Sunday, November 4, 2012

Powerful Words From A Powerful Woman

Speaking before the Albanian Parliament

As I mentioned in my blog entry on Friday, this week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a quick visit to Albania as a part of her larger tour of the Balkans.  November 2012 also marks the 100th anniversary of Albanian's independence and celebrations will be held throughout the country.  Next year Albania will be holding national elections and as an emerging and struggling democracy with a long history of internal turmoil, Secretary Clinton's speech before Parliament raised some timely and thought provoking insight into democracy and democracies that we should all ponder. 

Here are some excerpts of her speech before the Albanian Parliament that I find particularly powerful and thought provoking for Albanians and Americans alike:

Twenty years ago, you were just emerging from the yoke of communism; now, the elected representatives of the people engage in debates and vote openly on the laws of the land, activities that were once impossible.

Back then, your economy was closed, and you have worked hard to open it, to create the conditions for entrepreneurship, trade, and investment, laying the foundation for even better economic opportunity ahead.

Back then, Albania was the land of hundreds of thousands of concrete bunkers, evidence of the mistrust that the communist leaders felt not only toward other nations, but towards their own people.  Now you are a valued member of NATO, a valued participant in the International Security Force in Afghanistan, and I express my condolences for the first loss of an Albanian soldier there.  And you are moving toward full integration into Europe as you see accession to the  European Union.

This is all grounds for celebration.  But I think we all know that Americans and Albanians can never be satisfied.  We have to ask ourselves, what more can we do?  How much better can we make life for those whom we serve?  You cannot stop now.  You have the potential to become a model, not just for this region, not just for Europe, but for the world.  (Applause)..................

First, please work to ensure that your upcoming elections are free and fair and seen as such by the entire world.  That is first and foremost so that the people of Albania can have faith in the results and trust in you as their leaders.  It's also an important  signal to the EU that Albania's politics can function smoothly and without strife.  I know many of you are focused on this issue and are taking steps now to put a clear and effective process into place, and I commend you for that.

As someone who has been in politics, and run in very contested elections, and have won some and lost others, I know how hard politics in the modern world can be.  (Applause).  And I can also attest to how elections draw the world's attention, because with Twitter and Facebook and instantaneous communications, you have to assume that everything will be known, will be seen, which is good for democracy, but it puts an extra burden on those of us who are leaders.  So I urge not only leaders of Albanian, but the people, the citizens of Albania, to work hard to make this next election a success that reflects the depth of your commitment to democracy.

At the same time, it's always important to remind ourselves that consolidating democracy requires more than elections.  It requires the rule of law.  It requires strong institutions, including an effective and impartial judiciary.  It requires openness in government so citizens can hold us, leaders, accountable.  Attributes like these ensure that democracy delivers concrete results to the people.  And when those are subverted, there needs to be accountability.

Secondly, I urge you to tackle the problem that afflicts so many democracies in the world today, namely corruption.  This is a fight every country must wage and win, because all over the world, corruption is a cancer that eats away at societies.  It drains resources, it blocks economic growth, it shields incompetent and unethical leaders, and perhaps worst of all, it creates a culture of impunity that saps people of their will to improve their own lives and communities. 

There's no easy answer to this. It's as old as human nature. I'm sure if there were any easy answer, the world would have solved this a long time ago.  Rooting out corruption demands constant effort and a shared commitment.  No matter your party, no matter your differences, I urge all of Albania's leaders to summon the political will to work together, to confront this threat to your independence.

And that points to the final challenge I want to raise to you, one that is relevant to everything I've mentioned. For Albania's democracy to thrive, Albania's leaders will need to build a culture of cooperation that transcends political differences, what Alexis de Tocqueville, the great historian of America's early years, termed the habits of the heart. They're at the core of every successful democracy.

Now, this challenge some countries are never able to meet, but I believe Albania can. Now, again, I have personal experience with this.  As a Democratic senator, I frequently worked with Republicans across the aisle to solve problems, to deal with issues that affected my state and my country. And you may have noticed that I now serve as Secretary of State for President Obama, my former rival.

People around the world still ask me how can President Obama and I work together every day as partners when we fought so hard against each other.  Believe me, I did everything I could to beat him.  (Applause).  But he won, and then he asked me to be his Secretary of State.  And so when I'm asked how, how can two people who said terrible things about each other, spent tens of millions of dollars advertising against each other, whose supporters were arguing everywhere -- (applause) -- against each other, how can you two work together?  I will tell you it's a very, very simple answer.  We both love our country.  (Applause).  And I know there is not an Albanian who doesn't love Albania.

So I hope that you, too, can find your way to sincere, sustained cooperation.  Hold different political beliefs, believe that you would be a better leader than the other person.  That's what politics is about.  You wouldn't be doing it if you didn't believe that about yourself.  But at the end, putting individual interests and party interests behind national interests is what democratic leaders are called to do.  (Applause).

The full speech can be accessed here.   

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