out 13 years ago as the ethnic Albanians in Macedonia demanded their human rights. A peace was brokered with the 2001 Lake Ohrid Agreement that promised equal rights to Albanians in Macedonia. Despite the agreement, many ethnic Albanians in Macedonia say little has changed.

   There has been talk about the creation of a Great Albania that would join portions of Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro with Albania, and several sources told the Waterbury Observer that a strong sentiment for the creation of a Great Albania existed in the room of ex-pats in the South End of Waterbury.

   After the politicians in the room made some opening comments, none about a Great Albania, Ambassador Gilbert Galanxhi addressed the gathering to speak about the unique relationship between the United States and Albania. After his opening remarks, one of the first questions from the audience was aboiut the 2001 Lake Ohrid Agreement, and the lack of progress felt by ethnic Albanians in Macedonia. The Waterbury Observer has been contacted by several international journalists interested in Ambassador Galanxhi's complete comments, and the transcription of his opening comment, and his reponse to the question about ethnic tension in Macedonia is published below.

Abania's Ambassador to the United States, Gilbert Galanxhi, received a standing ovation when he was introduced to the crowd by Visar Tasimi, right, the master of ceremony for the meeting in the Albanian-American Community Center in Waterbury. Sitting next to Ambasador Galanxhi is the two United States Senators from Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.  

   Ambassador Gilbert Galanxhi - Thank you and good morning to everyone. It is so difficult to speak after two distinguished senators, but Chris opened a wide area of topics for me to speak, but I have to be brief, since I have to go back to Washington D.C..

   So, distinguished senators, distinguished mayors, distinguished friends, brothers and sisters. As you noticed, everything is in plurals. We have senators, not one. We have mayors, more than one. We have distinguished friends, more than one. And we have a lot of brothers and sisters here from Albania. So, I want to thank you from my heart for invitation to be part of this meeting today, and I couldn’t resist. So, I took my wife as assistant driver and I’m here. I believe that the friendship between the Albanian people and the American people is at its highest peak, and it started as a principle friendship with President Wilson more than 100 years ago, or almost 100 years ago, when he made possible the existence of Albania during those very difficult years.

   And then later on we had the support of America during the second world war, unfortunately we had to go through national misfortune because of communism, unavoidable for the time. Although communism tried hard for 45 years to extinguish this friendship, it never succeeded. So, in 1990-1991, when U.S. Secretary of State Jim Baker visited Albania, I’ve never seen a bigger crowd turnout than that. Maybe there were a half million Albanians meeting in him the square. And from that day on the friendship went stronger and stronger, so it was the right decision of President Bill Clinton and thanks to American intervention in the war in former Yugoslavia, we enjoy two Albanian states in the Balkans, Albania and Kosovo.

    But it never stops there.

    A few years later we had President George Bush Jr. with his policies which made possible a second new birth for the Albania nation which hold membership into NATO in 2009. So it opened big great perspective for all Albanian nation, and later on we’ve had the support of the Obama administration, and an historic visit from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in November 2012 when she gave a beautiful speech in front of parliament, and I think it was a historic moment because here she reconfirmed the commitment of the United States. She congratulated Albanians for the first 100 years of independence, and she said you have America by your side for the next hundred and hundreds of years.

The crowd in the Albanian-American Community Center on Raymond Street in Waterbury listen to the Counsel General from Kosovo, Bekim Sejidiu, make an opening comment.

    I have mixed feelings when I see so many talented Albanians living in the United States of America. At first I feel sad because I see so many talents going away from Albania. But then on the other side I feel proud and feel happy because you have come to a great democratic country. I think it’s the champion of democracy, where you can exercise all your rights, your talents, and you can become even congressman. We have the first Albanian congressman, Eliot Engel of New York.

    So coming back to this very important meeting, where we have two senators, and mayors, etc., I think the Albanian community has improved, and has come to a point when they should raise their voice and support for this right. I believe you have found in your senators, the right person to support, and I am proud of that. And proud that we can travel from DC and meet with you, and discuss with you any issue. Because it shows, it shows the maturity of the Albanian community here in Waterbury. It shows you have great potentials and great possibilities. And this friendship should go on and be strengthened because I feel the support of the senate and congress in DC for whatever problem I have.

    I know that I’m privileged, you know why, because I have a big Albanian community in the United States. My ambassador friends envy me. Very frequently they accuse myself, and the Ambassador from Kosovo, as having organized the Albanian mafia in congress because we have such a big caucus. We have more than 35 congressmen in the Albanian caucus. And I’m very proud to announce President Bujar Nishani for the prayer breakfast. And one of the activities will be dedicated to the congress, to the Albanian issue caucus, where he is going to award the presidential medal because this congress deserves it. They have been there for Albania. They have been there for Kosovo. They have been there for the Albanians in Montenegro and Macedonia. For every issue we have in DC.

    So I can go to the State Department without asking the caucus, and this is beautiful my dear friends. I feel really comfortable working with the State Department because it is so easy because I have the support of Congress, and I have the support of the Senate for every single issue. And I’d like you to support these gentlemen because they deserve it. So, they work for me, and they work for you.

    I think we have multiple areas of cooperation with the US administration, as the two senators stated, and I think it’s important that we take active part in the fight against terror, so I have to emphasize that Albania is the hub in the Balkans for the US intelligence, and I am so proud because we are trusted. We have the trust and we have to deserve it as we move forward with our EU agenda. We have to work hard. We have to do our homework so we can move ahead. We have had, and we will continue to have the support of the United States, as we’ve had it for NATO membership.

    My friends in the State Department travel almost every week to Brussels to support Albania towards EU integration. In other words, we have a big brother, and we should support the friends of the big brother. We have had other areas of cooperation in the justice system. The US is training all of our judges, prosecutors in the army and in the most recent project, we are going to train Albanian officers in the New Jersey National guard.

    In education we have a lot of scholarships that go through the American Embassy. I’m glad to state here that from the religious point of view Albania constitutes a very good example with its harmonious coexistence of all religions, which has even affected here in the United States, where Albanians, regardless of their beliefs, get along with each other and they come as one when any need is for our US friends.

    Lastly, I want to touch this chemical issues, it’s not weapons. That was the biggest mistake I think done by both sides, done by us and by Americans, it was not well explained to the people and it was a lesson learned. Because Albania, as the Senator said, is not Albania of 20 years ago. Democracy is functioning. Albania is a functioning democracy, and wherever you have the lowest of the people raised, the politicians have to think twice before acting. It’s a lesson learned, I think. I believe it could be handled better, then we might be having another result of that. But things are done, and now we are moving forward, so we are ready to provide any type of assistance our shoulders can hold as Albania. And we are ready to help assist in every area wherever it is needed.

United States Senator Chris Murphy, right, is the youngest member of the United States Senate.

    I believe it didn’t hurt at all the relations between the US and Albania as Senator Murphy said, and I feel it every day. Just Thursday I was in the State Department, very well received, and we were preparing the visit for President Bujar Nishani. It’s a good momentum, we have to push forward towards better results.

    One of my areas of importance in my work is to try to facilitate a visa regime with the United States. I have found full understanding and full agreement from the Department of State. I had huge support of the Albanian issues caucus making pressure to the State Department to achieve good results. We are very close to achieving a good agreement, so that Albanians can have multiple entry, long-term visas for coming to America. And with the rate that the American Embassy is issuing visas around us, I estimate within two years Albanians will be visa free because they will have long-term visas to come to America to visit their friends and relatives. So, I believe within a couple of months the agreement will be in place.

    So, the other area of interest is trying to bring American investors to Albania, which is a little bit more difficult because Albania is such a tiny country and far away, and the US is such a big country with big opportunities. But nevertheless, I see a lot of interest. So, just last month I received an email from some friend who want to invite a couple of ministers because of the new project which is signed between Greece, Albania and Turkey for a gas pipeline which I think is an industrial revolution for Albania. It will create thousands of new jobs, well paid jobs, and thousands of opportunities to diversify energy resources, because as you know, for the moment, we produce a lot of hydro energy, but it’s in the hand of God. If it’s good it’s good, if it’s not it’s not. So, this pipelibe is a very good development for Albania to already have interest of different American companies to come to Albania and invest in this sector of energy, which is very important.

    In general, I see very good steps moving forward. So, I have good objectives to achieve and I’m very optimistic that with the assistance of the American administration, especially of Congress and the Senate, we can improve and strengthen our relationship in a win/win position. With that I want to close so I don’t bore you anymore, but I’m quite open to any questions and comments. So, thank you.


   The first question from the audience was from an ethnic Albanian from Macedonia who asked about the Lake Ohrid Agreement in 2001, a peace deal between the government of Macedonia, and the National Liberation Army, a group of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia fighting for human rights. The agreement set the framework for improving the rights of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia. The speaker said little of the agreement had been implemented, there is widespread frustration in the Albanian community, and he asked what could be done.

   Ambassador Gilbert Galanxhi - It’s a tough question, but I believe it has an answer. And we know what’s going on. You mentioned that you live in Macedonia, I believe you’re living in Albanian territory in Macedonia, but I don’t encourage a change of borders, that’s for sure. But, it is true that the Lake Ohrid agreement was a very good development in 2001 because it stopped a kind of civil war, and what’s more important, started diplomacy and talks about what’s coming next.

    So, the agreement opened a green light for co-existence. I believe that the problem was going to be solved in a different way if, I stress if, if the name issue between Greece and Macedonia would have not popped up. That has created many difficulties in the international arena, especially in Balkans, because in a certain way it blocked the progress of Macedonia towards NATO membership, and towards EU membership.

    You remember that the Republic of Albania was the first to recognize Macedonia with its name Macedonia, and we had big consequences with our southern neighbors because of that. But, Albania, proper Albania, the Republic of Albania, has always tried to play a moderate role and to look forward for solving the problem, and not creating more problems by solving bits of the problem. With that, I want to stress that Albania has always been supportive for Macedonia in both tracks, NATO membership and EU membership, because we believe this is the right solution.

The local Albanian community in Waterbury, 12,000 strong, is still intensely connected to Albania, and ethnic Albanians scattered arcoss the Balkan Peninsula.

    So, if we are thinking of solving the problem by changing the borders, it’s wrong. History has proved that it’s wrong. France and Germany have tried for centuries to solve the problems of Alsace-Lorraine through wars, they never succeeded. They never succeeded. If you go to Strasbourg today, you’d never notice whether you are in France or Germany, and it’s not important.

    With that, I want to stress the other fact, that we believe our common capitol is not going to be Tirana or Pristina, it’s going to be Brussels. That’s why all political parties in Albania are very supportive of EU integration. It’s not only for Albania, but the Albanian nation as a whole because history has shown we can never solve the problems going to war with each other, but if we come to peace, and what’s more important, if we have democracies on both sides of the border, we can easily sit at a round table and discuss and solve the problem.

    That’s why we insist that Albanian political parties in Macedonia have the support of Albanian political parties in Albania, and they are advised to participate in the political life of Macedonia, not to pull apart. It is very important that Albanians organize themselves around political parties and take part in governments, be it local governments or central governments. I’m glad that Struga has a mayor from Albania, an Albanian mayor. So it can happen anywhere were Albanian is a majority.

   I’m so glad, that Albanians in Macedonia have a deputy prime minister, that the minister of defense is Albanian. So, this is important, it goes by participation. You not only defend your own rights as Albanians of Macedonia, but advertise your values and virtues. By participating you tell the others, look we are good, we can govern, we can administrate, we can do business. We have strong families, very important, which is crucial for every state, so we can advertise our values as Albanians. And this is true, even for Montenegro, where the Albanian community is much less than it is in Macedonia. So, by means of participation, of democratic participation, so being elected by the right to vote, I think it’s going to solve problems in the future.

Ziadin Sela, the mayor of Struga, Macedonia, listened intently to the ambasador.

    And, I have stressed in every round table in DC that we need, I think, a stronger influence of the United States for solving the main issue in Macedonia. Because this is creating problems, and the most that suffer is Albanians. Because the Macedonians, finding no way to move ahead with their agenda, they … we have noticed that they have come back to nationalistic programs, which means regress and not progress.

    I believe as soon as the name issue with Greece is solved, and Macedonia can move forward, a lot of tension between Albanians and Macedonians there will be eased, and they can together move ahead, and we together as a region can move ahead toward EU integration. Then … I think, already now the borders is imaginary, because no visas are required, you can travel even without the passport, but with an ID only, so you can do business on both sides of the border. So, it’s a lot of progress if you compare it to twenty years ago, but I’m sure it could have been done a lot more if that name issue didn’t exist.

    So, I always remember the words of Konrad Adenauer, who was the first chancellor of West Germany after World War II. He addressed the German nation, which came out of the war destroyed, and said dear compatriots, I will request three things from you. The first is patience, the second is patience, and the third is patience. And you see where Germany is today. So, if we move ahead in a very thoughtful way, we already have a program which is EU integration. We know where we are going, so I think things will improve. But sometimes it needs patience. You need the right moment to do the right thing, and this is important.

    I believe the Albanian political parties in Macedonia have matured enough now, they have a lot of experience, they have good friendship with our American partners, and we have to learn from history, and take lessons from that.

    I believe we should focus on the future, and not on the past. That’s important.