‘I offered Albanians many alternatives on employment, corruption, poverty and EU accession’

Fatos Nano has made many statements attempting to trip you up. He has spoken of vote-rigging in several electorates, made a number of objections and directly challenged your success. How will you react? Nano was in the role of the captain of the Titanic. As the ship was sinking he was telling the passengers to have a good time. With these tactics he does himself discredit. Many were surprised at how easily you won, to the extent that they saw it not only as a result of the success of your platform but as a punishment of the Socialist leader. It is very hard to say which is the more fundamental reason. I didn’t try to demonize Nano in my election campaign, but to raise issues that concern the public. That line is basically what brought victory. I offered Albanians many alternative solutions in terms of employment, combating corruption and poverty, and accession to the European Union. In these elections we saw a very different Berisha from the one in 1993-97. We didn’t recognize you – consensual, generous, to the point where some wondered if it was a false image crafted by American advisors in your election campaign in order to win the vote of those who feared the old Berisha. Will this change also be apparent in your style of governing? Will you usher in new ideas in domestic and foreign policy? My slogan is to outdo myself every day. I am a man of analysis and action, that remains my position. But I wish to emphasize that my party does have a new look. In January we formed a political orientation committee, made up of experts from foreign universities, which brought positive results. They drew up the party platform. People who had founded the Democratic Party with me and had distanced themselves, have now returned as senior officials. Athens is keen to hear your government’s views. What do you plan to change in Greek-Albanian relations – which, you must admit, were just about perfect during Nano’s terms in office. First, the more serious Albania is about accession to the European Union, the better it can build relations with Greece and the more positive its role will be in the Balkans. Second, I have excellent relations both with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and with President Karolos Papoulias, whom I respect and know personally. And I have other friends in the Greek government and Greek politics. These connections can play a positive part in our bilateral relations. Besides, I have stated the goal of making Albania attractive to foreign investors, which means that Greek investors will be among the most welcome. I am determined to implement European criteria for minorities; I have invited the Human Rights party to participate in the government and I am waiting on their reply. Regardless of what they do, I will work to consolidate the rights and freedoms of the Greek and other minorities in Albania. How far will this affect the Greek community? For example, have you thought of permitting a Greek school to operate in Heimarra, as the Greeks there have requested? Everything will be examined on its merits. In Greece, as you know, there is an image of Berisha as anti-Greek and you must admit that in the past you have given cause for that. Is it purely by chance that you are the only Balkan leader not to have visited Athens? I can say with justification that the reverse is true. If we look back realistically on history and the people around us, we can see that [there are] no other nations who have influenced each other as much as the Albanians and Greeks. This was true in the past and it is true now. All neighbors have had problems with each other at some point in history. The Iron Curtain bequeathed us problems which, however, are currently being solved. As for not visiting, I must tell you that I was invited by [former Greek President Costis] Stephanopoulos, but I didn’t come solely because the events of 1997 intervened. I feel as if you haven’t answered me, so I will be more specific. There are past events, such as the trial of members of the Omonia organization on charges of spying for Greece, and your assertions in 1997 that Greece had instigated the pyramid uprising, which gave the impression that you were suspicious of Greece as a neighbor. Let me tell you this. Our country opened its borders in 1992. I can’t say that the Iron Curtain left a positive legacy to the two countries, but we managed to sign a friendship agreement; I signed it, being in favor of it. It was the fruit of cooperation between two governments. The Greeks and Albanians got a document for their future friendship from Berisha and Stephanopoulos. How are your relations with Archbishop Anastassios? Very good. I hold his exceptional contribution to the spiritual revitalization of the Albanians in high regard. From what I know, the archbishop’s long-standing application for Albanian citizenship has not yet been granted. Will you look into that? I don’t know about that issue.

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