Sequi-Kadare dialogue on the European perspective of Albania-first of the kind (05/10/2012)


The idea of the European Albania, as an historical spirit and reality came in a rare dialogue between the Ambassador of the European Union to Albania Ettore Sequi and the greatest Albanian writer, Ismail Kadare published on Thursday 4 October 2012 by almost the entire Albanian media. 

An exchange of views between the writer and the diplomat on how did this definition and its meaning change over time. Which was and still is the impact of the idea of the European Albania in the Albanian politics, the society and the culture?
The dialogue between Ismail Kadare and Ambassador Sequi is the first of its kind in a series of publications, designed by the Delegation of the European Union to Albania, where writers, philosophers, analysts, artists share with the Ambassador of the European Union and with the Albanian public their vision on Albania's European integration process.

Ambassador Sequi: Dear Mr Kadare, thank you very much for accepting to be part of this initiative where the Ambassador of the European Union is establishing a kind of open dialogue with some prominent representatives of the Albanian society on one of the most important themes of the day, very "fashionable" for everybody, which is the Albania's European integration. It is an honour for me as EU representative to have you as my first guest in this open exchange of ideas. You are the genius of the Albanian literature and, I would not exaggerate if I say the most prominent living personality of the Albanian culture. An Albanian friend told me that time ago, maybe at the beginning of the existence of the new Albanian state or even sometime later, when an Albanian had to travel abroad or taking for example a boat towards the West, he used to say "I am going to Europe", like if Albania was not in Europe. I was told that this expression was also used in Greece time ago. Personally, I strongly believe Albania belongs to Europe, not only geographically, but as a living entity on many aspects. Mr Kadare, what is Europe for the Albanians: a territory, a concept, a purpose, a dream, a re-union/return to the family..???

Ismail Kadare: It is entirely true what you said about the European integration topic, as the most passionate topic for the Albanian people today. I would like to add here that it is happily true. The contrary would be sad. As regards that external standpoint of Europe, in Albania and the Balkans, I totally agree with you. Except that here, instead of the word happily, I would say unfortunately. For many centuries, Europe became so stranger to the Balkans Peninsula, that it seemed a tectonic rift had taken place. In fact, the Balkans Peninsula did not move anywhere; so much less Europe.  However, the internal mental and spiritual distance was such that led to the creation of the paradox you just mentioned. As if the old distance was not enough, communism created a new removal for Albania in the 20th century. Europe became « imperialistic », a prohibited land, twice distant, multiply hostile.

We now use most naturally the expression return to Europe, as if talking of a reverse journey toward the continent we left behind and that is waiting for us. So awful was the drama that it is difficult for us to accept that we became non-Europeans, we were de-Europeanized so to say, not transferred to another area, to some internment zone, but right where we were, in the middle of Europe. That is exactly were we detached from Europe and were surrounded by barbed wires, just like cursed men. Therefore when talking about integration and return to Europe, there is no doubt that this reversed process shall take place exactly where the evil happened. In other words, right where we were and still are. In this aspect, I would answer to your question on what does Europe represent for Albania, that it represents itself or everything. And maybe I would add the words: it is Albania’s natural state. The only one.

Ambassador Sequi: From "Kështjella" (The Castle) to "Sjellësi i Fatkeqesise" (Messenger of Disaster), through "Viti i Mbrapshtë" (Black Year) and "Doruntina" (Doruntine), to mention only some of your books, you speak about Albania's relations with Europe, about Albania's place in Europe, and about the dangers of being separated from Europe. In many of your essays and interviews, you also speak about what you call the European Identity of the Albanians. Briefly, according to you, what are the most typical signs of this identity?  What are the main threats to this identity?  For part of your time you live in France, in "Europe". Do you think there is also a common European identity or as Wim Wenders says it "Europe as a spirit" and, if yes, what are the relations of this Albanian identity with the European identity in our days?

Ismail Kadare: Let us start from the last section of your question. Europe as a consciousness and a spiritual principle has been defined since the last century. What was valid for a nation, has continued to be valid for a family of nations. As you said, that is how its spiritual founders conceived Europe, as a family. In this respect, the establishing of the united Europe, being good news for the old Europeans was twice as good for the others, for us that had already lost it. Europe to us, prior to being a luxury, an escalation towards progress, a perfection, has been a necessity. A missing life. For Albanian people, the loneliest people in the continent, it was more than that: it was a hearth. It might sound pathetic, but it is not. For a nation without a family, finding it means entering a completely new phase of existence. In other words, for the first time in the last 600 years Albania is getting ready to enter the continent without its loneliness. And this new phase requires a new doctrine. Doctrines of nations are frequently drafted during difficult phases. It was the Albanian National Renaissance, daughter of the distant European Enlightenment to define the new Albanian orientation. Syntagms like « Freedom » and « Europe » were becoming closer and closer. The Renaissance leader, Naim Frashëri, went further on by submitting this new idea in the form of a cosmic overturn.  In a programmatic poem, he would write that light for Albania does not dawn from East, but West instead. (O dritëz e bekuar, që lind nga perëndon). According to the Renaissance figures, a free, serious and moral Albania could only exist as such within its own continent.

Ettore Sequi: From tome to time, I say to my Albanian interlocutors and friends that joining the European Union, or joining Europe, is and must be of course a national objective, today more than ever. But I also tell them that becoming part of the big European family is not empty rhetoric or an objective per se; I personally believe that being part of Europe, not only for Albania, but also for the other Western Balkan countries, is a target that helps your countries and your peoples to embrace and implement the fundamental values that the members of the European club/family share, which ultimately makes the country and the society being more democratic, more free, more prosperous: so it would make the people living better and better and in peace and more harmony. In an interview, you have talked about "unconditional admiration that Albanians have for Europe", referring also to an Albanian poet of the '30s who said that "we love West/Europe with tragic love". In your brilliant essay "On the European identity of the Albanians", you write that "the loss and the re-finding of the mother continent, does not make you less European than the others; on the contrary, it lakes you even more European". As a fine observer of the life of your country, do you think if this is always understood that, travelling without visa does not make someone automatically part of Europe or European, but that there are other very important elements, the fundamental values I mentioned before, that a country needs to embrace and to make them its inner part or its own reflexes to be called a European country? 
Ismail Kadare: It is actually true that when feverishly longing for something, the journey might become complicated by misunderstandings. Albanians are well known for this. Convinced that we love Europe hastily and much more than others do, many of us believe this is a sufficient argument to convince anyone that we deserve it more than others do and quicker. There is just one simple step separating this misunderstanding from another more serious one. The new misunderstanding has to do with an escalation of the two others. From the formula: we deserve it, because we love it, it is easy to pass to the next phase, the certainty that we are, meanwhile, Europeans.
 From a first point of view, this naive certainty seems surprising, but not in the good sense of the word. As a representative of Europe, you have all the rights to remind us that the issue of being Europeans is not a purpose per se, or a rise to a more elected and elitarian rank. Assimilation of values of the nations that compose the European club means respecting us, rather than respecting Europe. This has to do with the material, spiritual, institutional and juridical level of life. All these elements go together according to an inner harmony.
 Meanwhile you are a representative of Europe and I, not willing to play the devil’s advocate, would like to tell you that a kind of marked fervency, a kind of naive hope and impatience, is maybe much better than coldness and disbelief. When I mentioned the exaggerated optimism as regards the Europeanization process, I did not mention the contrary, which unfortunately is equally exaggerated. The fatalistic opinion that people of Balkans could never become Europeans is widely spread in the peninsula. We should never forget that one of the enduring goals of a multination invading empire, such as the Ottoman Empire, was to generate the disbelief of nations in themselves.  In the end, self-assurance in this case becomes part of freedom. Self-assurance would help the European values and standards, on which there is so much talk today, be easily spread on us.

Ambassador Sequi: As we said, to be part of Europe, one should embrace the fundamental values and principles of the family. In October this year, the EU will issue a report, we call it Progress Report, in which we will make an analysis and an assessment of the progress made by Albania since last year in its efforts to move closer to the European Union. We have told our Albanian partners that there a number of things to be done, some objectives to be accomplished and some results to be achieved before October if they want to make faster progress towards Europe. Of course an important part of the job lies with the political class. So far, we can say that some of the objectives that I mentioned have been achieved, nevertheless there is still work to be done. In your essay "The Disagreement" (Mosmarrëveshja), which has been rightly considered as one of the major written pieces of the Albanian thought, you treat amongst other themes about what you qualify as "the difficult relations of the Albanians with themselves". I personally believe that mutual trust amongst Albanians is one of the most important elements for them to achieve success in the path towards Europe. I also believe that dialogue, cooperation, consensus can lead to tangible results. Do you think that with e greater mobilisation of efforts and increased trust, the Albanian political class can achieve better results? And not only better results, but also faster ones? Because time runs quickly and we cannot afford let it go ( A few weeks ago, I recalled  to an Albanian journalist and friend what John Kennedy was saying referring to time: "The great French Marshall Lyautey once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied, 'In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon!' .). Do you also think that the whole Albanian society, through I would call a "positive pressure" and more engagement, should play a greater role in making more progress in the European path?   

Ismail Kadare: It is the first time in the history of Albania, a century after its independence that another purpose unites as by charm politics and society, public opinion and religious beliefs, elite and common people. You can imagine what I am talking about: it is the European purpose. No political party, program or doctrine will ever have a life if it generates even the smallest doubt on the European orientation. When I previously said that Europe is everything to us, it might have sounded exaggerated, but I do believe it. Besides common values, standards and progress pace, which, as you mentioned are reflected every year in the Progress Report, the pact with Europe is teaching us something that otherwise would be the most difficult thing to learn: harmony with ourselves. This understanding is as valid to us, Albanians, as it is to the cross-Balkan reconciliation. This exercise of understanding has not been easily achieved by Europe. Without it knowing, and without us knowing, Europe did work for us. Political life in Albania has an urgent need for the European « positive pressure», as you named it. The expression « political life » in itself is meaningful. We are talking about life, not political scrimmages, which in the end is almost a war.  And war means half-life, which is more or less half-death.

I do not expect any idyll to take place between political parties in Albania, or in Albanian-European or Balkans-European relationships. Today Europe, including here the Atlantic Alliance, is the most hopeful family of nations, but that does not mean that it can be redeemer only. Europe has a harsh tradition and is harsh in its core. Altogether, the European continent and the Western Balkans, including Albania, should not pretend to be terrified by the word « harshness ». All of us like it or not, maintain a relationship with Sparta.  And Sparta did not only had the Thermopile. Of course, the current chronicles of the continent have been enriched with humane sensations, which were unknown before. You told me about the beautiful story told by Kennedy. I would like to mention the words of an old Albanian man, invited recently to Paris by his daughter. Fascinated by the city, the man had naively said: maybe I heard it wrong, but I have been told that this one … Europe, this beautiful Europe, might be ruined. The expression « might be ruined » or « I’m afraid it will be ruined » has been well known to the old generations in our country. It was used to express a constant nightmare for the future of Albania, especially in the beginning. Will Albania ever be made or not? Will Albania stand still or will it be ruined … It was unbelievable that in the 21st century an old Albanian man used the same expression for Europe and with the same feeling. Beyond discussions on the future of Europe, on whether Europe will change, turn to a federation of states or to a political community, etc., I liked to consider the concern of a simple Albanian man for Europe, as concerns for troubles at home. Our great common home.

Ambassador Sequi: Being the most famous Albanian writer, you also are undoubtedly one of the most famous Balkans people outside the borders of the peninsula. I also have the impression that being a Balkans people makes you feel rather good. I hope I don't exaggerate if I say that Ismail Kadare is an advocate of the Balkans, somehow a strange/particular advocate who defends his peninsula by loving and criticising it at the same time. One of your preferred themes remains the relations of the Balkans with Europe and the European perspective of the Balkans. In one of your latest interviews, you said that "people of the Balkans should feel honoured that Europe is seriously dealing with them". Of course, as EU Ambassador to a Balkan country, I feel good when I read this. You have also spoken about a reconciliation process in the Balkans. How do you the role of Europe in this context? What do you think Balkan people should do better and what the European Union should do better? A common friend of us says that "if the Balkans are Europe's problem, Europe is Balkans' solution". How much do you agree with this view?

Ismail Kadare: I totally agree with you. In another occasion, our conversation would seem rather flat, as we keep returning to the same motive. However, there is always an exception for Europe. The exchange of opinions on Europe and the relationships between Balkans, Albania and Europe might seem endless, but it is never too much. As regards the fact that by criticizing the Balkans, I do indeed protect it, it is true. Today the feeling of being ashamed of Balkans origin is becoming a trend. Even entire populations are trying to escape the peninsula. They seem to say: call us what you want, South-eastern Europeans, Euro-Mediterranean, post-Europeans, but not Balkans.
I do not judge them negatively. Personally, I do not feel any shame of being from the Balkans. Nor any pride, of course. It is a well-known fact that this is the most problematic peninsula in the continent.  It is also a well-known fact that it is the richer in memories, wisdom and insanity. Meanwhile this is our place in the world, and we are obligated by ourselves first of all, but also by you, to find the only way allowed, the way of coexistence.  

The harmony between the Balkans nations does not need any kind of philosophy to be rationalized. It is just an issue that leads to life, not the contrary. Please, allow me to repeat the idea that this harmony (alias life) depends on all the Balkans people. Meanwhile there are three nations that play a decisive role in establishing this harmony: Greeks, Albanians and Serbs. The three of them are difficult, the three of them are important, for good or for bad. The initiation of the reconciliation project in the Balkans shall never propel unless the idea than none of these nations needs the permission of the others to live, rules in their consciousness. If this is not understood, nothing can be understood and explained.

Meanwhile the atmosphere in the peninsula is far from being emancipated.  Not long ago, the ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs of a Balkans country, made the public swore that the acknowledgement decision, which means the right to a normal life for half of the Albanian nation, would never pass to the UNO, but over his dead body! Any comment would be excessive. There is only one thing you can say to this Minister: you are overrating your dead body, Sir! The Balkans peninsula does not need a false epic of dead bodies. It is time for another epic.  According to a known concept, occasionally there is a special time within time, with unusual potentials. However, it has a characteristic: it does not last much. Said in other words, if you fail to catch it, it is gone and you should wait for it to reappear. I like to believe that such time has arrived for our peninsula. All we did in this conversation was to prove that we are under its influence. Many people might ask: why all this fuss on cross-Balkanisation, Europe and European orientation? We already have so much urgent, daily and dramatic problems. I do understand these people quite well. Albania has severe and serious problems. Problems related to democracy, independence of institutions, justice, corruption and free vote, let alone poverty and environmental massacres. Meanwhile, I am convinced that the issue we discussed does never leave out the abovementioned problems. On the contrary, it affects them all, signalizes them, requiring imperative solutions for each of them. It is common saying that nations do solve their own problems by themselves. It sounds correct, even nice, but I do not believe it is always true. For example, I am not aware of any nation that might have overthrown fascism on its own, let alone communism, without a combination of global circumstances. We need you. We needed you during the whole century, but it was not possible. During the years of communism, Albania pretended to be detaching from the Soviet camp, but essentially this was just a mutual theatrical play. A hidden pact, implied rather than expressed, went on between the two parties. The core of the pact was: throw kicks as much as you want, we will protect you, but stay away from the West! Never approach Europe, ever! Today Europe is more than ever necessary to us.

Meanwhile Albania has to fight the efforts that aim to change its European orientation, which appear as a major risk in its life. Sometimes reasons for the necessity of Europe are not always clearly formulated. Therefore, I would like to repeat the words: we need you. Citing a poet earlier in our conversation, you made it easier for me the astonishing paraphrasing of another poet who says that there are cases when love appears to be one of the highest forms of reason.

 September 2012