As I walked with – I love saying Madam Speaker – with Speaker Topalli through the halls, I saw the photographs of your predecessors. So much has happened over the last 100 years, but one thing has been constant: The United States of America has been your friend and your partner, and we are very proud of that. (Applause.)
Our ties have only strengthened and multiplied. And it is not only between our governments, it is between our people. The American and Albanian people share the capacity to demonstrate resilience and resolve. You, like us, have been determined to be free, to build a thriving democracy and a flourishing economy. You, like us, hold a fierce desire to put past struggles behind you and achieve a future of peace and opportunity for all.
I am very grateful for this partnership and our historic friendship, just as I am grateful for the contributions that thousands of Albanians have made to my own country. You know so well that Albanian Americans serve in our government and our armed forces. They are entrepreneurs and teachers, engineers and artists, religious leaders, and they run some of the best restaurants in the world. (Applause.)
Albanian culture is a rich component of American life. I came to know that well as a senator from New York for eight years. And Mr. President, I was deeply honored to receive earlier today the Order of the National Flag. I will forever cherish that. (Applause.) It was yet another symbol of the strong friendship between us.
A hundred years ago this month, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson defended Albania’s independence and stopped your country from being partitioned in the aftermath of World War I. Through the decades that followed, American leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, repeatedly stepped forward to support your rights and your freedoms, not only here in Albania but throughout the region.
I appreciated greatly the kind words of the Speaker about the role that the United States played in quickly reestablishing relations with Albania in 1991 under President George H.W. Bush. And, of course, I was very honored and delighted to once again hear what my husband had done, establishing an enterprise fund. (Applause.) As President, President Clinton did establish an enterprise fund to bring U.S. investment back to Albania, supported democratic elections here, and worked with Albania and our NATO allies to protect Kosovo and restore stability to the region. And then five years ago, President George Bush became the first sitting president to visit Albania. (Applause.) And in 2009, President Obama was proud to welcome you, along with Croatia, as our newest members in NATO.
I am here today at this milestone in your nation’s history with a message for all the people of Albania. The United States stood with you for your first 100 years of independence, and we will stand with you for the next 100, and the 100 after that, and the 100 after that. (Applause.)
As I was sitting in the chair behind me, looking out at all of you and seeing your faces and thinking about your parents and your grandparents and your great-grandparents and all they endured – invasions, occupation, communist dictatorship, severe depravation – it’s hard to believe today that not long ago, Albania was the most isolated country in Europe. You had none of what you have today: political and social freedoms, self-determination, and opportunity. So many Albanians had to leave the families and places they loved to seek those elsewhere.
But you have so much to celebrate now. This jubilee is not just about the past. It is a challenge to what you will become in the future.
Twenty years ago, you were just emerging from the yoke of communism; now, the elected representatives of the people engage in debates and vote openly on the laws of the land, activities that were once impossible.
Back then, your economy was closed, and you have worked hard to open it, to create the conditions for entrepreneurship, trade, and investment, laying the foundation for even better economic opportunity ahead.
Back then, Albania was the land of hundreds of thousands of concrete bunkers, evidence of the mistrust that the communist leaders felt not only toward other nations, but toward their own people. Now you are a valued member of NATO, a valued participant in the International Security Force in Afghanistan, and I express my condolences for the first loss of an Albanian soldier there. And you are moving toward full integration into Europe as you seek accession to the European Union.
This is all grounds for celebration. But I think we all know that Americans and Albanians can never be satisfied. We have to ask ourselves, what more can we do? How much better can we make life for those whom we serve? You cannot stop now. You have the potential to become a model, not just for this region, not just for Europe, but for the world. (Applause.)
And the United States has a great stake in your success. We not only want to see our relationship grow even stronger, we want to see you grow even stronger. (Applause.) We want to see your economy, your democracy be the envy of people everywhere. We fully endorse Albania’s EU aspirations because we think that will make you stronger. It will also be good for Europe, and although we don’t have a vote on that particular membership application, we will tell all who will listen how strongly we support you. (Applause.)
Albania and the Albanian people deserve a place in the European family of nations. That is not only good for you, it will make this continent more peaceful and secure. But in order for that to happen, the next months pose critical decisions for you here in this hall, for your government, and for your people. As a friend and admirer of Albania, there are a few challenges in particular I hope you will meet. They are vital to your long-term progress.
First, please work to ensure that your upcoming elections are free and fair and seen as such by the entire world. That is first and foremost so that the people of Albania can have faith in the results and trust in you as their leaders. It’s also an important signal to the EU that Albania’s politics can function smoothly and without strife. I know many of you are focused on this issue and are taking steps now to put a clear and effective process into place, and I commend you for that.
As someone who has been in politics, and run in very contested elections, and have won some and lost others, I know how hard politics in the modern world can be. (Applause.) And I can also attest to how elections draw the world’s attention, because with Twitter and Facebook and instantaneous communications, you have to assume everything will be known, will be seen, which is good for democracy, but it puts an extra burden on those of us who are leaders. So I urge not only leaders of Albania, but the people, the citizens of Albania, to work hard to make this next election a success that reflects the depth of your commitment to democracy.
At the same time, it’s always important to remind ourselves that consolidating democracy requires more than elections. It requires the rule of law. It requires strong institutions, including an effective and impartial judiciary. It requires openness in government so citizens can hold us, hold leaders, accountable. Attributes like these ensure that democracy delivers concrete results to the people. And when those are subverted, there needs to be accountability.
Secondly, I urge you to tackle the problem that afflicts so many democracies in the world today, namely, corruption. This is a fight every country must wage and win, because all over the world, corruption is a cancer that eats away at societies. It drains resources, it blocks economic growth, it shields incompetent and unethical leaders, and perhaps worst of all, it creates a culture of impunity that saps people of their will to improve their own lives and communities.
There’s no easy to answer to this. It’s as old as human nature. I’m sure if there were an easy answer, the world would have solved this a long time ago. Rooting out corruption demands constant effort and a shared commitment. No matter your party, no matter your differences, I urge all of Albania’s leaders to summon the political will to work together, to confront this threat to your independence.
And that points to the final challenge that I want to raise with you, one that is relevant to everything else I’ve mentioned. For Albania’s democracy to thrive, Albania’s leaders will need to build a culture of cooperation that transcends political differences, what Alexis de Tocqueville, the great historian of America’s early years, termed the habits of the heart. They’re at the core of every successful democracy.
Now, this is a challenge some countries are never able to meet, but I believe Albania can. Now, again, I have personal experience with this. As a Democratic senator, I frequently worked with Republicans across the aisle to solve problems, to deal with issues that affected my state and my country. And you may have noticed that I now serve as Secretary of State for President Obama, my former rival.
People around the world still ask me how can President Obama and I work together every day as partners when we fought so hard against each other. Believe me, I did everything I could to beat him. (Applause.) But he won, and then he asked me to be his Secretary of State. And so when I’m asked how, how can two people who said terrible things about each other, spent tens of millions of dollars advertising against each other, whose supporters were arguing everywhere – (applause) – against each other, how can you two work together? I will tell you it’s a very, very simple answer. We both love our country. (Applause.) And I know there is not an Albanian here who doesn’t love Albania.
So I hope that you, too, can find your way to sincere, sustained cooperation. Hold different political beliefs, believe that you would be a better leader than the other person. That’s what politics is about. You wouldn’t be doing it if you didn’t believe that about yourself. But at the end, putting individual interests and party interests behind national interests is what democratic leaders are called to do. (Applause.)
Although the Albanian people can trace your history back thousands of years, this upcoming period may be one of the most consequential you have faced, as to how you consolidate forever the gift of democracy for future generations. And there are questions that you, and only you, have to ask and answer: Will Albania continue to put into place the building blocks of good governance? Will the leaders continue to earn the people’s trust and ensure that government delivers results? Will you put aside personal and party politics for the good of the country? Will you make reforms that support economic growth by creating opportunities for all Albanians? Will you fight corruption that advantages the few at the expense of the many? Will you continue to do the hard work required to join the European Union, recognizing that it offers a path of lasting peace and progress for your citizens? Will you continue to serve as a model for the region and the world? The religious tolerance present here in Albania is a precious gift. It is hard to find in many places in this region and elsewhere. Cherish it. Use it as another argument in favor of the uniqueness of this great country. (Applause.)
These are tough questions to answer. I don’t come with the answers. I come with the questions. But I also come with a deep sense of confidence in you. (Applause.) And let me say, as you make the tough decisions that are required for your further progress for moving, as you rightly belong, into the European Union, the United States will support you in these difficult decisions. (Applause.) We believe that we’re in this together, the United States and Albania.
We know what kind of world we want for our children and future generations. It is a world of opportunity and tolerance and inclusivity. It is a world of human rights that cover everyone, that give every person the chance to fulfill his or her God-given potential. And as leaders of democracies in the 21st century, it is our solemn obligation to deliver these results for the people who put their faith in us.
I look out at you and I see the future. I believe you will face the challenges and seize the opportunities of the century ahead. And I, for one, will be cheering you on and telling everyone who will listen if you want to see true democracy in action, go to Albania.
Congratulations, and God bless you and God bless Albania. (Applause.)