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Dear Minister Klosi,
I was already taken by Albania before being appointed EU Ambassador and I must admit this hostage situation is getting more serious every week I'm spending here!
How not to be taken by the beautiful Ionian Riviera, the majestic mountains of the North, the rich cultural heritage and history of the country, the delicious food and warm hearted people? Not to forget the vibrant city life of Tirana.
Unfortunately, when you have never visited, the prejudices are enormous. Most people form their opinions about Albania and Albanians from what they see or read in the media or movies.
In the EU Member States, the overwhelming majority of Albanians are honest and hard-working. They are successful in their profession, well integrated and respected by their communities. But there is also a minority of "Marko from Tropoja" that the media report about and, as we know, good news doesn't make the news.
However, every time someone come visit the country they arrive with a full baggage of bias and prejudice, but leave with a smile on their face and the desire to come back. They are all taken by Albania!
Last September, we organised a visit of about 20 journalists from major German newspapers. They were regularly writing about Albania, but had never visited the country. After three days of staying here, almost all the articles they produced were positive.
Europe and the world should know the real Albania. Not a distorted reality. Today more than ever.
This is why I strongly supported the campaign "Taken by Albania" from the first time I heard about it while I was rafting in the amazing canyons of the Osumi River. And I guess you have spotted me in the video speaking from there at the minute 1.32.
Over the last few weeks, the European Union has been conducting a campaign on "Europeans Making a Difference" which features Altin Prenga – the chef who made Mrizi i Zanave famous way beyond the borders of Albania. The campaign showcases talented individuals from Western Balkan countries who have become role models for following their passion.
That story and today story are the kind of stories the world needs to see and I am confident that the campaign "Taken by Albania" will contribute in shifting the narrative about the country. People in Europe and in the world need to know more about places like the Osumi canyon and Albanians like Altin.
But they need our support. The EU will increase its engagement to preserve and promote the cultural heritage and natural beauty of Albania. Through the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, this year we will unfold a 40 Million Euro programme to support high quality and sustainable tourism.
The potential is enormous, Albanians are ready to welcome visitors, the nature is mind-blowing – what you need, step by step, is to change the image.
I'm convinced one of those steps will be the success of "Taken by Albania".
It might take time, but as you know, in the last movie of the Taken trilogy, the bad guys are not Albanians anymore!