Nearing the end of an eight-day trip, Bush got a hero's reception in this desperately poor country, still struggling to recover from being cut off from the rest of the world for four decades under the harsh rule of dictator Enver Hoxha. Hoxha died in 1985, and Albania emerged from isolation in 1990 but still is one of Europe's most impoverished lands.I guess a nation has to be truly (and recently) under the shit-hammer for it to realize that we're not the bad guys.
Cannons boomed salutes from mountains overlooking the capital. Huge banners proclaimed "Proud to be Partners," and billboards read "President Bush in Albania Making History."
At home, Bush's job approval rating stands at its all-time low. But here, Prime Minister Sali Berisha said Bush was Albania's "greatest and most distinguished guest we have ever had in all times."
Throngs of people grasped Bush's hands, arms and fingers on the streets of Fushe Kruje, a small town near the airport where he stopped to chat in a cafe with business owners. Unused to such adoring crowds in America, Bush reveled in the attention. He kissed women on the cheek, posed for pictures and signed autographs. Someone reached out and rubbed his gray hair.
"Bushie, Bushie," people shouted. Some of the business people have received small loans under U.S. government programs.
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Albania has eagerly embraced democracy and idolizes the United States. Three stamps have been issued featuring Bush's picture and the Statue of Liberty, and the street in front of parliament has been renamed in his honor.
The punchline: Albania is 70% Muslim.