Prior to paying his first visit to Yad Vashem on Sunday, Albanian Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati told participants at a breakfast meeting hosted by the World Jewish Congress and the Israel Council on Foreign on Relations that he would be thinking not only about the victims of the Holocaust, but also with pride about the Albanians who risked their lives to save Jews.
Albania was the only European country whose Jewish population after the Holocaust was far larger than that before the Holocaust.
Although a predominantly Muslim country, Albania practices a tradition known as Besa, or faith, in which hospitality and taking care of the needs of others and ensuring their safety and security is paramount. To date, 69 Albanians have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.
The first Jews came to Albania in the second century CE and, according to Ditmir, there has never been any history of anti-Semitism in the country.
“Nations that have suffered themselves understand the pain and suffering of others,” said Bushati, adding that Albania demonstrates the goodwill of one nation to another and serves as a model of tolerance and compassion.
Albania’s accession to the European Union will be reviewed this week, and if all goes well, the country will not only be a beneficiary but will also be able to influence European policy against the spread of anti-Semitism, Bushati said in response to a question.
Bushati is primarily in Israel to boost bilateral economic and trade relations. Albania can learn a lot from Israel in terms of science, culture, and knowledge, he said, noting that Israel has proved that a country can flourish on knowledge when it does not have natural resources.
Albania, on the other hand, has a lot of natural resources, he said, and has much to offer Israeli investors by way of energy, infrastructure, mining, and tourism.
The potential for enhanced economic relations is largely untapped, he said, mentioning the trilateral transatlantic pipeline project among Italy, Albania, and Greece that will create an important gas corridor through Europe and will be an enormous source of energy to neighboring countries.
The pipeline may eventually include Israel.