GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany - The President of the Republic of Albania Ilir Meta spoke to 98 participants from 42 countries about security and Euro-Atlantic integration in the Balkans from the Albanian perspective at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies Oct. 25.

SAVED THE BALKANS

"I want to start by affirming that in the early 90s, my country was very fortunate to have at its doorstep the best models of security architecture in the history of mankind - NATO and the European Union," said Meta, who was elected president of the Republic of Albania April 28, 2017. "To the Balkan region, they have proved to be instrumental in both times of war and peace.

"I want to emphasize the fact that NATO's intervention, particularly from the U.S. and later the EU involvement in a decisive and determined fashion, saved the Balkans from becoming the Middle East of Europe," he said.

NETWORK OF TALENTED PROFESSIONALS

The participants are attending the Marshall Center's Program on Applied Security Studies, which provides a graduate-level education in security policy, defense affairs and international relations to a broad range of security sector professionals from governments and non-government organizations around the world.

The President's speech was perfectly timed as the participants were finishing the academic portion of the program, said PASS Program Director German army Col. Carsten Treder.

"We have discussed almost all aspects of security policy, from security and insecurity today, key actors, contemporary challenges, and strategies and approaches to mitigate these challenges," Treder said. "The President provided a well-received 'real-world' example during his speech, as well as when answering participants' questions."

The Marshall Center is a 25-year U.S. Department of Defense and German Ministry of Defense transatlantic defense educational institution, which has more than 13,000 alumni from 154 nations.

"More than 800 military and civilian personnel (from Albania) have been trained in the unique programs of the Marshall Center - a valuable contribution to capacity building of our armed forces and diplomatic corps," Meta said. "Thanks to the faculty's amazing experience, knowledge and dedication, the Marshall Center offers an exceptional environment and network of talented professionals."

'HUGE CHALLENGES FOR THE FUTURE'

Marshall Center Director retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith W. Dayton noted in his introduction that in addition to the Albanian alumni, members of the Albanian government are regular guest speakers and participants in almost all programs and activities of the Marshall Center.
"Graduates from Albania include not only representatives from across government institutions, but also members of parliament, and senior government officials through the Marshall Center's tailored leaders seminars," Dayton said.

He added, "The Western Balkans remains a region with huge challenges for the future, and we at the Marshall Center are focusing on it with our Balkans 360 series of conferences at the request of Supreme Allied Commander Europe."

The newly launched Balkan 360 Initiative is a partnership with the German Marshall Fund of the United States to deepen U.S. and German engagement in the Balkans.

The Marshall Center also has a faculty member from Albania. Dr. Valbona Zeneli, who the President mentioned in his speech, is a Marshall Center professor of national security studies for the past seven years and director of the Black Sea and Eurasia outreach program. She is also alumna from PASS, having attended in 2003.

"The President of Albania gave a very comprehensive presentation about the state of affairs in the Balkans and the need for transatlantic partnership and support for a prosperous future of the region," Zeneli said. "He also focused on internal challenges, such as strengthening the rule of law and good governance that are crucial for security, stability and resilience in the region."

In this current class, there are three participants from Albania, who work in the Ministry of Defense, Defense Intelligence and Security Agency, and State Intelligence Service, as well as an additional 22 participants from the Balkan region.

"I am impressed to see such a diverse group of participants, and more so to see the Balkan region well represented here today," Meta said.

'ENGAGING AND CANDID'

After his 20-minute speech, the president answered questions from the participants on topics relating to security in the Balkans.

"He was engaging and candid," Dayton said. "In my humble opinion, he did a great deal for the image of Albania today in front of our PASS class, speaking to people not only from the Balkans, but also from the rest of Europe, Africa, Asia, Middle East, and North and South America."

Frequent Marshall Center adjunct professor and guest speaker, Ebi Spahiu, from Albania, who is an independent analyst on Central Asian and Western Balkan affairs, agrees, "The President was candid about some of the key challenges facing Albania today domestically, but also including the political climate across Europe that does not favor Albania's advance into the European Union.

"However, I came out of the room more hopeful about Albania's relationship with Euro-Atlantic partners," she said. "The tone is still positive, despite the challenges, and we are at a crucial moment on this course of history. Albania's youth is ambitious, talented and vibrant. We can offer a lot by being in the EU."

LEGACY FOR THE NEXT GENERATION

The President talked about Albania's National Security Strategy, which he said states that "Our actions today define the legacy for next generations and their futures."

He listed the documents' seven strategic prerogatives that integrate every dimension of national strength: Strengthening rule of law and good governance; steady economic growth; qualitative education; well-developed security and defense sectors; preserving social cohesion and national identity; region and international engagement; and, advancing EU integration.

"We are realistic in understanding that rival powers, networks and actors that challenge European and Euro-Atlantic construction are tough, persistent and in constant sophistication," Meta said. "We can cope with these threats only through collective strategic partnership in such a manner that always protects our joint as well as national interests."

The president finished his presentation by saying, "U.S. involvement and the American-German partnership are key to safeguarding these interests in this part of the world. We pray this partnership further grows and strengthens in the future."