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Tom Countryman: “Early elections, do not see them as solutions”

Tom Countryman: “Early elections, do not see them as solutions”

Transcript of VOA Albanian Service Interview with Deputy Secretary for Europe and Eurasia Tom Countryman

VOA: Mr. Countryman, since the last time we met, the situation has escalated in Albania. How does the US Government see the situation now? How concerned are you?

Deputy Assistant Secretary Countryman: Friday, January 21st was a sad day for all Albanians, especially because three people lost their lives in political violence. There are no winners in this situation. There are only losers among the political leaders, for the people of Albania and for Albania's image in the European Union, which it is striving to join. The continued attempt to turn a losing situation into a winning situation simply risks more violence.

The United States, as a good friend to Albania, deeply shares the concerns that we have to have today about violence and the risk of renewed violence in Albania. That is why Ambassador Arvizu, with the strong support of the State Department, has been working so hard with the European Union and the OSCE to give the parties an opportunity to step back, take a deep breath, reassess the situation and calm the situation.

On the specifics of the situation today, what I would say first is to reiterate what Ambassador Arvizu said today in his press conference, that at the request of the prosecutor, we are prepared to offer technical assistance to an investigation led by Albanians but with technical support from the United States and from others, so that responsibility for the violence, for the deaths last Friday can be affixed in a legal manner in a way that meets European standards. Ideally, this gives each of the parties an opportunity to say that their concerns about that violence are being addressed in a neutral and independent way.

By the way, this is important not just because of today’s political situation, but for the continued development of Albania's institutions. It is vital that an independent institution like the Prosecutor General’s office is able to do its work, is able to get to a credible investigation of what happened last Friday. Second point is that we welcome the decision of the Prime Minister to cancel the rally that the Democratic Party had planned for this Saturday. After Ambassador Arvizu and the Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon spoke to him today, he reached a decision that I think is consistent with the need that we have today to calm the situation, avoid an escalation of temperature. So, we welcome that statesman like decision.

I understand that just in the last hour, Mr. Rama, the leader of the Socialist Party, has announced his intention to go ahead with a peaceful demonstration on Friday. I have full respect for Mr. Rama, but I must say frankly, this is a mistake. What we have is a supercharged atmosphere in Albania today, and even with the best of intentions, even with the intention last Friday to conduct a peaceful demonstration, violence occurred. It is hard for any political leader to promise that there will be a peaceful demonstration when it is scheduled in such an intense and hot atmosphere. I know the demonstration is intended to commemorate the people who died last weekend. I am very concerned that by proceeding with those demonstrations, if they get into violence, instead of honoring those victims, it would be a dishonor to those victims of last week’s violence.

VOA: Let’s focus for a moment on the investigation of the entire process. There are too many theories as to how Albania reached to this point, but they are where they are now so the investigation is very important at this moment. Both sides quote the prosecutor’s office, but do you think the office has the proper environment to work and to do a proper investigation?

Deputy Assistant Secretary Countryman: First we are pleased that the Prosecutor General made the request, that we are able to respond positively to the request, although, please understand that the details of exactly what we can provide are not yet final. We are pleased that the Prime Minister welcomed our positive response to the request, that the leader of the opposition welcomed our response to the request. I think that all the parties, all the important actors in Albania realize that an impartial investigation, with technical assistance from the outside, is one key part to resolving the current political dilemma. And as long as the parties are consistent with that, and allow the prosecutor room to do its job, I think we will have a response that can help to calm the atmosphere and bring about the kind of dialogue and compromise that we need.

VOA: Do you really believe that under this charged atmosphere, after all the attacks between Rama and Berisha that have become almost personal, those two leaders can sit down and negotiate with one another? Is it possible at all?

Deputy Assistant Secretary Countryman: I would say in politics all things are possible. I think I share, with most of the Albanian people, the disappointment that the politics have become personal and vicious, not about ideas, not about a competition between two parties who state clearly what they stand for, but instead, attack and counter-attack. In a way, that does not reflect the kind of European state that Albania wishes to be. On the other hand, I have seen enemies with a more terrible record than these two parties, sit down together and make a compromise on behalf of their people. And that is what we would like to see at this time. More importantly than what the US or the European Union would like to see, more important than that should be what the Albanian people want to see. I am convinced they do not wish to see more violence. They do not wish to see more insults. They wish to see leaders who have enough personal strength to talk to each other and to make compromises.

VOA: The opposition has asked for early elections. Do you think early elections are a solution at all to the problem?

Deputy Assistant Secretary Countryman: No.

VOA: How does it reflect on Albania's image the fact, a NATO country that aspires to be a member of the EU, cannot do a simple investigation? I am talking about the tape here, the corruption scandal tape and also the protest?

Deputy Assistant Secretary Countryman: Two points there. I think you have said correctly that it is not good for Albania's image and this is why I said at the beginning that there are only losers. Nobody has been a winner. And the attempt for one side or the other to find a victory in the general defeat is actually pulling us down further.

But, on the capability of institutions in Albania to conduct an investigation, I am positive on this point. I believe that the independent institutions in Albania are capable of doing a credible investigation. What is necessary is for political leaders to stop using the prosecutor’s efforts as a political tool. This is an issue that is legal. This is an issue about the kind of state that Albania wishes to be. It is not a tool for one party to beat up on the other. The parties need to get out of the way, cooperate with the prosecutor, and allow the investigation to proceed.

VOA: What do you see as the next step in the country, in Albania?

Deputy Assistant Secretary Countryman: I think the next step that is necessary is to calm the atmosphere. No more demonstrations, less rhetoric. At the same time an important step is to allow the prosecutor to do their job to find and establish the facts. Beyond that there is a need for both parties to commit to have a clean and honest and transparent campaign for the local elections in May. And that depends not only on just two parties, it depends on all the other political parties on Albania and it also depends on the citizens of Albania. I think I said this to you before if the citizens demand that these elections belong to the people, and not to two parties, and if they watch the election so that it is clean and fair, they will take a big step towards resolving the political crisis and demonstrating what I know to be true, that Albania is fully capable of being a modern member of the European Union.

VOA: People of Albania look at the United States and EU basically to kind of solve their problems. What else can the US do to solve this situation?

Deputy Assistant Secretary Countryman: In the long term, the most important thing that the United States can do in Albania is to convince Albanians to stop looking at the US and EU to solve their problems. These are issues that in a democratic European state, a member of NATO, should be capable of resolving within its own political system. For the citizens of Albania to demand of their leadership peaceful compromise, centrist solutions to issues, is crucial. We’re not going to get to that state immediately.

It is unfortunate but I recognize that it is true that at its current state of political development Albania depends too much upon the United States to address issues that it must find a way to address for itself. In the immediate future we will help with this investigation, we will continue to talk to both parties, we will continue to talk about lowering the temperature and we will work with all the parties and with civic organizations and non-governmental organizations, and with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to help insure that the elections in May for local offices are clean, are transparent and belong to the people of Albania.

VOA: Mr. Countryman, thank you very much!

Deputy Assistant Secretary Countryman: Thank you for your time!