% of GDP
In 1990 Albania ended 44 years of xenophobic communist rule and established a multiparty democracy. The transition has proven difficult, as corrupt governments have tried to deal with high unemployment, a dilapidated infrastructure, widespread gangsterism, and disruptive political opponents.
Albania has long been thought of as a freak country. Actually it is one of the most beautiful in Europe, with a magnificent climate, warm but never getting too hot, given its mountainous and hilly topography. It is merely a matter of time before it becomes a great tourist attraction.
That has been prevented of late by its well-deserved reputation for gangsterism and kidnapping. It is worth giving a historical survey to see why things may shortly change.
The country was ruled in the interwar period by highland chieftains with resonant names like King Zog and his son, Leka. The last reigned as an infant for a few months in 1939 before Italy under Mussolini invaded and occupied the country. He is still alive and attempted a comeback in an election in 1997. But he made the mistake of standing as a prospective premier, clearly wanting to be a king. Despite his pedigree and majestic height of 6ft 9ins, he failed to impress his subjects-to-be with his hereditary right to rule. He came nowhere in the election.
In the interim between the infant Leka and the events of 1989, the Albanians were ruled for fifty years by the communists. This meant in effect the personal dictatorship
of Enver Hoxha, an extraordinary character, perhaps the most extraordinary the communist world threw up. He kept his country in virtually complete isolation. It became the poorest in Europe.
Albania had a severe crisis in the 1990s, with a financial crash in mid-decade. The population took a while to understand the rules of the capitalist market-place. Thousands lost their savings in pyramid investment schemes. But from the turn of the millennium it has done well, compared with its bleak past. GDP has been rising by 7-8% per year, albeit from a very low base. The Albanians are no longer the poorest people in Europe. That dubious distinction now belongs to the Moldovans. The Socialist Party is benefiting, in power since 1997, and was re-elected comfortably in 2001. Tirana is 100% behind the US anti-terrorist campaign, having no truck with ethnic Albanian secessionists next door in Macedonia and Kosovo. The last thing the Albanians want is a war of any sort. With Milosevic gone there is no reason to quarrel with the Serbs.
The Albanians blotted their copybook, however, with the French and the EU by supporting the US over Iraq. Indeed they have even agreed with the US not to extradite Americans to the International Criminal Court.
The two leading premiers of the PS government have been Pandeli Majco (now defence minister) and Fatos Nano, the current holder of the post. Both are very highly regarded in Washington, which sees Albania as its closest ally in the region, now that the Turks have refused cooperation over Iraq. The grimness of the Hoxha years have made the Albanians no friends of dictators.
Update No: 078 - (27/10/03)
The Albanian glasnost and perestroika
Albania was not long ago regarded as a joke country, ruled by a batty dictator in Enver Hoxha, the last true Stalinist leader in Europe, or indeed the world. Under him it remained a very poor country, the poorest in Europe. He died suitably in the spring of 1985, as Gorbachev took over in the Soviet Union.
He would have been made apoplectic by the policies of glasnost and perestroika. He was fortunate to be spared the experience. As for the collapse of the Soviet Union itself, he would have become incandescent with rage and doubtless expired on the spot.
The successors to the Albanian communists, the Socialist Party, have been in the fore of an opening up of the country all the same, a sort of Albanian glasnost, more extensive than Gorbechev's in involving free elections, however irregular some of the electoral practices may have been. They have gone in for a far more radical perestroika than Gorbachev dared, with his original declaration of a ' 500 days' switch to capitalism, the brainchild of Grigory Yavlinsky in 1990, then promptly shelved. For they have switched wholesale to capitalism.
Municipal elections in October
On October 12th Albania held municipal elections, immensely important in a country which went almost overnight in 1991 from being a totalitarian state to being a fledgling liberal democracy, in which long pent up local forces immediately re-asserted themselves. Unfortunately much of these were the ancient networks of brigands in the mountains, which dominated pre-war, pre-Hoxha Albania. It was almost as if the communist period had never happened.
Early results of Albania's local election showed that the opposition has made gains in many municipalities, both the ruling Socialist Party and main opposition Democratic Party officials confirmed. The opposition candidates had won in some of the country's towns and southern regions which had been controlled by the socialists until the election.
"We are very pleased with our results, particularly in the southern parts of the country, which have been so far under the domain of the Socialists," Democratic Party leader, Sali Berisha, told a news conference. Berisha was the premier in the previous government before the Socialists in 1997. He is obviously hoping for a comeback in the next general elections in two years time.
The socialists claimed victory in Tirana and in Durres city. But the opposition has accused them of rigging the voter lists and has said it will not accept the results in both cities. Socialist Party Secretary General, Gramoz Ruci, told a news conference that his party has won in 36 out of 65 municipalities. However, the opposition has disputed his claims and has already declared its victory in most regions
The Central Election Commission has said that it will try to produce the final results "as soon as possible." About 2,000 local observers and 230 from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitored the elections at about 4,700 polling stations.
In the last municipal elections three years ago, the Socialists won 67 per cent of the local government posts compared to 31 per cent of the Democratic Party.
Early reports by some local observers have confirmed the opposition's claims of irregularities in the voter lists. But they added that the vote was in general peaceful and regular
Albanian energy firm's investments to reach 9.6bn leks by end 2003
It is envisaged that investments in the power system will reach a total value of 9.6bn lek [US$90m] by the end of 2003 year, ATA News Agency has reported.
According to sources from the Albanian Power Corporation [KESh], of the 9.6bn lek, 3.1bn lek are to be used for the KESh internal investing fund. Foreign investments in the power system during this year reached to 6.5bn, lek used for the transmitting-distribution network, construction of new energy substations, providing consumers with individual and collective meters of energy, etc.
Foreign donors to fund construction of first power station in 20 years
According to the official sources of Ministry of Industry and Energy, documents' examination of the tender and the selection of the winning company for the construction of the thermopower station will be completed during the October-November period. This is the first thermopower station to be constructed for 20 years and its construction is due to begin in 2004, ATA News Agency has reported.
The construction of the new thermopower station of Vlore is a result of financial cooperation between the World Bank (WB), the European Bank of Investments (EBI), and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) which will give US$110m for the first phase. The talks on the construction of the new thermopower station in Vlore city between the Ministry of Energy and Industry, the National Energy Agency, and the WB representatives concluded in May 2003.
The thermopower station of Vlore will produce 3m kWh per day.
Kosovo agency details planned new highway linking Albania with Kosovo
The Albanian government has approved the decision for the construction of Durres-Kukes-Morine road axis, as part of a national strategy, KosovaLive web site has reported.
Three alternatives were offered for the implementation of a road connection between Albania and Kosova [Kosovo], in order for it to be as short as possible. The first variant is Durres-Fushe Kruje-Milot-Rubik-Rreshen-Reps-Fan-Thirre-Kalimash-Kukes-Morine, and the second one: Durres-Fushe Kruje-Milot-Mjede-Puke-Fushe Arrez-Kalimash-Kukes-Morine.
The third variant, Durres-Fushe Kruje-Milot-Rubik-Rreshen-Shpal-Gjegjan-Fushe Arrez-Kalimash-Kukes-Morine, was selected as the best project, though it was evaluated to be more expensive and according to specialists, will cost about 300 million euros. The work is to begin in 2003 with the Milot-Rreshen road segment.
The Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano, said at the beginning of the meeting that he would utilise all of the intellectual potential of the country and use the geographic position and the benefits of material goods, not only for Albania and Kosova, but also for a fruitful cooperation with the entire region.
"Within the frame of inter-regional cooperation and the position of Albania, the Corridor 8 (East-West), North-South axis, and Durres-Morine road axis, is of interest as a transit route for us as neighbours, and transport through Europe and East countries," said Nano.
This road axis is of great importance for Tirana, as it not only connects the northeast zone with the national network, but also with the two corridors North-South and East-West, thus connecting and accommodating the traffic between Albania, Kosova and the region.
Another significant moment in the construction of this road would be the visit of Prime Minister Nano to Kosova, following the inauguration of Morina customs point at the end of September and the beginning of October.
The head of the lobby of deputies for the construction of the Durres-Kukes road, Petro Koci, told KosovaLive that he welcome the decision for the selection of the first variant, which means that this road would have four crossings, commensurate with the highest standards.
"According to Koci, the financing of the road Durres-Kukes-Morine would be made available from a combination of government funds and donors, Albanian institutions and the engineer corps.
"Such a decision is very important and a maximum engagement would enable completion of the work within the next four years. We will use concession forms and also Albanian construction firms would be invited to take part in the tender to be announced by the Albanian government," said Spartak Poci, minister of transport.
Qazim Tepshi, a member of the lobby, told KosovaLive that the decision is very important as it would give the northern zones a big economic lift. "It will also turn Kosova and Albania into two important centres for economic dialogue in the region."
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