Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Albania's Participation in Islamic Games Causes Dissent

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Albanian athletes will be competing in May for the first time in the games organised under the auspices of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation - but some Albanians say a secular European country has no place in such an event.

Fatjona Mejdini

The closing ceremony of the 3rd Islamic Solidarity Games in Indonesia. Photo: Youtube screeshot
Albanian athletes will be participating for the first time in this year's Islamic Solidarity Games, which take place Baku in Azerbaijan in May.
It is the first time that athletes from the country will be competing in the games, which involve athletes from member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, OIC, following a decision by the National Olympic Committee of Albania, KOKSH.
While most people in Albania are Muslim, many Albanians also believe that as a secular European state that aims to join the EU, membership of such an organisation is not appropriate.
Paskal Milo, a historian, politician and former foreign minister, told BIRN that he also disagreed with Albania's involvement in the activities of the OIC.
He believes that while Albania should respect Islamic countries and collaborate bilaterally on certain issues, it should not be done under the umbrella of an overtly Islamic organisation.
"I have always believed that the decision to participate in the OIC is one of the worst ones that Albania took since the fall of communism," he said.
"Every action that includes Albania further in the organisation sends a wrong message to our European and American allies and partners, putting in doubt our affiliation and European orientation," he concluded.
Albanian athletes will be competing in seven of the 22 sporting categories of the games in Baku - the fourth such event to take place following the first one held in 2005 in Saudi Arabia.
"We have the approval of the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Sports," Stavri Bello, general secretary of KOKSH, told Top Channel TV on Monday.
"We are going to send our athletes there to contribute to collaboration between nations," he added.
Albanian President Sali Berisha took Albania into the OIC by presidential decree in 1992 but the issue remains controversial among politicians and most of the country's intellectuals.
The organisation founded in 1969, which calls itself the "collective voice of Muslim world", comprises some 57 countries with an overwhelmingly Muslim population.
Piro Misha, a prominent researcher on nationalism and culture, told BIRN that Albania's membership of the organisation went against the country's constitution, its secular values and the idea of religious coexistence [Albania has large Catholic and Orthodox Chriatian minorities].
"I see the participation of Albanian athletes in these games as completely inappropriate; I don't understand why this invitation was accepted," he said.
He also believes that Albania's membership of the OIC is not wholly valid, as MPs never voted on the issue.
"We never voted on this [presidential] decree in parliament and a country cannot be a member of an organisation of this kind and assume responsibilities if parliament didn't vote on accession," he said.
"I see Albania acting as a schizophrenic state since some of the decisions that this organisation takes are against our Western aspirations," he concluded.

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