Bektashi Religion, a Lesson to All of Us
By Bernd Borchardt*
Albanian Daily News
Published March 21, 2018
It is a pleasure to be here today and share our views on religious tolerance in Albania. There is much the world can learn from the Albanian experience in achieving inter-religious harmony. It was not by chance that (his holiness) Pope Francis praised Albanian religious tolerance, saying it should serve as an example for the world.
If you ask observers about the greatest achievements of Albania - religious tolerance and the protection of the Jewish population during WW II will certainly be mentioned.
Tolerance is the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with.
The respect for the opinion of others are central to social harmony, and ensuring that this tolerance is prevalent is at the heart of the values that guide the work of the OSCE.
We must strive for active respect and understanding of the other. A society is judged by the manner in which it treats its weakest members. When society actively causes a group of persons to be weak through intolerance or discrimination, this reflects negatively on the values of that society as a whole. Fortunately, Albania has a very modern anti-discrimination law - when properly implemented, it helps to ensure that all people who are treated differently from others merely because they belong to a particular group or show a particular characteristic will have legal remedies to fight this discrimination.
However, in spite of this robust anti-discrimination legislation, today we still see prevalent issues of social prejudice and discrimination across the country: socially marginalized groups often still face prejudices and discrimination by social actors as well as the criminal justice systems. To be most effective we must go beyond anti-discrimination legislation, to celebrate differences and to foster harmonious co-existence by stressing the equal worth and dignity of all individuals, regardless of their background or beliefs.
This is an issue of respect for the dignity of a human being. "Dignity" has a descriptive meaning pertaining to the worth of human beings. This dignity, this worth is recognized by all the religions present in this room. It is at the core of their philosophy.
At the heart of all of this is a need to celebrate the fundamental worth and value of each individual.
The Bektashi in Albania, famous for their open-mindedness and respect for all, regardless of religious beliefs; is a lesson to all of us. By respecting one another and by standing up for the rights of the other, we ensure peace and security.
The OSCE has a comprehensive approach to security. It addresses a wide range of security-related concerns. There is practically no country in the OSCE that has not been affected by violent extremism. In 2016, terrorist attacks in OSCE participating States caused more than one thousand deaths. They destroyed billions of Euros worth of property and infrastructure, undermined people's confidence in government and institutions, and created fear and suspicion between members of different ethnic and religious communities. Violent extremists not only cause death and destruction, they poison societies with hateful ideologies, and hinder peaceful development, dialogue, and cooperation. OSCE participating States have long recognised this challenge.
Religious communities play a crucial role in promoting coexistence, harmony and peace; they are on the frontlines, embedded in the communities and are key in identifying the first symptoms of radicalization and preventing violent extremism at early stages.
For the last few years the OSCE has been promoting Local Safety Councils in Albania. It is very important that all religious actors participate in Local Safety Councils activities to identify the problems, the conditions, factors and drivers of radicalization as well as the existing levels of community resilience against violent extremism.
Religious communities can use education to counter violent extremism by promoting peace and tolerance, they can also present counter narratives with their own specific faith tradition or group.
I know that religious communities need means to work on this task. I was reading last week about restitutions to the Catholic Church, these are good news for us all. I encourage the government to continue to go this way, to strengthen the religious communities which stand for religious tolerance including through restitution of property: thus they would become an even stronger bulwark against those who try to undermine the noble tradition of religious tolerance in Albania.
Respecting the rights of religious communities is an important step in the ever evolving context of coexistence. I hope these examples will multiply and that Albania will continue being this great example for Europe and the world, you have all the ingredients to succeed.
*Head of OSCE Presence in Albania. Speech held at the Bektashi symposium

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