Consul of Albania’s Honorary Consulate in Zadar/ Centuries Old Bond of Albanians with Croats

By Genc Mlloja
Senior Diplomatic Editor
The Albanian community of Zadar in Croatia has now Albania’s Honorary Consulate which was inaugurated on February 3, 2021 in a ceremony attended by Albanian Ambassador Riza Poda, Croatian Albanian MP Ermina Lekaj- Prljaskaj, the envoy of the Foreign Ministry, Emilija Vucinic-Margeta, the Mayor of Zadar, Branko Dukic, the Deputy Mayor of Zadar, Sime Vickovic, the Chairman of the Working Group for the Coordination of National Minorities of the County of Zadar, Veselko Cakic and Arta Dodaj, deputy Chairwoman of Albanian National Minority of Zare.
Honorary Consul of the Consulate has been appointed the well-known businessman, Anton Dedaj, who has also been the chairman of the Albanian minority of Zadar for many years, and Albanian Daily News had a conversation with him on such an occasion.
"As Honorary Consul of the Republic of Albania in Zadar, I will dedicate all my efforts and knowledge in promoting my country, and continuing to develop and strengthen relations between Croatia and Albania," said Dedaj after the plaque with the inscriptions of the Honorary Consulate in Albanian, Croatian and English was unveiled at the Office where the Albanian flag was hoisted.
Further on Dedaj said that friendly and fraternal ties with Croatians are centuries old and   thanks to such a legacy not only Arbanasi, but all Albanians in Croatia, have always felt at home. "The important contribution and self-sacrifices of the Albanians in the heroic fight for the independence of Croatia are indicators of this special friendship. Albania and Croatia have excellent relations. They are NATO member countries and are developing a strategic partnership not only bilateral, but also at the regional level."
The Mayor of Zadar, Branko Dukic appreciated Dedaj's work on promoting the good relations and cooperation with the Albanian national minorities.
For his part Albanian Ambassador to Zagreb Riza Poda stressed the importance of this event in the bilateral relations between Albania and Croatia, which have a special source of heritage in Zare, in the Arbanasi area. He also spoke about the cooperation between the two countries and within NATO membership, and about opportunities for cooperation within the EU, given that Croatia is the newest EU member and Albania is in the process of opening the accession negotiations with the Union.
In addition Poda said that the expansion of the diplomatic presence with the Honorary Consulate of Albania in Zadar is of particular importance in terms of increasing cooperation and deepening economic, trade, educational, cultural and human relations between the two countries, given the opportunities that are still hidden in this region of Croatia. "We must not forget that the establishment of the first Albanian diaspora in Croatia began here in Zadar with the Arbanasi. Although in a foreign but very friendly country it remains an important part of the tradition of the ancient tree of the Albanian people on the shores of Dalmatia. Their exemplary coexistence with the Croatian population created a special and authentic model of fraternal relations between the two people in the context of the dynamics of relations, closeness, interests and common challenges between Albania and Croatia," said Tirana's top diplomatic envoy to Zagreb
The Consul, Dedaj noted that almost 4,000 Albanians live in the area covered by the new Consulate and the region is visited by more than 10,000 Albanians annually. "The Albanian private sector has good links throughout the Zadar region, which will further expand trade and investment between the two countries through cooperation with Croatian partners,” the Honorary Consul said in the following interview:
 -First congratulations for the post of Honorary Consul of the Consulate of Albania that has recently been opened in Zadar, Croatia. Please can you tell us about the importance of this event for the Albanian community? How has such a development been evaluated as the Albanian flag is flown in a new diplomatic mission in this friendly country of Albania?
- Thank you for the congratulations on the occasion of my appointment as honorary consul, as well as on the opening of the Honorary Consulate of the Republic of Albania in the city of Zadar. The Honorary Consulate of Albania, which opened these days in Zadar has a special importance for the fact that a considerable number of Albanians live and work in this city and prefecture. Also the Arberesh known as the Arbanasi of Zadar live here. It is especially important to note that we have a very large number of Albanian citizens from Albania who have come to Croatia, especially settling down in the town of Zadar and its prefecture. Almost 4,000 Albanians live in the area covered by the new consulate and the region is visited by more than 10,000 Albanians annually. The Albanian private sector has good links throughout the Zadar region, which will further expand trade and investment between the two countries through co-operation with Croatian partners. Evidence of the importance of this event is the fact that there has been a great echo on such diplomatic development in the Croatian media. So several Croatian newspapers wrote about it such as Slobodna Dalmacija, Zadarski List, Antena Zadar, etc. Some of them gave me the opportunity for interviews. But first and foremost this office is valuable for Albanians because it is an additional helpful address for them. It is also a link between Albanians and local governing bodies.
-It is interesting to learn about the functions that this Consulate will have and in this context can you tell us a few words about your figure that the Mayor of Zara Branko Dukic praised highly not only as a well-known businessman but also as an active member of the Albanian community?
- As Honorary Consul of the Republic of Albania in Zadar, I will unsparingly invest all my efforts and knowledge in promoting my country, and try to develop and strengthen relations between Croatia and Albania. I thought long before accepting such an important function as it is the post of Honorary Consul. The very title of honorary consul bears the word "Honor", a word that has great weight in Albanian culture. The word honor is equal to life for us Albanians. I accepted the honor, I accepted life and I made such a pledge at a time when the whole world is facing many challenges. We will focus our energies, together with all other Albanians here, as target the building and promotion of friendly bridges.
The Honorary Consulate will do the utmost to serve the Albanian citizens of Zadar. It will keep its doors open to all Albanians in the city of Zadar and the County of Zadar. It will offer its service for scientists, artists, athletes, business people, workers and anyone interested in cultural, economic cooperation and trade between Croatia and Albania.
On the other hand, the duties of the Honorary Consul include monitoring the rights of Albanians and permanent residents of Albania living and working in the city of Zadar and the prefecture of Zadar, providing advice and guidance on their problems and concerns and helping them to establish contacts with the local authorities or the Albanian Embassy in Zagreb.
Meanwhile, the office is available for providing relevant information on any problems of permanent Albanian residents traveling abroad and this task is of special value now in the conditions of the pandemic. Together with other diplomatic missions, as honorary consul I will work to promote the economic and cultural relations between Albania and the city of Zadar and its prefecture. In addition it can also advise Albanian companies on obtaining information about the local business climate and to find cooperation partners.
Regarding your interest in my figure and the words of appreciation of the mayor Mr. Branko Dukic I take this opportunity to thank him. I graduated at the Faculty of Philosophy in Prishtina, and I am one of the founders of the LDK sub-branch of Bishtazhin and chairman of the initiating council for its establishment. I was a member of the council 'Vendlindja therret' and now I am the chairman of the council of the Albanian national minority for the city of Zadar. I have organized a series of cultural activities here such as the promotion of the Albanian-Croatian dictionary authored by Deputy Ermina Lekaj Perlaskaj, the promotion of the book ‘Mother Teresa’ by Dr. Don Lush Gjergji, the promotion of the book ‘Injections in Zadar, Croatia’ whose author is Prof. Dr. Ramazan Bogdani.
Together with Prof. Dr. Arta Dodaj, Deputy Chairman of the Council of the Albanian National Minority for the city of Zadar, the Ambassador of Albania in Zagreb Riza Poda, the director of the agency for the Diaspora, Dritan Alija we have organized various cultural activities. For example, we have organized a theatrical performance by the troupe of Migjeni theater of the city of Shkodra ‘Reception Zone’ directed by Fatos Berisha at the National Theater in Zadar, the concert held in Zadar by the well-known artist, Inva Mula, as well as other cultural activities
-In continuation of the above, Mr. Consul, it would be worthwhile to say a few words on the Arbanas community in Zara and other areas, their effort to preserve the national identity and ties with Albania?
-As far as the Arbanas (Arberesh) community of Zara is concerned, I can briefly say that around 1726 some families from Albania settled down on the outskirts of the city of Zara. These families came from the villages of Shkodra and the areas around Lake Shkodra, northern Albania. They were displaced from their lands not because of their desire but due to the very difficult economic situation, violence exerted on them and above all because of the pressure to convert and assimilate them during the time of the Ottoman occupation. With the mediation of Pope Clement, Archbishop of Zara Vicko Zmajevic planned and organized their displacement from those villages by settling them down on the outskirts of the town of Zadar. And today this place is part of the city of Zadar and is called Arbresh.
Here I will mention something interesting for the readers. In those years, Pope Clement had ordered the establishment of a college called the 'Illyrian college' in the town of Zare. One of the criteria for enrollment in this college was that the student must know how to write and speak the Illyrian language. I think that besides the above reasons this is an additional reason why Archbishop Zmajevic placed the Arbanasi community here on the outskirts of Zadar who speak Arbenisht because in their native lands schools were prohibited by law. The task was for this college to prepare new staff for the ‘Arbnor’ lands.
Arbanasi have actively helped in the declaration of independence of Albania. I can say that Zara is the area that has produced the most intellectuals compared to other towns, probably in the world.
Until after the Second World War, this community spoke only the Arbanasi Albanian language at home. Today, the Arbanasi language is spoken only by the elderly. They also maintain ties with Albanians even now. When an Arbanasi meets an Albanian for the first time, the Arbanasi addresses him with the expression – ‘OUR BLOOD’. The connections between the Albanians of Zadar and the Arbanasi are still very good today.
-As a follower of the developments of the Albanian community not only in the aspects of social life, I notice an active participation of Albanians in the political life of Croatia with a worthy representation in high institutions of this country. The last example is you, but I would like to mention the Albanian MP in Croatian Parliament Ermina Lekaj- Perljaskaj, who obtained her third mandate last year. How has this been achieved and how much value does it have for the entire Albanian community in Croatia?
-Yes, as far as the political side of Albanians is concerned there is much to say in the Republic of Croatia. Here we have the councils of the Albanian national minorities that are what we can call semi-political; we have the Albanian communities and the Albanian union is as their umbrella that represents our culture, In many cities of Croatia a full course is held during which the subjects of Albanian language, history and music are taught for Albanian students.
We, the Albanians in the Republic of Croatia, feel proud and comfortable as we are the first Albanians in the world to have an Albanian woman in the parliament outside Albania, Kosovo and other Albanian lands. Deputy Ermina Lekaj- Perlaskaj is well known in Kosovo, Albania and in the Diaspora. During these years she has worked as a ‘captain’; she is very active in political life in protection of the rights of Albanians and make their voice heard. She does the same for other minorities she represents in the Croatian Parliament.
-On the other hand, Mr. Dedaj, how do you assess the current relations between Croatia and Albania, two countries in strategic partnership, and the role of the Albanian community as a bridge between the two peoples?
- The Friendly and fraternal ties of Albanians with Croats are centuries old. Thanks to this narrative, not only Arbanasi, but all Albanians in Croatia, have always felt at home in Croatia.  The important contribution, self-denial and sacrifices of Albanians in the heroic fight for the independence of Croatia are indicators of this special friendship. Albania and Croatia have excellent relations.
They are NATO member countries and are developing a strategic partnership not only bilaterally, but also at the regional level. Croatia is the newest member of the EU, while Albania is in the process of opening the accession negotiations with the Union. European integration is a priority area of bilateral cooperation between the two countries. We appreciate Croatia's strong support in this process. Bilateral relations between Croatia and Albania have recently become even stronger and I should appreciate the contribution and efficient cooperation between Deputy Lekaj- Perlaskaj and the Albanian Ambassador to Zagreb, Mr. Poda. But it is also important the contribution of the Embassy of the Republic of Croatia in Tirana. I think that more work should be done on the economic relations between the two countries in agriculture, tourism, trade, industry and other fields.
-All Albanians follow closely what is happening in Kosovo. Last Sunday parliamentary elections were held there. A recent development was a letter from the new US President Joe Biden asking official Belgrade to recognize Kosovo. Please what can you tell us about the perspective of these developments especially against the background of the result of the snap elections?
 -The snap parliamentary elections held in Kosovo on February 14, 2021 were really democratic elections and such an event can be considered as a meaningful message from the Albanians of Kosovo. Now I hope that all the parties in Kosovo will support and join the Vetevendosje Movement (Self-determination) for the establishment of a strong government, a government which will work for prosperity, a government that will work for a democratic state having a Western orientation.
With regard to the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia we all are aware that it has been protracted, and according to my opinion the external factors have had an impact on such a development. But let's not forget the main factor I think, and that is the internal factor. Albanians should be united in terms of dialogue with Serbia. But that is not enough because I think that as a nation we should be aware and have a common national orientation, and this is the European orientation.
Regarding the latest letter of the American president, Joe Biden asking official Belgrade to recognize Kosovo, I think it was a congratulatory letter, but, anyway, we all know that president Biden is a good friend of the Albanians and I am convinced that this will be a contribution in the near future.
- We cannot close this conversation, Mr. Consul, without addressing the critical issue of the coronavirus pandemic. How is the situation in the Albanian community that is certainly related to the whole of Croatia and how is the vaccination process going because Croatia is an EU member state?

-The situation of the pandemic in Croatia is inevitably related to the Albanian community living here. I can say that the current situation in the country is approximately the same as in other European countries. Starting on February 15, 2021 schools, universities, trade, etc. will open while restaurants, coffee- shops, as well as night clubs, will remain closed.  As for the anti- covid vaccine, the vaccination started in December last year in Croatia, but the vaccination of the population is proceeding at a very slow pace./ADN