Report on Activities as the Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Albania
My interest in world affairs and Albania, in particular, began in my early teenage years. I followed the reign of King Zog, the invasion by Italian forces, and the ultimate rule of Enver Hoxha. It was during the 2001 Worldwide Conference of People-to-People (PTP) International in Aalborg, Denmark, however, that I met young Genci Mucaj, President of the Albania Chapter of the Organization. Through him, Albania became more of a living entity to me rather than just a far away place. I was impressed by Genci’s outgoing personality, and more importantly, his love of and pride in his beloved country.
When Genci agreed to host the People-to-People European Conference in Tirana from May 13-15, 2005, I resolved to attend at my own expense. I found the Albanian people to be warm, friendly and hospitable. In addition, I was able to explore the antiquities of such cities as Tirana, Dures, Kruje and Berat. As I began to learn about Butrint, and other historical sites in Albania, not to overlook the beautiful beaches, and resort cities like Saranda on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, my interest in and appreciation for the country began to reach new heights.
I also read much more about its history, traditions, and of course, its poverty. When I learned that, through Genci’s efforts, over 300 tons of food and clothing had been raised and distributed to the poor in Albania, I realized that his love of Albania and his fellow citizens was more than empty words. People-to-People International (PTPI) has now recognized his benevolence by presenting him with its Presidential Award. PTP-Albania also has received several awards for its work. This has inspired me to help Genci and through him, the people of Albania.
During my 2005 visit, Mary Jean Eisenhower, PTPI President (and a granddaughter of President Eisenhower), and I visited with Messieurs Sali Berisha and Besnik Mustafaj, leaders of the Democratic Party in Albania. When the Party later won control of the government, they became Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, respectively. My friend Genci was invited to become an advisor to the new Minister of Foreign Affairs. In due course, he began to call upon my experience in diplomacy and government as one of his many resources. On his first visit to the embassy in Washington, Genci composed a lengthy list of initiatives designed to raise public awareness of the Albanian nation, its people, and opportunities for investment in the country.
One such item, to increase public awareness, was that of inviting prominent American friends of Albania to serve as Honorary Consuls or Consuls General in different areas of the United States. Shortly thereafter, he telephoned to say that on his recommendation, the Minister had agreed that I should be one of the first to be considered. The tempting opportunity to serve Albania was difficult to resist, and I felt honored to be invited. The Minister later sent a letter confirming my appointment, and embassy staff then completed the papers required by the United States Department of State.
Although the formalities take some time (happily, they are now completed!), I was, and continue to be, in regular touch with the embassy, the recently arrived Ambassador, His Excellency Aleksander Sallabanda, and the ministry staff in Tirana. During June of this year, I completed my second visit to Albania and was formally presented with a Certificate of Appointment by Minister Mutafaj in his office. Knowing of my interest in history, he gave me an inscribed copy of “The Illyrians to the Albanians” with the words “For Ted, my friend, and the friend of my country.”
I am grateful to him for it. I continue to learn from this informative book. In the meantime, Genci and I continue to confer by telephone or email almost every day. A special treat to me, during my recent visit, was that of an early morning visit over coffee in Tirana with two prominent physicians, Drs. Nestor Teresca and Sulejman Kodra, leading auto dealer Xhevdet Lozi, plus others, all friends of Genci. I truly regard him as one of the young treasures of the Republic of Albania.
This is not intended to be a paper in praise of Genci, one of the many fine members of the embassy and ministry staff who assisted me in becoming better informed and more knowledgeable as Honorary Consul General. I am grateful to so many Albanians who helped me. Having met personally with the Prime Minister and talked and worked with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, my own awareness of things Albanian was heightened.
To my fellow Consuls and Consuls General here at our monthly luncheon in Atlanta, who innocently asked me how I got to Albania, I answered politely: “I flew there!” Being African American, I could understand their curiosity. It is hoped that this paper might serve as a more responsive answer. Lastly, to my colleagues at the embassy, the ministry, and others, it may explain more fully the reasons for my devotion to Albania.
Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Albania (Atlanta Region);
United States Ambassador to Barbados and Grenada, 1974-1977