THE ALBANIAN NATO`S LONG WAY
By Stavros Markos*
Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Justin Rhodes, right, allows an Albanian boy to listen to a compact disc player at an elementary school in Fier, Albania, on June 12, 1999.
“Albania has made insufficient progress on the political reforms signed with the Euro-Atlantic alliances namely NATO and the European Union”. Those are the findings of the special report from Brussels and in relation to the pending application by Tirana.
Last week, the Chairman of NATO, Jap De hop Shaffer, met with the Albanian President Bamir Topi. Sheffer declared during the press conference that; “Albania has made progress so as to enjoy a NATO inclusion, but unfortunately the politically reforms are insufficient for a conclusive “YES” in order to be accepted in the military alliance”. Even though the critical comments by the NATO Head where seriously considered by the Albanian opposition, the Albanian government, remains indifferent and continues its rhetoric that it maintains cozy relations with Washington and that it supports with peacekeeping forces the Alliance in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Tirana there was another upturn, concerning the visit of the US Permanent Ambassador in NATO, Victoria Nuland that also stated against the accession of Albania. More specifically she said that "NATO Membership requires 26 votes”, implying a stall in the process by some of the other countries, as the President Topi and Prime minister Berisha found out.
On the Kosovo issue, the Albanian Administration summoned all its diplomatic corps in the World on a meeting organized in Tirana, so as to raise the efforts of the rights of Kosovo Albanian People for “the process towards independence”. The Kosovo issue is actually the primal aim of the government and it has launched an impressive international trial in order to succeed, over the coming weeks and before the end of the negotiations that will last up to the 10th of December.
The Prime Minister Sali Berisha met in Egypt with the High Representative of the Islamic Conference looking for his support for an independence of Kosovo. Albania continues to be a member of the Islamic Conference since 1992, a decision that was taken by the former President Sali Berisha (1992–1996) but was never ratified by the Albanian Parliament. The political opposition in Albania expressed its concern around the visit of Berisha to the Islamic Conference and categorized it as a negative outcome for the Kosovo negotiations.
The European Community expressed its worry around the incapability of Tirana to fulfill its obligations for political reforms of the Stabilization Association Process with the EU. Last week the Head of the Unit for Albania of the European Commission, Helmud Lohan, during his meeting with Prime Minister Berisha mentioned the critical points for Albania's path towards the EU, mainly the lack of electoral and judicial reforms. One day before the High Commissioner for enlargement of the EU Oli Rehn commented for the low probability of both Albania and FYROM to be accepted into the Union over the coming years.
On the developments regarding stability and security, Albania is confronting a number of problematic sectors such as Corruption, Organized Crime prevalence, and the energy problem. The criminal groups and the corruption of the Albanian administration has become a widespread custom for the majority of the public officials. The Albanian Judicial faces the problem of accommodating an extremely large number of prisoners whilst the security authorities often provoke violation of basic human rights. The regressive institutional confrontation between the General Attorney Theodori Sollaku and the Prime Minister Sali Berisha concerning issues of Organized Crime and Corruption has been an indicator towards the risk of a new destabilization phase in Albania. The political opposition accuses the Foreign Minister Lulezim Basha as corrupted because of the 350 million Euro contract of the Tirana - Pristina Motorway (The Greatest Albanian Investment ever).This particular project is constructed by a Turkish-American consortium “Bechtel Company”, and continues to be financed from the public funds but the Attorney has filed an inquiry and accuses Minister Basha of corruption and demands the termination of his ministerial immunity by the Parliament.
Currently some 80% of the total budget concerning public investment in Albania is being spent on the High Way Tirana-Prishina. Thus the Southern Albanian infrastructure programs have been halted despite the fact that there are allocated funds for this region by the EU and the EBRD. According to the Albanian press half of the Albanian population in Northern Albania does not pay energy and water rates since 1991, while in the Southern part of the country the population is obligated to pay a high price, amid electricity and water shortages that are quite often.
The problems accumulate also in the economic sphere, by examining the inflation of the Albanian economy. According to the Albanian statistic service for October 2007 the index price was at 4.5% but in reality the analysts stated it exceeded the 8% mark. The International Monetary Fund has claimed that inflation would increase more in the country and in parallel the power-cuts have reached on average 10 hours per day, creating an unbearable situation for the local industry and the household consumers.
The Human Rights United Party (HRUP), which represents parts of the Greek Minority urges for the formation of a new governmental coalition. Political analysts in Albania are experiencing the dangerous power that the Prime Minister Sali Berisha is enjoying, and especially his endeavors to fill the vacant post of the General Attorney, after a decision by the Parliament to discharge Theodhori Sollaku as the “Top Albanian Persecutor”.
In Albania, the Organized Crime is listed as a host state on “money laundering”, particularly from Islamic Investments. The Italian RAI TV transmitted a “Special Dossier” about Albania discussing the dangerous perspective of Albania into the EU as Muslim country and the empowerment of the Islamic influence in a societal level, particularly after 2001.
The Albanian stability is associated directly with the developments in Kosovo and in FYROM. The clashes between Albanian paramilitaries in the Kosovo-FYROM borderline are getting pace over the past month and Tirana is accused by Skopje that they turn a blind eye on the illegal importation of weaponry by the Albanian minority in FYROM. By December the 10th when the negotiations for Kosovo will be officially over, there is a real danger of a serious attack by Albanian paramilitaries against the security forces of FYROM and that will surely inflame tension between the two states and beyond.
Stavros Markos (Journalist and Member of the World Security Network Foundation Southeastern Europe Office)