Albania’s High Regard for America Has a Long History

By Gary Kokalari

Your June 12 editorial “Why Albanians Love America” is only partially correct. It’s quite true Albanians hold America in high esteem because of the 1999 U.S.-led military intervention that stopped the Serbs from ethnically cleansing Kosovo. And President Bush’s strong support for Kosovo’s independence further warmed Albanian affections.

But there is more to this love affair. Albanians will never forget President Woodrow Wilson’s intercession at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference to save Albania from being devoured by Greece and Serbia. However, the key reason for this admiration is that after suffering through five decades of communist repression under a brutal dictator, followed by a succession of corrupt governments as a fledgling democracy, Albanians view America as a beacon of freedom and hope. And as one Albanian so fittingly stated during the president’s historic visit, “Those people who protest against Bush do not understand what evil means because they never had communism.” To Albanians, life in a totalitarian state enforced by terrorism is clearly not just a “bumper sticker slogan.”
President
Albanian Heritage Foundation
New York
The Wall Street Journal

June 12, 2007
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
Why Albanians Love America
June 12, 2007; Page A16

President Bush received a hero’s welcome in Albania on Sunday, and our guess is that very few Americans know why. The reason is U.S. support for Kosovo, which was a flash point in the 1990s and is emerging as another potential problem thanks to Vladimir Putin.

At last week’s G-8 summit, Russia threatened to veto a Security Council resolution that paves the way for the ethnically Albanian province’s independence from Serbia. Mr. Putin’s hard line could reignite ethnic violence in a region policed by NATO and divide the Europeans — which may even be what Mr. Putin wants.

Mr. Bush rose to the occasion in neighboring Albania, telling a press briefing in the capital Tirana that U.S. support for Kosovo’s independence is “solid, firm.” Without closing the door on diplomatic efforts, Mr. Bush said that, “At some point in time, sooner rather than later, you’ve got to say enough is enough, Kosovo is independent.” The President also recognized the risk that delays could destabilize Kosovo itself. “There just cannot be continued drift, because I’m worried about expectations not being met in Kosovo.”

France’s Nicolas Sarkozy offered to give the Serbs and Kosovo Albanians another six months — after years of fruitless talks — to strike a divorce deal. The other G-8 countries were lukewarm to the Sarkozy proposal and Kosovar and Albanian leaders reacted with horror. Mr. Putin rejected any talks that presuppose eventual independence.

Kosovars have waited long enough. Serbia lost control in 1999 when NATO bombs forced out Slobodan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansers. Late last year, U.N. mediator Martti Ahtisaari put off unveiling his plan for the province, in deference to Serbian elections. Mr. Putin’s tough talk is now delaying a U.N. decision. Washington can call Russia’s bluff and force a Security Council vote. Under the Ahtisaari proposal, Kosovo would gradually transition to monitored independence, with a decentralized government and protections for the Serbian ethnic minority.

If Russia vetoes this sensible plan, Kosovo has the right to declare independence and request international recognition, which would be forthcoming from the West. NATO troops on the ground will need to be prepared in case Serbian paramilitaries make good on threats to enter Kosovo, or if ethnic violence erupts.

Mr. Bush’s stand on behalf of a small nation’s right to self-determination and freedom is America at its best in Europe, pushing back against a Kremlin leader with neo-imperial designs on the Continent’s eastern half. It’s no surprise Mr. Bush got such a warm welcome in Prague, Warsaw and Tirana.

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