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Albania’s Local Elections: A Test of Stability and Democracy
Albania’s Local Elections: A Test of Stability and Democracy
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Albania: Pan Albanianism: Myth or Threat to Balkan Stability?
Albania: Pan Albanianism: Myth or Threat to Balkan Stability?
Briefing 12 / Europe & Central Asia

Albania’s Local Elections: A Test of Stability and Democracy

Local elections in Albania on 1 October 2000 will mark the first test of popular support for the ruling Socialist-led coalition since it came to power following the violent uprising in 1997.

I. Overview

Local elections in Albania on 1 October 2000 will mark the first test of popular support for the ruling Socialist-led coalition since it came to power following the violent uprising in 1997.[fn]A further round of voting on 15 October will take place for candidates who fail to win a majority in the first round.Hide Footnote The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), whose Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) will be leading the monitoring effort, deems these elections to be of critical importance. Albania’s electoral process has traditionally been bedevilled by the same handicaps encountered in most other institutional areas: namely, inadequate legislation, capacity deficiencies, politicisation of the process, and lack of all round political support. It is vitally important for Albania's democracy and international reputation that this year's elections do not repeat the mistakes of the recent past.[fn]Ambassador Geert Ahrens, Head of OSCE Presence in Albania, “Democratisation and Institution Building in Albania,” Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC, 4 May 2000.Hide Footnote  

There is, however, growing concern about political tension in the run-up to the elections, due to increasing political polarisation and the threat of non-participation by the main opposition party. Despite calls from international organisations to avoid extreme confrontation, the country's two main parties – the governing Socialist Party (SP) chaired by former premier, Fatos Nano, and the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) led by former president, Sali Berisha – have opened the debate with characteristically bitter polemics. Three years after he was forced from power in July 1997 in an armed rebellion in which more than 2,000 people were killed, Berisha, now 53, is back on the electoral campaign trail. Since losing power, he has waged a relentless campaign against his Socialist opponents, whom he accuses of rampant corruption, and has repeatedly called for early parliamentary elections.[fn]Parliamentary elections are officially scheduled for June 2001. The last local elections were in October 1996 and resulted in a sweeping victory for Berisha's Democratic Party. As a result, the DP dominates local government with 80 per cent control over city and district councils and therefore has the most to lose in the polls. In a remark that reveals the importance of the elections for the DP, Berisha claims the poll will be “the most contested elections in the history of Albania because the government has demonstrated that it drew up the law to manipulate them.”[fn]Reuters, 13 May 2000, 13:58.Hide Footnote

A Council of Europe (CoE) resolution at the end of June declared that “the holding of elections in conformity with the new electoral law, in order for them to be fair and for their outcome to be acceptable to all the political parties, is a condition that Albania must meet, given all the promises made before it was accepted into the CoE in July 1995.” This is as much a reference to Berisha as it is to the current government since it was under Berisha's administration that Albania joined the CoE. The persistence of polarisation and confrontation in Albanian political life is manifested by deep divisions within both major parties. The Socialists are divided between supporters of SP chairman Fatos Nano, and the younger element centred around Premier Ilir Meta and former premier Pandeli Majko. Whilst the Socialists are trying to paper over the cracks in order to present a united front to the electorate, the Democrat leadership has basically ignored its breakaway reformist faction, the Democratic Reform Movement (DPRM), now generally referred to as the “Young Reformers.” Both main parties also have problems with their coalition partners. The outcome of the elections is likely to be very close between the two major parties and the results are almost certain to be contested.

Despite persistent threats to boycott the entire procedure, the Democrats will most probably take part in the elections but continue to boycott the Central Election Committee (CEC) and not recognise the results announced by the CEC because they believe it is biased in favour of the Socialists. The conduct of the elections and the willingness of the main parties to abide by their outcome will be seen as a measure of the level of political maturity Albania has reached and a valuable indicator that the country is progressing in the right direction. A successful electoral process would enhance regional stability and advance Albania’s candidacy for increased integration into European structures. A serious monitoring effort by NGOs and OSCE governments would raise the prospects for a democratic outcome.

Tirana/Brussels, 25 August 2000

Albania: Pan Albanianism: Myth or Threat to Balkan Stability?

Originally published in Transitions Online

A century of shifting borders has left ethnic Albanians scattered across Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Greece, and contrary to popular belief, they don't share the same goals.

The recent explosion of ethnic Albanian violence in Kosovo has refocused international attention on the unresolved political status of the province. Media allegations of ethnic cleansing and pogroms against the province's Serb minority have given rise to concerns of a new aggressive nationalism among the region's Albanian population. In light of the riots in Kosovo and other recent ethnic Albanian insurgencies in southern Serbia and Macedonia, these concerns are not unreasonable.

There is, however, widespread misunderstanding about Pan-Albanian national aspirations, which are seen by many as a serious threat to Balkan stability. A new study by the International Crisis Group suggests that notions of pan-Albanianism are far more layered and complex than the usual sweeping characterizations of ethnic Albanians simply bent on achieving a greater Albania or a greater Kosovo. Indeed, divisions within the Albanian communities across southern Europe remain pronounced, and the desire to territorially unify the Albanian peoples has long held far more power as myth than as practical political agenda.

BROADER NATIONAL QUESTION IGNORED

A century of shifting borders has left ethnic Albanians scattered across Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Greece. Due to diverse historical circumstances, each group has subsequently evolved into separate entities, with different levels of socioeconomic development and political status. Albanians are well aware of the historical, cultural, and ideological divisions among them and are therefore content to preserve their separate political entities as long as business, cultural, and travel restrictions are removed.

Since the arrival of multiparty politics in Albania, the country has been struggling to overcome acute poverty and serious internal political conflict. The broader national question has been largely ignored due to a number of factors: unlike the rest of their ethnic kinsfolk, the citizens of Albania have the relative good fortune to live in their own nation-state. This fact has diminished the importance of the national question in favor of the more pressing need to foster internal national reconciliation and to shore up Albania's shattered economy. Albanians are therefore more interested in developing cultural and economic ties with the other Albanian entities in the southern Balkans, while maintaining separate statehood, and successive Albanian governments have opted for a strategic partnership with Macedonia as both aspire toward membership in NATO and the European Union.

On the whole, Albania’s relations with the Albanians of Kosovo and western Macedonia have been far less intimate than the relations between Kosovo and Macedonia. For some in Albania in particular, one of the main obstacles to forging closer political ties among Tirana, Pristina, and Tetovo is the potential clash of elites. Albania’s current Tosk-dominated government is also concerned that too many Ghegs would be incorporated into a unified Albanian state. Despite the tremendous support given to the thousands of Kosovo refugees in 1998 and 1999, Albania has remained aloof from the ethnic Albanian conflicts in the Presevo Valley of southern Serbia and Macedonia.

In marked contrast to Albanians in Albania, the ethnic Albanian population of the former Yugoslavia is still struggling to secure varying degrees of national self-determination. Five years after the end of the Kosovo war, the province's ethnic Albanians have remained in a state of political limbo, their demands for independence still meeting strong resistance from both Belgrade and international circles.

While the struggle of the Kosovo Albanians is for independence, the situation of Macedonia’s Albanians is more complex. Theirs is a struggle for economic as well as national and cultural rights. On the whole they have been largely focused on achieving coexistence within the Macedonian state, securing the ability to govern themselves at a local level, and having equal representation at the federal level. Much the same can be said about the Albanian population of southern Serbia, who want the opportunity to develop their own civic life in their own language. Despite progress in recent local elections, the establishment of a multiethnic police force, and plans for a census, there remains a strong desire among the Presevo Albanians for some form of autonomy for the Albanian-speaking areas of southern Serbia, similar to the political status Kosovo enjoyed under the 1974 Yugoslav constitution.

THE DIASPORA'S VITAL ROLE

Meanwhile, despite recent--and dubious--allegations in the media that a new ethnic Albanian guerrilla group has emerged and is threatening to destabilize Montenegro, Montenegrin Albanians have thus far resisted any type of paramilitary activity. This is the one corner of the former Yugoslavia where Albanians recognize they are an absolute minority, therefore tensions have largely been minimal. In general, Montenegrin Albanians support the government of Premier Milo Djukanovic, while continuing to press for a degree of enhanced autonomy within Montenegro.

Over the past five years, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the National Liberation Army (NLA) in Macedonia, and other groups have waged campaigns of violence in support of enhanced rights for ethnic Albanians. In Macedonia and the Presevo Valley, ethnic Albanian insurgencies were stopped in 2001 by internationally brokered peace agreements, respectively, the Ohrid Agreement and the Covic Plan, which was designed to reintegrate Albanians into Serbian civic life. Yet the International Crisis Group report emphasizes that both the KLA and NLA started to gain popular support in Kosovo and Macedonia precisely when they moved away from their initial pan-Albanian nationalist goals and concentrated on gaining more rights for their own people.

There is clear willingness on the part of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia and the Presevo Valley to participate in the peace agreements. However, even widespread dissatisfaction with the pace of implementation of these agreements and the delivery of promised reforms has not led to increased radicalization of the Albanian population. On the contrary, the “Albanian National Army”--which overtly advocated a “Greater Albania” agenda--never managed to gain popular credibility, and the ANA’s attempts to capitalize on local discontent in Macedonia and southern Serbia have so far failed.

That is not to say, however, that there is no longer any threat of extreme Albanian nationalist activity. An important factor to emerge from the report is the degree of influence the large Albanian diaspora communities living in the United States, Germany, and Switzerland have in the current and future economic, social, and political development of Kosovo, Macedonia, and, to a lesser degree, Montenegro. The diaspora plays a vital role in keeping up the pressure on the numerous unresolved Albanian-related issues. For example, just as the Greeks could exploit their dwindling minority in southern Albania, the Chams--a festering wound in Albanian-Greek relations--could easily be used by Albanians seeking to emphasize other aspects of the national struggle, for example, to press for autonomy in Montenegro. For these reasons it would be advisable for the Albanian and Greek governments to try and settle the long-standing Cham issue before it gets hijacked and exploited by extreme nationalists and the Chams’ legitimate grievances get lost in the struggle to further other national causes.

NO PAN-ALBANIAN AGENDA

Among Albanians in general there is a growing intolerance of what is perceived as the international community's inability to accept the new dynamics of the Albanian world. In contrast to the aging and stagnant populations of their Balkan neighbors, Albanians are a young and rapidly growing population. It is this demographic superiority that will eventually dictate the socioeconomic development of the southern Balkans. In the meantime, Albanians want to see tangible progress not only in their political future but also in their general living standards and opportunities.

Perhaps the most important message to emerge from the ICG report is that there is no actual Pan-Albanian agenda but rather a series of ongoing struggles by the various Albanian communities for different political, economic, and cultural goals. There is no doubt that the desire by Kosovo Albanians for independence is supported by virtually all Albanians in the Balkans. Indeed, the independence of Kosovo remains the core of the Albanian national question. But each of the five Albanian entities in the Balkans has its own distinct problems and agendas to address. Collectively, they support the independence of Kosovo and guaranteed political, cultural, and civic equality for ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, southern Serbia, and Montenegro. There is also growing pressure from all sectors of the Albanian world for a solution to the Cham issue in Greece. What is clear is that there is no desire or debate in mainstream Albanian society for any form of political unification of Albanian-inhabited territory.

As the recent events in Kosovo have demonstrated, there remains a risk of further conflict in Kosovo, where the question of future status has not yet been resolved. That issue aside, Albanian nationalism can be contained by more fully opening the borders between Albania and its northern neighbors, and increasing economic and educational opportunities across the region. This would allow Albanian aspirations across the Balkans to develop in a natural and organic manner that would enhance the socioeconomic development of the entire region, without posing any threat to the integrity of Albania or its neighbors.