Albania has a long history of sheltering asylum seekers, also through a concept known as “Besa”, or “keep the promise”. A few examples of this include the sheltering of hundreds of Jews during WWII, hundreds of thousands of Kosovo refugees in 1999 (the city of Kukes was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for this effort), accepting 3,000 members of the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran in 2014, continuous offers to shelter tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and most recently to serve as a transit nation for Afghan refugees in 2021.
Albania was granted EU Candidate Status in June 2014, and Albanian citizens can travel to 98 countries without an advance Visa, including the Schengen Area. In 2021 Albanians can travel visa-free (or visa on arrival) to 115 countries. While not a visa, Albanians will be required to apply for the new European travel permit ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System), to visit Schengen countries once it is introduced by the end of 2022.
In October 2011, Albania and Qatar signed a cultural cooperation agreement on cooperation, exchange, translation and youth activities. In November 2012, Azerbaijan and Albania signed an agreement to enhance cooperation in the fields of culture and tourism.
On 28 August 2014, on the 100th anniversary of WWI outbreak, the German chancellor Angela Merkel initiated the Berlin Process36, a diplomatic initiative for EU Enlargement, at the “Conference of Western Balkan States”, with the participation of the EU Commission, some EU countries and Six Western Balkan (WB6) countries that are candidates for EU membership – Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia, Albania37 and potential candidates, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. At the conference, a 4 year plan was presented for the path to the future of Europe including intensifying regional cooperation as an essential basis, strengthening good governance, and increasing prosperity via sustainable economic growth. The Berlin Process was followed by annual Summits – 2015 Vienna, 2016 Paris, 2017 Trieste, 2018 London, 2019 Poznań, and November 10, 2020 in Sofia where the plan was agreed to create a Common Regional Market38 , with national authorities taking action by 2024 on the free movement of goods, capital, services and people.
There is no reference to culture, art or heritage in the Berlin Summits, but the Action Plan 2021-202439 coordinated and monitored by the Regional Cooperation Council, refers to, in the section about innovation, “Support the implementation of different actions streaming from the Agenda for the Western Balkans on Innovation, Research, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport which the European Commission is planning to adopt during the first semester of 2021”. The priorities of the Action Plan include: Enhancing the quality of education and training, Boosting human capital development, Reducing the gender and digital divide; Improving mobility and connectivity; and Fostering cultural and regional cooperation40.
ORI- Observatory of Regional Integration41, a platform for collection of empirical data and analysis in the framework of cross-border, transnational and interregional integration of Albania, supported by the AMSHC-Agency for the Support of Civil Society and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (Foundation), has a database of 443 projects since 2006, and the main donors by number of projects are: EU IPA Multibeneficiary: 148; EU IPA CBC: 217; Italy: 25; Germany: 24; Switzerland: 17; Visegrad+: 8; and Sweden: 4. Examples of the biggest initiatives supported through IPA Multi-Beneficiary include Erasmus Mundus and Youth in Action for EUR 12 Mio each per year, same as Civil Society Facility for 2010. In the last 10 years, Albanian partners have cooperated with Montenegro on 257 projects, North Macedonia 237, Croatia 235, Bosnia Herzegnovia 232, Kosovo 184, Italy 126 and Greece 94.
In June 2016, the Programme of Cooperation in the Field of Culture between the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Albania continued for the period 2016-2019 and has been ongoing since 1996.
On July 4, 2016 the WB6 Prime Ministers, at the Summit held in Paris, signed the Agreement on the Establishment of Regional Youth Cooperation Office42 (RYCO) an independently functioning institutional mechanism, aiming to promote the spirit of reconciliation and cooperation between the youth in the region through youth exchange programmes. The RYCO organizes several cultural activities, competitions, and other events, also through open calls, for Youth in WB.
In January 2017, Japan opened an Embassy in Tirana and began offering development assistance grants, loans and technical assistance, as well as small scale cultural exchange.
In February 2017, The Ministry of Culture of Albania, at the third Ministerial Conference “Promotion of Culture for Sustainable Development”, signed the first agreement for cultural cooperation with Serbia to support exchange of ideas and policies in art, culture and heritage, in accordance with the standards of the European Union and UNESCO.
Also in February 2017, Albania and Iran signed an agreement to boost exchanges in trade, tourism and culture.
In March 2017, Albania and Macedonia signed an agreement for Cultural Cooperation Programme 2015-2020, including development of joint projects funded by the EU IPA.
In May 2018, a summit gathered the Western Balkans Country Leaders and European Leaders in relation to enlargement policy, which led to the Sofia Declaration43, which aims to also establish connections and opportunities within the region and with the EU to enhance political, stability, economic prosperity, as well as cultural and social development. On November 10, 2020 the leaders of the WB, under the framework of the Berlin Process, acknowledged the European Green Deal as the new growth strategy44. Even though it intends to “Prioritise energy efficiency and improve it in all sectors”, there is no reference to arts and culture, and innovation to energy efficiency such as in events, shows, concerts, etc.
Albania participates in EU programmes including EU4Culture, Creative Europe, I-portunus, Perform EUrope, Interreg IPA (Italy-Montenegro-Albania & Greece-Albania), Council of Europe and others.
Various stakeholders including UNOPS in Albania, the EU and the Government of Albania continue to work on restoration of cultural sites affected by the 2019 earthquake. Some 27 sites are currently part of the EUR 40 million EU4Culture funded interventions.
In June 2018, The Theatre of Opera and Ballet and the Popular Ensemble of Albania signed the protocol of cooperation with the National Theatre in Belgrade in June 201845.
In March 2019, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Albania and the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia agreed to establish Cultural and Information Centres in the Republic of Albania and in the Republic of North Macedonia.
Also in March 2019, an Agreement entered into force between the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Government of the Republic of Albania on cultural cooperation, after being provisionally applied since November 2015.
In October 2019, as part of the 70th anniversary diplomatic ties between China and Albania, The Albanian Radio Television and China’s National Radio and Television Administration signed an agreement on the broadcasting of Chinese government television programmes. Within the framework of the agreement, the two institutions will also cooperate on the exchange of television productions, documentaries and cartoons, as well as staff training.
On August 23, 2021, in Tiranë, – The United States and Albania signed a “Bilateral Agreement for Cultural Assets” aimed at preventing the illegal trade of cultural objects between the two countries, in accordance with the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Cultural Wealth.
In July 2021, Albanian and North Macedonian Ministers of Culture signed a joint agreement to preserve Lake Ohrid, at the border between two countries, to work together to preserve the area as a site of natural and cultural significance and a UNESCO site.
In July 2021, a delegation from the International Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Dubai signed agreements with the Albanian Institute for International studies and Albania’s Interreligious Institute to strengthen relations on interfaith dialogue, knowledge exchange and cultural cooperation.
In March 2021, a cooperation agreement in the fields of art, archaeology, museology and copyright protection was signed between the Ministry of Culture of Albania and Turkey, and also covering other fields of art such as cinematography, publications, translations and cultural exchanges. The two countries have maintained a Cultural Cooperation Agreement since February 1989.
In October 2020, Albania and Kosovo signed two agreements concerning setting up a joint programme between the Kosovar and Albanian Ministries of Culture and to encourage co-productions between Albania and Kosovo.
In March 2021, a project agreement between the governments of Switzerland and Albania was signed by the Albanian Minister of Finance and the Economy with the Swiss Ambassador to improve the system of intellectual property rights in Albania, including processing of patents, public services and inter-institutional collaboration in implementing intellectual property rights. The programme will work with the General Directorate of Industrial Property (under the Ministry of Finance and the Economy) and the Copyright Directorate (under the Ministry of Culture) to improve the administration and use of intellectual property rights.
Also in March 2021, the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee reviewed a request by the Government of Albania seeking US import restrictions on certain archaeological and ethnological material pursuant to Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (The 1970 UNESCO Convention), as well as a proposal to extend and amend the cultural property agreement between US and Egypt46.
Public actors and cultural diplomacy
Albania participates in many international cultural activities, including some of the largest such as the Venice Biennale, World Fairs, book fairs, Eurovision song contests and much more.
The diaspora is a major contributor to Albanian cultural diplomacy worldwide through societies, associations and organizations, which exist in most large cities and countries in Europe and North America. Since 2016 the Canadian Province of Ontario has recognized November as Albanian Heritage Month in recognition of Albanians’ contributions to the growth and prosperity of Ontario47. In 2020, an initiative of the Albanian Embassy in Ottawa led to the Niagara Falls in Canada being lit to display the red and black colours of the Albanian Flag on the occasion of the anniversary of Albanian independence in 1912.
The book “National Strategy and Action Plan 2018-2024” was published in 2020, as a summary document of the work done by the institutions responsible for the implementation of the Action Plan of the National Strategy for the Diaspora 2018-2024. It includes quarterly newsletters related to institutional activities in the field of relations with the Albanian diaspora. In 2020 The Council of Ministers approved the National Strategy of the Albanian Diaspora and the Action Plan 2021–202548. The new documents promote the development of state policies for the inclusion and contribution of Albanian communities abroad and to strengthen Albania’s relations with the Diaspora. Strand 3 of 5 focuses on “Diaspora Capital, Community, and Culture Programmes” with aims at engaging the diaspora,
The CHSED also included a ‘Cultural Diplomacy component’ in 2010, to support the design of a cultural diplomacy policy for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs49.