Books on Albania
% of GDP
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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: 083 - (19/03/04)
The Albanians are in an awkward position. Difficulties abound.
Albania's poverty, despite strong economic growth recently, its weak government and the lawless traditions of its northern clans have made it a focal point in the unruly region for organised crime. The reach of Albanian organised crime is greatly on the rise in Europe, notably in Italy and the UK.
The government's writ is weak in many parts of the country and scarcely exists in the rebellious north. There is a power vacuum along its mountainous borders.
The brigandage involves smuggling of every sort of contraband, from drugs to human trafficking. Part of the trouble is that the country fell into anarchy after 1997 when various pyramid financial deals collapsed. Military arsenals were looted and an estimated 750,000 small arms went AWOL on the black market.
Many were bought by Kosovars for use in the Kosovo War in 1999. That conflict brought a reward in Western involvement in the country. But it also brought in a flood of refugees, not all of whom have returned home. Ever since Albania has been a magnet for illegal immigration and human trafficking. These matters are worrying for its new Western friends.
Melodrama in Tirana
The government has recently had a serious shock close to its bosom. Opposition demonstrators tried to storm government offices in Tirana on February 7th, but were stopped by riot police and special troops of the Republican Guard. The demonstration was led by opposition leader and former premier, Sali Berisha. The target was the office of Premier Fatos Nano, plus several of his ministers' offices too.
This is Balkan melodrama at its best. Why the demo attacked the government at its strongest point, where it was bound to be well defended is a mystery. The Albanians still have a long way to go before they understand the democratic game.
Foreign companies' investment in Albania's oil industry totals US$410m
Albanian Minister of Industry and Power, Viktor Doda, recently held a working meeting with representatives of foreign investors operating in the Albanian oil market. Attending this meeting were representatives of "Premier Oil", "Occidental Albania", OMW, "Hellenic Petroleum", "Lundin Petroleum" etc, ATA news agency reported.
Minister Doda appreciated the work of foreign companies, which have invested about US$410m in the Albanian oil market over the last 13 years. During 2004, foreign companies will invest about US$50m dollars. Fruitful results are expected to be yielded from the drilling of new oil wells in Kanina (Vlore) from "OMW and Hellenic Petroleum" companies as well as the one in Shpiragu from "Occidental Albania" company. Both parties exchanged their ideas and demands during this meeting.
Minister Doda explained compilation of strategy on hydrocarbons carried out from the ministry he runs. Over 2003, "OMW & Hellenic Petroleum", "Occidental Albania", "Lundin Petroleum" and "Premier Oil" have invested about US$65m in carrying out work on oil searching as well as instalment of new technology of oil exploitation in Patos-Marinz region.
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