U.S. Democracy: A Model for Albania?

Posted by Leigh Rieder
November 12, 2008
Albanian Media Observe U.S. Elections in Tirana

About the Author: Leigh Rieder serves as the Assistant Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tirana, Albania.

Like many former communist countries, Albania is still learning how to implement democracy. We Americans know from experience how difficult implementation can be, because we still make mistakes, despite over 200 years of practice. With that reality in mind, the Public Affairs Section (PAS) held a series of events on the U.S. presidential election to explain various aspects of the election process to Albanian audiences. Electoral reform and the establishment of a reliable voter registry are ongoing challenges here that are impeding the country’s integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. By offering analyses of the U.S. electoral experience, warts and all (think Florida 2000), we aimed to give Albanian policymakers and citizens the benefit of our own hard-won lessons.

We began in late September with a digital videoconference (DVC) featuring noted American University elections expert David Lublin. Representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on election issues, political scientists, and lecturers engaged Lublin in a lively discussion of the U.S. electoral system and how the election results could affect U.S. foreign policy.

In October, we were fortunate to snag journalist Jerry Hagstrom, another well-known elections commentator. Speaking primarily to university audiences, Hagstrom used a video show of TV campaign commercials to analyze the candidates’ strategies in the 2008 election. In the process, he elaborated on the crucial role of the media in modern political campaigns. Both the information he presented and his balanced analysis of it impressed the students, who are only familiar with Albania’s more politicized media.

In the days leading up to November 4, the Ambassador and a small army of embassy officers gave many presentations and TV interviews on the election. They discussed everything from the Electoral College mechanism to the cultural implications of the historic candidacies of Senator Barack Obama and Governor Sarah Palin. To supplement those efforts, Public Affairs downloaded an informational brochure on the candidates provided by the State Department, translated it into Albanian, and distributed copies to all of our contacts. We also had the brochure reprinted in the two highest circulation newspapers in the country two weeks before the election.

Our final event was the “Election Breakfast 2008,” which we co-hosted with the American Chamber of Commerce in Tirana early on November 5. Guests could chat with embassy officers, peruse election materials, or watch the latest CNN coverage of the election results while eating a continental breakfast. We also had a mock voting booth where guests could cast a “ballot” for their favorite candidate. The place was thronged with media, some of whom carried live coverage of our event.

Will the PAS-sponsored election events be the decisive factor in Albania’s electoral reform efforts? No, but they form part of a gathering wave of public awareness of and demand for free and fair elections, valid results, and an orderly transfer of power. The election results demonstrated other important things too, such as the continuity value of a professional civil service that remains in place even as elected officials change. In each of these ways, the 2008 U.S. presidential election provided an excellent example of how a democracy decides on its leaders. We in PAS feel fortunate, not only that we witnessed the historic U.S. elections, but also that the electoral process, in all of its facets, gave our Albanian hosts good food for thought – and action.



Tennessee, USA
November 13, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

This is a very strategic country as far a location and does have untapped natural resources as well. It is needed for peace to occur in that region with the Serbs, etc. A large problem will be the criminal elements which transgress to the U.S. as well as Middle Europe. I don't see how a realistic democracy can be established to be honest as they have no actualization of control now within their government.

The country must realize its importance and I personally believe it simply needs the U.S. as a buffer with Russia right now or to preclude them having to ask Russia for aid and becoming a satellite again. It's simply an appeasement strategy for them.

1. Being seventy percent Muslim, it will be quite an experiment and adds to the doubt, but proximity with Italy may make it more palatiable as it also is their largest trading partner.

2. It is trying to get investments with Iran right now; but, has just signed with Bakin of Canada for nickel and mineral drilling. It is open to International investors it seems. Which is a fine preclude. 13 Nov.: In a meeting with Iran's Ambassador to Albania Ali-Eqbal Zarech, Topi discussed the latest regional developments as well as the issues about the Balkans and Kosovo. It would be better if the U.S. were part of infastructure developement and not Iran. Why would they even look there unless it is a form of leverage, that would support the appeasement aspect.

3. It seems the only realistic form of democracy to come out of them will be related to Capitalism, as it works with less barriers under a democratic state.

They know they may not avoid staying out of the game at this point...

Texas, USA
November 13, 2008

Sam in Texas writes:

It will be interesting to see how the Albania political landscape forms over the next 10-20 years.

Great blog.

November 13, 2008

John in Greece writes:

After 1991 Albania had a great development in all socio-economic and political levels. There is no doubt that U.S.A. helped and inspired all these changes.

Please consider the fact that before their first democratic elections in 1991, Albania was the poorest and most politically depressed place in Europe including ex-Soviet democracies. Today they are doing fine and they keep on making things better day by day. Of course there a lot of more to be done and I wish they will.

I know from many immigrant Albanian friends of mine here in Greece that the role, stance and aid of the United States in developing Albania was vital and the overwhelming majority of the People there really love America.

Of course U.S. Democracy must be their only one model! And the good parameter is that since they are pro-America they can more easily proceed with the necessary "adaptations".

When I"m referring to U.S. Democracy I mean the theoretical base, Amendments and ideas of the American political system. Obviously, they cannot have exactly the same federal platform (practically), since they do not have the same "sizes" (population/ geographical area etc.). But they can surely "adopt" and create upon these adaptations working on a tailor-made basis.

I also agree with Joe in TN:
1. about the "criminal elements", but I think that they work toward this direction too (they are a bit slow though).
2. about the "fanatic Muslims", thank God they are not so much religion fanatics and we have to admit that they have done a lot in order to fight global terrorism (troops to Afghanistan and Iraq etc.)
3. I wish (for their good) that they won't play a "double" game and turn around to Russians or... their best ex-friends Chinese.

I wish that they will keep on driving only ONE-WAY: WEST!

Tennessee, USA
November 13, 2008

Jake in Tennessee writes:

Great! Another U.S. aligned nation to help ensure the open doors of the drug trade. The U.S. will go through any means to ensure that drugs continue to flow to the U.S. and the U.S. can capitalize on the drug trade to infringe of the rights of its people.

November 13, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ Jake in Tennessee -- You are absolutely right concerning the "Albanian Drug mechanism". Unfortunately, it's not only a huge intermediate station, but also a big "factory". They also "grow" drugs?

(However, this has nothing to do with our topic.)

However, your point is an interesting path for a further added-comment of mine (I hope of an "added debate value").

I absolutely agree with you Jake, concerning Drugs and Albanian Mafia in general -- which I'm sure that is obviously linked to ex-KGB, that is today's Russian Mafia worldwide. All of which is a real bad domino. Let's call it the "ex-Communists' Mafia".

There is no doubt, Albania MUST cooperate with DEA and international police in general. And this is another ONE-WAY they have to follow as long as they want to become part of our west society.

November 13, 2008

Sophie in China writes:

In Beijing the US Embassy and AmCham put on a series of events meant to inform regarding the election process. I particularly enjoyed the 'Mock Debate' as it provoked lively discussion and highlighted many of the issues particularly relevant to those of us living in China.

I look forward to having the opportunity to participate in future educational seminars like the ones in Beijing and Albania, more often than not I come away with new knowledge and insight myself!

New Mexico, USA
November 14, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

The Dept of State has this video contest "Democracy is...." and in the case of our recent election I think it is self evident that America has the ability to inspire by example.

We've certainly lent blueprints to those we've liberated to be able to build their own democracies with the building materials they have to work with. But this sharing of of an idea never was intended to have another nation's democratic aspirations manifest exactly like ours. Democracy exists in many forms and structure, and its form must be chosen freely by the people as they ratify a constitution.

But what is Democracy?

Essentially it is an idea put to motion by people willing to plant the seeds of social change.

And in this context, this following film may serve as a beautiful metaphor for the transformation of societies that have endured the wasteland of tyrany, and what is possible.




Latest Stories

October 25, 2010

DipNote: The Week in Review

Writing for the U.S. Department of State DipNote blog, DipNote Editor Ruth Bennett summarizes the blog content from the previous… more