President of the Venice Commission: Democratic transitions are not irreversible

President of the Venice Commission: Democratic transitions are not irreversible

IBNA Special Report

Tirana, January 27, 2015/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Edison Kurani

President of the Venice Commission, Gianni Buquicchio offers his advice for Albanians to be more cautious, 24 years after the overthrow of the communist regime and the reinstitution of the democratic system, because democratic transitions are not irreversible. Buquicchio has arrived in Tirana, where he was honored with the title “Doctor Honoris Causa” from the Tirana European University.

Intrigued by Albania

In his speech, Mr. Buquicchio talked about the developments in Albania, with which he’s been acquainted for two and a half decades.

Buquicchio talked about the spiritual ties that he had with Albania, recalling his birth place, Puglia. “I grew up in Bari, on the other side of Adriatic. I remember when I was a child that Albania always intrigued me, being perhaps one of the most mysterious countries in Europe, being so close, but at the same time so closed”. Buquicchio recalls the first moment he visited the “mysterious” country, upon the fall of the communist regime.

“I have fresh recollections of the first visit in your country, in 1991, after the first pluralist elections, when along with the then president of the European Commission, Antonio La Pergola, we came to Tirana. I remember the poor infrastructure at that time and also the empty shelves in grocery stores”.

“It was the time when Italian authorities started the “Pelican” operation, by sending humanitarian aids, especially food in the country destroyed by isolation and military policies of the previous regime”, remembers professor Buquicchio, when he talks about the first moments of his work with Albania.

The saga of the Constitution of Albania

After the appointment of the work group with representatives of the Venice Commission, the first draft project of the new Albanian Constitution was put on paper in collaboration with Albanian institutions.

The work for the drafting of that Constitution continued for many years. Prof. Buquicchio, founder of the Venice Commission and today, its president, recalls the fact that “many observers in the ‘90s were predicting a catastrophe for the Albanian constitutional reform”.

The 1994 referendum could not see the approval of the first draft of the new Constitution. Albanians overthrew it. Therefore, a new round of projections and discussions was needed. Those who witnessed the process of political negotiations recall the mutual lack of trust among Albanian political parties.

Mr. Buquicchio says that it was the involvement of the Commission that helped in the solution of most of the disagreements: “Our experts also participated in the parliamentary discussions, attempting to convince opposing political forces to find a common language and by proposing them results which were tested in other countries”.

Finally, in November 1998, the new Constitution was adopted.

“This Constitution has been in force for 16 years and although for a new democracy this is not a very long time, for a country in transition it means a lot”, says Mr. Buquicchio.

But, the work of the Venice Commission didn’t end there, continuing with “a dozen of opinions, comments, etc, in relation to Albania”, as Buquicchio puts it.

To build up a functional democracy

Today, after nearly 25 years of democracy, the former professor of the University of Bary, told students and professors at the European University of Tirana that he has hope in the youth that they will build a functional democracy.

His message, not only for the future lawyers, but for Albanians and the political class in particular, is clear and essential; the fight for democracy and freedom is perpetual.

“We must not think that democracy can be built once and forever, that freedom is “won” and that democratic transitions are irreversible, especially if the democratic mentality has not been won in an irreversible manner”.

Prof. Buquicchio says that the expertise of its members will continue to help  member states in order for them not to go back to the old authoritarian customs, because as he stresses, “this has been my ambition during the 25 years of work at the Venice Commission and it will always remain my scope for the future”.

Legal education must be improved

President of the Venice Commission says that faith for the future depends on the education of the new generation. “It’s very important to cultivate a generation of lawyers who have a constitutional mentality; otherwise, all our efforts are in vain”.

Buquicchio suggests that the state and the Albanian academic community must join efforts to strengthen legal education, “in order for constitutional values not to remain misapplied, unpracticed, but in order for them to live and prosper”.

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Gianni Buquicchio is president of the Venice Commission since December 2009. The European Commission for Democracy through the law, known as the Venice Commission because it holds its meetings in this city, is the advisory institution of the European Council on constitutional matters.

The role of the Venice Commission is to offer legal advise for members states and help states that want to harmonize their legal and institutional structures with European standards and international experiences in the domain of democracy, human rights and rule of law. /ibna/