I often serve as a trainer in  political communication for young politicians and civil servants at a school organized by the Council of Europe. These retreats took place in Pogradec, on the border of Macedonia.

photoI included a photo of Lake Orchid, which stands as a reminder of the transformation that is possible when there is the political will and the spirit of the people is strong. First, a bit of a history lesson. Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, but was conquered by Italy in 1939. Communist partisans took over the country in 1944. Albania ended 46 years of xenophobic communist rule and established a multiparty democracy in the 1990s. During this time, living under a Communist dictator, many people tried to escape to the surrounding countries where freedom was more possible. Macedonia was one target. Many lives were lost in an attempt to cross this body of water in makeshift boats at the risk of being shot at by guards. A documentary was made about one such family that made it out, received political asylum in the US and returned when Albania broke from its Communist ruler. An inspiring story, which also helps explains why political transitions – teaching the tools of public speaking, citizen outreach and representative democracy – are challenging in countries where the culture rewarded silence, obedience and order.

Albania is well past their history, paving the way toward European integration as they move forward on economic and political reform required to be part of the EU. It is the people, not just the meeting of international standards, that will get them there.