Interview with H.E. Mr. Ilirian KUKA, Ambassador of Albania in the Czech Republic

1) Dear Your Excellency Mr. Ilirian Kuka, how long are you already posted in Prague and where did your diplomatic career lead you before?

– I have a strong attachment to the Czech Republic and Prague in particular. For the first time I was posted here in March of 2014, in charge of business and economic affairs between Albania and Czech Republic. After finishing this posting I left for Tirana and returned to Prague as the Ambassador of the Republic of Albania, presenting my credentials to President Zeman on December 6th, 2018.

2) What is your favorite place in Prague?

– Difficult to answer, Prague as a whole is my favorite with its architecture, green parks, museums, services, small coffee shops and nice restaurants. I have to many places, but if I must list one, I can say that I am very much attached to Staroměstské with its magic and history that almost every old building can offer, and it surprises me every day.

3) Where have you been in the Czech Republic since you were posted here?

I feel that have not traveled enough. I have visited many places in the Czech Republic but every time I go to a new place, I promise myself that I will have to come back because of the nice feeling I get during the visit. I have visited all regions but still have a few cities in the south Moravian region that I need to go.

4) Your country has lifted most of the restrictions and it is now not overburdened by Covid. What is the Albanian way ? How is the vaccination campaign going?

The epidemiological situation of Covid-19 in Albania can be considered stable. In more than 2 weeks the number of hospitalization has been decreasing day by day. Currently, there are less 100 active cases across the country, of which only 8 have been admitted to the hospital for more specialized treatment.

Albania has lifted all the restriction regarding the entry in country for foreigners. Also very few restrictions are currently in force like: the night curfew from 24.00 hrs-06.00hrs, wearing masks indoors, etc.

The vaccination campaign is going very well. The number of vaccines arrived in country is more than 1.5 million and the number of administrated vaccines is more than 1 million. All the tour operator staff dealing with tourists are fully inoculated and the disinfections of the facilities of the coastal areas and mountain areas continues in parallel.

5) Promoting Albania for tourism. It looked stunning. What can Albania offer to tourists? Sea, mountains, gastronomy…

Albania is on the Mediterranean, has sunny and warm weather facing the Adriatic and Ionian seas, and is surrounded by mountains. In recent world travel publications Albania is considered “the last undiscovered gem in Europe”.

I very much hope that I would convince you and your readers that Albania is a unique country and therefore I invite all of you to visit Albania. Czech tourists have displayed a high interest in visiting Albania every season of the year. The number of Czech tourists has been doubled from year to year. During the summer, direct flights from Prague to Tirana and vice versa operate 2 times per week.

The number of Czech and Albanian tourists visiting the respective countries has doubled in 2019 in comparison with 2016. Over than 36000 Czech tourists visited Albania in 2019, and more than 16000 Albanian tourists visited the Czech Republic in 2019.

If you decide to visit my country you will get the chance to see: many archeological protected areas, over 1600 cultural monuments, over 300 fortresses and castles, more than 200 churches and mosques, over 130 cultural prime attractions and 3 UNESCO protected sites. I can’t leave without mentioning that by visiting Albania you will also get the opportunity to enjoy delicious, fresh unique traditional foods.

6) Vjosa River, will it be preserved?

The Vjosa River in Albania is one of Europe’s last living wild rivers. Along its entire course of over 270 kilometers, it is untamed and free flowing and characterized by beautiful canyons, braided river sections, islands, oxbows and meandering stretches.

Albanian Government values its natural resources as an inexhaustible source of life, energy, tourism, and economy in this area. “We have a policy to find a stable balance between various industrial or tourist developments with the preservation of the environment. And we will propose projects that are able in the first place to evaluate the assets with scientific techniques, to understand what both sides must do, both the Albanian and the Greek government, to properly manage this water basin and what we must do to preserve the natural monuments that this wholesale area has.

The Albanian Government will approve the list of natural monuments and the Vjosa valley area has several. We must preserve them, protect them and I believe that this is an effort that cannot come without the consensus of local communities and environmental groups.

7) What is about the progress of the negotiations with the European Union ?

Albania has fulfilled all the requirements of European Council for holding of the First Intergovernmental Conference between Albania and the EU. And now, as you may know, is in the time to confirm the credibility of the EU that will be tested with a view to its decision on the first Intergovernmental Conference for Albania and Northern Macedonia. It is an essential test not only for our two countries, but for the whole region.

EU should be aware that the cost of isolating the Western Balkans is many times higher than the cost of integration. Albania and Northern Macedonia deserved to receive a date for the First Intergovernmental Conference. Despite being promised this date was not given and it is not yet known when this conference can be held. However we are not demotivated. On the contrary, there is a common motive between the countries of our region not to surrender to the quarantine of integration, but to work together, with the clear goal of building Europe within our common space.

We are thankful to the Czech Republic for the great support it has always provided to Albania, in many cases they have advocated on our behalf with other EU partners to convince them on the merits of Albania’s place in the EU. Any hesitation in terms of opening negotiations will be an encouragement to actors who are interested in an isolated region.

8) What’s about the Albanian community in the Czech Republic? Are they well integrated?

The Albanian community in Czech Republic can be considered a small community. They are around 600 Albanians living in the country. Most of them are very well integrated. They came to the Czech Republic as students or as young professionals in fields such as: IT, economics, etc. Also a number of Albanians are married with Czech partners and it seems they get along very well with each other. We have a larger number of albanian origin citizens from Kosova, who also provide a strong bond of Albanian tradition and culture here in Czech Republic.

9) What are the main assets that Albania can offer to foreign investors?

In 2019 the trade exchange reached the amount of 110 million euro, from 75 million in 2017. This increase of almost 30 % shows the high potential that exists in Albania.

I can mention the fields that have received special attention such as: Tourism, Agriculture, Services, Energy etc. Albanian Government has enabled many favourable programmes for foreign investors, and we would invite anyone interested to contact us at the Embassy so we can provide them with up to date and personalized information.

10) How would you describe the main differences between Albanian and Czechs?

Diplomatic relations between Albania and the Czechoslovak Republic commenced in July 1922. Next year we will celebrate the 100 years of our diplomatic relations.

In the past Albania objected the occupation of then-Czechoslovakia by Russian troops, and together with Rumania we did not send troops. I should also mention that Albania was the only country that exited and withdraw membership from the Warsaw Treaty in support of Czechoslovakia, to protest this occupation by Russian forces.

I think we have more in common that differences. Many Czechs that visit Albania, fall in love with the country, nature, food and people and they always return.

The Moravian region is remarkably similar in traditions and culture with our North-east region of Korça. We can be surprised of how many similarities those two regions have in common. So, let us not focus on differences but on similarities.

One main thing to note is that Albania has the coast of Adriatic Sea and Ionian Sea, so I would like to invite our Czech friends to view Albania as their gate to the sea that they do not have.

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