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Fireworks in the Rain: Albania’s Independence Centennial

9:16 AM, Dec 6, 2012 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Tirana, Albania
On November 28, Albania celebrated the 100th anniversary of its independence from the Ottoman Empire. The small and enigmatic republic had an atrocious history of strict isolation, after World War II, under the Communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha. Its population of three million is described typically as 35 percent Sunni Muslim, 35 percent spiritual Bektashi Sufis, whose creed is derived from Shia Islam, 20 percent Christian Orthodox, and 10 percent Catholic.


The office and bookstore of the official Islamic Community of Albania, representing the Sunnis, are located in the capital, Tirana, on a main street named for George W. Bush. Albanians see no irony in that. They love Bush, who recognized the independence of Kosovo when it was proclaimed in 2008, just as they love Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Bill Clinton. Since the middle of 2011, the village of Fushe-Kruje, which Bush visited in 2007, has been adorned with a monument depicting Bush him in rolled-up sleeves, waving as if to a crowd. (Pristina, the Kosovo capital, named a street for him in 2008.)

Albanians have long memories. On November 21, as part of the independence ceremonies, a statue of Wilson was unveiled in Tirana. Wilson is credited with saving Albania, at the Paris Peace Conference in 1920, from partition by Greece, the former Yugoslavia, and, along its shoreline, Italy. Albanians have repaid their moral debts to the U.S. repeatedly. According to the State Department, “[I]n Iraq, Albania was one of only four nations to contribute troops to the combat phase of Operation Enduring Freedom.” The Albanian Army contingent left Iraq in 2008. Before then, an Albanian-American immigrant, U.S. Army PFC Ervin Dervishi, participated in the capture of Saddam Hussein, and was killed in action on January 24, 2004. The Albanian Army remains in the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, its soldiers fighting alongside U.S. and British personnel.

Although Muslim in demographics, Albania is not an “Islamic” state, much less one aligned with the Arab powers or Iran. On November 16, the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced severely “the (Gaza) missile attack of Hamas and its allies against the state of Israel.”

Still, the Palestinian Authority has diplomatic relations with Albania. Tirana recognized the PA in 1988, under Albanian Communist rule, but never sent an ambassador to the Palestinians. The PA embassy in Tirana protested against the Albanian position on Gaza, complaining that Albania’s attitude was more pro-Israel than that of the U.S. government or the European Union. The leading local daily newspaper Shqip (The Albanian) described Albania as “the country that supports Israel more than any other state in the world.” At the U.N. General Assembly on November 29, Albania was the only Muslim-majority nation to abstain from backing the Palestinian bid for status as a non-member observer.

As one of the few Muslim-majority lands in Europe (Kosovo is another), Albania is courted aggressively by Arab and other Islamist governments. During the independence festivities, dignitaries came from Morocco, Pakistan, Kuwait, and Qatar. Kuwait has committed significant investments to Albanian infrastructure, including construction of major highways. Albania and Kosovo are objects for diplomatic and commercial overtures by the Turkish regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development party, or AKP. Turkey is eager to revive its past dominance over the Balkan region, most of which was under the Ottomans from the 15th century until 1912. Turkey and Albania have sponsored Kosovo for membership in the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.

The U.S. engineering giant Bechtel was joined by the Turkish firm ENKA in a project for a four-lane highway from the Albanian port of Durres on the Adriatic coast across Albania and Kosovo to the border of the latter republic with Serbia. But Kosovo has its own way of dealing with “friendly” Muslim states. The Kosovars have, for example, offered to export wine to Turkey, while Erdogan seeks to curb consumption of alcohol as an element in his project for re-Islamization.

Albanians are caught between Islamic solicitation and secular modernization. At the beginning of December, Albania signed a Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, prohibiting both arranged marriages and so-called “honor” murders.

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