In the last decade, Albania has been making the transition from forty-six years of Communism to multiparty democracy and a free-market economic system. On a recent visit there, President George W. Bush said Albania "is a country that has cast off the shackles of a very repressive society and is now showing the world what's possible."
Albania is also doing its part to support democracy abroad. The country has sent one-hundred-twenty of its elite commandos to Iraq. Prime Minister Sali Berisha announced that Albania will also soon increase its presence in Afghanistan by one-hundred-ten troops, in addition to the existing platoon. "Albanians," said Mr. Berisha, "are very proud about the friendship with the U.S.A., and the cooperation they have with your nation in the war against international terrorism, of their presence on your side in Iraq, Afghanistan."
Mr. Bush thanked the Albanians for their contributions in Afghanistan and Iraq:
"Albanians know the horror of tyranny. And so they're working to bring the hope of freedom to people who haven't known it. And that's a noble effort, and a sacrifice. And I appreciate your sacrifice."
Albania also hopes to join the NATO alliance. Albania has undertaken some of the reforms required for membership. But additional political and military reforms are needed, including democratic and rule of law reforms, as well as efforts against organized crime and corruption. The United States supports Albania's bid to join NATO and is committed to helping the country meet the requirements.
Kosovo is another important issue for Albania because of the region's majority ethnic Albanian population. President Bush expressed strong support for the current plan before the United Nations, which would ultimately lead to Kosovo's independence. At the same time, the U.S. supports Serbia's aspirations for closer ties with the West, including potential NATO membership.
The people of Albania are committed to overcoming the Communist legacy of oppression and poverty. "Despite the hardships experienced by our country," said Prime Minister Sali Berisha, "freedom for Albanians has worked."