Albania was the only country of Europe which, at the time of the Helsinki Final Act was negotiated, chose not to participate in the diplomatic process and was therefore not part of the original focus of the Helsinki Commission focus. This changed dramatically once the country began to express interest in becoming a participating and re-establishing ties with the United States as the Cold War was ending in 1990.
A Helsinki Commission delegation to Albania in 1990 was the first U.S. Government agency visit to the country since relations were severed in 1946 and predated the actual re-establishment of bilateral relations by approximately six months. The Helsinki Commission organized congressional delegation visits again in 1991 and 1994. Commission staff have observed every parliamentary election in Albania since the first ones were conducted on a multi-party basis in 1991, and the Co-Chairman at the time, Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL) joined the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly observation team for the June 2009 elections.
Early visits as well as high-profile Commission hearings and briefings on Albania in Washington in the last two decades have given the Helsinki Commission more prominence within Albania than most of the other countries it follows, and the Commission’s views were considered vital to the decision to extend OSCE membership to Albania in 1991. The Commission’s role is further enhanced by Albania’s strongly pro-American sympathies based on U.S. support for Albania’s statehood a century ago, more recent support for Kosovo the ongoing work of Voice of America, and the activism of the Albanian-America community.
Albania has made considerable strides since 1990 and is now a NATO ally, but the Commission has remained particularly concerned over the continued lack of respect for the rule of law and the related tolerance of official corruption and organized crime. For example, Albania has been both a major source- and transit-country for human trafficking. Despite significant efforts, there is little confidence that Albania’s electoral process leads to results that could be considered as meeting the OSCE’s free and fair standards. While the media is largely free, very little of it is considered to be objective and independent from political forces. Civil society organizations can gain little following in such a divided atmosphere, and their members are often vulnerable to cooption by leading political parties.
Ethnic Albanians have a mix of Muslim (70%), Eastern Orthodox (20%) and Roman Catholic (10%) religious and cultural heritage, but very much in contrast see themselves as being of same Albania nationality despite these differences. This has allowed for considerable religious freedom and openness to outside faiths including those brought by American evangelicals. Some analysts have raised concern about a “Greater Albania,” but nationalist sentiments can be more commonly found in the Albanian populations of the countries of the former Yugoslavia – such as Kosovo, Macedonia, southern Serbia and Montenegro – than in Albania itself.
Staff Contact: Bob Hand, senior policy advisor