By U.S. Ambassador Yuri Kim
Thirty years ago today, William Ryerson presented his credentials as the first U.S. Ambassador to a newly democratic Albania. Having broken the shackles of communism and dictatorship, the Albanian people extended their hand – in friendship and in freedom – to the American people. The United States grasped that hand with joy, and we have never let go.
In preparing to come to Albania, I met with Ambassador Ryerson to get his perspective and his advice. He told me about the sense of hope that marked 1991, and how moved he was to witness the visit of Secretary of State James Baker. More than 300,000 Albanians – roughly ten percent of the country’s population – gathered at Skanderbeg Square to welcome him – to embrace a new beginning between Albania and America. Ambassador Ryerson remembered standing next to a tall, gruff Albanian policeman and seeing tears rolling down his cheeks when Secretary Baker famously said, “We are with you, and you are with us.” Those words can be seen as a promise we made to each other – a promise that we have kept faithfully for 30 years, an unbreakable bond between democratic, free nations choosing to be partners, choosing to break free from the past to move forward together toward a brighter future.
There have been trials and challenges over the past 30 years, but the United States and Albania have remained side-by-side throughout. We were with you in 1991 as you began your democratic journey. We were with you in 1997 when your democracy was severely tested. We were with you in 1999 to fight injustice and bring peace to the Western Balkans. We were with you in 2009 as you joined NATO, the greatest alliance that has ever existed. We have been with you in your endeavor to take your rightful place as a member of the European Union. We are with you today as you take on difficult reforms to eradicate corruption and ensure every Albanian has a fair chance at prosperity.
Since 1991, the American people have contributed over one billion dollars in assistance to Albania – help strengthen democratic institutions, modernize Albania’s military, develop business, train workers and other professionals, build roads and homes, expand the reach of electricity and clean water, respond to natural disasters, and more. Approximately $160 million of that assistance has gone to improve rule of law, anti-corruption efforts, and law enforcement assistance. Our assistance has directly impacted communities and families throughout this country, bringing America friendship to every corner of Albania.
It is remarkable to take inventory of Albania’s accomplishments in only 30 years – membership in the Council of Europe and NATO, hosting Defender 21, the largest-military exercise in Europe, candidacy for EU accession, and joining the United Nations Security Council in 2022. But we are also with you in this: Albania is capable of so much more. We are with you in your impatience for an Albania that is fairer, stronger, and richer – an Albania where everyone is equal before the law, an Albania that remains strong and sovereign, an Albania where everyone has a fair shot at prosperity.
As many have noted, democracies, including the United States, are ever works in progress. The late U.S. civil rights hero and U.S. Congressman John Lewis wrote, “Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part.” As we celebrate 30 years of renewed diplomatic relations this year and prepare to celebrate next year 100 years since the original establishment of relations between Albania and the United States, let all of us also do our part.
I am confident that just as we have been at each other’s side these past 30 years, we will continue to be with each other to overcome whatever challenges are before us, to seize the opportunities ahead, to move forward, to choose the future.
We are with you, and you are with us!