"Friendship of Trump's US is far from essential for Albania"

"I recognize the reluctance of the EU to admit another member (contiguous with Greece) that could wind up as a financial burden on the Union. But for EU members to view Albania from that perspective is to miss a critical difference. The Albanian people, from my experience, have a work ethic and will to succeed utterly unlike anything that might be found in Greece or indeed in most other current EU member nations," says David A. Andelman, Editor Emeritus of New York- based World Policy Journal where he served for seven years as editor and publisher of the 35-year-old global affairs magazine published by the World Policy Institute.

Genc Mlloja Source: Albanian Daily News

This interview was originally published by Albanian Daily News

In an exclusive interview with Albanian Daily News on July 14, Mr. Andelman, a veteran New York Times and CBS News correspondent, who is now a member of the board of contributors of USA Today and columnist for CNNOpinion, President Emeritus of Overseas Press Club of America, Member of Board of Governors of The Silurians, etc., expressed his views on the June 25 general elections in Albania, its great anxiety to integrate itself even more closely with the EU and NATO, Albania's years of communist rule, which he knew well from his days in Belgrade with The New York Times. In a comment on the Trieste Summit of July 13, according to him, the Berlin Process is an interesting idea for a Western Balkan Community, and as he put it "the negatives in this equation are more atmospheric and hypothetical".

Mr. Andelman hoped for a growing comity between Albania and Serbia that has all too often been absent in the past. "That will certainly be a plus going forward, particularly as both seek to move closer to membership in the European Union," he said adding: "Ethnically as well as politically and geographically, Serbia and Albania share so many strengths. It would be good if the stronger personal ties between the leaders of these two nations (Aleksandar Vucic and Edi Rama) to which I personally feel so close can now deepen with time."

Speaking of the relations between the United States and Albania, the veteran analyst believed that with respect to so many issues that are critical to the immediate and future advancement of Albania, the friendship of Trump’s America is far from essential given how he is viewed by most of the leading members of the EU and their intense interest in developing new trade and strategic alliances without the participation of the United States.

Albanian Daily News: In the first place, Mr. Andelman we thank you very much for sharing your views with the readers of Albanian Daily News. We would value your opinions on developments in Albania, which you visited before the general polls of 2013. The visit you and your wife Pamela paid at that time to the Headquarters of Albanian Daily News, where you were received by the Executive Director, Mrs. Anisa Skendaj, and the exchange of views we had on various issues, are unforgettable becoming a solid basis for the ongoing mutual cooperation between World Policy Journal and Albanian Daily News. At the time, the Socialist Party, in coalition with the junior ally, the Socialist Movement for Integration, won overwhelmingly on the strength of many electoral promises, at least some of which have not been observed. Nevertheless, on June 25 this year, the Socialists emerge from their re- election efforts as the sole winner, 74 seats in the 14- member parliament. Why do you believe Albanian voters in a low turnout of around 46 percent, gave them a second mandate?

David Andelman: This result has certainly bucked the trend in much of Western Europe and North America in the past year, where the idea of a dramatic break with the past seems to have taken hold with a vengeance. It also seems to have run counter to the shift, at least in the United States, to a sort of populist- nativism and move to the right that has marked so many political contests. I suspect that there may be several forces at play here in the Socialists’ overwhelming victory. First, I know that the Albanian people pay very close attention to developments in the United States and more closely in Western Europe. Donald Trump, particularly, has hardly served as a constructive example for dramatic change and his example only continues to suggest the need for a very prudent choice if an electorate is going to opt for a dramatic shift to a party out of power.

I am confident that there are internal dynamics as well that played an important role in the electorate’s decision to give an overwhelming mandate to the Socialists. They now have no excuse for failing to make good on campaign pledges or their program that the electorate appears to have given overwhelming support.

- Opposition Democratic Party achieved its lowest result ever since its foundation when pluralism was allowed in Albania winning 44 parliamentary seats. What led that party to such a low result losing even in its strongholds in northern parts of Albania?

- Again, I suspect that much has to do with the belief by the electorate that these parlous times are not the moment to change the captain in mid-voyage. I know that Albania is very anxious to integrate itself even more closely with the European Union and NATO and I suspect that the geographical closeness of the northern regions of Albania to the EU and bordering NATO allies may have played at least some role in voters’ decisions.

- Mr. Andelman, in your opinion, what are the reasons of the break-up between SP and SMI, two left-wing parties, and the likeliness of a rapprochement of Mr. Edi Rama with DP's Lulzim Basha? How far can the Rama-Basha deal reached on June 17 go, and might there be a broad SP-DP governance?

- I am reluctant to comment on a political action that is so deeply buried internally in the complex inner dynamics of Albania’s party system. Suffice it to say that any number of Socialist and left-wing parties in the West, particularly in France, have found themselves casting around for a new structure with which to appeal to a shrinking electoral base. I suspect that these forces may have played an important role in these new alliances in Albania as well.

- You are a seasoned connoisseur of Albania having covered its developments when you were based in Belgrade. Despite its small size and population, but rich in natural resources and tourist attractions, it remains the poorest country in Europe. Which are, according to you, the causes of such a continuous 'curse'? Is it a legacy of the rigid communist rule until 1992?

- The years of communist rule, which I knew well from my days in Belgrade with The New York Times, certainly provided a weak foundation for future development. With an industrial infrastructure that had scarcely evolved from the immediate World War II era, the new capitalist nation of Albania needed to start from scratch to build the kind of economy and businesses that could compete in the modern world. Clearly, it is still struggling to meet these challenges.

But rather than a curse, Albania should look at this as an opportunity to develop in a host of areas that would tie it more closely to international trade and commerce and provide ever stronger incentives for direct foreign investment in Albanian industries and agriculture.

- Albania is an EU candidate member country. Recently, the US Assistant Deputy Secretary of State, Hoyt Yee, said that Albania might join the block after 30 years. But the delay of Brussels to its accession process has prompted PM Rama to speak often of other alternatives in front of such a situation. What is your opinion?

- I would hate to see Albania drift in the direction of Turkey with respect to its membership in the EU- for a host of most compelling reasons. First, geopolitically, Albania is very much the anchor of Europe, as was recognized by its accession to NATO and its command of the eastern Mediterranean as well as its dominant position in the Balkans, sandwiched between EU members Greece and two former components of Yugoslavia—Croatia and Slovenia.

I recognize the reluctance of the EU to admit another member (contiguous with Greece) that could wind up as a financial burden on the Union. But for EU members to view Albania from that perspective is to miss a critical difference. The Albanian people, from my experience, have a work ethic and will to succeed utterly unlike anything that might be found in Greece or indeed in most other current EU member nations. Moreover, rewarding Albania with membership would fill a critical piece into the jigsaw puzzle that is Europe, effectively completing the puzzle rather than, as would be the case with Turkey, expanding the Union into an entirely new puzzle with a host of unimaginable (or perhaps perniciously unmanageable) problems.

Finally, I would take any comments from Mr. Yee very much with a grain of salt. First, he is a holdover from the Obama administration and under President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is very much living on borrowed time. Second, his previous service in Greece, Croatia and Montenegro has no doubt seriously colored his impressions of Albania, with little or no firsthand experience. Finally, in the end and especially in this Trump administration, the view of the United States or any American official will carry less weight in deliberations of the Union with respect to Albania’s future direction or membership prospects. To the contrary. You may even view with considerable skepticism the ill-informed and possibly quite ill-intentioned comments of any individual such as Mr. Yee as a powerful argument for expediting Albania’s progress toward entry into the European Union.

- The Berlin Process Initiative for the six Western Balkan countries (WB 6) had a new development in Trieste, Italy, on July 12 the fourth Summit of this group was convened. Do you think that such a process can help tranquilize the regions since many analysts believe that the ongoing political disputes should be resolved by the regional countries themselves? Is it possible to envision the establishment of a common market in the region populated by 20 million people, as well as a new vehicle to bring peace and concord to the region scheme?

- An interesting idea for a Western Balkan Community and I would think in some quarters not an unwelcome idea. Let’s examine the pros and the cons. On the plus side, there is the quite admirable objective of bringing closer together, into Europe, several nations that still find themselves with their noses pressed against the glass of the EU, frustrated by their failure to win admission. Indeed, while few of these countries (even Albania) may yet be economically prepared to become a member of the European currency zone and taking on the Euro as its currency, there are a host of reasons why they should become a part of the broader Europe, its political, regulatory and security framework, especially since they are already members of the NATO politico-military alliance.

With the United States and a soon to be Brexited United Kingdom, not to mention China and Japan looking to establish bi-lateral trade agreements with blocks of nations rather than individually one-by-one, a WB6 might be an important step toward developing a robust international trade component of the economies and production systems of these six countries, particularly Albania. The negatives in this equation are more atmospheric and hypothetical. Such a group could be taken by members of the European Union as a challenge to its supremacy on the European continent and resented, even competed against. Hopefully these larger nations will not be quite as myopic as this and more generally receptive to the rapid economic development of this corner of Europe and strengthening of its members that a WB6 community could represent.

- As a follow up, the EU sponsored dialogue between Serbia and its former province Kosovo have restarted. Do you think that with Mr. Aleksandar Vucic as the new President in Belgrade, known for his amicable relations with Albania's PM Edi Rama, as well as his efforts to promote a dialogue between Serbs and Kosovars, can represent a more positive trend?

- One can only hope for a growing comity between Albania and Serbia that has all too often been absent in the past. That will certainly be a plus going forward, particularly as both seek to move closer to membership in the European Union. Development of stronger and closer economic as well as political ties can only strengthen both nations and promote their growth and development. Ethnically as well as politically and geographically, Serbia and Albania share so many strengths. It would be good if the stronger personal ties between the leaders of these two nations to which I personally feel so close can now deepen with time. (You will recall, as mentioned above, that I served as East European bureau chief for The New York Times
and lived for nearly three years in the late 1970s in Belgrade, covering both Serbia and what I could of Albania, though at the time I was personally barred from admission to Albania by Enver Hoxha!

- Mr. Andelman, Albania and its people consider the United States as its main strategic ally. Undoubtedly, it has historically supported them. There was an 'incident' during the US presidential electoral campaign when Albania's PM Rama was harshly critical of Mr. Donald Trump in a CNN interview. What do you think of Mr. Rama's stance at that stage of the US presidential electoral campaign and can it influence on the bilateral relations between the two countries when Mr. Trump is in the White House?

- Sadly, Donald Trump is not one to forget those he perceives as his enemies or to remember those he views as his friends. Fortunately, however, he has quite a short attention span, especially if Albania can manage to extend some gesture of friendship toward Mr. Trump and especially to the United States. The case of the United States and France is quite pertinent and immediate, particularly in view of the recent Bastille Day visit to France by Mr. Trump on the invitation of President Emmanuel Macron. Both seemed to have developed a strong personal relationship, though I strongly suspect, and have written elsewhere, that the real underlying motivation for this invitation by the French president was to cement his own position as the central leader of the European Union.

That said, with respect to so many issues that are critical to the immediate and future advancement of Albania, I suspect that the friendship of Trump’s America is far from essential given how he is viewed by most of the leading members of the EU and their intense interest in developing new trade and strategic alliances without the participation of the United States.

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