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: 086 - (30/06/04)
The younger generation to the fore
Albania's two cleverest politicians are at each other's throats. Fatos Nano, the prime minister and leader of the (ex-communist) Socialist Party is on the defensive, while his younger and more dynamic rival, Ilir Meta, is making the running. He resigned from the foreign minister's job in July, having accused the prime minister of cronyism and interfering with foreign policy. He has managed ever since to block the appointment of a successor.
The power struggle is probably going to be resolved this autumn. The outcome could determine whether Albania falls back into stagnation and corruption or moves ahead more vigorously.
Meta persuaded a group of MPs from the governing Socialist-led coalition to vote against or abstain from approving the candidacy of Marko Bello, a close ally of Mr Nano. With parliament on holiday, Mr Nano has been able to manage without a foreign minister for a while; after all, the European Commission, which keeps the closest tabs on Tirana, more or less shuts down for August. Ermelinda Meksi, the ambitious new minister of European integration, whose predecessor resigned along with Mr Meta, has been fielding phone calls from Brussels. Now also deputy prime minister, she successfully handled Albania's negotiations to join the WTO.
But Mr Meta's move has made the prime minister look weak just as he starts planning his campaign for local-government elections due in October-just over halfway through the government's four-year term. Sali Berisha, the belligerent leader of the opposition Democratic Party, has called for Mr Nano to stand down.
Meta's moment may yet happen
Albania's efforts to sell off big state-owned companies, build better roads, collect more taxes, and overcome a chronic power shortage - some of the main reasons for its failure to attract foreign investors - have all slowed under Mr Nano. Mr Meta got much more done during his brief stint as prime minister after the disruptive war in 1999 in neighbouring Kosovo.
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.
OMV signs new offshore exploration licence in Albania
OMV has signed a production sharing contract for exploration and production in a new offshore block in Albania, New Europe reported recently.
The contract was signed between the Albanian government and OMV (Albanien) Adriatic Sea Exploration GmbH, a 100% subsidiary of OMV Aktiengesellschaft on May 27th, 2004. As operator, OMV (Albanien) holds 50% in the block while the other 50% is held by Swedish partner, Lundin Petroleum.
Helmut Langanger, member of OMV's board of management responsible for exploration and production (E&P), said, " the new licence enlarges our portfolio in Albania. We will use state-of-the-art 3D seismic technology to search for oil and, for the first time in Albania, also for gas."
Within the next four years OMV will reprocess 1,000km of 2d-seismic, undertake 400km2 of new 3-d seismic and drill exploration well. OMV started its E&P activities in Albania in 1991. Through selective acquisitions in promising areas and the purchase of Preussag Energie's portfolio in early 2003, OMV became the leading international E&P company in Albania. Besides the new offshore block called Durresi, OMV is also engaged in onshore activities in Blocks 1, 4 and 5.
Together with Hellenic petroleum, OMV is currently drilling an exploration well in Block 5. OMV subsidiary Preussag Energie International and Lundin Petroleum jointly undertook exploration activities for Block D. After the evaluation of geological and geophysical data and other core information of this area, an agreement with the National Petroleum Agency of Albania was negotiated to suspend operations on Block D and to transfer the remaining obligation of work to the new area.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC RELATIONS
Albanian, Croatian, Bosnian premiers discuss reforms, NATO, EU
Albanian Prime Minister, Fatos Nano, recently met in Tirana with the prime minister of Croatia, Ivo Sanader, and the prime minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Adnan Terzic. At a joint news conference the three prime ministers expressed the common will for standard reforms for integration into NATO and European Union, ATA News Agency reported.
Nano stressed "this initiative helps further consolidate political dialogue among the major countries of southeastern Europe in a process of reforms for EU and NATO membership." The three prime ministers hailed the beginning of negotiations for Croatia's full membership into the EU, Albania's progress in ending negotiations of stabilisation-association agreement and wished for full membership for Macedonia, who has applied on 1st April of this year.
Nano also dwelt on the process of Albania's integration into NATO, several weeks before Istanbul's summit. "We expect that Istanbul's summit will reaffirm the commitment of North Atlantic alliance and assess the countries of the Adriatic Charter as the group of the countries preparing for NATO enlargement in the next summit, before 2007," said Nano. The three prime ministers discussed developments in the Albanian region, strengthening of cooperation and coexistence among the countries of the region, regional integration processes and processes of getting closer to the Euro-Atlantic structures. Also invited to the meeting were the president of the Serbia-Montenegro union, Svetozar Marovic, as well as Macedonia's Prime Minister, Hari Kostov, who did not go to Tirana for unexpected reasons.
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