International Crisis group

Accessed 28 May 2000

Albania: State Of The Nation

Part II

March 1, 2000

Part I


Changes Within The Two Main Political Parties

The Socialist Party

The perpetually volatile nature of Albanian politics has been further polarised by the recent defeat of moderate elements in the two main political parties. In October 1999, Prime Minister and Secretary General of the Socialist Party (SP) Pandeli Majko lost the race for Socialist Party Chairman to Fatos Nano. Nano, who received 295 out of 571 votes from the National Convention delegates, was backed by the older, radical, hard-line elements in the Party, whilst Majko had the support of younger more moderate elements, as well as maintaining international support due mainly to his successful handling of the Kosovo crisis. Majko also enjoyed the support of many urban voters, and those delegates who had secured governmental jobs in the capital. On the other hand, Nano still has much support in rural areas, as well as southern towns such as Fier, Berat, Permet and Gjirokaster, which have a traditionally strong radical Socialist base.

Nano, 47, first became SP leader in 1991 when the ex-Communist party changed its program and statute. He resigned as party leader in January 1999 to begin his campaign to remodel the SP along the lines of the German Social Democratic Party, where the premier and party leader are two separate posts. Although the SP has undoubtedly suffered from the split between supporters of Nano and Majko, the damage done to the party was partly offset by the appointment of Majko's deputy, Ilir Meta, as the new Premier.36 A top priority of the new Meta administration will be to instil confidence amongst the general public in the new government by demonstrating serious political will to combat crime and corruption. The re-emergence, however, of former Premier Bashkim Fino as minister of local government, is likely to prove controversial. In the immediate aftermath of the 1997 uprising and prior to his brief stint as premier, Fino was the mayor of Gjirokaster where he became the overlord of all local political and commercial activity in the south of Albania. He is accused by many of running a mafia-style business network.

Meta's appointment was greeted with predictable disdain by the Democrats. In an interview with the daily Shekulli, DP Deputy Chairman Jozefina Topalli said that "the DP does not recognise the new Socialist-led leftist government headed by Premier Meta, because it is a follow up cabinet to the four previous failed governments, and discredited and corrupt ministers have been recycled within it."37 Whether Meta's professed aim of giving police reform and law and order top priority is compatible with all members of his cabinet is far from clear. The points in Meta's favour, are that he is possibly tougher than his predecessor and that he has the support of the Greek minority party, the Union for the Protection of Human Rights, as well as the fact that that foreign donors, particularly the 'Friends of Albania' group, hold him in good esteem.38 At a press conference, Meta criticised Albanians for expecting too much from the international community since the fall of communism in 1991, and said they had to take the initiative themselves to build up the country.39

After a year in the political wilderness, Nano has moved quickly to reassert his control over the party, and to make a regional impact. There is no doubt that he is a remodelled man. These days he is noticeably slimmer, drinks less and is more alert and attentive in discussions. He is also far more receptive to other's opinions, having previously been impatient and dismissive.40 The 'new Nano' has come as a pleasant surprise to many Albanians. As the independent daily Shekuli noted, "Nano is now demonstrating a zeal he has never revealed before. He has turned into a devoted politician and increased contacts with the Socialist Party rank-and-file. By this strategy, he is trying to repair his image."41 The paper said that he had been helped in part by the cul-de-sac in which the DP had recently found itself, and in particular, his old adversary, Sali Berisha. Whilst Nano has to some degree managed to keep his party relatively united, his rival is wasting time and energy making endless replacements within his party and launching accusations and counter-accusations which constantly manufacture more enemies.42

Nevertheless, no matter how liberal and reformist Nano has become he, along with Berisha, are identified in the general public's mind as being responsible for the polarisation of Albanian political life, with its tedious repetition of old arguments and allegations. As one Albanian analyst recently explained, the two main political camps in Albania are still using the same political rhetoric as they were in the early days of 1991: Berisha continues what he calls "the war against communism," whilst the Albanian socialists reply with the "war against Berisha."43

In December, Nano became the first Albanian politician since 1948 to visit Montenegro where he attended the Social Democratic Party's (SDP) Congress. SDP leader Zarko Ratcevic explained his concerns about ethnic tension in Montenegro. "Nationalist extremist elements in Montenegro are trying to promote ethnic hate between Montenegrins and Albanians, using, unfortunately, Berisha's irresponsible statement on an Albanian confederation in the Balkans," Ratcevic told Nano.44 Ratcevic was referring to a speech of Berisha's which warned that Albanians living throughout the Balkans might unite in a federation if authorities continued to treat them as second class citizens. We are not seeking to change borders, he had told a convention of his Democratic Party in Tirana. But he had said that Albanian minorities in Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Greece should not be poorly treated, adding that " If anti-Albanian racism is not halted, one cannot exclude the possibility that Albanians will unite to form a federation of free Albanians in the Balkans as a fundamental condition of survival." Nano attempted to reassure Ratcevic that "Albanians in Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro do not want any border changes."45

Changes within the Democratic Party

Any factionalisation occurring within the Socialist Party, however, pales into insignificance in comparison to the deeply damaging split within the DP. The previous deputy chairman of the DP, Gence Pollo, 36, who in early September unexpectedly decided to compete with Berisha for the post of party chairman, withdrew from the race a day before the party's Congress, leaving behind grave charges against Berisha, particularly about his questionable business interests. Pollo was, until recently, a close supporter of Berisha, who appointed him his spokesman in 1992 and later his political chancellor.

Following the surprise announcement that Pollo was offering himself as a candidate, his supporters were immediately expelled from the DP's National Council and Pollo himself resigned from all party posts. Of the 693 delegates at the DP convention, 594 predictably voted to re-elect Berisha as party president. Since being ousted from power in 1997, Berisha has reverted to the autocratic one-party style that characterised his term as President of Albania. As a result, the DP has become increasingly isolated and marginalised.

Pollo is one of a group of relative moderates within the DP, who want to see a freer exchange of ideas in the party and more liberal policies, and who regard as urgent the need to increase the DP's standing in the eyes of the voters. This group therefore announced on 9 November 1999 the formation of the Democratic Alternative within the party, which seeks to woo rank and file support by challenging the dominant position of Berisha. The rebels have refused to comply with several leadership orders, including a demand to boycott a parliamentary session that gave a vote of confidence to the government of the new Premiere, Ilir Meta. The changes under way within the DP, which sees early elections as the only salvation for the country, could prove a first step towards renewing the party and overcoming the polarisation between the Democrats and Socialists that has characterised political life for most of the past decade.

The General Security Situation

The international community is pushing the Albanian Government to improve law and order and has stressed that further international aid to Albania will be conditional upon an improved security situation. As a result, the Government has instigated a program of measures to strengthen law and order. Police ranks are gradually being filled with trained personnel. The Police forces have also been active in crackdown operations across the country, in an attempt to wrestle back control from known and specifically targeted armed gangs.

In response, the opposition Democrats have accused the Interior Ministry of setting up death squads, whose aim is to execute criminals rather than have them tried in the courts: "Trained anti-crime teams set up by the government, which are outside police control, are behind the recent murders of a dozen criminal gang members," reported the pro-DP daily, Albania. The paper claimed that sources at the Ministry of Public Order and the Intelligence Service agreed that the state had drawn up plans to set up anti-crime squads to eliminate approximately 250 well-known criminals as it was currently impossible to find them guilty of their crimes.46

By 14 September 1999 the national police chief, Veli Myftari, was able to publicly announce that the police had finally eliminated or dissolved all the major gangs operating in Albania.47 Although Myftari denied police involvement in the physical elimination of several notorious gang leaders, when questioned about the so-called 'death squads' a senior Tirana police officer replied "You have to meet violence with violence."48 The rapid and comprehensive crackdown on the armed gangs was, in part, to ensure they could not be used to cause unrest on the anniversary of Azem Hajdari's death. Senior government officials were fearful of a return to the turmoil of September 1998.

On November 3 the Socialist Party daily, Zeri-i-Popullit claimed that Sali Berisha had recently decided that he could, in a repetition of the attempted coup d'etat in September 1998, overthrow the government of Illir Meta. The paper accused Berisha of having gathered around him a small contingent of known criminals that were prepared to use violence.49 The previous Saturday, the police had apparently identified these criminals at a rally Berisha attended in the port city of Durrės. Although the recent crackdown on criminal gangs and illegal immigrant traffickers, initiated by Public Order Minister Spartak Poci, have proved relatively successful, Poci himself suffered an embarrassment when, at the end of December, Greek customs officers caught him travelling in a stolen Mercedes. Poci had been about to start an official visit to Greece when his large black Mercedes was impounded at the Kristallopygi border crossing. With the help of Interpol, Greek customs officers discovered the vehicle had been stolen in Italy at the start of the year and later sold in Albania. The car was impounded and Poci finished his journey in a car lent by his Greek counterpart Michalis Chrysohoidis.

Drug Trafficking

The involvement of some of the political classes in criminal activities has provided immunity for criminal gangs throughout the country. Before apprehending a suspected criminal, Albanian police officers are placed in the ridiculous situation of having to stop and consider to which political clan the suspected criminal belongs. This fact is especially relevant to the escalating trade in drugs through Albania. Huge amounts of drugs are now arriving in Albania from Turkey and Macedonia along the route Pogradec-Elbasan-Kavaja-Durrės in Albania, and then on into Western Europe via Bari and Ancona.

A report in Koha Jone expressed concern that drug trafficking in Albania was controlled by some senior police officers, who were themselves supported by high level politicians.50 The paper claims that measures taken against the drug traffickers have failed since the drug traffickers themselves have the support not only of certain political forces in power, but also of key personnel in the Ministry of Public Order. This creates the improbable scenario where significant police operations against drug trafficking are being led by the drug traffickers themselves.

Illegal Immigrant Smuggling

The trafficking of people is also a rapidly expanding business in Albania. Albania is a young country - an estimated 70 per cent of the population is under the age of thirty - and almost all, educated and uneducated alike, wish to leave Albania and work abroad. According to the Centre for Economic and Social Studies, 77 per cent of graduates would like to leave Albania. Day after day, hundreds of Albanians wait outside Western embassies in Tirana in the vain hope of securing a visa enabling them to leave the country. The vast majority are unsuccessful. Many subsequently become prey to the gangs who transport illegal immigrants to Italy. A payment of 1,000 USD buys a place on a speedboat leaving from the coast around the towns of Vlore and Durrės to an uncertain destination on the other side of the Adriatic Sea. According to Italian officials, at least 173 people died in 1999 trying to cross the Adriatic to Italy.

The Italian authorities intercepted more than 20,000 people attempting to enter Italy from Albania in 1999 and believe tens of thousands more entered undetected.51 Turkish Kurds, or Iraqi citizens of Kurdish nationality, are increasingly using Albania as a springboard towards Italy and the rest of Western Europe. During the last few months at least 1,900 Kurds have entered Albania illegally either at Rinas airport or the Greek/Albanian border crossing at Kakavia.52 The sheer number of Kurds seeking entry into Western Europe has forced the traffickers to bring them into Albania by different routes. On 30 November police detained twelve Kurds carrying false passports and documents in the northern region of Mirdita. They had apparently entered Albania from Kosovo. This is the first time Kurds are using the northern entry border points on their journey to Western Europe via Albania.

The fight against organised crime, alongside the drive against corruption, is to be the top priority of the new Meta government. However, there is a growing sentiment that Albania is being unjustly singled out; At every international or bilateral meeting the cry goes up that Albania must sort out its law and order problem. And so it must, but increasingly Albanians are asking the question: "Why just us? What is Italy doing? What is Turkey or Greece doing to address the problem."53

The Albanian Interior Ministry claims that the majority of foreign illegal migrants, who use Albania as a springboard to cross the Adriatic, come from countries such as Greece, Macedonia and Montenegro. This is backed up by Italian police estimates which show that of about 49,000 illegal immigrants seized along its south-eastern coastline in 1999, only 7,000 were Albanians.54 Albania is merely a transit point for this huge clandestine traffic. Before arriving in Albania, they pass through a large number of eastern countries, including, sometimes, member countries of the European Union and NATO.

In a recent editorial, Zeri-i-Popullit stated that the Albanian government had made it clear that the question of clandestine traffic and organised crime in general is not just Albania's problem but rather a problem that affects and concerns the whole Southern Balkans region. The paper stated that while in all bilateral meetings, Italian Interior Ministry officials persistently asked Albanian police officials to freeze clandestine traffic on the Albanian side, while not only did most of the illegal emigrants pass through other countries before getting to Albania, but the lion's share of the profits of this trade go to the "super bosses who are centred in the most developed European countries".55

But more could certainly be done in Albania itself. While the Albanian police have shown some success in tackling local crime, little progress has been made in apprehending those involved in organised crime. With more than 100 policemen murdered during the last three years, police moral is understandably low.56 No matter how professional or responsible the police may be, organised criminality in Albania cannot be comprehensively dealt with unless there is a complete overhaul of the justice system where corruption is deeply rooted. Public Order Minister, Spartak Poci, recently warned that he would resign if President Rexhep Meidani did not put the justice system in order. Poci claimed that the courts were destroying the work of the police, and that there were dozens of cases where judges had released defendants who had been arrested by the police for various crimes.57 A sweeping review of the activities of judges and prosecutors is urgently needed.


The increase in violent crime in Albania has given rise to a number of disturbing social phenomena: most notably a dramatic escalation in the number of blood feud vendettas; a growing number of girls kidnapped or tricked into prostitution; and a worrying decrease in the number of girls continuing their education. The lives of young Albanian women, especially those living in rural districts and towns other than the capital, are overshadowed by the fear of abduction and rape. Stories abound of girls being snatched by armed men, who then ship them to a life of enforced prostitution in Western Europe.

Thousands of girls are not being allowed to continue schooling beyond primary level because their parents fear for their safety and honour. A border monitor working for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, (OSCE) who is currently completing a study of the issue, noted a typical case of a girl in Pilaf village near the north eastern town of Peshkopi who had finished high school with good grades, yet her family decided not to send her to secondary school because this would have meant a fifteen minute walk to school every day. They were worried that she might be approached and her honour compromised during this daily trip. In another example, a nineteen year-old woman from Muhur village said she had stopped going to school at age fourteen because her parents were worried about the security situation, she was shortly about to embark in an arranged marriage to a man from a neighbouring village.58

A number of EU member states have expressed alarm at the rise in criminal activities controlled by Albanian gangs. Belgium is now facing a rising tide of young Albanian prostitutes, who have been tricked into paying traffickers up to 5,000 USD to be smuggled into Western Europe. These girls are part of a growing wave of victims of human trafficking that is having a particularly damaging effect upon the lives of Albanian women. A senior Brussels police officer, Christian Van Vassenhoven, estimates that as many as half of the foreign prostitutes who work in Brussels are Albanian.59

Eric Van der Sypt, a public prosecutor specialising in the problem of prostitution, told Reuters that "a new phenomenon has emerged of Albanian men selling women from Albania and Belgium. It appears that Albanian criminal groups are establishing links with Bulgarian organisations. Some of the girls are abducted, others have been made false promises of work, but once they get into Italy they are forced to work as prostitutes."60 The girls are thus caught in a no win situation between exploiters and the authorities. They have no legal documentation, they are far from their families, and they fear retribution from their pimps and the local authorities should they try and escape.

Blood Feuds

There are two main reasons why district judges and prosecutors let prisoners off - either straightforward bribery or fear of retaliation by the criminal's relatives. Despite efforts by the government to wipe it out, the 15th century code of customs, the Kanun of Lek Dukagjini, has re-appeared throughout northern Albania. The Kanun, which has been handed down orally through generations, lays out a code of "laws" governing marriage, birth, death, hospitality and inheritance, which have traditionally served as the foundation of social behaviour and self-government for the clans of northern Albania. In particular, the Kanun regulates revenge killings in order to stop the total annihilation of families.

The Kanun has been used as a system for administering justice in northern Albania, which historically has remained isolated from central government law. With the collapse of communism in 1991 and the subsequent lack of nationwide law and order, the number of vendetta killings has soared. Today, revenge killings in the name of the Kanun have taken on threatening proportions. A recent survey on the Kanun by the Independent Social Studies Centre, Eureka, expressed concern that many killers were using the rules of the Kanun as a cover to commit ordinary crime. According to the Eureka statistics, over 50 per cent of teenagers polled said that they respected the rules of the Kanun and would be willing to take revenge in the name of the Kanun. The report also highlights the fact that thousands of male children are being locked inside their homes because of the fear of revenge (females are exempt from revenge killings).61

In one sense it could be argued that northern Albanians are resorting to the Kanun in order to fill the law and order vacuum. In most cases, however, it is not the traditional rules of the Kanun that are being applied but rather a self-selected interpretation. In fact it is a means of settling accounts amongst gangs of traffickers, smugglers, and other criminal elements who, in the absence of official law and order, can use the fear, respect and moral justification associated with the Kanun to terrorise local people into a code of silence.

A blood feud can start over any number of causes - an untoward advance to a woman or the killing of a sheep dog. A typical example occurred in mid-December when a father and son gunned down a neighbour who shot their dog. The man was walking his horses back home at night when he was attacked by the dog and, fearing for his life, shot the dog. The dog's owners witnessed the shooting and immediately wreaked revenge with machine guns.62 Even drivers responsible for traffic accidents have been killed by their victim's families. The vast majority of contemporary feuds, however, are the result of disputes over land and water rights.

Since the end of the one-party state in 1991, collective ownership of the land has been abolished. This has resulted in a land grab whereby the pre-1944 owners have returned to reclaim their property and forced the "occupiers" to relocate themselves. Conflict has become inevitable due to high population growth, together with an acute shortage of agricultural land and the absence of firm policing. Despite the existence of several blood-feud reconciliation bodies, such as the Tirana-based Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution Centre, there has been no concerted and co-ordinated strategy devised to combat this growing and deeply damaging phenomena.

The Kanun is being used to compensate for a weak and corrupt judicial system, as well as the fact that for too long now it has become the accepted tenet that northern Albania is beyond the rule of law, that the government has no jurisdiction in the north, and so the north must rely on its own customary law to provide justice for its citizens. Blood vendettas are particularly rife in and around the town of Shkoder where gangs routinely call at bars in the town to collect "gjoba" or protection money, which if not paid will result in the automatic killing of the bar's owner.

One such example occurred at the beginning of July 1999 when a dozen men armed with kalashnikov assault rifles called at the Sahati bar in the centre of Shkoder. The bar's owner, Ibrahim Isufi, was waiting for them. In the ensuing shootout, five of the gang members were killed and three of Isufi's relatives were wounded. As a result, Isufi's male relatives are hiding in their homes for an indefinite period, in the hope of escaping the inevitable quest for revenge by the families of the five dead gangsters. Throughout northern Albania, hundreds of men have not stepped outside their homes for months for fear of being murdered. A few have managed to escape abroad but the majority remain trapped indoors, having to rely on their womenfolk to bring in supplies and to work the land, a fact that is severely hampering economic progress. The reintroduction of the Kanun into the lives of the communities of northern Albania must be seen as a serious challenge to the state. Today paperback copies of the Kanun are widely available in Albania, Kosovo and Western Macedonia, and the fact that new translations and interpretations of the Kanun are appearing must be viewed with real concern.


Pan Albanian Aspirations

It has now become increasingly apparent, in the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict, that Albania has a significant role to play in providing a national support mechanism for Kosovo Albanians. That role may include Albania lending its diplomatic support on the international scene, or providing a 'nationally sympathetic' platform to discuss differences and grievances between the various Kosovo Albanian and Albanian political factions. Since the end of the conflict, Albania has also become a base for instigating pan-Albanian initiatives on social, cultural and economic grounds.

'The National Question' regarding the future status of Albanians living outside Albania will therefore continue to dominate Albanian foreign policy. Albanians, whether Tosks or Ghegs, Democrats or Socialists, agree upon the fact that Kosovo must be declared independent from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The only discord is on the question of timing and means: with northerners demanding immediate independence, and southerners more likely to accept the notion of Kosovo remaining as a UN protectorate until the rival Kosovo Albanian political factions can guarantee a smooth transition of power following elections.63 Whilst national reconciliation within Albania itself is making very slow progress, the concept of regenerating links between the nation as a whole is gathering momentum.

This is a distinct and separate process from calling for the geographic unification of the nation. The overwhelming majority of all Albanians agree that the different historical paths taken by the people of Albania as distinct from those from the former Yugoslavia, mean that a certain amount of time has to pass before either group is ready for the difficulties that they themselves, let alone their neighbours, would have to face in trying to unite geographically all the Albanians of the Balkans. Nevertheless, a new political and national identity is still in the process of formation.

Some of Albania's Balkan neighbours are watching these moves with a certain uneasiness, translating as it does for some, most notably Serbia and Greece, into designs for a 'Greater Albania', which would by definition necessitate changing international borders. Albania's current leadership has been at great pains to demonstrate a responsible attitude towards, on the one hand, pan-Albanian goals for various forms of reintegration and, on the other hand, accepting there can be no demands for border changes. Indeed, nowadays the only people willing to talk at length about a 'Greater Albania' are to be found in the offices of the Serbian Renewal Movement and similar establishments in Belgrade.64

The Cham issue is now a serious one for Albanian nationalists, who wish to see a major perceived historical injustice corrected. With the Chams supported unanimously by all Albanians of the Southern Balkans and in the larger diaspora, regardless of their political affiliations, it is an issue that has to be addressed. While relations with Greece cannot be allowed to suffer should the Cham question be exploited in the run up to the next parliamentary elections, it is an issue that all Albanian political parties are going to have address in one form or another, or risk being accused of not only letting the Chams down but the nation also. The difficulty is that relations with Greece are perhaps more important than those with any other of Albania's neighbours: Greece has been, after all, a major contributor to the easing of socio-economic, and thereby political, tensions by absorbing up to 400,000 Albanian migrants, whose remittances keep their families afloat.

Strengthening Economic Ties

The Tirana authorities are equally keen to promote a weakening of border structures and a corresponding growth in economic and political co-operation with their Greek, Montenegrin and Macedonian neighbours. Commercial links with Greece and Macedonia are constantly expanding, whilst the reopening, after the conflict, of the border with Montenegro was enthusiastically welcomed in Albania's northern town of Shkoder. The sudden closure by the Yugoslav Federal Army of the border again in mid-January 2000 interrupted the burgeoning economic activity of numerous Shkoder traders, who had re-established close business relations with Montenegro. Belgrade's closure of the border was a gesture of disapproval at the prior signing by Tirana and Podgorica of a memorandum of understanding on the strengthening of relations between Albania and Montenegro. The memorandum provides for the opening of two new border crossings and an Albanian-Montenegrin committee to discuss proposals for greater co-operation between the two countries.

It is also economic rather than nationalistic considerations that make it imperative to improve communications between Albania and Kosovo. The appalling state of Albania's roads, the majority of which have not been repaired in any form since the mid -1970s, have now deteriorated to a point where they have become a major barrier to the country's development. For the people of Kukes, it is far easier and more economical to drive the short (seven kilometres) distance to the southern Kosovo town of Prizren to trade, than to risk the dangers and appalling discomfort of the nine hour drive to Tirana.

During the Kosovo conflict, thousands of military and humanitarian lorries tore up the already bad road from the port of Durrės to Tirana, the main route from the capital leading northwards. At one point, a stretch of this road on the outskirts of Tirana deteriorated to such a extent that after the frequent heavy rains its potholes were transformed into a series of ever widening mini-lakes, which brought traffic to a total standstill. What would it take to repair seriously potholed stretches of road such as this in conjunction with major and ambitious road programs such as Corridor 8?65 If the concept of an "integrated Europe, via an integrated Balkans" - a very popular phrase in Tirana at present - can be advanced through such initiatives, then the need to contemplate changing borders in order to geographically and politically unite all Albanians becomes redundant.

Domestic Developments

In marked contrast to the moves to break down national barriers, on the domestic front Albania's internal politics remain divisive and confrontational. Many in the leadership of the DP are unlikely ever to accept the legitimacy of the present Socialist-led government, and will therefore continue to try to undermine it and to disrupt the political process generally. It is now nine years since the end of the one-party state. Yet Albania's subsequent experiments with democracy have proved, in many respects, as traumatic as the years suffered under the communist regime.

As always in Albania, settling accounts with the past plays a large part in the reality of the present, causing the country to remain entrenched in conflictual politics. Profoundly disillusioned by the whole political process and the glaring absence of democracy, the Albanian people have become largely apathetic in matters relating to politics. Currently Albania is far from a state where understanding and tolerance co-exist with public trust in the institutions of law and justice. Unfortunately, the defining characteristics of social relations in Albania are still a lethal combination of conflict and aggression, combined with an entrenched legacy of corruption and nepotism.

Believing that their political class will constantly betray them, Albanians are impatient for change, yet are bewildered as to how to make it happen. The options open to the majority of this disproportionately youthful population are severely limited: either to become a low-paid migrant worker in Greece; an illegal immigrant in Western Europe; or remain unemployed in Albania. Bearing in mind that Albania has had nine cabinets in nine years, even those in the much coveted government-appointed posts see their jobs as temporary in the extreme,66 fearful of being replaced immediately once there is a change of government. Consequently, for the short duration of their appointment many try to grab what they can.

In the meantime, criminality offers some a fast track route to the riches and comforts of the West. The present level of organised crime is such that corruption, smuggling and the trafficking of people, drugs and weapons are now amongst the country's major economic activities. This in turn is fostering an ever increasing number of gangland feuds which, in the absence of an effective legal and police system, is causing an escalation of cold-blooded assassinations, thinly disguised and morally justified, as revenge rightfully taken in the name of the traditional laws of the Kanun.

As far as crime in general is concerned, it is clear that Albania is just one small cog in the very large wheel of organised crime. Although Albania is a major launch pad for drugs and illegal migrants into Western Europe, more than two thirds of these migrants are not Albanian and have already been smuggled through several other countries before arriving in Albania. The same is true of the smuggling of drugs, most of which are not of Albanian origin. The Tirana authorities therefore are asking that Western, and particularly EU, pressure be put upon other countries to also tackle the problem. Turkey, Bulgaria and Macedonia in particular must also be subjected to the same degree of scrutiny and pressures to act against organised crime. But Tirana must also put it's own house in order to deat with organised crime: urgent reforms are needed in the police, customs and the judiciary together.

Albania's most pressing needs remain the establishment of a civic society based on sound and stable state institutions. Yet this depends, for a large part, upon the country's politicians discarding their deep-seated personal animosities in order to concentrate instead on regaining the Albanian people's faith in the democratic process. This would be a sorely needed first step towards healing the deep political wounds that scar Albanian politics and encouraging Albanians to abandon their political loyalties to personalities in favour of loyalties to democratic political institutions. These are daunting but essential tasks if Albania is to end the cycle of economic and political destruction of recent years, and continue its tortuous path towards democracy.

Responsibilities of the International Community

International actors - in particular the European Union and the World Bank - must remain engaged and committed to assisting Albania in combating its most urgent problems: organised crime, illegal smuggling and drug trafficking, as well as a whole host of domestic problems, including access to education, which have developed out of weak state institutions. Without this assistance, Albania's problems will continue to be transported outside its own borders.

The international community's financial assistance to Albania - in programs such as the EU Phare initiative, must continue to be directed primarily at projects which develop technical capacity within Albania's weak state structures. Much of what has been achieved in Albania has been undone by the ability of organised crime to penetrate and undermine state institutions. Reversing this trend can only be achieved through implementing donor-funded programs which strengthen the judicial and policing responses to lawlessness and criminality.

A complete re-evaluation of the law enforcement system is urgently needed if an effective response to justice and criminal issues - both domestically and regionally - is to be developed. The anti-crime measures already adopted by the Meta Government last summer must be supported by the international community if they are to have any chance of success, but they are only a beginning. A key priority is strengthening the judiciary. Salaries and training schemes for High Court Judges should be funded under present Council of Europe initiatives, and to improve public confidence in the judiciary generally consideration could be given to the establishment of selection panels of mixed Albanian/EU composition, perhaps with a Chairman from the European Court of Justice.

The low level of competence and training of local police, combined with the restricted terms of reference for the Western European Union's (WEU) Multinational Advisory Police Element (MAPE) - the key international agency active in policing - has resulted in little progress in Albania's effort to combat rampant criminality. The MAPE force, consisting of 150 policemen from a variety of countries, has a very restricted mandate which allows advice to be given yet excludes all enforcement operations. Consideration should be given to the transformation of that mandate, at least for a defined transitional period, to allow WEU officers to become active participants in the exercise of policing duties. The creation of a well trained and appropriately-paid Albanian police force, trained under existing MAPE structures, should remain the medium term priority, but in the immediate term a major improvement in police effectiveness is very necessary.

Less formal measures can also be extremely helpful in addressing different aspects of the law and order problem. A good investment by the international donors would be more resources to establish conflict resolution centres in northern Albania to tackle the issue of blood feuds. The aim would be for such centres to bring feuding families together, and to develop understanding of alternative methods of dispute resolution. Such an exercise was attempted in February 1995 when a conflict resolution centre was set up by a British anthropologist Antonia Young in the northern city of Shkoder. Unfortunately, this centre, though successful collapsed due to lack of funding.

The problem of illegal immigration from Albania is one that requires a particular effort not just from the Albanian government, but from those in the wider region. Given that Albania is merely the last port of call for illegal immigrants attempting to use Albania as a springboard into Western Europe, measures should be urgently taken to strengthen co-operation between Albania's neighbours - Kosovo, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Macedonia and Italy. Despite the recent strict checks on Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin entering into Albania through Rinas Airport and border crossings with Greece at Kapshtica and Kakavia, illegal immigrants are being smuggled into the country from Kosovo and Macedonia through any number of little known border crossing points. More help for Albania's beleaguered police force is again required, as well as closer monitoring of regional borders.

According to an agreement signed on 11 January 2000 in Rome between the Interior Ministers of Greece, Italy and Albania, any illegal immigrant caught along Italy's shores will be returned and held in Albania. If present trends continue, Albania can expect to shelter an estimated 42,000 foreign illegal immigrants per year - mostly from China, Sri-Lanka, Bangladesh and Turkey - in holding centres, whilst they await repatriation to their countries of origin. Albania will need assistance from the Italian Government, but also from agencies such as UNHCR to maintain reception centres with adequate food, bedding and medical equipment.

Critical to Albania's future in many ways identified in this report is greater inter-Balkan co-operation. One of the numerous practical obstacles to promoting that co-operation is the existence of tough visa requirements between the countries of the region. Measures should be adopted to relax such restrictions for entrepreneurs, publishers, academics and others, whose activities will assist the developments of socio-economic ties between the Balkan countries.

For too much of its recent history, Albania has been isolated from the international mainstream. It is in everyone's interest that it rejoin the international community as a functioning, economically viable, responsible democracy, and sooner rather than later. For that to happen the country has to help itself, but it also needs all the help it can get, from its immediate regional neighbours and from the European Union in particular.


Appendix: Acronyms and Place Names

DP Democratic Party
EU European Union
OSCE Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe
PHARE Pologne Hongrié Assistance et Reconstruction Economique
Poland Hungary Economic Reconstruction Assistance
SDP Socialist Democratic Party
SP Socialist Party
MAPE Multinational Advisory Police Element
WEU Western European Union

Place Names (Kosovo)
Serbian Albanian
Djakovica Gjakova
Pec Peja
Priština Prishtinė
Prizren Prizren

Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 07/06/2000
©S D Stein
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