Two and a half decades after the overthrow of dictatorship, Albania’s challenges remain the same

Two and a half decades after the overthrow of dictatorship, Albania’s challenges remain the same

Tirana, 8 December 2015/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Edison Kurani

25 years have gone by since the end of fall of 1990, when Albanians took the streets of Tirana and the entire country, by putting an end to the communist dictatorship which kept the country isolated for nearly half a century.

Since then, many things have changed. But many challenges remain the same as in 1990.

Two and a half decades after the overthrow of communism, Albanian political class is still obsessed on protecting short term interests, while reforms require wide consensus.

Political leaders restrict the movements of the opponent and in the majority of cases, consensus is seen as unacceptable.

Many people say that the situation is serious and the price of failure may be huge. They say that the international community must help Albania to consolidate its democracy, by supporting the people who want the development of the country and by leaving corrupt politicians aside.

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Renowned protagonists of the beginning of democracy in Albania talk about the events and the unexpected responsibilities that Albanian intellectuals had once dictatorship was overthrown and political pluralism won.

Writer Besnik Mustafaj, who has been a politician and government member for many years, says that the new leaders of Albania spent a lot of time with politics and power and put aside the values of freedom, and this is why everyone failed in building a new democratic life.

Former foreign minister, Besnik Mustafaj says that Albanian elite has failed in transforming the country into a functional democracy.

“We discovered the taste of power before discovering the taste of freedom and we failed as an elite”, Mustafaj says.

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Eduard Selami is one of the few chairmen that the Democratic Party has had in 25 years. After the foundation of DP by the students, one of them, Azem Hajdari, was the first chairman of the party, but his professor, Sali Berisha, took over his post a few months later.

When the DP won the elections in 1992, Berisha became President and Eduard Selami became the democrat leader.

Numerous attacks ensued within the DP against Selami and these attacks were led by Berisha. Selami decided to leave the country and move to the US.

In the recent years, it seems that the wounds were healed. In 2013, Selami appeared once again near the DP and this time, as its MP. But this doesn’t prevent Selami from saying that today’s opposition leadership doesn’t inspire hope and faith.

“The new leadership of the Democratic Party has disappointed me and most of the party that want to see the DP once again as the party that brings hope for Albanians”, says Selami, who in the last elections was very active in supporting DP.

“We had hope that in front of the Rama-Meta governance, which is one of the worst ones that the country has ever known, to come out with a new leadership, but this is not happening”, Selami adds.

Selami believes that political parties in Albania have turned into a personal property of their leaders, from decision making to the selection of policies. According to him, this is an omnipresent problem and it’s becoming worse.

The democrat MP says that democracy in Albania is anemic and the majority of Albanians are looking forward to leaving the country, as they do not see a future here. Selami appeals that the political elite must understand that first of all, it’s there for the citizens, but it has failed the Albanian dream in these 25 years.

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At the end of the ‘80s, when Albanians were craving for information which was different to the typical communist one that Tirana was bombarded with, it was the Voice of America that came to the aid. With two bulletins a day, lasting several minutes, VOA became the voice of a reality which was being hidden in Albania.

At that time, Elez Biberaj was one of the most prominent names of VOA and he followed all developments in Albania from the US.

25 years later, academic Elez Biberaj says that Albania is once again in a crossroad, because it’s suffering more than other countries as a result of the low level of democracy.

According to him, communist heritage and low economic level are still present and today’s suffering has come as a result of the decisions of the governing elites.

“Albania is producing the largest number of migrants, because these people have lost hope, while corruption has spread its roots”, Biberaj says.

He believes that Albania is facing many challenges that have put its leaders to the test”

Meanwhile, he notes that “unlawfulness has become a habit and a public office is the most common way to get rich”.

Biberaj is also critical with the justice system: “The justice system is corrupt and officials affect the court decisions”, he says.

According to Biberaj, Albanian democracy is suffering as a result of an extreme polarization, although ideological differences have become narrower. “Prime Minister Rama made big promises for reforms and has made progress in many fronts, but given the majority that he had in parliament, he didn’t think it was necessary to collaborate with the opposition. But collaboration between the government and opposition is vital to Albania”, Biberaj says.

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Historian and history professor, Bernd Fischer of the Indiana Fort Wayne University, is an expert of the developments that have occurred in Albania throughout the years. He says that the country has made such a long way, but has not yet arrived in its destination.

“The features of the old regime have not completely disappeared and this is the cause for the current situation of the country”, Fischer says. “The key issue concerning Albania is the strengthening of the foundation of democracy”, he adds.

“In order to move forward, Albania needs a healthy political culture, to have functional political parties and an efficient leadership which functions throughout the entire country”, Fischer suggests.

According to historian Fischer, it’s crucial for Albania to improve the electoral system, to create possibilities for independent press, to fight corruption and organized crime and improve the justice system.

However, Albania has made several steps forward and Fischer mentions these steps: “There have been improvements in the market economy, in the multi party system and free elections, in the creation of civil society organizations. There have also been improvements in the strengthening of the rule of law.”

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Foreign diplomats in Albania also say that the years of Albanian transition were difficult. Meanwhile, they appeal for constant political compromise.

EU ambassador to Tirana, Romana Vlahutin says that transition in Albania is not at all easy.

“Freedom is the first form of responsibility for us and for society. To build society and by looking into the future, you must also stop in the past. The communist regime killed 7 thousand political dissidents, nearly 6 thousand others disappeared and do not have a tombstone. Dictatorship imprisoned and displaced tens of others and thousands of files of secrete services are still closed”, Vlahutin says.

Vlahutin calls for the country to catch up on the time that it has lost. “Albania doesn’t have time to waste on things which are not important, but take the opportunity to make up for the time lost in the past”.

US ambassador to Albania, Donald Lu says that change is a strong desire that Albanians have. “I believe that the desire to change in Albania is strong, in order to solve the big problems that society has encountered. It’s important to remember all the courageous men and women who came from all four corners of Albania and risked their life by shouting “We want Albania to be like Europe”, said the US ambassador, Donald Lu.

Mr. Lu says that democracy needs compromises and agreements to cooperate in the interests of the citizens.

The recent agreement reached between the government and opposition on decriminalization is considered by Mr. Lu “as the first agreement that I witnessed during my first year in office here”.

Mr. Lu warns that “major changes are on their way”, expressing his optimism that “important reforms such as the one in the justice system, will be approved in the days and weeks to come”.

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Although Albanians and international community thought that Albania would not need more than ten years to overcome the transition period, 25 years have passed and there’s still a lot of work to do.

25 years may be a short time for history, but for the life of a man, they are a lot.

It’s true that the time already passed, cannot come back, but the time that is passing must be carefully seen. /ibna/