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: 087 - (27/07/04)
Powers struggle goes on
Early elections are the alternative offered by the Socialist Party (SP) in face of the current political situation, especially that created in Parliament. After more than seven years of constant requests to obtain early ballots, however, the Democratic Party (DP) declares itself not ready.
Unprecedentedly, when the ruling party launches the idea of early elections, the opposition's major political force imposes conditions for early ballots, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Fatos Nano and establishment of a broad-based technical government to prepare the process.
Mr.Gramoz Ruci, Socialist Party Member of Parliament and head of the Socialist Parliamentary Group, repeated in a press conference the will of the Socialist Party to hold an early election as the best way to resolve the political crisis in Albania.
Albania's two cleverest politicians have long been at each other's throats. In the latest twist Fatos Nano, the prime minister and leader of the (ex-communist) Socialist Party, is under siege while his younger and more dynamic rival, Ilir Meta, is making the running. He resigned from the foreign minister's job in July last year having accused the prime minister of cronyism and interfering with foreign policy. He has managed ever since to block the appointment of a successor.
European officials worried last year that Meta's departure would cause reform to stall altogether. Negotiations over an EU "stabilisation and association" agreement, meant to be the cornerstone of Albania's bid for membership of the European club, are grinding along slowly.
The speedboats that traversed the Adriatic to put thousands of illegal immigrants on Italy's shores have disappeared from the port of Vlora, a base for people-trafficking. A few traffickers have been tried and convicted. But international drugs and cigarette smugglers still use Albania as a transit route and warehouse.
As foreign minister, Mr Meta did a good job of improving Albania's traditionally prickly relations with Serbia and Montenegro (now in a loose union) and with Kosovo. That pleased EU governments, not least because it has facilitated cross-border co-operation to combat smuggling elsewhere in the crime-infested west Balkans.
Mr Meta's next move? At 35, he can afford to wait for another try at the premiership. The moment for which Mr Meta has been waiting may arrive in December, when the Socialists are to hold a party congress where he could challenge Mr Nano for the party leadership. That, say Mr Meta's friends, may be the time to strike.
Consulate in North Carolina
A letter from Fatos Nano, the Albanian prime minister, to David Funderburk, who has agreed to be Albania's consul in North Carolina, underscores the importance of the relationship fostered by an honorary consulate general. Albania has eight consulates in various US states, where there is a small, but existent Albanian diaspora.
"Your advice, insight and acquaintances have helped move Albania and her relationship with the United States in exponential ways," Nano wrote. "Albania is thankful to have you as our honorary consul general for North Carolina. You add a depth of knowledge and understanding that is critical to my country's future success."
Albanian premier arrives for visit to Lebanon
Albanian Prime Minister, Fatos Nano, recently paid a two-day visit to Beirut (Lebanon), ATA News Agency reported.
Premier Nano was received at the airport of Beirut by the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafiq al-Hariri, and attended an official ceremony organized for the occasion, accompanied by the national anthems of both countries. Afterwards, Nano and Hariri held a brief talk at the airport of Beirut.
This is the first visit of Albanian Prime Minister, Fatos Nano, to Lebanon. During the two days, he held meetings with ministers of the Lebanese government, with the parliament Speaker and with Lebanese businessmen.
WB to lend US$15m for water management in Albania
The World Bank has said that it has approved a US$15m 20-year credit for water resources development in Albania, New Europe reported recently.
"The Water Resources Management Project will increase the contribution of water resources to sustainable economic growth through an increase in agricultural production and reduction of flood risk," the bank's country office said in a statement.
"The total cost of the project is US$40m, of which US$15m (€12.2m) will be extended through the bank's soft-loan wing International Development Association (IDA), and the remainder will be provided by the Albanian government, by the governments of France and The Netherlands and by the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development," the bank added.
The credit will be repaid within 20 years, including a 10-year grace period.
The project will have four components: irrigation system revamp; institutional development for irrigation, drainage and food management; institutional support for water resource management; and project implementation support.
The project will be a continuation of the World Bank's two major irrigation and drainage rehabilitation projects in the country, due to which Albania had reconstructed a total 180,000 hectares of irrigation facilities and 120,000 hectares of drainage systems. The World Bank has extended close to US$754m for some 53 projects in Albania since 1991, when the country joined the group, the bank said in the statement.
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