Albania's Difficult Future

Article excerpt

The 1997 Albanian political and economic crisis was one of the most destructive in the 1990s. Television images of Albanians on a large-scale killing spree against each other, having looted military depots, as their country disintegrated, were also one of the most dramatic spectacles in a decade replete with violent internal turmoil.

As a result of the fighting, the country was effectively divided into three segments where no one was in complete control. Armed gangs supporting Sali Berisha, nominally still Albania's president, held sway in the centre and the north; the south was in the hands of roaming bands of so-called salvation committee members and criminals. Seasoned observers concluded that religious and ethnic issues were simply irrelevant to the violence. Rather, the cause was the infamous 'pyramid' schemes. These were set up by a few local speculators to get rich fast, whilst promising untold wealth to naive investors who often sank their entire savings into them. The inevitable result was the collapse of the 'pyramids', leaving most Albanians penniless.

Because of Albania's geopolitical position, the ensuing violent chaos prompted multinational - mostly European - intervention. It also forced Berisha to call a new national election, which resulted in the Socialist Party regaining power.

Today, Albania is no longer a focal point of violent turmoil. Still, the newly appointed Prime Minister Pandeli Majko is faced with massive economic and social problems in the wake of Albania's devastation. An additional vital task confronting him is the reconstruction of the country's disintegrated military.

As its predecessors, the present government is determined to join NATO as well as the EU. Albania is already a member of the NATO-sponsored Partnership for Peace, established in 1994 to offer the Alliance's Co-operation Partners the opportunity of taking part with NATO in security co-operation programmes. As Tirana sees it, NATO membership offers obvious military protection against predatory neighbours, particularly Serbia. In addition Albania regards NATO membership as an essential first step toward joining the European Union.

The aim of becoming a member of both organisations represents for Albania a strong incentive to hasten the achingly difficult process of democratisation. Further, Albanians, including politicians of all stripes, think that such memberships will prevent the recurrence of future turmoil and illegal activities.

In the past months, NATO has shown increasing willingness to aid Albania in its ambition. Javier Solana, NATO's Secretary General, on a visit to Tirana in July last year emphasised NATO's commitment to take diplomatic action, if necessary, to prevent the Serbian President Slobodan Miloseric from launching an ethnic cleansing campaign against Albanians in Kosovo, a Serbian region where the Albanian communities number 90 per cent of the population. More recently, NATO threatened Serbia with air strikes if it would not withdraw its special forces from Kosovo and lower the confrontation level with the Kosovo Liberation Army. …