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
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.
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, Albanias role in easing regional
tensions has been key to its consideration for
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 Februarys parliamentary elections
were criticized by international observers,
Julys presidential ballot provides Albania
with an opportunity to showcase its democratic
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.