Sokol Balla: Good evening and welcome to this second edition of Real Story here on Vizion Plus, every Monday and Thursday, at 9 pm. I am Sokol Balla. It’s a new studio, a new season, and we start the program with an invitee who comes here for the first time and, unfortunately, also for the last time, because in a few days he will be departing Albania. I have the pleasure to have, as you’ve seen in the promo, in the studio the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Albania, Mr. Donald Lu. Mr. Lu, good evening, thank you for being here with me tonight.
Ambassador Lu: Faleminderit shumë. Thank you very much, Sokol, for having me on your program. It’s a wonderful way for me to say farewell. As you mentioned, I’ll be leaving next week from Albania and really missing a lot of my friends here. You have been a really tremendous friend over these more than three years. I love the fact that we’re doing my last interview here on your show.
Sokol Balla: Thank you very much and I really appreciate the fact that you chose this studio and this TV station to give your last words, let’s say…
Ambassador Lu: Thank you…
Sokol Balla: …And you have been a very unusual ambassador, living in a very unusual time here. I remember Arvizu came here at a time of crisis in December 2010 and January 2011, but you actually caused a crisis…
Ambassador Lu: I didn’t cause a crisis…
Sokol Balla: …a political crisis I remember in July 2016 but that’s for the good of the country, for justice reform. Anyway, any regrets now that you’re leaving Albania?
Ambassador Lu: You know, it’s an interesting question. As you may know, I have traveled a little bit in your beautiful country, but I would love to travel more and any chance I get to leave Tirana, I regret having not traveled more here. This is an incredible country. It’s not very big geographically, but you have amazing mountains, amazing sea coast…The first year I was here, my family and I traveled like crazy. We went to all the different corners of Albania, but then in year two and three we got involved in judicial reform and the hunt for the big fish and decriminalization and elections… I look forward to coming back as a tourist and seeing more of this country. I know that Albania is much more than just Tirana.
Sokol Balla: Did you think three years and eight months ago exactly today that you would achieve or get involved in so much in this small country?
Ambassador Lu: It’s such an unusual thing that foreigners get to be so involved in the life of a country and we in the diplomatic community have tried to help and support but the real achievements have been all Albanian. And I am so impressed at what I’ve seen here. Yes, we talk about judicial reform but also the removal of so many criminals from parliament and the bashkias, the elections which happened peacefully and competitively, and the decision last June for a conditional opening of accession talks with Albania – this has been big news for Albanians. The people of Albania should be very very proud.
Sokol Balla: Ok, you mentioned some of the things that I might classify as your achievements as well, but what is your biggest failure in these three years and eight months in this country?
Ambassador Lu: I wouldn’t say it’s a failure, but it is something not yet finished. And I have talked every week about the hunt for the big fish and I still want to talk about it because it’s really important for the Albanian people…
Sokol Balla: Is that why it’s in your socks too because I saw that …
Ambassador Lu: I brought my special socks for you to see. It’s important for the Albanian people to know that their government, their police, their prosecutors are really serious about the fight against organized crime. I had a very good conversation with the General Director of Police Ardi Veliu last week. They have worked very hard together with prosecutors to assemble this force of the law task force. They are working today very closely with American law enforcement, German, Italian, French, Greek, Spanish and this has resulted in real success. We have seen already Arbër Çekaj arrested, Met Kanani arrested; you have two drug traffickers in Spain arrested. Just this week we saw traffickers in Italy and Germany arrested. This is important but it really should be only the beginning. There is a lot more work to do and I feel a little regret that I’m not going to be able to be here to see all of the results of that work.
Sokol Balla: This is one of the things that we have become increasingly skeptical about in the last weeks or months. We see a lot of criminal activity…
Ambassador Lu: Yeah…
Sokol Balla: …and we see that these, let’s say, criminal enterprises have a lot of money. Do you think the government, the authorities will be able to fight this rising wave of criminality in the country?
Ambassador Lu: I think they will, but every one of the EU states’ ambassadors and I have said over and over that this violent fight, this war between the drug trafficking groups may continue; it may increase until the police, the prosecutors and the judges have the courage to arrest these very dangerous people. This war against organized crime is enormous and it will take real sacrifice from the government. I, for one, I’m outraged that two and a half years after the Greek government had an arrest warrant out, we still have not captured Klement Balili. I’m outraged that Lul Berisha is released early from prison and that he still can walk freely in the streets of Durrës. And I am outraged this week that you have the trial of Shullazi where Shullazi himself has threatened judges and prosecutors, so much so that the prosecutors are not even showing up for the trial. How can it be that this country moves forward when these things are happening? I know that Fatmir Xhafaj and Arta Marku and Ardi Veliu will be judged on whether they are able to put these criminals behind bars.
Sokol Balla: But we had a change in the prosecutor’s office last December and now you’re saying the prosecutors now are even more afraid than before to investigate and put presumed criminals to trial.
Ambassador Lu: Not all the prosecutors. Let me just say that we’ve worked very closely with Arta Marku since she became the temporary prosecutor general. My staff and I meet with her very regularly; someone meets with her every week to provide her information and to offer our cooperation in the fight against criminal groups. I see her as a serious person and a professional who has really tried to do her duty. I think she is a major improvement over her predecessor but I also have great expectations of what she will have to do to be a success.
Sokol Balla: So let’s talk about her predecessor.
Ambassador Lu: Yes.
Sokol Balla: You and Llalla, did it get a bit personal, I think?
Ambassador Lu: I repeat what I’ve said before: I have nothing personal against Mr. Llalla. I think many Albanian people and me personally feel that Mr. Llalla represents the many officials who have tried to prevent the implementation of the judicial reform. In addition, the Secretary of State has declared Mr. Llalla to be a senior corrupt official. Prosecutors, in Albania, are investigating him now for money laundering, corruption, and abuse of office. We have applauded the decision of the courts to seize his very large unexplained assets and we have encouraged the judiciary in this country to restrict his movements so he cannot flee from justice.
Sokol Balla: Allow me to bring to your attention a very short piece from an interview with the ex-PM and ex-President Sali Berisha
Ambassador Lu: Ju lutem…
Sokol Balla: on Real Story on something related to your rapport with Llalla. Let’s listen to Sali Berisha a few months ago on Real Story.
(Insert) Sali Berisha: What have I requested from Ambassador Lu? I have requested what any civilized person should request. You’re being accused of something concrete; you should respond and not ignore the accusation. It’s true he is not Albanian, and it’s true he is someone with immunity but still he is a public official, not of the Albanian state, but of the American state. And if Adriatik Llalla said he requested the interruption of investigations into the company in which George Soros was a shareholder, Ambassador Donald Lu should have clarified this problem. And, I think every official has an obligation to the public to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and that’s all of it.
Sokol Balla: Yes or no!
Ambassador Lu: Let me say, I do not consider myself a politician or a zyrtar publik. I am a simple diplomat here representing my country. Now, Dr. Berisha, who I had a lovely meeting with today, by the way, Dr. Berisha has every right to raise questions about Mr. Llalla and his relationships with international partners. That’s normal. And I would guess that Dr. Berisha, as the person who appointed Mr. Llalla as prosecutor general, maybe he feels some sense of responsibility for Mr. Llalla’s actions and his reputation. But I will repeat what I have said before, which is, I am a government official; I declare my assets every year to the government; 27 years I’ve done that, transparently and faithfully. Mr. Llalla, on the other hand, someone who himself is being accused of money laundering and corruption, has accused me of inappropriate behavior in relation to a company that at that time had major American investment. If anyone doubts my intentions with respect to that company or Mr. Llalla, they should read the letter that I wrote to Mr. Llalla. He has made that public. That letter says, I, the U.S. Ambassador, call on Mr. Llalla to respect the law. And of course, that may sound outrageous to someone who very routinely ignores the laws of this country.
Sokol Balla: You did not mean Sali Berisha?
Ambassador Lu: I mean Adriatik Llalla.
Sokol Balla: What about these accusations in the last years, since the reform started, about you and Soros. Is there any real thing in this?
Ambassador Lu: You know, I am the father of two very nice, but very typical teenagers. I have been called much worse than being a Soros supporter. People in Washington are smart. They can tell the difference between real news and fake news; the difference between truth and fiction. I have never had any serious questions raised about me in Washington because of these stories. We know and they know that these are stories that come from paid lobbyists of political parties in the United States.
Sokol Balla: What about the fact that when Mr. Trump became President, many of the critics, and let me say you have created many more critics in this country than any of your predecessors, but we’ll talk about it.
Ambassador Lu: I am proud of that.
Sokol Balla: Criticism that in your twitter account you didn’t even mention the fact that Mr. Trump was elected president and that you’re actually a supporter of Ms. Hillary Clinton. Did you really vote for Trump or not, as an American citizen?
Ambassador Lu: Before I answer or not answer that question, let me say…
Sokol Balla: I hope you answer it…
Ambassador Lu: I spoke on the day the President was elected. We put out on our social media, the day he was elected, the information that supported our new President. We have been very loyal to our new President and every day, my colleagues and I, work very hard to carry out his policy and management objectives. Now, as to how did I vote… one of the beautiful things about Albanian democracy and American democracy is that we have secret ballots…
Sokol Balla: I know that, but you are a registered voter, no?
Ambassador Lu: This is exactly what I will do, to respect your democracy and mine, is keep my ballot secret.
Sokol Balla: What about Sali Berisha, what is your opinion about him?
Ambassador Lu: As I mentioned, I had a very nice…
Sokol Balla: but you had a rough time with him…
Ambassador Lu: I had a very nice farewell meeting with Sali Berisha today. He is a distinguished former President and Prime Minister of this country. He is no longer the head of the Democratic Party, but he’s still a voice that matters in Albania. He is someone, particularly in the opposition, when he says something, people listen. So I have been very grateful to him that he has been really willing to sit down with me, when we have agreed and when we have disagreed, to have a very constructive and very good dialogue.
Sokol Balla: Did he have a role in the process of justice reform and in the process of last May? Positive or negative, I don’t know, you tell me.
Ambassador Lu: I have been very proud, over three years and eight months, to regularly ask for meetings with Dr. Berisha and he has been very kind to allow me to see him and to have these discussions. We had some very good discussions about judicial reform. Let me say, there is no one who supported more strongly the creation of SPAK and the BKH. He is serious about that. And I know that part of the reason why the Democratic Party voted in favor of that law was Sali Berisha. So, yes, he was very much involved in this process of judicial reform. In terms of the elections, I worked very closely with Lulzim Basha at that time. I did meet with Sali Berisha, but Lulzim Basha was firmly in the driver’s seat for those discussions.
Sokol Balla: But then, if you say that Berisha was in support of BKH and SPAK, who are those politicians that you mention tried and try to stop those institutions from being created?
Ambassador Lu: I have such vivid memories of those days before… You as a journalist remember the tense environment in the weeks before the passage of judicial reform…
Sokol Balla: But you said that last year as well…
Ambassador Lu: They were scared! Socialists were scared, democrats were scared, LSI were scared! They weren’t scared of me. They weren’t scared of Romana. They were scared of going home to their wives, their husbands, their children and their neighbors if they didn’t pass this reform. The people of Albania had such high expectations that they would do this, they were afraid what would happen in their communities if they did nothing. What did we do as foreigners? We did our jobs. We tried to get the opposition and the government to find a path that they could both agree to. And in my opinion, there was real leadership by Prime Minister Rama, by then Speaker of the Parliament Ilir Meta, and Lulzim Basha, which allowed for that agreement to happen.
Sokol Balla: But why does it seem that justice reform has entered a stalemate or all political parties don’t look much interested in contributing further on that reform, especially when it comes to the election or selection of new judges and prosecutors and members of new institutions?
Ambassador Lu: Sokol, it’s very simple. They’re still scared. They were scared in 2016, they’re scared now. But you look at the results already of this reform – 20 judges and prosecutors resigned, 23 have been dismissed by the KPK the vetting commissions, 27 have been confirmed. That’s a total of 70 officials who have gone through this process over the past six months. That is a very good result for the Albanian people. And the next phase is even deeper. You have the establishment of KLP, KLGJ, the creation of SPAK independent prosecutor and the BKH investigators. This strikes fear in the hearts of organized crime leaders and corrupt politicians.
Sokol Balla: But do you think it will really work because especially from the DP, LSI, the opposition, civil society fractions, very critical not of the justice reform but of the way it was done – they have expressed huge skepticism about the fact that they won’t be unbiased toward fighting crime and corruption, especially corruption inside the political class.
Ambassador Lu: So, your constitution imagines that there is a risk of bias, right? This is why there is international involvement, not to make decisions but to monitor those processes. You have very good people, our top American and European judges and prosecutors who are sitting in the ONM – the international monitoring group – who are looking every day at how this is happening, and when they see possibility for bias, they are raising doubts and appealing decisions. Now, for the BKH and the SPAK, we, the U.S. government, have made a commitment to you, Albania, that we will pay for the mentoring, the training, and the equipment for BKH. That is something the FBI and the Department of Justice will do. The Department of Justice has federal prosecutors here in your in your country who have said – we will mentor and we will help to support the creation of SPAK. I am convinced, when these institutions are functional – which I believe will happen in this fall, within the next few weeks – that this will be a major increase in the capacity of your country to fight organized crime and high-level corruption.
Sokol Balla: But now Lulzim Basha wants the so-called politicians’ vetting. Do you think that is necessary while we have this ongoing process of building the BKH and SPAK, which actually will focus on fighting corruption among politicians?
Ambassador Lu: I also think there is another form of vetting that we have in democracies. You vote every two years, I vote every two years as an American and we hold our elected officials accountable. This is a form of vetting. Now, the opposition has put on the table what I consider to be an interesting proposal. In America we say, ‘the devil is in the details,’ and we are studying the details of their proposal right now and your Prime Minister Edi Rama has said already that he and the Socialist Party are ready right now to begin negotiations on the basis of their proposal. Let us see what those negotiations are able to result in.
Sokol Balla: Let me tell you where the devil might hide in those details. Basha is asking for a constitutional change. We know that when the reform happened in July it was a constitutional change. Would that create a kind of constitutional clash between what Basha is asking for and what is already in the constitution about BKH and SPAK?
Ambassador Lu: I don’t know the answer to that question. What I do know is: your constitution mandates that if a party or individuals are presenting a constitutional amendment there must be a committee process, then, by constitution, which discusses this amendment and any changes to that amendment, so I know this process of negotiations is coming and I urge the government and opposition to be serious in approaching what can they find together to do on this very interesting proposal.
Sokol Balla: We need to go to a commercial break but we’ll return with the second part in the interview with United States Ambassador Donald Lu with my questions but also of some of my colleagues, the skepticism also of part of the public opinion on what some critics call the personal agenda of Donald Lu. We’ll be back shortly.
Sokol Balla: We’re back to the second part of the interview with Ambassador Donald Lu. Mr. Ambassador, I’ll ask the first question in Albanian. Your Albanian is admirable.
Ambassador Lu: No, no, no. It’s very difficult.
Sokol Balla: Very difficult? Even after three years and eight months?
Ambassador Lu: Yes. More difficult.
Sokol Balla: Government was very supportive when it came to justice reform. Any specific person to thank?
Ambassador Lu: Yes, I think some historian will do a very complete history of those days leading up to the agreement. And if I were the historian, I think there would be a few specific people who did more than anyone else. And you know many of these names, but: Fatmir Xhafaj, Oerd Bylykbashi, Petrit Vasili, Edi Rama, Ilir Meta, Lulzim Basha. If I had to guess six people who are most responsible, those would be my votes.
Sokol Balla: Any threat in those days? Did you threaten anyone those days?
Ambassador Lu: No, we Americans we don’t like to threaten people but we like to offer them a deal they can’t refuse.
Sokol Balla: So, did you offer a deal that they couldn’t refuse to anyone those days?
Ambassador Lu: We tried to help them to understand the value of making a compromise. That’s what it had to be. Not my way, not Romana’s way, but a way forward that democrats, LSI and socialists could accept and we did, in the end. You saw the drama of the last moments of that reform when we sat in the hall of parliament, we didn’t know if the committee that was ironing out the details in the law whether in fact they were going to be able to finish the exact words that the leaders had agreed in principle. It was crazy that night.
Sokol Balla: I remember when Secretary Kerry came here. We did quote him at that time, in the TV I was working in at that time, that
Ambassador Lu: that was a different channel though…
Sokol Balla: Yes…it was a different channel, a different life. That in the meeting you had with officials of the governing parties, he did mention that all political parties should support the reform, and he said, I’m not talking here about criminal organizations. Did that really happen? Did he really say that?
Ambassador Lu: I’m so …
Sokol Balla: Did you mention that to a certain politician in his office a few months before?
Ambassador Lu: I’m really interested to hear you say this because I have no idea what you’re talking about. This is completely fake news. I never said that…
Sokol Balla: No, it’s not news. I’m asking, it’s not news.
Ambassador Lu: Well, it’s thashetheme (rumors) then because I never said it. John Kerry, every moment of his day, and he didn’t say it. And also he never had a round table with political parties of the government, so I don’t know…
Sokol Balla: He was, with Majko, Rama, Ylli Manjani, you remember that meeting in the Prime Minister’s office?
Ambassador Lu: He had a meeting with them, which was a meeting with the Prime Minister where he invited people within the government. He never said that, Sokol. I was there for the whole meeting. I was listening in shqip and in English and he never said that.
Sokol Balla: Good, we have a ‘no’ then.
Ambassador Lu: We have a ‘no,’ a firm ‘no.’
Sokol Balla: You have been during the three years and eight months very critical toward the government as well and specific officials, high officials of the government. Why then has that not stopped a part of the media and of political factors here from epitomizing you as a person who supports Edi Rama?
Ambassador Lu: I don’t think it’s a surprise to you or any of your viewers that I’ve disagreed with Edi Rama on almost every issue that has come before his desk and my desk. What I like is that Edi Rama, he loves a good argument. And we fight about lots of things. I’ll confess to you that there’s oftentimes when he’s convinced me of his position. There are a few times when I’ve helped move him a little bit but in the end, he is someone who is ready to look for some constructive solutions. He’s looking for creative ways out of problems and what I also like is he’s consistently said he is ready to talk to the opposition. And that has not always been true in Albania.
Sokol Balla: That’s true. Saimir Tahiri.
Ambassador Lu: Yes.
Sokol Balla: He’s still pending trial but it seems from your words that you’ve already taken a verdict, that he is guilty, why?
Ambassador Lu: So, I disagree with that. We have not prejudged Saimir Tahiri. What I have said and will repeat is that many Albanian people, and I, think that there is real evidence that you can see in the media every time the issue comes up, of political manipulation of his case. Now, we believe, the U.S. Government believes that his case is important enough that it deserves to be settled in a court by a vetted judge, according to evidence, and not through political pressure. That’s what we are asking for. We are supporting the efforts for this to go forward in a transparent way. Mr. Tahiri was a minister when these crimes are alleged to have been committed. It is logical to think that his case may in fact be one of the first cases tried within a SPAK court, by fully vetted judges and prosecutors. This is something we would strongly support.
Sokol Balla: Ok, since this is your last interview, I have sought the assistance of some of my colleagues and analysts to provide their opinion and ask a question of you. Since we’re talking about the Tahiri case…
Ambassador Lu: I am ready always.
Sokol Balla: Since we are talking about the Tahiri case, let’s follow an intervention by my colleague Arjan Vasjari:
Arjan Vasjari: I think Ambassador Lu has been the least diplomatic ambassador in the history of the Albanian transition who, in some case, may have surpassed the Vienna Convention but in all cases was straightforward with the Albanian society and if the question was presented who would I choose between a diplomatic ambassador and Ambassador Lu, I would clearly choose Ambassador Lu because that is the typology of the ambassador the Albanian society needs. What I think makes Ambassador Lu’s behavior different vis-à-vis the others has to do with a kind of incoherence or lack of respect for what Mr. Lu may well remember from January 13 of 2015, which he presented in his first press conference before the Albanian public:
(clip) Ambassador Lu, January 2015: First, we fully support the efforts of Albania for further Euro-Atlantic integration; the strengthening of democratic institutions; which means the continuation of our important cooperation in the field of justice reform…
Arjan Vasjari: And the third priority was the support for Albania on its path toward the EU and particularly support for its efforts in the fight against criminal phenomena and corruption. During the mandate of Mr. Lu, we certainly had a fight against organized crime, positive products, but we also were witnesses to a phenomenon, in my opinion, with mid-term and long-term consequences for the Albanian society and I am referring precisely to the cannabization of Albania. A rough estimate of the direct victims of the cannabization of Albania includes about one hundred individuals, referring to those killed, disappeared, drowned, and not considering those jailed in EU countries. This raises questions among critics of Mr. Lu about his performance with regard to how much Mr. Lu was sincere in supporting justice reform, considering that justice reform and the fight against criminal phenomena belong to one effort: the rule of law. And my question for Mr. Lu is: in this kind of incoherence, is there room that legitimizes the criticism of those who have not appreciated your performance but also raises prejudice regarding the sincerity or the real effect of justice reform – in which I underscore, you are the main actor – on the Albanian society in the years to come?
Ambassador Lu: Let me make two comments. First is on cannabis. Absolutely, we have spoken out in the past, we have spoken out loudly and clearly, privately and publically, about the need to go after the cultivation of cannabis, and now the trafficking. This is all what the big fish hunt is about, it is about the people who organize this cannabis. You have Fatmir Xhafaj and Edi Rama saying that we have eliminated the fields of cannabis. Largely, the Italians have confirmed this with their planes. But what we have not finished though is to catch the people who have organized this cannabis. And I would argue that some of them are regular criminals, some of them are criminals who are protected by politics. And this is a very serious issue in your country. Without capturing these criminals, the cannabis fields will come back, the cocaine and the heroin will only increase in this country. And, as we discussed before, this is a danger for the security of the citizens, but it is also a danger for the children of Albania. After a very short amount of time you will find children using cocaine, and heroin in Albania if this is not stopped.
Let me try to address the second question about judicial reform. I feel strongly, and I have talked about this case before, that the most important reason why Albanians should want to have this reform, is that when they go to the courts, when normal, everyday citizens go to the Courts they should find real justice and not have to pay for the result of their core process. I know of a case of a woman who lost her children as result of a court case. She was a woman who was beaten by her husband. She had three children. And she went to Court. She finally had the courage to divorce him, because she feared for the safety of her children. Of course, she is a woman, she didn’t have a job, and she didn’t have money to bribe the judges. The husband can bribe the judges and the husband got custody of the two younger children. So, this destroyed her life. My hope for Albania is that this reform not only touches the corrupt politicians and the organized crime leaders, but that everyday citizens will have the chance to really demand real justice for their lives.
Sokol Balla: Your focus during the process has mainly been judges and prosecutors, their cars, their watches, finally Llalla. Does it mean that the U.S. sees the problem more there rather that in the politicians when it comes to a corrupt justice system?
Ambassador Lu: Sokol, you know that there are really two phases to this reform. The first phase is vetting. We talked about vetting and some of the progress so far. And that focuses on judges and prosecutors. The second phase is SPAK and BKH. SPAK and BKH only have two goals, the fight against organized crime and the fight against high level corruption. So I assure you that corrupt politicians in Albania will have their chance to face justice as well.
Sokol Balla: I will call Mr. Lela now. Let’s hear an opinion from Mr. Lela and a question for Mr. Lu.
Alfred Lela: Mr. Lu, you are leaving Albania as the majority of the U.S. Ambassadors, in conflict with a political party, but to tell the truth, this conflict has not diminished or decreased the Albanians’ trust in the United States. My question for Ambassador Lu is: I believe you have heard the DP’s proposal and its Chair Mr. Basha in regards to some constitutional changes, called by the opposition as vetting of politics. How do you find this idea and how do you think your successor, Mrs. Kavalec, will find this proposal of the Albanian opposition? And talking about Mrs. Kavalec, do you have any information when she will arrive and is there any obstacle in the Senate about her sooner or later arrival in Albania?
Ambassador Lu: So, we talked a little about Kathy Kavalec before but let me just, again, say that she is going to be a terrific Ambassador in this country. I know of no problems in the Senate, in fact I am very hopeful that my friend Kathy gets a hearing in the Senate this month. I think that will be good for her but also good for Albania. She, I believe, will be even tougher than Don Lu or Romana Vlahutin or any of the rest of us on the same issues, judicial reform, the fight against organized crime and the fight against high level corruption. Why? Because this is in the interest of the U.S. government. It doesn’t really matter who sits in my chair, we follow our interest, that’s the instructions we get from our Capitol, and I am sure that Kathy will bring new energy and new determination to the work of U.S. Embassy here in Albania.
Sokol Balla: What about the reports in Washington papers, about her, I presume, closeness to Hilary Clinton, the fact that she contributed financially to her campaign. Is it real news? Is it fake news?
Ambassador Lu: Fake news, paid for by paid lobbyists of political parties. We have seen this many times.
Sokol Balla: But why? Why is the interest of paid lobbyists in the U.S. talking about a U.S. Ambassador in a remote country in Europe?
Ambassador Lu: Let me just say that it is legal within the United States for political parties to hire lobbyists. It is one of the strange things about my country and its democracy. It is perfectly legal, as long as you declare it to the Department of Commerce. Now, if I were a member of LSI, DP or SP I would wonder why their senior leaders cannot have direct communication and contact with American leaders and they have to pay for it using these lobbyists. That’s just me. It is perfectly legal as long as they declare it and stay within the American law.
Sokol Balla: So, you think there are interests here, in this country, for these kind of stories, fake stories, to come out in American media, like the story about Madame Kavalec?
Ambassador Lu: We saw that story. What’s interesting to me is there was very little attention to that story in the United States. Almost none. There was a lot of attention to it here in Albania. So, if you publish it on the website of a certain American newspaper, you do it because you want press in Albania. It doesn’t really cause much attention in Washington.
Sokol Balla: Let’s talk about the new theater. You have been outspoken when it came to that. Especially, when we talked out of the cameras but maybe this is the case to ask you directly. How do you see that initiative, that legal initiative that has cause such a great debate here?
Ambassador Lu: We have had several good discussions with our EU Delegation counterparts the last few days. The United States government, the United States Embassy and I strongly support the work of the EU to try to prevent this theater law from being something that enables corruption by giving a contract to a single businessman without transparent competition or some ability for other people to bid on this project. This is of concern not only in this specific case but it is of concern more generally. How many times this government goes to seek concessions rather than have free and open tender. I believe for Albanians, they should demand free and open competition because this is what costs less for the citizens and delivers the highest quality for them as well.
Sokol Balla: How do you see the work of this government. There are people who are suggesting that this is the only government which might try to have a third mandate.
Ambassador Lu: It is an interesting question…
Sokol Balla: Although you know what we say? One is for the reform, one is for the corruption. I wonder what’s going to be the third one?
Ambassador Lu: Absolutely. I am not someone who is able to predict with any certainty what will happen in the next elections. But I do know that in a democracy like Albania one of the great things about this country is that you change power between political parties peacefully. That’s not true of every country on the planet. It is something true about my country as well. That’s a great thing about democracy and for 27 years you have gone back and forth between democrats and socialists. If I had to guess at some point, I don’t know if it is the next time or the time after that, or even the next election, but his rotation of power is likely to continue in your society.
Sokol Balla: You expressed earlier your appreciation about Sali Berisha but many people think that if the opposition could get a chance to come to power then Sali Berisha has to come back. That expresses the kind of the skepticism towards the opposition or the way the opposition is being led and constructed by Mr. Basha. Do you have an opinion on that?
Ambassador Lu: I am really looking forward to my meeting with Mr. Basha on Friday. I think he has provided leadership for his party but I have also believed that for the party to be successful it has to be united. And so I have advised all my friends who work in the Democratic Party, and now in LSI, that is so important now that the opposition show a united front. And that those people who feel in the margins of the Democratic Party in particular, that they find a way back in to this party. It is important for Albania’s democracy. The DP is a proud and strong part of this democracy, it needs to succeed for the democracy to succeed. So I hope that in the days ahead Mr. Basha and other leaders can help to reunite this party.
Sokol Balla: Then, during your reign here, we had also a woman become for the first time a Chair of a party, a chairwoman of a big party. Monika Kryemadhi.
Ambassador Lu: We have said even before Mrs. Kryemadhi became party Chairperson, we have said wouldn’t it be great, after we have Jozefina Topalli as the first Kryetare e Kuvendit that there would be a woman PM, or a woman President, a woman Mayor of Tirana or a woman who is a head of a political party. Finally, we have a woman the head of a major political party, I think that’s an important moment for Albania. And I think it is an important moment for the young women and girls of this country. And I expect to return here in 10 years and find that, in fact, most of the leaders of the country are women. Because what we know is, women in this country at least, do in many cases a much better job than their male counterparts.
Sokol Balla: Especially if their husband is the President of the Republic. Isn’t that awkward?
Ambassador Lu: I think of journalists as well. There are many very brave journalists out there. We have already talked about Klodiana Lala but you talk about courage. I don’t know how many men would have the courage of Klodiana Lala.
Sokol Balla: So, what about that case? Klodiana Lala’s. I know you have been outspoken…
Ambassador Lu: We spoke very early and clearly in condemning this attack against this very brave young journalist. But I just want to say as a person, as a human being, what a shameful and un-Albanian, completely against your culture act, to attack the children and the parents of this journalist in their beds, while they slept at night. This is… what kind of pathetic criminal would do such a thing. It says to me that the work of journalism in this case Klodiana Lala, but I think she speaks for a broader audience of journalists, who have real integrity and courage in this country – their voice makes a difference. What they are doing now to tell the truth about crime and corruption in this country is something that makes criminals and corrupt officials very scared.
Sokol Balla: Now I have to call to my assistance Mr. Skender Minxhozi.
Ambassador Lu: Fantastic.
Sokol Balla: An opinion and a question from the Real Story analyst Skender Minxhozi.
Skender Minxhozi: Ambassador Donald Lu will be remembered as the Ambassador of justice reform. If Mr. Arvizu before him came in the middle of a crisis, like the January 21st one, Mr. Lu came in a calmer cycle of the Albanian politics, when things had been settled, the relations were institutionalized, when the opposition was in the Parliament and Edi Rama had already come to power. His project and the government’s, the bilateral project of justice reform, shaped his mandate as the U.S. Ambassador to Tirana and I think, now that he is leaving, he has the chance to taste the successes but also the partial failures of this reform, maybe the biggest reform undertaken in Albania at an institutional level. For this reason, I wanted to ask him in relation to justice reform, which he strongly sponsored, altogether with his colleague, EU’s Romana Vlahutin. He and Ambassador Vlahutin were accused by the current opposition of being sold and bought to and by the government, of playing Rama’s game, as people who were bought with cannabis money – accusations that in another context would have been impossible and extreme. How did he experienced these accusations and what is his public answer, after he remained in silence for many years on all the dirt that the opposition threw on his back? Thank you.
Sokol Balla: It is your last interview, you can say some things openly.
Ambassador Lu: It is very true that I have given very few interviews and tried my best not to respond on a daily basis to the criticism I have received. I believe that we diplomats, and we Ambassadors as well, we should not act like politicians in this country. This is not an appropriate role for an American Ambassador or frankly, for any Ambassador. I think we do our best work when we do it quietly. Now, is it true that people have claimed that all of these things that we have talked about, these reforms, are the personal agenda of me or Romana or other EU member state Ambassadors? They have claimed this but I am very certain that – Romana has gone now, I will leave next week – these will continue long after we’re gone because they are not he personal agenda of five or six people who lived here for a few years, it is the agenda of all of our governments, it is the agenda of the Albanian people. Who really wants these reforms? It is everyday people that we meet on the streets of Albania. I know their pressure will continue on this government, on the opposition, on the Kuvendi, on the civil society, to push forward these reforms. The last thing I want to say is people worry sometimes when Ministers change or Ambassadors change or the people who are involved in the judicial reform change. I am so confident that this will happen because it is part of your Constitution now, it is in the most sacred document of this country. You don’t have a choice. KLGJ and KLP will be formed in the next few weeks whether Donald Lu is here or Sokol Balla is here, it doesn’t matter, these will be formed. SPAK and BKH will be a reality within the next couple of months whether any of us are here. It is part of the fabric of the laws of this country.
Sokol Balla: Excellent. A small commercial break and we will return with the last personal questions from Donald Lu before he leaves Albania.
Sokol Balla: The Last Word here in Real Story with Mr. Donald Lu. Before I ask you some personal questions, you are leaving in a turbulent time in relation to Kosovo issue. Do you have an opinion on this? We have already seen the reaction from John Bolton, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing last year, and there were always talks if the White House and the State Department had unified policy regarding Kosovo.
Ambassador Lu: Sokol, we have talked about this many times. It is an important issue here in Albania as it is in Kosovo. As an American Ambassador here, we don’t make the policy on Kosovo, we don’t even generally talk about Kosovo because our colleagues in Pristina are the ones who are really involved in those issues. What I can say is to repeat the words of our National Security Advisor to the President John Bolton, who said very clearly three weeks ago, the policy of the U.S. government is that if both sides, Serbs and Kosovars, are able to work together and find an agreement, we, the U.S. government, do not exclude the possibility of territorial adjustments. It is not for us, Americans, to say. This is what John Bolton said, this is what is the policy of the U.S. government.
Sokol Balla: So, basically, U.S. will support if both parties agree a reshape of borders in Albanian living areas? A second question, because that might be a second plan, that might be plan A and plan B. The plan A fails then the reunification of Albanian areas, is that a plan B?
Ambassador Lu: I look forward to you asking that question of my good friend Phil Cosnett when he gets to Kosovo in a few weeks.
Sokol Balla: Then in few weeks. But then in few weeks you will go to Kyrgyz republic. Right? Not a big chance for reforms there I suppose?
Ambassador Lu: I think…
Sokol Balla: Justice reform?
Ambassador Lu: I think they are already doing a lot of reforms in the Kyrgyz republic.
Sokol Balla: So, are you looking forward to going back there, because I know that you have been working there before, right?
Ambassador Lu: My family and I have felt that Albania is a very special place. But the Kyrgyz Republic is where my children were really small. I don’t know if you remember where you were when your kids were really small, but my son who is now 16 years old, he is 1.8 meters and plays basketball, when we went to the Kyrgyz Republic he was only a year a half old, he was a baby. And my daughter was born during the time we were in the Kyrgyz Republic. For us, it is a very special place. And I hope my many friends here in Albania will come to visit us. It is also, like Albania, a very beautiful country.
Sokol Balla: Yeah, I’ve been there. I have been there…
Ambassador Lu: It is dramatic.
Sokol Balla: It is dramatic, yeah. But still, I want to ask you something…
Ambassador Lu: Ju lutem!
Sokol Balla: Many American Ambassadors, even when they left, they kept a special bond with Albania. Jeffrey is a father in law of an Albanian, I have been to John Withers’ house, everything there is Albanian. And I still communicate with Mr. Arvizu, he is still very much in love with Albania. To me and not only to me, to many others, yours seems not to be the case. It is like you have been very highly professional, very much involved in politics and in reforms, but you had that kind of cold, professional touch when it came to Albania and Albanians. But maybe you can prove me wrong now…
Ambassador Lu: Sokol, I think all foreigners who come to this country fall in love with Albania and Albanians. You are, you personally but all Albanians, are the warmest, and friendliest and most hospitable people on the planet. I have, from day one, fallen in love with this country. Now what I have said, and I repeat tonight, is when I leave this country I am not going to follow the news, I am not going to watch it, I am not going to read it. The news in Albania it gives me a headache. I much prefer to watch comedies when I have free time.
Sokol Balla: Maybe because sometimes comedies are much more serious to what happens here, right? But when it comes to, you supported tonight Klodiana Lala and you and U.S. support investigative journalism like BIRN, but it seems that you don’t share the same appreciation for media owners in Albania. Is that the case?
Ambassador Lu: No, it is definitely not the case. I must say I have had very good relations with many media owners. I think they play a role, just as media owners do in the United States, in the rest of Europe. As I have said before, I am a little shy, I don’t like to be in the media every day, I try to do it when it really matters and I am so delighted that my last interview in this country is with my good friend Sokol Balla.
Sokol Balla: And it was in English. You surprised everyone when you came when you spoke in Albanian. How so? How come you did your last interview in English? Is it because you don’t really understand Albanians as you did Albania when you came?
Ambassador Lu: Edhe nëse do të rrija këtu në Shqipëri për njqëind vjet, nuk do ti kuptoja kurrë politikanët shqiptarë. Por unë mendoj se e kuptoj mirë popullin shqiptar. Ata që duan atë që duan të gjithë, liri, begati, siguri, dhe një jetë më të mirë për fëmijët e tyre. Sokol, faleminderit shumë që më ftuat në programin tuaj të shkëlqyeshëm.
Ambassador Lu: I thank you Mr. Ambassador. It was a pleasure to have you for the first time and maybe not for the last time. I will come to visit you in Kyrgyz Republic. Thank you.
Ambassador Lu: Thank you.