Books on Albania
Update No: 101 - (27/09/05)
Turbulence in the heart of Albania's capital
Albania remains a turbulent, gang-infested country. For many in the West,
indeed, Albania has become almost synonymous with organized crime, particularly
with its seedier and more brutal businesses. Albanian human-, arms- and
drug-traffickers have often made headlines in Western capitals, giving the
country and its nationals - as well as those of Kosovo - a serious image
An incident can bring this to life, worth bearing in mind before addressing
Unknown assailants gunned down four men in the centre of Albania's capital,
Tirana, on September 16th. Police said the killings occurred shortly after
midnight when several armed men approached the group in a bar in downtown Tirana
and shot the four, according to Top Channel, a local television station.
The assailants escaped from the scene in a car, and police launched a search for
Preliminary investigation suggested the shooting was part of fighting between
rival gangs, Top Channel said, and that the victims were suspected of
involvement in drug trafficking.
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 hands peacefully.
That is great news and Western representatives have therefore been right to
shower the new prime minister, Sali Berisha, with praise and promises of support
since his Democratic Party (PD) and its right-wing allies were sworn into
government on 11th September.
But 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 Co-operation 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.
According to a World Bank report published earlier this year, the level of
corruption in Albania has increased by 300 percent since 1997. Corruption, now
routinely described as "endemic," costs the country some US$1.2
billion in lost revenues, the report claimed. 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).
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 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, politicized, 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, 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. Still, Berisha won and it can reasonably be
assumed that Berisha's victory was 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, Mikhail 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 particular.
He may also wish to consider what lessons can be learned from the experience 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.
Into the EU?
Berisha's ability to move fast will also be of crucial importance for the
country's bid to join the EU.
Albania hopes the European Commission will soon recommend that it is ready to
sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, although this
is unlikely to happen by November, when the EC is due to issue its annual
British Airways to fly to Tirana
In a potential boost to travel and tourism in Albania, British Airways has
announced that it plans to begin regular flights to and from Tirana in March
2006, SETimes reported.
British Airways will join a number of international airlines that offer regular
direct flights to Tirana's Mother Teresa International Airport. UK flagship
carrier British Airways (BA) will begin regular direct flights between Gatwick
Airport and Tirana, the company announced in a press release. The flights are
expected to give a substantial boost to travel in and out of Albania.
The flights, due to start by March 2006, will be scheduled for Mondays,
Thursdays and Saturdays. Boeing-737-400 planes will be used on the route, with
an estimated time of about three hours to travel one way.
The BA office in Pristina will serve as a liaison regional bureau, providing
customers with Albanian-language information about the service. The airline has
been flying into the Kosovo capital since September 2001.
"What we have seen during these last five years is that Tirana, as a city,
has been expanded and lots of construction is under way. As we know, there are
many Albanians in London who would go to Albania to visit their families back
home. This will be a good market for BA," the company's executive-manager,
David Roucham, told reporters. BA projects that 25,000 travellers will use the
new London-Tirana route in the first year, with the number rising incrementally
afterwards, Roucham said.
In recent years, Albania has drawn the attention of a number of international
airline companies. Austrian Airlines, Hungary's Malev, Greece's Olympic
Airlines, Serbia-Montenegro's JAT, Italy's Alitalia, Slovenia's Adria Airways,
Turkish Airlines and Bulgaria's Hemus Air all offer regular, scheduled flights
to Tirana. Several domestic companies, such as Albanian Airlines, Albatros
Airways and Ada Air, also offer direct flights to and from European cities.
World Bank invests in irrigation and river protection
The World Bank announced that it will allocate US$3m for the repair of the
irrigation system, drainage channels and rivers in the District of Elbasan,
Albania. The current situation is a real concern, because the lack of proper
care in the past has seriously depleted the overall safety and security of the
system, New Europe reported.
Also, in the past, the system has been used outside its technical
specifications, with the added danger of illegal fishing using dynamite and
other explosives. Combined with the fact that the majority of dams were build 40
years ago, they present serious danger to the local population. The Director of
the District Board of Irrigation and Water Management, Shkelqim Sinani, says
that the funds donated by the World Bank will be used for repairs to both the
primary and secondary drainage and the irrigation system in the area. Overall,
the whole district has over 80 dams with height up to 30 metres, and 30
additional small dams up to five metres high. The dams range in capacity from
100,000 to three million cubic metres of water.