Albanian Croatian MP Ermina Lekaj Prljaskaj/ ‘It's Painful Clashing Situation in Albania’

By Genc Mlloja

Senior Diplomatic Editor

“When I look from the outside at what is happening in Albania I feel very sad and painful because it is not the time to have conflicts between political parties in these difficult moments with the ongoing spread of the pandemic,” has said the Albanian Croatian Deputy, Ermina Lekaj Prljaskaj.

In an exclusive interview with Albanian Daily News the well known lawmaker in Croatian Parliament, who is also outspoken in support of Albanian cause in the entire region and a veteran activist for human rights, she called on the political leaders in Albania but also in Kosovo to leave aside the party quarrels and build a joint strategy according to which both the majority and the opposition will be part of accelerating the process of entering under the EU umbrella. “In my opinion Albanians must be the creators of the destiny of our states. If we get united then we will succeed,” she said.

Speaking of the Covid situation in Croatia, the MP said the situation was serious but unveiled that the country is waiting for the anti-Covid vaccine and it is expected to start applying the vaccination next January. “Vaccines will be distributed in several phases starting with the most vulnerable group, medical staff and employees who have intensive contacts with the pandemic. Vaccination will be free and not mandatory, so it will be voluntary,” she said. Further on Prljaskaj was pleased with the expressed solidarity among Albanians in Croatia and praised Albanian businessmen who have shown solidarity and helped those casted away because of closure of enterprises with clothing, food and accommodation. “In particular I want to thank the bakers who fed not only Albanians but also other local needy people for weeks in a row. In a word we are people with human feelings and that makes me feel proud.”

Asked if Croatia, as an EU key member in the region, would undertake any initiatives to help countries like Albania and Kosovo regarding the anti-coronavirus vaccines, the Albanian Croatian Deputy revealed Croatia has always been ready to help Albania and Kosovo in every aspect.

“So with regard to the anti-coronavirus vaccine, I have the confidence that Albania and Kosovo will receive the necessary assistance from the Croatian state,” Mrs. Ermina Lekaj Prljaskaj said recalling that Croatia was among the first to help Albania after the earthquake in Durres in November last year with aid and specialized personnel.

In a comment on Pristina- Belgrade dialogue she was of the opinion that it is true that Serbia is playing offensively the role of the victim, but unfortunately Kosovo has maintained a passive stance in this regard; Kosovo does not need passive diplomacy. “On the contrary, it must be active, and for example it can best achieve this in cooperation with political entities abroad, such as the case of me in the Croatian parliament.”

In light of the presidential change in the White House, the Albanian Croatian MP hoped that there will be a more positive approach of the US towards Kosovo with Joe Biden as President who, as she said, “is familiar with the policy of the Balkans and especially with the policy towards Kosovo.”

A special topic in discussion was the ‘world of women's rights’ in the Albanian community in Croatia and Albania and other regional countries where Albanians live. Her message to the Albanian women everywhere is: Fight for your rights! “But first go to school and become independent. A woman can perform duties and obligations that no one can imagine.”

Deputy Prljaskaj conveyed a wish to her Albanian compatriots for prosperity in 2021 with the hope that this pandemic will come to an end. “I have strong confidence that hopefully there will not be a big change in our character, generosity and sincerity. Happy end- year holidays! And I take this opportunity to thank Albanian Daily News and you once again for the respect and the interview,” the Albanian Croatian Deputy, Ermina Lekaj Prljaskaj said in the following interview:

Albanian Daily News: Madame Deputy, it’s a pleasure to have this conversation with you when 2020 is coming to end but coronavirus crisis, which is worsening worldwide including Croatia, remains key issue and please what can you tell about the situation in the country which has a ‘silver lining’ and that is what Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on December 3 that as soon as the European Medicines Agency approves coronavirus vaccines, Croatia will be engaged in the process of distribution of vaccines that will be free of charge for the people?

Croatian Deputy Ermina Lekaj Prljaskaj: It is an honor and pleasure to express my opinions in this conversation and I want to start with the general assessment that this year has been characterized by many occurrences and as you can see 2020 will end with the coronavirus pandemic and its negative multidimensional impact; during the month of November and onwards in December the number of infected people is increasing and unfortunately the death toll keeps mounting because of the disease. According to the forecasts of specialists, it is predicted that the pandemic will be more severe in January 2021 because of being combined with the seasonal flu, a time when people with weak immunity and poor health find it hard to cope with the coronavirus.

Croatia is preparing for the anti-Covid vaccine and it is expected to start applying the vaccination next January. Vaccines will be distributed in several phases starting with the most vulnerable group, medical staff and employees who have intensive contacts with the pandemic. Vaccination will be free and not mandatory, so it will be voluntary. During this month a partial lockdown has been set as not all institutions and businesses have been closed because it is assumed that we have more or less learned something about the behavior of the virus. The Law on the Coronavirus Situation was also adopted by the Parliament, and according to it the government and the Ministry of Health together with the security authority will have all the competencies for handling the situation.

-Besides what the government does, how much solidarity among Albanian community helped to make life easier, especially for the needy people and elderly, in Croatia? Are there any ‘bridges’ of solidarity cooperation among Albanians in the region?

- Yes, it is a good question. The government is in solidarity with all citizens of the Croatian state, including Albanians. So the Croatian government also provides financial assistance to businesses and in particular takes care of the elderly and the needy.

Regarding solidarity among Albanians in Croatia, we have shown it during the first phase where a large number of Albanians working in Croatian and Albanian companies have remained on the streets without security aid. In such cases the Albanians who have businesses have shown solidarity and helped them with clothing, food and accommodation. As an MP, I also gave a contribution and I want to thank all the compatriots who joined me in helping the Albanians and in particular I want to thank the bakers who fed not only Albanians but also other local needy for weeks in a row. In a word we are people with human feelings and that makes me feel proud.

- As a key member of the EU in the region are there any initiatives by Croatia to come to the help of countries like Albania and Kosovo regarding the anti-coronavirus vaccines, and in this frame how much can you and other Albanian Croatian political and social figures influence to initiate such a movement?

- Croatia has always been ready to help Albania and Kosovo in every aspect. So with regard to the anti-coronavirus vaccine, I have the confidence that Albania and Kosovo will receive the necessary assistance from the Croatian state. It should be mentioned that Croatia helped Albania even after the earthquake in Durres in November last year and it was among the first countries which managed to send aid and specialized personnel to help overcome the consequences of the earthquake.

The very fact that I am in coalition with the Croatian government and that I am promoting my country, Albania and Kosovo, shows the political assistance on my part.

- Mrs. Deputy, a government Kosovo delegation part of which were Vice PM Besnik Tahiri and FM Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla paid a visit to Zagreb on November 23 this year. Taking into consideration the discussions and your assessment of the daily developments what can you say on the situation in Kosovo, particularly in light of what is happening in The Hague as it seems that Serbia is in offensive playing diplomatically the role of the victim?

-Regarding the visit of the Kosovo delegation to Croatia and the meetings with the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Government of Zagreb once again expressed its readiness to support Kosovo. However, I want to point out that the government of Kosovo, specifically the delegation, should have been more articulate and more concrete as far its demands were concerned. It is true that Serbia is offensively playing the role of the victim, but unfortunately Kosovo has maintained a passive stance in this regard; Kosovo does not need passive diplomacy. On the contrary, it must be active, and for example it can best achieve this in cooperation with political entities abroad, such as the case of me in the Croatian parliament.

We know that Croatia has gone through the same ordeal and knows best the situations and positions of Serbia and Kosovo. So the Government of Kosovo must deal with Serbia in an offensive way and not with itself. At the same time, there should be contacts with us, the political entities that are in the countries of the European Union, and we should have coordination in the field of diplomacy. Although my mission is to protect the interests of Albanians in Croatia in addition I work on protecting the interests of Albania and especially Kosovo because I know that Kosovo has less experience in diplomacy, and this is natural as it is a new state.

- Do you expect a change of the US policy towards Kosovo and in general towards the Western Balkans as the President-elect Joe Biden is very familiar with the region?

- According to information and data that I have, the new US President, Joe Biden is familiar with the policy of the Balkans and especially with the policy towards Kosovo. I hope there will be a more positive approach towards Kosovo. I am afraid that Kosovo has deviated a little during this journey as an independent and sovereign state. I hope that the approach and attitude of Kosovo will be like it was at the beginning of the first steps of this historical milestone.

- Two issues in one question: how do you feel about the conflicting political situation in Albania despite the health crisis and hard economic situation and the apparent dragging of its accession process in the EU?

- When I look from the outside at what is happening in Albania I feel very sad and painful because it is not the time to have conflicts between political parties in these difficult moments with the ongoing spread of the pandemic. In addition, according to the reports of the European Union, these conflicts are among the reasons for the delay of the opening of the accession negotiations in December this year.

It is painful that we do not leave aside the party quarrels for a while and build a state strategy not only in Albania but also in Kosovo, and I mean a joint strategy according to which both the majority and the opposition will be part of accelerating the process of entering under the umbrella of the European Union. In my opinion we must be the creators of the destiny of our states. If we get united then we will succeed!

-To change subject please let me touch on a sensitive issue of the Albanian ‘world’: women’s rights. How has the conservative cultural tradition among some Albanian families that puts the men out front and keeps the women largely in the home changed among the Albanian community in Croatia? In this frame which are some of the initiatives undertaken in the frame of Parliament and civil society?

- Regarding the sensitive topic of the world of women's rights, I can say that we Albanians as a conservative and traditional society in Croatia have started to open up during the last 20 years and we are contributing to the education of Albanian women who are citizens of the Croatian state. In 2005 I was the first Albanian woman to be elected as chairperson of the Albanian community in Rijeka and I had the full support of my compatriots. I can say that I was nominated as a candidate to the Croatian parliament by their proposal some 10 years ago becoming the first Albanian woman to run for such a parliamentary seat. But I did not pass the threshold to win simply for 40 votes, but I still kept going. Also, my election three times as MP shows the awareness of Albanians in Croatia and the priority they give to Albanian women. This makes me feel proud, and I have full and sincere respect for my compatriots.

- Madame Deputy have any efforts been made to establish a common front by women in all Albanian lands to share their experience in the so called ‘struggle to be seen’, that is improvement and upgrade of women’s rights in society?

- For centuries Albanian women have preserved the tradition, culture, language and by maintaining these three they have also preserved the national identity. The contribution of the Albanian woman is not mentioned much outside the family, but I think that now is the time for the society to realize the significance of the continued importance of the contribution of the Albanian women.

Albanian women are now having success around the world, especially in the art of music. But I think they should be even more focused on politics and decision making. As a woman, I work and pay great attention to supporting many young Albanian women who want to work in public, human and independent work. The society and governments in both Albania and Kosovo must give stronger support to Albanian women.

- Given the ordeal you have overcome to become a prominent lawmaker in the Croatian parliament since 2015 and turn into an untiring promoter for the rights of national minorities in Croatia, which is the message you convey to Albanian women and in general to other minorities in Croatia? And do you have a message to Albania’s people for 2021?

- After overcoming the difficulties since 2015 to achieve the objective so that we Albanians could have a member in the Croatian Parliament, now it is my moral obligation that as an Albanian who comes from a human people to promote not only the interests of Albanians but of other minorities, whom I represent as Bosniaks, Montenegrins, North Macedonians and Slovenes. There were Bosnian deputies before me who did not care about the other minorities. But now as an MP I try to have a transparent and correct relationship with all the other minorities I represent. It is true that my main objective is to promote Albanians, but I never ignore other minorities.

And the message to the Albanian women everywhere is: fight for your rights! But first go to school and become independent. A woman can perform duties and obligations that no one can imagine.

In conclusion, I wish my compatriots prosperity in 2021 with the hope that this pandemic will stop, and I have strong confidence that hopefully there will not be a big change in our character, generosity and sincerity. Happy end- year holidays!