How Albania’s history can inspire people of Middle Eastern states in turmoil

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Updated 18 September 2022

How Albania’s history can inspire people of Middle Eastern states in turmoil

How Albania’s history can inspire people of Middle Eastern states in turmoil
  • Ferit Hoxha, Albania’s permanent representative to UN, recalls two different eras: before and after communism
  • Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries can help to imbue other Middle Eastern countries with positive energy

NEW YORK CITY: There are few forms of human suffering in the world today that the Balkan country of Albania had not known along its tortured path through the 20th century.

It experienced North Korea-style isolation when the repressive Stalinist dictatorship that ruled it from 1945 to 1985 cut the country off from outside information and influences, on top of Albania’s drawback of being a historically obscure and inaccessible country.

Absolute leader Enver Hoxha cut ties not only with the West, but also with the former Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union itself, and eventually China.

Under his 41-year rule, Albanians had known what contemporary Syrians know all too well: The cruelty and absurdity of life under a totalitarian regime, with countless deaths and forced disappearance of loved ones into prison camps, all while the rest of the country plunged into economic destitution and misery.




Albania's head of state Enver Hoxha votes on November 1978. ( AFP)

Similar to the Lebanese and the Yemenis of today, the people of Albania then had known only a life of queues for bread and fuel.

The big Ponzi scheme the Lebanese awoke to and have continued to reel under since 2019, has a precedent in Albania as well. In the 1990s, the country was convulsed by the dramatic rise and collapse of pyramid schemes, but in a more literal sense.

Hundreds of thousands of Albanians lost their savings. When the schemes collapsed, riots erupted across the country, the government fell, the nation descended into anarchy, and a near civil war ensued in which 2,000 Albanians were killed.

And similar to the Afghans, the Ukrainians, and the more than 200 million other migrants on the move in the world today, Albanians are familiar with the pain of exile and displacement. During the civil war, they fled the country en masse. Many Albanians trying to escape were shot. Again, in the late 1990s, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians fled Kosovo to escape marauding Serbian forces.

But then came the rupture. In December 1990, just over a year after the Berlin wall was torn down, the communist government of Albania fell, ushering in the end of history after which Albania could follow only one path: Toward capitalism, democracy, and freedom.

Ferit Hoxha, Albania’s permanent representative to the UN, clearly remembers a world that was violently split asunder into two: Before and after authoritarian communism.

He told Arab News: “I grew up in a country where you have one newspaper, one voice, one line, and you are not allowed to think. I was told by my parents to think twice about what I said and to whom I said it.”

Freedom, he said, begins “when you put in doubt what you hear. Freedom does not mean that you can do everything you want. No. Freedom is built through institutions, laws, rules, accountability, justice.”

The search for freedom has a deep resonance in a country such as Albania, the chronicle of whose political history, according to Hoxha, has a recurrent theme: Domination.

“Through centuries, Albanians have fought to really find their place, their rights, and to define their future. They have not always had the chance,” he added. And he noted that Albanians had always resisted through “language, culture, identity.”

He recalled a time when his country was a pariah in the world. “And of course, when you are a small country and not an important one as we were at the time, you just get forgotten. You may think of yourself as the center of the world, but in reality, you are forgotten.”




Images of Roman Catholic clerics killed or persecuted in Albania, ahead of a visit Pope Francis in 2014. Under communism, Albania banned all religion and sought to suppress faith leaders for decades. (AFP)

Thirty years later Albania is anything but forgotten. As the world experiences unprecedented upheaval, with woes ranging from the coronavirus pandemic and war in Ukraine to the drought and imminent famine in Somalia, Albania has been one of the loudest voices championing the underdogs from its seat in the UN Security Council.

Member countries, who often campaign for a seat for years, have a say in peacekeeping missions and the council’s other approaches to conflict hotspots, plus a strong voice on issues of international peace and security.

What in the past 30 years transformed Albania from a pariah state to a vocal advocate of universal values on the international stage? What happened along the way?

Hoxha said: “What happened was transformation. The progress and change seen (in the early 1990s) were like nothing else Albania has known for the past 2,500 years. So sweeping was the change, so strong was the desire, and so profound was the transformation.”

He is aware that Albania’s painful past will sound familiar to people in many countries even in these post-modern times.




Albania’s Permanent UN Representative Ferit Hoxha during an interview with Arab News at the UN General Assembly. (AN Photo)

His impassioned speeches at the Security Council carry within them the conviction of lived experience. When he enshrines the UN Charter and universal principles in his statements, they take on a renewed meaning. His words in the chamber have the ring of truth and clarity.

During a recent Security Council meeting on Syria, for instance, Hoxha began by saying that there was no other place in the world where the expression “no end in sight” applies to than Syria.

He pointed out that after 11 years of violence and “everything in the book of crimes committed by many but especially by that regime that started it all,” the solution in Syria now hinged crucially on the political process, “and I don’t think there will be a meaningful political process without accountability.”

Hoxha added: “If I were a senior citizen (in Syria) today, despite how much I might have suffered, despite how many members of my family might have died or are missing among those 130,000 people who are unaccounted for, and despite many members of my family being in the notorious prisons of the regime, I will ask one question: Can I build my future with the same people? Can I build my future with the same domination of one part of the country over everything else?

“If the answer is yes, then we are going to see the next chapter of the war begin.

“Because there is one thing that we have learned from Albania’s thousands of years of domination: That at the end of the day, whatever we do, people want freedom, peace, and prosperity. Deep down you have that boiling desire to really live a dignified life. And there is no human being on Earth that would like to live without a minimum of dignity.

“That’s why for me, without accountability, Syria will not see an end.”




An officer salutes members of Albania's sole military academy train 30 kilometers from Tirana, preparing themselves to work with the international force to be deployed in the country. (AFP/File Photo) 

From Palestine to Yemen, Libya and Lebanon, there was a common thread, according to Hoxha, and that was “instability.” Although each situation was unique, Hoxha laid the blame for instability at the feet of the political classes who had failed to come together or move on from their own narrow interests to those of their people and country.

“That’s one big weakness of the political class. When the political class is not really able to come together, then you have weak institutions which do not permit the country to really move forward.

“So, there is one big test of maturity for many countries to acquire: Do we want to build things for all of us, or just for some of us?”

That, he said, was the case in Yemen, for example, where a “big drive” of investment in a process initiated by the Yemeni political class would provide a buffer against and significantly weaken the many external influences of self-seeking countries that were bearing upon the Yemenis.

“That’s why now we are so eager to support the truce, extend it, and resolve the remaining issues, such as the closure of roads in and out of Taiz, the Houthis’ lack of cooperation, and so on.

“The objective is to get the necessary attention and support by the council. The support of the Security Council is crucial because it is that kind of positive tsunami you cannot go against,” Hoxha added.

There is one thing that we have learned from Albania’s thousands of years of domination: That at the end of the day, whatever we do, people want freedom, peace, and prosperity.

Ferit Hoxha, Albania’s permanent representative to UN

In Libya, the problem was legitimacy, according to Hoxha.

“Today, we have two governments in Libya, two parallel settings, and nothing good can come out of that until some legitimacy is restored.

“Everywhere we have seen seizure of power by force or by other means, or by proxies, that hasn’t lasted. It may have lasted for a certain time, but it failed to win the hearts and the minds of the people.”

Just like Albania had friends that stood by its people as they scrambled to find their bearings in a new world after years of isolation, Hoxha believes the Middle East can benefit from the “positive energy” that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries can radiate into an otherwise miserable region.

Hoxha pointed out that their role was nowhere else as needed as it was in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

He described Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf countries as important players who were becoming more active.




A handful of Albanian communists shout slogans holding a portrait of late Albanian communist dictator Enver Hoxha during a May Day march in Tirana on May 1, 2016. (AFP)

“They can be extremely helpful in advancing not only the cause of women, peace and security, and advancing rights everywhere, but also, more than anything else, they can help to infuse the countries of the wider Middle East with positive energy, to enable them to get out of the rut in which they have been stuck for the past 70 years or more.”

Hoxha said the power of Gulf countries was “immense,” their influence was growing, and their ability was there, but that they needed to act in a more coordinated way.

“Because they are important per se, but they also have friends and relations with other powers. And I hope this is used not only bilaterally, but regionally and globally to really push for peace and a solution for the Middle East.

“We are asking for a bigger, more coordinated role with other actors in making sure that we have a process that would really help everyone to move forward in the most complex and the most tragic conflict that we have known since the Second World War, which is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he added.

 


Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors
Updated 57 min 5 sec ago

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors
  • A Swiss national and former professor at Oxford University, Ramadan has faced a string of rape and sexual assault allegations in France and Switzerland since 2017
  • The Swiss investigation has moved slowly, since Ramadan was initially in pre-trial detention in Paris over other rape allegations and could not be questioned

GENEVA: Embattled Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan will go on trial for rape in Geneva next year, over a case dating back more than 14 years, the prosecution said on Monday.
A Swiss national and former professor at Oxford University, Ramadan has faced a string of rape and sexual assault allegations in France and Switzerland since 2017.
The Geneva judiciary said in the current case Ramadan had been charged with rape and sexual coercion, and would be tried before the Geneva criminal court, confirming information first published by Swiss broadcaster RTS.
The accuser in this case, named simply “Brigitte” by Swiss media, has accused the now 60-year-old scholar of brutally attacking her on the evening of October 28, 2008.
The Muslim convert, who had met Ramadan a month earlier during a book signing, accuses him of subjecting her to sexual attacks, beatings and insults in a Geneva hotel room.
She waited a decade before coming forward, filing her complaint in April 2018.
Her lawyer, Francois Zimeray, told AFP his client was fearful as she brought the case.
“She feels no desire for revenge but is relieved and is putting her faith in the institutions,” he said, adding that he expected the trial to take place during the first half of 2023.
Ramadan’s lawyer, Guerric Canonica, meanwhile alleged on Monday that the prosecution had simply “copied the complaint without considering disqualifying elements.”
“It is now up to the judges to re-establish Mr. Ramadan’s complete innocence and we are serenely waiting for our day in court,” he told AFP.
Ramadan, who has previously filed a complaint against Brigitte for slander, is a father of four whose grandfather founded Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
He was a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University until he was forced to take leave when rape allegations surfaced at the height of the “Me Too” movement in 2017.
The Swiss investigation has moved slowly, since Ramadan was initially in pre-trial detention in Paris over other rape allegations and could not be questioned.
After he was released in November 2018, he was put on probation and barred from leaving France.
Swiss prosecutors went to Paris to question him, and once the probation was partially lifted, Ramadan traveled to Geneva for witness hearings in 2020.


Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash

Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash
Updated 05 December 2022

Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash

Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash
  • Lot included jewel-encrusted skull of Arab chieftain slaver killed in 1893

LONDON: An auction house in Brussels has delisted three African and Arab skulls that were set for bidding following a backlash against the sale, The Times reported on Monday.

Drouot and Vanderkindere listed the three items — including one jewel-encrusted skull of an Arab slaver killed in 1893 — alongside paintings, coats, and other antiques.

The skulls date back to Belgium’s period of colonization in Africa. An estimated 10 million people died as a result of Belgian expansion, with the Congo in particular being subject to widespread violence.

The Arab skull of Munie Mohara, a chieftain slaver, was believed to have been taken as a prize by Belgian steelers following his death.

Earlier this year Belgium passed a law to return looted artifacts to the Congo. A government committee was expected to propose the return of human remains held in the European country.

Following the sale delisting, the auction house said: “We in no way support the suffering and humiliation that people were subjected to during the colonial period. We apologize to anyone who feels hurt by this sale.”

Colonial Memory and the Fight Against Discrimination, a campaign group, filed a complaint over the auction.

The group’s co-coordinator, Genevieve Kaninda, said: “It is as if people are being killed a second time. The colonial violence keeps repeating itself.”


Seoul: North Korea fires over 100 artillery rounds in military drill

Seoul: North Korea fires over 100 artillery rounds in military drill
Updated 05 December 2022

Seoul: North Korea fires over 100 artillery rounds in military drill

Seoul: North Korea fires over 100 artillery rounds in military drill
  • Some of the shells landed in a buffer zone near the sea border
  • South Korea and the United States have also stepped up military drills this year

SEOUL: North Korea fired around 130 artillery shells into the sea off its east and west coasts on Monday, South Korea’s military said, in the latest apparent military drill near their shared border.
Some of the shells landed in a buffer zone near the sea border in what Seoul said was a violation of a 2018 inter-Korean agreement designed to reduce tensions.
The South Korean military sent several warning communications to the North over the firing, the ministry of defense said in a statement.
North Korea did not immediately report on the artillery fire, but it has been carrying out an increasing number of military activities, including missile launches and drills by warplanes and artillery units.
South Korea and the United States have also stepped up military drills this year, saying they are necessary to deter the nuclear-armed North.
The 2018 Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) was the most substantive deal to come from the months of meetings between leader Kim Jong Un and then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
With those talks long stalled, however, recent drills and shows of force along the fortified border between the Koreas have cast doubts on the future of the measures. South Korea has accused the North of repeatedly violating the agreement with artillery drills this year.
This year North Korea resumed testing of its long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for the first time since 2017, and South Korea and the United States say it has made preparations to resume nuclear testing as well.


Chinese cities relax testing rules as zero COVID-19 policy eases

Chinese cities relax testing rules as zero COVID-19 policy eases
Updated 05 December 2022

Chinese cities relax testing rules as zero COVID-19 policy eases

Chinese cities relax testing rules as zero COVID-19 policy eases
  • Local authorities have begun a slow rollback of the restrictions that have governed daily life for years
  • Chinese authorities on Monday reported 29,724 new domestic COVID-19 cases

BEIJING: Businesses reopened and testing requirements were relaxed in Beijing and other Chinese cities on Monday as the country tentatively eases out of a strict zero COVID-19 policy that sparked nationwide protests.
Local authorities across China have begun a slow rollback of the restrictions that have governed daily life for years, encouraged by the central government’s orders for a new approach to fighting the coronavirus.
In the capital Beijing, where many businesses have fully reopened, commuters from Monday were no longer required to show a negative virus test taken within 48 hours to use public transport.
Financial hub Shanghai — which underwent a brutal two-month lockdown this year — was under the same rules, with residents able to enter outdoor venues such as parks and tourist attractions without a recent test.
Neighboring Hangzhou went a step further, ending regular mass testing for its 10 million people, except for those living in or visiting nursing homes, schools and kindergartens.
In the northwestern city of Urumqi, where a fire that killed 10 people became the catalyst for the recent anti-lockdown protests, supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and ski resorts reopened on Monday.
The city of more than four million in the far-western Xinjiang region endured one of China’s longest lockdowns, with some areas shut from August until November.
Authorities in Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019, and Shandong scrapped the testing requirement for public transport on Sunday.
And Zhengzhou — home to the world’s largest iPhone factory — on Sunday said people will be allowed to enter public places, take public transport and enter their residential compounds without a 48-hour negative test result.
The World Health Organization has cheered China’s loosening of its zero COVID-19 policy, which came after hundreds took to the streets across the country to call for greater political freedoms and an end to lockdowns.
While some COVID-19 rules have been relaxed, China’s vast security apparatus has moved swiftly to smother further rallies, boosting online censorship and surveillance of the population.
And as officials have dismantled testing facilities, long queues have appeared around those that remain, forcing residents to wait in cold temperatures to get tests that remain obligatory across much of China.
“Students can’t go to school without a 24-hour negative test,” wrote a user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.
“What’s the point in closing testing booths before dropping the need to show test results completely?” another asked.
Chinese authorities on Monday reported 29,724 new domestic COVID-19 cases.


Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report

Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report
Updated 05 December 2022

Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report

Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report
  • The growth was severely impacted by widespread supply chain issues
  • Companies in the US continue to dominate global arms production

STOCKHOLM: Sales of arms and military services grew in 2021, researchers said Monday, but were limited by worldwide supply issues related to the pandemic, with the war in Ukraine increasing demand while worsening supply difficulties.
The top 100 arms companies sold weapons and related services totalling $592 billion in 2021, 1.9-percent more than the year before, said the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
However the growth was severely impacted by widespread supply chain issues.
“The lasting impact of the pandemic is really starting to show in arms companies,” Nan Tian, a senior researcher at SIPRI, told AFP.
Disruptions from both labor shortages and difficulties in sourcing raw materials were “slowing down the companies’ ability to produce weapons systems and deliver them on time.
“So what we see really is a potentially slower increase to what many would have expected in arms sales in 2021,” Tian said.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is also expected to worsen supply chain issues, in part “because Russia is a major supplier of raw materials used in arms production,” said the report’s authors.
But the war has at the same time increased demand.
“Definitely demand will increase in the coming years,” Tian said.
By how much was at the same time harder to gauge, Tian said pointing to two factors that would impact demand.
Firstly, countries that have sent weapons to Ukraine to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars will be looking to replenish stockpiles.
Secondly, the worsening security environment means “countries are looking to procure more weapons.”
With the supply crunch expected to worsen, it could hamper these efforts, the authors noted.
Companies in the US continue to dominate global arms production, accounting for over half, $299 billion, of global sales and 40 of the top companies.
At the same time, the region was the only one to see a drop in sales: 0.9 percent down on the 2020 figures.
Among the top five companies — Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics — only Raytheon recorded an increase in sales.
Meanwhile, sales from the eight largest Chinese arms companies rose 6.3 percent to $109 billion in 2021.
European companies took 27 of the spots on the top 100, with combined sales of $123 billion, up 4.2 percent compared to 2020.
The report also noted a trend of private equity firms buying up arms companies, something the authors said had become increasingly apparent over the last three or four years.
This trend threatens to make the arms industry more opaque and therefore harder to track, Tian said, “because private equity firms will buy these companies and then essentially not produce any more financial records.”