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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 6,124 4,695 4,100 109
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,740 1,380 1,340 120
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Albania

Update No: 166 - (27/03/12)

Albanians represent one of the largest ethnic diaspora in Europe, with three million inhabitants of the country itself, three million more in the Balkans as a whole and a million across Europe. This NATO member has tried abortively to achieve EU accession status, but been thwarted in its attempts by the sparring of its two main political factions, the right wing, Alliance for Change coalition, to which Prime Minister Sali Berisha belongs, and the Socialists, whose divisions have led to a state of political gridlock. Accusations of ongoing corruption have also tarnished the reputation of this nation, whose transition to democracy has been turbulent.

Following a March 2 meeting with EU senior officials in Brussels, Albania's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Edmond Haxhinasto, optimistically told the press that the country stood a 'realistic' chance of gaining candidate status. On March 19, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced that Hungary supported Albania's accession to the EU following a meeting with Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha in Budapest. The EU Delegation to Albania has made a series of gestures towards improving Albania's rights record and tolerance, by offering 10 NGOs grants worth a total of €1.2 million to promote democratization, with particular reference to the representation of rural women in political life, access to economic opportunities for victims of domestic violence, access to justice for children and Roma, access to services for people with disabilities, respect of rights in prison and services for children and youth with autism. Certain negative trends remain of great concern to the EU. A recent report noted that there has been a high increase in the number of women seeking operations to restore their virginity, a sign of the prevalence of repressive religious values. On March 8, International Women Day's, Albanian women gathered in Tirana in front of the parliament building to protest against the failure to observe gender quotas for politics. Two general elections have passed since the quotas were first introduced, which means that in local elections at least one in every three names on each candidates list should belong to each gender. Women still complain however, that they are under-represented. Of 140 MPs, only 23, or 16%, are female. There have been numerous complaints that Albania fails to observe electoral law correctly. On March 12, the General Prosecutor’s office indicted eight poll commissioners in the commune of Dajc for allegedly falsifying ballots in the May elections of last year. At the time allegations of vote-rigging flew. The Socialist opposition has proposed that the criminal code be amended in such a way as to stiffen penalties for those found guilty of election fraud. The proposal has been opposed by Prime Minister Sali Berisha and his ruling Democratic Party. With elections coming up in 2013, much work is required to ensure that the polls are carried out to a European standard.

On the theme of tolerance, a series of ugly incidents outside of its borders have alerted observers to inter-ethnic tensions. In Western Macedonia, where there is an Albanian majority, some of whom would like to see this territory (and Kosovo) reintegrated into Albania as a whole, Albanian citizens have been at the heart of some fierce ethnic clashes with Macedonian Slavs. On March 12, two ethnic Albanians were shot dead by police. The incident was followed by street fights during which Albanians were seen burning the Macedonian flag, a reminder that irredentism still prevails in the minds of some of the country's diaspora. It is also a reminder of the ethnic faultlines upon which the former Yugoslavia was divided, borders which remain porous and fragile. The European Commission apparently “deeply regretted” the ethnic disturbances and called on politicians and civil society to deal sensitively with the “emotional aftermath” of such an event.

One of the principal concerns regarding Albania's EU bid is corruption and legal nihilism, which rears its head with relative frequency. March 15 was a timely reminder of government 'negligence', with the three-year anniversary of an explosion at a munitions factory which killed 26 people. The series of explosions in Gerdec, near the capital city of Tirana, injured more than 300 people and damaged or destroyed 5,500 nearby homes. On March 12 of this year, 19 people, among them company officials, were sentenced guilty to charges of gross mismanagement and other related offences. The former head of the Defence Ministry weapons department, Ylli Pinari, and a senior manager at the private ammunition disposal factory, Dritan Minxolli, were both sentenced to 18 years imprisonment. They were all cleared of murder charges, a fact which has angered relatives of the victims, who complain that the sentences were insufficient and that justice was improperly served. They maintain that some officials, among them the then-defence minister, had not been properly held to account. Lawyers have vowed to appeal some of the verdicts. The Socialist opposition has used the occasion of the court case to score political points against the conservative coalition, whose officials they blame for failing to observe safety regulations and profiteering from the sale of Communist-era weapons to Russia and China. Another dent in the country's reputation came in the form of reports that former Albanian intelligence chief, Ilir Kumbaro, is on the run in the UK, after failing to attend an extradition hearing in London for alleged kidnap and torture of three men in his home country. On March 9, the General Prosecutor’s office filed corruption charges against former economy minister Dritan Prifti and ex-deputy minister Leonard Beqiri in the Supreme Court. Video evidence captured the former economy minister divvying up money, apparently siphoned from dubious dealings with the latter, his one-time aide. The video also revealed former deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta discussing ill-gotten gains with Prifti. Charges against Meta, who was also subject to a corruption enquiry, were dismissed by the Supreme Court on January 16, a move greeted with consternation by Brussels. EU officials have insisted that Tirana adopt a more punitive stance on corruption among the political elite.

Corruption charges do little to convince international observers or foreign investors that Albania is managing to reach EU reform standard. Of course the major victims of corruption are ordinary citizens and the country's economy as a whole. Tirana's prosecution office has recently had the challenge of investigating corruption in the local subsidiary of multinational energy giant Czech power giant CEZ. The company is accused of over charging customers for electricity and issuing fake fines to non-existent customers, to raise the appearance of losses and justify price increases. This issue dates back to November when Albania's state-owned Albania Power Corporation, KESH, announced it had problems keeping supplies up - as a result of dry weather and debts incurred from privatized electricity distributor, CEZ Distribution. CEZ, they allege, owes KESH roughly €58 million in unpaid electricity. Meanwhile, CEZ claims it is owed €150,000 million from its clients, among them public institutions and state-owned companies. In a period of drought when hydroelectric power, a source of much of the country's power supplies is suffering, the issue is particularly worrisome for individual consumers and industry alike.

In term of its economy the news has been somewhat positive. In the middle of March, Moody's kept its B1 credit rating for Albania, on the basis that it has made progress in addressing structural economic issues. The Albanian government hopes to limit the budget deficit to 3.5% of GDP this year and 3% in 2012-14, which could lower government debt to GDP in the near term. The percentage of non-performing loans is a worry, but the banking sector as a whole is "well-capitalised." As of the start of March, the World Bank has started negotiations with Albania on a credit package of more than $100 million to mitigate the possible effects of the eurozone crisis. As Albania has the highest debt in the region, these funds will be welcome. One of the reasons that public debt has increased is due to a major public work - the Albania-Kosovo highway. As has been shown however, improvements in infrastructure have helped spur improvements in growth in the transport sector. Overall the government has reason to be sanguine, as Albania’s gross domestic product grew by 2.6% compared with the same period in 2010, according to Albania’s National Institute of Statistics, INSTAT. The highest areas of growth were transportation, trade and industry. However, it has been suggested by some sources, the IMF inter alia, that INSTAT is not a reliable source of information, as it tends to massage figures to improve the country's economic outlook. Subsequently, forecasts have sometimes had to be readjusted downwards. This tendency to spin the statistics is reflected by the set of economic forecasts recently made by different institutions. The World Bank's GDP forecast for Albania this year is 2%, the EBRD's is 1.2%. That of the government is a rather more ebullient 4.3%. Unemployment is also a problem, at 13.29%. State-owned company Albanian Railways has been forced to sack 300 staff members, and another 300 people will receive half pay as a result of weakening growth.

Unemployment is not the only matter against which ordinary citizens are battling. On March 13, the Alliance against the Import of Waste in Albania announced it had collected 60,000 signatures against the import of waste into the country. The organization plans to submit a request for a referendum at Albania’s Central Election Committee in an effort to repeal the law. This issue has been bubbling away since the initial passing of the bill back in November after which a storm of protests was witnessed in the capital, over fears that waste import would turn the country, famed for its natural beauty, into a large-scale Balkan landfill. It was reported at the start of this year by "Balkan Insight" that large quantities of toxic chemicals have, over the course of the last decade, been imported. One specific finding was that France allegedly illegally shipped 588 tons of waste to Albania in 2004 alone. The type of waste allegedly imported from France is apparently classified as Y-17, referring to “wastes resulting from surface treatment of metals and plastics”, and is highly noxious. The EU Environment Commissioner, Janez Potocnik, is investigating the incident from the French side. An official Albanian investigation concluded that the imports had not been sanctioned, a fact which echoes the worries of protestors who argued that poor border control would make the nation particularly vulnerable. A poll released in January by the Institute of Development Research Alternatives, a Tirana-based think-tank, found that 78.4% of Albanians would vote against allowing waste imports into the country if a referendum was called. The fact that the issue has stoked such powerful manifestation of popular discontent is, some say, a heartening sign of civil society awakening in Albania.

Another matter which has caused upset in the past few months, is the government's plan, backed by Prime Minister Sali Berisha and the Minister of Culture, Aldo Bumci, to privatize at least 40 historical monuments, to be leased as bars/cafes to local business people. The plan, spearheaded by the head of the Institute of Monuments, Apollon Bace, has provoked outrage amongst Albania's strong community of historians and preservationists who claim that the leaseholders will fail to preserve the monuments as they should. The state, however, does not have the funds to look after them. This is just another example of the way in which the path to development, in a country whose history is rich and complex, has been strewn with thorns.


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