Remarks by USAID Mission Director Mikaela Meredith at the “Violent Extremism in Albania” National Conference

Honorable Guests, Coordinator Sojati, distinguished guests, it is my honor to be here with you today.

Let me begin by congratulating the Albanian government, in the form of the National Countering Violent Extremism Center led by Agron Sojati.  The Albanian government is a regional leader in countering and preventing violent extremism.  The U.S. Embassy is proud to continue to partner with you in this effort.

Each person in this room today is a member of a team that strives to prevent and combat violent extremism.  No matter what role you have on this team – whether government or law enforcement, a religious leader, a community mentor, a representative of civil society, or a donor — you are on the front line against preventing violent extremism.  You understand the challenges the world faces.  You see first-hand that we are fighting a battle of ideologies – one pitting our value of pluralism and acceptance against an ideology of violent extremism.  I want to be clear, I say “acceptance” intentionally, not tolerance.   I have come to deeply appreciate Albanian acceptance of others.  Not only do Albanians tolerate other cultures and difference in people, but you accept people for the characteristics makes individuals different.  I thank each one of you for everything you are doing to ensure Albania’s culture of acceptance prevails over extremist narratives.

The United States’ commitment to winning this ideological battle is unwavering, and best described in the U.S. National Strategy for Counterterrorism. At the core is an emphasis to work with our international allies and partners to “champion and institutionalize the prevention of violent extremism.”  Your efforts to prevent violent extremism make Albania and the Balkan region safer.  Foreigners do not have the answers to the drivers of violent extremism in Albania, or in the Balkans; that is why we look to you.

To you, the Albanian teachers who tailor your lesson plans to identify and reach out to the most vulnerable students, and who engage those at-risk students in conversations about Albania’s history of religious tolerance.  A teacher can educate their students about the inspiring role Albanians played during World War Two, when Albanian families sheltered persecuted Jews.

To you, the Albanian community police officers who identify toxic citizens, those who seek to leverage teenage alienation and frustration toward violent extremism.  These Albanian police officers, with long engrained experience in their communities, know the signs and can help with early interventions, ensuring communities engage youth before they join extremist groups.

To you, the community leaders who can identify families under stress; especially families whose sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, mothers or fathers, wrongly believe they are destined to fight for their religion.  These leaders can and do engage a whole-of-community response to these misguided Albanians, ensuring they are aware of the consequences of their actions.

And to you, the prison officials who, through your  professionalism and commitment to providing every prisoner with fair and equitable treatment, will ensure criminals who enter Albania’s criminal justice system do not complete their sentences more radicalized than before entering prison.

The US government has committed extensive resources to assist the Government of Albania through the Women, Peace and Security program.  We work with the CVE center and communities to empower women, girls, and youth to become community leaders, peacemakers, and agents of change. By engaging women and girls, Albania enables them to lead their communities toward a safer and more hopeful future. By combining our shared expertise and resources with the CVE center, we are pioneering new approaches to P/CVE efforts at the local, national and regional levels, putting women front and center.

The international community stands with Albania as it confronts the challenge of violent extremism.  We, along with other international donors, have and will continue to work through Albania’s ministries to support projects aimed at equipping front line Albanian teachers, law enforcement officers, community leaders, and prison officials, to name a few, to prevent and counter violent extremist ideologies and activities.

And although we work together in this endeavor, you deserve all the credit for Albania’s success.  Your daily actions raise awareness about the risks of violent extremism, and through this awareness you offer alternatives to those who might otherwise have found it an attractive option.  Your efforts reach every corner of Albanian society.  At the national level, the Albanian government has set the standard for the region through its National CVE Strategy and status as the first country in the Balkans to ensure national funding to counter violent extremism.  The National CVE Center is the clearest example of Albania’s commitment to this issue.  Finally, yet perhaps most importantly, Albanians’ long-held passionate defense of religious tolerance and inclusivity makes this country inhospitable to those who seek to sow hatred and division.  Thank you for choosing acceptance and inclusivity, and for defending Albania’s values.

I wish to congratulate the Albanian government for its ironclad commitment to countering and preventing violent extremism and for your partnership with the United States of America.

Thank you!