What’s the matter with Albania?

Forget Kansas. Since Dubya has worn out his welcome with all but the hardest of the Hardcore Stupid at home, he now has to seek out his sheeple wherever he can find them:

President George W Bush has become the first US leader to visit Albania, where he enjoyed a hero’s welcome.

The Balkan country is a staunch ally in America’s “war on terror” and Mr Bush met Albanian soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr Bush reiterated his support for the UN’s plan for Kosovo’s independence, adding it was time to “get moving” despite opposition from Russia.


Well, that explains his sudden, bizarre surge in popularity right there. Kosova has been a thorn in Albanian flesh ever since Yugoslavia ate it. This also explains why Russia doesn’t approve of Kosovar “independence” (read: handing it to Albania, thus diluting Russian influence over a patch of dirt which has been under Russian hegemony since before Soviet times.)

More disturbing, however, is the fact that Albania has no solid democratic tradition to fall back on; it went from a monarchy (under King Zog) to Italian fascist hegemony, to Stalinist dictatorship. It has always gone from one brand of authoritarian autocrat rule to another, with a great deal of bloodshed all around, and I seriously doubt whether the elections that followed on Enver Hoxha‘s death changed anything all that much. A glance at the Wikipedia entry on present-day Albania confirms to my mind that it is still in a very weak and unstable phase, in which anything could happen and a great many dubious things already have.

The eagerness of Albanians to embrace a “market economy” by mistake for democracy is not terribly reassuring either. The already great societal discrepancies between the powerful rich and the powerless rest have only widened since the Berlin Wall fell. The lack of alternative thinking, or of civic-mindedness, is the most worrying aspect of all. Albanians are very nationalist, and that is about the only unifying factor I can see; unfortunately, as every fascist of history has ever proved, appeals to nationalism are dangerous and ultimately counterproductive; the interest of the people tends to be subordinated to “whatever is good for the country”–which is slippery to define and varies depending on whose interest is proclaimed as “good for the country”. Capitalism is as bad as Stalinism in this respect; to one, the market is supreme; to the other, the state. Either way, it’s an unhealthy condition that only a strong democracy and civil participation can remedy–and in Albania, both of those things are in short supply.

Right now, Albania is a lonely place. NATO and the EU are both hesitant to incorporate it (although Dubya has been more than happy to exploit it as an “ally” in the War on Terra). And if their government spokesman is to be believed, a staggering 94% of Albanians want in to both. So it’s no wonder the Albanians look to Dubya as some kind of hero, even though he’s actually the least likely American president ever to do anything concrete for them. Unless, of course, there’s a pipeline to be built, a strategic regional outpost to be gained, or oil to be had, in which case he’ll only be nice to them as long as they co-operate with him. The moment they say no, he’ll swap the offer of a carpet of gold for the threat of a carpet of bombs. (Remember Afghanistan? The Taliban’s only sin in Bush’s eyes was that they said no. Osama was never an issue.)

Equally worrisome is how Dubya hasn’t missed a chance to piss off Russia. It began with the highly unpopular missile “defence” boondoggle he’s trying to cram down the throats of the Czechs and Poles, over strong opposition from the people. In point of fact, it’s about as useful as teats on a bull. Some local leaders may like it because they mistakenly think it will bring jobs to the region, but no one else does. And the stated purpose of the shield itself is suspect. In spite of all the noise, there is no hard evidence that Iran actually IS a threatening “rogue state”.

And now there’s this. Bad, bad moves all around.

The Cold War, over? Don’t anyone bet on it. Bush’s imperial ambitions are not dead, and even though he is technically a lame duck, it’s obvious that he can waddle around just fine, quacking his fool head off. After all, impeachment is off the table, and the congressional Dems caved when it came to war funding. To his mind, that’s carte blanche to carry on reigning as a back-door dictator. The emperor may have no clothes, but until he’s stripped of his sceptre and crown, he will never feel truly naked.

It’s unlikely that the Albanians will do anything to contradict that impression. And that is the saddest part of all. Their leaders are so anxious to consolidate their own interests that they will happily suck up to the worst possible man to advance them, and as for the people–well, as usual, who cares what they think? All that matters is that they turn out dressed in tacky Uncle Sam hats, waving flags, and looking enthused. Except for the hats and flags, it might as well be Cold War times all over again. All that’s changed is the face of the Dear Leader being given a hero’s welcome he never deserved.

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