Shkrim nga Sander Lleshi






By Brigadier General Sander Lleshi Deputy Chief of Defense Albanian Armed Forces



If we go back in time, to the most important ancient Roman maps, you will find Via Egnatia. It was the main West-East communication road, connecting Rome with Constantinople. “Via Egnatia” was an extension of the “via Apia” on the other side of the Adriatic. At that time, anyone who traveled between Rome and Constantinople passed through Durres, Albania.

So Albania constituted in ancient times an important, imminent station. Albania was special. Albania wasa gateway to the East as much as it was a gateway to the West.

Route of the

“Via Egnatia”






Many centuries have passed and many things have changed. The world has ex- perienced major changes and rapid developments. However, something has re- mained the same. Albania has remained special and important. For many centu- ries it was an important, internal station for travelers within the Roman Empire. Later for, for several centuries, Albania was a forgotten periphery border station. Today it seems that Albania is back in the middle.


Some words about Albania

Albanians are the descendants of the ancient Illyrians, who inhabited the West- ern Balkans. Invasions and a history of migration have resulted in the concentra- tion of the descendants of this ethnic group – the ancient Illyrians – in Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro. Although a small population, Albanians have managed to build a prominent identity among other nations. Many repre- sentatives of this small nation have come to be ranked among world personali- ties. Gjergj Kastrioti, in the 15-th century, Mother Teresa and Ismail Kadare are




Indo-European Language Family tree.



The distribution of Indo-European families


probably some of the most outstanding representatives of the Albanian people. Albania’s population is about 4.5 million people, out of which 1.5 million live in the European Union and USA. The official language is Albanian, which is one of the oldest languages in the Indo-European group of languages.

The official currency is the Lek. Albania is a parliamentary Republic with a unicameral parliament with 140 deputies, who are elected to a 4 year term. Albania is unique in terms of relations between its four major religious com- munities.  Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Catholics and Bektashi all play an important role in the religious landscape of Albania.


Historical background

Anyone attempting to discuss issues of historical character in the Mediterranean world threatens to sink deep and get lost in history. This is accounted for by the simple fact that this region has almost as much history as mankind itself. I intend to save time and only go back a thousand years and  emphasize some of most important milestones.



This is an important year for the history of the world. In cosmic terms, there was a supernova explosion. On Earth, the Great Schism occurred. In narrower, Alba- nian terms, a great change occurred. Albania went from being a central province of the Roman Empire, to becoming a border province, a remote area on the bor- der of Byzantium with the West. The centuries that followed bought about many events and changes, but one thing remained the same.

Albania remained located along the most important boundary line on the plan- et. It was for many centuries along the dividing line between Rome and Byz- antium,  between the Ottoman Empire and the West, between the Communist Empire and the West. This geographical and geopolitical position, a position along the most important border in the world, has left deep traces (or scars).

The map of ancient Roman Empire


Strict borders have had strict rules. At the border there were more fortifications than works of art, more castles than opera houses, more bunkers than streets, and more prisons than schools. In ancient times, magnificent cities were built in Albanian territories, along with roads, theaters, sculptures and works of art. For about a thousand years Albania remained along the border of the world, experiencing everything that flows to and from this position, even benefiting a little perhaps from this position. But nevertheless, Albania keeps on being very special, though small in area and population, with a particular language.


What are some of the most important events of this period?


Do you know what is the most important event mentioned in world chronicles for the year 1443?

It has stuck me too when I read from several different sources that there is listed only one important event for this remote year: 28 November 1443, the day Gjergj Kastrioti, Skanderbeg, took over the castle of Kruja, thus beginning a period of heroic resistance against the Ottoman Empire. This resistance lasted successfully for 25 years; making Skanderbeg and Albania special, a free island in that part of Europe occupied by the Ottomans.


It is obviously a special fact that Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, who was badly defeated, along with his father, Sultan Murat II and more than 100,000 soldiers in Kruja in 1450, managed to enter in the history of the world when he crushed the resistance of Constantinople in 1453. It is famous the saying of Voltaire “Had the Byzantine emperors been Scanderbegs, the empire of the East would have been saved”.

After his death, Scanderbeg became a European myth. Over 1700 books were written about him. Many squares and streets bear his name, many monuments dedicated to him can be found in major European cities.

One such monument stands here in Rome.

As special and unique Albania’s resistance for 25 years against attacks of Otto- mans was, Albania remained special during the time of the Ottoman invasion. During this period, Albania suffered major political, economic and religious re- pression. During almost 500 years a considerable part of the Albanian popula- tion converted to Islam, while a small portion managed to preserve their Catho- lic or Orthodox religion.

Despite this repression, Albania remained special during the Ottoman occupa- tion. Compared to other nations, enslaved under the Ottoman Empire, Albanians were prohibited from everything that connected them to their national identi- ty.  Albanians were banned from having a state, local administration, Albanian schools and even the Albanian language. Everything was special in Albania. At the end of the Ottoman occupation of Albania there were about a thousand schools in the Turkish language, the same number in the Greek language, a few hundred in Slavic languages and almost none in Albanian.

Today this fact seems impossible to believe.

Nevertheless, in 1908 in Manastir (Bitola, Macedonia today), under these terrible conditions, anAlbanian congress made an historic decision: theAlbanian language would be written using only the Latin alphabet, making Albania the only country in the region using the Latin alphabet. This situation has not changed to this day. Three years to the day after gaining the independence of language, on 28 No- vember 1912, exactly 469 years after the beginning of Skanderbeg’s resistance movement, Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire and becomes an independent state.

The new, post-Ottoman Albania originated as a product of the National Renais- sance. For a short period, the Albanian government was under the leadership of the first Albanian Prime Minister, Ismail Qemali. The newly proclaimed Alba- nian state had strong European support from its inception.

A formula for the new state government, which envisioned it as a principal- ity under the regency of a European prince, was the formula that gained sup- port among several other governing alternatives at the London Conference in

1913. The Albanian Principality, under the Regency of the German Protestant







Maps of the divided World after WWII




Prince Wilhelm Wied, had a short life; interrupted by the start of World War I. After the First World War, Albania made great efforts to restart the process of consolidating the state. This complicated process was finalized in 1928, with the coronation of Ahmet Zog as King of Albanians. It was during the period of King Zog’s reign that real foundation of the modern Albanian State was laid. In 1939, Albania was occupied by Mussolini’s troops and in 1943 the country was placed under the control of German troops, thus completely experiencing World War II. The end of World War II brought about another big problem for Albania, as the country fell under the absolute influence of the Eastern Communist Empire. After 1945 the country fell briefly under Yugoslavian influence and later un- der  the  strong  influence of  the  Soviet  Union.  In  1955, Albania  became  a member of the Warsaw Pact, which it withdrew from in 1961, de facto, and de jure in 1968. Albania’s separation from the Soviet Union was followed by another political move further eastward, this time to the Far East, as Albania developed strong ties with communist China. During this time, Albania’s com- munist leadership continued on the communist path with brutality. Almost all basic human rights were banned by law, the right of religion was banned, churches and mosques were closed. This list of restrictions can be quite long. Eventually, Albania reached the threshold of major global change in the late

80′s quite differently from Europe. Albania was one the most isolated coun- tries in Europe, as well as one of its poorest. Yet in Albania there was some- thing quite different. Despite their poverty and isolation, Albanians had re- mained firm in their desire to be an integral part of the continent, which they believed then, and still believe today, that they belonged to from the beginning. In Italy, in particular, there are still vivid images of the enormous exodus of Albanians to Italy in the early 1990′s. This exodus had many dimensions. It ex- pressed not only the need to escape from the risk of poverty, just as Albanians fled from the threat of the Ottoman Empire after the invasion in the 15th century, but at the same time, demonstrated their eagerness and desire to join Europe.

I dwelled on this long historical chronology only to emphasize a constant tendency throughout this thousand-year-period: thatAlbanians have remained unique in their own language, in their history, in their economy and in many other things. But one thing has remained constant:Albanians’focus toward Europe, in all its dimensions.


Excurs: Globalisation and Albania

As previously explained, Albania was almost excluded from the international system for a very long historical period. After a long lethargy, Albania finds it- self in a new era of world history development. Albania finds itself today amidst the tides of globalization.

After the end of the Cold War, the old system of international order was rapidly replaced by the new system of international order – called globalization. The Cold War system was characterized by one overarching feature: division, and was symbolized by a single word: wall, the Berlin Wall.

The new system, globalization, also possesses one overarching feature: integra- tion. It is also characterized by a single word: web, the World Wide Web. Globalization is a long process of change. There have been three great eras of globalization. The first lasted from 1492 – when Columbus set sail, opening trade between Old World and the New World – until 1800. It was the so called era of Globalization 1.0. It was about countries and muscles. In Globalization

1.0 the key agent of change, the dynamic force driving the process of global integration, was how much strength – how much muscle, how much horsepower, wind power, or later steam power – your country had and how creatively you could deploy it.

The second era, Globalization 2.0 lasted roughly from 1800 to 2000, interrupted by the World Wars. In the era of Globalization 2.0, the key agent of change, the dynamic force driving global integration, was multinational corporations. The dynamic forces behind this era of globalization were breakthroughs in hard- ware- from steamships and railroads, in the beginning, to telephones and main- frame computers, toward the end.

Globalization 3.0 began in 2000. While the dynamic force in Globalization 1.0 was countries and the dynamic force in Globalization 2.0 was companies, the dynamic force in Globalization 3.0 – the force that gives it its unique character

– is the newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally. (Thomas L. Friedman, the World is Flat, the Globalized World in the Twenty- First Century, Penguin Books 2006, 9-11).

After being a quasi non-participant in the first two eras of globalization, Albania now has the opportunity, and must, go through the third era. It seems that in this new era, the preconditions for Albania’s success are more favorable. It is no lon- ger the time of muscles; it’s no longer the time of exclusive hardware. It is the


time of the individual. Hence, it’s the time when even the “small” can participate in the big game.

Globalization will stimulate significant impacts on all aspects of national de- velopment. In general terms, the first impact is the possibility for the country to connect to all worldwide networks like politics, economy, etc..


Albania and its role in the region today

The fall of the Iron Curtain brought an extraordinary new era for Albania. Alba- nia has managed to maintain a very high pace of economic and social develop- ment for many years.

The charts below give an idea about the development of the country during the last two decades. Without wishing to focus a lot on details, I will only high- light the general trend, which is very clear: the explosive growth dynamics. From an economy based entirely on state owned property until 1990, Albania today has an economy based almost entirely on private property and free market enterprise. Although it is the economy of a small country with many problems, Albania’s economy has maintained one of the highest growth rates in Europe.


Figure 1: Chart the progress of Gross Domestic Product




Figure 2: Trend of foreign trade


Figure 3: The trend of visitors flux to Albania


Figure 4: Evolution of the number of private vehicles
















In 2009, Albania managed to become a full member of NATO and currently expects to receive candidate status for EU membership. At the end of 2010, the EU liberalized its visa regime for Albania, allowing Albanians to travel in the Schengen zone freely. This fulfilled Albanian’s long held dream – and need – to move freely. Some in Europe feared that visa liberalization for Albania would have resulted in a large influx of Albanians to Europe; these fears were unfound- ed – nothing extraordinary has happened.


National Security Policy

The overall global and regional security, geographic location, history, cultural traits, economic and natural resources have been and still remain some of the key factors affecting the national security of Albania.


General environment of global and regional security

General environment of global and regional security has influenced, continues and will continue to be a primary factor that affects the national security of Alba- nia. During the last two decades are reflected Albania has become a full member of NATO. Meanwhile Albania has a doubled number of bordering countries. Out of two states that it shared its land border in 1990, Albania now has four countries with common land borders, Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo and Monte- negro.


Geographical position

Albania’s geographical position has conditioned and will determine many issues related to its national security. The geographical position of Albania has been one of the fundamental factors that have determined to a large extent the fate of historical developments. Considered as the gateway of the Balkans, Albania has experienced almost all the major events of European and world history. If we believe that geographical position influences the fate of the development of a country, we can say that the future of Albania will be largely influenced by this factor. However, I want to focus on an element of Albania’s geographic position.


Maritime Role, Mediterranean Profile of Albania.

For many centuries, Albania has been more a continental profile country than a maritime one. For many centuries the coastal line of Albania has represent- ed more a land boundary than a gateway to the world wide communication. After the fall of the country under the Ottoman occupation in the 15th century up to the end of the Cold War, the coastline and territorial waters of Albania re- mained more like a boundary separating opposing empires or states.

After 1990 Albania radically changed its policy of national security, opened its borders and began the process of Euro-Atlantic integration.


Who needs an added role of Albania Maritime?

First: Albania needs that, because through these role it will meet the key needs to supply itself and reach international markets for its products. Even today 80% of world trade exchanges are essentially exchanges with Europe, where Italy ranks primary.

A second category of customers are all the countries that have no access to the sea. Macedonia, Kosovo and Serbia are three countries in the region that will benefit directly.

The third category of countries would be all the Balkan hinterland countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Turkey etc.

All Balkan and hinterland countries will benefit from this role. This access would enable a network connection to the Mediterranean Sea routes, through which about 30% of the world’s goods and 25% of traffic fuel is transferred.


Main Preconditions

Developing a Maritime Profile, transformation of Albania into a genuine gate- way not only for the Balkans but for Europe and the world will require some fundamental conditions:

First, it is necessary the strategic agreement with unavoidable partners. In this respect, Italy is a number one partner. If any link between Via Egnatia and Via Apia is to be reactivated, the “bridge” linking the two arteries would inevitably rely on two columns, in Italy and in Albania.

Secondly, it is indispensable for Via Egantia to be reborn in the proper sense. It will need to provide multiple connections of Albanian ports to the Balkan hin- terland.

Third, it is necessary to construct relevant port terminals that will enable the exchange.

Many of these issues mentioned above exist in different forms or stages. Some are ideas, some are visions, some are projects and several others are realities. For example it is worth mentioning here the case of Durres-Prishtina highway. Its completion in a record time resulted in a quite different journey from Albania to Kosovo. Some years ago this trip would constitute an adventure that lasted up to 10 hours; nowadays it can be done in two to three hours.


One of the most important projects is the so called the Corridor 8.














The Corridor VIII is one of ten trans-European corridors which connects the Adriatic and Black Sea. In this regard, it has a significant importance for Al- bania and the region from a geopolitical and geo-economic point of view. Another important project will be the TAP, Trans Adriatic Pipeline. This pipeline will transport gas from Caspian Region throw Albania and across the Adriatic Sea to Italy and further to Western Europe.









As we can see, Albania is not anymore an end point on the border of an empire, beyond which another opposing empire begins. It is not, as it has paradoxically been: on the edge of the world, on the edge of “Empire of the East” and also on the edge of “Empire of the West.” It is no longer in the middle of nowhere. Albania now is in the position of a hub through which many countries and re- gions exchange and share. This position calls for an inevitable role that Albania will have to take in the future


Security impacts

This shift from the periphery of the world at its center, this radical change of paradigm has brought and will continue to bring a multifaceted impact, even in matters of security.

The new role that Albania claims to take will certainly be accompanied with relevant challenges in the field of security. Each strategic development of the country will need to be considered in terms of security. This means that raised national security matters will become increasingly complicated and costly. The development of the country cannot be done without partners; likewise the secu- rity cannot be done unilaterally. Here the need for cooperation, primarily with NATO allies, remains paramount.

Albania today has to manage its national security problems within NATO frame- work by considering the globalizations trends.

In terms of security and defense globalization will stimulate at least two signifi- cant impacts:

First, security cannot be considered anymore as unilateral acts.Albania should be in- cludedinthenetwork.AndithasalreadystarteddoingsowithitsNATOmembership. Second, the solution of security problems must keep into consideration the add- ed role of individuals or small groups. In other words, we should see the new nature of stakeholders which threaten our security. They are no longer exclu- sively military blocks; they are not necessarily opposing states. Often they are substituted with small groups or quite often individuals. Even single individuals are now able to create global problems.


We could respond to this changed nature of risks only by changing our way of acting. We cannot keep on repeating past wars anymore. We cannot afford the luxury of negligence of not knowing and not accepting the new reality. Today battalions fight more than brigades, companies more than battalions, platoons more than companies, teams more than platoons. Today soldiers fight more and are more needed than units.

This completely changed context, we believe is a new opportunity for the Alba- nian Armed Forces. In this new environment, where the need for and opportuni- ties of “the small” have grown, we think we have a role to play and a responsi- bility to exercise.

To cope with future challenges in the security field Albania aims to build a  small  armed  force,  whose  strength  will  be  based  on  quality  of  people rather  than  on  the  complex  weapons  systems  and  equipment.  So  the  fu- ture force is thought to be a compact body, mainly light infantry and spe- cial   troops,   which   will   undertake   missions   within   NATO   framework.


Where are we today?

Today, Albania has a modest armed force, a professional force with approxi- mately 12 thousand members. One of the most important impact that NATO membership has provided is the more wide-ranging incorporation of the Alba- nian Armed Forces in the NATO –led missions. Albania has started its engage- ment in the international missions since 1995.Today the level of commitment has achievements at the highest levels. It is an interesting curiosity the fact that a few days ago, for a very short period and due to a folding of the contingents in the mission, Albania reached the second historic peak of its presence with troops abroad, about 600 hundred military. The historic culmination is represented by the action of our National Hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu, who in the 15- cen- tury engaged, with several thousand of troops, in an Albanian military campaign in the support of the King of Naples.

The commitment of the Albanian Armed Forces in missions abroad is charac- terized not only by an increased number but also by an enlarged complexity. Nowadays the Albanian Armed Forces participate in the whole spectrum of op- eration going up to the engagement of the Special Forces in the ISAF operation in Kandahar. Starting 2011, AF are leadinig a OMLT in Afghanistan, with the participation of other allied troops.


European union integration

Europe is without doubt one of the most important trends that has determined Alba- nians behavior in their long history. Certainly the history has led to a result which doesn’t represent jet the completion of the Albanians inclination for the Europe. The process of getting Albanians closer to Europe, has been reactivated a lot after the fall of the Iron Curtain at the beginnings of the 90-s. This has been more a wide popular movement more than just a simple political, administrative, technical or bureaucratic process. The big waves of Albanians that went through Italy and other European countries have been the determining factor that gave to the European integration process the force and dynamics of a national move- ment. Surely, this was a much discussed, criticized process. But it has produced an extraordinary effect. Even though this flood of the Albanians toward the West has never been “politically or officially correct” it has brought about an extraor- dinary dynamics. This movement has faded, or almost neutralized in a magical way the effect of a thousand years absence of Albanians in Europe. No one could say how the result of this process would be, if Albanians would have had the patience to wait for the “right way” to move to Europe, a way that has just opened up, taking into account the decision for the visa liberalization on November 8-th, 2010.

Tracking an almost spontaneous natural need for Europe has brought un- imaginable results. In just a few years thanks to the honest work of Albanian emigrants in the West, mainly in Italy, or Greece, the country has changed radically. Only today we calculate about 80 thousand Albanian pupils and students  in  the  Italian  schools,  of  who  20  thousand  are  students  in  uni- versities. Even if we do not add those who study in other countries, the fig- ures above seem to talk a lot about what happened. Integration of the hu- man aspect, integration of the individual has made extraordinary progress. But this is not enough. EU integration is an important political, economic, social and legal process.

In contrast to the integration process into NATO, EU integration is an issue far more complex and more difficult. This process undoubtedly makes up the fundamental second column that focuses all the national development strategy. Despite remarkable achievements realized in this process, Albania has still work to do in order to meet all required standards, which, believe me, there are numerous, and very difficult. In April 2010 it was submitted the EU questionnaire responses of 2284 questions. The answer was a book of 3354 pages. I believe that anyone can imagine how complex this process is. But it is important the general support in favor of the integration from citizens, political parties and the Government. This will is also the guarantee that Albania can achieve in a realistic time, all the politi- cal, economic, social and judicial criteria that will enable integration into the EU. I think it is important to note that this process is not simply a unilateral act, which can be accomplished only by Albanians. For the realization of EU membership it has been and continues to be vital the support of EU member states,

The period, we are talking about, is characterized by a wide support of the EU countries along with the Albania’s integration efforts. In this wider European solidarity, certainly Italy’s role was primary. With a comprehensive program of support, which embraces all the political, diplomatic, economic, financial, cul- tural, and military areas, Italy has played the best role as a leading lawyer in the path of integration for Albania into NATO and EU.

I think that appreciating Italian role in Albania’s integration process in Europe we could come to the end of this lecture. If we must give a conclusion at the end, it would be this:

Albania is at a crucial stage of its historic reorientation towards the West, after a period of nearly 1000 years of being separate. This reorientation will surely bring a new role for Albania in the region and beyond, while in order to achieve this it is indispensible a multi-directional and full support on behalf of Europe and especially Italy. The good news resulting from all of this is that this whole process would be beneficial for all the actors, for the Albanians, for the Balkan neighbors, for Europe.