Transcript of Interview with Ilva Tare, Tonight on Ora News with U.S. Ambassador Alexander A. Arvizu, Former Ambassador William E. Ryerson, and Former Ambassador John L. Withers, II (November 27, 2012)
Ilva Tare: Good evening. Welcome, and thank you. I am sure that those are the first words U.S. Ambassadors to Albania learn in Albanian once they arrive here. Tonight, I have three American musketeers, Ambassador Arvizu, former Ambassador Ryerson and former Ambassador Withers. Maybe it was meant to be, but also luck that in this 100th anniversary, we are once again looking up to America, to learn and listen to their messages. This is a special choice to be here on “Tonight” to talk about Albanians in this important 100th anniversary and with Albanians, in an unprecedented interview on RTV Ora News. Thank you for being here tonight. I feel privileged and honored, Mr. Ambassadors. You are the only guests that nobody needs to introduce as you are already famous. I am sure no Albanian has ever forgotten the first U.S. Ambassador to Albania in 1991 when communism was falling. Welcome, Mr. Ambassador.
Ambassador Ryerson: Faleminderit.
Ilva Tare: Your Albanian is quite impressive still.
Ambassador Ryerson: Çfarë mund të flas, mund të flas. Nuk është aq e mirë.
Ilva Tare: How have you kept it so good for 18 years, and you return for the first time since then?
Ambassador Ryerson: Unë lexoj dy here në javë një gazetë nga Bronks, Illyria, që është edhe në anglisht edhe në shqip. Dhe bisedoj dy-tre herë në ditë me shqiptarë.
Ilva Tare: Shumë interesante. Urime. I’m sure we all remember the “combative” Ambassador John Withers. Thank you for being here tonight.
Ambassador Withers: I’m delighted.
Ilva Tare: And, we Albanians look up to whatever you say every time, Ambassador Arvizu.
Ambassador Arvizu: I don’t think so, although now I’m very envious of Ambassador Ryerson, hearing his Albanian. I think Ambassador Withers and I are a little bit humbled by that.
And I think I need to share with Albanians the fact that we have two former U.S. ambassadors tonight who share their opinions as American citizens, former diplomats of the United States, and Mr. Arvizu will be more careful?
Ambassador Arvizu: Diplomatic.
Ilva Tare: More diplomatic. As you haven’t been enough already. How do you feel sitting next to each other and talking to the Albanian people? Is this an indication of the continuation policy of the United States toward Albania, Mr. Arvizu?
Ambassador Arvizu: First of all, I want to thank you and everyone at Ora News for making this opportunity possible. Secondly, it is actually an emotional time for me – here we are, on the verge of Albania’s 100th anniversary celebration, but to have the first accredited American Ambassador after the fall of communism, his first return to Albania since leaving in 1994, as well as to have my immediate predecessor, it’s just a tremendous feeling. Very emotional, it is a great feeling.
Ambassador Ryerson: Unë jam me emocion. Very emotional for me. Yes, I have been recognized and people have been coming up to me on the street and saying, “Excuse me, but aren’t you…?” I was very touched last night when I saw the news, various things, aspects of the 100th anniversary. The one that kind of got me, or actually got me, was the hoisting of the Albanian flag on NATO headquarters. I cried. It was great. It is a privilege to be here and I thank you for the opportunity and for the tolerance shown by the Ambassador to have two old guys come in to do this.
Ilva Tare: Mr. Withers, how do you feel, sitting next to the two other Ambassadors?
Ambassador Withers: It is extremely moving to be here, at this time. And with these gentlemen at this time. You mentioned continuation, and I think that that is an extremely important word. I hope that people watching this show will see the three of us here together as an unstated pledge to the Albanian people that we will always be with you and always be your friends.
Ilva Tare: It is a great message. We have been hearing a lot, especially lately during the visit of Secretary Clinton, I can share with you the impressions and the emotions that the Albanian people got from a great message that she gave in the parliament. Just by chance, I found a picture of Albanian politician and writer, Fan Noli. I’m sure you’ve heard of and know of him. It is a photo of Fan Noli, taken in 1907 and we found it thanks to a private collection, of Niko Kotherja, and as you see, he’s holding the American flag and the Albanian flag. It is 1907. Exactly as happens nowadays with Albanian politicians, we have the same flag next to the Albanian flag. Noli was the first Albanian politician that was educated at Harvard and had strong connections with the U.S. Do you think that if he could maintain the power, the fate of Albanians would have been different, Mr. Withers?
Ambassador Withers: You’re asking a very profound historical question. Let me just give you less than an analysis, but a sense of that. I think that Noli’s six months, which is all it was, as leader of Albania was a great experiment. It was probably too much of an experiment for that time. He had been away so long and his attempts to bring about those kinds of reforms, particularly in the agrarian area, were in a sense too much too fast. He said that. He said that his bringing up the reforms alienated the landlords and not implementing them harmed him with the peasants. Nevertheless, I see that 6 months as an entry, a foot in the door, of American and Albanian friendship that continues and that I think is represented by us sitting here, right now, in this time, in this place.
Ilva Tare: Could Albania have been different, Mr. Arvizu if someone with strong connections and an education from the U.S. would have been in power for longer?
Ambassador Arvizu: That’s an intriguing question. It seems that if you look at the example of other countries, where there have been individuals who at some point in their lives, oftentimes in their formative educational stages of their life, had an opportunity to live, breathe in the U.S., to interact with Americans, that invariably they would return to their home country with certain values, a certain tolerance for different kinds of competing ideas, so, sure, it is one of those hypothetical questions but it is interesting to ponder.
Ilva Tare: Ambassador Ryerson?
Ambassador Ryerson: I have nothing to disagree with. I’ll make one tiny historical point. Our flag now has three more stars than it had then and yours has one less.
Ilva Tare: One less star! Yes, always related to the fall of communism. Good point. Do you think the Albanian diaspora in the U.S. is important in the current relationship that Albania has with the U.S.? Ambassador Ryerson?
Ambassador Ryerson: Yes, it has been and continues to be. Not only for the Albanian state per se, but for Kosova as well. Very strong support in the whole community, for developments for Albanians in the Balkans. I’ve experienced that directly; you probably know I got involved in being a kind of figure head when the NAAC was set up – the National Albanian-American Council. I’ve worked with Albanian Americans on Balkan issues since then.
Ilva Tare: Can they do more? What can they do to strengthen our relationship, Ambassador Withers?
Ambassador Withers: The Albanian-American community in the U.S. is quite impressive. And I would say it is because they do two things. One is that they contribute so much to the U.S. Everywhere you go, you are bound to meet Albanians who are engaged in all manner of professions that benefit us. I think also, they serve the vital role of being a bridge, communicating what is going on here to us here and what is going on there here, in a way that each side understands so that there isn’t miscommunication. They have played a very vital role, Vatra and so on in the early days, and now they play – maybe not so much of a publicized one, but they play a very very important role in our relationship.
Ilva Tare: Do they play an important role, Ambassador Arvizu?
Ambassador Arvizu: Absolutely. What struck me is how much they love America and how much they love Albania. In my two years here, I have been struck at certain junctures in the political calendar here where we receive joint messages. I think in the Albanian-American community, they probably have some preference for this pole or that pole, but because they are Americanized, they find puzzling sometimes the deep polarization here and they issue statements saying ‘What gives? There’s got to be some accommodation.’ Number one. Number two, I would make, and this is an appeal maybe for the future. The Albanian-American diaspora could play a larger role in introducing Albania as a destination for American investments to Americans, not just limited to the Albanian-American community.
Ilva Tare: Interesting choice of exchange and meaning as well. Economy is important in order to develop human relations as well. A question now about our relationship, America and Albania. Albanians are the most pro-American people and we all know that and are proud of it. We are indeed an unconditional ally of the U.S. and this is an Albanian choice. But in politics, as in love, two sides are needed. Where do you think does the support the U.S. gives us come from? Mr. Ryerson?
Ambassador Ryerson: I think in a very superficial way there is a distinctive American feeling for the underdog, for the little guy, and Albania is a little guy with occasionally very nasty neighbors. That is, as I said, at a very superficial level, but the Americans have also seen the reaction of Albanians whether it is the support that has been given over the past few years or the incredible reception that was given to Secretary Baker when he visited in 1991. Americans have seen this and they’ve heard about it. They say, “Oh, yes, right, these are our friends. Tell me more about them.’ And I get occasionally questions that would seem very simple to you but that’s needed because many Americans don’t know much about Albania. It’s a little country, “Where is it?”
Ilva Tare: It was very impressive to hear from Secretary Clinton that the U.S. has been with you for the first 100 years and will be with you for the next 100 years, Mr. Arvizu. Where is the source of this relationship? Of this love affair with Albania?
Ambassador Arvizu: I would just echo what Ambassador Ryerson just said because it the root of the American psyche to look for the underdog. That is the exact word I would have chosen. Although we are about to celebrate Albania’s 100th anniversary and it is a glorious celebration, but it has been a tough 100 years. There has been only a few years where Albania has enjoyed secure borders, freedom of movement, the opportunity to express different political views so Americans love an underdog. The second point that I would make is that Albania has consistently, since 1991, been a very constructive player, internationally, regionally. That is something that I see is shared very broadly amongst the people and the political spectrum. I would be remiss if I didn’t comment just a little bit on some of the signs of a bit more assertive nationalism in the past months. Part of this is natural and is not altogether unhealthy. We’ve said publicly many times that expressions of patriotism, expressions of concern for the welfare, wellbeing of ethnic Albanians residing in Macedonia, Montenegro, Presevo, certainly in Kosovo. That is very understandable. It is really important on this 100th anniversary to understand that one reason why the U.S. so warmly embraces the cause of Albanians is because the state, Albania as a country today, in 2012, is such a constructive player in the region. We will always support Albania. We will always support Kosovo as Secretary Clinton said. But it is really important for the Albanian people to remind themselves that they’ve got to overcome certain temptations, resist efforts to conquer and divide, and really continue to be a positive force in this region.
Ilva Tare: If I understood it well, you are against the thesis of national unification that some newly formed party has promulgated?
Ambassador Arvizu: I think to express the common bond with ethnic Albanians is very natural. These are natural real bonds of culture, tradition, language, history, you name it. But that can be done through the existing countries on the maps. And I love when the politicians, whether they be the socialists or the democrats, or anyone else, when they say, ‘We will be united in Brussels. The path to Albanian unity is through Brussels.’
Ilva Tare: So that’s not an anomaly, just politics or what you want to achieve in the region?
Ambassador Arvizu: I think that part of it is probably politics, associated with the 100th anniversary, also leading up to the 2013 elections, but certain things are sacrosanct and it is important for Albanians to remain unified in a positive sense.
Ilva Tare: Ambassador Withers, what do you think about this?
Ambassador Withers: Let me go back to your original question. The thing that strikes me about the relationship between Americans and Albanians is that even though we’ve had vastly different historical differences, and even though our countries are geographically, in terms of population, on different scales, I have always been struck, even from the first moments when I arrived here and continuing on through now, of the certain common aspirations that Albanians and Americans possess. One of those that comes through very very clearly, when I talk to my American friends about Albania and try to describe this very special land, has been that historical aspiration for freedom, that you are marking this very day. That is something that Americans very much understand. If you look certainly in our modern history, we have always stood for people’s longing and striving to be free. We stood against fascism, communism, against dictatorship in all forms. That is something that I think resonates on both sides, the Albanians and the Americans. I think that is a key element in the bonds that we share.
Ilva Tare: There is another thesis that our relationship is somehow related to demographics, with the fact that according to some estimations Albanians will be in 2025 the biggest population in the region? Does that tell anything to you, Ambassador Arvizu?
Ambassador Arvizu: That is an interesting factoid. I hadn’t heard that. I don’t know how to answer that properly. I would point out that what strikes me from traveling around Albania is, whether you have someone in their 80’s or a junior high school student, that enthusiasm for the world outside of Albania, that enthusiasm for the special bond of friendship between the U.S. and Albania, that seems to not be mindful of any age groups or demographic sectors. I don’t know if that answers your question but I think the future looks good.
Ilva Tare: Diplomatically, but it does. Ambassador Ryerson?
Ambassador Ryerson: If I could make a comment – I don’t think the U.S. has or will make its policy: ‘Oh, it’s the biggest population so we must be friendly toward them.’
Ilva Tare: Keep them sweet!
Ambassador Ryerson: Pardon me?
Ilva Tare: Keep them sweet?
Ambassador Ryerson: Keep them sweet, yes, but keep them within the bonds of democracy that we share, not because they are large, but because they are a tolerant people. Not because ‘hey, there’ll be more of them than the Serbs, or Macedonians, or the Croats, or whatever.’
Ilva Tare: Ambassador Withers?
Ambassador Withers: If you simply look at the American approach worldwide, as far back as you want to go, and you’ve heard it expressed here tonight, we don’t pick our friends on the basis of size. We pick our friends on the basis of shared commitments and shared values. They used the word underdog – yes, Americans love an underdog, whether it is a country without resources or a country that is very very small. It is going to depend really on other factors than purely demographics. The future is plain. I think the friendship will always be there.
Ilva Tare: And as you said rightly, your friends are the ones who share your values. Has Albania achieved its dream to be democratic and free, Ambassador Arvizu?
Ambassador Arvizu: I think it is well on its way to achieving the dream.
Q: Will you elaborate?
Ambassador Arvizu: I haven’t had a chance to speak with Ambassador Ryerson since his return. I’m sure the country is virtually unrecognizable, and I don’t mean just in terms of infrastructure. He mentioned how emotional it was for him to contemplate the fact that Albania is now in NATO. Albania will be in the European Union one day; maybe not as quickly or as fast as it could or ought to, but it will happen. So, the simple answer is that the dream is being fulfilled. Albania is well on the way. But as we know, the country started from a very low base, 20 years is but a blink of an eye in historical terms. And as we all know, it has not been a continuum in the last 20 years. It seemed to be going from ’91 to ‘96, like what you would expect a country to do
Ilva Tare: Like Wall Street nowadays?
Ambassador Arvizu: But then in ’97, the bottom falls out, literally the bottom falls out. It takes a couple of years to recover, then it seemed like it was going pretty well for a while, around the time of John, (Not blaming you!) seems to plateau, a little bit in terms of progress, combating corruption, implementing reforms. Again, this is to be expected in any democratic experience, but Albania is clearly on the right path.
Ilva Tare: Ambassador Withers?
Ambassador Withers: What I would say is this – democracy is not a fixed product or a set idea. Democracy is a continual evolution, and is further more a precious commodity that must be protected. You cannot say ‘you are now a democracy’ and hope that will be forever. You must always, always, always be on the lookout for those pressures that can undermine that democracy and take it back in other directions. Even though I very much agree with Alex, there has been a forward surge, I believe also that now is the time for Albanians to be particularly careful because of trends that seem to be threatening to undermine what could be achieved.
Ilva Tare: What threats are you talking about?
Ambassador Withers: I always come back to independent institutions. I probably said those two words more than any other. I guess I said ‘Albania’ and ‘America’ most, but second was independent institutions. Without them, a democracy cannot thrive, it cannot even exist. When there are threats to those institutions, when they begin to take on a political character rather an independent character, that is a major, major threat to democratic governance.
Ilva Tare: I’ll ask you later about what I think I know you are referring to. Ambassador Ryerson?
Ambassador Ryerson: I think the Ambassador is very correct. Albania is on the right road and making good progress, but all democracies are a work in progress. If you have a finished democracy, the sun will come up in the west. It just won’t happen. There is no such thing, in my personal view, as a finished democracy. It needs work here – my goodness, we need it in the US – we tell Albanians political parties should cooperate with each other, we can preach that sermon in Washington.
Ilva Tare: We all agree the country has changed and we are working toward a free and democratic country, but what hasn’t changed is the political elite, the politicians are almost the same. What can we do about it, Ambassador Ryerson?
William Ryerson: With votes. You vote for someone else. You go out and campaign that ‘filan filani’ should replace the current minister of whatever.
Ilva Tare: Why are you smiling, Ambassador Arvizu?
Ambassador Arvizu: Ambassador Ryerson mentioning the vote. I was struck, gratified when I heard Secretary Clinton mention the importance of the conduct of the 2013 parliamentary elections to Albania’s democratic experiment. Clearly that is a signal from Washington. It is one that we hear echoed from Albania’s friends EU capitals. The vote is extremely important. I’m sure we’ll talk at some point…
Ilva Tare: We will, about the elections…
Ambassador Arvizu: About the elections, I’m eager to speak to my colleagues about this initiative we launched – ACT NOW. It’s been much talked about. I think it has been misunderstood a lot, but what the central premise of Act Now is that citizens need to act now. Citizens have to demand more accountability on their elected leaders at all levels, national and local. And that citizen participation in the affairs of the state is absolutely critical to the welfare of the state and of democracy. This participation goes beyond casting votes on election day. That obviously is critically important, but it goes beyond that.
Ilva Tare: Ambassador Withers, the same protagonists in the last 20 years of democracy?
Ambassador Withers: The answer is one: if the Albanian public wants to see a change, they vote a change. The only caveat that you ought to make there, and it’s a very important one, is that that vote must be genuinely free and fair. Those votes must be counted properly, and the rules of the game cannot be changed at the last minute. Assuming the vote is free and fair, then the instrument of change is in the hands of the people and is in the hands of their vote.
Ilva Tare: Of course, and we’ll talk about that later. Ambassador Ryerson, I would like you to bring us some memories, from 1991. Did you know you were coming to a country that was living in a historical reservoir, which had cultivated hate for America for 4 decades and you were the man of hope, the ray of hope from the U.S. How do you remember those days?
Ambassador Ryerson: Vividly and often. I remember the whole scene. I remember how far back it was when I was still in Belgrade, and I went to Albanian embassy to get a visa for a driver to bring Congressman Lantos to Albania. I walk in the door, and I was back in 1952. It was that kind of a shock. Coming here, I saw what a horrible physical mess the country was in, how poor the country looked, how undernourished the children were, and the destruction that was accompanying this shift from absolute power that the party had held up until then. I say I remember vividly and I remember the very warm reception that I got, at first very quietly, because the people who came to see me were questioned by the Sigurimi.
Ilva Tare: They were afraid?
Ambassador Ryerson: Some were and some, in spite of their fear, came anyway. Years later, when I was back with the fancy title, I received a letter from a man in Fier. He wrote how pleased he was that he walked by and looked up and saw our flag. When the Italians were still there, anyone who looked at the flag was held in by the people who were observing any people walking by the embassy. You were some kind of signal. They were accused of being spies of Italy because you were glancing twice at the flag. It was paranoia, a strange world. Strangers went away, chaos intervened. I was aware of the problems.
Ilva Tare: Did you feel the weight on your shoulders of representing democracy in Albania?
Ambassador Ryerson: Yes, I wasn’t asleep, I was aware. I was aware that people were watching me night and day. I also felt very emboldened because when I left I was told, ‘Bill, if you don’t unplug the telephone, you are the United States of America.’ The day after I arrived a visited the Foreign Ministry and I said, ‘I want to observe what is going on in the parliament.’ I was told ‘No, you can’t attend.’ I said, ‘Excuse me?’ I got again ‘no.’ I said, ‘My government protests’ and it worked. I realized that I was beating on an unlocked if not open door. Albania needed nudges and I nudged, tried to.
Ilva Tare: The visit of Secretary James Baker that you organized echoes until this day. We all remember those images, waiting for him, and praying for him and really happy that he was here. Were you in those days actively involved in the electoral campaign on the side of the Democratic Party? Or as your opponents say, you were being politically biased in those days.
Ambassador Arvizu: I represented the U.S. and I was pushing the idea that there ought to be democracy and that there ought to be free markets. That was interpreted by people who didn’t like it as interfering in the internal affairs of Albania. They were right, it was, to promote democracy was to interfere in the existing schemes in Albania. Consciously, taking part in the political scene, no, but that is what it amounted to. I was invited by various representatives in the parliament, of the Democratic Party, to go to Shkodra, Korça, Durrës, and meet with people. And that was interpreted as direct involvement in the electoral campaign.
Ilva Tare: You were also next to the leader of the DP at the victory rally on March 22nd, 1992.
Ambassador Ryerson: That was after the election.
Ilva Tare: Yes, after the election. You were celebrating the victory.
Ambassador Ryerson: I was there, yes, in the back row.
Ilva Tare: How do you recall that?
Ambassador Ryerson: Oh, again, with some emotion. It was an incredible event. I remember the now PM being barely able to speak and his voice was very…tough. I was there with a member of the U.S. Congress, with a member of the German Bundestag with whom I was chatting in German on the side.
Ilva Tare: So, was it support for the DP, the leader Berisha, or the party that fought communism?
Ambassador Ryerson: It was support for the persons fighting communism and that included persons from the Republican Party, Sabri Godo, of course, Dr. Berisha, and others.
Ilva Tare: How have you known current PM Berisha and what do you think of him now?
Ambassador Ryerson: When I first met him, I remember vividly that the first thing he said to me was, ‘We need schools like the school of Harry Fultz.’ I had heard of that when I was in Belgrade from a lady who was teaching me Albanian. I’d known very much about the school beforehand and I thought, ‘This man is interested in education, this is good. Pay more attention.’ I remember that. I think he’s done a huge amount for the country, but so have a lot of other Albanians from other parties, it should be noted. He has had the privilege and obligations of leading them. He has made mistakes, I think if you ask him, he’ll say yes, he has made mistakes. That’s my impression of it. I haven’t seen him in years, I hope to during these days.
Ilva Tare: I have another question related to those days. Did the U.S. have any role in arrest and imprisonment in Fatos Nano, as he claims, according to a cable of Wikileaks, during a meeting he had with Ambassador Lino?
Ambassador Ryerson: No! The U.S. had absolutely nothing to do with it.
Ilva Tare: So, you were not involved in his arrest?
Ambassador Ryerson: No, no, no. It was said that it was did because usually when I was called to his office, I would walk. I was walking one day in front of the gate of the embassy, and the driver came up to me and said, ‘I’ll give you a ride.’ I said, ‘No, no.’ He said, ‘Come on.’ So, I got in the car, he dropped me off and, at that point, apparently, Mr. Nano was being arrested and I was seen at the presidency.
Ilva Tare: Why would he say that?
Ambassador Ryerson: You’d have to ask them.
Ilva Tare: If you meet Mr. Berisha, what would you say to him? The first sentence?
Ambassador Ryerson: Mirëse ju gjeta! Jam i lumtur që jam përsëri në Shqipëri.
Ilva Tare: In a recent interview, aside from the progress and achievements that Albania has made, you also mentioned that more should have been done for the decommunistization of Albania as the other former East European countries. Two attempts were not successful to dismantle the heritage of the communist system. In 1996, there was an anti-genocide law that was believed to aim at excluding left-wing representatives from entering the parliament; there was another one in 2009, when I remember, Ambassador Withers, the lustration law that received strong criticism from the U.S. Government, through you. Do you think Albania should address this issue now and what is the best way to do it, Ambassador Ryerson?
Ambassador Ryerson: The best way to do it is the one that Albanians find themselves willing to do. The sooner they get on with it, the better it will be. The exact formula, I can’t prescribe and I don’t think outsiders should prescribe. We might advise them – look what the Czechs did, look what the Poles did, look what the Hungarians did, do something.
Ilva Tare: But can the current political elite do something since they’ve failed to do so in the last 20 years? Why would they do it now? Ambassador Arvizu?
Ambassador Arvizu: Shortly after I arrived, I stumbled across the difficulties of land titling and ownership and property and that of course is related to problems with the corruption in the courts, in problems with foreign investments, and getting good domestic investors. Even though trying to do my homework prior to arrival, as these two gentlemen can attest, you learn something new until the day you depart. I am still learning, but one thing as I looked deeper in this issue is the communist legacy and how it still pervades the system here. The controversy from a couple of months ago, or maybe about 6 weeks ago, of the former political prisoners, and I remember Ambassador Ryerson commented about that, or touched upon it in his VOA interview, it exposed some raw wounds that still exist in the society. This probably isn’t the time to revisit that particular episode but the fact remains that legacy still lives on in Albania. Unless there is the will on the part of responsible Albanians to tackle the challenges, just sweeping things under the rug, pretending they’re not there, these issues are not going to go away. Unless you make an effort to address the underlying problems of property issues, how successful can you be in trying to attack judicial corruption? It is not easy, it’s extremely difficult, we recognize that, but somehow the Albanian political leaders and the people need to summon up the political courage to take on some of these difficult issues that linger on 20 years after the fall of communism.
Ilva Tare: Ambassador Arvizu, you tried to mediate a dialogue between the government and the former political prisoners, but that wasn’t successful. Or it started but stopped. What do you think of the government’s conduct regarding that protest?
Ambassador Arvizu: That was a difficult episode. I’ve experienced many difficult ones during my 2 years here. I’m extremely sorry that Mr. Bejko lost his life. I think efforts were made to try to save him. I think what the U.S. found discouraging was the inability of the various parties to engage in some kind of dialogue. I understand allegations of manipulation behind the scenes, you know this charge against that counter-charge; again, these two gentleman are familiar with…that is part of political life. Certainly, in the U.S., the accusations go back and forth, but ultimately, without some kind of dialogue, how can you hope to resolve disputes? One thing that really concerns me is that despite the tremendous gains that have been achieved here, it seems that Albanians politicians are still stuck in this post-communist period, where the instinctive reaction to deal with an adversary is to invoke hate speech, to find a way to denigrate either the person, or the party, or the cause. Again, in the U.S. we’re certainly not above that. There are hard core elements in any debate. We saw that in the recent presidential election, but the vast majority of the American people, I think, just like the vast majority of the Albanian people, want to find some middle ground and so, in that sense, I was disappointed at the way the issue was handled. I thought a greater attempt should have been made, on the part of the government, to find some of accommodation, at least some form of dialogue. That was not done.
Ilva Tare: Do you have a comment, Ambassador Ryerson?
Ambassador Ryerson: Amen!
Ilva Tare: Ambassador Withers, you are the man who stopped the approval of the lustration law?
Ambassador Withers: I don’t think you can give either the credit or the blame to any single individual.
Ilva Tare: What was wrong with it?
Ambassador Withers: Ryerson made a very important point when he talked about his actions in those early days. I can’t give you the exact quote, but he said that he was representing the policy of the U.S. Government. One of the lessons that is very important for Albanians to take – and I hope they’ll take from a panel like this – is that we have to reflect the circumstances of the particular time in which we serve, but the one thing that never changes, for us or if you have the three future ambassadors or the hundred future ambassadors, is that we represent the policies of the U.S. And in terms of the lustration law, and I think it ties with the questions that you’ve been asking, one of the remaining communist elements – let me be very very clear – I’m not longer representing an official position, which is very capably handled by my friend and colleague Ambassador Arvizu, but just speaking as a private American, one of the true legacies is the actual form of politics itself. You simply need to go back to any communist state – the critics were always dealt with the harshest, most scurrilous form of criticism. Not, ‘you represent a view with which I disagree,’ ‘you are not my enemy, you are a political opponent,’ but no, some of the worst rhetoric that would not be tolerated in any long standing democracy are routinely used here. Let me use just one example, the attacks on the Prosecutor General; not as ‘you are the PG and are holding a different position,’ but personal attacks on her character and so on. And not only the Prosecutor General, but any critic comes up for that type of attack. That, to me, is not a democratic way of approaching the challenges that any political entity faces. It’s a throwback to the old days. There is no place for it in any modern democracy. It needs to be excised. I was in U.S. throughout the last campaign – between Governor Romney and President Obama. And in the process of their political contest, they said some pretty tough things about the other, but never once attacked the character of the other. At end of the contest, with President Obama victorious, he said, I want to sit down with Gov. Romney and hear his ideas about how we can move forward and in particular the economy. And he will. I am confident that he will follow through on that. Can you imagine the same of process here in Albania? That is what Albania needs to move forward on.
Ilva Tare: Ambassador Withers, I have some questions for you and maybe the other colleagues will want to say something about those.
Ambassador Withers: Now, we’ve agreed that these are easy questions?
Ilva Tare: Your mandate as U.S. Ambassador to Tirana was two parts as if cut by a knife. The first part you were a strong supporter of Albania’s NATO membership and we are all glad and we thank you for that. However, things changed after the Gërdec tragedy. You started making strong criticism about how things were going in the country, an interview about presidential nominations for high court vacancies, how do you remember that shift?
Ambassador Withers: I remember the shift very very clearly. How can one forget. I mean, the images on TV of those poor people, badly wounded by the flying shrapnel, rushing to the hospital bleeding, and the elderly and the children. It was really horrible to watch. But, I would challenge the premise of the question one little bit and that is I didn’t change. Things changed in Albania, but I didn’t change. The principles of assisting in what little way that I could, with Albania becoming a NATO member, and the principles of the democratic institutions that were an essential part of Albania becoming a NATO member were one and the same. The difference was that after the Gërdec tragedy, there was a major, major shift in the actions and the tone of GOA, in which democratic institutions pre-NATO had been supported and advanced very strongly, after NATO and after Gërdec, those same institutions came under very, very powerful political attack. My job, supporting the policies of the U.S. Government, were to maintain Albania on the upper democratic trajectory and that is irrespective of what happened at Gërdec really was dependent on what happened after Gërdec as the Government went after the courts and other institutions that it somehow were threatening.
Ilva Tare: Were you aware of trafficking of cartridges sold to Afghanistan as Minister Mediu accused you of?
Ambassador Withers: I never recall Minister Mediu ever saying that. No, the whole case, this very strange AEY case, was a subterfuge and the American participants in this subterfuge were caught and put on trial and have been properly punished. The Embassy, as you know, came under question from a Congressman, but both the DOJ and DOS looked into it thoroughly and completely dismissed those concerns that the Congressman had. The theme of this enormous amounts of munitions that have been gathered under the communist regime is one that Albania needs to treat, because it is a theme that seems to be affecting many of the actions of key players in the Albanian society and perhaps the Albanian government. That issue is dangerous in and of itself and it should be treated as part of the demilitarization programs that we have promoted, but it should not become this cancer that begins to influence and begins to corrupt other elements of Albanian society.
Ilva Tare: Do you have any regrets in the way you handled that situation?
Ambassador Withers: No. The truth is always the best approach to issues. I always believed, sometimes I was taken to task for it; or, more than sometimes. I would tell the truth, and one side of the political spectrum would be unhappy. I would say something else and the other side of the political spectrum would be unhappy. I would say that the best approach in dealing with these complex and difficult issues is to tell the truth.
Ilva Tare: Yes, and talking about truths, there was another truth with the 2009 elections, the opposition boycotting the parliament, what was your opinion about that crisis? Who did you think was responsible for that situation?
Ambassador Withers: Let me make a bigger point. I don’t think that, and I don’t want to speak for my colleagues. They can speak for themselves, but I remember in speaking with previous Ambassadors who were here before I came out, and one of the characteristics of Albanian politics is the view or notion that seems to be widespread among the media, among the politicians, and even among the public, that you are on one side or the other. I think this is a grave, grave fallacy when you’re dealing with Americans. Americans are on the side, or try to be on the side, of principles that are crucial to us and our understanding of ourselves; crucial to us and our understanding of what makes us great and what we hope will preserve us as that great. And we will hold to those principles, even if this side or that side at any given moment is angry with us. This is something that needs to be understood. So, who’s responsible for a particular electoral crisis or who’s responsible for a particular political crisis, is not really what we’re here to deal with, when we are honored with that short term as ambassador. We are here to uphold the principles and whoever gets uncomfortable when we uphold those principles and when we do our best to be truthful about them is really in a certain way of no concern to us. The principle is important.
Ilva Tare: Do you share this view, Ambassador Arvizu?
Ambassador Arvizu: Completely. Completely!
Ilva Tare: Ambassador Ryerson?
Ambassador Ryerson: Nothing to dispute.
Ilva Tare: Nothing to dispute about those principles that usually should be not one-sided.
Ambassador Arvizu: If I could just echo what Ambassador Withers said. Probably the single most frustrating thing for me in my almost two years here is…It’s two sides of the same coin. Albanians are wonderful, to a person, or almost to a person, but I can probably count on two hands the number of Albanians who are true friends in the sense that, they look at me and they know that I’m the ambassador, but they also know that my name is Alex, that I have this family, and that I’m just a person with strengths and flaws like anyone, because just about everyone else will look at you and try to assess you: Are you on my side or the cause that I represent or not. That is really an important starting point. I don’t know if my colleagues would share that.
Ambassador Withers: I agree.
Ambassador Arvizu: It is a source of real frustration and the other dimension to that…
Ilva Tare: With which side you are?
Ambassador Arvizu: Especially if you’re with somebody who represents a particular point of view – it could be a politician, it could be a government official, it could be a reporter, a businessman. I guess that is how Albanians look at each other. But, I think the other crippling thing is that in Albania, there tend to be these bubbles. People operate in a bubble and the media plays a part of that. They tend to watch this station or that station. So, you get into this echo chamber where your group’s ideas are reinforced and when you hear something that’s contrary, you just dismiss it. Sometimes you can be surprised because if you’re in that bubble and you have no way of getting information outside it, it can lead you into trouble.
Ilva Tare: Last question for you, Ambassador Withers, and then we’ll be back with the three ambassadors.
Ambassador Withers: At least one easy question please.
Ilva Tare: These are all easy questions. According to alleged Wikileaks cables, you said Albanians are lazy and greedy. Were you referring to people, to the economic situation, to the way things are run in the country, what was it?
Ambassador Withers: First, I would be enormously surprised at characterizations as lazy and greedy. One of the things about Wikileaks cables is that eventhough they go out under the name of the Ambassador, I wrote almost none of them. I think the Albanians know the deep closeness that I feel for them, a very, very deep closeness that will be part of my life from now on. There’s no changing that. The problem here is a weak notion of the common good. That just as there is this view of our side against your side, there is too much of a belief that when the one side profits, that is fine, even if it profits at the expense of the other side or the broad public. I don’t find the strength of the notion of shared sacrifice or universal sacrifice in which this side or that side will concede something for those broad people in the middle. I’m not speaking economically, but I’m speaking mainly politically. There has to be at some point an area of common ground in which people can at least talk. If you develop the polarization, if the political problem or political philosophy becomes so much ‘winner take all,’ then it leads immediately to the vast problem of corruption, the vast problem of tainted elections, the vast problems of centralization of power, that are really truly great dangers for Albania because they can be easily justified under the principle that what’s good for me, is good for all. No, no, no. The philosophy must be what’s good for all is good for everyone.
Ambassador Arvizu: If I just jump in here. First of all, I have the luxury of being able to say we don’t comment on Wikileaks. To hear ‘lazy’ and what was the other word?
Ilva Tare: Greedy.
Ambassador Arvizu: ‘Greedy’ to describe Albanians, I can’t imagine any U.S. Ambassador, any U.S. Embassy, again, not to comment on Wikileaks, but anything can be taken out of context. Any Ambassador who served here would say precisely the opposite. That Albanians are extremely are extremely industrious. And that they are generous, probably to a fault. That is too overly generous. It is a simple thing, but I travel around the country as much as my two predecessors here did, I’m trying to remember the last time I paid for a cup of coffee or a glass of juice. That’s a small thing, but I always try. I don’t think I’ve succeeded. Sometimes, I’ll say, you’re running a business here; if you comp everyone, how do you make any money? Anyway…the point being any outside observer would reject that. Albanians are extremely industrious and extremely generous.
Ambassador Withers: Let me make one final point. When I talked about this ‘winner take all,’ it seems to be characteristic of the political elite. When you’re dealing with ordinary Albanians, the spirit of generosity, the spirit of hospitality, the spirit of caring, the spirit of sharing and of sacrificing for the common good is stronger than I have seen in any other country in which I have served. Somehow or another, the winner take all is when people in power and that is a question that you and your generation and your colleagues will have to deal with explicitly. All we can do is assist you as friends.
Ilva Tare: Ambassador Ryerson?
Ambassador Ryerson: I’m sure that you and your viewers are aware that some of the things claimed to have been in Wikileaks, weren’t there. They were made up. They simply weren’t there. And someone is taking advantage of this. The DOS is saying “we’re not commenting on this.” But we can also say, ‘That telegram never existed. People know the format and you can make things up – The Emperor Franz Joseph is alive and walking down the streets in Paris and put it in the form of a U.S. cable. Doesn’t mean that that is going to be true. Be aware of that, please.
Ilva Tare: Right. Now, we’re going to talk about some more serious issues. Are you talking about controlling politically all the institutions? Is that a trap that Albania should be aware of, Mr. Ambassador?
Ambassador Arvizu: The notion of checks and balances is central and fundamental to any truly effective and functional democracy. I say this humbly – I think you’re talking to 3 intelligent men who have the privilege of representing the U.S. – but in our system, we grew up comfortable with hearing contending views. You know what, eventhough Bill Ryerson, or John Withers, or Alex Arvizu is trying to do the right thing, we may not know everything about that needs to be known about something. You need to have somebody – it can be a spouse, your deputy, your coworker, it could be the newest employee – giving you some contrary views, but especially if you are an office holder to have some institutional mechanism where your views, whether they are good or bad, have to be taken into account by others. It’s the whole concept of checks and balances. In Albania, because it is still a young democracy, Ambassador Withers mentioned independent institutions; every country is going to have slightly different mechanisms. The U.S. is a great system, and believe me, it to fruition though years and years of experimentation – and it still is an ongoing process. In Albania, the country still doesn’t have that effective system of checks and balances. That is why it really is important for there to be independent institutions, whether that is the office of the President, the Prosecutor General, the head Intelligence services, although that’s slightly different category, and not just one party, or one person. That is something that is really to be guarded against in Albania today.
Ilva Tare: But when it happens constitutionally, you will accept it? The case of the president or others. Although the international community pressed for widely accepted consensus for the president in this case. How do you keep this balance between being constitutionally elected and guarding the independence of independent institutions?
Ambassador Arvizu: I have to say this carefully and I look to my colleagues to help me out here. When we talk about the law, respecting the rule of law, obviously that is something that is absolutely fundamental to the operation of a democratic state. You can’t do it arbitrarily, it has to be according to law. But, you can get a smart lawyer to interpret virtually anything. I’m sure you can get somebody in Belarus who can make a strong legal case about why the recent elections there were legal. There is a difference between legal and something being legitimate. And that is where you get into the issue of the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Although the letter of the law is important, the whole process has to be legitimized, in order for it to be broadly respected and supported by the people.
Ilva Tare: Do you have a comment?
Ambassador Withers: I can simply point out one case that struck me out of your history and that was the trial of Musine Kokalari. Under communist law, she was under violation. But we all know that that law was contrary to any principle of democratic governance. So there has to be legitimacy there.
Ilva Tare: Ambassador Ryerson?
Ambassador Ryerson: No constitutionally elected leader is god. He or she can make mistakes and you should be able to comment on them and say, ‘Minister so and so made a mistake.’ They are not supremely intelligent. Good people, but they’ll make mistakes. They are not god.
Ilva Tare: I’ll be more concrete. President Nishani started consultations about the new Prosecutor General, making the departure of PG Ina Rama imminent. What is your comment and what would the U.S. consider a good prosecutor, in terms of a career and integrity of the person?
Ambassador Arvizu: The office of the PG obviously plays a critical role in the effective functioning of modern Albania. It has a central role in fighting corruption and organized crime. There is a serious problem with corruption here. One of my colleagues who spoke for VOA said it is not just a passing phrase. Albania is not making sufficient progress today in the fight against corruption. That is why it is absolutely critical for the Prosecutor General to have a key role in that. The only way to do that is to have good communication, good operational relationship with the other elements of the state. I do commend President Nishani for initiating this discussion with other party leaders. I had the good fortune to meet with him last Monday. We talked about this issue as well as some others. There are some legitimate questions about when the current Prosecutor General’s mandate ends, but since your question is focused on the qualities, I think it is someone who has obviously a strong legal background, but perhaps somebody with experience in successfully prosecuting cases. We need to see more successful prosecutions, punishments, whether imprisonments or severe fines. Not only these low-lying or low-hanging fruit, the small officials who are engaged in bribes because only through a strong message being sent by the judicial system, I’m talking about the courts, the prosecutors, everyone, will perceptions about Albania’s ability to combat corruption change for the better.
Ilva Tare: Ambassador Withers, you have been a strong supporter of the Prosecutor General. Ms. Ina Rama is about to be discharged and the President has made it clear by starting consultations. After she was named by the PM as one of the organizers of the coup d’etat on January 21st events. What is your comment?
Ambassador Withers: There was no coup d’etat. That’s absurd . And to accuse the PG of being part of that coup d’etat is a greater absurdity. It goes back to this issue of scurrilous rhetoric that should not be coming out of senior government officials in a democracy. I think it’s important not simply to focus on Ms. Rama. What is important and disturbing to me is the whole trail of Prosecutor Generals who have gotten fired. If you look back, I can remember certainly Mr. Sollaku and there were more before that. It seemed like at a certain stage of the year, it was tradition to fire the PG. What is disturbing in that pattern is that it seems that whenever the ruling authorities feel that the PG is being too independent, the reaction is to fire that person. That really cuts at the absolute foundation of the independence of those institutions. It is not necessary, it is not part of any larger scheme that people need to like what the PG is doing. Indeed, it is probably a certification that he or she is doing her job if they don’t like what he or she may be doing because it shows that evidence is leading to prosecutions, not political considerations. So this whole renewal now of firing yet again another PG is to me a very bad sign. That institution amongst the many, along with the courts and the many, must remain independent and cannot not be subject to the type of political pressure that PGs have historically been put to here in Albania.
Ilva Tare: Do you think that the performance of Ms. Rama has been pressured by politics?
Ambassador Withers: I say hers has been pressured and all of the others. I don’t know of a Prosecutor General here who has been told: do your job and we will not get in the way. I think when you look at the Gërdec, that certainly was the case. When you look at the investigations of the January 21 events, you can see the political pressure that is not behind the scenes; it is openly and publicly in the statements that the ruling officials have made out loud in front of the Albanians.
Ilva Tare: Ambassador Ryerson, what did you think when you heard about the January 21st events; four people killed between clashes between the opposition?
Ambassador Ryerson: I heard just that and nothing more. I can’t comment on details. I again felt sorry for Albania, the Albanians, and their progress toward democracy. It was a step back. Who’s responsible for that, I’m not in a position to judge, but it was a very sad day?
Ilva Tare: Ambassador Arvizu, after listen to what your predecessor Ambassador Withers said about January 21st, is there something you would rephrase in your statements after those tragic events?
Ambassador Arvizu: You mean…?
Ilva Tare: What you said back then. Is there something you think you would rephrase or something you said under pressure?
Ambassador Arvizu: I thought about that on occasion. Those were really difficult moments. It was a very emotional time. As you noted there were four protesters who were shot and killed. A number of others who were injured; some policemen who were doing nothing more than just trying to do their job were stoned and suffered injuries. It was a terrible day for the country. Frankly I’m proud of the role that the U.S. Government and the U.S. Embassy played in the subsequent days. Without going into a lot of detail, there was some tension, some pressure building among some of the key players. The Ministry of Interior, the police, the Prosecutor’s Office, others. It seemed that the one institution, the one entity that all of these parties trusted was the U.S. Embassy. Having staff from the U.S. Embassy in the police headquarters, in the Prosecutor’s Office, in the Ministry of Interior, or I was myself there, and again, not interfering, not dictating, but trying to be a bridge of communication. I think it was telling that people trusted me, that people trusted the Embassy, to be there. We were very strong and unequivocal in our public statements because it was a very tense time. The police forces were exhausted, the opposition was threatening rolling demonstrations for ever in the day. The ruling party was talking about staging a counter demonstration. We though all of this was a bad idea. We urged, we pleaded publicly and privately for people to exercise restraint. I thought about those days. I don’t know if we were lucky or if we had good counsel or good judgment, but no, there is nothing I would change if I could do it over again.
Ilva Tare: In a few days will be the second anniversary of those events. The case is still under judicial investigation. Last week, despite FBI expertise that link the two indicted persons to the specific killings, the court heard from local experts who said they couldn’t specifically link the two, Prendi and Llupo, to the specific killings of Myrtaj and Veizi. The media and opinion makers were surprised to tell you the truth. Were you?
Ambassador Arvizu: I think it is probably not a good idea for me not to comment on a judicial proceeding that is ongoing, but as I’ve said before and I’m happy to say here tonight I am absolutely convinced that when it comes to crime lab results and tests that the FBI of the U.S. has no peer anywhere around the world.
Ilva Tare: Any comment, Ambassador Withers?
Ambassador Withers: Again, there’s a theme. At times, a sorrowful theme, and that is that somehow or another, the Albanian institutions can’t resolve these tragedies. They somehow they can’t get to the bottom of these terrible cases. You have January 21st, you have Gërdec, and many others. They can’t get to the bottom. You have had cases involving Mr. Meta, Mr. Mediu, and so on. And the institutional structure does not allow Albanian institutions to resolve these matters. That in a certain way is the test of these institutions and of their independence. When Albania reaches the day in which a powerful political figure is prosecuted by the PG, taken to court, and found guilty on the basis of evidence, not on the basis of political affiliation or personal standing, that will be the day that Albania has truly reached the ultimate test of a democracy and it will not be the American Embassy or whoever is the American Ambassador at that time who will say that Albania has passed the test. It will be the Albanian people themselves.
Ilva Tare: Ambassador Ryerson, if local experts challenge the FBI experts, do you think that will tell something about Albania’s democracy?
Ambassador Ryerson: Not necessarily. You said before if I understood you correctly, that some of the FBI findings couldn’t really make a finding…
Ilva Tare: The local experts couldn’t…
Ambassador Ryerson: No, I’m saying the FBI experts couldn’t definitively solve so and so…
Ilva Tare: The FBI people said they could link. The ones who couldn’t were the local experts.
Ambassador Ryerson: I see…
Ambassador Arvizu: It was a very lengthy … First of all, the prosecutors had asked us to do … it was a long laundry list and we came back and said some things were not feasible. There were some parts of the investigation where the crime lab said that there was conclusive evidence. There were other areas that it’s more difficult to tell.
Ambassador Ryerson: I’m familiar just as a person reading the papers in the U.S. that once in a while, often in fact, the FBI says – we don’t have evidence that would back up this theory or that theory. That can happen. They won’t manufacture evidence, they don’t manufacture evidence. Against any other outfit in the world that’s doing similar work, I’d place my money on the FBI.
Ilva Tare: Last question about independence of the institutions. Considering the current behavior toward the Prosecutor General, Ambassador Arvizu, do you think the culture of impunity will change regarding the punishment of crimes such as corruption, abuse of power, on high level officials, not on small fish as was said?
Ambassador Arvizu: I’m sorry.
Ilva Tare: Considering the way politics behaves toward the prosecutor’s office, do you think there will be any change in improving the culture of impunity?
Ambassador Arvizu: See the wheels spinning. If I could address a broader point. It does get to the issue of independent institutions. That is why the respect for them, which Ambassadors Ryerson and Withers have reinforced in their comments, I just want to recall briefly a couple of incidents that affected President Topi when he was in office. He visited a couple of cities, I believe Puka was one, there were a couple. This was at a time when Topi’s relations with others in the DP were at a nadir, not good at all. As your viewers are familiar, there are certain protocols to be observed when the president visit. These were not followed. These were ignored. It was very clear that either instructions went out or someone at a local level took it upon themselves to earn points to basically disrespect the president at the time. For me, that was very sad, disappointing, even painful to hear. Because whoever would do that, they probably thought they were gaining points, or they were being smart. What they were doing was really stupid. They were anti-Albanian, anti-patriotic. What they were doing was undermining a symbol of a functioning democratic state. It would be the equivalent of somebody in Congress, having a strong disagreement with somebody and as Ambassador Withers mentioned, in a democracy, there has to be respect for the institutions represented and when people chip away at that, and get away with it…Not only get away with it, but when there are other responsible people in government who applaud that action, what hope is there? So that’s why it’s critically important for the integrity of institutions to be preserved.
Ilva Tare: I have now some questions on another serious topic. Elections. It appears, Ambassador Ryerson, that the only unchallenged elections were the ones organized during your mandate here and that was 20 years ago. Does it speak more about political will rather citizens’ will?
Ambassador Ryerson: Perhaps, but it was the Albanians who organized the elections in 1992, not I. Just remember that please. I’m sorry, I’ve lost the thread.
Ilva Tare: Those were the best elections we’ve ever had for good or worse.
Ambassador Ryerson: I’m not so sure because I haven’t observed subsequent elections, I’ve read about them of course. I’m not so sure those were the best.
Ilva Tare: Ambassador Withers, what do you think about the way electoral campaigns, and voting processes have been handled in the past 20 years?
Ambassador Withers: As you were asking the question, I felt disappointment. It came simply and solely from the fact that you raised that question with three American Ambassadors. Elections should not be a matter of argument. Kids in a school can organize a free and fair election. That should be long past Albania. The question should not be who is changing the rules, or whether or not the polling places are performing correctly, or whether there is manipulation going on at some level. Albanians, and indeed any people living anywhere in any democracy, should be able to, as a point of faith, to assume that their elections are fair. The debate should then be about, who amongst our political leaders is telling me, the common Albanian voter, something that I can believe in, or presenting to me a policy that sounds rational and logical to me, so that I could vote for that person. And, when I vote, not have to fear that something will happen to that vote, and that that vote will be properly and correctly recorded. Elections should not be a matter of controversy. They should be an article of faith. The fact that you are asking that question is a real comment, is the bigger comment on Albanian elections than any reply we could give.
Ilva Tare: Ambassador Arvizu, how do you explain the fact that the result of the local elections of May 8 in Tirana last year was changed after you witnessed in person the counting process? I’m sure you remember the sleeves up at Unit 5. What does that tell, to you and to us, about the way elections are conducted in this country?
Ambassador Arvizu: One real challenge and one big problem with elections in Albania is dispute resolution. When the outcome is basically too close to call, and I’ve said this before, probably in this studio, that the Tirana election was a political nightmare. Out of 250,000 votes, and all the votes were counted, one man, Rama, was ahead by 10 votes. It is almost a statistical impossibility. In any jurisdiction in the U.S., if someone was down by 10 votes, they would challenge it. But, again, what are the mechanisms in place to address disputes? How do you count with miscast ballots? What are the rules? The international observers in town as well as the embassies here had what we thought was a clear understanding about how disputed ballots would be counted. That procedure was not observed. It was altered. Again, there was a legal argument that was put forward that made perfectly good sense. I just wish that the argument had been made before we’d reached that point so that it was clear understanding: these are the rules. So, the lesson moving forward is, as Ambassador Withers said, it’s been 20 years. It’s not a long time. The Albanian people are very smart. They are very judicious, very hard working. There is a lot of international expertise available to bring best practices to bear. There is no excuse, absolutely no excuse whatsoever for the general elections in 2013to be anything than above board, straightforward, and transparent. That is the expectation of the U.S. Government and the expectation of the international community.
Ilva Tare: Actually, Secretary Clinton urged for a free and fair election and Brussels is pushing in order to progress with the status for the general elections to meet international standards as free and fair.
Ambassador Arvizu: You heard Secretary Clinton and I feel like I have my marching orders.
Ilva Tare: Sure, but I want to ask you. If we think for a moment the worst scenario and electoral standards are compromised again, what will the U.S. stand be?
Ambassador Arvizu: That’s a hypothetical question, that is tough to answer.
Ilva Tare: We can look at the history. Maybe we have a reason to ask the question?
Ambassador Arvizu: That’s why it needs to be different in 2013. As I said, Ilva, there should be no excuses this time around. I’m not talking about just the dispute resolutions, but I’m talking about atmospherics, rules in campaigning, advertising time. There’s always going to be issues. We had issues in the U.S. Just very quickly, early voting is more and more a common practice. There were huge long lines certain states. It was frankly embarrassing as an American and the President addressed it. Any country will encounter challenges – times to move passed these practices that weren’t acceptable in Ryerson’s time, and won’t be acceptable in 2013.
Q: Stubborn 2-13?
JW: Position of US – can’t speak to that. Well into the future. I think Arvizu’s answer was for your point. I think again, it is necessary to look at something a bit bigger. WHat that is – I speak to a lot of people about ALbanian. I alway talk about what a tremendous country this is, and what incredible people, and history and culture and people brought… independence that is being celebrated today. Most Americans know very little about albania – isn’t that the country that had the dispute elections/corrupt elections? Isn’t this the country with the enormous levels of corruption? Not the first impression I want people to have…. Very, very difficult to pursued an american
Q: Ryerson: Advice for 101 year?
WR: Keep making progress. You won’t get there, but keep on it.
AA: TOday is the first day of the rest of your life. What a remarkable ride. It’s been a rough one. There should be no question that our colleagues would have a positive impression. We’re talking about potential. It is time to stop talking about it, but time to realize it. Everyone else is competing, everyone else is moving ahead.
JW: Enormous respect, admiration, and love for those essential qualities that make Albanians albanians. Look at the qualities of Ismail Qemali and Mother Teresa and Skanderbeg – look at those qualities, and they are unmatched anywhere in the world. The goodness, the braveness, the nobility. My advise for the next anniversary is to keep being Albanian, and preserve that essence…
Q: independence wish?
AA: VOA is doing a clip with statements from all ambassadors – underlying mission is that each of came here on a mission, and tried to approach it professionally – very few places in the world have the ability to touch you in the heart. I try not to think about it, i know it will be emotional. I get up each day .
WR: Guilty as charged. albanian message.
JW: Special land with special people. Faces and has faced, and i’ve said this before, there seems to be a common body of aspirations for freedom that we share that is the bases for the bonds. civil rights movement – we shall over come, we shall over come, deep in my heart i believe we shall overcome one day. Second verse isn’t as famous. We’ll walk hand and hand one day…
Q: Thank you.
ON = Ora News
AA: Alexander Arvizu
WR: William Ryerson
JW: John Withers