EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the August 8, 2005, issue of National Review.
Tirana, Albania–Years ago, the columnist Charles Krauthammer joked about what he called “the Tirana Index.” This was a way of measuring how unfree a country was. For example, election returns out of this capital would tell us that the Communist dictator, Hoxha, had received 98.6 percent of the vote. (You had to wonder about the other 1.4 percent.) The greater a dictator’s vote, the more unfree the country was. That was the Tirana Index. Of course, Saddam Hussein, in Iraq, improved on Hoxha by securing a full 100 percent of the vote.
They don’t do things like that in Albania anymore. I am in this country with a group monitoring elections. It is headed by Congressman Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, who is America’s foremost politician on Albanian affairs. This is his fifth visit to the country; he will undoubtedly make more. He has long been concerned about Albanians wherever they live: be it in Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, or Albania itself. This is of a piece with his general commitment to human rights. He observes that, if Bill Clinton can be “the first African-American president,” he, Engel, ought to be the first Albanian-American congressman.
He has with him a delegation from the National Albanian-American Council, which includes men and women born throughout the Albanian diaspora. They have prospered in America, and wish to help less fortunate people in their ancestral lands. They lend political support, make business investments. They are proud, and in some cases amazed, to see Albania spring back to life. . .
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