Building human bridges is not a simple mission, but we have succeeded in making Albania more known for our Bulgarian friends and also to make Bulgaria known to Albanians

H. E. Dr. Donika Hoxha is Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Albania to the Republic of Bulgaria since October 2018 and to the Republic of Moldova from October 2019. For the three years she has been in our country she impressed everyone with her activeness, creative and innovative ideas for the development of our bilateral relations and with the contagious enthusiasm with which she made her country closer and more familiar to the Bulgarians.

Donika Hoxha graduated with a Bachelor degree in English Language from the University of Tirana in 1998. In 2000 she completed a postgraduate qualification in Diplomacy at the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies at the University of Malta. She earned a Master's degree in Euro-American Languages and Literatures at the University of Rome Sapienza, Italy, in 2005, and a PHD in History of International Relations from the same university in 2010.

Her professional career began in 1998 at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports of the Republic of Albania, as a spokesperson and desk-officer of the Information and Communication Office. She has been lecturer of Business   English at Tirana University. From 1999 to 2002, Donika Hoxha has served as Desk-Officer and Head of Information and Translation Office, Press and Information Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 2002 she was Head of Protocol and Advisor to the Prime Minister of Albania. She is Director of the Department for Economic and Public Diplomacy and Diaspora at the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania (2015-2018).

Out of the country she has been Counsellor and First Secretary at the Embassy of the Republic of Albania to Italy during the term 2002 – 2006 and 2008 – 2015.

H. E. Dr. Donika Hoxha speaks fluently English and Italian and has a good knowledge of French.

- Your Excellency, November 28 marks the national day of Albania - Independence Day /1912/. What is it for Albanians and how do they celebrate it?

- On 28th of November 1912, the father of our nation, Ismail Qemali proclaimed Albania’s independence andraised the Albanian flag for the first time in the coastal town of Vlora. This day marked the secession of Albania from the Ottoman Empire after almost 500 years. Albania regained its freedom to be a sovereign country and the Albanians won the right to build and transform their homeland.

This year, like the previous one, the pandemic has limited our celebrations and traditional day of gathering, fireworks, music, food, festivals and cities donned in red and black. But, this significant day will be celebrated any way.

Our diaspora in New York would typically have a parade often with the flag bearing the Albanian double headed eagle prominently displayed. Outdoorsy friends and like-minded hikers would spent the day in the mountains enjoying the view and exploring the nature.

And if you are a history buff, then a visit to the birthplace of independence, city of Vlora is most likely to be on the plans. In Vlora, you may take a tour to Independence Monument at Flag square, designed by Mumtaz Dhrami and where the official ceremony of commemoration is held.

In the southern end of Vlora, near the port is located the Museum of Independence, which was established in 1936 and is Albania`s first museum. The museum is the building where Qemali set up Albania`s first government following the proclamation of independence from Ottoman rule.

- Life goes on despite the COVID-19 pandemic and we are all trying to find new forms of communication. Under these circumstances, how will the embassy mark this important day?

- Sadly, this is the third year in raw, the Embassy had to differ the celebration conditioned by diverse circumstances: in 2019 because the earthquake that hit Albania on 26th November; whereas in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. Thus, we have tried to think of new ways of celebrating in full respect of the epidemiological restrictions.

A fair with an Albanian open exhibition and products will welcome Bulgarian and Albanian friends as well as tourists in the Crystal Garden in Sofia, in a friendly and warm Albanian atmosphere.

I avail myself of this opportunity to invite Albanians and Bulgarian friends to joins us and have the opportunity to try some delicious Albanian homemade products and get a free virtual tour to visit Albania, on the 28th of November, at 11:00 hrs.

In addition, we have organized a drawing competition dedicated to "Independence Day", "Flag Day" and "Albanian Day" for our young representatives of Albanian diaspora in Bulgaria. Their creativity have amazed us and the jury will have difficulties in choosing the winner. There will certainly be a winner and a symbolic gift. Also the drawing will be displayed at the premises of the Embassy all year round and be displayed on our social media.

Most importantly, this year`s focus is Albanian diaspora and they will be the voice of the greeting message for the Embassy`s social media.

- What is the current information about the pandemic in Albania?

- Albania has been doing well in controlling the pandemic situation across the country. Recently, Albania is reporting a slight increase of new daily infections, but the number of fatalities remain low. On the other hand, mass vaccination continues and since the beginning of the vaccination campaign, Albanian health authorities have administrated a total of 2,646,720 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

2,000,104 people have been vaccinated, from which 1,047,822 with first doses; 924,194 with second doses and 28,088 with the third doses.

Vaccination is open to all people +16 years as well as children +12 years with immune system problems.

Vaccination has started with the third dose of vaccine for health personnel, for citizens +60 years with chronic diseases and for persons +18 years with immunosuppression. Albanian vaccination campaign can be considered a success.

- How does COVID-19 affect tourism, one of the priorities in the economic development of your country, and the Albanian economy as a whole?

- COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on Albanian economy, but the Government and Albanian authorities acted quickly and took measures to mitigate the negative effects of restrictions on the economy. Of course, long term and medium term economic and social impact will largely depend on pre-existing socio-economic vulnerabilities and policy resilience. In particular, Albania suffered a reduction in global trade flows and financing as well as weakening of tourism sector.

But, 2021 marks a good return for the Albanian economy and tourism. This year, despite the pandemic and due to the fact that my country was a COVID free country for summer season, 4,668,957 tourists visited Albania.

European Commission`s Autumn 2021 Economic Forecast report confirms that "a faster than expected economic recovery is driven by a strong rebound of tourism from neighboring countries, as well as high investment growth and a recovery of private consumption". According to the report, Albania`s economy is set to grow by 6.9% by the end of 2021, 2.9% points more than expected. In 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing fallout from November 2019 earthquake, Albania`s economy fell by 4%.

Key drivers of economic growth include private consumption which rose by 4.5% in 2021 and 3,5% in 2022. Public consumption growth is forecast to reach 2.5% in 2021 and 2.1% in 2022. This is a good increase from 1.6% last year.

Throughout the EU, the Commission predicted economic growth of around 5% by the end of the year, meaning Albania is doing better than many of its neighbors.

- When you came as an ambassador to our country, you said that Albania will become more popular in Bulgaria and with your active work you achieved it. Did this affect economic cooperation between the two countries?

- Albania and Bulgaria are two friendly countries, which are getting to know each other in recent years. We share understanding and values in the context of EU, NATO, UN and more. Building human bridges is not a simple mission, but we have succeeded in making Albania more known for our Bulgarian friends and also to make Bulgaria known to Albanians. The pandemic forced to limit ourselves and find new ways of cooperation and focus our priorities in the region. In this regard, I would say the pandemic helped to rediscover new old economic partners.

In these 3 years, the economic contacts have shown positive feedback, Albanian companies have shown interest on partnering and investing to expand their market. Strengthening the regional market should be our main priority and we must work closely and harder to achieve results and build long lasting partnerships.

Recently, ministers of transport of Albania, Bulgaria and North Macedonia signed a Memorandum to engage themselves for stable transport along Corridor VIII, create a common agenda to promote this Corridor, which serves not only this 3 countries, but the entire Western Balkans.

In this short period, I believe both countries have enhanced the cooperation and we have achieved to sign some agreements in the field of tourism, of environment and water management, of security and are on the conclusion more agreements and programmes of cooperation in the field of social protection and education, science and culture.

- The rich cultural and historical heritage and living folk traditions in Albania are undoubtedly one of its greatest treasures. Which elements of them are you proud of and want to show to the Bulgarians?

- Albania and Bulgaria have more features that unite them than I expected. As I have been here for 3 years, I have realized that we have a lot to explore about one other, especially in terms of culture and history.

I would like Bulgarians to get acquainted with Albanian folk music, iso-polyphony which is included in UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage list and the typical mountain dance to the rhythms of the "tupan" from Tropoja ("Kcimi i bjeshkës me tupan i Tropojës").

Also, I wish Bulgarian know that our traditional costumes are very similar. Rita Ora, well known singer with Albanian origin, shot a video in Bulgaria dressed with Albanian traditional costume. One of the elements of the dress is called xhubleta, which Albania is working to inscribe as World Heritage Values for the unique skill and know-how craft and modes of use. She donated the costume to the recently renovate museum of ethnography of Tirana. 

Of course there are more elements that we share and it is my mission to explore and transmit the knowledge about them to Bulgarian and Albanian citizens.

- Here, in the Balkans, people are as close in mentality as they are far. What similarities do you think Bulgarians and Albanians have?

- Albanians and Bulgarians are driven by humanity and democracy, willing to do their best for their countries’s prosperity and welfare. I believe we not only share European and democratic values, but we utterly care for our citizens and their challenges living and studying abroad.

As Balkan countries, we value family and friendship, that are fundamental for the well-being of a democratic society. 

- Bilateral relations between Albania and Bulgaria have a history dating back to 1922. How would you define them in a few words historically and contemporary?

- The diplomatic relations between Albania and Bulgaria were established in April 1913 and in 10th October 1922, Konstadtin Boshniak presented his Letters of Credence as Head of Albanian Legation in Sofia. In March 1954, Albania and Bulgaria raised their diplomatic representation to the level of Embassies. From the early 60s onward the Embassies of our two countries were headed by Charges d`Affaires. On 25th of January 1988, an agreement was concluded for an exchange of Ambassadors.

Relations between our two countries have long traditions and the contacts between our people are good and intensive. The bilateral Treaty for Friendship and Cooperation provides the legal basis for the contemporary development of our relations. Bilateral relations have evolved substantially in recent years and high-level contacts are being regularly maintained.

The recent 3 years have marked exchanges at the highest level. President of the Republic of Bulgaria, Rumen Radev paid a state visit to Tirana on March last year, Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama visited Sofia in June this year. Moreover, we have had visits of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Negotiator, Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, Minister of Culture and more in different levels and fields. As mentioned above, several agreements have been concluded that will strengthen our relations and enhance connection between our administrations.

- The Albanian diaspora in Bulgaria has an important presence. How is it developing at the moment?

- Albanian diaspora in Bulgaria is very small compared to other countries in the region, but is a bridge to connect our people and administrations. Usually, Albanian diaspora in Bulgaria is connected with Mandritsa, the only Albanian-origin village in Bulgaria, which was founded in 1636 by Albanian Orthodox dairies who had served in the Ottoman army. At the beginning of the 20th century, the village reached about 3500 inhabitants, while today Mandritsa is a small village with about 70 inhabitants, some of whom still speak a pronounced Albanian dialect, Tosk Albanian.

In the meantime, there is a recognized Bulgarian minority in Albania, who speak an old Bulgarian language. Both these two communities serve as a bridge to bring closer the two countries and two peoples.

Nowadays, students are keeping the spirit of our diaspora in Bulgaria and their number is slightly increasing year by year. This is a positive approach to study in the region and in friendly country, which welcomes warmly Albanian students.

- As of this October, the central alley in the city park of Belsh, Albania, is named after the famous Bulgarian artist with Albanian roots Lika Yanko. What new opportunities for cultural cooperation do you see and want to develop while you are in office here?

- Lika Janko was born in Sofia and the fate of her parents is inextricably linked to Albania. Her works are influenced by French artists, Van Gogh, Bulgarian and Albanian culture. Hence, it was a nice initiative to put the name to a place which is very close to the town from where the great artist’s parents came. In the same place, the Bulgarian government has funded the project for the construction of LED street lighting "All-in One Solar LED Lights Street", the framework of the Official Assistance for Development.

More and more opportunities are ahead of us. We are working to conclude a Programme of cooperation in the field of education, science and culture. The Programme broadens cooperation in the culture sphere including television, union of writers and publishers, exchanging experience and more.

Work is in progress with many other initiatives. I would like to mention one with Sofa Philharmonic to introduce to the Bulgarian music lovers two very talented Albanian artists, Laura Llozi and KlaudioZoto next year. We plan to collaborate for the summer season of 2022 and for the new season of 2023. Recently, Llozi was part of the concert of world known pianist Lang Lang.

The will for more exists, but we need to push a bit harder and have concrete results.

- On November 28, 2018, exactly on the day of the national holiday, you presented your credentials to the Bulgarian President. For the past three years of your term, you have got to know our country even better. What surprised and impressed you?

- It has been a surprise to discover Bulgaria, its gorgeous green panorama, covered in forests and mountains. Needless to say, they are great for skiing, mountaineering and hiking.

I have learned the Cyrillic alphabet. Bulgarians are usually nice and attentive to foreigners and this is a quality that we share.

There is a lot of history in your country which is very interesting to discover. They bring you to know the influence of many civilizations which have shaped modern Bulgarians. It is lovely to discover it also by visiting the UNESCO cultural sites like the Boyana church in Vitosha mountain, Rila Monastery, Thracian tomb of Kazanlak and more. One of the cities I like most is Plovdiv with its very ancient history.

Before coming here, I did not know that Bulgaria was the country of the roses and one of the biggest producers of rose oil in the world.

The photo is provided by the Embassy of the Republic of Albania to the Republic of Bulgaria.