TIRANA — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to Albania's parliament Thursday, urging politicians to ensure that next year's parliamentary elections are free and fair.
At Albania's centennial, Secretary Clinton said it is remarkable to think of all that the country has experienced in the past century -- invasions, occupation, Communist dictatorship, and isolation: a people without opportunities or political or social freedoms, unable to leave to find them elsewhere.
Now a NATO ally moving toward full integration in Europe, Clinton said Albania must continue working to strengthen its democracy, build its economy, and create a future equal to the aspirations of its people.
In a speech to Albania's parliament, she said the coming months will be critical, starting with ensuring that next June's parliamentary vote is free and fair.
"So I urge not only leaders of Albania but the people, the citizens of Albania, to work hard to make this next election a success that reflects the depth of your commitment to democracy," said Clinton.
For Albanian democracy to thrive, Clinton said leaders need to build a culture of cooperation that transcends political differences.
"Hold different political beliefs," she said. "Believe that you would be a better leader than the other person. That's what politics is about. You wouldn't be doing it if you didn't believe that about yourself. But at the end, putting individual interests and party interests behind national interests is what democratic leaders are called to do."
As she often does in remarks to young democracies, Clinton recounted the ferocity of her election campaign battle with President Barack Obama and how she then agreed to serve as his secretary of state.
She called on Albanian leaders to fight corruption because it is a cancer that eats away at societies.
"It drains resources. It blocks economic growth. It shields incompetent and unethical leaders. And perhaps worst of all, it creates a culture of impunity that saps people of their will to improve their own lives and communities," said Clinton.
She said rooting out corruption demands a constant effort and a shared commitment across political differences.
Albania is the last stop on a trip that has taken Clinton to Algeria, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo and Croatia.