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ENTRY INTO THE EUROPEAN UNION IS AT THE TOP OF THE AGENDA FOR A COUNTRY ISOLATED FROM ITS NEIGHBORS FOR SO LONG. DEMOCRATIC REFORMS AND DESIRE FOR REGIONAL STABILITY DRIVE ALBANIA TOWARDS ITS GOALS
Paving the way for European integration

Albania is ready to consign its recent past to history and is actively lobbying for integration into the EU.

Perceptions of Albania fall into two categories: a lack of any perception at all, or images of a cold, gray land cloaked in secrecy. Understandable as such preconceptions are, in light of Albania's history of isolation, today the western Balkan nation forms a considerably more colorful addition to the European mosaic.

Located in southeastern Europe, at the heel of Italy's 'boot', Albania has a temperate climate and beaches that hug the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. Endowed by long association with successive cultures, Albania's roots are entrenched in the history of the region. The footprints of the Illyrian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman civilizations have left their indelible mark on the country, resulting in a nation punctuated by UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Declared the Principality of Albania in 1925, a period of stability overseen by the self-styled 'King Zog' - President Ahmet Zogu - ensued until occupation by Italian and German forces during WWII. The cessation of hostilities saw the Communist Party assume control of the country. It was a portentous event for Albania.

A wartime resistance leader and staunch Marxist-Leninist, Enver Hoxha ruled Albania with a potent blend of paranoia and autocracy from 1944 until his death in 1985. His isolationist policies and brutal suppression of political dissidence have drawn comparisons to Hitler and Pol Pot. As fearful of internal rebellion as he was of invasion, he ordered the construction of 600,000 pillboxes across Albania - many of them facing the towns and villages they purported to protect.

SALI BERISHA
SALI BERISHA
Prime Minister of Albania

Hoxha had fed international observers the warped idea that his was an industrially advanced, self-sufficient, prosperous nation in the Marxist idealist mould. What emerged after his death was a country mired in semi-feudalism, poverty and fear, and desperately cut off from the world.

“Albania is very different now, “ explains Prime Minister Sali Berisha, “although it is still suffering the consequences of a kleptocratic regime. I believe that the rule of law is the very foundation of free society. All our laws now are in accordance with wetsern standards, and were drafted by western experts.”

Through political reform and collective will, Albania now finds itself on the cusp of EU membership, with a growing economy and huge potential for tourism revenue. An agreement was signed in 2006 to enter into the EU Stabilization and Association process and, pending ratification from the 25 member states, Albania will take its place at the European table in the near future. EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Olli Rehn, states, “In the Western Balkans, the EU can really make a difference. The region is at a crossroads and the EU will guide it down a peaceful and reformist path.” It is also expected that an invitation to join NATO will be forthcoming in 2008.

Indeed, Albania’s role in easing regional tensions has been key to its consideration for NATO membership.

President Alfred Moisiu says of the proposal, “We must take into consideration the positive consequences regarding the strengthening of peace and stability for the entire region, and for Europe itself.”

Although February’s parliamentary elections were criticized by international observers, July’s presidential ballot provides Albania with an opportunity to showcase its democratic ideals.
Like the prodigal son, Albania is ready to return to the European fold after its wilderness years. “I agree with the idea of the Balkans returning to Europe, instead of thinking of it as an enlargement of Europe,” concludes Mr. Berisha.