Albanians love America
By Peter Lucas The Boston Globe
The thing to remember about the
extraordinary reception the Albanian people awarded President George W.
Bush on Sunday was that the outpouring of love was not so much for Bush
- although he is popular in the tiny Balkan nation -
but for the country he represents.
Any president of the United States would have received the same
enthusiastic welcome. Unlike the jaded residents of the rest of old
Europe, the Albanians, who are new to democracy, believe that the United
States is a great democracy that believes in spreading freedom and
democracy around the world. Albanians believe they are living proof of
Albania's love affair with the United States did not begin overnight. It
started when President Woodrow Wilson, after World War I, stood up to the
victorious nations of Europe and insisted that Albania, made up of one of
the oldest peoples of Europe, was a true nation and that its borders had
to be preserved.
Back then the so-called victorious Great Powers -
Britain, France and Italy - wanted to divide Albania up
among its neighbors, as a sort of reward for fighting and defeating the
Serbia was slated for a piece here, Greece a chunk there, and Italy a
section of the coast. But for Wilson standing up for Albania, the tiny,
poor and defenseless country would have disappeared. So it is no small
wonder than many an Albanian boy born after 1919 was named Wilson.
Albania did disappear for awhile when Italy invaded it in 1939 and
occupied the country. After Italy was defeated by the Allies and dropped
out of World War II in 1943, the Germans took its place. The Communist
partisans, with some help from Britain and the United States, forced the
There was nothing to cheer about, though, when Enver Hoxha and the
Communists took over. Hoxha ruled Albania with an iron fist,
stamping out freedom, religion and hope.
Hoxha died in 1985, and Communism followed suit a few years later. Once
again Albania looked to the United States for guidance. When Secretary of
State James Baker paid a visit to the fledging democracy in 1991, the
crowds were as large and as enthusiastic as the crowds that greeted Bush
on Sunday. Joyous men sought to lift Baker's limousine and carry it into
Then came Slobodan Milosevic and his ethnic cleansing of Kosovo in 1999.
As hundreds of thousands of Kosovars streamed across the border for safety
in Albania, President Bill Clinton dragged a reluctant Europe into
following him and his NATO bombing of Serbia that forced Milosevic's
downfall. Once again the Albanian people learned that their security lay
not with the states of Europe but with the United States.
When Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Albania in 1999, she
was treated like a rock star. The same treatment was given to Secretary of
State Colin Powell in 2003 when he went to Tirana to witness the signing
of the Adriatic Charter, a document that is leading Albania, Croatia and
Macedonia into NATO membership.
Albania showed its gratitude when it answered Bush's call to join the
coalition of the willing and follow the United States into Iraq. Albania
practically elbowed its way to the front of the line. Although its
contribution in manpower was small - 120 soldiers
- its spirit was large. Fatos Tarifa, Albania's
ambassador to the United States at the time, was widely quoted when he
said: "If you believe in freedom, you believe in fighting for it. If you
believe in fighting for it, you believe in the United States."
That about sums up the feeling Albanians have for the United States.
Peter Lucas, a former Boston political reporter, is author
of "The OSS in World War II Albania." This article appeared first in The