Books on Albania
Update No: 124 - (28/09/07)
The Pope is coming
Pope Benedict is shortly coming to Albania. A symbol of the struggle against the
Iron Curtain, the Polish pope was acclaimed by hundreds of thousands of
Albanians during his visit, though the country has a Muslim majority.
Addressing a mass audience in Tirana's central Scanderbeg square with Pope John
Paul II at his side, Sali Berisha - at the time Albania's president - described
the then pontiff as a major force in the collapse of communism.
According to estimates, around 10 per cent of Albanians are Catholics. Some 70%
However, one Albanian Catholic says: " Albanians are crypto-Catholics. The
Muslimanism is unnatural for them. That's the reason why the Serbian efforts to
depict Albanians as Islamists, will never succeed."
Charming thought though that may be, it still remains the case that Albania like
all the former communist states has very thin grasp on religion of any
confession. The regimes that ran them brooked no ideological competition from
priests or imams. The few that were tolerated during all of those years were no
more than could present a veneer of toleration and perform such functions as
funeral services, and weddings, for which the commissars had no satisfactory
Prodi backs Albania
Italy is a very important country for Albania. It is so not least for being the
European nation apart from neighbouring Greece with which Albania has had most
to do. This was certainly true of the gangsters who moved all kinds of
commodities, including human trafficking, across the water into southern Italy.
Today, the Albanian gangs resident in Southern Italy have challenged the
traditional Sicilian mafia for dominance.
Berisha took part in New York in the 62nd assembly of the United Nations at the
end of September, where he met several world figures.
One of them, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, has given his strong backing
to Albania's aspiration to join NATO at a meeting with his Albanian counterpart
on September 26th. Prodi expressed his appreciation for Tirana's policy on
organized crime and corruption, and encouraged Berisha to push through reforms
required for his country's integration into the EU.
After the meeting Berisha declared that he was pleased with the support he had
received from Prodi. "The Italian Prime Minister assured me of his
country's active support for Albania's integration into NATO", he said.
Albania is hoping to receive a formal invitation from next year's NATO summit in
Bucharest to join the Alliance. Given Albania's central role in the only war
NATO had fought to that date, the Kosovo War in 1999, this would appear overdue.
Closer to Turkey
Berisha also held talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who
restated Turkey's support for the independence of Kosovo, through the
implementation of the plan drawn up by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari.
Erdogan acknowledged Tirana's reforms, especially in fiscal matters, as a major
thrust to attract Turkish companies into investing in Albania. "Many
Turkish companies already operate in Albania while others are interested in
following suit", said Erdogan.
On September 26th Berisha took part in the opening of the world leaders' summit
organized in view of the "Clinton Global Initiative," which aims to
tackle major challenges through active engagement in fields like energy,
education and climate change. The meeting was attended by over a thousand global
decision makers from politics, the economy and civil society.
The battle against corruption
If NATO and particularly the EU, are reluctant to admit Albania, it is
undoubtedly the scale of corruption there that largely accounts for it. They
fear that their funds would end up in the wrong hands. They probably would.
The government is determined to do something about it, or so it says. Albanian
police have arrested nine officials and businessmen on charges of bribery and
abuse of office, officials said on September 25th. Deputy interior minister
Genti Strazimiri said six officials, including deputy transport minister Nikolin
Jaka, were arrested for "engaging in corrupt practises involving from
hundreds of thousands to several million dollars".
The charges in the still ongoing investigation related specifically to
bargaining for bribes while awarding road contracts. They risk up to 10 years in
jail. "I do not exclude other arrests," Strazimiri told reporters.
Most of the arrested officials were from the small Christian Democratic Party, a
minor partner in the ruling coalition led by the Democratic Party of Prime
Minister Sali Berisha.
This year's global Corruption Perception Index shows most Balkan countries have
moved up in the international league table, but they remain among the more
The latest survey by the corruption watchdog, Transparency International, TI,
shows Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania, and Serbia climbing up in
the rankings, while Bulgaria has fallen back.
Albania, which comes last among the Balkan states in 105th place has climbed up
marginally from last year's 111th.