International Crisis Group

Accessed 28 May 2000

Albania: State Of The Nation

Part I

March 1, 2000

Part II


Executive Summary

During the spring of 1999, more than 450,000 Kosovo Albanian refugees flooded into Albania, many of them forcibly deported by Serb forces in Kosovo. Despite Albania's acute poverty, many Albanians opened their homes to provide shelter to the incoming refugees and the government spared no effort, organising humanitarian relief and putting the entire country at the disposal of NATO. As a result, in the eyes of its people, Albania has secured its position as the spiritual motherland of all ethnic Albanians, and as such expects to play a prominent role in future pan-Albanian aspirations.

In an effort to consolidate the gains made during the last year - namely the 'liberation' of Kosovo from Belgrade's rule - Albanians from both sides of the Kosovo border are endeavouring to weaken the structural division between Albania and Kosovo. The improvement of transportation and communication links is aimed at providing Kosovo with access to an Adriatic sea port, whilst helping to alleviate the chronic unemployment in Albania's northern districts by re-establishing traditional trading links between towns on both sides of the border. Such moves, however, are being interpreted by some of Albania's neighbours as the first steps in the process of creating a Greater Albania. This is strenuously denied by both Albanian and Kosovo Albanian leaders who, despite acknowledging their nation's desire at some point in the future to see a unification of all Albanians into one state, recognise that for the foreseeable future the Albanians of Albania have different and far more pressing issues to address from those in the former Yugoslavia, and vice versa.

In relation to the 'Albanian National Question', however, there remains one more historical resentment to be addressed, that of the Cham Muslim Albanian population expelled from Greece after the Second World War. The Cham issue represents the last real challenge for Albanian nationalists and is likely to be pursued with vigour by the Chams and their numerous supporters from across the Albanian political spectrum. Addressing this issue, which is primarily one of financial compensation rather than territorial aspirations, is important in order to avoid any potential damage it could cause to Albanian-Greek relations should it continue to remain a festering sore between the two Balkan neighbours.

Nine years after the collapse of Communism, Albania is still seriously hampered by the intense hostility between its two dominant political groupings - the ruling Socialist-led government and the main opposition Democratic Party (DP). The re-election of former President, Sali Berisha as leader of the DP and of the man he imprisoned, Fatos Nano, as leader of the Socialist Party (SP) has ensured that Albanian politics remains repetitiously divisive and confrontational.

Meanwhile, the country is beset by problems flowing from chronically weak state institutions and rampant levels of crime and corruption, which have left the majority of Albanians demoralised and apathetic towards the very concept of democracy. Despite the recent clampdown on localised criminal gangs, the Albanian authorities remain incapable of combating the steady growth of organised crime, which appears to be consolidating its activities in the country's capital and two main ports, Vlore and Durrės. This is clearly a phenomenon which is linked with and dependent upon a network of organised crime in all Albania's neighbouring countries. Albania has become the springboard into Western Europe for the illegal trafficking of people and drugs. In the absence of real progress in tackling the problems associated with rampant criminality and weak state institutions, Albania's continued internal stability is far from guaranteed.


  1. The international community's financial assistance to Albania must continue to be directed primarily at projects which develop technical capacity within Albania's weak state structures.


  2. A key priority is strengthening the judiciary, through funding support for salaries and training schemes, and consideration being given to international participation in judicial selection panels.


  3. While the creation of a well trained and appropriately-paid Albanian police force should be the priority objective, consideration should be given in the immediate term to expanding the mandate of the Western European Union's (WEU) Multinational Advisory Police Element (MAPE) to allow WEU officers to become active participants in the exercise of policing duties.


  4. More resources could usefully be devoted by international donors to the establishment of conflict resolution centres in northern Albania to tackle the issue of blood feuds.


  5. The governments of Albania's neighbours - Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Macedonia and Italy - and the administrators of Kosovo should take urgent steps to strengthen their co-operation, in particular in closer border monitoring, in dealing with the problem of illegal immigration through Albania.


  6. To improve the longer-term prospects for inter-Balkan co-operation, measures should be adopted to relax visa restrictions for entrepreneurs, publishers, academics and others, whose activities will assist the developments of socio-economic ties between the Balkan countries.

    Tirana/London/Brussels, 1 March 2000.


    During the Kosovo crisis, Albania won international praise for its generous response to the influx of more than 450,000 refugees from Kosovo. Despite remaining largely preoccupied with their own domestic problems throughout most of the crisis, the arrival of the refugees galvanised Albanians into a new sense of national purpose. Shocked by the plight of their ethnic kinsfolk, people collected clothing and food parcels to take to the refugee reception centres, and thousands of families took refugees into their homes. For once Albanians in Albania saw there were some worse off than themselves. As one Tirana resident put it: "We are poor and have own dirty, messy politics, but at least we can go home to our own beds at night."1

    The signing of the Kumanovo agreement in mid June 1999, marked the end of the war in Kosovo, and for Albania, the beginning of the withdrawal of the large international community that had gathered there. International relief agencies, the world's media and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)2, whose hierarchy had established itself in Tirana during the war, all followed the refugee pattern, leaving as quickly as they had come.

    For Albanians, the 'liberation' of Kosovo from Serb control marked a key turning point in the destiny of ethnic Albanians across the Southern Balkans. Although there was general relief when the refugees eventually went back to Kosovo, many people have since felt deflated by the vacuum caused by the withdrawal of world attention. Tirana is now a city with an atmosphere of forlorn emptiness; its inhabitants in a state of anticlimax.

    Kosovo might be free, but for many Albanians not much has changed nine years on from the collapse of the one-party state. Burdened by 45 years of impoverished isolation, followed by spasms of violent uprisings, anarchic social destruction and political chaos, Albania remains plagued by endemic crime and corruption. Political rivalry is as intense and malicious as ever, the population is still heavily armed, the roads are still impassable and unemployment is growing. The very concept of democracy remains in an embryonic stage.

    The country's problems appear as intractable as ever with a return to old party politics with the same personalities. The re-election of the two dinosaurs of post-communist Albanian politics - Sali Berisha and Fatos Nano - has confirmed the continued predominance of the old guard in both Albania's major parties. The undisguised hostility between Nano and Berisha has already raised political tensions, and represents another unwelcome distraction from Albania's grave problems.

    Despite the recent positive moves by the state against corruption and a slight improvement, albeit only by Albanian standards, in public order, the main problems facing Albania remain the absence of national reconciliation and the reconstruction of functioning state institutions. The overall security situation is still very poor with sporadic violent incidents continuing to undermine the government's efforts to bring internal stability to the country. The presence of 1,800 NATO personnel remains one of the few stabilising factors both domestically and regionally.

    In this paper, the International Crisis Group (ICG) examines the impact of the Kosovo crisis on Albania, and assesses the relevance of the redefined 'Albanian national question' - both in terms of new regional initiatives for closer co-operation, and the resurgence of old issues, such as the Cham property rights claim. It tracks the ongoing developments within the domestic setting, and outlines the challenges ahead in the fields of security, law and order and efforts to combat organised crime and illegal immigration.


    Impact of the Kosovo Crisis in Albania

    Overall, the Kosovo crisis had a number of positive side-effects for Albania. On a practical level, the economy received a much-needed boost, and the country witnessed an unprecedented, if short-lived, surge of national solidarity, with domestic politics for once taking a back seat. Virtually all but the criminal sectors of the Albanian population rallied to offer assistance to the Kosovo Albanian refugees.

    The Economy

    According to the Bank of Albania, the Kosovo crisis had a positive effect on the Albanian economy, helping to create a current account surplus of 30 million USD in the second quarter. The influx of nearly half a million refugees, the import of Western food aid to feed them, and the deployment of a substantial NATO military force, helped Albania achieve a surplus in services of up to 80 million USD in the second quarter - 4.6 times greater than in the previous quarter. A bank official told Reuters, "Our evaluations show that during their stay in Albania, the Kosovo population spent considerable hard currency on top of that obtained from foreign aid. The crisis also helped the country 'get visited' by the world's media, international organisations, aid agencies as well as foreign troops, who all bought services in Albania."4

    The north eastern district of Kukes experienced a decline in official unemployment due to the opening of the country's border with Kosovo. According to the government news agency ATA, the number of registered jobless in the Kukes district fell in 1999 from 6,240 to 5,300. The opening of the border with Kosovo boosted the activities of local companies, and therefore the size of the required labour force.5

    At the international level, Albania certainly expects substantial rewards for having put the whole country at NATO's disposal, and having proven itself as a loyal and stable ally of the international community. Indeed, in July 1999, as the country eagerly waited for the results of the Sarajevo Balkans Reconstruction Conference, the Speaker of the Parliament, Skender Gjinushi, claimed that, "Albania and Kosovo deserve to be in the centre of this project and the first to get assistance because the Albanians suffered most during the conflict."6

    There is an obvious danger, however, of complacency being born out of the attention Albania received during the Kosovo crisis. A general lack of progress - as epitomised in the slow pace of economic reform and the preoccupation with internal political conflicts, could lead to Albania's exclusion on these grounds alone from the European Union's Stability Pact. Tirana will have to realise that as the focus of international attention shifts, its preferential status shaped by the crisis will almost certainly continue to wane.

    Strengthening Community Ties

    Arguably the most significant aspect of the crisis was the arrival of some 450,000 Kosovo Albanians in Albania. For the overwhelming majority this was their first ever visit to the 'motherland', which brought the vast majority of the two Albanian communities into contact with each other for the first time in their lives. According to a recent poll, Kosovo refugees displaced to Albania during the conflict say their stay and experiences there have intensified their feelings of kinship and nationhood with their compatriots in Albania.

    The overwhelming majority of the refugees were satisfied with the treatment they received in Albania and, despite Albania's lawless reputation, said they felt safe. A farmer from Suva Reka explained: "We have never felt afraid of anything here because we have come to our country and to our brothers, you know it is our blood."7 Throughout the poll people instinctively used the words and phrases such as 'brothers', the 'same blood', 'the same family', 'one nation', etc. Nevertheless, many comments were qualified with statements about the deficiencies of Albania's democracy and institutions. Some clearly articulated the need for Albania to put its own house in order. In response to the question: "What kind of relations would you like the Albanians of Kosovo to have with Albania in the future", about 50 per cent of the refugees wanted unification with Albania. Another 25 per cent did not speak about unification but of relations based on closer ties.

    Virtually all the refugees saw the future of the two Albanian communities as having more intensified and integrated relations on all levels. However, they did not use the concept 'Greater Albania'.8 An analysis of the poll found that 70 per cent said that their opinions of Albania had changed for the better and an overwhelming majority, 89.4 per cent, believed that Albania had a role to play in the future of Kosovo. This opinion was based on the fact that they were fellow nationals with a common history, and as Albania was an internationally recognised state and a UN member, it was therefore bound to be able to play a contributory and creative role.

    Tirana's role in Pan-Albanian Aspirations

    Albania is now seeking a role as a regional hearth for ethnic Albanians living in neighbouring countries. On a recent visit to Tirana, the vice-chairman of the Kosovo Albanian 'Provisional Government', Mehmet Hajrizi, called on the Albanian government to give a voice to the demands, in this instance for early elections. Hajrizi told a press conference, "Kosovo is not represented at international organisations, where Albania has done a great job in the past...and I think it should continue to assist Kosovo to achieve prosperity and peace."9

    Albania's influence over Kosovo, however, is much more symbolic than practical. There is an undeniable sense of wounded pride amongst Albanian officials, who feel they are being sidelined by the West in regards to regional planning. Albanian officials feel neglected by the international community, particularly regarding the future of Kosovo. "We have observed some hesitation to co-operate with us,"10 Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said during a seminar in Tirana on Balkan security. Milo said the West's disinterest in Albania, "is caused by misunderstanding of a few official statements or from some irresponsible statements" issued by DP leader, Sali Berisha.11 Milo was attempting to distance the Albanian government from Berisha's statements at the beginning of October, which encouraged the notion of an "Albanian Federation" in the Balkans.

    Milo may also have been referring to the series of cancelled visits to Albania by top American officials, who cited the continued state of lawlessness in Albania as the apparent cause of their cancellations. On 11 June 1999, Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, decided not to make a stop in Albania following her visit to Macedonia due to security concerns. State Department officials claimed that there was a great deal of 'lawlessness' in Albania, and that the Albanian government was not able to guarantee the security of high-ranking visitors,12 (she later made a visit in February 2000). Secretary of Defence, William Cohen cancelled his trip to Tirana in July for security reasons. Defence Department sources said the Albania visit was cancelled because of 'a threat on the ground'13 related to Islamic militants affiliated to Osama bin Laden. At the end of August, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, cancelled his planned official visit to Tirana, due it was said, to a technical fault in his aircraft. Mr Holbrooke, however, flew to Sarajevo a few hours later on the same plane. President Clinton avoided Albania altogether on his recent trip to the Balkans.

    Whilst agreeing that security issues were an obvious factor, several Albanian politicians thought it more likely that the visits were cancelled in protest against the support of the Albanian government for the independence of Kosovo, and for the 'Provisional Government' of Hashim Thaci. The meetings, they explained, could have taken place for just one hour at Tirana airport, which is far from any centre of habitation and could easily have been sealed off.14

    The National Question

    The Albanian national question, which emerged so dramatically onto the European scene at the beginning of the 1990s, is intrinsically bound up with the indeterminate status of Kosovo and the political future of the ethnic Albanian populations of Montenegro and Macedonia.

    Whilst the crisis in Kosovo has focused world attention on Albanian communities throughout the Southern Balkans, the liberation of Kosovo has not, at least not yet, been translated into demands from Tirana, Pristina or Tetova for the creation of a 'Greater Albania'. What does exist is the determination to become regional players politically and the desire to improve the economic basis of Albanian communities in the Southern Balkans. Albanians today are in no mood to compromise over issues concerning their national interests, having drawn the lesson from the Kosovo conflict that, with concerted effort and determination, they can change their own fate.

    What then is this 'Greater Albania' that causes such alarm amongst Albania's neighbours?15 Throughout the Southern Balkans maps are widely circulated of territory that at one time comprised either the empires of past rulers, such as the Serbs and the Bulgarians, or as is the case with the Greeks and the Albanians, territory which is claimed historically to have been predominantly inhabited by people of their particular ethnicity. Those maps issued by nationalist groups in Greece, claim territory as far north as the central Albanian town of Elbasan, while 'Greater Albania', or 'Ethnic Albania' as the Albanians prefer to call it, comprises the territory of present-day Albania together with Kosovo, Western Macedonia, south-eastern Montenegro, and the north-western Epirus region of Greece - known to the Albanians as Chameria. Without delving too far into the past, it is necessary to look briefly at how the Albanian people came to be divided in to these five territories. This may go some way in clarifying what all Albanians refer to as the 'historical injustices' inflicted upon them by depriving them of national unification.

    The Creation of Albania's Borders

    The 'Albanian National Question' first manifested itself at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, where the Great Powers agreed that there was no such thing as an Albanian nation, but rather the Albanians were merely inhabitants of a geographical area. This fateful decision has haunted the Southern Balkans ever since. Although after the Balkan Wars the Powers agreed in principle to support the establishment of Albania as a new political entity, the 1913 Conference of Ambassadors nevertheless awarded the Balkan allies large areas of Albanian-inhabited territory, regardless of its ethnic composition.

    Under the Protocol of Florence, most of present-day Kosovo, including the towns of Pec,16 Prizren, Djakovica and Debar were ceded to Serbia, despite the knowledge that apart from Shkoder these were the only market towns for the north Albanian population. With Greece receiving the southern region of Epirus, or Chameria, the Albanian State was reduced to the central regions together with the town of Shkoder. Neither economic nor cultural nor ethnographic arguments determined the fate of Albania. The Florence Line that decided the frontiers of the new Albanian State satisfied neither the Albanians nor their Balkan neighbours. Serbia was deprived of an Albanian port, Montenegro lost the town of Shkoder, and Greece had to relinquish southern Albania having been deprived of the Saranda district which, she argued, was predominantly Greek and was the natural outlet to the sea for the Greek region north of Janina.

    The final border which was eventually established in November 1921 left more than half the Albanian nation outside the Albanian state with almost half a million Albanians included in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and a further 70,000 in Greece, thus creating what became the world's largest irredenta. It is clear from documentary evidence that the Ambassador's Conference was merely an exercise to gain time, a barrier against further war, and that the Powers did not expect the Albanian state to last long - hence the casual, drawn out and haphazard manner in which the frontier was finally arrived at.17

    Is there a 'Greater Albania' in the making?

    Against the backdrop of the ongoing conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Albania's current leadership have acknowledged the complexities involving the multiethnic nature of the Southern Balkans and the subsequent threat this poses to the socio-economic and political development of the region. As a result therefore, all but a few extremists have adopted a relatively responsible attitude towards nationalism. Albania's President, Rexhep Meidani, 54, taught physics for four years, from 1977 to 1980, at Pristina University, during which time he developed strong ties with the Kosovo Albanians, witnessing at first hand their difficult relationship with the Belgrade authorities. He remains, however, an ardent opponent of aggressive nationalism and sees an urgent need for reconciliation and economic reconstruction of both Albania and Kosovo in order to weaken nationalism.

    Socialist Party leader, Fatos Nano, whilst calling for closer political and economic ties amongst the Albanians living in the Balkans, insists this would not involve changing borders. Nano believes that ensuring freedom of movement throughout the region is the best way to deflect nationalist calls for establishing a 'Greater Albania'. He stresses the fact that there is no need to redraw borders but to "make them irrelevant."18

    For all Albanians, the opening up of the border between Albania and Kosovo has the same significance as the fall of the Berlin Wall, in that it has provided the opportunity for both communities to finally come together. The creation of Albania's borders deprived virtually all her peripheral towns of their natural geographical trading outlets. This has been a primary cause of the economic decline and subsequent extreme poverty of these areas. In order therefore to rectify this 'historical injustice', Albanian leaders are instigating a number of socio-economic and political initiatives designed to forge closer links between the two communities.

    Economic Initiatives

    Tirana is fully aware that the economic prosperity of northern Albania depends upon the weakening of the border structure between Albania and Kosovo. The Albanian government is trying to do everything possible to link Albania and Kosovo by road and rail so that the Yugoslav province will not need trade and communication links from Serbia. In August 1999, the then prime minister, Pandeli Majko, asked Albanians to deposit money in a special bank account to help finance the construction of a road to Pristina. The road, starting in the Albanian port of Durrės, will link Tirana and Pristina via the Morina border crossing in northern Albania. Majko also offered the Albanian port of Durrės as Kosovo's port city, so that Kosovo would have a port free of Belgrade's control. Although Majko admitted that the government needed help from its foreign partners to construct the 350-km (218 mile) road, he said the Albanian people had to make the first contributions. Majko said the development of ties between Albania and Kosovo had become a top priority for his government.19

    The Albanian Development Fund has financed the reconstruction of a 6.5-kilometre road linking north eastern Albania with the Kosovo town of Djakovica. The road runs from the town of Kruma to the border crossing at Prushi Pass. Albania hopes that its impoverished north eastern area will benefit from increased business with Kosovo. At present the border crossing is not viable for the transfer of goods as it can only be used by small cars. The new corridor is expected not only to help Kosovo's economy but also to boost economic activity in northern Albania generally. These areas have been totally isolated, and their development suppressed, since the border divided Albania from Kosovo and Montenegro in 1912.

    Albanian railways (HSH) is nearing completion of a 200 million USD railway to connect the Albanian port of Durrės with the town of Prizren in southern Kosovo. The link will start from the town of Rreshen in the mountains of northern Albania, pass through the valleys of Small Fan and the Black Drin and enter Kosovo from the town of Kukes. Both Albanian and Kosovo Albanian leaders have requested improved road and rail connections with Durrės which hopefully will boost trade from the internal Balkans to the Adriatic. Albania's authorities have also agreed to the request of Kosovo Albanian leader, Hashim Thaci, to allow concessions on Shengjin port, which lies just south of the town of Shkoder.

    It is not only government-sponsored initiatives that are being implemented: local people themselves are reactivating traditional links between Albania and Kosovo. The Gorani minority20 in the northern Kukes district has funded by itself the construction of a road to connect their villages with the southern tip of Kosovo, where their ethnic brethren live. People in the Gorani village of Borja have paved the three-kilometre long road to the border and then on to the village of Globocica in Kosovo.

    Political and Cultural Initiatives

    On the political front Albanian leaders have been striving to build a joint forum of Albanian political parties in Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro. In December, Fatos Nano referred to the possible drafting of a common political calendar between Tirana, Pristina and Tetova that would provide a pan-national integration strategy to integrate all Albanians. According to Nano, the foundations of this initiative were laid out in Tetova by himself and Hashim Thaci, together with the leader of the Macedonian Albanian Democratic Party, Arben Xhaferi. "It will be a movement not in support of a Greater Albania but will serve the great European Albanians," Nano explained.21 In recent months, Hashim Thaci also met with President Rexhep Meidani, Premier Ilir Meta, Fatos Nanos, as well as opposition leader Sali Berisha.22 At a press conference Thaci stated that, "These official meetings have been made in the framework of unifying our national political stands towards the international community."23

    Meanwhile, plans for the social and cultural integration between the Albanians of the Southern Balkans are gathering pace. Last August Pandeli Majko asked officials in Tirana to draw up plans to unify the education systems of Albania and Kosovo, and to intensify co-operation between the universities of Tirana, Pristina and Tetova.24 Three Tirana universities will soon sign an agreement of co-operation with Pristina University, which will enable an exchange of teaching staff, organising joint research projects, as well as workshops aimed at co-ordinating a unified university curriculum. Moves towards including the education programs of ethnic Albanians in Montenegro are also being discussed.

    The Montenegrin Albanians are very keen to see a quick implementation of a unified pan-Albanian education system. According to the President of the Democratic Union of Montenegrin Albanians, Luigj Juncaj, Albanians in Montenegro are not content with their education system. He believes that education is the key to the protection of national rights: "We want the same curriculum for all Albanians in the Balkans. The three subjects language, literature and history are to us the most important because with these subjects you can strengthen knowledge about Albanian culture, heritage and national consciousness."25

    The Albanian government has officially repeated its earlier demand to UN officials in Kosovo that it be allowed to open a diplomatic or 'information' office in Pristina. Given that several European countries and the US have already established offices in the Kosovo capital, the Tirana authorities are insisting that the request be granted. The Albanian government has come under increasing pressure from the general public for its failure to open an office in Pristina in order to exert its influence over pan-Albanian issues.

    The Cham Issue

    Now that Kosovo has effectively been 'liberated', many Albanians feel that it is time to turn their attentions to that other great national concern - the restitution of property rights of the Cham people. The Chams are the ethnic Albanian, and predominantly Muslim, population of the region of north-eastern Greece known to all Albanians as Chameria - an area of Epirus extending between Butrint and the mouth of the Acheron river, and eastward to the Pindus mountains. The name 'Chameria' comes from the ancient Illyrian name for the Thyamis river, which traversed the territory of the ancient Illyrian tribe of Tesprotes. Chameria was part of the Roman Empire before being conquered by Byzantium. After the Ottoman invasion in the 15th century the mostly Albanian population of northern Chameria - from Konispol to the Gliqi river - converted to Islam, whilst those living south of the Gliqi down to Preveza Bay remained Orthodox Christians. In 1913 the Ambassador's Conference allotted the Chameria region to Greece, so today only seven Cham villages, centred on the village of Konispol, are in Albania itself.

    Between 1921 and 1926, the Greek government set about trying to deport Albanian Muslims from Chameria in order to allot their lands to Greeks who had been deported from Asia Minor during Kemal Ataturk's revolution.26 In an attempt, in 1944, to establish an ethnically pure border region, the Greek government unleashed a campaign in Chameria, which resulted in around 35,000 Chami fleeing to Albania and others to Turkey. The Greek authorities then approved a law sanctioning the expropriation of Cham property, citing the collaboration of their community with the occupying German forces as a main reason for the decision. The law is still in force in Greece. Whatever the truth of this allegation, which has to an extent been supported by some of the British Liaison Officers based with the Greek Resistance movements27 , the forced movement of the entire population has left a lingering sense of injustice amongst Albanians in general, which has contributed to continuing poor bilateral relations between Albania and Greece.

    The Cham issue has remained dormant with none of the post-war Albanian governments venturing to make it a key issue in relations with its southern neighbour. Today, the issue is seen - as was Kosovo, as one more 'historical injustice' suffered by the Albanian people that has to be corrected. After the collapse of Communism, the Chams in Albania set up the `Chameria Association' dedicated to the return of their expropriated lands in Greece. The then Greek foreign minister, Karolas Papoulias, said in the summer of 1991 that a bilateral commission should settle these demands. The chances of forming one, however, are very slim since under current Greek law there is no legal means of challenging requisition (or expropriation) of land by the Greek state. In the meantime, the issue has been taken by the Tirana government to the International Court of Justice, in an effort to secure financial compensation for lost Cham property. There has been little progress to date.

    Since the end of the Kosovo conflict, support for the Chams has grown ever more vocal. The Chameria Association is successfully wooing support to the Cham cause, and is even working on legal procedures to sue the Greek government at the European Court of Human Rights. The Chams are frustrated and angered by the Greek government's refusal to discuss their demands. During the recent meeting between the new Albanian Premier Ilir Meta and his Greek counterpart Costas Simitis, a controversy arose when Simitis, answering to questions from journalists at a joint press conference, said that the Greek government considered the Cham issue as a closed chapter.28

    Back in Tirana, the opposition DP lost no time entering the fray, accusing Premier Meta of signing an alleged agreement with the Greeks over coverage of the Cham issue in Albanian history books.29 The prevailing perception was that this was a clear attempt to erase the issue from the minds of future Albanian students. At the end of December, the Chairman of the Foreign Parliamentary Committee, Sabri Godo, urged the International Court of Human Rights, as well as the Albanian authorities to work out with Greece a solution to the property rights of the Chams.30 According to a spokesman for the Cham Association in Tirana, the total value of Cham property at the end of the World War II was estimated at 340 million USD, whilst the current market value could reach 2.5 billion USD. The Cham Association wants to see the 60 year old Greek law authorising the confiscation of Cham property to be declared null and void, and the Cham people fully compensated for their loss, thus paving the way for "better and more just relations between Albania and Greece."31

    On a recent tour of southern Albania, DP leader Sali Berisha threatened to put relations with Greece on hold if it did not comply with two key demands: more cultural rights for the Albanians living in Greece, and the resolution of the property issue of the Cham population expelled from Greece after the Second World War. In a rally in the southern town of Saranda, Berisha told supporters that Greece should open an Albanian language school in the northern Greek town of Filiates, and warned that without a solution to the Cham properties issue relations between the two countries would remain stagnant. He also vowed that a solution to the Cham issue would be a precondition for better relations with Greece if and when his party comes to power.32

    A growing number of Albanians feel that now is the time, in the wake of the world's acknowledgement of the human rights abuses in Kosovo, for the Albanian government to direct the international community's attention to the plight of the Chams. The independent daily Koha Jone applauded Premier Meta for bringing up the Cham issue in his discussions with Costas Simitis. The paper concluded that for the first time in the history of Greek-Albanian relations, a Socialist Premier had openly objected to Athens' preferred position of ignoring the whole issue of the Cham's property claims.

    It seems certain that calls to re-instate the property rights of the Cham population will be a growing concern for official Albanian policy. With the widespread and increasingly indignant support of both left and right in Albania, this is clearly an issue that is not going to go away.

    Albanian Politics: From One Crisis To Another

    The controversial elections of May 1996, the collapse of the pyramid banking schemes which brought the country to the brink of civil war in 1997, and the attempted coup d'etat in September 1998, have caused Albania to lurch from one crisis directly to another, and stifled the development of democratic pluralism. These events have also formed the backdrop of the continuing bitter hostility between the ruling Socialist-led coalition and the main opposition Democratic Party, led by ex-president Sali Berisha. Mistrust, suspicion and enmity between these two political rivals will likely continue to mar the run up to next year's elections.

    Background to the Present Crisis

    The parliamentary election of May 1996 was conducted amidst a climate of acute tension, manipulation and intimidation by the then governing DP. Although the overwhelming majority of international election monitors agreed that serious irregularities had occurred in the polling process, the DP declared itself the clear victor - ignoring Western diplomatic pleas to re-run the election to stave off mounting popular anger, not only at the conduct of the elections, but also at the increasingly dictatorial and authoritarian rule of President Berisha.

    For the next six months civil unrest was stalled only due to the population's belief that instant wealth was achievable by sinking their life savings into fraudulent pyramid investment schemes. The sudden and dramatic collapse of these schemes, and the subsequent violent uprising in the spring of 1997, forced Berisha to face political reality and cave in to Opposition and international demands for new parliamentary elections. Despite vigorous protests, Berisha reluctantly conceded defeat as the Socialists, led by Fatos Nano, won a convincing victory.

    Any notion of political reconciliation, however, was put into sharp reverse in September 1998 when, following the assassination of Azem Hajdari, a popular founder member of the DP, an attempted coup d'etat by opposition forces plunged the country once more to the brink of civil chaos.33 The real motive for the coup attempt was the bitter personal feud between Nano and Berisha. Nano, a Prime Minister in the first post-Communist government in 1991, was imprisoned by Berisha in 1993 for allegedly misappropriating state funds: he was later freed by supporters during the 1997 uprising that forced Berisha from power.

    The profound anger which led to the uprising, and the anarchic social disorder that followed, has scarred every facet of Albanian life since and left ordinary people deeply traumatised. Speculation over Berisha's involvement in Hajdari's assassination - and Berisha's own refusal to let the matter rest - have continually focused attention on events surrounding Hajdari's death. All this has served to undermine any other initiatives on which the Government or the Opposition might otherwise have focused.

    Hajdari's murder, and the martyrdom status he has since acquired, will therefore hold Albanian politics hostage until his killers are brought to justice. This is proving increasingly difficult, since it now appears almost certain that Hajdari's killers have themselves been killed. The recent spate of killings in the Tropoja district has conveniently eliminated several witnesses to Hajdari's death. On 4 November in Tropoja district, two of the supposed assassins of Hajdari were killed and another wounded. DP supporters persistently claim that members of the then Socialist government of Fatos Nano were responsible for killing Hajdari.

    According to the pro-DP daily Albania, the killings, as well as others committed in the Tropoja district, were aimed at "liquidating the political authors and assassins of Hajdari. They were being undertaken to hide the involvement in this assassination of senior leaders of the Albanian State and the majority in power." The paper went on to say that the "elimination of the executioners is another direct attempt by police and the government to remove any evidence or witnesses linked to the crime."34

    Two brothers of Berisha's former bodyguard, Izet Haxhia, wanted for leading the attempted coup, have openly accused Berisha of being involved in Hajdari's killing and other criminal acts. Isamedin Haxhia, appointed by Berisha as commander of the operation he ordered against insurgents in the city of Vlore during the March 1997 revolts, and whom he blamed for failing to carry out those orders, has published an open letter in the daily Koha Jone openly accusing Berisha of organising bloody plans to forcibly crush the March 1997 uprising.

    In their statements, the two brothers Ismet and Isamedin who, like Berisha and Hajdari, are from the northern town of Tropoja, did not produce any evidence about the accusations. But the Attorney General Arben Rakipi, said recently that investigations into the 14 September 1998 failed coup d'etat were continuing and that the Hajdari case would be resolved in the near future.35 Berisha has so far refused several prosecution summons, claiming he could not co-operate with what he calls a politically biased prosecution office. Until Haxhia's accusations in Koha Jone, Berisha had been accused of being involved in murder, but had not been directly implicated in any specific case.

    Part II

Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 29/05/2000
©S D Stein
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