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2011 Press Release

Transcript of Press Conference of U.S. Ambassador Alexander Arvizu

U.S. Embassy Tirana, Albania
January 22, 2011
For Immediate Release     

Good afternoon.

Let me begin by saying that I am deeply saddened and troubled that some people died in yesterday’s disturbances.  I want to express my heartfelt condolences to their family members.  I was also saddened to learn that several others – protesters, police officers and probably innocent bystanders – were injured, some seriously.  I earnestly hope for their speedy and complete recovery.

Yesterday was a terrible day for Albania.  I know Albanians across the country are very troubled by the day’s events.  The same holds true for people in the United States and elsewhere who only want the best for Albania and its hardworking people who have done so much to advance this country over the past 20 years. 

There is one hard truth about yesterday that is important for everyone to understand.  There were no winners.  There were only losers.  This was a dramatic setback, and from which the country needs to recover. Yesterday I spoke with Prime Minister Berisha, Mayor Rama, Interior Minister Basha, and Foreign Minister Haxhinasto and conveyed this message to them and urged them to do their utmost to avoid further violence. 

I find extremely regrettable that our calls for yesterday’s protests to be peaceful – calls that were echoed by many in Albania and abroad – went unheeded.   As we have said many times, the right to free assembly comes with an obligation to do everything possible to ensure that it is peaceful.    The violence that we witnessed was not necessary.  Nor was it inevitable.  It could have been avoided.  It must be prevented from happening again, for the sake of all Albanians.

Some have described a principal theme of the demonstrations as protests against official corruption.  No one disputes the corrosive effect of corruption in Albania.  Progress needs to be made in the fight against corruption in order for Albania to realize its full potential.  Violence in the streets of the capital or elsewhere in Albania is not going to resolve the problem of corruption in Albania.

What Albania desperately needs at this moment is political leadership.  We have repeatedly urged Albania’s political leaders to search for compromise.  When one side – or both -- insists on maximalist positions that it knows the other side cannot accept, I am sorry, that’s not compromise.  Resolving political differences through street battles is also not compromise, and does not reflect the democratic aspirations of Albanians.

It’s time to take a deep breath, repair the damage and begin the process of recovery.  There needs to be accountability for yesterday's events.  However, I urge people not to jump to conclusions and instead allow prosecutors and others reasonable time to complete their investigations.  It’s time to desist from further provocations.  It’s time to stop the mutual recriminations and name-calling.  There needs to be restraint on all sides.  Above all, it’s time to end the violence.

It is time for the political leaders – indeed, for all responsible Albanians – to rededicate themselves to the service of the country and the interests of its citizens.  I say this as a friend and as a supporter of the Albanian people.

I now have time to answer a few of your questions.

Panorama: Your message was very direct and for years we had not seen it from the US Embassy.  You also talked about the responsibility and the possibility of avoiding violence. However, new protests have been announced for tomorrow. Are you concerned that the situation may go beyond normal?

Ambassador Arvizu: We have repeatedly urged for calm and for restraint and for there to be peaceful assembly. Yesterday’s assembly was not peaceful. There were many thousands of people in the streets and the vast majority of them, from what I could see, arrived with peaceful means and intentions. But there was a small handful of people who arrived with a different agenda. This is not in dispute. There were reliable eyewitness accounts about this. And so, with that in mind, yes, I am very concerned about the prospect for calling for any additional demonstrations. Now is not the time for more demonstrations in the streets.

Top Channel: In fact, to come to yesterday’s situation, there was over a year and a half, since the 2009 elections, of negotiations between the parties and those failed. The international community has often called for calm and dialogue but common ground or compromise were never found and things came to yesterday’s situation. Does the international community feel any responsibility for the failure of those negotiations? 

Ambassador Arvizu: It is important to remember that Albania is a democratic country and a member of the NATO alliance. Albania has come a long way.  Albania has democratic institutions in place, they may not be perfect, in fact, there are some areas for improvement. But, there are democratic structures in place and they need to be given a chance to perform and to function. In my statement earlier I went into a bit more detail than we usually do as to what we mean by compromise. Compromise and negotiation means you have to give something up, even if it is something that you believe is right. You have to obviously stick to your principles, what we call a bottom-line, that is difficult to negotiate. But that does not mean taking maximalist positions and not budging from it. That is what I mean by trying to find some common ground.

TV Klan: You said you spoke with two of the main political leaders, PM Berisha and Mr. Rama. Was it a discrete conversation only or was there something more?

Ambassador Arvizu: Obviously, I can’t go into the details, but these are two very important people. They are the two most important people. I gave them what I thought was my candid view and they were very clear about expressing their positions with me as well. But I am sure that they will be watching the footage of this press event and I hope that they will listen to what I have said here in that spirit – a friend of Albania speaking concerned about the situation here.

Shekulli: During yesterday’s event, there were attacks against journalists and other members of the press. Do you have any comment?

Ambassador Arvizu: As I indicated, I was deeply saddened that anyone was injured, whether the peaceful protesters, the police officers, innocent bystanders, and certainly journalists. Around the world, it is very important in free societies, for journalists to have access and journalists often find themselves in harm’s way.
Vizion+: Mr. Ambassador, you said there were no winners and no losers. If I were to make a comparison, it is like saying, today is gloomy.  Can you tell us who is more responsible for yesterday’s events?

Ambassador Arvizu: If I can be very blunt, I think there is plenty of blame to go around. But, I do not want to end on a negative note. As I said, it is time to take a deep breath and think seriously the process of recovery. Again, I express my sincere condolences on the loss and my earnest prayers for the recovery of those who were hurt in the demonstrations.
Thank you very much.