America’s Best Ally in the Balkans

America's Best Ally in the Balkans

By Nikola Kedhi | Monday, 20 June 2022 05:10 PM

Winston Churchill famously said, "The Balkans produce more history than they can consume." It's a region with a rich history, where bloody wars have been waged, injustices have been committed and old Empires have been brought to their knees.

The Balkans are the bridge between east and west, the crossing between different mentalities and the place where many geopolitical interests collide.

More specifically, while the Slavic populations in the area are more inclined towards Russia for historic and cultural reasons, Albania and Kosovo are among the most pro-American countries globally.

The United States played a key part in the early decades of the 20th century in ensuring the territorial integrity of Albania. With the help of several American administrations, Albania managed to keep the territory that it has today, even though important regions were left out and swallowed by its neighbors.

In the 1990s and in the first decade of this century, American presence in the Balkans and in Albania was constructive — even vital.

However, in the past decade, there has been a shift in America’s focus towards other parts of the globe. The Obama administration settled with the notion of "stabilocracy," sacrificing these countries’ domestic democracy for regional stability.

This, as well was perceived meddling in domestic affairs by U.S. bureaucrats and diplomats, favoring specific domestic actors, have massively eroded trust once extant in the United States and even in Albania and Kosovo.

Such meddling and the resultant erosion of turst only serve unltimately benefit our geopolitical adversaries.

There were attempts during the Trump administration, through his envoy Richard Grenell, to change things for the better.

However, it was not enough to undo all the damage done by the previous occupants of the White House.

Until a few months ago, the region seemed destined to a fate of stagnation and authoritarianism, never to change; forever hostage to autocracy.

However, last September, a seed of change was sown in the unlikeliest of places.

In Albania, former prime minister, and president, Sali Berisha, returned to active politics to save the Albanian right and the country from the socialist path it had embarked on.

After arbitrarily being expelled from his party’s parliamentary group by the former Democratic Party chairman, he became the catalyst for a remarkable, genuine, bottom-up movement.

The right-wing electorate, disappointed, discouraged and nearly hopeless, needed this spark of encouragement from their historic leader. The promise of change, conservative ideas and the charisma of Sali Berisha were the formula awakening a movement.

Berisha has long been seen as a charismatic figure, an experienced and wise statesman; respected domestically and internationally.

He has been able to hold off the aggressive neo-communists and protect the Albanian wokring class, as well as the national interest — and individual liberties.

His government from 2005 to 2013, especially in its first term, is seen as the most successful Albania has ever had. He engaged in Reagan-like reforms that decreased poverty, increased employment, and strengthened the middle class.

Thanks to his government’s reforms, Albania joined NATO, liberalized visas with the European Union, and implemented the necessary reforms that opened the accession talks with the European Union.

In his second term, he fought for energy independence, working for a gas pipeline that would help decrease dependence from Russia.

A prosperous and more democratic Albania became a factor of stability in the region and an important American ally. President Bush visited the country in 2007 — a first for a U.S. president.

Subsequently, the Obama administration recognized Mr. Berisha’s anti-corruption reforms.

Then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in 2012 that if "you want to see democracy work, go to Albania."

After he lost the elections in 2013, Berisha ensured a peaceful transition of power and also resigned his post as Chairman of the Democratic Party.

Yet, he continued engaging in a strong opposition against the incoming socialist government.

More than once, even in opposition, he became a decisive factor in stopping the border change attempts in the Balkans — ensuring once again the stability in the region while continuing to fight for democracy domestically.

Unexpectedly, last spring, after eight years og being part of the opposition, without holding any official post or power, Berisha was declared ineligible for obtaining a visa to the United States by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken — the same man who had considered Berisha a champion of anti-corruption when he had been in government.

The former prime minister sued Secretary Blinken for defamation and dared him and others to produce any proof regarding the corruption motive for the non-grata designation.

Since last year, despite several requests by Berisha himself, Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-NY., former DNI acting director Richard Grenell and many journalists, no facts have been presented against Mr. Berisha.

Nevertheless, Berisha seems unbothered by such attacks. He recently won reelection as Democratic Party chairman, has unified the right-wing electorate around him and vows to transform his political force into a true conservative party, despite closeted leftists and mediocre politicians, several of whom, while publicly allied to the former prime minister for personal reasons, continue to sabotage his efforts.

Conservatism is seen as a real chance to embrace change through a new vision that puts the citizens, the national interest, and Albanian families first; cutting taxes, reducing public debt and spending, freer and fairer markets, restoring law and order, fighting corruption, and protecting individual freedoms.

These are all notions which lie at the heart of the American Dream.

Building on what his previous government achieved, using the considerable experience he accumulated in the last 30 years, and offering a new and true conservative vision, he is seen as the best hope for a democratic Albania, standing as an example of freedom in a region inundated with autocracy.

Berisha remains the only leader of a major party in the Balkans to fight for Euro-Atlantic principles, to argue against Russian and Chinese interference, and for liberty and conservatism.

It would be a wasted opportunity for Albania, the Balkans and even the U.S. to abandon the only seed of democratic change in an important region, one so susceptible to the dangerous Russian and Chinese influences.

Such an alliance of values and geopolitical interests between Albania and America will not only deal a big blow to authoritarianism but further stabilize the region and at the same time keep harmful influences at bay. Albanian conservatives have put their faith once again in Berisha. Now, trust in the US should and can be restored in Albania, not by bureaucratic interference, but by showing that America respects and supports those that stand up for freedom, democracy, and patriotism.