Step 3 – Albania

August 3, 2017

After 7 days of study in Albania, we are leaving with full hearts from our encounters and daily lives
with the Dingu family with whom we hope to keep in touch for the years to come! This country and
its people have been warm and generous hosts and we thank them for sharing their story with us.

A history between communism and solidarity

Albania has undergone, like Estonia, a long and painful communist occupation from 1944 to 1991.
During that period, any discordant mindset to communism was muzzled. The many religious
communities (Muslim, Catholic, Orthodox, Bektashis and Protestants) reduced to silenced, started
to secretly cooperate and work together. Yet, the heavy repressions forced them to discretion and to
drastically scale down their activities. Nowadays, if religious practicing has increased and
intensified, most of the Albanian youth was brought up in non-religious households. In fact, parents
were mainly of the generation raised during the communist era dominated by an anti-religious
(rather than atheist) philosophy. Irda and Redona, 20 year old twins we have met during a
conference from “No hate Speech”, told us that though religion is visible in the public space, it is not
predominant in Albanian’s lives and mostly young people’s. We could also think that Albania would
easily assimilate atheism to communism. Yet, if it is true for some people, most have shown their
will to start from scratch and try not to bring their old anxieties upon the younger generations.

A lay State, protective of each and everyone’s faith

Today, Albania is not only famous for being Mother Teresa’s homeland but also for being a cradle of
coexistence despite all the hardship. If the Muslim-Christian cemetery is a demonstrative example,
we will also keep in mind the presence of the many Albanian religious leaders in Paris in the
aftermath of the Paris attacks against Charlie Hebdo. Those leaders, with whom we have had the
chance to meet, told us how important it is to put forward the successful coexistence that does the
country so proud. At the Bektashi Center’s museum, where Dede Baba Edmund granted us a
meeting, we have seen many portraits of the Pope Francis and himself, hand in hand.

A lay State since the constitution of 1998, Albania is the only European country to have a Muslim
majority (about 60% of the population), when the Christians represent 17% (with 10% of Catholics,
6.8% of Orthodox and a remaining 0.2% for Protestants). Atheists, Agnostics and other free-thinkers
stand for 24% of the Albanian population. These statistics are brought by the State Committee for
Cult to deal with grant requests from different communities as well as with their evolution.

Bektashism, founder of a spiritual and liberal state of mind

Though representing only 2,5% of the Muslim community, the influence of Bektashis has tinted the
Albanian society with spirituality and liberalism. Mystical movement deriving from Chia Islam and
very close to Sufism, Bektashism stands out with a personal practice involving the believer alone
rather than the whole community. Moreover, their interpretation of the Koran gives less importance
to the form than the depth of the messages. In this respect, men and women pray together and no
specific clothing is required. Unlike traditional Muslim communities, Bektashis do not have prayer
rituals or calls to prayer. Yet they do have to follow a spiritual guide called “Baba”. Each male
member can aspire to succeed the Baba; they first have to become “dervish” a man that dedicates
his life to Bektashi teachings and is a servant to the current Baba.

A laboratory of educational research

In Albanian public schools it is prohibited to teach religious courses. However, the Albanian
mentality encourages openness to different faiths and enables students to exchange on their
respective faiths. The question of educating the young generation to religious notions has become
central in the evolution of the educational system. In fact, during our encounter with Christina Vazak
French Ambassador in Albania, we have learned that, since the detention of two imams suspected
of preaching extremism violence in their lectures in 2011 in Tirana, the Albanian prime minister has
launched an interfaith course test in 10 public schools. Fioralba Skhodra, UN coordinator, has also
introduced us to a UN report regarding the conclusions to give to this test. The Albanian
government will soon examine this report, and together with the UN reporter, will agree on follow-
ups. The French “Observatoire de la laïcité” with whom we are collaborating is closely following this
project.
Our team underlines the necessity of having a second study-trip to Albania, in order to meet more
actors of interfaith and peace in a country that already blows away all preconceived ideas on living
in harmony through diversity!

Béné