1998 Scores

Status: Partly Free
Freedom Rating: 4.5
Civil Liberties: 5
Political Rights: 4

Ratings Change

Albania's civil liberties rating changed from 4 to 5 due to increased civil unrest and corruption.


In September, Prime Minister Fatos Nano abruptly resigned amid civic unrest sparked by the assassination of Azem Hajdari, a leading member of the opposition Democratic Party (PD). The ruling Socialist Party elected Pandeli Majko, a former student leader, to form a new government. The Majko government faced debate over adoption of a post-Communist constitution and continued instability in the north and in the neighboring Yugoslav province of Kosovo.

Albania gained independence in 1912 after 450 years of Ottoman rule. Following the country's annexation by Italy in 1939, a one-party Communist regime was established in 1946 under World War II partisan Enver Hoxha, who died in office in 1985. In 1990, Ramiz Alia, the Socialist Party leader and Hoxha's successor as first secretary of the Albanian Party of Labor (Communist), was elected president. The PD won the 1992 elections, and the parliament elected PD leader Sali Berisha as president. The defeat of a government-backed constitution by referendum in 1994 and the passage in 1995 of the "genocide law" to bar former senior Communists from office until 2002 led to opposition charges that Berisha and the PD were becoming more authoritarian.

In 1997, anti-government riots erupted in Tirana as pyramid schemes that promised gullible savers monthly interest rates of 50 percent began to collapse. Months of escalating violence and unrest, particularly in the south, made the country virtually ungovernable and led to the deployment of an Italian-led 6,500-member international peacekeeping force. President Berisha, re-elected by parliament in March, was forced to call for new parliamentary elections. The June election campaign was marred by violence, especially in the south, where PD candidates were often attacked. Factional fighting continued through election day, when the Socialists and their allies won 119 of 155 seats. International observers nevertheless called the vote "adequate and acceptable." In July, Berisha resigned. As expected, the new parliament named Nano to lead the government and elected Rexhep Mejdani as president.

Despite massive foreign aid in 1998, the country's infrastructure remained in ruins, corruption was rife, criminal gangs operated with impunity, and government administration was weak or nonexistent. The PD boycotted parliament after the government decided to prosecute six Berisha government officials for allegedly using lethal gas to quell protests in 1997. The PD then mounted street protests and vowed to bring down the government. In September, the assassination of Hajdari, a top Berisha aide, led to days of rioting. After consultations with President Mejdani, Prime Minister Nano resigned and was replaced by Majko.

After consultations in October with the PS's coalition members, which included the Social Democratic Party, the Human Rights Party, and the Agrarian Party, a new government was inaugurated. Unlike the Nano cabinet, which only had one member from the south, Berisha's stronghold, the new government included four ministers from the region. Majko vowed that the government would begin talks with the opposition, restore public order, and pass a new constitution.

With a two-thirds majority, the PS-dominated parliament approved a new constitution. In a November 22 referendum, 93 percent of voters approved the constitution. Despite PD calls for a boycott, the Central Voting Commission announced that turnout was above the 50 percent required to make the vote valid. Beginning in March, the conflict in Kosovo led to a large influx of refugees, thereby adding to instability in the north.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Albanians can elect their government democratically. Civil unrest forced the resignation of Prime Minister Fatos Nano in September 1998. The 1997 parliamentary elections, called after civil war ended President Sali Berisha's tenure, were marred by violence, fraud, and other serious irregularities.

In late 1998, the new Socialist government approved a new constitution that was approved by referendum. The Western-style constitution, supported by the OSCE, would allow Albanians legally to change their religion and the government to expropriate land deemed to be of national interest.

The Penal Code criminalizes defamation. Persons can face fines and imprisonment from three months to five years for denigrating the president or the nation and its symbols or for printing "false information." Few such cases arose in 1998. Several journalists were arrested during the civil unrest in September. Most of the print media are privately owned, as political parties, unions, and various societies publish their own papers. Approximately 250 newspapers, magazines, and journals are registered, but many are issued sporadically due to economic constraints, high taxation, and limited print facilities.

Albanian Radio-Television controls all electronic broadcasting. Its structure and leadership became a major political issue during the year. In October, parliament amended the law to restructure the radio and television agency as a public company with no single shareholder in any national radio or television station holding more than 33 percent of the shares. In January, the offices of SHIJAK-TV, a private station, were ransacked, allegedly by government supporters.

Religious activity is unrestricted in this predominantly Muslim country, which also has Orthodox Christian and Roman Catholic minorities. In August, in response to official U.S. and European concerns about terrorism, the government launched a broad crackdown on Arab and Islamic groups and missionaries.

Freedom of assembly is subject to government restrictions. Workers have the right to form independent unions. The umbrella Independent Confederation of Trade Unions of Albania has an estimated 280,000 members. The Confederation of Unions, a federation that is linked to the Socialist Party and that succeeded the official Communist-era entity, represents some workers in education and petroleum and telecommunications industries.

Albania's judiciary has been hampered by political pressure, insufficient resources, and corruption. The High Council of Justice, headed by the president, appoints and dismisses all other judges, and prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the Council. The Council has broad powers to fire, demote, transfer, and otherwise discipline district and appeals courts. In January, eight judges launched a hunger strike to protest their actual or impending dismissals.

A climate of lawlessness pervades much of the country, and citizens have no legal recourse due to ineffective or nonexistent police and other government institutions. Corruption is endemic at all levels of government, private business, state enterprises, and the civil service. Property rights are guaranteed by law, but the issue of restitution to owners whose property was seized by the Communists remains unresolved.

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