Despite efforts to join the European Union, Albania remains still quite distant from integration. The Albanian government remains weak and unwilling to prosecute former top level officials, including a former prime minister and others. Another chronic problem is that the judiciary remains a tool of the opposition party – the Democratic Party of Albania – while the prosecutor general's office is weak and ineffective.
Public order and security remain under threat in Albania. For example only in January 2013 there were at least ten bomb incidents. In one case, a cell-phone activated bomb placed in a prefect’s car failed to detonate in front of the Prime Minister’s Office.
The United States and Albania had secretly arranged an agreement on the decommissioning of Syrian chemical weapons, of more than 1400 tons, that were to be shipped to Albania. Under the agreement, besides the Syrian weapons, some 30 toxic sites in Albania would also be cleaned up. Some of these toxic sites are believed to being causing cases of cancer and lung disease among people in the surrounding areas. The Democratic Party of Albania reneged on its promised support for the deal that was reached with U.S. Ambassador Alexander Arvizu, and instead supported peaceful demonstrations in the streets of Tirana against the deal. (A few days before marching in the streets, Democratic Party Leaders had agreed with Ambassador Arvizu that they would not place obstacles to the shipment of Syrian chemical weapons to Albania.
So long as Albania has corruption, impunity, traffic of influence and an unjust judiciary are not addressed, admission to the EU is unlikely. According to the Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative, based in Germany, Albania is one of the most corrupt countries in Europe and the most corrupt in the Balkans. The German NGO ranked Albania 95 out of the 176 countries monitored in 2011. This ranking slipped to 113 in 2012 and 116 in 2013, on the RACI Corruption Perception Index. Transparency International, which advocates good governance and an end to corruption, wrote in a recent report, “In Albania corruption is registering a new physiognomy in a favorable political environment, with characteristics like a new systems for money laundering, financing of political parties from illegal activities, the capture of the state through the control of procurement and privatization, human and narcotics trafficking and the impunity of high State officials before the justice system and the law.”
Unlike almost every country in the Balkan region, Albania has not arrested any prominent figures or corrupt government officials to bring them into prosecution and press charges. Arrests have been made on corruption cases for the following: former Romanian prime minister Adrian Nastase, former Croatian prime minster Ivo Sanader, former Slovenian prime minister Janez Janša, and former prime minister of Bosnia-Hercegovina Franjo Tujman. What about Albania? So far there has been no one arrested, prosecution cases remain dormant in the courts for months or years, while in the end just punishment is not handed down.
While the issue of private property is a persistent challenge for Prime Minister Edi Rama, and illegal building of private residences and hotel businesses along the Adriatic and Ionian shores are coming to an halt, he has other challenges to address. For example, he must address Albania’s negative image that continues to be broadcast to the world. For example, on January 11, 2011, three innocent bystanders, in a peaceful protest were killed by members of Albania’s National Guard while standing on the boulevard near the prime minister’s office. For this crime, and others, such as the 2008 explosions at the Gerdec army barracks which caused the destruction of an entire village and the deaths of 27 people, there is no one in jail today. Moreover the defense minister of that time remains a member of Albania’s parliament. This is a genuine sign of how Albania’s justice system operates.
Incompetence, kleptocracy, lack of professionalism and political demagoguery have been at the center stage of Albanian society over the last 24 years of transition to democracy. Hope remains high for Prime Minister Rama’s government to improvement the nation’s image abroad, establish joint infrastructure projects with Kosovo, and make Albania a Balkan success story of trust and stability.
Spero columnist Peter Tase analyzes business and political issues of South America and the Balkans.