My personal observation and role as a former trustee of the Albanian American Development Foundation
By: Cafo Boga
In an article I recently wrote that was published in several newspapers and online in Albania, I provided a summary of my associations with both the Albanian-American Enterprise Fund and the Albanian-American Development Foundation (hereinafter, referred to as “Fund” or “Foundation,” respectively). I also tried to highlight achievements in fulfilling the mission objectives of the United States government, in which I, together with the other directors appointed by President Clinton, played a pivotal role. Furthermore, that article was meant to shed light on my departure and also serve as a farewell to those who have appreciated my contributions over the past 25 years.
In talking about the various projects undertaken by the Fund and Foundation over the years, I touched base on our involvements in Butrint National Park, which has become a hot topic in the Albanian media these days and continues to be a saga that does not want to go away. In fact, following the publication of my previous article, I have been contacted and requested to appear on TV programs and media outlets in Tirana, which I have graciously declined. For this and other reasons, I felt obliged to expand on this topic, based on my recollection of events and records available to me.
As the aforementioned article states, “The Foundation started with an Integrated Management Plan for the World Heritage Site of Butrint as one of Albania’s most important sites—and the most difficult to implement. After many twists and turns and much arduous work, the plan was implemented and will be used as a prototype for other cultural heritage and archeological sites, such as Durrës Amphitheater Complex.” I also mentioned “that this project has caused a lot of controversy, and still is, because of the Foundation’s role and how it was implemented” and that “the board was not presented with all the facts and documents in concerning this project; otherwise, we may have dwelled on it more deeply and perhaps acted differently. Lack of transparency and misconception played a role in it.”
If my memory serves me well, the boards decided to do something in Butrint following a visit to the heritage site while AAEF was still operational. Realizing the importance of this heritage site and the state of affairs played by multiple stakeholders without much coordination or a coherent plan, the board concluded that we should develop a comprehensive Integrated Management Plan; hence, the AAEF management was asked to prepare a proposal and, once approved, a consulting firm from Israel was hired to do the job. Although a partial payment was made, for whatever reason, this undertaking never materialized. I suspect its failure was due to existing laws not being conducive to such a plan. Notwithstanding, AAEF made some physical improvements at the site, such as installing an electronic ticketing system. I’d like to point out that AAEF coordinated with the administration of that time (Prime Minister Berisha) and signed a memorandum of understanding, which was approved by the parliament. This memorandum stated that 95% of the proceeds from ticket sales would be deposited into an account designated for the Butrint site, rather than its routine destination—that of being sent to the Ministry of Finance. In due course, the AAEF term expired, and a legacy organization (AADF) was established. Once operational, the board revisited the contemplated Butrint project, and management prepared a new proposal. The board approved the concept and budgets for an Integrated Management Plan as well as helping the Ministry of Culture draft the necessary legal documents. Together, this was supposed to establish a sustainable model in the management of heritage sites of unique cultural and natural values, those that can be adopted and implemented at some other sites in Albania. Moreover, the new oversight model was supposed to provide improved operations and protect the site and surrounding areas from unauthorized or illegal intervention while offering opportunities for the local community in a resilient, sustainable, and controlled manner.
Protection and management of World Heritage properties must ensure that their universal values, including maintaining conditions of integrity and authenticity at the time of dedication, are sustained or enhanced over time, as specified within the Operational Guidelines. “All properties inscribed on the World Heritage List must have adequate long-term legislative, regulatory, institutional and/or traditional protection and management to ensure their safeguarding…legislative and regulatory measures at national and local levels should assure the protection of the property from social, economic, and other pressures or changes that might negatively impact the Outstanding Universal Value, including the integrity and/or authenticity of the property. States Parties should also assure the full and effective implementation of such measures.” Notwithstanding how it is done, clearly, the responsibility for protection and management of a World Heritage property rests with the country in which it is located; in this case, the Albanian government as the owner of Butrint has the ultimate responsibly for continued compliance with UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) regulations.
In the United States, there are three types of national heritage assets: National Parks, National Monuments, and National Heritage Areas, all created by Congress. National Parks and National Monuments are federally owned and managed lands, administered and operated by the National Park Service, established in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson, “…as a new federal bureau in the Department of the Interior responsible for protecting the 35 national parks and monuments then managed by the department and those yet to be established.”
As a concept, cultural heritage is also very much philanthropic in nature, which, over the years has given rise to an ever-growing presence of nonprofit sectors involved in this effort. For example, National Trust for Historical Preservation in the United States is a privately funded, nonprofit organization, whose role is to make a case for the preservation of culturally significant sites and increase their visibility; hence, many of these historic sites are managed by partner nonprofit organizations and, because of their nonprofit status, these organizations can raise money through charitable contributions, membership fees, and ticket sales.
At the international level, pursuant to the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, UNESCO recognized that certain places in the world have “exceptional universal value” and belong to humanity’s common heritage. It also established the World Heritage Fund to provide financial resources for conservation and protection of the World Heritage, which receives its income from compulsory contributions from member states, voluntary contributions, and private donations, as well as from sales of publications or funds in trust that are donated by countries for specific purposes.
During this time of globalization that brought up many changes, Fabio Carbonenotes that, “Culture is considered the fourth pillar of sustainability, and intercultural dialogue and understanding is an increasingly important issue. Within this context, the preservation, management, and cultural heritage enhancement is more than ever at the centre of international debates, as well as its alliance with tourism. Supranational guidelines address the effort of policymakers and operators, but how to guarantee the effective implementation of supranational guidelines at local level and for each monument and cultural area open to the public? In this context, Cultural Heritage Quality Management is an emerging topic,” thus, bringing into the picture the private sector.
Moreover, according to Bruce Alan Seaman of Georgia State University, the scope of private sector involvement in heritage preservation is extensive, although highly inconsistent across countries with different perspectives on the relative roles of the state and free market, but such differences seem to be narrowing. Furthermore, he noted that “There is an increasing consensus that the private sectors play a vital complement to the traditional public sector role in heritage preservation, and that private–public partnerships will continue to expand.” The role that private sector plays in sustainability of cultural heritage was well established and confirmed at the international forum on cultural heritage privatization in Catania, Italy, in 2007. Private sector involvement can take the form of sponsorship, donations, partnerships, management without ownership to full privatization, combining ownership, development, and administration. It should be noted that there is a clear distinction between corporate (for-profit or nonprofit) sponsorship and partnerships, which in reality is not always clear. While donations by individuals, foundations, or corporations are not recurring and involve little or no commitment to the goals of recipient organizations, by contrast, partnerships involve not just funding but financial commitments for the future labor and capital resources and even management assistance. With respect to privatization of cultural heritage, an issue which is still highly debated among scholars and various stakeholders, different countries have developed different national models and approaches.
Based upon the forgoing, it is clear that AADF contemplated collaboration with relevant governmental and nongovernmental agencies and others, aimed to bring the best practices utilized elsewhere by World Heritage sites, should be viewed as a positive undertaking – understandably in line with UNESCO, which has approved Butrint as a World Heritage site. Although a property of the Albanian people, UNESCO believes it is in the best interest of the international community to protect Butrint as a cultural heritage for future generations. Likewise, Albanians understand that preserving cultural heritage is a generational responsibility and that each transitional generation must build upon its acquired knowledge and advancement for the benefit of all society.
That being said, neither the board nor the management of the AADF had any extensive knowledge or experience in the field of preserving or managing archeological and cultural heritage sites. The board only approved the concept and allocated resources to management for an in-depth study and research, as well as hire the necessary consultants to help prepare the draft of the Integrated Management Plan. The board also authorized management to visit some well-known heritage sites in Europe to learn how other countries manage them. It was management’s responsibility to take the necessary steps in collaboration with the past and present stakeholders and come up with the best draft of the Integrated Management Plan. Not to be redundant, management’s actions are outlined in the AADF website, under Eco-Tourism: Butrint Integrated Management Plan. On the surface, it looks as if they did most of the right things, which they were supposed to do, namely:
- In collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and the legal experts, drafted the Law on Protected Areas (2017) and the Law on Cultural Heritage and Museums (2018). These documents were approved by the government and paved the way for drafting the Integrated Management Plan. I must say that I was always leery on taking a direct role in drafting the countries’ laws, as that is the responsibility of the government.
- Together with the Ministry of Culture, organized an event about Integrated Management Plan, attended by the Minister of Culture, AADF Chairman, Michael Granoff, and apparently other national stakeholders. The decision was made to hire Prince + Pearce from Great Britain, a company that apparently had extensive experience in drafting World Heritage management plans.
- At the invitation of the Ministry of Culture, a meeting with representatives from the state agencies, stakeholders, heritage experts, and Prince + Pearce was organized for public discussions and attended by both the Minister of Culture and AADF Co-CEOs.
- AADF Co-CEOs met with representatives from the World Heritage Center for Europe and North America, joined by Ambassador of Permanent Delegate of Albania to UNESCO.
- Funded by AADF and in cooperation with Butrint National Park, a meeting was organized in Butrint with an extensive list of local stakeholders from Saranda, representing state and local officials, agencies, and representatives of communities around the park.
- Finally, the draft was prepared and AADF Chairman, in an arranged venue formally handed it over to the Minister of Culture, the final draft of the Integrated Management Plan of Butrint National Park. The project was funded by AADF at the cost of approximately $250,000.
What the reader cannot assess is that the AADF Board, aside from the chairman, had no role in any of these steps, nor has it seen any of these documents. I must stress again that the board had only approved the concept provided to them in a form of proposal and the related budget. While the CEOs at the board meetings informed the board of progress being made, neither the drafts of laws nor the integrated management were circulated to the board and, despite my repeated requests for a copy, they fell on deaf ears of the chairman and the CEOs. Rather, I was told that it was not the concern of the board to approve these documents, to which I politely disagreed. I then asked, “Let us at least have them so we can engage in an intelligent conversation,” but to no avail. Therefore, as I have never read them, I cannot comment on them as to their compliance with national or international norms and relevant guidelines, or as to their efficiency.
Another troublesome matter, which was not properly reported nor discussed among the board members, is the degree of disagreements by countries’ top archaeologists, historians, former officials, and the public in general. From what is posted on the AADF website and from what we were told at the board meetings, we were under impressions that everything was going well aside from some grievances by certain individuals who apparently had ulterior motives to raise their voices. But that was not the case. In June of 2020, Auron Tare, one of the founders of the Butrint National Park and former director of Underwater World Heritage at UNESCO, sent an e-mail to our board’s secretary, in which I was cc’d, where he raised concerns as to whether the board was receiving accurate information about public outcry regarding our contemplated plans for Butrint. Referring to a public meeting in Tirana at the AADF premises that included the attendance of several high-profile personalities involved in cultural heritage including Neritan Ceka, a renowned Albanian archeologist with international reputation, they apparently raised a number of serious questions and concerns on the AADF strategies and approaches with respect to an Integrated Management Plan. They believed that the firm hired to draft the management plan did not have the necessary expertise nor qualifications to write such a plan for Butrint, which is quite a complicated site and also very important to the nation. He further found seriously offensive the fact that the contemplated management plan had no reference to any Albanian scholars who worked at Butrint since the 1930s, rather it starts with the work by a British archeologist in 1994. The most troubling issue for them, however, was that the plan recommended for Butrint National Park to be managed by an independent third party—a suggestion the entire establishment of the Albanian cultural heritage found highly disturbing.
His e-mail to the board secretary was followed by another e-mail with several attachments of media articles about the Butrint issue published in the Albanian media. Needless to say, neither was disseminated to the board, rather the chairman instructed the secretary to forward them to the CEOs in Tirana. Since I was cc’d on Mr. Tare’s e-mails, there was an insinuation that I may have something to do with it, which was completely absurd. I met Mr. Tare only once in Tirana regarding a personal matter, long before we got involved in Butrint. We were told that there were some other complaints made to the board and at least one to USAID, but as usual, they were not shared with the board. Again, I voiced my concerns about our handling of correspondence addressed to the board, stating that said communication should be circulated to all the members and, based on their merit, discussed and agreed upon as to the reply, rather than routinely sent to management for handling. Following the meeting, the chairman privately asked me whether I knew the people who wrote them, again making another insulting suggestion that I may have been involved in some way.
In my opinion, the crux of the problem that has justifiably caused an uproar is the lack of transparency with the respected establishment of the private foundation to implement and administer the Integrated Management Plan and the manner in which it is supposed to function. Neither documents of incorporation nor the operating agreement is an issue that falls under the board’s purview—except perhaps the chairman—however, I am not in a position to comment on what has been done, but I can comment on what should have been done. To begin with, the new organization should be in a form of private–public partnerships between the government and AADF, providing management without ownership, responsible for administration and development of Butrint heritage site by utilizing the best practices in the field of cultural heritage. As the name itself implies, the Integrated Management Plan is supposed to integrate all of its systems and processes into one complete framework, hence, allowing it to operate as a single unit with unified objectives; however, such an undertaking is quite complex and goes way beyond prescribed implementation of a plan compiled by consultants with little or no engagements with local heritage professionals and little desire to build capacity for sustaining the process. Therefore, it was imperative to assemble from the beginning all the relevant local experts and stakeholders to work proactively in formulating the plan and then assemble as one. Responsibilities of each stakeholder should be clearly delineated and agreed upon in writing. Also, the trustees of the organization should comprise representatives from key stakeholders and experts from applicable fields, such as archaeology, cultural heritage restoration and preservation, environmental protection, urban development, and more. I was quite displeased when I learned about the trustees of the newly established foundation, as I realized that our well-intended project was hijacked or unintentionally went rogue. Clearly, the established board is lacking the necessary expertise to effectively implement the Integrated Management Plan and to oversee the affairs of Butrint.
The organization established to implement the Integrated Management Plan and run daily business operations should have a bigger objective: that is to assemble all the national and international historians and archeologists to rewrite the history of Butrint and present it to the world as Buthrotum of antiquity, an Illyrian city, and not simply as a site of Greek colony and a Roman city. Obviously, a city that old was, throughout history, occupied or ruled a number of empires, including Greek and Roman, but that does not change its origin and authenticity. It is a well-established historical fact that Buthrotum or today’s Butrint, a city of the Epirote tribe of the Chaonians, was inhabited since prehistoric time. It is also a well-established historical fact that Epirotes were Illyrian tribes, their language was an Albanian dialect, and their famous King Pyrrhus (Piros in Albanian) is one of the best-known Illyrian Kings. The latter part is contested by modern Greece to justify their occupation of Chameria. Historical identity is not the only thing that was stolen from Butrint; two ancient marble statues of Artemis and Apollo, along with many findings from previous excavations, were stolen—luckily, the two statues were found in Greece and returned to Albania. Opening up of Albania attracted many foreign institutions interested in excavating in Butrint, but I am skeptical as to whether they had a sincere intention of discovering the truth or rather putting a Greco-Roman stamp on this Albanian major archaeological and cultural site of international importance. The Albanian government should be cautious with whom it enters into partnership to manage the Butrint National Park and how it is done. I am convinced that the contemplated arrangement as it is presented does not have the will or expertise to uncover the truth about Butrint and display it to the world as an Albanian historical and cultural heritage. It is sad because with implementation of a well-designed and well-implemented Integrated Management Plan, I was hoping it would become a Rosetta Stone for other historical and cultural sites in Albania—rather what we got was a Trojan Horse.
In conclusion, I stand by my previous statement that the board was not presented with all the facts and documents concerning this project; otherwise, we may have acted differently. A misunderstanding of the project and lack of transparency and exclusion of local expertise by AADF management played a key role in public disenchantment with AADF over its involvement in the Butrint heritage sites. While there is enough blame to go around, the individuals who should be held responsible for this mishap are the two Co-CEOs and the chairman of AADF for they mismanaged what was supposed to become a wonderful project.
 “Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention.” UNESCO, WHC.21/01, July 31, 2021.
 “Operational Guidelines.” UNESCO.
 “Quick History of the National Park Service.” nps.gov. Retrieved May 28, 2022, from: https://www.nps.gov/articles/quick-nps-history.htm#:~:text=On%20August%2025%2C%201916%2C%20President,those%20yet%20to%20be%20established..
 “The Criteria for Selection.” UNESCO.org. Retrieved May 28, 2022, from https://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/.
 Carbone, Fabio. “An insight into cultural heritage management of tourism destinations.” ResearchGate.net. Retrieved May 27, 2022, from: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Proposed-Theoretical-Approach-to-the-analysis-of-the-Cultural-Heritage-Quality-Management_fig2_309311272.
 Seaman, Bruce Alan. “The Role of the Private Sector in Cultural Heritage.” ResearchGate.net. January, 2013. Retrieved May 27, 2022, from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/262048135_The_Role_of_the_Private_Sector_in_Cultural_Heritage.
 Seaman, “The Role.”