2001 Scores

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

Trend Arrow ↑

Albania received an upward trend arrow because municipal elections in October were the most violence free the country has enjoyed in the postcommunist period ; however, widespread illegality in many parts of the country continue to inhibit governmental and social stability.


Albania's attempt to build a democratic polity made some progress in 2000, as local elections in October took place without the widespread violence characteristic of earlier elections. Still, the main opposition party questioned the results of the elections, casting a shadow over the proceedings, and continued lawlessness in many parts of the country hampered more dramatic improvements in the country's development.

From World War II until 1990, a xenophobic Communist regime ruled Albania and turned it into the most isolated country in Europe. In 1990, however, the Communist regime collapsed, and in March 1992, multiparty elections brought the Democratic Party (DP), under the leadership of Dr. Sali Berisha, to power. Berisha's government, however, was plagued by corruption, and Berisha himself quickly assumed autocratic ways of dealing with criticism. The collapse of several pyramid investment schemes in early 1997 caused much of the Albanian population to lose its life savings and led to a near civil war in the country. In the subsequent years the central government has been unable to re-impose meaningful control over much of northern Albania. In late 1997, the Socialist Party (SP), led by former Prime Minister Fatos Nano and several younger colleagues, came to power and has controlled the government in Tirana ever since.

Albania has been plagued by instability throughout its post-Communist history. In 2000, one of the major political-constitutional problems Albania faced involved the adoption of a new electoral code, which contained provisions for recounting votes and determining the validity of elections, as well as more efficient voter registration provisions. The Albanian parliament (Kuvend Popullore) adopted the new provisions despite an opposition boycott in May. Nevertheless, the passage of the new code, drafted with significant help from international experts, was seen as a step forward in institutionalizing Albania's electoral system. Another sign of increasing stability was Albania's admission into the World Trade Organization on July 17.

Despite these developments, however, Albania's domestic political scene remains extremely volatile. Former President Sali Berisha has remained a vociferous opponent of the ruling SP, led by Nano. Berisha has frequently accused the SP of criminal corruption and ties to Albanian organized crime. Berisha also frequently criticized the work of foreign election monitors in the country, claiming they were biased in favor of the Socialists. Another problem confronting Albania has been governmental instability. The current prime minister, Ilir Meta, has reshuffled his cabinet several times since coming to office in October 1999, most recently in July 2000, when personnel in the Ministries of Defense, Justice, and Public Works were fired or rotated.

Contrary to many pre election forecasts, Berisha's DP did relatively poorly in the 2000 municipal elections, held on October 1. Although international monitors reported serious problems in the organization of the second round of municipal elections (which the DP boycotted), the "overall election process marked progress."

One of the spillover effects of the Kosovo conflict is the problem it has raised for a resolution of both the Albanian national question and the Albanian state question; in fact, the Albanian national question dominated much of the public debate in the 2000 municipal elections. Since the anarchy of 1997, restoring viable state institutions in the country has been a slow process. Since Kosovo, Albanians in Albania proper are now dealing with the question of whether the "solution" to the Albanian state question should be found within the country along a north-south Tirana-Vlore axis, or whether it will be found outside the country, along a Tirana-Pristina (i.e., Kosovo) axis.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

The Albanian constitution guarantees citizens freedom of expression and of the press, as well as freedom of association. These rights are generally respected. Several political parties exist and compete for power, although the rhetoric employed by competing politicians is inflammatory by European standards. In the 2000 municipal election campaign, however, rival candidates for the mayoral race in Tirana met in a televised public debate and managed to avoid such heated rhetoric, an event hailed as offering a more civilized example for Albanian public life. Albania also has several active trade unions, the most prominent of which are the Confederation of Trade Unions of Albanian, with some 280,000 members, and the Confederation of Unions, which is affiliated with the SP. The are no significant reports of governmental harassment of either foreign or domestic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), although several foreign NGOs have refused to operate in northern Albania because of the lack of security in the region.

Albania's small Greek minority (approximately 3 percent of the population, concentrated in southern Albania) has intermittently been subjected to various forms of discrimination. During the 2000 municipal elections campaign, despite the bitter rivalry between the SP and the DP, both parties agreed to join forces to prevent a party representing ethnic Greeks in the town of Himara, the Union for Human Rights, from gaining seats in the municipal assembly.

The Albanian constitution provides for freedom of religion and religious practice. Although much of Albanian society became secularized during the Communist period, approximately 70 percent of the population is nominally Muslim, 20 percent is Roman Catholic, and 10 percent Orthodox Christian. There were no major complaints about freedom of worship in the country in 2000, although there have been several reported incidents of vandalism against Greek Orthodox places of worship in southern Albania. The government still has not fully resolved the issue of restitution of church properties confiscated during the Communist period.

Freedom of the press is also generally respected, and there are few direct attacks on the media. The level of adherence to U.S.- or European-style journalistic ethics, however, remains low, as Albanian media are considered to be prone to excessive sensationalism and irresponsibility. Also, most media outlets are directly linked to certain political or business groups, which compromises their reporting. The state television and radio network, Radio Televize Shqiptare (RTSH), and the official state news agency, the Albanian Telegraphic Agency (ATA), are both considered to be excessively pro-government.

The position of women in Albanian society continues to pose significant problems. Many segments of Albanian society, particularly in the mountains of northeastern Albania, still abide by a medieval moral code according to which women are considered chattel property and may be treated as such. The kidnapping of young women to serve as brides is frequently reported in these areas. According to the Albanian constitution, however, there are no legal impediments to women's role in politics and society, although women are vastly underrepresented in most governmental institutions. The Albanian labor code mandates that women are entitled to equal pay for equal work, but data are lacking on whether this is respected in practice. The trafficking of women and girls for the purposes of prostitution remains a significant problem.

Albania continues to be plagued by widespread lawlessness. Since 1997, more than 100 policemen have been killed in a country with a population half the size of New York City. In August, Arben Zylyftari, widely considered to be Albania's best police officer, was killed in a shootout with a murder suspect in the northern town of Shkoder. Another northern town, Tropoje, has gone through five police chiefs since the summer of 1999. Northern Albania is especially unstable owing to a variety of factors, including the fact that is Berisha's home base, and that the Kosovo Liberation Army has a strong presence in the region, effectively preventing legitimate state institutions from establishing their authority there. Another problem facing Albania is the persistence of blood feuds between different families and clans. The weakness of state institutions has also provided space for international criminal syndicates to operate more freely in Albania, and international law enforcement officials claim that Albania has become an increasingly important transshipment point for drug smugglers moving opiates, hashish, and cannabis from southwest Asia to Western Europe and the United States. In November, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe spokesperson in Albania was forced to leave the country after receiving death threats.

This 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.