Books on Albania
Update No: 111 - (25/08/06)
The Heart of the Matter
This is the title of one of Graham Greene's 'entertainments,' like Our Man in
Havana. Greene was a sympathiser with communism from the Catholic point of view
of liberation theology and a friend and admirer of Fidel Castro, now on the way
Nobody on the bien pensant left ever made such a fuss of Enver Hoxha, the former
communist dictator of Albania. He was the dottiest communist leader of all,
outside Kim il-Sung of North Korea.
One of the many problems of communism is that it was feckless towards the
environment. Its main ideology was Historical Materialism after all. But it was
always keener on History, which it thought was going its way, than the
infinitely tedious Matter of the habitat.
Together with a deep level of public poverty, Albania duly has appalling
pollution, which it is now seeking to reduce.
Albania seeks to reduce pollution
It has now drafted a new national strategy for lowering the amount of pollution
in the country. Priorities include improving air quality, protecting water
sources and forests, and promoting recycling.
"In the last years, the environment in Albania has been damaged, leading to
a bad impact on peoples' lives," Environmental Minister, Lufter Xhuveli,
said. The new strategy is expected to help remedy the situation, he added.
According to Prime Minister, Sali Berisha, Tirana is one of the most polluted
cities in Europe. He urged state institutions and local authorities to work
together to clean it up. "The problem of the environment is not an issue of
a certain institution, but a problem affecting all … everyone has to make
their own contribution," Berisha said.
He urged the ministry of education to review textbooks and see that they include
sections on protecting the environment, and promised the government would take
However, it will be a few years before the new national strategy is actually put
into action. Its objectives are to be implemented starting in 2010, so several
more years of pollution are consequently inevitable.
A major contributor to the pollution problem is the large number of cars, most
of them old. According to official estimates, there are more than 200,000 cars
on the road now, a figure that is rising by about 10,000 annually. About 40,000
of these cars still use leaded petrol. In addition, Albania has a large
blackmarket in unregistered stolen cars from other countries, which the official
figures will not have picked up
More than 80 per cent of cars are diesel-powered. If not maintained properly,
diesel engines emit large quantities of microscopic particles, called PM10s,
which can lodge deep in the lungs and are carcinogenic. The WHO limit for PM10s
is 50 microgrammes per cubic metre of air, but at one central Tirana crossroads,
the 24-hour average exposure was 483 micrograms, with peak-hour levels far
According to reports, traffic-related pollution has increased death rates in
parts of the capital by 20 per cent in the last ten years.
Ban on smoking
Everything in Albania still has a political angle, as in the days of Hoxha
of yore. Former Prime Minister, Fatos Nano, who lost the last elections in 2005,
was known for his smoking habits. Meanwhile, the new Prime Minister, Sali
Berisha, proclaiming himself a penitent smoker, has approved an even harder
draft-law to ban smoking. A nail in the coffin of Nano, or perhaps his medical
The Government of Albania approved recently a draft-law to ban smoking in public
areas like bars and restaurants, the Prime Minister's office has announced. The
law is intended to lower the number of smokers in a country that is known for
having one of the highest rates of smoking in Europe.
Current legislation forbids smoking in public offices, schools and hospitals,
but not in bars or restaurants. The new draft-law restricts fines to 500 US
dollars for the owner of the bar or restaurant where smoking takes place.
The former government had "forgotten" this draft-law for several
years, while last year anti-tobacco NGO's had accused the tobacco industry of
corrupting the government.
Meanwhile, in separate legislation, the Albanian Parliament has approved a hike
of the excise duty for tobacco and coffee.
Concerns over political conflict in Albania
The latest events on Albania's political scene could harm the country's
integration into the European Union, said Robert Hand, a senior staff advisor at
the US Helsinki Commission.
In an interview with Radio Voice of America on August 3rd, Hand underscored that
the political battle between the authorities and the opposition could affect the
ongoing reforms in Albania. He called on the country not to waste energy on
setting out control on institutions but to contribute to institution-building.
Hand said he was well aware that the Prime Minister Sali Berisha should keep up
the fight against corruption. However, he needs to ensure that political effects
of this process be precise. EU senior officials will visit Albania in the coming
days to discuss the latest developments in Albania's political scene and no
doubt see for themselves just how real the anticorruption campaign really is.
Albania (for a moment) in the forefront of the anti-terrorist struggle
There have been misunderstandings between the Prime Ministers of Albania and
Kosovo, Sali Berisha and Agim Ceku, over China's request for extradition of
China urged Albania to extradite five Chinese Muslims (Uighur minority group),
saying that they are terrorists, not political refugees. The United States
recently released the five men from its prison at Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba. They
arrived in Albania recently seeking asylum.
The Albanian government has said it will process the men's asylum applications
according to local and international law. That decision has upset China, which
says the men were part of a separatist group fighting to create an independent
Uighur homeland in Xinjiang province, (which in china-speak equates with
Tirana's daily Gazeta Sqiptare quotes Kosovo's PM Agim Ceku as saying the Bejing-Tirana
rift could harm the Kosovo status process. Ceku fears that China, which is a
permanent member of the UN Security Council, might veto any decision or hamper
the status process.
Berisha, on the other hand, stressed that the United States has voiced firm
guarantees that there will be no problems over China's veto-rights.
We reproduce last month's issue in lasting tribute to a great Albanian, whose
career explains much of his country's recent history:-
Death of a hero
A helicopter transporting Albania's former Deputy Prime Minister Professor
Gramoz Pashko to Italy crashed into the Adriatic Sea on July 17th. Pashko was a
leading figure in bringing to an end the socialist dictatorship in 1990-91.
Professor Pashko was one of the founders of the ruling Albanian Democratic
Party, a rector at New York University in Tirana, a former economics minister
and Deputy PM.
The crash of the Albanian helicopter with six people on board, including ex
Deputy Prime Minister Gramoz Pashko, is a motive for fresh attacks between Prime
Minister Sali Berisha and Chief Prosecutor Theodhori Sollaku.
Theodhori Sollaku is expected to present a report on the case before the
Parliament. The newspaper points out that the report supports the opposition's
accusations the Albanian Interior Ministry hid the results of the interior
investigation, according to which the crashed helicopter was mended with
Profile of Pashko
It is worth dwelling on the deceased's role in Albanian history for a while.
In early 1990 Pasko, an economics professor at the early age of 35, called for
an end to one party rule at considerable personal risk.
For the regime of Ramiz Alia, successor to that of Enver Hoxha, had declared its
refusal to follow the trend of revolution in 1989. Indeed, Albania was so
isolated that it might have seemed feasible to continue state socialism
indefinitely. Under Hoxha ties had been broken with Tito's Yugoslavia, the USSR
and post-Maoist China (where he correctly, as it turned out, "smelt the
whiff of revisionism in the air" as long ago as 1952). For a year after the
fall of the Berlin Wall the Party of Labour and its brutal secret police, the
dreaded sigurimi, continued to tyrannise the people.
But the economy was deteriorating so badly that a new course obviously had to be
set and foreign help attracted. Inevitably this meant via liberalization and an
opening up to the world. Prossor Pashko, with the authority of being the
best-trained economist in Albania, declared that the economy could no longer
He forged with Sari Berisha, the present premier, the Albanian Democratic Party
in 1990, the first independent party since the mid-1940s. Berisha is a Moslem
from the north; while Pashko was from a Greek Orthodox family in the south - a
good combination in a country with 70% Moslems and 20% Greek Orthodox to appeal
nation-wide. Pashko, indeed, was the grandson of the Patriarch of the Albanian
Orthodox Church, persecuted under communism, but now undergoing a great revival.
With his moral authority to add to his professional competence, he was also an
outstanding orator, who in Tirana and Vlore, the southern port he represented as
an MP, would address large spontaneous rallies, a very novel phenomenon in
Albania. A direct democracy was being born.
Fluent in English, Pashko was the very man to persuade the world, and more
particularly the Greeks, to accept the democratic changes under way in Albania.
The Democratic Party won the first democratic elections in 1991 and Pashko
became economics minister and deputy premier under Berisha, but definitely the
brains in the new administration.
The economy was then in free fall. But he laid the foundation of a stable
economy, which is now bearing fruit. His one mistake was to adopt shock therapy,
which for a while compounded the dire situation. 'Shock therapy' was then all
the rage as a nostrum disseminated by the monetarists, as in Russia. But it at
least made the transition to capitalism irreversible, which is why it was
adopted in Moscow too.
He addressed the transition to a market economy with gusto, despite innumerable
social and economic problems. He fell out with Berisha over his authoritarian
style and resigned. Industrial failure culminated in a breakdown in law and
order in 1997, when a vast pyramid financial scheme scandal broke out. A
disillusioned populace voted the Democrats out in that year, voting in the
former Socialists, who had, however, reformed themselves. They benefited hugely
from the Kosovo War, as foreign aid and credits and foreign personnel poured in.
The economy began to grow at around 7-8% per annum, the Socialists being
re-elected in 2001.
Pashko had returned to academic life, holding posts in Scotland, the US, Italy
and Greece. In 2000 he was made Rector of New York University in Tirana, where
he nurtured a new generation of Albanian intellectuals, scholars and
Berisha made a comeback last year, but Pashko this time stayed in academia
though still a very well-known and much-liked figure in Albania, a brilliant
raconteur, especially with a glass of his favourite whisky in his hand. His loss
for the Albanians is irreparable.
EBRD grants 8m Euro loan to Euromax
Albanian consumers are expected to gain more access to a wide variety of good
quality food products at competitive prices following an eight million Euro loan
by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to Euromax Shpk,
news website reporter.gr said recently.
The loan will shortly be followed by an equity investment. The combined
financing package will help the company strengthen its financial resources and
build five new large supermarkets in Albania's main cities. The company plans to
build three supermarkets in Tirana and is considering the construction of
further outlets in Skhodra, Vlora, Korca and Fieri in 2007, thus creating the
first supermarket chain in the country. EBRD is the largest single investor in
Albania, having committed more than 314.7 million Euro in 24 projects. The bank
has invested more than 4.2 billion Euro in 293 projects across in the