Walk around the airy streets of the capital Tirana and ask people what they think about the United States, and you will be met with almost uniform responses of admiration, respect and gratitude.
Albanians fell in love with the United States in 1919, when world leaders gathered at the Paris Peace Conference to redesign the world after World War I dismantled the empires that had held sway over much of the planet. President Woodrow Wilson stood up for Albania, stopping a plan to dismember the country and hand the pieces to its neighbors, Italy, Greece and Serbia.
Affection for America grew passionate when Bill Clinton led a NATO operation next door in Kosovo to save ethnic Albanians from a genocidal campaign. Clinton is a superstar in Kosovo and here. Years after that war, George W. Bush visited Tirana. Back then, Tirana’s socialist mayor, Edi Rama, famously declared “Albania is for sure the most pro-American country in Europe, maybe even in the world.” Rama is now Prime Minister.
During the Hoxha dictatorship, religion was forbidden and brutally suppressed. Today, the constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Albanians are proud of their tolerance and coexistence. True, extremism is not completely alien; a number of Albanians have joined ISIS. But extremism is undoubtedly rarer here than in the Middle East or even Western Europe.
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