People’s Advocate Ballanca, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
This past summer, several of my Embassy colleagues attended a ceremony at the site of the former communist labor camp in Tepelena. They gathered there with many others, including several of you here today, to honor the former inmates of that camp.
During that ceremony, President Meta presented awards to several former inmates of that camp, including Gjela Gjikola. Gjela is now in her 90s, but after World War II she and her daughter became prisoners in Tepelena. And her daughter became one of its victims, dying in the camp at age three.
Albania is full of stories like this. But Albania is not what it was in the 1950s, or even in the 1990s. It has exchanged a vicious police state for a vibrant constitutional democracy. Albanians are free to speak their minds, to debate, to vote – to take part in public life, and to shape the future of their country. Albanians are free to enjoy the robust list of human rights guaranteed in their constitution.
But this evolution from communism to democracy requires more than the passage of laws and the casting of votes. This exchange requires the creation of a society dedicated to the rule of law.
And, precisely for that reason, this evolution is not over, because the rule of law does not happen on its own. It requires dedication, hard work, and patience.
There are many who have lost patience, and that is understandable. They are discouraged by the widespread corruption. They are tired of organized crime. They read about murder and about people leaving Albania to pursue their dreams elsewhere. All of this rattles their hope for a free and democratic Albania – for all Albanians.
But there is reason for hope. We see hope in the rule of law taking shape in Albania.
On November 13, the Serious Crimes Court convicted Emiljano Shullazi and his group. It is easy to celebrate that verdict. But we should also be celebrating the process. There was something simple and profound about that process, in spite of the noise surrounding it. In the end, it was ordinary. Prosecutors presented their case, the court presumed the defendant innocent and allowed a vigorous defense, and the judges rendered a verdict based on the facts and the law. The defendant also has the right to an appeal. This is what ought to happen in a judicial system operating under the rule of law. This is what should give us all hope.
To guarantee the human rights of every Albanian, the rule of law must become a reflex of the body politic. It must become an automatic action, as instinctive and natural as our own heartbeat.
The process to achieve that takes enormous, daunting, and sometimes discouraging amounts of work. But when you think of the work remaining before you, take inspiration from Gjela Gjikola. Think of her sacrifice and her grief. But also remember her fortitude and perseverance. The communists vanished, but Gjela has not. She has carried on her life’s work.
And so must we continue the work and continue to hope, to ensure Albanians can exercise the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.