Books on Albania
Update No: 103 - (28/11/05)
OSCE offers assistance to Albania for electoral reforms
The chief of the European democracy building organization met with Albanian
authorities on November 17th to push for electoral reforms after a critical
review of the country's July parliamentary polls. These brought a sea change in
For over a decade the political scene in Albania was dominated by the struggle
between Fatos Nano, leader of the Socialist Party, and Sali Berisha, leader of
the centre-right forces in the Democratic Party. The defeat of the Socialists in
July after eight years in power has changed all that.
Berisha is back in harness where he was in 1997 when a financial collapse caused
his eviction, while Nano has met his own quietus. Eight years is a long time in
politics, especially in a poor country, ravaged by problems. There was
considerable growth on his watch, GDP rising by 7-8% per year. But in a
traditionally bandit nation this has only aggravated the ills of crime and
The successful smugglers and the like live mainly abroad off their ill-gotten
gains, while the bulk of the people languish at home.
Christian Strohal, of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe,
was on a two-day visit to Albania to offer assistance to the Balkan nation's
election authorities, government, parliament and political parties. Strohal met
with Prime Minister Berisha.
"We are here to discuss the recommendations we have made to assist all
political factors in Albania to move forward and to create an inclusive process
for completing reforms," said Strohal, director of the OSCE's Office for
Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.
A report released earlier this month from ODIHR, which led the main
international monitoring mission at the July 3 polls, said the parliamentary
vote complied only in part with international standards.
It called for improvements in the administration of polls and voters lists. It
also said lower-level voting commissions gave priority to party interests rather
than fully respecting the law.
The counting of votes often took longer to complete than allowed by law and
political parties' spending reports should be made public, according to the
Albania was also urged to increase the number of women in parliament and their
participation in public life and to improve voter registration among national
minority populations, particularly the Gypsy and Egyptian communities.
Electoral authorities took weeks to declare that a coalition led by Berisha's
Democratic Party had won the July poll, giving it control of 80 seats in the new
The Socialist Party won 42 seats.
The new Albanian parliament has already created a special commission to
investigate allegations of voting fraud made by opposition Socialists.
New premier performs?
His promise to rid Albania of corruption has redeemed Sali Berisha
politically. He now needs to deliver. It may not have been exactly smooth, but
for the first time since the fall of communism power in Albania has changed
That is great news and Western representatives have therefore been right to
offer the new prime minister, Sali Berisha, praise and promises of support since
his Democratic Party (PD) and its right-wing allies were sworn into government
on 11th September.
But as we report, even though it was largely violence-free, the election that
returned this former president to power "complied only partially" with
international standards, according to the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a reminder of the deficiencies of Albanian
democracy. And even though calm and relatively uneventful, the legal wrangling
that followed the July poll - as well as the refusal of Berisha's arch-rival
Fatos Nano to concede defeat gracefully - serve as reminders of the country's
turbulent election past. Indeed, when ex-Prime Minister Nano declares that
"the elections are politically unacceptable and the legitimacy of the
winners is limited," he has a point, at least in the strictest sense.
Nano's doubtful legacy
Still, Nano is hardly the person to preach about electoral legitimacy, for
whatever dirty election tricks and downright illegal means Berisha has resorted
to during his long journey through the country's troubled post-communist era,
Nano has been no stranger to any of them either.
More importantly, Nano, who earlier in September also resigned the leadership of
the Socialist Party, bequeaths Berisha a country riven with problems. Today's
Albania may be a more orderly place than it was in 1997, when power changed
hands amid country-wide unrest and a total collapse of authority. It may even,
on the whole, be less poor and less miserable. But one thing seems clear: it is
also far more corrupt, even though in this small country, corruption and
dishonesty have ever been widespread.
According to a World Bank report published earlier this year, the level of
corruption in Albania has increased by 300 per cent since 1997.
International police officials have estimated that the value of drugs passing
through Albania each year is now about two billion euros (US$2.4 billion).
Corruption, now routinely described as "endemic," costs the country
some US$1.2 billion in lost revenues, the report claimed.
Berisha announces efforts to step up fight against illegal trafficking
Prime Minister Sali Berisha is well aware of why his long-time rival bit the
dust. He is making the campaign against crime and corruption a top priority.
He announced on 17th October new measures to strengthen the fight against
illegal trafficking. Following a cabinet session, Berisha stressed the
government's commitment to a policy of zero tolerance regarding trafficking and
He also announced a three-year ban on the private possession of speedboats and
other watercraft commonly used for human trafficking. A special interdepartment
committee for combating trafficking was formed on the same day, headed by
Interior Minister Sokol Olldashi.
So far, Berisha has made all the right noises, identifying corruption and
the inadequacy of the country's institutions as key problems. Throughout his
campaign and since his victory he has maintained that fighting corruption,
enhancing the rule of law, and establishing the basis for more successful
economic development will be his priorities. When asked how he would deal with
Albania's organized-crime bosses, Berisha pledged to put them all behind bars.
In a reference to the Nano government, many of whose members were themselves
seen as corrupt, Berisha claimed that there would be no conflict of interest in
He has even made some of the right moves on the corruption frontline. A week
before his cabinet was to be presented to the parliament, he ordered his nominee
for the culture and tourism portfolio to sell his stake in a motel.
Though highly welcome, moves like that should be considered as barely even
equivalent to the opening salvo in the all-out war on organized crime that
Albania needs. The opening campaign should perhaps be tough shock therapy
followed by a sustained offensive on vested criminal interests.
This, of course, is easier said than done in the best of circumstances - and
Albania's capacity to wage such a war on crime is perhaps feebler than in any
other European country. Its law enforcement is (and is widely seen to be)
incompetent, politicised, and - even - pervaded with tribal rivalry. Berisha
himself and many of his aides are themselves, in some senses, spoiled goods.
These are no virginal newcomers yet to muddy their hands in the messy business
of politics; and it is not unreasonable to assume that in a country blessed with
more political choice many of them would now be regarded as hopeless have-beens.
Many of his aides have also been willing participants in Albania's unhappy
post-communist clash between its two main political blocs, its rival clans, and
even between much of the north and the south of the country. Berisha himself
bears primary responsibility for the developments leading to the 1997 collapse
of the country. It is for reasons like these that some Berisha's moves against
corruption and organised crime, if he indeed makes them, will immediately be
interpreted as revenge, narrowing his room for manoeuvre even further.
For those reasons too many of those who in July voted for Berisha and his allies
may not be enthusiastic supporters, but perhaps above all, desirous of change
after eight years of Nano's socialism. Still, Berisha won and it can reasonably
be assumed that Berisha's victory was to some extent secured not by his past,
but by his pledge to fight organized crime. Berisha's background may be rather
different from those of the Georgian and Ukrainian presidents, Mikheil
Saakashvili and Viktor Yushchenko, but he now finds himself in a situation that
bears many similarities with Georgia and Ukraine immediately after the
revolutions. Like Saakashvili and Yushchenko, Berisha has a mandate to carry out
far-reaching reforms - and to fight organized crime and corruption in
He may also wish to consider what lessons can be learned from the experience so
far of Yushchenko and other leaders of former communist countries to whom
electorates looked to rid their societies of corruption. One is, of course, that
leading by good personal example is always smart. Another, perhaps of critical
importance, is the issue of timing: a good time to start taking the rule of law
utterly seriously is always now - and the best of all good times is in the first
month in office. An electorate's stock of patience runs out quickly, especially
in a new and unstable democracy.
Berisha's credit with his own electorate is rather limited, though his majority
in parliament should at least provide him with enough stability for him to be
able to act. But given Albania's history of extra-parliamentary political
struggle, Berisha may need to be able to show concrete results soon if his
coalition is to survive long enough to leave a mark.
An artist becomes new leader of the Socialist Party of Albania
The political beneficiary of the fall of Nano looks likely to be Tirana's
rather eccentric Mayor, the 41 year old, Edi Rama, formerly an artist by
profession. On October 9th he reached a surprise victory when he won the
elections for leader of the Socialist Party of Albania. Rama won by a landslide
against his rival, the ex-President, Rexhep Meidani, during the extraordinary
congress held on the heels of the resignation of Nano.
Rama won with 297 votes against 151 received by Meidani. His victory came
despite the fact that the ex-leader Nano had clearly stated his opposition to
the candidacy of Rama just two days before the vote. He did not have sufficient
self-knowledge and cunning to realize that his opposition probably sealed Rama's
Now the socialists are looking to Rama as their man to lead their opposition
with the simple goal of getting power back. The socialists have already declared
their intention to keep the current centre-right government from fulfilling its
four-year term in power.
Short biography of Edi Rama
Edi Rama (born in 1964) is an Albanian politician and artist. Since October
2000 he has been the mayor of Tirana, Albania's capital.
Rama was active during the anti-Communist revolution, while being a professor at
the Academy of Arts of Tirana which was something of a political centre. In 1992
he penned an anti-Communist book called "Refleksione" (Reflections)
together with his long time friend Ardian Klosi. The book was condemnatory of
Enver Hoxha's regime and provided insight into emigration, economics and the
future of Albania.
With the advent of democracy and the multi-party system, Rama was disappointed
with the Democratic Party because of its corruption. He criticized Sali
Berisha's regime intensively, while following his career as an internationally
recognized visual artist.
Then, in 1997, state security agents beat Rama until he was nearly dead. After a
long recovery he emigrated to Paris. Then when he returned to Albania for his
father's funeral in 1998, Nano asked him into his government as Minister of
Culture, Youth and Sports. As Minister some of his first steps were the opening
of movie theatres to show Hollywood movies in order to help overcome people's
mental isolation from the rest of the world.
Then in 2000, Rama ran as an independent candidate in the Tirana Mayor race, but
always with the support of the Socialist Party of Albania. He won 57% of the
Shortly after his election as Tirana Mayor, Edi Rama's house came under fire
from an unknown gunman on November 9th, 2000, but Rama escaped the attack
In 2003's elections for Tirana major, Rama was able to win another mandate. At
the same time he began to get more involved in the political life of the
Socialist Party of Albania. In December of 2003 he became a member of the
It was during that same year that he also competed for the first time against
the then leader, Fatos Nano. However, elections proved a disappointment, with
only a modest number of votes being cast for him. All the sweeter to win the
crown at last, which makes him the likely next premier of Albania.
Privatisation agenda for the Albanian Power Corp
Director General of the Albanian Power Corporation (KESH), Fatmir Hoxha,
declared recently that he had received a study by Lahmeyer International, a
German consulting company, proposing the split of the corporation into smaller
companies to further its privatisation, AENews reported.
According to the Lahmeyer study the initial stop-on-route to the privatisation
of KESH foresees splitting the Corporation into smaller companies specialised in
generation, transmission and distribution of energy. Then later it will be
decided if these smaller KESH companies will be partly privatised, given under
concession or completely sold. The Albanian energy system has an installed power
production level of 1200 Mega-Watt, sourced mainly from hydropower sources. The
average annual production-quota is estimated at five billion kWh. Currently,
annual energy supply is estimated at seven billion kWh. The government has not
yet reached an agreement, however, the sale and distribution sectors in the
major cities are expected to be among the first in the list of privatisations.
Italy grants Albania new road loan
For the construction of the main road in south of Albania, Italy has granted
Albania 18 million Euro (US$21.6 million) loan, the Albanian Transport Ministry
said on November 2nd, New Europe reported.
Albania is working to update its outdated road network, which has had trouble
coping with the hundreds of thousands of vehicles that have been brought into
Albania since the fall of communism in 1990. The loan signed on November 1st
will be used to rebuild an existing segment and a new part of the 22-kilometre
(13.7 miles) road between the towns of Lushnja and Fier, south of the capital