Dear colleagues and friends,

I feel honoured to participate in this event with the aim to launch the European Parliamentarians for Peace Initiative and especially dedicated to the most pressing contemporary issues threatening peace in Europe, violent religious extremism.

The last several months we left behind look like a chain of tragic events showing an unprecedented rise in religious intolerance: massacres by Boko Haram in Nigeria, the attack against Charlie Hebdo in Paris, attacks in Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey, November’s terrorist attacks in Paris and March’s terrorist attacks in Brussels. These barbaric acts created a new geography of collective insecurity, against which no state is immune. These events witnessed that religious and cultural diversity are under serious threat in many parts of the world.

In such a challenging context, Albania is proud to be part of the core group of 37 countries approving on 2nd of October 2015 the Resolution on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism, where an urgent need is emphasised to both prevent and counter violent extremism by adopting a comprehensive social framework, including empowering youth, women, religious leaders and civil society and by focusing on development and education.

Last November Albania adopted the National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism. It aims at harmonizing energies, with the substantial cooperation of religious leaders, to successfully prevent and counter violent extremism and better perform tasks related to the protection of internal and international security. This strategy is focused on providing the youth and adults of hotspot areas with the necessary skills and professional abilities to enter the labor market; on providing support to Civil Society/NGOs (or voluntary organizations) to work on preventing radicalizations and violent extremism. In Albania we have a good branch of UPF, which could be an important partner in these efforts.

In particular, we are investing in education programs and schools to provide our children and our youth with the proper knowledge to successfully resist hate, discrimination and to reinforce social collaboration. It will be important to create Vocational Training and Educational Modules in hotspot areas to lower unemployment; to enhance the active participation of the students and especially vulnerable groups in curricular and extracurricular activities in the fields of art, sports and technology; to encourage studies of religious tolerance and Albanian traditions; to introduce in the curricular and extracurricular modules themes related to religious philosophy, insisting on tolerance, universal values and the Albanian traditional history of harmony among religions.

Nevertheless, our success also depends on how successful our neighbours are in countering violent extremism. And that is why we are establishing a Regional CVE Centre alongside a Regional Youth Cooperation Office. The young are our future, which is why, for the first time in the recent history of the Western Balkans, we have established a Regional Youth Cooperation Office, with its seat in Tirana and based on the post-World War II Franco-German model. We want the future of our regional cooperation to be based on acceptance and tolerance, not on xenophobia or hate.

Albania firmly believes in freedom of religion. As a worldwide recognition of Albania’s inspiring example of religious tolerance, my country was picked last year, September 6-8, 2015, to host the international conference: "Peace is always possible”. This conference was hosted by the Community of Sant'Egidio in coordination with the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania and the Episcopal Conference of Bishops of Albania. The conference convened participants from over 60 countries around the world and from a multitude of faiths, while its key messages echoed the words of Pope Francis, who visited Albania in 2014, that the model of religious peaceful co-existence is not a utopia, but completely possible, as in Albania.

Albania has joined since the start the global coalition against DAESH and we have helped the Peshmerga fighters with military equipment and ammunition like almost every other country.

We have been confronted with the phenomenon of foreign fighters since the early years of the Syrian conflict. Even though this phenomenon is of a much smaller magnitude compared to other countries, several measures have been adopted which increased efforts to discourage foreign fighters, by improving communication with the public on radicalization and violent extremism; by involving the communities of hotspot areas and respective religious leaders in decision-making processes and policy feedback. Now the wave of persons intending to travel to conflict areas has come to a halt.

Dear friends and colleagues, Albania is a very good example of religious tolerance between different religions for centuries, especially Cristian catholic, orthodox, Sunni Muslims and Bectashis. I was glad to share with you some of our ideas and actions which could be useful in the extreme context the world and Europe are experiencing.

Thank you!

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