Books on Albania
Update No: 132- (01/06/08)
The historical hinge
Albanians are particularly concerned at the moment with Serbia. It is vital that
the moderate, liberal Serbs prevail and constitute the government. Such seems to
have happened. They have to maintain the fiction that Kosovo is part of Serbia
for evermore; but they know that this is nonsense.
It is a curiosity that the Serbs have made their creation myth a major defeat,
the Battle of the Field of Blackbirds in 1389, when they went down to the
Ottoman Turks in Kosovo. Interestingly (and you would never hear this in
Serbia), the army defeated that day was made up of Hungarians, Serbs and a
substantial proportion of Albanians under their princes, the whole under the
command of a Hungarian prince.
This meant subjugation for centuries (perhaps twelve to fifteen generations) for
the entire Balkans, including Albania, to the Ottomans. The Albanians adapted by
becoming 70% Muslim, as did of course the Bosnian Muslims. They have paid dearly
for it of late. So have the Albanian Kosovars. Milosevic and two fugitives from
justice still abroad in the region, Karadzik and Mladic, were the villains here.
The war over Kosovo in 1999 has seen the real creation of a new Albania,
resurrected from dire decades of a wretched communist dictatorship and a
hangover from it through the 1990s, when 'shock therapy' proved shocking, but
hardly therapeutic. NATO troops stationed there swept the brigands road-blocks
away, and helped to establish at least a start-up version of the rule of law.
The international organisations that came to town then brought new skills and
plenty of aid money, which triggered a boom, bringing GDP growth of 7% per annum
subsequently. Albania is no longer the poorest country in Europe.
Into the EU
It is naturally hoping to complement this performance by joining the EU.
Much will depend here on how fare the Croats and Serbs in Brussels, although the
Croats are far ahead of the field in terms of adhesion to the essential EU norms
of orchestrating national law, to fit EU membership. Serbia is a more complex
candidate. Success for them would more or less ensure Albania's entry too.
The heart of the matter – crime
But there is one most important condition. Albania sorely needs to improve its
record with regard to crime and corruption. As a traditional country of banditry
in its mountainous fastnesses, it will be difficult to make progress here. The
criminals are highly elusive. The EU has everything to fear from them. Already
they infest Italy and account for 75% of the vice industry in London.
Hardened by survival under communism with its secret police forces and gulag
prisons, the West is regarded as a soft option by comparison. Brussels is quite
right to sound the alarm here, particularly after its mistake of admitting
Bulgaria and Romania too early to membership, both of them ‘unreconstructed’
arenas for corruption at every level of state and business activity.
Premier Sali Berisha knows full well that a cleaner slate in Albania is a top
priority for his EU ambitions to be realised. A cardiologist by training, he
knows this is the heart of the matter, but whether he or another can effect
that, is unknown.
Tirana was hoping to be invited at least to join NATO at the April summit in
Bucharest. This was not to be.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told Berisha he was pleased with
Albania's progress, but said more work was needed on judicial and electoral
reforms beforehand. Berisha promised to push forward with the reforms. Although
Croatia is widely seen as ready to join the alliance, diplomats have raised
doubts about Albania and Macedonia.
"I assured the (NATO) ambassadors that our reforms in Albania are
irreversible and clear progress will be seen in the weeks and months to
come," he said. He warned that the snub in Bucharest was "an unhappy
signal," but said Albania would continue to push for membership. "We
will persist in our project until we realize it," he said.
Berisha said he would likely send about 50 Albanian officers to help train the
Afghan army in response to a NATO request, adding to about 140 soldiers his
country currently has serving with the allied force there.
He said Albania was also going to send about 60 soldiers to join an EU
peacekeeping mission preparing to deploy to Chad to protect refugees from
Sudan's Darfur region.
Albania deserves credit for its record in saving its Jews in the Second world
war. A conference about the rescue of Albanian Jewry during the Holocaust took
place on May 20-21.The gathering, sponsored by the Finkler Institute of
Holocaust Research at Bar-Ilan University; the Department of History of the
University of Tirana; and the International Institute for Holocaust Research of
Yad Vashem, was held in Albania's capital, Tirana.
Jews in Albania were saved by the citizens of the mostly Muslim country, which
sheltered them and gave them refuge. "Albanian Jewry is the only
Jewish community in Europe whose numbers even grew under German
occupation," according to Prof. Dan Michman of Bar-Ilan University. "Yad
Vashem recognized 63 Albanians as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’, a record
number bearing in mind the number of citizens of Albania and the number of Jews
living in its territory."
The complete story of the Jews of Albania has not yet been comprehensively
studied due to the political and cultural closure of Albania, before the
collapse of the Iron Curtain in the country in 1990. Participating in the
conference were researchers of the Holocaust and historians from Israel and
Albania, Italy, Germany, the United States, representatives of the Israeli
Foreign Ministry and the World Jewish Congress.