Artikulli i “The Guardian” (UK) – Welcome to Albania
We may be smug about the EU in the west, but for the troubled Balkans it offers a vision of hope…
Where on earth, would 88% of a nation’s citizenry want to join us (and Herman Van Rompuy) in the world’s least welcoming club? Steam straight past Brussels and head south. We’re going to Albania, because it tells us something slightly shaming about ourselves – and our smug insularity.
Albania? Economy up this year (by 2%) while most of the world slumped back. Political system on turbulent hold since a June general election so tight that the Socialist losers are still boycotting parliament, filling the streets of Tirana with protests last weekend. But it finally got formal permission to negotiate EU entry last week. The final reward for years of effort may only be a couple of years away (with that 88% support driving on).
When you hear Albania’s president, Bamir Topi, outline his “vision”, it lies at the end of the yellow brick road to Brussels. And when you visit Tirana after a few years away, there’s a new airport, a new motorway into town, streets lined with shops, cafes on every corner, monster blocks of flats obliterating the skyline. Only the potholes remain the same.
There’s an energy and a sense of progress here that catches you by the throat. A small, impoverished country with an improbable Stalinist history is turning its 17 years of freedom into something remarkable. Graft, and assorted deadly sins? Of course. The car parks are stuffed with Mercedes Benz. But that’s only part of a saga that includes resilience, kindness and great good humour, too. If this is the 28th or 29th state of the union, then there’ll be something to celebrate: the continuing power of an idea that we, immured too deep in tabloid ignorance, have lost the imagination to embrace.
What do the 88% see when they look around? A Greece anxious to get Albania in. A succession of visits and speeches from Foreign Office dignitaries – David Miliband, Glenys Kinnock – that look forward to an expanded union. And trouble, north, south, east and west.
Croatia and Slovenia have endured a damaging spat over coastline rights. Bosnia is back at the top of the Balkan instability league as its bureaucratic balances begins to unravel. Serbia, under a more sentient president, is still threatened by that old, black-hearted nationalism from within – and Kosovo is an ethnic disaster waiting to happen. Chuck in two fractious toddlers – Macedonia, Montenegro – and everyone fears a region sinking back into distrust and retribution.
Talk to witnesses from round the Balkans and the EU is the first answer on their lips. Make us more secure. Give us a settled fabric for trade and aid. Help us to feel something more than an agglomeration of spare parts stuck on the end of a continent. And let us feel that if we make the progress you require, it will be rewarded.
And that’s a reason to look across the 1,200 miles from Tirana to London and quake. You’d suppose, from all the dismal dumping on an “unelected” Cathy Ashton, that EU foreign policy is meaningless vacuity. (Whoever elected Henry Kissinger or Condoleezza Rice?) But the foreign policy that matters most to all of us involves stability close to home and relations around our borders.
Can that stop at Calais? A bad joke in a month when the first world war that started in Sarajevo is remembered at a Cenotaph strewn with poppies. An insult to the British troops who help keep fragile peace in Kosovo and Bosnia. An illusion that blanks out the amazing lessons of European life since the Berlin Wall came down. It’s a shrug and a snub to a world that wants to draw closer.
A union of 34 countries or more? It’s coming, through a veil of sneers. And if you still need a battered vision to cherish, come to Skanderbeg Square, Tirana, and find a little hope among the potholes.