Mal Berisha’s speech at the launch of his new book


Mal Berisha’s speech at the launch of his new book

Good evening!

You Excellency Ambassador Cannon!

Mrs. Cannon  

Speaker of Parliament Mr. Meta

Dear Doctor Berisha

Dear Mr. Basha, Chairman of the Democratic Party!

Excellences, Ambassadors of the State of Israeli, Republic of Kosova

Members of the Parliament,

Dear friends

Ladies and Gentlemen!

I am delighted to be here tonight. Please allow me, at the outset, to express my deepest appreciation and gratitude to Ambassador Cannon and Alice for extending the opportunity to share with this wonderful audience my experiences during my post as the Ambassador of Albania to the court of St. James.

The book that I will be presenting tonight in the presence of such a convivial group that shares a love of history is part of a series of books that I have modestly written, translated, or contributed to further findings for future researchers. These books inherently converge at one crucial point:

To illuminate the inestimable contribution of Anglo-Americans offered to Albania in various epochs of its existence. At times, the aims of the contributions have had cultural and artistic characteristics, other times they have been political and of immense importance to the verdure of our small nation.  For the purpose of this presentation, I shall only name a few.

The main motive inspiring me to further inquest into the subject was the strong desire to take a contrapuntal posture against the anti-Anglo-American stance and philosophy of the Albanian communist regime centered on an infamous book called “The Anglo American Danger against Albania”. This book contains a deliberate and monstrous manipulation of the history of relations between Albania, United Kingdom and the United States.

As is the case with ongoing research, my appetite for the subject grew as more discoveries came to light. The incipiency of this journey dates back to the early 1990’s in Istanbul, Turkey where I served as the General Consul of Albania. In a pleasant encounter with John Freely; an Irish- American professor of mathematics, who had a deep interest in Albania, he suggested I look into a book called—“The False Messiah Sabethai Zevi” about a Turkish Jew who lived some years and died in Berat, written by John, and “Southern Albania or Northern Epirus in the European International Affairs, 1912-1923” written by Edith Pierpont Stickney of Stanford University.  Stickney went on to earn her doctorate as a result of her research surrounding topics of Albanian national interests and its role in the international political arena. Valuing the book to be of high caliber for its informative nature and shedding light to facts ignored for decades, I made the decision to translate it into the Albanian language. Many years later, whilst preparing for a speech at the 90th anniversary of the inception of the Pan-Albanian Federation (VATRA), in New York, I came about a fragment written by the former Bosnian President and academic Haris Silajdzic, in his book “The Albanian Question in the American Archives”. Among a great deal of facts mentioned by Silajdzic, one made a distinct impression on me. The man behind my undivided attention was; Charles Telford Erickson and his years spent in Albania. This triggered my passion to learn more about his contribution to our country. The research spanned over 4 years, dredging up books, newspapers, public records, predominantly at the Yale Divinity Library in Connecticut.

The story of his life is an illustration of the goodwill of the American people and also of personal sacrifices. One of the most remarkable findings in my book is related to the influence Mr. Erickson had on President Wilson on the issues related to Albania. As a result, President Wilson stood on the right side of history by keeping firm on his promise that Albania would enjoy its freedom and right to self-determination at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. However, this would not be his only feat. Mr. Erickson was the founder of the school of agriculture in Kavaja, and represented VATRA at the Conference of United Nations in San Francisco in 1945 when Albania was not awarded a seat. At the ripe age of 99 years old when he passed, Mr. Erickson had written 6 books about Albania and spent over….decades living in the country.

A compilation of his work was presented to the American Ambassador in Tirana, in the presence of the political cast, in London at the Anglo-Albanian Association, and in New York City at the Pan-Albanian Federation of America.

Because much of Albanian history has been viewed through the eyes of Anglo-Americans, I decided to undergo a thorough study of the most prestigious media outlets in the Western world. My journey this time compelled me to visit the New York Public Library where I discovered annual editions of the National Geographic magazine publications on Albania from 1888 to 2007, only to find that Albania was in the forefront of its most exotic subjects. One of the most fascinating instances was of Melville Chatter, the celebrated traveler, who had published a 70 page article on Albania. Among other articles published in the magazine one could find concrete facts certifying the validity of historical occurrences. Drawing inspirations from these articles, I published the book “Shqiptarët, Lisa mbi Truallin Ilir”. This book, too, was presented to the Albanian audience as well as the Albanian diaspora and friends of Albania in New York City. As part of a sequel to the subject the book “Shqiptarët, Europianët më të Lashtë dhe më të Rinj” followed.

While studying the Jewish Life in Albania and the fascinating story of Albanian Righteous among the Nations based on the Besa Shqiptare, my interest grew up to the life of Herman Bernstein, who served as the US Minister (Ambasador) in Albania from 1930 – 1933. His love for Albania is immense and the traces of his activity as a US diplomat in our country are still printed not only in the memories of our nation but also right in the foundation of a phenomenal Albanian – American relations as well Albanian Jewish ones. The Jewish Story, recorded by Ambassador Bernstein is a story that makes us all proud. Furthermore, Ambassador Bernstein, predicted the Italian occupation five years before it happened, writing it in a New York Times article. This is a story of an

Ambassador not only fulfilling his reporting duties, but also detecting dangers rushing towards the host country. His translation from German into English of the Alexander Moisu’s drama “The Prisoner “ together with his daughter Dorothy shows how deeply he was connected to Albanians and the Albanian culture. His contribution can be considered the foundation of our outstanding relations. I presented his work at the YIVO Institute of Jewish Research, in New York under the auspice of Prof Jonathan Brent and in London under patronage of HE Matthew Barzun, US Ambassador in London in collaboration with Israeli Ambassador and Lithuanian Ambassador in the premises of the US Embassy in London.

As we all know, the English literature was present in our educational system even during the communist period. Having been honored to be an Ambassador of Albania to the Court of St James I decided to send a message to my compatriots who were settled in United Kingdom, especially to those who were in the process of naturalization. United Kingdom is a great country based on freedom. It is the country of Magna Carta, which celebrated last year its 800th anniversary. Therefore, since the day I arrived in my post I called upon them: Be good British citizens, combine the virtues of our nations with those of the Brits and you will be the best breed among the nations that compose the British life.

In order to motivate my fellow compatriots to hold to high esteem the British values, I followed a very well structured path of fulfilling all my day-to-day obligations that emerged from my position. Apart from, and parallel with them I put forward some priorities:

One of them was to promote Albania and make it known to the Brits as country with a very rich spiritual life, a nation of great artists and a place which deserves to be visited, invest in and ultimately be considered as a European country.

It is common for every Ambassador to put a number of objectives and targets that he or she wants to achieve at the end of their mission. In my view it very much depends on the country where you are posted. For Example, if I had been posted in China I would spend more time to attract Chinese business, based also in our tradition of economic relations. In my case I saw as imperative the transformation of the negativities about Albania shown by daily media, which referred more to the crimes committed by ordinary Albanian emigrants than to their true national human values. Trying to reach this path, I wanted to have my imprint in my legacy, through namely the Cultural Diplomacy and tell to the Brits, to the Albanian Brits and Albanians themselves in United Kingdom:

Who are we?

Who we are– not as we like to present ourselves, but as the British travelers, artists, writers, historians, military men, philosophers, chronicans have seen us not only in the course of the centuries but even today. That was not easy, yet not impossible.

A number of activities mostly organized with the members of the Anglo Albanian Association filled most of my professional time when I served in London. Parallel with that I dedicated almost all my free time to enlighten the considerations of the Brits towards Albanians. That inspired me to write, translate and compose the book REALITET SHQIPTARO BRITANIKE.

There are 35 authors, or travelers from whom I have extracted the crème de la crème of their writings about Albania and Albanians.

In my initial draft I put the following questions forward and strive to give answers to;

What are the strong links between Albania and the United Kingdom? What are the contact points?

What is the perception? What did the British scholars taught to their nationals about Albanians?

When did they start to show interest about Albania?

Who are the prominent figures who have shaped the impression of their nation towards Albania?

Who are the ones who have left a trace in the history of our relations?

Who were British diplomats who served in Albania since 1922 that shaped the official perception of United Kingdom towards Albania?

Who are the Albanian Diplomats who have shaped the official perception of Albanians towards brits and vice versa?

What is the positive impact of their perception to our relations?

What is the role that these kind of relations have played to strengthen our relations.

I am not going to go over every detail and name of the book but I cannot let without mentioning special names such as

Richard Knolle, William Martin Leake,  George Gordon Byron, John Hobhouse, Charles Cockerell, Henry Holland, Benjamin Disraeli, David Urquhart, Edward Lear, Edmund Spenser,  Arthur Kavanagh,  Adam Peacock, Hart Hodginson,  Aubrey Herbert,  Edith Durham, Margaret Hasluck, Lady Elizabeth Carnarvon, Mary Herbert, Ruth Pennington, Sir Noel Malcolm.

All these Brits have had their impact on British Albanian Relations. This is why, I have seen the British Policy towards Albania with sympathy. I would like to mention some of the very important moments in the history of our relations.

If President Wilson, with his 14 points of the self-determination of the small nations protected Albania by being dismembered, it was Aubrey Herbert with Lord Cecil and former Prime Minster Balfour who membered Albania to the League of Nation. Our country became the 42nd member of the League.

It was a British general who organized the Albanian Gendarme from the British colonel Dayrell Okllay Hill.

Special Operation Executives is one of the main contributions of the British government during the WW2, “The Secret Army of Churchill”. They landed in Albania in 1943. The story of SOE in Albania is explained in a rich book written by Roderick Bailey, published by the Random House. The book was launched at the Embassy of Albania in London. What I would like to emphasize in this case is the tragic story of the dead bodies of 53 soldiers who lost their lives in the Albanian territory. In 1950 the Her Majesty’s Government commissioned a French diplomat to collect their remains. The Albanian Government did hide them in a place to be discovered only after the reestablishment of the Albanian British Relations. Let me state that among all foreign soldiers who lost their lives in Albania, starting from the age of Rome, the only ones who died to protect Albania rather than to occupy it are the Brits. This is a very significant fact to me.

We all speak about Kosova. I do strongly believe that if it wouldn’t have been for United Kingdom and the United States or vice versa, Kosova would have never been the sovereign country it is today.

This book also has a short history of all Ambassadors who served in Albania starting from Sir Harry Eire to HE Mr. Nickolas Cannon and all those who served in London starting from the great statesman and diplomat Mehmet Konica. Furthermore, the famous British journalist Harry Eire, who has written about the Exhibition of our famous painter Bashkim Ahmetaj – Izano for the Newsweek is the fourth generation descendent of Sir Charles Augustus Eyres, and extremely proud of his ancestor who served in Albania. In meantime, all Albanian Ambassadors who served to the Court of St James’s before 1939 have all ended in communist prisons, were executed or died in exile.

Promoting Albanian values and demonstrating to others who we are, and how others have perceived us, in Great Britain for me was a personal Mission. This is why one may find in this book, names of several British Lords, Sirs and friends of Albania on one side and several names of Albanians who have achieved great heights in Great Britain as intellectuals, professors and entrepreneurs.

At the end I have listed four elements that made Albanians proud in London:

The monument of Skanderbeg placed in Bayswater;

Portrait of G G Byron at the National Portrait Gallery, London

Edith Durham’s Collection on Albania at the Royal Anthropologic Museum of England and Ireland;

Portrait of the founder of modern Egypt Mehmet Ali Pasha

Thank you!!!