Friday, February 4, 2011

EU and Albania – welcome to the new Brussels mandate

By Gjergj Erebara
In a very friendly interpretation of the political situation in Albania, Daniel Korski, from the European Council on Foreign Relations, proposed that the international community must step in and organize the next general elections in Albania as the only solution to the current political crisis in an editorial published in the New York Times few days ago.
Korski says that Albania is a factor of stability in the region and has good relation with its former enemy, Serbia.

Although it sounds like a proposition for colonization and civilization of Albania, the op-ed open another question: that of Albania’s relation to the “international community”, which in this case is nothing more than EU and US.

Since it was born in 1913, Albania had a non-so-friendly relationship with the Great Powers of these times, which means most of the European Powers. For the next 90 years, every school-child learned that “Europe was an old whore”. This has a very strong psychological effect because in the Albanian customary law, whore is the one of shifting alliances and the man is the one that stands for justice.
As late as 1995, in the State Television a patriotic song considered Europe as the one who had stolen Albanian lands. Toward US, sympathy was created as the country of freedom and because of Woodrow Wilson outspoken policy of the right of self-determination in the end of the First World War.

The torture caused by communism experiments created nostalgia among Albanians for the Italian occupation era. Fascism architecture was and remains the only beautiful panorama of major Albanian towns while the freedom of movement enjoyed as result of the unification with the kingdom of Victor Emmanuel III, created the lost “bell époque”. Despite the communist propaganda that represented Italians as ugly and not as cruel as Germans, Albanians started to love again Italy, learned Italian language and thus, improved their perception for Europe in general.

Still, the visa frustration and the old consideration of real politics as a whore turned back soon after. Despite the NATO brought liberty, the anti-EU feelings reemerged in Kosovo, first by praising separately only US as liberators and later by blaming EU and UN for neo-colonialism, corruption and pro-Serbian line.

Albania is considered the country with largest support for EU integration in the region, something called “99 per cent and growing”. But every survey in this context did not forget to mention that for the EU-integration supporters, EU meant nothing more than visa liberalization. Now that visas had been liberalized, the question is what is EU for Albanians?
Seeing the mercantilist approach of several EU governments that in case of Albania had been transformed in lucrative monopolies in the poorest country in the Europe, I am not so optimistic that the “99 per cent and growing” will hold for long.

An online survey asked Albanians in last December what the major event of 2010 was. About 27 per cent said that it was visa liberalization. This indicates that visas were not longer a practical obstacle for the majority of Albanians, but obtaining one, was simply just humiliating. That humiliation is destined to continue as long as the country continues to be poor and origin of emigration. The EU image strangled in the mind of Albanians in rows to obtain visas will soon substituted by the image of EU border police asking if you have money in your pocket and making calculations how many money do you have and how many days you will stay.
Now, returning to the current crisis, there are few scenarios for the near future that derives from the country’s experience with the previous crisis that started in 1998. The first scenario is that the crisis goes on the opposition refuses to participate in the next local election scheduled of 8 May or continue to boycott the institutions, thus marginalize itself while Albania turns in a one-party country effectively without opposition. The Democratic Party now in power had experienced such marginalization back in 1998-2001. The second scenario is that the government will be diplomatically ignored and isolated from EU as a mechanism of pressure toward accepting an agreement with opposition. The Socialist government experienced such situation back in 2002. An agreement is the third and most improbable solution.

Turning to the experience of the previous crisis and European Union, one must remember that the solution that the Socialist government chooses was to pay with public assets for diplomatic relations. The Telecommunication Company was sold to a Turkish company in 2004 in exchange for a visit from Turkish PM Erdogan in Tirana. In that case, Erdogan did not meet Mr. Berisha as head of Opposition. Mr. Berisha took power few months later and refused to ratify the contract, claiming that it was a rigged tender with only one participant. Another visit from Erdogan and the problem was resolved.

A German-US consortium was awarded with another lucrative monopoly in airport services in exchange for a meeting with Angela Merkel.

In another brusque show of real-politics, in Kosovo, a well known minister for corruption was near arrest from EULex. It was said that a consortium waiting for his signature for a multimillion euro public works project, saved him and thus, the battle against corruption lost momentum. Perhaps these are just rumors. But this is what Albanian sees.
As for the friendship with Serbia, one might note that that is mostly result of the strong flows of electricity traded by Serbian companies that control something like monopoly and monopsony in Albanian market. Perhaps the Albanian love for the international community is taken too much for granted in Brussels.

In this context, an international colonization of Albania doesn’t seem simply a aspirin for the chronic headache of lack of free and fair elections.

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