Vetting and Rama’s “New Justice”

Let us go back in time to September 4, when EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin brought “good news” from Brussels. Among other encouraging and positive statements, Ambassador Vlahutin, who is planning a 1-year extension of her mandate to witness the “real and tangible” results of the judicial reform, declared:

I would say that also Albania is in a very good moment. Justice reform, the most demanding and complex reform of all, is now finally to be implemented, with vetting starting in less than two weeks. Formation of new institutions including special prosecution for corruption and organized crime hopefully by the end of this year.

These two weeks passed, and now we are nearly two months later. In spite of the arrival of the International Monitoring Operation and the dubious reconstruction of the former Ministry of Culture into the Palace of Vetting, the vetting itself by the Independent Qualification Commission (KPK) and the other vetting institutions doesn’t appear to have started.

Meanwhile, the “good moment” of early September seems to have passed. The recent revelation of former Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri’s close links with the criminal world showed not only the glaring inability of the Albanian government to effectively fight organized crime and drug trafficking – one of the five key priorities to open EU accession negotiations – it also, and more seriously, showed the precise political intentions behind the judicial reform, intentions that the opposition has warned the international community about for months on end.

These intentions were clearly expressed by Prime Minister Edi Rama in a recent speech to the parliamentary group of the PS, in which he stated that the opposition is afraid of the “new justice”:

If in the end justice affirms the truth of Saimir Tahiri, then I guarantee you there will be no more need to tell people anymore, as we did for so many years, that we are different. And Saimir will return with the honor that belongs to him and with our hearts loaded with a great liberation to the place that belongs to him in this group and this political family where everyone can make a mistake but no one can betray Albania and the people that believe us and support us.

In other words, the “new justice,” the justice post-vetting, will be the justice that sets Saimir Tahiri free and proves his innocence. There is probably no clearer articulation of what the vetting – in the eyes of Rama – is supposed to accomplish. To make sure that his drug-trafficking minister and right-hand man goes free. The Tahiri case is the test case for whether “new justice” will have been established.

If this were not worrying enough, the behavior of some deputies Friday in the defense of Tahiri was shocking not only in their absolute lack of knowledge of the Constitution or the Parliamentary Regulations, it was especially shocking because these were the very same people who had drafted the judicial reform. If a political system is able to motivate a well-known specialist in jurisprudence like Vasilika Hysi, a former director of the Albanian Helsinki Committee, to utter the most absurdist claims, including that a discussion about the removal of the privilege of parliamentary immunity would touch upon Tahiri’s fundamental human rights, it must be rotten to the core. And the rottenness now aims to fully capture the judicial branch of government – to establish a “new justice.”

No wonder the latest events are met with a complete silence of the international supporters of the judicial reform. Did they suddenly realize they made the same mistake as many other former communist countries – that they handed the courts on a platter to Edi Rama?

It is perhaps enlightening to go back to the report on the “EU Approach to Justice Reform in Southeastern and Eastern Europe,” published by the Romanian Center for European Policies in 2011, and one of its sobering conclusions:

The judicial and anticorruption reforms promoted at high cost by the EU are often undermined by the Parliaments. We have to face the reality that these countries face a structural problem: the weak internal demand for anticorruption at the societal level. Unfortunately, the political parties are truly representatives of their people.

The Albanian Parliament, the same Parliament that passed the EU’s favored judicial reform, is now slated to protect the undeserved, and self-serving, privilege a former minister allegedly involved in drug trafficking, organized crime, and corruption. This is the “high cost” the EU will have to pay.