Big Talk

Judgments Should be Based on Risks and a Scientific Approach

The Republic of Albania was an isolated country in the past. Even among the socialist countries of the Balkan Peninsula, it has a unique history in the ex-socialist camp led by the Soviet Union. After the collapse of socialism and the Soviet Union, Albania entered into a difficult process of democratization. It became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and is aiming to become part of the European Union (EU). Toshio Motoya spoke with Bujar Dida, ambassador of the Republic of Albania, about topics including Albania’s history and relationship with Japan, as well as his scientific opinions on the different topics raised.

The Japan-Albania relationship has lasted since 1922

Motoya Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. How many years have passed since you became the Albanian ambassador?
Doda Four years in total; this is my fifth year.
Motoya When you came to my wine gathering before, you spoke of your experience studying abroad at Tohoku University. It sounds like you’ve been involved with Japan for a long time.
Doda I came to Japan in 1995 with a scholarship provided by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in the framework of scientific exchange between our countries, and I earned my second doctorate. My research was done at Tohoku University over 4.5 years. Together with my wife and son we loved our life in Sendai. We returned to Albania after I finished my research, but I kept promoting contact between Japan and Albania. Then I became the Honorary Consul General of Japan in Albania in 2000 and served in that position for nine years. In 2009 I came to Japan again as the first Albanian ambassador to Japan. In total I have been continually involved with bilateral relations between Albania and Japan for 19 years now.
Motoya That’s a long time. I imagine you know a great deal about Japanese culture.
Doda Yes, I have had wonderful experiences during my time in Japan. My first residence in Japan was in Sendai, and it would not be an exaggeration to say it is my second hometown. First I arrived in Japan as a researcher, but since I began serving as the Honorary Consul General in Albania, I was exposed to many other topics outside of my specialty including the politics and economics of Japan. In that way, the support of my wife and son was very important.
Motoya Your wife came to the wine gathering with you.
Doda Yes, as I mentioned at that event as well, my wife greatly improved her Japanese-language skills by intensive study of the Japanese language in Sendai. In 2012 she published the first Japanese-Albanian dictionary she had spent 12 years working on. My son, who was introduced to Japan and the Japanese language in Sendai, is diligently studying the language and computer science, and has been involved in publishing Japanese-language books.
Motoya You have a wonderful family! Unfortunately, very few Japanese people know where Albania is, and they have the impression that the country itself is not a big one. In the past, I visited the former Yugoslavia, including Dubrovnik, but I haven’t yet been to Albania. It is located on the Adriatic Sea and Ionian Sea on the Balkan Peninsula, is that correct?
Doda Yes, it is right there. Albania and Italy face each other across the Adriatic, and the land borders are with Montenegro and Kosovo in the north, Macedonia in the east, and Greece in the south.
Motoya Albania became a socialist state after World War II, and has a chaotic history involving fierce conflict with the Soviet Union and the era of national isolation. First, what is the history of the Japan-Albania relationship?
Doda Diplomatic relations between Japan and Albania began a very long time ago in April 1922, when Japan recognized Albania. Both countries strengthened their relations in the League of Nations, today called the United Nations. The first trade treaty was signed on June 20, 1930, and the Albanian Consulate-General in Osaka was established in 1935. At that time Osaka’s economy was more active than Tokyo’s, which is why the Consulate-General was located there. When Albania was invaded by Italy in 1939, and the king of Italy was enthroned as the Albanian king, Japan closed its General Consulate that was operating in Tirana. The Albanian Consulate-General was seen as unnecessary and was closed for that reason. After World War II Albania became a socialist country, and there was a “dormant period” in which we had no diplomatic exchange with Japan and other countries.
Motoya Why was that?
Doda The political systems of that time were simply different, but Albania and Japan did not cut off diplomatic relations due to that. Diplomatic relations were resumed in March 1981, during the processes of Albania being opened up from its isolation. The Albanian Embassy in Japan was opened in November 2005, and I was appointed as the first ambassador in April 2009.
Motoya The embassy is inside the Hokkoku Shimbun Building in Tsukiji, Tokyo. The Kanazawa branch of this company has great influence in the Hokuriku region, and President Hidekazu Tobita is a friend of mine. I visited the building once in 2005, right after it was built.
Doda Yes, we are still there in the Hokkoku Shimbun Building. Mr. Tobita has served two terms as honorary consul-general and has been very supportive.

The Balkans have been transformed from a region of conflict to one of cooperation

Motoya Returning to the topic of history, I have heard that Albania was ruled by Ottoman Turkey for 500 years from the Middle Ages. It became independent in 1912, and a memorial ceremony celebrating 100 years of independence was held in 2012.
Doda That’s right. We have a long story of independence because of the Balkan Wars followed by World War I and II. At the end of World War II Albania’s government was led by Enver Hoxha, who later made the governing totally dependent on the communist and socialist structures, and declared Albania to be the “People’s Socialist Republic.” As Soviet-Chinese conflict grew deeper in the socialist camp, in 1961 – when independence was weakening for the members of the socialist camp – Albania took the side against the Soviet Union and strengthened relations with China. During the political war and further developments in geopolitics in the socialist camp, Albania withdrew from the Warsaw Treaty Organization. The rest involved stopping relations with the Soviet Union, followed by relations with China and other ex-socialist countries, and becoming more isolated to the outside world. After Hoxha died in 1985, Ramiz Alia gained political power. Because of the political and economic crises in the remaining countries of the socialist camp and Albania itself, he took the initiative to implement some reforms. The name of the country was changed to the “Republic of Albania” in 1991.
Motoya So the word “People’s Socialist” was removed from the name, and progress began down the path towards becoming a democratic nation.
Doda Yes. The Democratic Party of Albania won a complete victory in the 1992 election, and the first non-communist administration since World War II gained political power. From that time Albania entered the path of democracy; government is decided by the democratic system of elections in which some 52 political parties express their political and economic approaches. President Bujar Nishani, who belonged to the Democratic Party, was elected to his position during the presidential election of 2012. In 2013 a union of 14 parties, led by the Socialist Party of Albania, won elections. The government today is led by the coalition of the Socialist Party.
Motoya Considering the fact that Albania was isolated, I feel like it has changed significantly.
Doda The isolation was carefully concealed from the citizens with the slogan that the most important thing was to protect the borders and make efforts so the people could live in a stable way. The Albanian communist government succeeded at this since it was able to remove interference in internal matters by the Soviet Union and China. Analyzing the developments at that time, it seems that the way Albania took was likely to be the best choice for the nation. The Albania of today exists because the national borders were successfully protected.
Motoya I see; one can look at communism in that way as well. Yet the era of isolationism must have been difficult in terms of the economy. Did Albania’s economy develop rapidly, leading to affluence, as democratization was accomplished afterwards?
Doda Yes, of course! It is certain that the base of the economy was totally changed, moving from the centralized economy to the free trade economy. In this framework Albania is also pursuing investments from Japan, and produced pamphlets for those purposes in cooperation with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Albania sees Japan as an important partner, and Japanese people can travel without a visa to Albania due to the resumption of relations between our countries.
Motoya That’s great.
Doda Yes! We have had an agreement for the free movement of people since 1935. However, Albanians still must have a visa to enter Japan, but we are working to improve that situation soon due to the need for further development in tourism and trade.
Motoya In the past, the Balkan Peninsula was an area of strife that was described as the “powder magazine” of Europe. World War I actually began from there. How are the circumstances today?
Doda It’s true that there was a great deal of conflict in the Balkans in the past, but things are different today. The three main ethnic groups of the Balkan Peninsula – Albanians, Greeks, and Slavs – were engaged in different confrontations. Today, confrontations are solved and tensions are reduced via dialog. Each country is aiming to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or European Union (EU), developing democracy, developing their economies, and recognizing the independence and values of each. In this way, efforts are being made to solve problems via discussion.
Motoya So the possibility of dispute is low. What is the current size of the Albanian army?
Doda We have approximately 14,500 military personnel. Albania’s accession to NATO was in April 2009. The scale of a member country’s army is determined by its size, and Albania conforms to this. We also have a conscription system. Albania dispatched troops to Afghanistan as a member of NATO. Things are clearer today and one can find a lot of information on the Internet.
Motoya Considering the population of 2.85 million people, that’s a large military personnel ratio of about 0.5%. In Japan’s case, Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) personnel make up 0.18% of the population. In Ukraine, the Crimean Peninsula – which has many Russian citizens – has declared independence and been annexed by Russia. Even with residents of the same ethnic group, today the cross-national rules involve protecting one’s current borders. At the wine gathering you taught us that the population of the Republic of Albania is 2.85 million people, but that an additional five million Albanians live across the world. In particular, there are roughly 1.7 million Albanians in Kosovo – about 96% of the population. How is the relationship between Albania and Kosovo?
Doda It is very good one. We are divided by national borders, but the free movement of people is implemented. Kosovo has also applied to enter the EU, and often Albania and Kosovo take other joint actions. However, each country respects the independence of the other. During the summer season from June to September, one can also travel between the countries of the Balkan Peninsula without a visa. We call it “Balkan Schengen,” and we are making efforts to attract tourists.
Motoya So Albania doesn’t behave like Russia.
Doda I am not sure what you mean by that, but I can clearly say that Albania in the past and the present did not carry out any wars to annex territories or invade other countries. The nation of Albania is surrounded by counties where many ethnic Albanians live – such as Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Greece – but we did not and will certainly not advance into or annex other countries for that reason. And of course we have minorities living in Albania. They belong to the countries surrounding Albania, but today we do not view minorities as reasons for war. Instead, the minorities are proving to be the best bridges for multiethnic cooperation that improves general cooperation in all terms. The same applies to the other Balkan countries, therefore the current balance will not be destroyed but improved.
Motoya I see.
Balance will be an important point in Ukraine in the future
Motoya What do you think of the present situation in Ukraine?
Doda The circumstances are changing each day, but I am extremely concerned that the situation is escalating. Albania is maintaining its position regarding this situation in accordance with the NATO and UN positions.
Motoya So you share the views of NATO and the UN.
Doda Yes. Ukraine is in a very difficult location in terms of geopolitics. Balance is essential for this reason, but it seems like things are becoming excited and moving towards a strange direction.
Motoya Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambition is conspicuously evident. This is not the era of annexing other countries through force, yet Russia annexed Crimea. It seems like he is also attempting to extend his hand towards eastern Ukraine, which is a big problem.
Doda I agree. As I said before, Ukraine has historically been a strategic position in terms of geopolitics. It is also a country with many nuclear power plants. Perhaps Russia is attempting to change the balance in this country, where recently the influence of the EU and United States has increased visibly.
Motoya One could certainly see the situation in that way, and I think an energy-focused viewpoint is also needed. Ukraine depends on Russia for natural gas and is in a position where it cannot assert itself. It has made efforts to become independent from Russia in the field of energy via nuclear power generation. Despite the Chernobyl nuclear accident that occurred in Ukraine in the past, it is planning to increase its nuclear power generation by 1.5 times by 2030. In contrast, Japan’s accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was entirely different from Chernobyl, where an explosion occurred at an operating atomic reactor. Due to this, all of Japan’s nuclear plants have been shut down. The stable supply of energy is an issue of maximum priority for every country. I believe Japan should immediately restart its nuclear plants, but what do you think?
Doda Well, it is true that all of Japan’s nuclear power plants have been shut down, but the economy is satisfactory improving despite importing 99% of the oil and gas used for power generation. I think that’s wonderful.
Motoya That’s certainly true (laughs). But since Japan cannot operate its nuclear plants, it is forced to pay excess fuel costs for thermal power generation to the tune of four trillion yen per year. Also, I think the development of shale oil is one cause of the deteriorated relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia in recent years. The U.S. no longer needs to depend on the Middle East for oil, and we must consider whether it is truly acceptable for Japan to rely indefinitely on the Middle East for energy. Moreover, Japan possesses nuclear technologies of the foremost level in the world. The plant that was the site of the recent nuclear accident was made in the U.S., while the Japanese-produced Fukushima No. 2 plant was entirely undamaged. I feel the safety of Japanese nuclear plants has grown due to this accident, and believe we should leverage Japan’s fantastic technologies on a domestic basis and also contribute to the world by exporting them overseas. If we don’t, low-quality nuclear plants made in South Korea and China will be exported to developing countries, which will increase the worldwide risk of more nuclear accidents.
Doda I understand how you feel, but an additional option is switching from nuclear plants to more efficient thermal power generation or other alternative energy sources. As a scientist, one of my specialties was research on improving the efficiency of gas turbines. New thermal power generation technologies are being developed such as gas turbine combined-cycle (GTCC) generation, and energy efficiency is being improved remarkably. Perhaps Japan should use more money, research, and production to switch to this type of power generation or other alternative sources of energy.
Motoya We should move in that direction as well, but don’t you feel it is ridiculous for Japan to continue paying money just to maintain the sound, safe nuclear plants that have been shut down?
Doda I would agree in normal circumstances, but looking at Japan’s overall situation I feel it would be better to focus on developing new power plants.
Motoya As you say, the public opinion is definitely against restarting the nuclear power plants.
Doda That is true. I also have the impression that many people are overreacting to the issue of radiation doses after the accident. Scientifically accurate information should be obtained regarding radiation as well if one would like to assess the situation.

It is vital for young people to learn from the past and contribute to the future

Motoya Japan has a self-torturing viewpoint regarding all topics, including historical issues. The decontamination standard for dealing with the recent accident at the Fukushima No. 1 plant was gradually reduced to one millisievert per year. It is nonsense to apply the one-millisievert standard even in regions that were not affected by the accident and despite the fact that Japanese people are exposed to an average of roughly four millisieverts of radiation per year. The human body is able to repair itself, so people are fine unless they are exposed to a large dose of radiation all at once. It was an overreaction to evacuate people because they would be exposed to 20 millisieverts per year, and many people have died from stress instead of radiation.
Doda I think your awareness is correct.
Motoya The so-called “highly concentrated contaminated water” is of a level that can be released into the ocean as long as it is suitably processed, and has become an issue only because it is being stockpiled. The media reports in a bizarre way on all of these topics, so the public opinion has become skewed and the only responses that can be made are masochistic ones.
Doda After the Great East Japan Earthquake and Fukushima No. 1 nuclear accident, foreign diplomats and businesspeople stationed in Japan were insisting that it was necessary to leave Tokyo. I think this was an exaggerated reaction, and significantly damaged the image of Japan as a safe country. However, I didn’t close the embassy when the March 11 accident happened, even for a single day, and I started to measure the radiation myself (laughs) and monitor the situation. I found that there was no problem at all. Therefore, I advised our citizens and friends to understand the situation and cooperate.
Motoya Nuclear countries such as France and the U.S. purposefully reacted in a grandiose way to stir up anxiety in other countries because they are attempting to steal nuclear power away from Japan. When I speak with foreign leaders such as ambassadors to Japan, they often ask why Japanese politicians and bureaucrats are all law school graduates. In other countries, people with scientific backgrounds such as yourself are working in central positions. Japan should appoint more human resources with scientific experience, and should create a government that is capable of judging risks based on scientific calculations of probability. I wonder how much national wealth has been lost due to arguments based on emotion, saying that radiation is something to fear.
Doda Various criticisms were raised at that time, but the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) provided and sent radiation data to the embassies here, allowing anybody to make decisions based on that data. I think the MOFA did a great job. Later, I have visited the Hamaoka nuclear power plant and saw absolutely no problems for safe operation there, so I believe there are no problems with restarting it.
Motoya You are a scientist, so you see things in a very logical way. I agree entirely. Finally, at the end of the interview I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
Doda I would like to say to seniors as well as young people that Japan is a country with a rich culture and good citizens – hard workers who are well known across the world. I wish Japanese people would join together more after situations like the March 11 earthquake and do their best for their country. Also, I hope that young people in particular will preserve Japan’s precious legacy for a better future. The “fathers” of this great country have already done enough!
Motoya I agree. Thank you very much for joining me today.

Bujar Dida
studied chemistry at the University of Tirana in Albania in 1985. After working at a private company, he took a teaching job as a professor at the University of Tirana in 1993. He received a doctorate from the University of Tirana in 1994 and from Tohoku University in Japan in 1999. Dida was appointed as the honorary consul general of Japan in 2000, and became the ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the Embassy of the Republic of Albania in Japan in 2009.