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  • Why Albania Matters

    It has been over two decades since Albania escaped the iron grip of communism, yet it is still struggling to sustain democracy. Since 2009, the same year it joined NATO, its elections have been marred by violence, with the Socialist Party using intimidation and mob rule to try to gain or maintain power. Sadly, Washington does not appear to be paying attention.

    Albania is a small country of about 3 million mainly Muslim people bordering Kosovo, Macedonia, and Greece in the Balkan Peninsula. It is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with a post-communism history of corruption, run-down infrastructure, organized crime, and high unemployment. A key export is chromium, an element highly sought after for its non-corrosive properties and a chief component of stainless steel. Albania’s natural resources like chromium were specifically cited in the announcement this week that Albania and China had signed an Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation.

    Since 2009, Albania has sought to join the European Union. But the EU appears less and less positive about Albania’s application. The European Commission for Enlargement let on that the EU is planning to open dialogues on accession by the end of the year with Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia; Albania wasn’t mentioned. One of the main reasons for the EU’s concern is that persistent disputes surround Albania’s elections.

    Take the latest municipal elections in early May. One of the most watched contests was for mayor of Tirana, Albania’s capital and largest city. The incumbent, Edi Rama, heads the Socialist Party and has been in office since 2000. His challenger, Lulzim Basha, is a member of the center-right Democratic Party, which in 2009 won the presidency and prime minister slots after close elections that were followed by mass protests and intimidation by the Socialist Party.

    This latest contest is a replay of those tactics. After almost two months of political and legal wrangling, a vote recount, and the Socialist incumbent vowing to remain in office, the Central Elections Commission has declared Basha the winner by 93 votes out of a quarter million cast.

    Right after the election, Rama was said to lead in the ballot count by 10 votes. The problem is that many of the ballots were placed mistakenly in the boxes for other races. The commission ruled that those ballots must be counted. And after that recount, Basha was declared the winner by 81 votes. The incumbent mayor protested again, claiming that the election rules had been changed midstream and demanding another recount. Basha agreed to abide by the results of that recount. Rama said he would as well—but only if he were declared the winner. He wasn’t.

    So predictably, the Socialist Party is now saying it will protest and ask the Electoral College to invalidate the election. It is threatening mass rallies like those of 2009, which were held every Friday in an attempt to overturn the elections that saw the Democrat Party come to power.

    We should take Rama’s threats seriously. This past January, in the run up to the May elections, his Socialist Party mustered 20,000 supporters for violent mass rallies against the government during which several people were killed.

    As we have seen again and again since the fall of the Soviet Union, and as we are seeing in Iraq today, building truly free and democratic societies from within—and the requisite political systems to sustain them—is difficult. Albania under the Democrats has been working hard to battle corruption, hold open elections, and build a free market. If the Socialist Party can undermine the legitimacy of these efforts, there will be consequences for those working to establish democracy there and quite possibly in other places in Albania’s neighborhood.

    Posted in Ongoing Priorities [slideshow_deploy]

    14 Responses to Why Albania Matters

    1. bledi says:

      obviously you dont have a clue as to the dirty deals that the democrats are involved in. They clearly stole the election by using cash, fuel, flour and any superficial means necessary to get…errrr steal any vote possible. They even went as far at to alter voting participation lists from local municipalities. Do your homework before your write your articles

    2. Harvey says:

      You don't talk at all about how Berisha was the personal physician to Enver Hoxha or his connections to organized crime. How much land was given to him after communism? Most of coastal areas (i.e. tourism money) and active mines (the chromium you mentioned) were both given to Sali Berisha during the first democratic government. Now, his daughter owns all of the textile factories. If you really want to help Albania, write an article that's balanced. Both sides are hurting this country, but siding with one isn't helping either.

    3. Dulo says:

      Your article is so true. As an Albanian I am disgusted of this Rama character…

      • Zackary says:

        Mr. Dule, It is not about personal Rama character. It is about of rule of democracy and free and fair elections where each vote counts. You guys have been for 50 years under Hoxha regime, and now you like to be another 50 years under his successor rule. This is quite strange and at the same time sad.

    4. Albi Qelii says:

      I don’t agree with the facts or the sentiment of the article.

      The party in power is not a center right party as it was described. Its origin is leftist. Mr Berisha once was a commie party secretary at what today is the Mother Teresa University Hospital. Nor is the party program center right. Both the declared intentions and the actions (such as support for public law 7501, the agrarian reform) of the Democratic party there have more in common with Dennis Kucinich. Obama is well to the right of Mr Berisha.

      Regarding this latest round of elections, I saw again that the democracy in Albania is immature. The blame for that rests squarely on Mr Berisha and his henchmen. He is the first and the last “post communist” leader of the country and his track record is dismal. Under his first tenure, Tirana became uninhabitable. There was no place left to walk. The Lana river was obliterated by concrete “kiosks” and so were the parks. That mess was cleaned by Edi Rama incidentally.

      Now we had some elections that were to close to call. 10 votes are within the measurement error. What we saw was a democratic party determined to use any means, bending the rules in order to have their candidate win. I have no respect for them.

    5. Pete Hodge says:

      Maybe a closer and unblinkered look at the political situation in Albania would provide a truer picture of the situation.

      The Socialist party under the leadership of Edi Rama is not seeking to use mob rule to gain power in the country. The reality is, the current Prime Minister, Sali Berisha has a history of anti democracy going back to 1997 when he stood down after riots due to the people losing fortunes through various pyramid scheme collapsing. There was always a rumour that Berisah had an involvement in them, though never fully confirmed.

      Berisha never accepted a single election result after that until he won the general election in 2009, though there were question marks over the vote. Which is what the present row is about. he opposition Socialists held peaceful demonstrations over the problem, which have been supported to some extent by the observers. This has now been increased by the doubts over activities in the vote of the Tirane mayoralty recently.

      Berisha has consistently refused an independent and open investigation to the complaints, which adds fuel to the problem. Berisha has always considered Rama as a threat to his power, and over the years has tried many ways of having him removed from power. All failing until the 2009 election.
      I lived in Albania from 1997 until 2005 and have maintained a close watch on the country. I was able to see what was happening through the years.

      So, whilst it may be politically advantageous to maintain an anti socialist view for American consumption, the reality is, the biggest threat to peace in the country is the supposedly democratic ex communist who currently rules as Prime Minister.

      The obvious one positive thing that comes out of this, is the block it is putting on Albania becoming a part of the anti democratic European Union.

    6. Dave says:

      Jan, as an American living and working in Albania, I was a little disappointed in your article. While overall your general information is correct, you seem to place all the blame on the Socialist party. I don't agree with Rama's tactics either but the Democratic Party holds much of the blame as well. The corruption you say the "Democrats are working hard to battle" is just as rampant within their party. Albania is and needs to continue to make strides to "building truly free and democratic society" but everyone needs to do their part in order to make this happen.

    7. Anonymous-L says:

      It's unfortunate that this author chose not to further investigate how the political climate in Albania has developed over the past two years. It is widely acknowledged that the 2009 elections were marked by serious problems. Both parties admitted this at the time. What turned the tide and led to the most extreme mass protests by the Socialist Party was that after they demanded a recount for months and the case was brought to court, the Democratic government under Berisha refused to permit a recount and instead burned all of the ballot boxes, leaving no way to verify the results. The demonstration referred to in this article where several people were killed was not a violent one as the author claims. Those killed were killed by the police and security forces. In fact, the Democratic Party candidate for mayor, Lulzim Basha, was Interior Minister at the time and there were numerous calls for an investigation into what transpired as well as for his resignation. He did resign – but only to run for mayor of Tirana.In the elections this past May, the Democratic Party demanded use of the same channels to review the results of the elections as the Socialists requested in 2009. The Socialists were denied, while the Democrats were allowed. Had the situation been reversed and Basha had been ahead by 10 votes, one can be certain that the Socialists would not have had the right to demand that miscast ballots be counted.Both the Democrats and the Socialists have a history of fraud and corruption, especially during elections. The Democratic government has claimed it is fighting corruption. It may very well be doing so. But the fact is that multiple members of that government, present and former, have been accused of corruption and abuse of power. These are systemic problems in the Albanian political system and neither of these two parties are immune.It is disheartening to think – and I hope I am wrong in this assessment – that residual Cold War sentiments about communism and socialism seem to be swaying the author's opinion here. Yes, the Albanian Socialist Party is the successor to the Communist Party. However, there are few substantive differences in the platforms of the Democratic and Socialist Parties and the socialists do not – by any stretch of the imagine – promote socialism, communism or any similar form of government. In Albania, being named the "Democratic Party" has nothing to do with being any more democratic than a party named the "Socialist Party". Democracy does indeed remain elusive in Albania, but the Democratic and Socialist Parties are equally to blame.While I am not a frequent reader of this site, I hope this and other authors will take greater care to inform themselves of situations before they write about them.

    8. Disappointed says:

      You mention that several people were killed in the "violent" Socialist led protests. The implication is obvious.

      Isn't it a bit disingenuous to forget to add that they were demonstrators killed by police? Film of the incident shows, fairly conclusively, that the killings were unprovoked by any immediate threat to the killer or killers. The ruling party then did its utmost to protect the guilty and undermine the rule of law.

      I'm on no particular side on the election issue – believe it or not – neither side comes out of this with much credit, but to leave out such a critical fact emphasises how partisan this supposedly objective account is.

      • Jack Dawson says:

        it is also a fact that the socialist party PAID for people to come to tirana and be violent. the police took a beating for 4 hours (i was there) and they reacted superbly. the protesters were actually shot by the republican guard (a force which protects VIP's and government building such as the prime ministers office).. in the end, the PS must hold responsibility for the killings as they instigated it.

    9. Disappointed says:

      You mention that several people were killed in the "violent" Socialist led protests. The implication is obvious.

      Isn't it a bit disingenuous to forget to add that they were demonstrators killed by police? Film of the incident shows, fairly conclusively, that the killings were unprovoked by any immediate threat to the killer or killers. The ruling party then did its utmost to protect the guilty and undermine the rule of law.

      I'm on no particular side on the election issue – believe it or not – neither side comes out of this with much credit, but to leave out such a critical fact emphasises how partisan this supposedly objective account is.

    10. Unofrtunately, it's been over two decades since Rumania, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and so on and so forth escaped the iron grip of communism as well. Yet they're struggling against intimidation from and rule by former party members still in power, a kind of dynastic commanding elite including descendants or relatives of former secret service agents. I'm afraid the West does not seem to care at all.

    11. eriny says:

      while I agree with the portrayal of the Socialist party & Rama, the Democratic party isn't that much better…if you're going to talk about the problems in a country like Albania, you cannot simply be critical of one party and not even bother to mention the rest of the political spectrum, that's just not good journalism

    12. WWW says:

      This happens when freedom isn't won by the poeple. America survives because the people fought for it. These other countries aren't fighting for it, they are taking the result of the US fighting for them. If they don't put in the effort they won't know how to sustain it.

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