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Secretary Antony J. Blinken at Youth and Alumni Event “Celebrating the Future of the U.S.-Albania Relationship”

Secretary Antony J. Blinken at Youth and Alumni Event “Celebrating the Future of the U.S.-Albania Relationship”

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for what has truly been – truly been – a wonderful welcome to the land of the eagles.  I can feel the warmth outside, but I can also feel the warmth in this room and every room I’ve already been in Tirana, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.  Fiori, thank you for your extraordinary leadership.  I think it’s the most powerful evidence that one can see of the power of our youth and exchange programs.  For me, being able to celebrate some of the impact of these programs with alumni and participants is a really important moment.  To each and every one of you for all that you’re doing to strengthen ties between our countries, between Albania and the United States, thank you. 

To David Wisner for leading our embassy here in Tirana, including everything that the embassy is doing to connect our peoples in different ways; and last, but certainly not least, Mr. Prime Minister, Edi, it’s great to be here with you.  It’s great to be here in a city that I know, in your past capacity as mayor, you did so much to make even more vibrant, not to mention more colorful.  I’m grateful not just for that, but truly for the extraordinary partnership that we have.  I have to say the prime minister is both an extraordinary leader and an extraordinary partner, and I can’t think of a time over the last three and a half years where we haven’t had a challenge that needed to be faced where the prime minister has not stood up, stood alongside us, and faced it together.  And we’re grateful for it.  Thank you.  (Applause.) 

Now, it’s been noted that this place, this magnificent space, really embodies Albania’s trajectory since the end of the Cold War.  As was noted, when this pyramid was built three and a half decades ago, it symbolized the past.  It memorialized an autocrat who sent Albanians to labor camps and closed the country off from the rest of the world.  Back then, if you were looking really hard, the only hint of a relationship between our countries was maybe a voice you heard on Voice of America on a hidden transistor radio, or maybe a smuggled can of Coca-Cola on a birthday. 

Now, look around us.  This place is filled with light; it’s filled with activity.  It houses cafes, classrooms, tech incubators.  It’s not a relic to the past; it’s a powerful living symbol of the present and the future.  Home to EducationUSA, where Albanians can learn about studying in the United States.  And of course, it was renovated thanks in part to an investment from the Albanian American Development Foundation, showing how Albania and the United States are building that future together.  Simply put, like this building, Albania has been transformed.  Everywhere you look – and I even got a sense of this just driving in the streets today – you see energy.  You feel optimism about the future, a future integrated with Europe, with the West, with the world. 

Last year, a record number of tourists visited Albania.  The Albanian national team just qualified for the Euro Cup for the second time ever.  And I understand the last time that that happened, which goes back to 2016, that was also, it was noted, the last time someone in my position as Secretary of State visited.  Now, I’m not saying that there’s a connection between these events, but maybe I should come back during the Euro Cup finals and see – (applause). 

You’re also seeing powerful ties between our countries play out in so many different and new ways.  Americans – young Americans and not so young Americans – are dancing the night away quite literally to Dua Lipa.  The chief technology officer at OpenAI – and think about this for a second – one of the people who’s helping to shape some of the world’s most powerful emerging technologies is of course Mira Murati, born in Vlore.  One of the best restaurants in my native city, New York, is an Albanian place that apparently serves a very outstanding (inaudible), which I have yet to experience for myself, but we’ll get there. 

But here’s the thing – and these examples are just examples of something much larger.  Albania’s shift from closed to open wasn’t flipping a light switch.  You all know this; very few things in life are that simple or that easy.  Young people – young people like the people in this room, like each of you – brought about change.  Young people are essential to continue the drive for Albania’s transformation and for Albania’s future.

In this room, we have with us today journalists who are exposing corruption and holding leaders accountable; women entrepreneurs are turning ideas into successful businesses; civil society leaders working to protect Albania’s environment and to counter violent extremism, to make Albania more equitable and more inclusive.

Now, some of you helped welcome Afghan families who were fleeing the Taliban, showing how you genuinely and powerfully uphold the commitment, the – the duty to care for the vulnerable.  And I’m learning so much about that.

I have to tell you, just a short while ago before coming here, I was at our embassy.  And I had a chance to sit down with some Afghan families who had come out of Afghanistan, come here to Albania, and will soon go to the United States to start their new lives.  That journey would not be possible without Albania.  And it’s – (applause). 

It’s not just the fact that you’re welcoming our friends and partners from Afghanistan; it’s the way you do it that is so powerful. 

I’ll digress for a second just to tell you it was incredibly moving to me, among the Afghan refugees who were there (inaudible) coming to the United States were two parents, a husband and wife.  And they have, I believe – I think it was five children, each of whom had been number one in their class at school.  But then when the Taliban came back, the girls couldn’t go to school anymore.  But the mother insisted that even without that, they find ways to continue learning, and they were able to do some things online when they had access to internet.  Even when they didn’t, she found ways. 

And with that work, her twin daughters – 14 years old – who have just been here for a few months, they’ll be going on to the United States very soon.  In the course of the last year – I guess they’ve been here for about a year – they both learned fluent English.  Fourteen years old.  They both had incredible visions of what they wanted to do with their lives, what they wanted to do with their future.  One of the sisters wants to be in fashion, and she had designed the shirts that they were wearing.  The other wanted to be in business, and I suggested that maybe they could actually work together and one of them could do fashion, the other could do business.

But here’s the thing:  You could see this extraordinary hope in their eyes about the future – hope that had been taken away by this incredibly dark chapter in Afghanistan, but hope that had been renewed and reborn because they were able to come here, go on to the United States, because of Albania.  And I can’t tell you how grateful I am to you for the partnership that we’ve had in helping our friends from Afghanistan.  (Applause.)

Dea Rrozhanizani from here in Tirana is an alumna of one of our department’s most wonderful programs, TechGirls.  She participated in the summer program, and some of you may have been involved in that.  But it brings teenage girls to the United States, encourages them to pursue science and engineering careers.  She created an app to fight gender-based violence, and the only reason she’s not with us today is because she’s studying computer science at the University of Pennsylvania.  Dea had put it this way – she said this:  I don’t close my eyes before problems; I tackle them – I don’t complain; I act.  So that’s something I’m going to try to keep in mind myself, because it’s a very good lesson for the challenges we face every day.

But that’s the point of the exchange programs that we’re so fortunate to be able to conduct.  No country has a monopoly on good ideas.  We want to learn from you, just as we hope there are maybe some things you can learn from us.  It’s the connections between our people, the back and forth, that’s so powerful and that leads to so many amazing outcomes.

I’ve had the great opportunity over the last 30 years, working for the United States Government in one way or another, to travel around the world.  And one of the things I’ve discovered is this:  Somewhere, someone has probably found – if not the solution – at least the beginning of the solution, the answer to a problem we’re trying to solve.  But if that experience, if that understanding, if that insight isn’t shared, then we all have to start from the beginning again.  The more we can connect, the more we can share experience, share ideas, and share insights, the better off we’re all going to be.

The United States and Albania established formal diplomatic ties over a century ago.  For almost half that period, our people were actually denied the chance to know one another, as the prime minister said.  But with young people like you deepening the partnership between us, I know – I’m convinced – that the next century will see us make our countries and the world that we share just a little bit more stable, a little bit more secure, a little bit more prosperous, a little bit more filled with opportunity. 

You’re the ones who will be doing that.  And to each and every one of you, I’m grateful and I can’t see – I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do with the future that we’ll build together. 

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-at-youth-and-alumni-event-celebrating-the-future-of-the-u-s-albania-relationship/