% 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. International observers judged local elections in 2000 to be acceptable and a step toward democratic development, but serious deficiencies remain to be corrected before the
2001 parliamentary elections
Update No: 077 - (01/10/03)
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. His cousin in Bulgaria, Simeon 11, Saxe Gotha- Coburg, learnt the lesson and totally renounced the throne before accepting leadership of his new party, National Movement. He is now premier of Bulgaria.
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 Hodha, 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.
The Socialists consolidate
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 form 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.
Spat with EU
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.
One-sided success against gangsterism
There has been some success in curbing the violent propensities of the gangsters and turning them towards more civilized financial firms of crime, peculation and corruption, endemic in this part of the world, but not incompatible with tourism, as Greece shows. The presence of NATO forces from 1999's Kosovo War has discouraged the former; while the flood of international aid and credit has encouraged the latter.
But Albania is still a country it is wiser to visit in a large organized group. The scope for group tourism can only grow.
Albania has joined the Egmont Group FUI to fight the new rise in financial crime. This involves 69 countries in fighting money-laundering and the financial support of terrorism.
Tirana cooperates fully with the US in countering terrorism directly by apprehending terrorists when they put in an appearance, which they do, given the country's reputation for crime and mayhem and its 70% Muslim population.
Italian premier urges businessmen to invest more in Albania
Premier Fatos Nano met in Bari with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, on the opening of the 67th session of Fiera Del Levante Fair, and expressed the need for participation of Italian investors in the privatisation of strategic sectors in the country, ATA News Agency has reported. During this meeting the two ministers reconfirmed the "excellent relations between the two countries." They dwelt on issues of reactivating commitments "to carrying forward the process of negotiations on the Stabilization Association Agreement with the European Union."
The Italian premier assured Nano that Italy will continue to strongly advocate for Albania in the process of integration towards Europe.
Nano took part in the opening of the 67th session of Fair Fiera Del Levante in Bari which was also attended by Italian Premier Berlusconi and senior authorities in the Puglia region. He was accompanied by Economy Minister, Arben Malaj.
Berlusconi asked the Italian businessmen, present at the ceremony, to consider investments with the neighbouring country, for the quick realization of Corridor VIII project.
Albanian government submits all Corridor 8-related projects to EU
The Albanian government has submitted to the structures of European Union all the projects related to Corridor 8 and will continue to encourage in the future the inter-regional initiatives in this respect, since it considers this issue important for the European future of Albania, ATA News Agency has reported.
Minister of Transport, Spartak Poci, speaking about the progress of the implementation of Corridor 8 project stressed that after the finishing of the main projects financed by the World Bank worth US$23m and some additional projects with the EU, the US government will start the implementation of the second phase of the development of Durres port with a credit of 17m Euro extended by the European Bank of Investments (EBI).
According to the minister, parallel work is being performed even to adjourn the 20th-year plan on development of Durres port, and the development of Vlore port where it has finally been possible to reactivate the projects with the Italian government, which have been suspended since 1997. Implementation of these projects envisages the rehabilitation and increase of Vlore port capacities. In this way, this port will be able to function as a second gate of Corridor 8.
As regards construction of roads relating to Corridor 8, the ministry's attention is concentrated on the completion of the road segment Rrogozhine-Elbasan and Elbasan-Librazhd. While construction of the road sections from Lushnje-Fier and Fier-Vlore will start as soon as the technical project is finished, since the funds have already been allocated. According to Minister Poci, the construction of these roads has consisted of the rehabilitation and development of infrastructure by giving priorities to Corridor's road segments. Also, he said that Corridor 8 cannot be perceived without a developed railway transport, and that is why Albanian Ministry of Transport is working to adopt the project for the rehabilitation of Tirana-Durres-Port railway line and the communication with Rinas airport.
This project will be supported by Italian and US governments, respectively through SACE and EXIM banks. The meeting of Transport Ministers of Corridor 8 will be held on 18th September in Bari in Italy whilst at the beginning of November the prime ministers of this corridor will be convened in Sofia in Bulgaria where it is expected concrete steps will be taken in realizing the projects.
Italian Deputy Secretary on Infrastructure, Guido Viceconte, assured the maximum commitment of Italian government on Corridor 8, the biggest inter-European network of transport that includes Italy, Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey. Through a press release, he stressed that Corridor 8 constitutes "a complex programme, fundamental for the territorial cohesion between the Adriatic and the Balkans, Black Sea and Middle East, that should be totally realized by 2015."
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