During the late 20th century, in the wake of the defeat of Communism and the dissolution of Yugoslavia, triumphalism trumpeted throughout the West. Francis Fukuyama heralded “The End of History” — a new world order where freedom, peace and democracy would reign supreme.
History did not end. Wars broke out, as the newly fashioned Russian Federation strained to emerge while keeping some semblance of empire. Soon following was the bloody dismemberment of Yugoslavia amid the Balkan Wars.
Mercifully, with the direct aid and assistance of the United States, European Union and others, Southeast Europe’s new countries joined the Westphalian nation-state system. Out of the ashes of war emerging democracies were forged, with names like Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Slovenia.
Before them, however, there was Albania, a small mountainous country on the eastern coast of the Adriatic, known to the ancients as Illyria. Forcibly Islamized by the Ottomans in the 15th century, Albania today is majority-Muslim, but mostly secular. The country has come to be regarded as an important member of the NATO alliance, and is a candidate to join the European Union.
Today, the economic, political and security vigor of Southeast European states is at risk due, in part, to the gigantic refugee wave.
Recently, in a discussion with an EU commissioner on migration, home affairs and citizenship, Speaker of Albanian Parliament Ilir Meta, who is planning to visit Washington this month, commented: “This crisis will continue until violence ends in countries of origin. The more distance between the country of origin and the country of asylum, the less likely a refugee will ever return home. Massive and uncontrolled refugee waves can have long-term negative repercussions. The threat of militants infiltrating Europe is real. Paris was clear evidence .”
Mr. Meta, one of Albania’s most influential politicians both at home and throughout the region, began his career leading a brave student movement against communism, one credited with bringing political pluralism to Albania. As prime minister, foreign minister and speaker of Parliament, Mr. Meta gained a reputation for his reformist views, and for his deep dedication to Euro-Atlantic integration.
Currently, Albania suffers from radical Islamist influences, however less than that of other states of Southeast Europe such as Bosnia and Kosovo. In each, a small part of the indigenous Muslim population, following the transition from former autocratic socialism, is seeing a regression to these archaic forms of Islam. In addition, each has dealt with foreign Islamist forces, including Wahhabis, attempting to “educate” local Muslims about their extremist brand, building mosques, providing public services, making investments, all to otherwise build influence.
Mr. Meta says the Europeans must be on guard against the real threat that terrorists will infiltrate refugee flows in order to enter Europe: “We are preparing and strengthening abilities to register and vet individuals who might enter our country, but greater intelligence sharing and law enforcement cooperation and support from the EU is needed .”
The challenges faced by Albania notwithstanding, thanks to leaders like Mr. Meta, the nation has emerged as a democratic Muslim-majority state that is dedicated to the rule of law, secularism and modernity. Thus, it is a great asset for the U.S., EU and NATO foreign policy.
Albania’s economic future looks bright. In addition to an increasingly diversified economy based on agriculture, it is a key participant in the Southern Gas Corridor, a strategic energy project originating in Azerbaijan’s massive Shah Deniz field in the Caspian Sea that will soon provide a pivotal alternative to politically fraught energy dependence on Russia.
The building of the Southern Gas Corridor will bring to Albania much needed tax revenue, energy transit fees and most importantly, jobs, all leading to an increased standard of living. In addition, Albania recently made moves to privatize a good deal of its domestic energy sector to attract foreign investment in the exploration and development of the nation’s estimated 40 million tons of proven oil and gas reserves.
These and other economic projects coupled with Mr. Meta’s and his colleague’s steadfast devotion to the rule of law and reforms, including the government’s increasingly effective tackling of domestic drug trade, makes Albania’s future seem more auspicious. It is the responsibility of more established nation-states to mentor the newcomers. Albania’s expedited EU admission is on the agenda.
The United States should be developing a coherent strategy vis-a-vis the wars in the Middle East and the refugee migration. “Only the great powers can resolve this spiraling humanitarian disaster. The U.S. must lead international efforts for a solid and lasting solution in the conflict countries,” Mr. Meta says.
Albania, situated in the migrants’ path, needs U.S. support in intelligence, border protection, law enforcement and economic and judiciary reform. It also needs America to speak for it when its voice in Brussels is drowned in a gaggle of 27 other members. Speaker Ilir Meta should find Washington friendly and supportive — not out of the goodness of its heart, but because it is in the U.S. national interest to strengthen its alliance with Albania.
• Jason Katz is the principal of TSG, LLC and the former head of public affairs and public relations for the American Jewish Committee.