Sokol Balla: Good evening and welcome to Real Story. One year ago, the new U.S. Ambassador to Albania, Ms. Yuri Kim, presented her credentials to the president’s office, which were of course accepted. The year 2020 has certainly been an important year, an important one for Albania but also for the United States itself. On this first anniversary, I have the pleasure to have U.S. Ambassador to Tirana, Ms. Yuri Kim, as my guest again on Real Story, this time in my studio. Ms. Kim, good evening and thank you for being here with me tonight.
Ambassador Kim: Thank you, Sokol. It’s great to be with you again.
Sokol Balla: It’s a pleasure always to talk with you, off camera and on camera. One year exactly today in Tirana. What did that year mean to you personally?
Ambassador Kim: I think it’s been the honor of a lifetime to be able to represent the United States of America in the Republic of Albania and for me personally, it’s been a pleasure to be here. I have to say, despite all the restrictions that were imposed by the coronavirus, I was still able to travel a little bit. I think the best part for me was just being able to meet normal Albanians wherever I went, even just walking around the park in Tirana or taking a walk behind the housing areas, it’s been wonderful.
Sokol Balla: Also this year you had to deal with not normal Albanians, at least normal situations in Albania. You come to the country when we had a deep political crisis and actually, in January last year, something started to change, with a kind of agreement between parties but then we had the June agreement where your role was evident. I remember you waving that agreement, calling on Mr. Luli Basha to come and sign it. So it has been a successful year for you as a diplomat, I suppose?
Ambassador Kim: I think it has been an eventful year for U.S.-Albania relations and I think that we are pleased to have been able to have a supporting role. But the credit, if there’s any credit, goes to the Albanian people and the leaders. I think in many ways, they delivered. The job is not done yet, but I think it’s very clear that Albanian leaders made commitments to me, the United States, the Albanian people, and they delivered. So, for example, in the last year, the Constitutional Court is now functional. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s functional, which is a major step forward for justice reform. Secondly, the SPAK is now functional. It’s not moving as fast as I think people hoped, but it’s moving and that’s something important. And then thirdly, NBI is also institutionalized, inspectors have been hired and so I think that things are going to get moving. But that’s not it. As I mentioned to you before, for me, in Albania we have three priorities: democracy, defense, and business. So, I talked about the democracy part. On defense, this year we’re going to have something very important happen and I’m happy to talk to you about it some more. This is the first time I mention it in public, but we’re going to have what we call Defender 21 military exercise. This is going to be an exercise led by the U.S. Army in Europe and it’s going to involve about 26 different countries, 30,000 troops. There are going to be maybe six thousand troops who come through Albania in May and in June and next week, the Deputy Commander of the U.S. Army in Europe and Africa is going to be here and he’s going to brief the leaders of the country and the public on what this exercise is. So, very significant. Thirdly, on business, you remember last year, on October 3rd, we signed an historic bilateral Memorandum on Economic Cooperation. And it’s not just words. Within the hour, we turned around and Bechtel – which is a major American company in the world – signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Albanian Government to see what we can do on building the Skavica Hydropower Plant. So, these are really good indicators and so I’m excited about what we’re going to do in 2021.
Sokol Balla: So, America is back?
Ambassador Kim: I wouldn’t say America is back, we’ve always been here.
Sokol Balla: This military exercise, from the figures you just gave out now, seems quite a big one, yes? Maybe one of the biggest?
Ambassador Kim: It will be the biggest military exercise that will occur in the Balkans.
Sokol Balla: In the Balkans?
Ambassador Kim: Yeah.
Sokol Balla: So, what’s the message there?
Ambassador Kim: The message is one that…
Sokol Balla: … and why in Albania?
Ambassador Kim: Ah, it’s going to involve 26 different countries that are going to send troops. I don’t know if all of them will move through here, but 6,000 will be here. And what will happen is that the exercise will take place in many different countries, it’s not just Albania. The other Balkan countries will also see parts of these exercises and then it will go up to the Baltics. And the idea of the exercise is to develop cooperation and interoperability among the allies, so that we have the ability to go from the Adriatic all the way up to the Black Sea. So, it’s a big deal.
Sokol Balla: Yeah, it looks like a big deal and a big wall.
Ambassador Kim: Yes…
Sokol Balla: It’s like a big wall to Russian influence. That’s the way I see it.
Ambassador Kim: Oh, you said big wall. I thought you said big walk, because it will be that.
Sokol Balla: It will be a big walk and a big wall.
Ambassador Kim: I think that the US, through NATO, has always been clear about the importance of working closely with our allies and our friends. We’re clear about what it means to be part of the trans-Atlantic community.
Sokol Balla: And this seems to have been organized long before the change of the administration in Washington, right?
Ambassador Kim: Yes, that’s correct.
Sokol Balla: So, what should we expect with the new administration?
Ambassador Kim: I think that some things will not change, for example, the attention given to the Balkans will not change. I think that every administration has a different character and I think we will have to see exactly how it plays out under President Biden and, now confirmed Secretary of State Tony Blinken, but I can tell you this: they are experienced and I think they will be very good at promoting America’s values and advocating for America’s interests; which also happens to include a strong relationship with Albania.
Sokol Balla: Actually, I think we do have a picture of you and President Biden. Do we have the photo of Ms. Kim with Mr. Biden, I believe when he was Vice President? This is from when he was Vice President, right?
Ambassador Kim: This is from when he was Vice President, and this is when I was briefing him on local political issues. And I swear he was smiling a minute before and after.
Sokol Balla: Just to make sure…
Ambassador Kim: Yeah…
Sokol Balla: But something that nobody can doubt is your personal, professional relations with the newly appointed Secretary of State, Mr. Blinken. So, you were his chief of staff, right?
Ambassador Kim: Correct.
Sokol Balla: So, tell us something more about it.
Ambassador Kim: I was his chief of staff when he was Deputy Secretary of State, which was from 2015 to 2017. He is one of the most intelligent and strategically minded people that I’ve ever encountered in public service. And those of us who know him are looking forward to seeing him back at the State Department and, as a friend, I could not be happier.
Sokol Balla: As a friend, you could not be happier, as your friend, what could the impact be to better your mission in Albania?
Ambassador Kim: I don’t think he’s the kind of man who shows favoritism based on personal relationships. He’s going to take a look at the world and I think you’re going to be impressed with the way he develops relationships with his counterparts. I think we’re going to be impressed with the way the US makes an extra effort to strengthen all our alliances and friendships around the world.
Sokol Balla: Madam Ambassador, you have taught us many lessons in history and America has always been and will always be a mirror, where we see ourselves and better ourselves. In that sense, what lesson should we take from whatever you experienced before, on, and after January 6?
Ambassador Kim: I think the lessons of America’s experience over the last few weeks and months is that democracy is not easy. It’s not easy for anybody. It’s not easy in the US, it’s not easy in Albania, or anywhere around the world. That’s the first lesson. The second is that it’s important and it’s valuable and you have to fight for it. And the third is that institutions matter, leadership matters and so, for me, when I look at the United States of America, I’m proud of the fact that we were able to go through this very difficult test and I think that we passed it. I think that there’s still work to be done, but I also think that when other countries around the world, other people around the world, when they look at our example, what they see is not that we may have had a hiccup, but that we recovered and that we’re going to be stronger and we’re going to learn lessons from this. And that’s really, as the Ambassador here in Albania, that’s what I hope for Albania as well.
Sokol Balla: Actually, I was about to say the same thing because I accidentally happened to be there…
Ambassador Kim: Yeah?
Sokol Balla: …and what impressed me is how the representatives of the people came together in just two hours or three hours and delivered that strong message that you actually delivered here as well. That America, when it comes to it… there are problems, there are hiccups, at the right moment, at the right time, at the right place actually, they came out together again and it was an emotional appeal that America gave to us, to us who actually look to America for hope and, maybe for a few seconds we lost that hope, but then everything recovered so fast and so magnificent. It was amazing. The political spectacle they gave in the aftermath of the events. And my question is: why Albanian politicians cannot do that, when it comes to difficult moments, when we experience difficult moments in this country, why don’t they do the same thing?
Ambassador Kim: I think that they can…
Sokol Balla: …I know they can, but why don’t they do it?
Ambassador Kim: You have to ask them.
Sokol Balla: You think they can?
Ambassador Kim: I do.
Sokol Balla: Earlier you told me, when I asked you in the beginning about 2020 and whatever was achieved in agreements between the parties, you said we should give credit, “if there is any” to Albanian politicians. My question is, could they have done it without you?
Ambassador Kim: I don’t think that it’s useful to talk about hypotheticals. All I can say is that we saw a useful role and we tried to do it as best as we can and ultimately, Albania’s leaders did what was right for the country.
Sokol Balla: Coming back to the same issue here, the elections. Why are you visiting so often the office of Mr. Celibashi, the head of the CEC?
Ambassador Kim: I only visited him once.
Sokol Balla: But you delivered too many messages.
Ambassador Kim: No, I visited him once. Here’s the message on the elections that are coming up on April 25th. There are agreements that were made by all parties and it’s important for those agreements to be implemented. I look at for example at the June 5th agreement, and a major part of that was implementing electronic identification as a way to reduce fraud in the elections. And so, I think it’s very important for the CEC and for the Ministry of Interior to implement that fully. My understanding is that it’s been slow-going to get people to renew their applications, to renew their IDs. I think people shouldn’t wait. I put out a message and I think others did as well and I’d like to point out that it’s a bipartisan message. It isn’t something that just benefits one or the other and, some people asked, well, you’re doing this in favor of the opposition, and I have to say that I retweeted a story about Minister Çuçi making the point that people should get their IDs. And then as soon as I tweeted that, then the opposition also agreed that it’s important for everybody to get these IDs because that’s the way that they’re going to be able to express their opinion on April 25th. So, we’ve got to get the technical elements correct and the CEC has to prioritize what’s important and what’s basic. And then finally, everyone has to participate. Everyone should participate.
Sokol Balla: Also, you reacted twice, also a retweet with a comment, reminding us or them, actually I mean not us, them, the politicians about the blacklist of the U.S. State Department. What’s the connection between that and the election process?
Ambassador Kim: When I…
Sokol Balla: … if you can clarify something more…
Ambassador Kim: Sure. When I meet regular Albanians, one of the things that they almost all talk about is corruption, in politics and in business. They talk about how they want better politicians to represent them and, people are smart, they know what’s going on. They know who’s who. Now, there are laws that Albania has about decriminalization to prevent convicted persons from being able to sit in parliament. But there are also other individuals that are well-known to be sitting in the house of the people, legislating laws, right? And that’s what I’m trying to point out. So, I think party leaders have to take responsibility, and I notice that every time I make one of these statements, everyone likes to pretend that I’m talking to the other side. And I have to say, I want to be very clear, I’m talking to you. I’m talking to Mr. Rama in his capacity as head of the SP; I’m talking to Mr. Basha as head of the DP; I’m talking to Ms. Kryemadhi. I’m talking to everybody who is the leader of a political party. It is your responsibility and I’m talking to you. So, no one can be mistaken here that I’m talking about the other side. Here’s the other thing. You know what I hear, people in political parties, political leaders in particular, have to play fair and they have to be honest. And one element of this is that when one party excludes someone because that person did not pass vetting in their party, that person should not then get picked up by another party for political advantage. That’s not acceptable and that’s the position of the American Embassy, but I also believe that it’s the position of the Albanian people. I think they want cleaner politics. I think that they want cleaner courts. I think that they want true, honest leadership from the political parties and I’m with them.
Sokol Balla: I completely agree with you and I am with you, because I know that you reacted some time ago when there was talk that judges who didn’t pass through vetting were actually getting through to the lists of candidates of the opposition parties.
Ambassador Kim: Uh huh…
Sokol Balla: And I know that you reacted at that time and I also see you and read you when you meet Celibashi and talk about cleaning up the candidate lists for the next elections. But someone will say, okay, there’s this black list, right?
Ambassador Kim: Yeah.
Sokol Balla: Actually, you have different blacklists. There’s a short one from the State Department directly but there’s also a long list, of hundreds, of judges and politicians, whom the US has either refused or revoked the visas. Should these people be excluded from the possibility of being elected, selected first and then elected to the Albanian parliament.
Ambassador Kim: I think that political parties, by virtue of the fact that they are leaders, have to lead. And they have to decide what their party is about. And they have to decide what their voters deserve. Do voters deserve criminals? Do voters deserve people who are known to be engaged in bad activities? That’s what they’re going to have to decide. They have to present a list of candidates to the people that they, the parties, can be proud of, and they have to present a list of candidates that the people of Albania, the country of Albania can be proud of.
Sokol Balla: Is this list expected to expand?
Ambassador Kim: I think I can’t comment on that.
Sokol Balla: The blacklist, you can’t comment on that?
Ambassador Kim: I won’t comment on that.
Sokol Balla: Ok, as an experienced journalist, actually that’s a comment by silence, but anyway. I leave it there. What is the evaluation of the US when it comes to the preparation process for the next elections? Are we getting there?
Ambassador Kim: I hope so. I think the OSCE and ODIHR specifically, which has expertise in running elections, has arrived and they’re taking a look at preparations, but as I said before, one of the key preparations is getting the biometric IDs in place so that you reduce vote-buying and selling. And then secondly, we’ve got to get in place redundancies in terms of video monitoring and other elements so that people have confidence that what is taking place inside the voting booths is legitimate and I’ll also mention this: I think it would be very useful for the CEC to ensure that cell phones are not allowed in these polling stations. Like I said, I talk to people, I read the news, I watch TV and I understand that one of the favorite methods is for people to take a picture of who they voted for and then…
Sokol Balla: …yes…
Ambassador Kim: …collect a fee based on that and, since we know that that’s a common method, I think that the CEC should take action to prevent that from happening.
Sokol Balla: That’s going to be a strong decision taken by the CEC.
Ambassador Kim: Yes.
Sokol Balla: Because it also may create a debate on our liberty. So, you’re saying that it is better not to have or to stop cell phones in a voting chamber?
Ambassador Kim: I think that they should take all necessary measures to prevent fraud, especially if the method of fraud is known.
Sokol Balla: Actually you are right and basically, whatever you see, whatever you experience, and whatever you’ve taken note of, and the messages you’ve given in public, do you think that this time, there’s a better chance that we will have free or freer and fairer elections than before?
Ambassador Kim: I think that every election is an opportunity to make improvements and I hope that that will be the case here. I don’t predict the future but what I can say is that, on the part of the United States, that we are very serious in offering our full support, so that Albania has the technical means but also the political support to be able to conduct free and fair elections.
Sokol Balla: Yeah, because one of the issues we have and maybe you know it already, in this country, is that whoever wins the elections or whoever comes out the winner in the elections, the other side immediately does not recognize the result. And someone who might lose the elections may say, you see what happened in America? Even there the result was not recognized by the other side. So, what’s the message this time? Should the losing party accept the result? Whatever comes out of the institutions? Whatever comes out of the court?
Ambassador Kim: Yeah. I think first of all full participation is important. No parties should walk away. I think past mistakes should not be repeated. The second thing is that they have to participate in ensuring that the measures taken to ensure free and fair elections are in place. And then thirdly, you know, politics is an exciting field and people fight hard and I think that’s good, actually. But, as we saw in the case of the US, you fight hard, you condemn when illegal actions take place, you draw the line at violence but of course, freedom of expression and assembly are important to respect. And finally, when the process has been exhausted, you accept the results with grace. So, on January 20th, President Biden was sworn in as our President and I think that’s a result that all of us can be proud of.
Sokol Balla: Ok, we’ll have to go into a small commercial break and we’ll talk about the rest.
Ambassador Kim: Alright.
Sokol Balla: So, let’s go to a commercial break and when we come back, we’ll talk about 2021, which is an important year for Albanians. We’ll be back shortly.
We’re back to this second part of the interview with U.S. Ambassador to Albania, Ms. Yuri Kim. Madam Ambassador, it seems like you’ve made peace with Ilir Meta lately?
Ambassador Kim: I’ve always had a good relationship with him. As diplomats, we strive to have good relationships with all leaders and I think that all relationships have ups and downs, but it’s important to maintain open lines of communication and also to produce results from those relationships. So, I’m pleased that we’re able to do that.
Sokol Balla: When it comes to results that you co-produced with the President and the rest of the institutions about the Constitutional Court, because that’s what you call success, right? But, many of us see that as peace achieved by the interested parties to continue to have the Constitutional Court under political influence. What guarantees are there that this behavior in respect of laws and the constitution will be different from the past?
Ambassador Kim: I think that we have to wait and see here, and you may have seen that I’ve gone to see the members of the Constitutional Court and I went there with the EU Ambassador. Others have also done the same to encourage them to take their role seriously, which I believe that they do, and one of the things that I mentioned to them when I met with them was: When I look at the history of the United States and what we have been through, one of the things that I’m really proud of is the fact that federal judges, when it came to very difficult decisions, made decisions on the basis of their interpretation of the law, without regard to who put them to those jobs. And, I think that that’s something that Albanians also want and they should have and they can have and I think it’s really important. This whole notion of certain institutions or certain persons being captured is very harmful and I think that we are right to have the expectation that judges and prosecutors and institutions will now show that, at the end of the day, their interest is that of the Albanian people, not of specific individuals.
Sokol Balla: Actually, you referred to the case of Amy Coney Barrett, the last member of the U.S. Supreme Court elected by President Trump and who opposed whatever his lawyers asked the Supreme Court about the results, which also showed her credibility and personality as a judge, who put the public interest in front of the political interests of one side. The election of the last members of our Constitutional Court, as I consulted people who know the rules, went again through irregularities. They were not chosen from among three candidates.
Ambassador Kim: Yeah.
Sokol Balla: There was either a single candidate or two candidates. And yet, whoever opposed the irregularities before, this time was okay for them. President Meta opposed that before but then he was okay now. The democrats opposed it before, they were okay now. The socialists, the same. So, my question is: Is it important to have a better Constitutional Court or just to have one?
Ambassador Kim: I think that people should expect a Constitutional Court that functions with credibility, with independence, and with integrity. This country has been without a Constitutional Court for almost three years. That’s ridiculous. And I think that – I hate to be cynical but – sometimes I think the demand for perfection is a way to prevent progress. I think that even the Venice Commission recognized that, so, in the opinion that they issued they made it very clear that this is an urgent problem that needs an urgent solution, and that the responsible institutions needed to work together. And so, they did. And, you’re right, it’s not a perfect solution, but I think it’s the necessary solution and it’s a workable solution. So, now, the Constitutional Court has quorum. They have been meeting and I understand that they have issued their first judgment.
Sokol Balla: Yes, so what did you think about their judgment?
Ambassador Kim: That’s not my business to comment on their judgments.
Sokol Balla: Well, it was your business by helping to create it, so it’s not your business the results? I think you should take some credit on that as well, but anyway, I’m joking. I had some weeks ago Elisa Spiropali in this show commenting on the changes of the cabinet.
Ambassador Kim: Yeah.
Sokol Balla: And it was commented a lot because you actually reacted very swiftly. In every change proclaimed by the PM, it was like you were giving the “okay” immediately. So, do you have influence on that as well? I mean, have we come to that point that even when we make changes to the cabinet, it is the US that okays it at the end?
Ambassador Kim: Sokol, Albania is a sovereign country. Albania is a sovereign country. I think people have these notions, these conspiracies, these fantasies that somehow, the US is responsible for everything.
Sokol Balla: We wish so, actually.
Ambassador Kim: I think ultimately Albania’s leaders and Albania’s people are responsible for Albania. It’s not anybody else’s responsibility. On the specific question that you asked, it really is the case just as I texted to Elisa that I have fast fingers, you know, and that’s why I reacted so quickly.
Sokol Balla: But it was impressive that the then-Secretary of State congratulated directly the newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs of Albania. That was unprecedented, Mrs. Olta Xhaçka.
Ambassador Kim: I think that we recognize that she performed very well as Defense Secretary and she really conducted her business in a way that strengthened the relationship between the US and Albania and it’s appropriate in those circumstances to express appreciation for that and, of course, as her counterpart as Foreign Minister, it’s appropriate for him and I think very welcome for him to congratulate her on her new appointment.
Sokol Balla: So, let’s talk about this new military exercise that is going to happen this year. What’s the message that America is giving to the Balkans with the new administration? Because, you know that from previous administrations, there were certain moves, there were certain agreements – I know that you don’t want to talk about countries you’re not involved in, but in general – so, the previous administration was involved in a direct agreement to resolve a very difficult issue – the normalization of relations between Albanians and Serbs, concerning Kosova. We know Mr. Biden is a strong supporter of Kosova, in actions not only in words. So, what should we expect from the US when it comes to the role it has in the Balkans and especially in relation with Albanians?
Ambassador Kim: First of all, I recommend that you read the transcript of Mr. Blinken’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee…
Sokol Balla: I saw it…
Ambassador Kim: …when he had his hearing to become Secretary of State. And in that, he affirmed support for the agreement that was reached between Serbia and Kosovo to expand economic relations. And I think we have every intention now in the Biden administration to build on that. It’s a good start. It’s important that we get the Balkans right. I’d also say that Matt Palmer who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary has also commented on this, I think about two weeks ago.
Sokol Balla: Now, coming back to elections in Albania, when we had our first interview in Vlora last summer, one of your answers, which was a normal answer to a normal question by me, about how good, refreshing political rotation is, actually made many people happy on the side of the opposition. They took it as a message that the US supports a rotation, political rotation in the country. Do you still stand by that statement?
Ambassador Kim: So, let me clarify that. What I meant was, in principle, changes of government, transfers of power in a peaceful way, are good and that is what elections are all about. But elections are also about the choice of voters and so it is not for me or anybody outside Albania to comment on when transition should take place and who should transfer in. That’s for the Albanian voters to decide.
Sokol Balla: Okay, this government thinks that it is entitled to fight for a third mandate, but that’s kind of an icy territory we’re slipping in because, if they win, it’s going to be the first time ever that a single party rules the country for a long period of time, which may go to 12 years. To me, that’s a new social experiment that never happened before. You said, and we of course know, that it’s the will of the people to decide the party that will rule for the next four years. It’s up to them as long as the result is clean and free. Do you see a problem in that?
Ambassador Kim: You answered your own question, Sokol…
Sokol Balla: Yeah, I know, I know. I’m thinking out loud…
Ambassador Kim: …it’s for voters to decide. It’s not for the American ambassador or any other foreigner to decide.
Sokol Balla: How do you see the work of this government?
Ambassador Kim: What do you mean?
Sokol Balla: Is the country better, worse?
Ambassador Kim: I think from the perspective of the US, we’ve had good cooperation with this government. We have had good cooperation with previous governments as well so, we are pleased with that and we hope and we are confident, actually, that no matter what happens on April 25th, as far as the relationship between Washington and Tirana, that will remain strong.
Sokol Balla: That I’m quite sure of because I see that even from the other side, from the opposition side, despite what happened in 2019, at the end of the day, they followed suit, they corrected their mistake and your influence, your positive influence is visible on them. And, I don’t see any element that previously jeopardized the relationship between the US, DP, or the LSI having any influence today, which is a good thing. What do you expect from the new political movements? Do you think they will have an impact, electorally speaking? Because there are some new parties that are coming up.
Ambassador Kim: I don’t know.
Sokol Balla: That’s a very short answer. The TVs are inundated with different polls. What do you think about them?
Ambassador Kim: Yeah, I see the polls, but you know, polls are not votes. So, I think they can serve as a guide for expectations but ultimately, what matters is who shows up on April 25th and who do they pick.
Sokol Balla: I’ve become party of the group that sees big coalitions, maybe not the only way, but maybe the best way to control political egos and lower the cost of governing in a small country. Voices are growing that there is a possibility that might become reality after April 25, that socialists and democrats, maybe conditioned by the close result of the elections, may consider forming a big coalition cabinet. Do you see that as a possibility or as a travesty of democracy?
Ambassador Kim: Not for me to comment.
Sokol Balla: So, you’re not getting involved in that?
Ambassador Kim: Not for me to comment.
Sokol Balla: Okay, so, when you say it’s not for you to comment, it’s not for you to comment that it’s a good thing or a bad thing, and that will be up to the Albanians to decide as well?
Ambassador Kim: I think that it’s not helpful for me to speculate on what could happen in the future.
Sokol Balla: So, you’re focused on the present?
Ambassador Kim: I’m focused on making sure that the US provides all possible support so that we get to April 25th in a way that builds confidence and results in an accurate reflection of what the Albanian people want.
Sokol Balla: Madam Ambassador, let’s focus a bit on justice reform. Here I think you can talk much more openly because that’s I think the biggest investment that the US has had in Albania since 1991, I guess, when you supported the reinstatement of democracy in the country. So, how is the process going as there are many people lamenting it, you know, they are slow, the institutions are not built yet, the results are not there yet. So, you know, give us some more hopeful messages.
Ambassador Kim: Alright, so as we said at the beginning of this interview, I pointed out the things that have happened over the course of the past year, where we started out the year without a Constitutional Court that functions. Now Albania has a court that functions. You need a couple more judges to have the full complement of nine, and I think that parties will work on that, the responsible institutions will work on that. SPAK had not yet begun to function, it’s now functioning. There are some cases that it’s looking at. I don’t know what those cases are, that’s for them to decide. And now, of course, with NBI functioning as well with their investigators. So, there is movement. I think that the Albanian people are right to feel impatient. They have been without true justice for too long and they’re right to be impatient, they’re right to demand faster action and I think we’re going to see some of that coming up in 2021.
Sokol Balla: So, you’re saying that we’ll see some big fishes in the net this year?
Ambassador Kim: I don’t do those types of public relations stunts. I’m interested in results. So, you know, I don’t make big promises. All I can tell you is that the US is serious about justice reform, that we are serious about corruption, we’re serious about building a relationship with Albania that is strong on democracy, defense, and business. And, I leave it to you to judge based on facts how much progress has been made or not made. I said this before, I hope that people do not get distracted by propaganda and hyperbole. People should focus on facts.
Sokol Balla: Okay, based on facts, I can say that the previous ambassador also was very enthusiastic about the same issue. That dates back to 2017 and 2018 and we are in 2021. And I agree with you that things now with justice reform have to be done properly and, of course, that needs time. And of course, three years, five years, historically speaking are just one second. But in the lifetime of an individual, five years or ten years are very important. And in five years, we see our kids grow up and we see ourselves growing old. And then there comes a point and you say, okay, what is the notion of time when it comes to these things, so when? What is late and what is early and when is the right time? That’s why we have doubts. I’m one of those people who still supports strongly justice reform. It has come to the point when we actually have to see the results, that’s why I’m putting some pressure on this question to you.
Ambassador Kim: Yeah, I think that you’re beginning to see results. You have seen some big cases announced, beginning last summer, and what ends up happening is making the distinction between propaganda and fact. There are some who want you to believe that Albania has always been corrupt and that it will always be corrupt and that if you don’t agree, that you are naïve. Well, I have news for you: that isn’t normal and that isn’t the way Albania has always been. I believe in the US., the reason I believe in the US is not because we’re perfect, but because we strive to do better. I believe in Albania for the same reason. This is not a perfect place. Neither is the US, but I think the Albanian people have enough fire in them and enough commitment in them to make a change. I look at your history. Albania is the land of Scanderbeg. You resisted the Ottoman empire when nobody else did. Albania is the land of besa and today happens to be Holocaust Remembrance Day, but you are the only country in Europe that ended up with more Jews than you began, ten times as many. Nobody else did that. You are the country that rejected Enver Hoxha and threw him out. I think that these are really admirable elements of Albanian character. So, I believe in Albania, I believe in the Albanian people and I don’t think that you should ever give up hope. These people who tell you that nothing is happening and that nothing will ever happen, these are not people who are telling you the truth. They are telling you a lie so that they can continue in whatever terrible activity they are engaged in. Don’t lose hope. Hope is a weapon.
Sokol Balla: It’s true. Let’s go to a commercial break and be back for the last minutes with Ms. Kim.
These are the last minutes of the interview with Yuri Kim, the U.S. Ambassador in Tirana, on her first anniversary in Albania. Ms. Kim, I have three questions from three of my colleagues who would like to ask you a few, but I have selected only three of them, by Lubonja, Rakipllari, and Skënder Minxhozi.
Mr. Lubonja asks: How do you explain the fact that unlike all other countries in the Balkans, American ambassadors in Albania are such protagonists in political life and appear so much on TV?
Ambassador Kim: You want me to get off the TV?
Sokol Balla: That’s Lubonja asking. You answer to Lubonja on that question.
Ambassador Kim: Yeah, I don’t know how to answer that question.
Sokol Balla: Sorry, he’s saying why are U.S. ambassadors so important in Albania?
Ambassador Kim: I guess all I can say is you asked me to come on this show, I didn’t not force myself to come.
Sokol Balla: That comes from Lubonja, and he also criticizes me, but I accept his criticism because I know that it comes from good will.
Robert Rakipllari asks: Why is it that after a long and aggravated political climate, where the opposition burned its mandates and you supported a political process for electoral reform and such rules of the game that would secure free and fair elections, what guarantees can you give that we will have free and fair elections on April 25, without vote-buying or interferences of criminal groups?
Ambassador Kim: I think the guarantee is the vigilance of the Albanian people. You have to hold your leaders to account. And I can say that the US and other friends of Albania are very much in support of free and fair elections, so we’ll do what we can.
Sokol Balla: Mr. Minxhozi asks a very different question. Should Albania be flexible to eastern vaccines, namely Chinese and Russian? What would be the reaction of the US if such vaccines arrive in Tirana, as happened in Belgrade a short time ago?
Ambassador Kim: I think that there’s plenty of information out there about the various vaccines that are offered. Medical care is a very personal decision for everyone to make, but for my part, I can tell you who I trust…
Sokol Balla: Which one?
Ambassador Kim: …of course, the Americans. We have higher standards, I think, and that’s recognized around the world, but I would encourage people to do their own research, look at the success rates, look at the side effects, plenty of literature out there about the various options that are available.
Sokol Balla: Madam Ambassador, I thank you very much for being with me tonight. I gave you a copy of my new book, which is the testimony of the coup, but I want you to read the dedication I gave you in the book.
Ambassador Kim: Thank you.
Sokol Balla: If you can read it for me.
Ambassador Kim: “To Yuri, hoping that justice will be done. Sokol.”
Sokol Balla: Will it be done?
Ambassador Kim: I hope so.
Sokol Balla: Thank you very much. I hope so too. It was a pleasure. Thank you.
Ambassador Kim: Thank you.
Sokol Balla: We were on this interview, a little more than one hour, with the Ambassador of the United States of America in Tirana, Ms. Yuri Kim. This was the ‘Real Story’ for tonight. We’ll see one another again on Monday at 21:00.