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McCain's Edge in Albania

By Patrick O’Brien

Obama would probably be the clear victor if the American election were held in Europe. But in little Albania, McCain would probably win.

Albanians tend to view both candidates through the double lens of support for Kosovar independence and support for Albania's integration into Western institutions. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February, but the new state's struggle for legitimacy is far from over. Since both Albania and Kosovo are predominantly ethnic-Albanian, the Albanian government has been the staunchest supporter of their "brethren in Kosovo".

In such a light, McCain's tougher reputation and- more importantly - his history of supporting Albanians (especially for his support of the bombing of Belgrade in '99) make him seem the more likely candidate to ensure that Kosovo remains independent.
The political landscape of the Albanian-American immigrant community is one indicator for this (admittedly close) hypothetical race. Former Republican Congressman Joe DioGuardi, who has Albanian roots, is the founder of the Albanian American Civic League and has long been the most prominent voice of the Albanian diaspora He makes no secret of his support for the McCain campaign. Meanwhile, current Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel of the Bronx, representing perhaps the largest Albanian-American constituency, has become a strong advocate for Albanian causes. He supports Obama. However, not only does DioGuardi have the stronger network to connect to Albanian-American voters at large, but Obama also has difficulty overcoming his carefully crafted image as a dove among people who want someone tough in the White House to counter Serbian and Russian influence in the Balkans.

Besides supporting the Albanians in Kosovo, McCain is also perceived to be the better candidate to push for Albania's more pressing issue - integration into the West. It was under the current Republican administration that Albania was recently extended an invitation to join NATO in April, and McCain was one voice in the Senate that had been calling for a "NATO Renaissance", to include the addition to the alliance of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia. Of course, there were plenty of Democrats who joined the call, but Obama was never particularly vocal about this issue until recently after Albania had already been invited to join NATO. Also, Albanians' affinity for Bill Clinton would have meant something for the Democrats given a Hillary candidacy, but many Albanians still feel slighted by her upset.

The characterization of being unsupportive to Albanian causes is perhaps not fair to Obama, but is due to his own campaign statements: "Serbia and its people have also suffered terribly over the past two decades" was interpreted in the Albanian broadcast media as a "pro-Serb" comment. The implication is that someone who is "pro-Serb" must, ipso facto, be "anti-Albanian". Such false dichotomies (so widespread in Balkan politics) are enough to lead many Albanians to conclude that Obama would not be as supportive of their causes as would McCain. Similarly, Illinois governor Rod Blagojevic, a Serbian-American who as a Congressman in the 90s had naturally opposed the bombing of Serbia, may have weakened Obama's support from Albanians by endorsing him [link in Albanian].

Obama has recently attempted to strengthen his "pro-Albanian" credentials by giving essentially the same position as McCain - unambiguously defending the territorial integrity of Kosovo and supporting Albania's accession to the EU. But the damage was already done. Essentially, both parties and both candidates equally share the same supportive views of the issues important to Albanians - reinforcing Kosovo's independence and encouraging Albania's integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. But to Albanians, what is important is not only what the candidate says, but with how much intensity he says it.

If you ask most Albanians, they love both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush - the first for his campaign against "ethnic cleansing", the other for his leadership in support of an independent state of Kosovo. Given their affinity for America, Albanians would follow the next American president - Republican or Democrat - literally into battle, as they continue to do in Iraq and Afghanistan. But whereas most Europeans are tired of a hawk in the White House, a little toughness suits the Albanians just fine.

Patrick O'Brien is a graduate student in the Russian and Eurasian Studies program at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Bologna Center in Italy.
He previously served two years as a volunteer with Peace Corps Albania.

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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

Comments (6)

ccschroeder Author Profile Page:

Strong analysis, Pat. As we know well, McCain would be the winner if little Albania could vote. There is a false impression among many Albanians that Obama is 'pro-Serb' and there is also openly expressed racial prejudice.

There is indeed an unscientific Economist poll that shows Obama heavily favored. I have not seen any scientific poll that supports either candidate, but it would be a shock if there is one that favors Obama.

However, after Obama is elected he will be widely accepted by the most pro-American country in Europe.

akryeziu Author Profile Page:

Hey Patrick
I would just like to thank you for looking into this issue. I do not believe it has been discussed previously in the international media, as specifically as you have put it, and as a Kosovar Albanian myself, I think you stated the facts as they were and its up to us to have different opinions. As for the Economist polls, it is true that they gave different results but lets not forget The Economist polls are not accessed by everybody, especially in the Balkans, thus not providing a very precise result. I personally did not know of Obama's statement but I do not think it was a bad one; it's diplomatic. Again, congrats on you effort and as I can see that you worked for the Peace Corps in Albania, you will understand when i say: te lumte!

JamesCM Author Profile Page:

Pat my boy, it seems a student of your self-professed stature should have done a bit more research before claiming as fact "McCain's edge" in "little Albania." I am sure if you just looked around a bit you might have not missed the fact that the Economist conducted a poll in both Albania and Kosovo, where they clearly show that 75% were in favor of Obama. Now how about that? I am sure you also knew that Biden has been a staunch supporter of Kosovo's independence, who, unlike McCain, would write opinion pieces in prestigious news outlets such as the Washington Post favoring for a speedy process of Kosovo's independence.
I am sure the Washington Post demands a bit more journalistic wherewithal from its contributors, thus I take it that you were in Albania recently. If such is the case, then you would surely sense the mood for change, even there, and their curiosity for Obama.
Your hypothesis is thus completely misdirected, for the new edge, or fad, in Albania (and Kosovo) is Obama.

bkallamata Author Profile Page:

I don't think O'Brian has hit the target with this one. Albanians would support any American president. Period. They have supported G.W.Bush not because he was a republican (which means little to an Albanian) but because he was an American President. They would support Obama the same.
Albanians are aware that the American involvment in the Balkans goes beyond party politics and is based on geopolitics and long-term strategies. They know that the US has finally realized that Albanians are the most pro-American nation in the region (fact). So don't worry. They would vote for McCain, Obama or Britney Spears, whoever wins.

Alban1 Author Profile Page:

you are right as far as conventional wisdom goes.

At least initially Obama targeted the Servs, and that did not please the Albanians. Maybe his initial handlers were from the Serbian diaspora or maybe Serbian votes were needed in a particular state during the primaries. But later he addressed us and Biden, did help as well. While Joe DiGuradi is helping McCain other Albanian groups are supporting Obama and McCain, and some only Obama.

Overall, I think either candidate will support Kosova and Albania as it is in America's /EU's interest; Russia is too weak to deserve a say in the Balkans, and after what Serbia did for the past 97 years--still no apologies, just a despicable anti-Albanian propaganda--Independence was the morally just move.

An Economist poll says otherwise though:

"Kosovo cannot choose:
The Economist poll revealed Kosovars to be strong supporters of Obama, though many favour McCain, and a few wish Hillary Clinton were running. Journalist Artan Mustafa was an admirer of Clinton who is rooting for Obama because “his age, and the new kind of energy and leadership he is promoting are promising”."

and the same in Albania:
"In Albania, whatever is American tends to be viewed positively. Therefore, although the results of the Economist poll show 75 per cent of Albanians support Obama, many Albanians view McCain as equally acceptable."

I don't know what to make of it...other than either winner will be popular among Albanians.

marinaruci Author Profile Page:

As an Albanian, I think the above statement by Mr O'Brien sums up the stance of a nation. Albania's new equlibrium is a product of America's intervention in maintaining a just resolution in the Balkans. The Bush administration unlike the Clinton's, put words into action when it came to Albania and Albanians. The visit of President Bush to Albania underlined how serious Republicans are in helping the Albanian cause.

Albanian's are well aware that Albania's realistc entry into Euro-Atlantic institutions is thanks to the US. The election of another Republican administration would see a continuation of such polcies and actions.

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