Albania: State of the Nation
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 Durrës. 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.