Updated: Aug 11, 2018
The West Must Not Accept the Status Quo
The United States should invest itself in making sure that Albania has a government that is a Western-style democracy. The national elections in June resulted in a highly questionable victory by the Socialist Party in a protracted and cumbersome process that took five rounds and three months before the OSCE could declare a winner. Meanwhile, Congressman Chris Smith, cochair of the Helsinki Commission in the U.S. Congress, declared that the elections were “not free and fair.”
The EU, which favors the status quo in Albania, has insisted that the previous government of Prime Minister Ilir Meta made much progress in instituting the rule of law. While clearly improvements were made under Meta’s leadership, the EU position, to which the United States defers, is incomplete. There is still too much corruption at the cabinet level and dominance of the Albanian government by old-line party hacks from the Communist regime of Enver Hoxha and his successor, Ramiz Alia. Many members of the Socialist Party who occupy key positions in the government today at one time inflicted great harm on the civilian population. The United States has underestimated the resentment of the majority of Albanians towards their former oppressors, who imprisoned them in concentration camps and jails from the end of World War II until the fall of the Alia government in 1991, and the role that the perpetrators play today in undermining the development of a genuine democracy in Albania. The United States and Europe have also failed to create the conditions that would set the hitherto most isolated and repressive Stalinist Communist regime in Europe, which was virtually a prison without walls for fifty years, on a path to genuine democracy.
Albania Needs to Establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Albania needs to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, so that it can finally come to grips with the horrendous legacy of Enver Hoxha. At the same time, internal and external attempts to resolve the problems of Albania have been stymied by a fixation on individual leaders and personalities and chronic political feuding—all of which has resulted in a dysfunctional political system characterized by power struggles and gridlocks. In this regard, the Democratic and Socialist parties have are equally guilty. In a positive development, Socialist Party Chairman Fatos Nano’s attempt to control the selection of a new prime minister, after forcing out Prime Minister Meta, and to wrest the presidency from Rexhep Meidani fell apart this winter. The opposition’s reentry into parliament is also a sign of political progress.
It is too soon to tell what directions newly appointed Prime Minister Pandeli Majko will take. Nevertheless, when all is said and done, Albania needs political, economic, and social reform. The continuing poverty, job scarcity, crumbling infrastructure, power outages up to twenty hours a day, lack of foreign investment, and corruption are unacceptable and have pushed hundreds of thousands of Albanians in the past five years to flee abroad. In this environment, competence and integrity must become the key criteria for electing government officials, not party affiliation.
Albania Must Make Common Cause with Other Albanians in the Balkans
Finally, it is widely believed that the United States tolerates the current political, social, and economic conditions in Albania because the State does not support Kosova’s aspirations for independence. Pushed by the West, Albania restored diplomatic ties with Belgrade in January 2001, a move viewed as premature by ethnic Albanians in postwar Kosova and throughout the Balkans. Albania is clearly anxious that by appearing to be committed to the resolution of the Albanian national question, it will lose Western support. In reality, the opposite is true. The United States and Europe, to a terrible extent, have turned their backs on Albania. Beset with a war in Afghanistan and a crisis in the Middle East, the West is even less inclined than it was before to take on the reconstruction of Albania. Albania should look first to transform itself from within and second to make common cause with its ethnic Albanian brothers and sisters throughout the Balkans in a united search for peace, prosperity, democracy, and freedom.