On completing an eight-day visit to Albania, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed, praised the country for fostering interfaith tolerance.
Shaheed stated that Albania is a model for interfaith harmony, with a Muslim majority and Orthodox and Catholic communities among its 3 million people.
“Freedom of religion or belief is a practical reality in Albania,” he said, “and there is much the world can learn from the Albanian experience in respecting freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief and achieving interreligious harmony.”
Albania's Communist regime sought to eliminate all forms of religion from the country, in 1967 proclaiming it to be the “first atheist state.” Shaheed pointed out that with the fall of Communism, the country brought about “a rapid reconstruction of the religious infrastructure and the revitalization of spiritual leadership.”
The Special Rapporteur found the country to demonstrate “unique co-existence and mutual respect between and among various religious groups” but pointed out that this “should not be taken for granted … (as) the situation could change more quickly and unexpectedly than many think.”
He found that the “problem of ‘extremist’ or ‘radical’ religious groups now appears effectively to be under control,” and called on Albania and its international partners “to uphold the unique societal harmony and co-existence that remains a reality in Albania today.”
Mr. Shaheed, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Maldives, was appointed Special Rapporteur in November 2016.