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ANALYSIS/ Deconstruction of myths in Albania-USA relations

ANALYSIS/ Deconstruction of myths in Albania-USA relations

Albert Rakipi*

In a trajectory with extreme ups and downs in relations between Albania and the United States, the visit of President George W. Bush to Albania in 2007 marked the highest point. In international relations, the visit of a president is always important and reflects a very high level of bilateral interstate relations. But if we consider the asymmetry between a very small country like Albania and a global power like the United States, the visit of President Bush is quite significant and reflects a privileged relationship with Albania.

But what made the visit even more extraordinary, historic and decisive was the fact that it served to make public in Tirana the strategic decisions of the Bush administration for the future of the Albanian people and the Albanian state: First, the independence of Kosovo and second. Albania's membership in NATO.

The independence of Kosovo put an end to the dilemmas surrounding the Albanian national question that stemmed from the recognition of the Albanian state with many Albanian territories left outside it more than 100 years ago. And it is clear that Kosovo's independence would not have been possible without the determination of the United States and the leadership of President George W. Bush.

NATO membership is undoubtedly the greatest achievement of modern Albania, the best thing that has happened since the fall of the communist regime. Membership in NATO has strongly linked Albania's present and future with the West. And however warped, long, bumpy the road to real belonging to the West -- with its values ​​of freedom, democracy, development, and peace -- NATO membership has left no room or opportunity for dilemmas. as for the destination. But even Albania's membership in NATO would not be possible without the will of the United States and the leadership of President Bush.

Albanian diplomacy has had some specific times that have seen extraordinary achievements.

In June 2007, during his visit to Tirana, President Bush publicly announced Kosovo's independence and Albania's membership in NATO.

In February 2008, Kosovo declared its independence. The United States, the main sponsor of that independence, was one of the first countries to recognize the new state in the Balkans.

In March 2008, Albania received an invitation to join NATO as a member. In 2009, Albania joined NATO.

And in 2011, Albania achieved another remarkable aspiration with the fall of the visa wall, which opened the possibility for Albanians to visit most of Europe freely.

Basic characteristics of Albania-USA relations

President Bush's visit in 2007 confirmed a basic characteristic of Albania-US relations, however asymmetrical they are and will continue to be: The state of relations is constantly relevant to matters of a strategic nature -- even to determining destinies. of the state and the nation.

Throughout the modern history of the Albanian state, relations with the United States have been either exclusive and privileged, or have not existed at all.

I believe this sounds almost mythical and totalitarian. It is true that the relations between Albania and the United States are mythical in a way in which no one has dilemmas and revisions are not useful, in fact they may be prohibited, as in all mythological narratives.

However, it is time to reflect on the necessity of democratizing studies of Albanian-American relations and therefore the necessity of debunking myths. But as Aphthonius, an enlightened mind of antiquity, said: "Myths are lies that tell the truth."

But what are some of the truths of the myth in Albania-US relations?

President Woodrow Wilson became a myth in the eyes and hearts of Albanians for his pro-Albanian intervention at the very time when the European powers were deciding on the fate and future of an Albanian state. And, in fact, the Europeans were deciding against the existence of an Albanian state in the Balkans.

In 1945, the decision was made not to recognize the communist government that emerged from the December 2 elections. The decision of the communist government of Enver Hoxha to remove the American diplomatic mission in Tirana in the fall of 1946, creating a shocking situation, was the last step to end relations with the West in the most absurd and dark way.

In 1991, the United States made the restoration of diplomatic relations conditional on the recognition and presence of the democratic opposition.

From 1992 onwards, Albania supported the transformation towards a democratic system in its international relations and its national security in relations with the West and NATO, a path led by the United States.

From Ahtisaari's plan to "the time is now"

But the independence of Kosovo is definitely the best case to witness the fundamental characteristics of Albanian-American relations, which, when they existed, were about fundamental things for the nation and the state and their progress.

The United States led an international coalition against the Milosevic regime in Serbia, ending a war whose horrors were very similar to those of World War II.

It was very important that all European powers, including important powers like France, had to overcome the fact that Serbia, as French President François Mitterrand said, had stood by his side in two world conflicts.

But the end of war in international relations does not necessarily mean triumph and establishment of peace.

Eight years after the end of the war in Kosovo, negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo had yielded no results and the temporary peace was expected to turn into a new conflict.

In April 2007, the United Nations special envoy Martti Ahtisaari presented the plan for resolving the status of Kosovo.

The truth is that the Ahtisaari Plan contained the perspective of independence, but of course, to implement that plan, political will was needed in an unfavorable environment in the UN Security Council, but also a lack of enthusiasm among the European allies.

It remains only to speculate today what would have happened and what course the events would take and what would be the fate of Kosovo and the future of the state and its independence if the Ahtisaari Plan was not accepted.

But the fact is that in less than a year, on February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared independence based on the Ahtisaari Plan.

And the implementation of the Ahtisaari Plan, in fact the very independence of Kosovo, became possible with the will and leadership of the United States and President Bush.

"The bottom line is independence ... and the time is now," President Bush told foreign and domestic reporters in Tirana on June 10, 2007.

President Bush publicly rejected in Tirana the idea of ​​an endless dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, which actually maintained a dangerous status quo.

In a way, Washington gently rejected the proposal of a European power to reflect on the future and status of Kosovo at least for a six-month period.

Again, we would speculate if he would try to answer the question of what would have happened if this six-month reflection period had been accepted by Washington.

And if this proposal were accepted, what assurance would there be that another European power could not make a similar proposal.

But the rejection of what President Bush called "endless dialogue" was not only for the opponents of Kosovo's independence, but also for non-opposing and democratic countries and states that were still hesitant for one reason or another.

The United States ended these hesitations by announcing international recognition of the new state.

Finally, the commemoration of President Bush's visit 15 years ago is an opportunity to reflect on the role the United States played in addressing a number of issues related to peace, security and reconciliation in the Balkans.

The determination of the United States and the strategic vision of President Bush ended the status quo in Kosovo.

But regardless of the developments, growth and strengthening of the state of Kosovo, international recognition, the frozen conflict between Serbia and Kosovo still continues in the Balkans.

The United States and EU member states support dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. This is the second period of dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo in more than two decades.

The first period of "Serbia-Kosovo dialogue" was the one that began immediately after the end of the war in 1999, which President Bush called the "endless dialogue".

And as we saw, it was the United States and its President who put an end to this endless dialogue in 2007 in Tirana, declaring the independence of Kosovo.

This is the second period of dialogue organized by the European Union that continues to develop for more than a decade. And what is the essence of the current negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia? The issue of license plates. In the words of Veton Surroi, imagine if almost 25 years after the end of World War II, two great enemies, Germany and France, were still talking about license plates.

Today the question is: Will the United States act a second time to end an absurd and endless dialogue like in 2007 and finally lead to a solution to the frozen conflict?

*This article is adapted from Albert Rakip's speech at a conference of the Council of Albanian Ambassadors, with the support of the Council of American Ambassadors, "The first historic visit of an American president to Albania", in the context of the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of US-Albania diplomatic relations.

The author is the Chairman of the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS).

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