You don’t hear much about Albania’s President, Bamir Topi.
That’s probably a good thing. Topi was a partisan politician — he was the #2 leader of current Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s Democratic Party. But since he’s been elected, he’s acted like a national and mostly nonpartisan figure.
In this, he’s followed the lead of his predecessor, Alfred Moisiu. Moisiu, an elderly former general, had been a compromise candidate for the Presidency. To everyone’s surprise he turned out to be very good — dignified, moderate, and nonpartisan, personally honest, but capable of being very sharp when Albanian officals and politicians were being blatantly dishonest or incompetent. When Moisiu finished his five-year term last summer, there was a broad movement to draft him for a second term. (He refused. He’s nearly 80, and being President of Albania is no sinecure.) Albania hasn’t produced a lot of thoughtful, diligent and more or less honest politicians yet, so having two in a row in the Presidency is good fortune.
— I said one doesn’t hear much about Topi, but he was in the news this week in Kosovo and Serbia. That’s because he went to Kosovo, visited an ancient Serb church there, and then made a speech pointing out that Orthodoxy was part of the Albanian national heritage (true), that the church was part of Kosovo’s heritage (true) and implying, without actually saying, that the Orthodox Church was part of Kosovo’s Albanian heritage (untrue).
The usual suspects went completely nuts, of course; Serbia’s Orthodox Bishop issued a long declaration condemning the speech, and various Serb nationalists and politicians have tied themselves into knots of outrage. How dare Albania’s President come to Kosovo, visit a church, talk about the church! Worst of all, how dare he even think about claiming part, any part, of Serbia’s precious heritage!
Well… perhaps. On the other hand, having the Albanians claim Orthodox churches as part of “their” heritage is surely preferable to having the Albanians hating the churches and wanting to burn them down. And while Topi’s history may be dubious, his intentions seem to be good; he also said that the Kosovar Albanians must let the Serb minority live in peace, and his remarks about a common heritage were directed towards that.
Mind, he also said that Albania would be the first country to recognize an independent Kosovo. Which, while probably true, might not be entirely consistent with the message of reconciliation. But in Kosovo, you take what hope you can.
Oh, a bit of Balkan trivia: although most Albanians are nominally Muslim, Topi is Catholic. Perhaps his experience as part of a religious minority is what moved him to make the speech? Comments from anyone closer to this are welcome.
(Meanwhile, Serbia’s Presidential elections are three days away, and PM Kostunica still hasn’t endorsed either candidate. Ooooh, the suspense.)