Last week the Albanian American Civic League, at the request of the new Albanian government of Prime Minister Sali Berisha, brought Deputy Foreign Minister Edith Harxhi, to meet with Members of the U.S. House and Senate in what turned out to be a highly successful foray in expanding the contacts and impact of the Albanian government in Washington. The plan for the Washington trip was shaped in Tirana last July, when Joe and Shirley DioGuardi flew to Albania at the request of Sali Berisha. Subsequently, the DioGuardi’s met with Albanian Ambassador to the United States Aleksander Sallabanda and DCM Kreshnik Collaku.
Beginning with a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Edith Harxhi described herself as a member of the young generation of professionals educated outside of Albania that Berisha called back to service in their homeland. She spoke about the hope for a better future that has come to Albania with the return of Berisha and the steady fulfillment of Berisha’s campaign promises to end corruption and illegal trafficking. After just one year, Albania is no longer listed by the UN Drug Enforcement Administration as a transit point or originator of illegal trafficking of drugs, arms, and human beings. In order to stop human trafficking, the Berisha government has placed a moratorium on the use of speed boats in the Adriatic Sea. In an effort to fight corruption and organized crime, the government has passed legal reforms and also established a “green line” to the prime minister’s office that citizens can use to anonymously report incidents of bribery and other illegal activities.
Harxhi said that for the first time in fifteen years a budget will go to the parliament in October, and it will include substantial investment in public works and roads. The Berisha government is also making serious efforts to attract credible investors in the areas of infrastructure development, energy, tourism, and agriculture, which now include Bechtel, Lockheed Martin, GE, and several Israeli firms. To make it easier for foreign investors to invest in Albania (and in response to a suggestion made by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher during his trip with the Civic League to Albania in August 2005), the Berisha government has removed the income tax on copyrights and patents. The government also plans to institute a program called “Albania-One Euro,” which will enable foreign investors to begin the privatization process for government-owned property at a cost of one euro after demonstrating the ability to make a financial commitment to develop it soon. Finally, Harxhi stressed Albania’s pro-Western, pro-American, and pro-democratic orientation, which the Berisha government hopes to solidify through the admission of Albania to NATO in 2008.
Harxhi demonstrated the Berisha government’s concern not only for the political,
economic, and social future of Albania, but for the future of Albanians throughout the
Balkans. She spoke forcefully in support of Kosova’s independence at the National Press
Club and throughout her visit to Washington, stating that Kosova’s independence is an expression of the free will of the Kosovar people and is essential for bringing lasting peace and security in Southeast Europe. She said that independence should not be delayed and that Kosovars have demonstrated for seven years since war’s end that they deserve independence.
Albania’s historic link to the Jewish community was another important topic of Edith Harxhi’s meetings in Washington. In addition to the unique role that Albania played in saving Jews during the Holocaust, she emphasized the fact that Jews have lived in Albania for centuries. Both Harxhi and the DioGuardis spoke about Albanians as a model for peace and tolerance in Southeast Europe—not, a potentially terrorist Muslim force in the heart of Europe, as many in the Belgrade government have been insisting.
Edith Harxhi, the DioGuardis, and members of the Executive Committee of the Albanian American Civic League Board of Directors met with Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) and his senior foreign policy advisor Kay King, Congressman John Sweeney (R-NY), Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Tomicah Tilleman, staff director for Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY).
In a special ceremony inside the U.S. Capitol, the Civic League gave their 6 th annual Balkans Peace Award to Senators Schumer and John McCain (R-NY) in honor of their historic support for Kosova’s independence and their recent introduction of S.Res. 521, a bill that commends Albania for saving every Jew who lived in Albania or who sought asylum there during the Nazi Holocaust. In his remarks, Senator Schumer called the bill a “long overdue recognition of Albania and of Albanians for their history of tolerance and heroism during the Holocaust.”
Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi
Balkan Affairs Adviser
Albanian American Civic League
September 20, 2006