- Albania, the Balkans, and the Process of Transatlantic Integration
In this essay I discuss contemporary Albania and the critical role that it willingly shoulders to help ensure peace and stability in our region.
Today's Albania is still little known beyond its borders. I have certainly noticed what it seems to take these days to become the headline news in the United States, and based on what I've seen, I am grateful for all the days that Albania is not in American and European headlines. But there is a lot that we do want others to know about our country.
One thing is clear: The mysterious and silent Albania no longer exists. So, too, is gone the boarded up and unapproachable Albania of the past. The isolated and friendless Albania is no more. And a half century of totalitarian slavery is over.
Instead there is now a young democracy in southeastern Europe that is immeasurably proud to be counted among the free democracies of the world. There are 3.5 million citizens in its cities and hills, who represent every major religion and many proud European cultures. In Albania, they live together in a stable society. Albanians are smart and energetic. They are ravenous for every beautiful opportunity that freedom and hard work make possible. And it is all possible. The most important natural resource we have, I deeply believe, is the powerful and strong heart of Albania that beats inside every Albanian. It is on this basis that we do and shall succeed. This is the Albania of today.
It was not always so, not even in the past thirteen years. A totalitarian regime, one of the cruelest in the world, took everything from us and left us [End Page 1] with nothing: no money, no industries, no protection, no friends in the world, no exposure even to any modern ideas. This is not an excuse, this was our reality.
We were the poorest and the most isolated country in Europe and one of the most isolated in the world. But the urge toward freedom is a primal human urge. We passionately seized back our freedom.
Then we set about the tougher business that is still our business today, the business of details: building our democracy step-by-step and rebuilding our society, inch-by-inch. People should truly understand what it is to spend days and nights, and the times when there is no demarcation between day and night, working to make a democracy and a truly strong society.
Like so many of our neighbors and friends in countries with a similar painful past, we were not able to build our house on a clear field; we are still cleaning up the toxic waste of the totalitarianism that poisoned our culture, our commerce, and our classrooms.
We have had in these thirteen young years of real freedom a remarkable journey into our democratic society. We have had successes, crises, lessons learned the hard way, slow but steady victories, heartbreaks, and breakthroughs. We have also, as a country, triumphed several times over dangerous turbulence. We are always vocal, passionate, and ferocious in the pursuit of a fully democratic society, but critically important, we are sticking to the rules of democracy. It is fascinating, frustrating, and magnificent work. At the inevitable moments when we feel tired, we quickly find 3.5 million reasons to move on.
It was that same freedom that allowed Albania—finally—to open its own doors and Albanians to come to know our neighbors. Now we work with them daily, at every level of contact from police officer to prime minister, to make our relationships strong and productive for the sake of our citizens.
Albania is deeply aware of, and completely committed to the immutable precept that security and success are tied to the security and success of the entire region. We each face the same tough problems in our region, and we have learned to face them together. In the twenty-first century, the world can work in no other way.
Those 3.5 million eager and bright Albanians are passionately proud to be counted among the friends of the United...