For the last 28 years, Albania has gone through a political, social, and economic transition, yet it still suffers today from the mental and cultural consequences inherited from the 45-year-old dictatorship, much of which is still rooted in today’s Albanian leaders.
It has been roughly 27 years since the country began to position itself in clear Euro-Atlantic perspective. The EU integration process, however, remains merely a strategy on paper or in the dreams of Albanians. After almost three decades since the EU integration process began, we continue to be a candidate for membership into the European Union. The genuine process of integration, that would begin with the opening of accession negotiations continues to be still far off. Albania had been part of the group of countries such as Bulgaria and Romania, where in the mid-90s was offered an opportunity for cooperation with the EU, but the domestic political conflict and the tumultuous events of in 1997, made it incapableof following Croatia’s pace, which started the membership process several years after Albania.
Today it is clear that both Serbia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia will again be a few steps ahead, leaving Albania isolated in its internal political conflict, significant lack of dialogue, state capture which is bringing the country along a dangerous path towards autocracy. It is precisely in this bitter Albanian reality, where today more than ever, the country is divided and political sides are hyper-polarized, leading to a tunnel of darkness with no light at the end.
Maintaining stability through the status quo and a rule of law façade has turned the government into an arbitrary one, where citizens basic rights are violated on a daily basis, including the lack of media freedom induced through self-censorship, property rights awarded based on connections not on the legal procedures, the public administration that is used in service of the ruling party rather than in the service of citizens, and where state-building reforms are unfortunately turning into propaganda reforms in an effort to preserve the ruling party’s power.
The political opposition in the country is not perfect. Sometimes hostage to the mistakes of the past, it is striving hard to induce internal reforms, and to change a system that ravaged Albania’s “democracy.” The opposition, faces an uneven playing field, stripped of all parliamentary legal means by the current majority. In the absence of key institutions of justice, such as the Constitutional and the Supreme Courts, it has been impossible to use the legal system to confront the critical problems that the country faces. Therefore, the opposition has decided to undertake the radical act of ‘burning mandates’. One can rightly ask, is it the right decision to step away from Parliament? Unfortunately, I too think that it is right, in the circumstances and in the extreme situation in which Albania finds itself. There was no other viable option.
Currently, we have a mono-party government, a mono-party parliament that every day slides further towards a dictatorial regime. Corruption at the highest levels has brought high costs to citizens and to the economy. The electoral support given by the organized crime to the ruling party, something confirmed by the Albanian prosecution office, has unfortunately led to the state capture, which has consequently brought economic apprehension and almost complete control of the public spending, making the ground fertile for corruption and monopolization in the hands of only a few well-connected individuals.
Citizens lack access to employment while small and medium-sized businesses are forced into bankruptcy due to high taxes. Farmers are in daily protests because of the lack of market access to sell their products, high production costs, and unfair competition. Youth has lost hope and are fleeing to European countries as the only solution for a better life.
We have gone so far as to have breached the most important contractual relationship with the EU, the Stabilization and Association Agreement, signed in 2006. Today many of these violations are also being investigated by European institutions, which have requested answers from the government of Albania, on the failure to apply the criterion of free competition and transparency in major investments such as the Vlora airport or the National Theater, where EU based companies have been excluded from the bidding process.
Elections is another major issue.The 2017 elections in Albania presented us with the first-time phenomenon of organized crime buying and selling votes, confirmed by the testimonies of the Albanian prosecution that found that senior officials were involved in these criminal affairs. Even today the prosecutor’s office is reluctant to duly investigate these issues. Justice system is in the hands of the government, especially given the absence of the Constitutional Court. The opposition has found it extremely hard to fight to make sure that the perpetrators are duly prosecuted.
The opposition was left with no choice other than the resignation of the parliamentary mandates, with a clear demand for free and fair elections, that would make it possible for Albanians to choose the government they want.
The “burning of mandates” is not motivated by the neglect of political and representative responsibilities. In essence, it is an extreme way of doing things in the circumstances of refractory behavior by the majority, in order to accelerate fair and honest competition in an electoral process not controlled by crime or by the majority.
The international partners of Albania, including the European Commission, have often closed their eyes to the political behavior of the majority and the way it has addressed the grave problems of the country, tolerating arrogance and a “strong hand” in exchange for the seeming stability that it brings. We believe in European values and democracy, not imaginary stability, which in itself destabilizes countries with fragile democracies, like Albania. The fear that burning of mandates and the collapse of a government can be a precedent for other countries in the region is not a viable argument. I want to address a question to all those who are afraid of political change in Albania: Is it better to create this pretext in order to prevent the installation of an autocratic regime elsewhere, as is happening in Albania? Is perhaps the scarcity of democracy, institutions and state-forming reforms, more fatal than merely demolishing an individual from power? Today we must all sacrifice something from ourselves in order to build a state.
Albania does not need strong, autocratic leaders. All we need is a strong, just state for all Albanian citizens, where they are offered equal opportunities. These are the values that lie at the heart of Europe to which we want to unite.
Today’s situation in Albania has only one solution, a national pact, where all parties are committed to restoring the political dialogue in the country. Albanian politics should begin to produce party programs with national interests. This should start with changing the mentalityand having concrete alternatives. The national pact must be for Albanians and the political struggle should serve the provision of opportunities and a better life for them. This is the offer to the Albanians by the Socialist Movement for Integration. It is an offer for their European future.