US embassy cable - 06TIRANA600

SHKODRA REGION RELIGIOUS TENSIONS CONTINUE

Identifier: 06TIRANA600
Wikileaks: View 06TIRANA600 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Tirana
Created: 2006-06-06 13:54:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Tags: PREL PGOV PINR AL MW
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
VZCZCXYZ0003
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTI #0600/01 1571354
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 061354Z JUN 06
FM AMEMBASSY TIRANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4380
INFO RUEHTH/AMEMBASSY ATHENS 2923
RUEHBW/AMEMBASSY BELGRADE 2718
RUEHBS/AMEMBASSY BRUSSELS 0672
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME 5288
RUEHVJ/AMEMBASSY SARAJEVO 0435
RUEHSQ/AMEMBASSY SKOPJE 4116
RUEHVI/AMEMBASSY VIENNA 2779
RUEHVB/AMEMBASSY ZAGREB 2940
RUEPGBA/CDR USEUCOM INTEL VAIHINGEN GE
RHMFISS/CDR USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/COMSOCEUR VAIHINGEN GE
RHDLCNE/COMUSNAVEUR LONDON UK
RUFNPKB/COMUSNAVEUR POLAD NAPLES IT
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHNW/DIR DTSPO WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 3271
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE 2158
RUEHPS/USOFFICE PRISTINA 3420
UNCLAS TIRANA 000600 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR EUR/SCE (MBENEDICT/DSAINZ) 
NSC FOR BRAUN 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PINR, AL, MW 
SUBJECT: SHKODRA REGION RELIGIOUS TENSIONS CONTINUE 
 
REF: 05 TIRANA 283 
 
1. (SBU)  SUMMARY. Religious tensions that flared in Shkoder 
when a statue to Mother Theresa was proposed for a public 
spot in central Shkodra have settled somewhat, but there is 
still lingering resentment between the Muslim and Catholic 
communities. Both sides cite foreign influence(meaning 
foreign religious oragnizations)as a cause of disintegrating 
religious harmony. The mayor of Shkodra and the Prefect of 
the region called on the Embassy to lift travel warnings on 
the area, which they claim are hurting economic development 
in the region. END SUMMARY. 
 
PROPHET'S BIRTHDAY: A CELEBRATION OF MUSLIM IDENTITY 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
 
2. (SBU) PolOff attended the celebration of the Prophet's 
birthday which took place in a public theater in central 
Shkodra on May 17. The standing room only event was co-hosted 
by the Muftis of Shkodra and Ulqin (Montenegro). The Prefect 
of Shkodra and the head of the Albanian Cults Committee also 
attended the event. Notably absent were representatives of 
other religious organizations from Shkodra. In his keynote 
address, the Mufti of Shkodra talked about the courage to 
publicly display a Muslim identity, an overt reference to the 
wearing of headscarves for women and beards for men. All of 
the women in the chorus and most of the women in the audience 
were wearing headscarves. 
 
3. (SBU) Organizational and financial support for the event 
came from the Islamic Relief, a UK-based NGO that provides 
poverty-relief assistance. 
 
ISLAMIC RELIEF PROVIDES NOT-SO-SECULAR SUPPORT 
--------------------------------------------- - 
 
4. (SBU) In a private meeting following the event, Mohammed 
El-Waei, head of the NGO, said his organization was 
increasingly consolidating its Albanian activities in the 
Shkodra region, the region with the greatest poverty. He said 
his organization had delivered over $13 million in direct 
assistance to Albania over the past 14 years, mostly to the 
Shkodra region. Such support includes funding for an all-boys 
madrasa, an orphan education-support project, the operation 
of Community Training Centers, and a rural infrastructure 
project. 
 
5. (SBU) El-Waei said that religious tension in the Shkodra 
region was increasing and asserted there was increased 
anti-Islamic sentiment in local government structures and in 
the media. El-Waei noted that a majority of Shkodra,s city 
councilors were Catholic and that their religious faith was 
increasingly driving their political decisions. (Note: 
Although the religious breakdown in Shkodra is roughly 70% 
Muslim and 30% Catholic, the city has traditionally been seen 
as the center of Albanian Catholocism.  End Note.) El-Waei 
said that the increase in tension and the breakdown of 
traditional religious harmony was due in part to "foreign 
influences". He pointed out that the Orthodox Church, the 
Roman Catholic Church, and the Islamic community all receive 
funding from outside Albania. In the case of Islam, however, 
there was not a centralized religious structure and funding 
came from a myriad of organizations. El-Waei said that the 
best way to stem the tide of foreign influence was for the 
GoA to return religious properties seized during the 
Communist regime so that all religious organizations could 
regain their traditional sources of funding. 
 
6. (SBU) NOTE: Though El-Waei claimed that his organization 
was secular and was registered as such with the GoA, 
promotional materials he provided indicate that Islamic 
Relief was actively engaged in promoting Islam. For example, 
part of the assistance to orphans includes instruction in 
Arabic and Islam and, in the past, Islamic Relief had 
directly supported the construction of mosques. The fact that 
this organization provided the funding for the celebration of 
the Prophet's birthday, a religious event, further evidenced 
the religious nature of this organization's activities. END 
NOTE. 
 
7. (SBU) The head of the Catholic Church in Shkodra, 
Monsignor Lucian Augustini, stated that religious tensions 
had calmed in recent weeks, but there was still latent 
hostility between his church and the Islamic community. He 
said that whereas he previously enjoyed amicable 
relationships with head of that community in the past, 
including the sharing of an occasional glass of raki 
(traditional Albanian alcoholic beverage), in recent years 
relations had cooled as the local Muslim leadership became 
more strict in their religious practices. Augustini also said 
that much of this change was due to "foreign influence", 
particularly through the training of imams in the Middle 
East. 
 
LOCAL LEADERS CALL FOR LIFTING OF EMBASSY TRAVEL BAN 
--------------------------------------------- ----------- 
 
8. (SBU) Gjovalin Kolombi, Prefect of the Shkodra region, 
said that the Mother Theresa statue issue had been completely 
resolved and that all sides agreed that Mother Theresa was a 
national symbol of Albania and did not belong exclusively to 
the Catholic church. Kolombi said that there was some 
lingering tension between the religious communities and that 
he was using his office and influence to help promote 
dialogue and mutual understanding. 
 
9. (SBU) Kolombi was more concerned with the Embassy's 
current Consular travel warning, which he claimed was hurting 
tourism and discouraging foreign investment in the region, 
and not just on the part of Americans. He said that Italians 
and others also pay close attention to what the Embassy says 
about the region. He noted that while such a warning may have 
been justified a few years ago, the security situation had 
greatly improved, particularly over the past year. He cited 
as tangible evidence that a long-held Shkodra tradition of 
taking afternoon strolls had returned in recent months, after 
having been virtually abandoned for the previous six years. 
He also pointed out that downtown shops, cafes, parks, and 
restaurants are open and crowded until late in the evening 
rather than shut down at sunset as in previous years. 
According to Kolombi, this change was due to aggressive 
policing. 
 
10. (SBU) Shkodra mayor Artan Haxhi discussed the area's 
tourism potential and plans for attracting foreign investment 
to the city. He said that his office was struggling to 
establish and enforce urban development plans. He cited the 
example of unlicensed construction in flood plains and the 
failure of developers to include sufficient parking. He said 
that his most pressing need was for unbiased city planning 
expertise, as was formerly available in the form of Peace 
Corps volunteers. He indicated that he would welcome the 
return of volunteers to work for the city government. 
 
11. (SBU) NOTE: The Consular travel warning, removal of Peace 
Corps Volunteers, and restriction on US Embassy personnel 
travel to Shkoder, were all instituted in the spring of 2005 
following direct threats by organized crime figures against 
Peace Corps Volunteers in particular and American citizens in 
general. The Embassy Emergency Action Committee will review 
the current restrictions on Shkoder later this month. END 
NOTE. 
RIES 

Latest source of this page is cablebrowser-2, released 2011-10-04