To Be or Not to Be
By By Besnik Mustafaj
Albanian Daily News
Published June 16, 2016

One of the most frequently repeated debates in our public stage during these 25 years is related to one step made by Albania in the foreign policy, since the beginning of pluralism. The question is about the membership in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The essence of the debate lays in the topic whether this membership should have been done or not. In the best case, the motivation of this debate is related to the stability of the western prospective of the country, expressed through the Euro-Atlantic integration. 

The question is: Will the participation in this organization, the members of which are joined by the fact that their societies are mostly of Muslim faith, impede or at least harm by slowing down and hampering the process of Albania's EU integration? There are several reasons that nurture this debate, but two are the main ones, in my opinion. The first one is an honest, innocent reason. It derives from a fear, I would say an instinctive one, of our public opinion from isolation, a fear that comes from the not very distant Stalinist past. Albanians want to see the path of European integration completely clean and irreversible.

This fear uncovers that from the beginning, thus in 1991, when the first efforts towards the Islamic Cooperation were made, the Parliament, government, and especially the Foreign Ministry, have not done their duty to explain to the public opinion the arguments that our country had to take such a decision and the conditions that Albania would have to meet after taking a seat in the table of this organization. This explanation has not been given and is still not being given, although transparency as a principle of policy-making in democracy is equally obligatory even in the field of international relations. Moreover, there is need for transparency in this case, considering the particular sensitivity of the public. 

The second reason of this debate, unfortunately, is not innocent. Graphically, this reason appears only when the Democratic Party is in power, which means that the criticism is articulated only by the Socialist Party, and only when it is in opposition. Briefly, the Socialist Party has instrumentalized Albania's membership in OIC with the open purpose to personally diabolize Sali Berisha, presenting him as pro-Islamic and anti-western, with the hope to isolate his government from Albania's strategic friends, as a way to return to power. 

In order to show how blind the Socialist colleagues often appeared in the implementation of this strategy, I will make only one example, which is unforgettable for me. Somewhere in 2006, a Turkish citizen with great mental disorders took hostage an airplane of Tirana- Istanbul line and made it land in Bari. The Parliamentary Group of the Socialist Party, then in opposition, brought this event to the next session of the Parliament. And Ben Blushi, the head of the group, in his speech, said that this incident was a direct consequence of Albania's participation in the Islamic Cooperation. It is impossible to give a logical answer to a speech like this, that is not only apolitical, although it was delivered in the parliament, not only not related to the truth, but even purely absurd.

Both these reasons have had had and continue to have a great influence to increase confusion in the perception of the public opinion regarding what Albania's presence in a diplomatic- cultural organization, which confirms in the joining element for its members like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, represents. And not only that. Paradoxically, precisely the second reason, thus the instrumentalizing behavior in the war for power of the Socialist Party, has brought an insurmountable hesitation even in Sali Berisha himself during the period when he was President of the Republic and then Prime Minister. It is a fact that even 25 years after the start of procedures, Albania's membership in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, has not been ratified in Parliament yet, which makes quite deficient the legitimacy of the agreement signed in those beginnings. A consequence of this hesitation of politics are the diplomatic relations at a very low and passive level, continuously unclear and without a determined objective, that our country has held in this organization. Out of 57 members of OIC, only 33 have recognized the independence of Kosovo, including us, which shows the small influence of Albania in this organization. With such a poor result, it wouldn't be strange at all to make the question: Why do we continue to stay in an organization where we do not affirm ourselves? The answer would imply only the exit. If not receiving benefits, at least the damage would be avoided. 

I am convinced that exit is not the solution.

In fact, due to Islamic terrorism, in the entire western world, thus in the world where we want to integrate, there is a realistic fear from Jihadist guerrillas, but also a subjective growing tendency of the public opinion towards Islamophobia. The serious diplomacy has never followed, and is not following even today, the psychosis and phobia, on which no cooperation can be built between states and people to prevent threats to peace and common stability. Serious diplomacy operates only based on facts. In this meaning, the diplomacy of the European Union, like the American diplomacy and that of other democratic countries, are completely involved in the efforts to eradicate violent radicalism with religious inspiration. This violent radicalism constitutes first of all a threat to human life and property in the countries with Muslim majority of population which are members of OIC. Let's just see what is happening in Syria, Iraq, Libya, but even in Turkey, Lebanon, Afghanistan and beyond. Thus, it would be wrong to think that regarding Islamic terrorism these countries have different interests from western countries.

But the approaches of these states to achieve these interests are often different from the approaches of European states, willingly or unwillingly uncovering the result. The European Union is a cause of European nations and states that share some human and political fundamental values and that have joined with high awareness the efforts to enrich and broaden these values endlessly, not only on behalf of the future, but even of the present of peoples. This means that each of the member countries indispensably brings its help according to its possibilities in the great common project. It is out of the logic on which this union is based, for a part of the countries, whether they are of the smallest and poorest, to be only beneficiary. Albania, as an EU candidate country, has since now its obligations in this aspect. The path towards the European Union is not crossed only by doing 'homework' set by Brussels like a good pupil. In this view, even Albania, like every member or aspirant country should find they way to become useful to all the European family. In 2006, during his visit to Tirana, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Miguel Angel Moratinos, to the media that Albania has the possibility to make a very previous service to the European Union, by taking a clear European voice to the OIC.

Albania has become a member of OIC in compliance with the Constitution of our Republic. We are a secular state. We are a multi-religious society, but with a very rich and natural legacy of coexistence, which would not be possible without a perception of the other as equal together with his religious particularity. To continue with the thought regarding OIC: the representatives of the Republic of Albania cannot be there part of any decision that is against the Constitution of the Republic and the cohesion of our society. And the procedural mechanisms exists within this organization, so that each member state acts in compliance with its constitutional principles. Thus, active participation in the activities of this organization doesn't a priori push Albania towards policies or stances that are against our European spirit and prospective. On the contrary, in the relations with OIC, the Albanian diplomacy during this quarter of century has continuously appeared complexed, as possessed by the fear that it would make mistakes. But it is not late to build a strategic plan in the logic presented by the Spanish Foreign Minister ten years ago, for Albania to fully become a European voice inside the OIC. 

For this purpose, a special communication and coordination channel with Brussels should be established, with the office of Mrs. Mogherini as well as with the European Commission. Our diplomatic structure has sufficient capacities for such work, but they should be led by politics. For the European Union this would be a shortcut, direct and effective way to convey its messages of cooperation with this organization, not only in the war against Islamic violent radicalism, but even in other economic and cultural areas. This would be a specific and valuable contribution that Albania has the possibility to give to the European Union.

(Daily Mapo, June 15, 2016)

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