The claim that George Soros is sponsoring the decision to declare ex-President and Prime Minister Sali Berisha as persona non grata in the United States is “absolutely wrong” and “dangerous”, according to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar.
In an interview given to journalist Sokol Balla during his visit to Tirana, he was asked whether the move was “a scheme of George sores and his associated, including Edi Rama and your ambassador here.”
Escobar was evident in his response, stating, “yeah, that is not the case. That is absolutely wrong. That is dangerous.”
When pressed further, he added, “I don’t want people to see these decisions and these designations as a political tool. These are institutional efforts to fight corruption. That’s what they are. So, it wasn’t done by one administration, it wasn’t done by one decision-maker, and it wasn’t done by one member or one organization within the cabinet. It was a collective effort, and we reached a consensus on it.”
Balla then suggested that the US move backfired as since then, Berisha has become “more popular among democrats and Albanians”. He then asked why Berisha and his family were declared non-grata.
Escobar replied, “Where are the domestic investigators and prosecutors on cases like these. I mean, we did it according to our laws and our regulations and according to our authorities. But you also have some domestically. So, if you want to know, investigate. If you want to sanction, prosecute. If you want to punish, sentence people who are part of this corruption because it’s not about America fighting corruption in Albania, it’s about America supporting your fight against corruption.”
Balla asked if there was any US evidence on Berisha and the accusations and whether it would be available to the Albanian justice system. Escobar replied, “we can do that.”
Escobar added, “Albania is more than just Sali Berisha. This is a really dynamic country with a lot of opportunities that are showing leadership across the board in NATO, in the bilateral relationship, and now within the Security Council…So, I don’t really want to talk about the past because it’s already in the past, let’s talk about the future and let’s talk about the tremendous opportunities that we have here with Albania.”
Berisha and his family were declared non-grata over “corrupt acts”, “using his power for his own benefit”, and other actions that “undermined democracy in Albania”. No charges have been brought against him domestically or internationally.
A study in early 2021 found traces of rhetorical antisemitism present in Albanian discourse. It particularly preferred to allegations of George Soros influencing Albanian politics.
The report, conducted by the US-based International Republican Institute, said that a link between the conspiracy narrative and antisemitic hate speech against Soros serves to oppress the left-right political divide in the country. It also puts citizens at risk of falling foul to dangerous conspiracy theories.
“The link between the conspiracy narrative and hate speech against George Soros and allegations about Jews and their power as a collective is not always self-evident. AntiSoros rhetoric exacerbates the antagonism between Albania’s left and right political actors, their allies, and their supporters. It also aggravates the existing vulnerability of average citizens to disinformation and conspiracy theories.”
“Certain groups, political actors, and subcultures endorse at least part of such doctrines,” the report noted.