Last Updated: Monday, 30 May 2016, 07:01 GMT

Supporting Albania's Long-Haul Recovery

Publisher International Crisis Group (ICG)
Publication Date 18 March 1998
Cite as International Crisis Group (ICG), Supporting Albania's Long-Haul Recovery, 18 March 1998, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Executive Summary

This report provides an update on conditions in Albania, one year after the political crisis that plunged the country into chaos in March 1997. Despite the relative improvement in the situation since parliamentary elections held in June 1997, and the recent appearance of some encouraging signs, the Albanian government still faces a long, tough road ahead as it continues to rebuild state institutions and restore order in Albania.

Among the most serious challenges facing the country are politically-motivated and criminal acts of violence, as well as the easy availability of weapons due to the wide-spread looting that occurred during last year's unrest. Bickering between members of the government, polarisation between the two main political parties and extremely difficult economic conditions are further testing the patience of Albanian citizens. If this weren't enough, an audit report completed by Deloitte and Touche in late January 1998 added to the mood of frustration by confirming what many Albanians had already guessed: the five remaining "pyramid" firms, even after liquidation, will be unable to fully reimburse their creditors.

On the other hand, the government has enjoyed some success in its fight against organised crime, and recently prevailed in a precarious security situation in the north of the country. The political project of drafting a new national Constitution is back on track for the moment, and European organisations, including the European Union, the OSCE and the Council of Europe, have shown a willingness to exert effective pressure on the Albanian political parties to remain engaged in the process. The government has passed a budget and is aware of the amount of work that must be done regarding one of the weakest and most critical points in its program, the economy.

However, much work remains to be done and the international community will need to remain deeply engaged in Albanian affairs over the coming months and years if the seeds of stability are to really take root. The four priority areas we believe, on the basis of the current assessment, should receive urgent attention are:

• Referendum on possible constitutional reforms - a referendum on constitutional reform could be held during 1998. It will be important to make available whatever support is needed to hold such a referendum and also send monitors to observe the process at close range. Under current security conditions it will be difficult to deploy unescorted election monitors to some areas of the country.

• Social programming to soften economic reforms: International financial institutions must be sure to assess the consequences of austerity measures in the delicate political environment which obtains. Especially in light of the recent audit results on the remaining pyramid schemes, the public needs to have a greater sense that citizens are benefiting from the aid reaching the country. Adequate social programs must accompany economic reforms.

• Technical support for security services: A variety of entities are providing assistance to the Ministry of the Interior, the police force, and the armed forces. Most accounts indicate that little, if any, co-ordination is being undertaken, and that in some instances, there is in fact a struggle for influence among nations providing support. The international community must insure that adequate communication exists in this important area of technical assistance, and that the advice being given and the missions carried out are not at cross purposes.

• Bridging the gap between Tirana and the countryside: International institutions and aid organisations are largely uninformed about what is going outside of the capital, and Albanian political parties seem out of touch as well. Conversely, areas outside of Tirana are cut off from any sense of progress and normalcy that might be felt in the capital. The OSCE has established offices outside of Tirana, as has the European Community Monitor Mission. Other organisations should forge relationships and communication networks with Albanian NGOs outside of Tirana, as well as with those international organisations with a presence in the districts.


A year has now passed since the failure of "pyramid" investment schemes threw Albania into a profound political and economic crisis. Although the conduct of parliamentary elections in June 1997 brought the country back from the brink of collapse, the current government faces enormous challenges as it attempts to re-build state institutions and consolidate law and order. An ailing economy, an armed population, and a variety of social problems continue to plague the country, all against the backdrop of the deteriorating situation in the Serbian province of Kosovo to the north. Efforts to tackle the country's fundamental problems are often frustrated by divisions within the government and a highly charged and polarised political environment. On balance, while some recent developments give reason for guarded optimism, the situation in Albania remains deeply unsettled. Sustained international attention and support will needed well into the future if Albania's shaky recovery is to continue and a new bout of instability in the Southern Balkans to be prevented.

A Weary Electorate

Domestic and international observers alike offer mixed reviews on the performance of the Socialist-dominated coalition government that emerged from last summer's parliamentary elections in Albania. The Socialist Party victory in the June 1997 poll was, more than anything, a protest vote against the regime of former president Sali Berisha and his Democratic Party, widely regarded as having been responsible for the crisis that Albania experienced last year. Despite the lack of a strong positive mandate, the current regime, under adverse conditions, has managed to last longer than some had expected. Moreover, the government has gained a measure of credibility through its moderate success in restoring order, and its ability to attract significant international financial assistance.

The government is, however, suffering from growing internal divisions between different factions and, specifically, between Prime Minister Fatos Nano and his Minister for the Interior, Neritan Ceko. Tension between the two men have increased in recent months as Ceka has become increasingly outspoken in his criticism of corruption, patronage and cronyism associated with the Socialist Party. Many senior civil servants regard Ceka as a dangerous threat and pressure is mounting on the Prime Minister to ditch his fiery interior minister. Nano is, however, unlikely to take such a step since Ceko's participation in the government is essential for its continued credibility abroad and, in any case, were he to be ousted from the government and freed from the restrictions of governmental responsibilities, Ceko would likely become an even noisier and more effective critic.

There are also some signs of tension between Nano and the President, Rexhed Mejdani, following the latter's decision to become more involved in regional foreign affairs. A Muslim with a strong Kosovo background, Mejdani has taken a particularly keen interest in the situation in Kosovo, much to the irritation of his prime minister. The relationship between Mejdani and Nano is said to have worsened recently after the President appointed as his senior political adviser Prec Zogai, a prominent critic of Nano when Nano was deputy prime minister in 1991.

Although the government has been able to muddle through thus far, many Albanians believe that a credible alternative to the Socialist Party would be a welcome addition to the political scene. With still reviled ex-president Sali Berisha serving as the main representative of the largest opposition party, the Democrats will be unable to provide that alternative. The events of last year have given the Socialists the chance to wield power, but in the absence of a viable competitor, and given current public support for extreme measures to restore law and order, the current government must be monitored closely. As noted in a recent article in The Economist, one observer in the southern city of Saranda warns that Albania has simply "...swapped the northern clan of Berisha for the southern clan of Nano." 1

Albanians, especially the younger generation, express indifference, and even suspicion, towards almost all politicians. It is difficult to find evidence in the daily lives of Albanians of the aid that is reaching the country, and citizens continue to be more concerned with unemployment and inflation (close to 50% a year) than with party politics.

Although the international community pledged some $US 600 million at last year's donor conference toward rebuilding the Albanian economy, the public is more likely to notice the elimination of 15,000 civil service jobs required by IMF reforms, the recent pay increases for high government officials with the goal of deterring corruption, and the regular interruptions in electricity and water supplies. There is a growing gap between common citizens and the political elite -- which continues to engage more in harsh rhetoric than in attempts at national reconciliation or grassroots outreach.

The recent audit report delivered to the government by Deloitte and Touche seemed to validate the public's cynical mood. The report, as anticipated, indicated that the five remaining "pyramid" investment firms will be unable to fully reimburse their creditors, even after selling non-liquid assets. Reaction to the report has been mixed. While many observers see it as a responsible assessment that prepares investors for the unpalatable reality that their money has been lost, many of the victims of the pyramid schemes see it as part of a conspiracy involving the government and the international community to escape the expense of a just settlement. Some 40,000 people have joined the National Creditors Association (NCA) which is campaigning for the immediate return of money lost in the pyramid schemes. The head of the Tirana Branch of the NCA, Fatos Kadeshi called for Deloitte and Touche to leave Albania, while Misret Sahiti, the national leader of the NVA, has accused Nano's government of "submitting to the pressure of foreigners. At the end of February 1998, the NVA handed a petition to the prime minister's office demanding that Vefa Holdings, one of the largest of the investment companies, be permitted to continue its operations in the interest of its thousand of creditors.

The NVA's popularity is based, at least in part, on a widespread belief among Albanians that the international community wants to keep Albania poor in order to manipulate it. Paranoia is reinforced by the failure of the Albanian economy to demonstrate any capacity for dramatic improvement. In this respect it would be useful for the international community to organise a public information campaign aimed at demystifying this issue by explaining to Albanians the extent of the economic problems facing their country, the slow-paced and often painful nature of tackling those problems and, importantly, the economic and social benefits that will eventually come from the process of economic reform.

Political Polarisation Played out in Constitutional Debate

Under the intense scrutiny of the international community, the Albanian political establishment turned its attention to the task of drafting a Constitution last fall. Many hoped that the process would foster political dialogue in the polarised atmosphere after last summer's election, and that a completed Constitution could serve as the "basis for enduring political stability." Despite efforts to initiate the drafting process, progress has been undermined by political posturing. Rather than treating the Constitution as a public good for all of Albania, politicians seemed to perceive the prospect of passing a Constitution-or obstructing its passage-as a potential feather in the cap of one or another political party.

By many accounts, the parties do not have irreconcilable differences regarding the substance of the document. The devil, as always, is in the details -- in this case, the process by which the Constitution will be drafted and approved. This problem dates back to 1994, when then-President Berisha sent his long-awaited draft of a new Constitution directly to the people for referendum, bypassing the Parliament where he was unlikely to win the approval of the required two-thirds. The electorate dealt him a painful defeat in that poll, due in part to the highly partisan state media campaign that they were force-fed in support of "Berisha's Constitution." The Socialists' campaign against the Constitution was equally partisan, and both did little to educate citizens about the Constitution and its importance.

The Albanian parliament re-launched the constitutional project in September 1997, creating a Parliamentary commission for drafting the Constitution and appointing co-chairmen of the commission: Arben Imami of the Democratic Alliance Party (a coalition partner of the Socialist Party), and Sabri Godo of the right of centre Republican Party. The selection of Godo, with his well-established anti-communist credentials, was intended to insure that the commission could not be accused of serving exclusively the interests of the Socialist Party. The schedule for passing the Constitution was also established at that time: the original goal was to hold a referendum on 8 March 1998, after having the draft approved by the commission and by the full Parliament. Clearly, the timetable will to be revised.

Shortly after those developments, however, incidents of violence with political implications began to escalate. On 18 September 1997, a Democratic member of Parliament was shot and seriously wounded in the Parliament building by a Socialist member of Parliament, and the following day a bomb exploded at the Socialist Party headquarters in the northern city of Shkoder. The Democratic Party began to boycott Parliament, ostensibly in response to the shooting of the Democratic Party deputy, and Sali Berisha declared in the October meeting of his party's congress that the Democratic Party no longer recognised the "political solution" offered by the June 1997 parliamentary elections. From October until late January 1998, Berisha and his party were, for all intents and purposes, in campaign mode as they vociferously advocated the installation of a technical government and early elections.

The Democratic Party also refused to take part in the Constitutional drafting process during this time period. According to Berisha, an elected Constitutional Assembly should undertake the task, rather than a commission from the "Kalashnikov Parliament." One government official responded to these tactics by claiming that "[the Democratic Party] was trying to create a crisis where a crisis didn't exist." Nevertheless, the Parliamentary commission members, especially Republican Sabri Godo, were hesitant to continue work on the Constitution in the absence of the Democrats, and the drafting process was at a standstill.

European Response to the Political Gridlock

In response to the impasse, a delegation comprising senior members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament visited Albania on 22-23 January 1998.

Given what some considered to be a half-hearted intervention by the international community after the flawed May 1996 elections, some Albanians were concerned that the delegation would be too diplomatic in expressing its views on the political blockage that existed. That fear proved to be unfounded when the delegation issued its declaration on 23 January. In no uncertain terms, the European "troika" reaffirmed the acceptability of the 29 June 1997 elections and the legitimacy of the current Parliament, rejected the suggestion of early parliamentary elections, and called on the Democratic Party and the Union for Democracy to promptly end their boycott of the Parliament and to participate in drafting the new Constitution. 2 As one Tirana daily noted, referring to the frank language of the declaration, "the Europeans have finally learned to speak Albanian."

The declaration also made reference to weaknesses of the current government, by mentioning the need to safeguard the independence of the judiciary, to fairly implement agreements regarding the public media, and to ensure that the appointment of all public services be based on merit. Furthermore, the delegation proposed that parliamentary practice be monitored by international observers on a systematic basis. Although one senior government advisor noted that this last point can be considered as somewhat of an embarrassment for Albania, it will be useful in the long run, he said, in order to make clear just who is sabotaging the work of the Parliament.

The real significance of the visit by the European delegation, however, seems to have been as a signal to the Democratic Party that "the train is leaving," and that if they want to come along, they must get on board now. Republican Godo now has the cover he needs to go forward with or without the Democrats. As a follow-up to the visit, the OSCE requested written responses from all political parties to the declaration. On 26 January 1998, the Democratic Party issued a press release in which it stated its intention to rejoin the political process. This came just two days after a Democratic Party rally in central Tirana, attended by some 3000 people, at which Berisha continued his call for new elections. Nevertheless, after an all-day meeting on 2 February, the party leadership reaffirmed its commitment to return to Parliament and seems set to participate in the Constitutional dialogue.

It remains to be seen when and if the commission will produce a draft. 1998 is being hailed as the year of the Constitution in Albania, and the parliamentary commission (with support from international organisations) is striving to enhance public participation in the process in order to avoid the pitfalls of the Democratic Party/Berisha effort at force-feeding the public a Constitution in 1994. The OSCE has created an Administrative Centre for the Co-ordination of Assistance and Public Participation, which, along with Minister of State for Legislative Reform Arben Imami, is facilitating workshops and meetings to solicit input from Albanian NGOs, lawyers, human rights activists, and minority representatives for the drafting process.

Despite these and other civic education efforts, many in Tirana fear that the public at large doesn't understand the urgency that the international community places on its passage, in light of the multitude of other more immediate problems in their lives. More public education is needed to convince the electorate that the Constitution is a valuable political project. Other observers are sceptical that the Democratic Party will truly engage in productive dialogue on the issue. The international community must keep up the pressure on any party which threatens to engage in obstructionist behaviour.

Security Situation

The state of security in the country was summed up by one Albanian intellectual in a December 1997 commentary for an Albanian newspaper: "The fever of anarchy that swept over the country in the first half of 1997 seems to be trying to make a comeback. It is taking a less virulent form...but an explosion here, a robbery by masked men there, and large-scale thefts everywhere are all sure signs that we are dealing with the same disease. It sometimes grows worse, and sometimes improves, but is chronic, and it fills people with a sense of terror and insecurity. People talk anxiously about the growing number of incidents of theft and looting, and the growth of political crimes aimed at destabilising the country." 3

In the southern city of Gjirokaster and surrounding area a total of 17 bombs have exploded between mid-December 1997 and mid-March 1998. These without exception have been politically-motivated incidents. Targets have included the birthplace, now a museum, of former dictator Enver Hoxha in Gjirokaster, the hall of Gjirokaster where the local governors's office and the Socialist Party headquarters are, and the home of a prominent Socialist Party activist in the nearby village of Lazarat. This village is one of the very few in this region where the majority of the population are Muslim and most inhabitants are strong supporters of the former President Sali Berisha and the Democratic Party.

Much of the south of the country is effectively beyond the control of the police, who are clearly terrified by the threats of the myriad of local mafia groups. Mafia leaders are determined to keep the police out of the area so that they can continue to develop flourishing drug smuggling and illegal immigration rackets.

Officials from the Ministry of Interior are quick to point out that substantial progress has been made in arresting criminals and disbanding criminal gangs. According to Minister of the Interior Neritan Ceka, 37 gangs had been arrested in the last six months of 1997, and 1259 out of 1607 crimes had been addressed. 4 Indeed the government has made strides in combating organised crime. Nevertheless, Tirana appears to be a relative island of normalcy. Travel outside of the capital, especially after dark, can carry significant risks.

Shkoder: a Test for the Government

Despite many unsettling reports about the security situation, the government recently passed what many considered to be a major test of its ability to maintain order in the country. A flare-up of politically-related violence erupted in the northern opposition stronghold of Shkoder in late January, and had residents of Tirana glued to their television sets for several tense hours. Many Albanians and western observers alike believe that the events in Shkoder were orchestrated by the Democratic Party in order to put pressure on the government on the eve of the European delegation's visit-one western diplomat claimed that Berisha wanted to make Shkoder the "Vlore of the north" (referring to the birthplace of last spring's rebellion in the southern port town of Vlore).

The events in Shkoder, although still slightly sketchy, are as follows. On 20 January 1998, a group of at least ten armed men, including former police officers, attacked the police station in Shkoder, allegedly seeking the release of two prisoners as well as the removal of the newly appointed Police Chief of Shkoder, Mit'hat Havari. Havari, who established a reputation as a strong enforcer of law and order during his assignment in the city of Berat, had been named to the Shkoder post by the PS-led government. In a gun battle in the main square of the city on the 20th, two police officers defending the police station were seriously wounded.

An additional 40 armed persons surrounded the Prefecture building nearby, in which a meeting of local government officials was taking place. The Democratic Party Vice-chair of Parliament was also at the meeting, and told reporters by telephone that the local politicians in the meeting had signed-"by consensus"-a declaration supporting the demand to name a new police chief and to release the two prisoners. Reports later surfaced that the Regional Prefect-also a government appointee-had been held hostage in the building. Podgorica resigned shortly after the incident, telling the press, "we can't talk, that's the situation."

In the end, police and special forces in the city were able to quell the short-lived rebellion. The outcome prompted one observer to claim that "the thugs won again," as rumours had it that an amnesty had been offered to some of the perpetrators in exchange for an end to the hostility. On the other hand, many saw this as a turning point for the government in that they were able to avoid what amounted to a coup on the local level. The government's ability to maintain order, especially in the northern city of Shkoder, was an important achievement in both practical and psychological terms.

Just days after the incident, the special forces and police controlling entry into and out of the city, and cordoning off the area around the police station, were the only signs that something out of the ordinary had taken place. The sidewalks and cafes were crowded, and the market was in full swing. Many in Shkoder appeared annoyed by the disruption to their lives. "Ten guys who lost their jobs were able to disturb the workings of a city of more than a 100,000 people," complained one Shkodran. Despite the city's traditional orientation away from the Socialists and toward the Democratic Party, most residents simply seemed relieved that order had been restored.

Interior Minister Neritan Ceka believes the attack as being politically-motivated and points to evidence of clear Montenegrin involvement. A number of those involved in the attack on the police station were Montenegrins who staged the raid in order to release their associates who were being held in the police detention rooms pending trials. According to Ceka, the group which attacked the police station is supported by the local Shkoder branch of the Democratic Party, which is deeply involved in smuggling activities with Montenegro going back to the sanctions busting days before the Dayton Accord was signed.

Availability of Weapons and Smuggling of Arms

Estimates of the number of weapons that were taken from depots in Albania in early 1997 range from 500,000 to 750,000. Even using conservative figures for both the number of looted weapons and the adult population in Albania, one can safely guess that there is one weapon floating around the country for every four adults. An armed population has consequences, not only for the ability to prevent future civil unrest within Albania, but also for the ability of the state to pursue economic recovery and political legitimisation. The existence of organised crime, which flourishes in this insecure environment, contributes to civil fragmentation. Beyond the internal consequences of weapons availability, however, the illicit cross-border trade of weapons to Kosovo via Macedonia and other bordering countries contributes to the possibility of inter-state conflict in the region.

According to residents in the capital of Tirana, the current price on the street for a Kalashnikov is $US 100, and for a pistol $US 200. This is up from the $US 50 that was being charged when the crisis erupted last spring. The price hike, however, has little to do with a diminishing supply. The more likely reason for the increase in price is the realisation that demand is still considerable, and that there is money to be made. Despite considerable talk during the summer of 1997 about a buy-back program for retrieving the arms, little has been done on this issue. The Minister of Interior himself, Neritan Ceka, recently stated that as few as 10% of the looted weapons had been retrieved. One politician explained that financing for a buyback program is not available, but that even if such a program were implemented, it could lead to further looting, or perhaps be ineffective due to the open market for arms. Some western diplomats are also sceptical about the viability of a buy-back program, claiming that economic development and a public awareness campaign are prerequisites to disarmament.

A buy-back program is not the only disarmament method that is being discussed. General Prosecutor Arben Rakipi recently suggested that the army should be involved in collecting weapons. According to Rakipi, citizens might feel more comfortable surrendering arms anonymously to the army, rather than dealing with the police who register names of those who turn in weapons. Others focus on the need to give more authority and compensation to the police. Tirana police chief Fadil Canaj told the media in a 9 January interview that "the problem [of disarmament] is as widespread as it is intractable. There is no overall plan, because the law does not allow you to enter all the houses and search them." 5 Even if police had enhanced powers to conduct random searches of residences, however, they have little incentive to risk life and limb for a salary of less than $US100 per month.

According to some people, the Government is not particularly anxious to do much about disarmament until the political situation is "more clear." As for the opposition, ex-president Berisha made public comments in December to followers at a rally in the city of Durres that citizens had right to keep their weapons for self-defence. Many, including Albanian human rights activists, agree that the main reason for arms possession among a part of the population is for self-defence, and that there is little motivation to return arms-even with a buy-back program-until stability has been restored, and economic improvements are felt by the population. The ongoing debate highlights the lack of consensus about what should be done to disarm the population. The only consensus that exists to date is on the need for a massive public education campaign, to be complemented perhaps by having Albanian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) travel to the grassroots to engage in trust and confidence-building measures.

As troubling as the prevalence of arms within the territory of Albania, is the considerable arms smuggling across the borders to Greece, Montenegro and Macedonia that is believed to be underway. Although public information provides little in the way of solid proof, many western officials both inside and outside of Albania believe that the smuggling of arms is rampant. According to one Radio Free Europe media report, an unnamed senior NATO official stated in Belgium on January 27 that the "wholesale transfer of weapons to Kosovo" from Albania could contribute to violence in the Serbian province. 6 A European diplomat in Tirana shared the belief that weapons from Albania are ending up in Kosovo, although he surmised that the arms trade was more for financial gain than for the "Albanian cause."

Despite the lack of publicly available intelligence on arms trafficking, Macedonian and Albanian press outlets have reported on a number of incidents relating to arms smuggling in recent months:

• On 28 November 1997, Skopje MIC reported that a border patrol of the Macedonian Army encountered an armed group of Albanians in the area of Struga (near the watchtower Tri Silka). The Albanians had allegedly crossed the border illegally and attempted to smuggle munitions into Macedonia. A trunk with 550 pieces of ammunition (caliber 7.62mm), along with a backpack containing 365 pieces of ammunition of the same caliber and one hand grenade, were found in the vicinity after the incident.

• An article in the 23 December 1997 Skopje Vecer claimed that the paper had learned "from well-informed circles close to the Party for Democratic Prosperity of Albanians that arms smugglers from the Republic of Albania are blackmailing smugglers on this [Macedonian] side of the border, especially from smuggling channels in the Tetovo, Gostivar, and Kicevo regions." According to this article, the "Albanian mafia" had sent letters to "customers" across the border threatening to send pertinent information to the Macedonian authorities if purchases at inflated prices did not continue.

• The Tirana daily Koha Jone reported on 23 January 1998 that police in Gostivar, Macedonia had found 14 shotguns (11 of which were automatic), 6 grenades, 2 pistols and over 1000 rounds of ammunition. The weapons were allegedly brought into the region by two Albanians who intended to sell them. Criminal charges had been filed against fourteen people in this police operation, which claimed to have discovered an "organised channel for illegal arms trade."

The amount of sanctions-busting that went on during the war in Bosnia has shown just how porous Balkan borders can be. When the goods being smuggled are weapons, more than just the existence of a grey economy is at stake. The increasing instances of violence in Kosovo, and the recent communiqus by the Kosova Liberation Army, provide a good indication of just where the weapons are likely to be used.

Views on Kosovo and Macedonia

Many Kosovar Albanians expressed dismay at the election of the Socialists in Albania last summer, viewing current Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano as a much weaker advocate for their cause than former president Berisha, who has taken a more nationalistic tone in his defence of Albanians in Kosovo. That opinion is not likely to have changed during the past months, especially after Nano's meeting with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic during a summit in Crete in November 1997.

The Socialist government maintains that it cannot represent and negotiate for the Albanians in Kosovo, and continues to call for a solution through dialogue. The message is changing slightly in Tirana these days as the situation in Kosovo deteriorates. One government official stressed that since the Crete meeting, violent reactions to Albanian protesters in Kosovo, the walk-out in Bonn by the Serbs over the Kosovo issue, and violence in Albanian villages in Kosovo had made the situation more extreme. We need a "Dayton II" without a "Bosnia II," stated one official, a theme that was repeated in President Rexhep Meidani's 3 February 1998 meeting with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Albanian politicians in general exhibit a lack of detailed knowledge about the range of possible approaches that have been suggested for the situation in Kosovo, other than recognition of the need for dialogue and international intervention. When queried on possible solutions to the crisis, such as autonomy, or a "Third Republic solution," many did not seem to be conversant in the options (although the Foreign Ministry has stated that it supports a return to autonomy for Kosovo, as a "first step" in resolving the situation). Most seem to know only that a crisis is upon them and that, at the very least, the refugee flow that would result from hostilities in Kosovo is more than their country could support.

An individual within the Albanian Republican party shared the following insight: according to him, the Socialists "don't care enough" about the plight of Albanians in Kosovo and just want to win points with the international community, the Democrats have views which are too extreme and which will be used as an electoral card, and the Republicans say that they want self-determination for the Albanians in Kosovo, but don't know what they mean by self-determination. Statements by representatives in Tirana of the self-proclaimed "Republic of Kosova" indicate that it really may not much matter to Kosovar Albanians at this point which party is in power in Albania.

Observations such as these suggest that few among the Albanian political elite truly believe that a greater Albania is a desirable short-term goal. Young men in Tirana speak of their fear of being drafted in the case of a war over Kosovo, rather than of their readiness and desire to go defend their brethren in the north. Nevertheless, there are politicians in Albania who are not above using national politics for personal gain, and who are prepared to do so (Berisha, for example, in addition to criticising Nano's stance on Kosovo, has also recently called for the withdrawal of all Greek troops from Albanian soil). Moreover, although there is no call to arms in support of Kosovar Albanians right now, the militarisation of the population at large in Albania adds a wild card to the situation-sensibilities could easily change if full-fledged conflict broke out, especially in the north where ties to Kosovo are stronger.

There appears to be little knowledge about the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) among Tirana residents, other than what is reported in the press. One politician, however, had recently received a copy of Zeri i Kosoves (The Voice of Kosova, a newspaper printed in Switzerland) in the mail. In the 15 January 1998 issue of the paper, KLA Communiqué Number 41 is reprinted, informing readers that in addition to actions in Kosovo, the group had also launched operations on the territory of Macedonia . The group claims to have attacked police stations in Kumanove and Prilep. Other articles in the newspaper indicate that informational meetings regarding the KLA have recently been held in Dingolfingen, Bamberg, Berlin, Bern and Lausanne, where members of Albanian societies have expressed solidarity with the actions of the KLA.

On its eastern border, relations between Albania and Macedonia have been showing signs of "a thaw" since late last year, according to observers in Albania. On 15 January 1998, PM Nano travelled to Skopje to sign eight co-operation agreements with the Macedonian government on issues relating to customs tariffs, double taxation, joint investment projects, and co-operation in "legal matters." This is on top of a preparatory visit to Tirana by Macedonian Foreign Minister Blagoj Handziski in early December, when Handziski signed six agreements with his Albanian counterpart Paskal Milo. Nano reportedly has invited Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov to Albania later this year to sign a friendship and co-operation agreement. Despite this positive turn in Albanian-Macedonian relations, little has been accomplished on the subject of higher education for Albanians in Macedonia. During the December meeting between Handziski and Milo, "diplomatic ambiguity" characterised their exchange regarding the ethnic Albanian population in Macedonia. Milo insisted only that their "civil and cultural rights be respected," while Handziski agreed that ethnic Albanians and Macedonians must "work together to democratise the country."


Despite the difficult conditions in Albania, there have been signs of progress. The government is working diligently to try and restore order in the country, and recently overcame a precarious situation in the north of the country. The Constitutional process is back on track for the moment, and European organisations have shown a much-needed willingness to exert the necessary pressure and to clearly express its expectations. The government has recently passed a budget and is aware of the work that must be done regarding one of the weakest points in its program, the economy .

One the other hand, political and criminal violence is still a prominent feature of the Albanian landscape, and politicians cannot seem to sustain a debate that does not include accusations, threats, warnings and worse against political rivals and opponents. The Albanian people deserve a more sophisticated political discourse. The emotional trauma suffered during last year's crisis, combined with continuing insecurity, oppressive economic conditions and the state of the country's infrastructure, are leading many Albanians to despair and apathy about the institutions which often provide the best means of connecting a state with its population-political parties. Parties seeking to destabilise the country by means of politically-motivated violence threaten to throw off the precarious balance which currently exists. The country is by no means "out of the woods" yet.

The international community must remain vigilant, and heavily engaged in the following areas, especially in light of the dangers posed by the situation in Kosovo:

• Referendum on possible constitutional reforms - a referendum on constitutional reform could be held during 1998. It will be important to make available whatever support is needed to hold such a referendum and also send monitors to observe the process at close range. Under current security conditions it will be difficult to deploy unescorted election monitors to some areas of the country.

• Social programming to soften economic reforms: International financial institutions must be sure to assess the consequences of austerity measures in the delicate political environment which obtains. Especially in light of the recent audit results on the remaining pyramid schemes, the public needs to have a greater sense that citizens are benefiting from the aid reaching the country. Adequate social programs must accompany economic reforms.

• Technical support for security services: A variety of entities are providing assistance to the Ministry of the Interior, the police force, and the armed forces. Most accounts indicate that little, if any, co-ordination is being undertaken, and that in some instances, there is in fact a struggle for influence among nations providing support. The international community must insure that adequate communication exists in this important area of technical assistance, and that the advice being given and the missions carried out are not at cross purposes.

• Bridging the gap between Tirana and the countryside: International institutions and aid organisations are largely uninformed about what is going outside of the capital, and Albanian political parties seem out of touch as well. Conversely, areas outside of Tirana are cut off from any sense of progress and normalcy that might be felt in the capital. The OSCE has established offices outside of Tirana, as has the European Community Monitor Mission. Other organisations should forge relationships and communication networks with Albanian NGOs outside of Tirana, as well as with those international organisations with a presence in the districts.

Tirana, Albania
18 March 1998


1. "Albania: Not Yet Calm." The Economist, 7 February 1998, p. 55.

2. Declaration by the Tri-Parliamentary Mission to Albania, 23 January 1998. Delegation members were: Leni Fischer (Germany), President of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly; Frank Swaelen (Belgium), President Emeritus of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and President of the Belgian Senate; Renzo Imbeni (Italy), European Parliament Vice President; Tana De Zulueta (Italy), Rapporteur on Economic Affairs of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly General Committee; Doris Pack (Germany), Chairman of the European Parliament commission for Relations with Southeast; Rene van der Linden (Netherlands), Rapporteur of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly on Albania; Jordi Sole Tura (Spain), Rapporteur of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly on Albania.

3. "The Fever of Anarchy Returns," by Fatos Lubonja in Tirana daily Koha Jone, 20 December 97, page 1.

4. Radio Report by B. Lala, Tirana ATA in English, 1834 GMT 26 November 1997.

5. "What the Tirana Police Will be Like" Interview with Fadil Canaj by "Er. Di." in Tirana daily Gazeta Shqiptare, 20 January 98, page 4.

6. "NATO Concerned About Kosovo, Macedonia." In RFE/RL Newsline, Volume 2, No. 18, Part II. 28 January 1998.

Search Refworld