Albania must be one of the oddest countries in the world. It was in the news today: twice, first in connection with George Bush's 8-hour visit to the Balkan republic, and second in relation to a story about several Chinese former prisoners at the US facility in Guantanamo, Cuba, who are now living in Tirana, Albania's capital.
Why odd? Well first, it's probably the only place in the world, outside of the Bush homesteads in Texas and maybe Maine, where Bush is popular. News reports about the US president's brief sojourn there are replete with nauseatingly gushing accounts of sycophantic groveling of the country's president, political leadership, and if the stories are to be believed, people. According to the New York Times, this enthusiasm apparently predates Bush, includes Clinton, and began with Woodrow Wilson who prevented the country's partition during the First World War. (Bush was in Albania to promote its entry into NATO along with independence for Kosovo).
Yet one wonder's if that really explains it: the oddness that is. During its rather pitiful masquerade as a "socialist" republic the Albanians were equally enthused, at least at the "leadership" level with China, Mao and Maoism. They were also very oddly enthused with themselves. This writer remembers one story, where a Communist Party USA leader returned visibly shaken from a meeting with them in New York in the 1970s. When asked what happened, he said, "It was terrible: they kept me in a room and for five hours tried to convince me that Albania was the center of the world revolutionary process."
It's unknown if such delusions of grandeur still grip Albania's leadership. However, the China connection still shadows, if from the opposite political and ideological direction. Albania, a majority Muslim country, has become home to several Muslims from China, who apparently had spent some time in Afghanistan learning the tricks of the trade, tricks taught by the way, by none other than their CIA interrogators at Guantanamo. Albania has granted them political asylum at the request of the Bush administration. The potential new Albania citizens, however, appear to be victims of not very hospitable treatment in Tirana and have requested to be sent elsewhere. However, despite earnest efforts by Bush and company, no one wants them, except the Chinese authorities, who are expected to charge them with terrorism. But Bush refuses to send them there and the group is reluctant indeed to go.
Guantanamo was also in the news twice, today, in connection with the above, and also because Colin Powell this morning called for closing the prison camp, like yesterday.