Religious Tolerance in Albania

Apr 25, 2018

Welcoming remarks by UN Resident Coordinator

Launching of UNDP-IDM Study on religious tolerance in Albania

Your Excellency Mr President,

Excellencies representative of the communities of faith,

Ambassadors, colleagues, friends  

Managing diversity is the challenge of our times.  Ideas and dreams zip across borders with a tap on a screen, influencing individuals’ and communities’ views on the past and expectations for the future.  That we all manage multiple identities – ethnic, religious, generational, sexual, historical, political – is increasingly acknowledged as the norm, and there are many, many organizations and leaders out there that implore us to use those identities in one way or another. 

I believe that it is Governments that can manage and even harness this diversity in ways which empower citizens and organizations, respect human rights, enforce the rule of law equitably and build inclusive sustainable peace will be those on the fastest path towards Agenda2030, or the Sustainable Development Goals.

It is in this context that I see the incredibly valuable contribution of this report. 

I am particularly about this report for several reasons. 

First of all, it is – for once – about good news.  Part of the genesis of this report was to take a look at something that was an Albanian cultural asset – its religious tolerance – and try to learn from it.  Last year, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Religious Freedom – reporting to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, visited Albania.  He explained that he was asked to go to many countries where religious-based conflict was high, or religious prejudice strong or even legalized, and he wanted to go to somewhere to learn rather about positive experience.

Secondly, I am pleased that with this report the United Nations is reaching out to religious communities. The report highlights that "the general situation of religious tolerance in Albana has remained solid, because religious leaders have called upon believers to abstain from conflict and have called for mutual understanding and dialogue." Religious communities and leaders have tremendously influential roles to play in our societies, and I believe that we do not reach out to them often enough.  I hope that the commissioning of this report will be just a first step in a closer relationship with religious communities, from whom we can look to for moral leadership on questions of sustainable development, human rights or environmental protection. 

Thirdly, as wonderful as Albania's experience is regarding religious tolerance, it is not something to be taken for granted. Religious intolerance, has - over millennia - been tied to violence, more often than not with tragic human consequences. And in our contemporary world, a particular evil is recruitment into organizations undertaking extremist violence.

Understanding Albania’s social fabric, and how religious affiliation and practice weaves through it, is necessary if Albania is to continue to invest wisely in - and benefit from - its renowned tolerance.  Can a culture of religious respect and harmony contribute to an environment that protects youth from a sense of alienation in the midst of rapidly evolving societies?  Can it help inoculate a society from the radicalizing weapons of actors that seek to instrumentalize difference?  

We hope that this empirical assessment will inform policy debate so that efforts to prevent violence extremism can become more nuanced and effective. We believe there is room to move well beyond first generation programmes that target the phenomena of recruitment. Programmes could focus more deeply on values, democratic practice, increased opportunity for youth to be productive in society over the course of their lifetime (it means much more than a job), community dialogue, and of course tolerance across a range of evolving identities, including religion.

The UN Special Rapporteur in his report also made some suggestions about how to invest in religious freedom and tolerance, from which I would like to highlight three. 

First, he noted the religious communities' desire to have property restored and clarified.  I know that this is an issue that the Government has committed to work on.

Second, he highlighted the importance of rule of law.  Only through the rule of law can rights and freedoms, including concerning religious practice, be sustainably respected.

Third, and perhaps of more fundamental importance, he highlighted especially the importance of both intra- and inter-faith dialogue. While religious communities themselves have obviously the leading role in this regard, Government, civil society and other friends of Albania have ways in which they could encourage such a dialogue. 

It is through dialogue, the practice of not necessarily agreeing with everyone but respecting everyone’s right to disagree, that we will ultimately achieve sustainable peace. 

The United Nations remains committed to supporting – and deepening -- such a vision of human solidarity. 

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