Date: Thu, 16 Dec 1999 20:01:00 -0600 (CST)
From: (by way of Greek Helsinki Monitor <>)
Subject: [balkanhr] Albania : Nine Years After
Article: 84879
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Albania: nine years after

By Remzi Lani, AIM Tirana, 16 December 1999

As it is said in the Western Media “The last piece of domino”, or as it was considered by the local media “the indomitable citadel of communism”, fell one year after the Berlin Wall, on December 1990. Like in the other East European countries, the peaceful rallies and tables' negotiations were the symbols of the Democratic Movement. The “Negotiated Revolution” term suits the Democratic Movement in Albania too.

Nine years after, probably Albania is the ex-communist country that has changed more. In fact, any comparison with the brutal communist regime would sound ridiculous. Among all East European people, Albanians have less reasons to feel nostalgic of the epoch before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But, the nine years of the post communist transition also make up a dramatic calendar in the Albanians new history. Once the overlooked Stalinist country, probably has been on the focus of the planet's media more than any Eastern country. The emerge of the anti- Communist opposition on 1990, the toppling of the Hoxha's dictator statue on 1991, the undisputed victory of the democratic opposition in 1992, the rejection of the draft constitution introduced by Berisha in 1994, the May 1996 contested elections , the Spring 1997 pyramid investment schemes crisis, the violent events of September 1998 and finally and more important the Kosovo War in Spring 1999, give dramatic colors to the Albanian transition, hardly to be found in any other country.

But, nine years after, the Albanian citizen can be compared with a passenger waiting at a bus station without knowing his destination. The tiny Balkan country cannot be considered as a Hope-Land. “Exit from communism” wasn’t that rose and festive as it seemed to be.

Though Albania is the country, which has received more aid per capita from the European Union during these nine years, it still remains the poorest country in Europe with a ramshackle infrastructure. The country's roads are in poor conditions. During winter time the power is intermitted, and during Summer time there is shortage of potable water. As a journalist said ironically, the county enters the new Millenium holding the candle in one hand and the mobile phone on the other.

But, paradoxically Albania still has the strongest currency in all Eastern Europe. Albanian currency “lek” is almost stable and the inflation in levels close to zero, not much due to the applied economic policy, than the fact that the country gets $1 million per day from the immigrants remittances, of nearly 500,000 immigrants who work in Greece and Italy and also considerable amount of hard currency circulate in the country due to the illegal traffics of drugs, prostitutes, stolen cars etc.

Nine years after, in Albania prevails an armed peace. Nearly half a million weapons are in the hands of the people, since the revolts of March 1997, during which army's depots were looted. Country's roads are still unsafe from the activity of armed gangs, in spite of the tough measures taken by the new Minister of Public Order, Spartak Poci. No one hesitates to speak about the organized crime, and often the felons are apprehended by the police and a few days later are released by the corrupted judges.

Ironically some days ago, the arrest in Turkey of one of the bosses of the pyramid investments schemes named “Gjallica” was accompanied with the release by the court of another boss of the biggest pyramid investment schemes, VEFA, where is supposed to have lost their life savings the bulk of those protesting in squares and streets during Spring 1997.

None of the enigmas of the Albanian recent history, since the assassination of the popular opposition deputy, Azem Hajdari or the brutal beating in Tirana's main square “Skenderbej” of the 1996 opposition, and not going further at the destruction of the Albanian Army in 1997, have come into light and seem to remain in darkness for a long time.

The modern legislation, based on the European standards is one thing, while the Albanian reality is another thing. Laws, here, in fact are written according to the European standards but are applied according to the Balkan standards. After long hesitations, last week Albania abrogated the death penalty, but in the northern part of the country has resumed the vendetta phenomenon and hundreds of families are forced to be locked in so-called “isolation towers”.

The political transition towards democracy has its own zigzags, starting with the intermediate steps of authoritarism (1994-1997) or anarchy (1997-1999). Albanian state degraded in a network of interests. Its institutions proved to be based on political clientelism and not on the law.

On the other hand, the political transition from the dictatorship to democracy had as a companion the social transition from the rural society to urban one, a delayed process this. Thousands of people from the countryside have headed to big cities, a phenomenon totally unchecked. Now what attracts the eye is not the urbanization of villages, but the ruralization of the cities.

The fall of communism in Albania was also accompanied with an identity crisis. As a political observer points out, Albania lacked a strong nationalistic subtract, in order to convert the communist authoritarism in an authoritarism based upon the nationalism, like Tudjman did in Croatia, but it also lacked the initial democratic institutions,—present in other countries like Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary—to develop a democratic state.

Although the Albanians have gone to the polls more than any nation of East Europe (four times parliamentary elections, two times local elections and two times Referendum for the Constitution), can undoubtedly asserted that they still remain a nation not politically represented. Nine years after, in Albania either the Government or the opposition are not popular. Probably half of the Albanians cannot find out a political party to represent them. All general elections in Albania have yielded the figure two/third in favor of the winner, which testifies that the Albanians have voted more “against” than “in favor”. Nine governmental cabinets in nine years is only one of the indexes of the unstable political life.

Yet Albania hasn’t pass the test of the peaceful rotation of power after the communism fall. All electoral processes have been contested either of one side or the other, with the exception of the March 1992 elections, which brought to power the anti Communist opposition. Thus, the upcoming, whenever they will be staged, remain a fundamental test for the Albanian democracy, that nine years after, needs an uncontested vote.

The 30-year-old Premier Ilir Meta , who leads the current government, has chosen as the battle horse the fight against corruption, one of the Albanian society gangrenes. The pragmatic suit of the 30-year- old Meta, once participant in anti-Communist students' protests, is a good advertisement to Albanian ex-communists, whom after nine years have managed to be the Westerners favorites.

After nine years, the right-wing opposition of Berisha is in opposition again. While in December 1990 it was a united block, today is divided. A group within the party, led by ex-deputy chairman Genc Pollohas challenged the undisputed authority of ex-President Berisha causing him more troubles to his image abroad than to his popularity within the country's right wing.

Nine years after, the two main camps of the Albanian politics still stick on the same terms of the politics like in the early days of 1991: Berisha continues what he calls “the war against communism”, while the Albanian socialists reply with the “war against Berisha”.

Meanwhile, the late Albanian ex-communist President, Ramiz Alia, appears undisturbed during receptions or cocktails, while Hoxha's widow publishes memories where she glorifies her husband. A poll conducted by the daily Koha Jone, based not on professional and scientific criteria, but simply on the readers letters, most of them senior citizens and Second World War veterans has announced as the highest Albanian personality of century, precisely Enver Hoxha.

Is this an irony of the history? Interpretations vary. They start with the Albanians brief historic memory and with the nostalgia for the state (not for Hoxha) and up to what is called the failure of the Albanian transition and Albanian democracy.

In fact it is not the democracy which has failed in Albania, but its political class, which has been unable to lead the democratic process. If the Albanian democracy is not a consensual one, but a conflictual democracy, this is due to the political class and not to the Albanian people.

When the democrats swept to power in 1992, they replaced the communist ideology with the so-called “democratic ideology”. Thus, democracy was perceived not like a method, way, rules of game, rule of law, but as an substitute ideology, not to say as a religion. Nine years after, the communism and democracy continue to clashes more on the pages of newspapers and politicians speeches, than in the life of the Albanians.

The dominant actors of the Albanian political life even after nine years remain ex-President Berisha and ex-Premier Nano, bitter rivals to one another. The dinosaur couple, as the foreign press labels them, has managed to survive, in spite of the Western criticism and internal problems. The bad mouth say that during his rule Berisha preferred the ties with intelligence service office, to control his opponents, while Nano with the custom's office to control the smuggling.

Despite of the internal conflicts, Albania didn’t have and do not have dilemma on its Western orientation. Albania is the more pro American country in the region, which first of all has to do with the American role in solving out the Kosovo crisis. US President Bill Clinton is regarded as a national hero.

Maintaining balances through the European orientation and the American one; between Italy and Greece on one side and Turkey and Greece on the other side; between Islamic Countries Conference and the Francophone Conference (Albania is a member of both organizations) has not always been easy.

The tiny Balkan country amazed the others when during the three months NATO bombardment campaign coped with an influx of nearly half a million kosovar refugees, equal to 15 percent of country's population. The opening up of the border between Kosovo and Albania after 50 years is considered as the fall of the Berlin Wall, which separated the Albanians. After they have visited Greece, Italy, Germany, US, now at the turn of the century Albanians are visiting… Kosovo.

In fact the Wall is thrown down, but there are still gaps. The political camps in Tirana and Pristine remain divided and discorded. While the road which connects Tirana with Pristine (not in the figurative meaning) is a long road, difficult and full of potholes, that needs ten hours to be covered.

By and large, it can be said that nine years after, Albanians have thrown down the walls, but have not built the bridges. And as it is known in the Balkans is more difficult to construct than to demolish.