A seguito degli attacchi terroristici contro gli Stati Uniti, l'Albania, un paese con una predominante popolazione islamica, è diventata il centro del dibattito circa la sua supposta funzione di centro del terrorismo in Europa. Il governo di Tirana seccamente smentisce questa interpretazione.(testo in inglese)

Immediately after September 11 attacks against New York and Washington, Albanian politically-affiliated media accused the ruling Socialist government and the former Democratic one of having links, serving, or supporting Islamic terrorism in the country adding that many wanted terrorists had lived in the country or used it as a base. That was added with the aggressive Serbian and Macedonian media reporting of terrorist links between Albanian segments and Osama Bin Laden. The Serbian and Macedonian media went so far saying that bin Laden himself has visited Albania some years ago. To add to that an article published September 18 by Washington Times alleged that Albania could have served as background support for the terrorist attack in the United States.
Albania's Interior Minister Ilir Gjoni made a public statement turning down any connection of his country with the terrorist groupings and also insisting that Albania is not any more a terrorist paradise as some years ago, or a black hole where terrorist enter and go out very easily. Gjoni added that they had no information of the existence of terrorist elements in Albania. "I would like to inform the Albanian public opinion that there is no information for the existence of the Islamic elements or groupings with terrorist tendencies or with trends of terrorism, the less so of the existence of elements who could have been linked in one way or another with the attack in New York and Washington."

Apparently hurt by the article in the prestigious U.S. media, Gjoni said the article referred to the events in 1998 when Albania extradited some wanted Egyptians. The article created misunderstanding in the Albanian media because "former CIA official himself covering antiterror issues refers to 1998 and the extradition of some doubted elements, something that was done with the full support of the Albanian government."
Supporting that the U.S. ambassador in Tirana Joseph Limprecht said in a news conference that they (U.S.) too have no information of the existence of bin Laden's terrorists or any other groups in Albania. Limprecht highly evaluated Tirana government policy and efforts in the last years for its concrete steps to identify and get rid of Islamic terrorists from its borders. But not casually he hinted for Tirana's previous governments when the country was ruled by the now opposition Democratic Party of Sali Berisha. Limprecht said that Albania became a great concern in the mid 1990s when many of Islamic terrorists took the Albanian citizenship.
In June 1992 the local magazine Albanian Economic Tribune published the article "Europe or Islamism?". This article is a comment based on a letter that the then-President Berisha sent to the then-Premier Aleksander Meksi that sparked the story. In brief it wrote that Europe and the USA were not giving the promised support of the elections they had won (in March 1992). The inherited great poverty could not be eradicated without money support. Thus Berisha thought to accept the request from the Islamic countries for economic support. Their only condition was that Albania became a member of the Islamic Conference. That was done with a government decision to take the much-needed financial support. At the same time that acts would serve as a pressure to Europe and the USA to give what they had promised because they could not accept a European country to do that. That was the start of Albania's "adultery" with the Islamic countries. In fact, Albanian parliament has never passed or decreed the membership at the Islamic Conference to this day.
Meanwhile head of the Islamic intellectuals association Bashkim Gazidede was nominated top of the secret police Shik. To continue: the first foreign bank operating in Albania became an Islamic one, a foundation was allowed to bring three million of copies of Koran to Albania, scores of Islamic foundations bloomed in the country and millions of dollars were spent by them to build mosques around the country.

By the end of the Bosnian war another news attracted the world attention. A Russian-made Ilyushin airplane was photographed in Afghanistan with "Made in Albania" weapons destined for the Talebans. All Albanian senior officials denied any link or prior information on that, always taking that to a private company. But the question if export of weapons could be held without the government consent found no open answer.
During this time a great number of Islamic persons got the Albanian citizenship. Legal adviser of the Albanian President, Theodhori Sollaku, who has had the same post during Berisha years, says the decree for the citizenship was announced after getting confirmation from the interior ministry and secret police on the person applying for that.
It was Gazidede giving the final okay. Gazidede fled Albania in 1997 after those anarchic days and following his open denunciation at the parliament of the Washington government creating the almost-civil war in Albania after the collapse of the failed pyramid investment schemes. First he got accommodation in Syria and now it is said to reside in Libya. That person could be a deep resource of information for all those events.
Of course this great presence of the Islamic associations and foundations in the country brought elements of terrorist groups. That was proved in 1998 when, following the embassies bombing in Kenya and Tanzania, U.S. embassy in Tirana was closed for some months. An intensive hunting of terrorists resulted in breaking up a terrorist cell with the arrest of two Egyptians, who were extradited to their country (with the CIA assistance) and some others too.

Following that many Islamic foundations were closed and the number of the Arab Albanian citizens with long beards reduced.
These events affected the country's relations with the Islamic Arab countries. Gjoni said that the fact that Albania is predominantly Muslim was never a factor for supporting such terrorist elements and their activity, adding Albania's close cooperation with the western countries' secret police to fight such tendencies.
Albanian Police Chief Bilbil Mema says, "In Albania there is no longer an Islamic threat. This country is no longer a refuge for Islamic terrorists." Albanian security and intelligence authorities, in cooperation with the CIA, had "successfully led operations aimed at destroying the network that Islamic terrorists have attempted to establish in this country."

Nevertheless police has recently detained a few Arab citizens and has also checked bank accounts of the Islamic religious non-governmental foundations operating in the country. In December 2001 Arabs were arrested and detained as suspected Islamic terrorists, but they were freed once it was clear that there was no threat.

Albania is predominantly Muslim. One of the major legacies of nearly five centuries of Ottoman rule was the conversion of up to 70 percent of the Albanian population to Islam. Therefore, at independence the country emerged as a predominantly Muslim nation, the only Muslim state in Europe.
The Muslims are divided into two groups: more adherents of the Sunni branch and others followers of a dervish order of those the most important is the Bektashi. They combine soufism and shia elements.Christianity was introduced during Roman rule. After the division of the Roman Empire in 395, Albania became politically a part of the Eastern, or Byzantine, Empire, but remained ecclesiastically dependent on Rome. When the final schism occurred in 1054 between the Roman and Eastern churches, the Christians in southern Albania came under the jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople, and those in the north came under the purview of the papacy in Rome. This arrangement prevailed until the Ottoman invasions of the fourteenth century, when the Islamic faith was introduced. The conversion of the people took many decades.

In the period from independence to the communist seizure of power, the Muslim noble class constituted Albania's ruling elite, but this group never interfered with religious freedom. The country had no official religion, all religions were respected, and their freedom of exercise was assured.
During the communist dictatorship of the dogmatic Stalinist Enver Hoxha religion was considered a divisive force. The campaign against religion peaked in the 1960s. Inspired by China's Cultural Revolution, Hoxha called for an aggressive cultural-educational struggle against "religious superstition" and assigned the antireligious mission to Albania's students. By May 1967, religious institutions had been forced to relinquish all 2,169 churches, mosques, cloisters, and shrines in Albania, many of which were converted into cultural centers for young people. Albania turned "the first atheist nation in the world." More than 200 clerics of various faiths were imprisoned, others were forced to seek work in either industry or agriculture, and some were executed or starved to death. Hoxha's brutal antireligious campaign succeeded in eradicating formal worship, but some Albanians continued to practice their faith clandestinely, risking severe punishment.

In December 1990, the ban on religious observance was officially lifted. Religion served as an important promoter of the final push to topple the communist regime that year. Religious leaders estimated that 95 percent of all mosques and churches had been razed or gutted during the years of communist rule. A few had been spared and designated as "cultural monuments." Others were converted to sports arenas. Since then hundreds of new mosques and churches have been built countrywide. Though it should be said that Hoxha destroyed the human soul and its rehabilitation will take generations to restore."

Religion capability to calm the people's spirits has remained as an important social factor in the country. That was especially noted in 1997 after the brink of anarchy that engulfed Albania following the collapse of the failed pyramid investment schemes, where poor Albanians lost their life savings.

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. According to the 1998 Constitution, there is no official religion, and all religions are equal. However, the predominant religious communities (Muslim, Orthodox, Roman Catholic) enjoy de facto recognition by the authorities that give them the legal right to hold bank accounts, to own property and buildings, and to function as juridical persons based on their historical presence in the country. The State recognizes the de facto existence of the Bektashis, but all their activities are placed under the supervision of the Sunni community.
Religious movements--with the exception of the three de facto recognized religions--can acquire the official status of a juridical person only by registering under the Law on Associations, which recognizes the status of a nonprofit association irrespective of whether the organization has a cultural, recreational, religious, or humanitarian character.

Approximately 70 percent of the population is Muslim, 20 percent are Albanian Orthodox, and 10 percent are Roman Catholic. It should be noted that these are very approximate figure, based on the census of 1942.
A census was conducted last year, but the question on religion was not included, which became a slight problem at the beginning. Therefore, the new census does not clarify the religious division in Albania.

The Albanian Orthodox Church split from the Greek Orthodox Church early in the century, and adherents strongly identify with the Autocephalous National Church as distinct from the Greek Church. The Albanian Orthodox Church's 1929 statute states that all its archbishops must be of Albanian heritage. However, the current archbishop is a Greek citizen, because there are no Albanian clerics qualified for this position.
The Religious Council of the State Secretariat, an office that functions under the Prime Minister's authority but has no clear mandate and is unable to make decisions on its own, estimates that there are 20 different Muslim societies and groups with around 95 representatives in the country. There are more than 2,500 missionaries representing Christian or Baha'I organizations.
The Government has not yet returned all the properties and religious objects under its control that were confiscated under the Communist regime. It has often failed to return the land that surrounds the buildings, sometimes due to redevelopment claims by private individuals who began farming it or using it for other purposes following the Communists' expropriation. It also is unable to compensate the Churches adequately for the extensive damage that many religious properties suffered.
Relations among the various religious groups generally are amicable, and tolerance is widespread. Society is largely secular. Intermarriage among religious groups is extremely common even in rural areas, though less than in urban setting. Albania has always been a meeting place for different cultures and religions.
Lack of fanatism among Albanians, and the inter-religious tolerance and harmony have created the most appropriate regional, inter-regional and national co-existence in the tiny Balkan country.
An Albanian Roman Catholic intellectual, Vaso Pashko (1825-92), made the trenchant remark used by everyone nowadays that "Albanians' religion is Albanianism."
At the moment all politicians in Albania do not refer to religion as something linked to or accompanied with anything that happens in the country. As always they are trying to make it clear that religion is not something that has ever caused divisions in the country.

24/01/2002 -  Anonymous User

A seguito degli attacchi terroristici contro gli Stati Uniti, l'Albania, un paese con una predominante popolazione islamica, è diventata il centro del dibattito circa la sua supposta funzione di centro del terrorismo in Europa. Il governo di Tirana seccamente smentisce questa interpretazione.(testo in inglese)

Immediately after September 11 attacks against New York and Washington, Albanian politically-affiliated media accused the ruling Socialist government and the former Democratic one of having links, serving, or supporting Islamic terrorism in the country adding that many wanted terrorists had lived in the country or used it as a base. That was added with the aggressive Serbian and Macedonian media reporting of terrorist links between Albanian segments and Osama Bin Laden. The Serbian and Macedonian media went so far saying that bin Laden himself has visited Albania some years ago. To add to that an article published September 18 by Washington Times alleged that Albania could have served as background support for the terrorist attack in the United States.
Albania's Interior Minister Ilir Gjoni made a public statement turning down any connection of his country with the terrorist groupings and also insisting that Albania is not any more a terrorist paradise as some years ago, or a black hole where terrorist enter and go out very easily. Gjoni added that they had no information of the existence of terrorist elements in Albania. "I would like to inform the Albanian public opinion that there is no information for the existence of the Islamic elements or groupings with terrorist tendencies or with trends of terrorism, the less so of the existence of elements who could have been linked in one way or another with the attack in New York and Washington."

Apparently hurt by the article in the prestigious U.S. media, Gjoni said the article referred to the events in 1998 when Albania extradited some wanted Egyptians. The article created misunderstanding in the Albanian media because "former CIA official himself covering antiterror issues refers to 1998 and the extradition of some doubted elements, something that was done with the full support of the Albanian government."
Supporting that the U.S. ambassador in Tirana Joseph Limprecht said in a news conference that they (U.S.) too have no information of the existence of bin Laden's terrorists or any other groups in Albania. Limprecht highly evaluated Tirana government policy and efforts in the last years for its concrete steps to identify and get rid of Islamic terrorists from its borders. But not casually he hinted for Tirana's previous governments when the country was ruled by the now opposition Democratic Party of Sali Berisha. Limprecht said that Albania became a great concern in the mid 1990s when many of Islamic terrorists took the Albanian citizenship.
In June 1992 the local magazine Albanian Economic Tribune published the article "Europe or Islamism?". This article is a comment based on a letter that the then-President Berisha sent to the then-Premier Aleksander Meksi that sparked the story. In brief it wrote that Europe and the USA were not giving the promised support of the elections they had won (in March 1992). The inherited great poverty could not be eradicated without money support. Thus Berisha thought to accept the request from the Islamic countries for economic support. Their only condition was that Albania became a member of the Islamic Conference. That was done with a government decision to take the much-needed financial support. At the same time that acts would serve as a pressure to Europe and the USA to give what they had promised because they could not accept a European country to do that. That was the start of Albania's "adultery" with the Islamic countries. In fact, Albanian parliament has never passed or decreed the membership at the Islamic Conference to this day.
Meanwhile head of the Islamic intellectuals association Bashkim Gazidede was nominated top of the secret police Shik. To continue: the first foreign bank operating in Albania became an Islamic one, a foundation was allowed to bring three million of copies of Koran to Albania, scores of Islamic foundations bloomed in the country and millions of dollars were spent by them to build mosques around the country.

By the end of the Bosnian war another news attracted the world attention. A Russian-made Ilyushin airplane was photographed in Afghanistan with "Made in Albania" weapons destined for the Talebans. All Albanian senior officials denied any link or prior information on that, always taking that to a private company. But the question if export of weapons could be held without the government consent found no open answer.
During this time a great number of Islamic persons got the Albanian citizenship. Legal adviser of the Albanian President, Theodhori Sollaku, who has had the same post during Berisha years, says the decree for the citizenship was announced after getting confirmation from the interior ministry and secret police on the person applying for that.
It was Gazidede giving the final okay. Gazidede fled Albania in 1997 after those anarchic days and following his open denunciation at the parliament of the Washington government creating the almost-civil war in Albania after the collapse of the failed pyramid investment schemes. First he got accommodation in Syria and now it is said to reside in Libya. That person could be a deep resource of information for all those events.
Of course this great presence of the Islamic associations and foundations in the country brought elements of terrorist groups. That was proved in 1998 when, following the embassies bombing in Kenya and Tanzania, U.S. embassy in Tirana was closed for some months. An intensive hunting of terrorists resulted in breaking up a terrorist cell with the arrest of two Egyptians, who were extradited to their country (with the CIA assistance) and some others too.

Following that many Islamic foundations were closed and the number of the Arab Albanian citizens with long beards reduced.
These events affected the country's relations with the Islamic Arab countries. Gjoni said that the fact that Albania is predominantly Muslim was never a factor for supporting such terrorist elements and their activity, adding Albania's close cooperation with the western countries' secret police to fight such tendencies.
Albanian Police Chief Bilbil Mema says, "In Albania there is no longer an Islamic threat. This country is no longer a refuge for Islamic terrorists." Albanian security and intelligence authorities, in cooperation with the CIA, had "successfully led operations aimed at destroying the network that Islamic terrorists have attempted to establish in this country."

Nevertheless police has recently detained a few Arab citizens and has also checked bank accounts of the Islamic religious non-governmental foundations operating in the country. In December 2001 Arabs were arrested and detained as suspected Islamic terrorists, but they were freed once it was clear that there was no threat.

Albania is predominantly Muslim. One of the major legacies of nearly five centuries of Ottoman rule was the conversion of up to 70 percent of the Albanian population to Islam. Therefore, at independence the country emerged as a predominantly Muslim nation, the only Muslim state in Europe.
The Muslims are divided into two groups: more adherents of the Sunni branch and others followers of a dervish order of those the most important is the Bektashi. They combine soufism and shia elements.Christianity was introduced during Roman rule. After the division of the Roman Empire in 395, Albania became politically a part of the Eastern, or Byzantine, Empire, but remained ecclesiastically dependent on Rome. When the final schism occurred in 1054 between the Roman and Eastern churches, the Christians in southern Albania came under the jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople, and those in the north came under the purview of the papacy in Rome. This arrangement prevailed until the Ottoman invasions of the fourteenth century, when the Islamic faith was introduced. The conversion of the people took many decades.

In the period from independence to the communist seizure of power, the Muslim noble class constituted Albania's ruling elite, but this group never interfered with religious freedom. The country had no official religion, all religions were respected, and their freedom of exercise was assured.
During the communist dictatorship of the dogmatic Stalinist Enver Hoxha religion was considered a divisive force. The campaign against religion peaked in the 1960s. Inspired by China's Cultural Revolution, Hoxha called for an aggressive cultural-educational struggle against "religious superstition" and assigned the antireligious mission to Albania's students. By May 1967, religious institutions had been forced to relinquish all 2,169 churches, mosques, cloisters, and shrines in Albania, many of which were converted into cultural centers for young people. Albania turned "the first atheist nation in the world." More than 200 clerics of various faiths were imprisoned, others were forced to seek work in either industry or agriculture, and some were executed or starved to death. Hoxha's brutal antireligious campaign succeeded in eradicating formal worship, but some Albanians continued to practice their faith clandestinely, risking severe punishment.

In December 1990, the ban on religious observance was officially lifted. Religion served as an important promoter of the final push to topple the communist regime that year. Religious leaders estimated that 95 percent of all mosques and churches had been razed or gutted during the years of communist rule. A few had been spared and designated as "cultural monuments." Others were converted to sports arenas. Since then hundreds of new mosques and churches have been built countrywide. Though it should be said that Hoxha destroyed the human soul and its rehabilitation will take generations to restore."

Religion capability to calm the people's spirits has remained as an important social factor in the country. That was especially noted in 1997 after the brink of anarchy that engulfed Albania following the collapse of the failed pyramid investment schemes, where poor Albanians lost their life savings.

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. According to the 1998 Constitution, there is no official religion, and all religions are equal. However, the predominant religious communities (Muslim, Orthodox, Roman Catholic) enjoy de facto recognition by the authorities that give them the legal right to hold bank accounts, to own property and buildings, and to function as juridical persons based on their historical presence in the country. The State recognizes the de facto existence of the Bektashis, but all their activities are placed under the supervision of the Sunni community.
Religious movements--with the exception of the three de facto recognized religions--can acquire the official status of a juridical person only by registering under the Law on Associations, which recognizes the status of a nonprofit association irrespective of whether the organization has a cultural, recreational, religious, or humanitarian character.

Approximately 70 percent of the population is Muslim, 20 percent are Albanian Orthodox, and 10 percent are Roman Catholic. It should be noted that these are very approximate figure, based on the census of 1942.
A census was conducted last year, but the question on religion was not included, which became a slight problem at the beginning. Therefore, the new census does not clarify the religious division in Albania.

The Albanian Orthodox Church split from the Greek Orthodox Church early in the century, and adherents strongly identify with the Autocephalous National Church as distinct from the Greek Church. The Albanian Orthodox Church's 1929 statute states that all its archbishops must be of Albanian heritage. However, the current archbishop is a Greek citizen, because there are no Albanian clerics qualified for this position.
The Religious Council of the State Secretariat, an office that functions under the Prime Minister's authority but has no clear mandate and is unable to make decisions on its own, estimates that there are 20 different Muslim societies and groups with around 95 representatives in the country. There are more than 2,500 missionaries representing Christian or Baha'I organizations.
The Government has not yet returned all the properties and religious objects under its control that were confiscated under the Communist regime. It has often failed to return the land that surrounds the buildings, sometimes due to redevelopment claims by private individuals who began farming it or using it for other purposes following the Communists' expropriation. It also is unable to compensate the Churches adequately for the extensive damage that many religious properties suffered.
Relations among the various religious groups generally are amicable, and tolerance is widespread. Society is largely secular. Intermarriage among religious groups is extremely common even in rural areas, though less than in urban setting. Albania has always been a meeting place for different cultures and religions.
Lack of fanatism among Albanians, and the inter-religious tolerance and harmony have created the most appropriate regional, inter-regional and national co-existence in the tiny Balkan country.
An Albanian Roman Catholic intellectual, Vaso Pashko (1825-92), made the trenchant remark used by everyone nowadays that "Albanians' religion is Albanianism."
At the moment all politicians in Albania do not refer to religion as something linked to or accompanied with anything that happens in the country. As always they are trying to make it clear that religion is not something that has ever caused divisions in the country.


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