In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Prime Minister Edi Rama strongly argues in favor of a Regional Economic Area in the Western Balkans, as will be discussed today during an EU–Western Balkans summit in Trieste.
In the article, he argues that “economic underdevelopment” is partially to blame for “corrupt judges,” “corrupt prosecutors,” and even “corrupt politicians.”
Albanian and our Western Balkan neighbors have suffered years of instability in part because of economic underdevelopment. We have corrupt judges and corrupt prosecutors because they, too, want their share of the spoils. Corrupt politicians have plagued us for the same reasons.
When the main driver of affluence is politics instead of personal initiative and enterprise, conflicts are inevitable. They may take different forms: ethnic nationalism in some place, religious sectarianism in others, ideological divisions elsewhere. But when resources are scarce it always comes down to who you know instead of what you do or what you can do.
Although this argument seems to run all very nicely, it is designed to accomplish two things: 1) take Edi Rama out of the equation, and 2) essentially claim that economics is more important than politics and rule of law.
In the first paragraph that I cited, it is unclear who the “we” is that has “corrupt judges” and “corrupt prosecutors” or who the “we” is that is “plagued” by “corrupt politicians.” The reference appears to be to the unmentioned “Albanian people,” but at the same time suggests a clear separation between a corrupt “they” and an innocent “we,” which of course includes Rama himself.
However, Prime Minister Rama has been involved in Albanian politics for nearly 20 years, and the massive corruption that happened under his watch cannot possibly be blamed, even if partially, on “economic underdevelopment.” The widespread corruption in Albania has in fact significantly profited both the Prime Minister and the oligarchs and politicians around him. And there is no proof whatsoever that higher economic development would lead to less corruption.
The second paragraph basically formulates the mistaken idea that “the economy” or “the market” is always right and that political and ideological differences are the result of “inefficiencies.” Politics, even in the most “affluent” countries, has an enormous impact on the economy. To indicate how far this goes, just look at the drop that the Dow Jones made when Donald Trump Jr. published his email correspondence with a Russian lawyer. Our economical models are largely driven and facilitated by politics, and the Regional Economic Area, so vehemently supported by Rama, is a political initiative. It is not as if the markets in Albania and Serbia spontaneously started to join!
Moreover, to put “ideological divisions” on the same level as “religious sectarianism” is a highly questionable move that speaks more to Rama’s desire for a one-party state than to a true understanding of the democratic process. But then again, what should we expect from a leader who wants to “radically change” the way deputies do their work and initiate an unconstitutional “direct co-governance with the people”?
If we read Rama’s argument carefully we actually understand what he says: Politics is not important, so it doesn’t matter that I am the supreme leader. Economics is the key, so as long as my oligarch friends get richer, there will be less corruption.
Yes, that is as absurd as it sounds.