From: Fatos Lubonja
Albanian Reality, Freedom House, and the European Commission Report

Two weeks ago, our media were shaken by the Freedom House report, which was interpreted as negative because it talked about an Albania at a standstill.

A week later, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini came to Tirana to bring us the happy news that instead we had made “considerable progress,” which would justify the recommendation for the opening of negotiations with the EU.

Let’s compare these two contradictory reports that come from the outside with the daily “reports” from the inside of Albanians who live in Albania.

Personally, after I read the Freedom House report, I concluded that it didn’t correspond much to the reality we live in, because it failed to interpret some of the main developments in Albania correctly, obscuring a lot of their seriousness.

Let’s take some of the main claims of the report that were reported by the media.

The first one was that “Progress in reducing cannabis cultivation was offset by revelations that former Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri was connected to an Albanian-Italian drug trafficking network.”

The meaning of this claim is that the government and prime minister have done a good job in furthering the battle against cannabization, but this has been undone (also in terms of perception), when it became known that the minister of interior turned out to be linked to organized crime. But is this true?

The truth also known to the actors involved is that what Freedom House calls “progress” was a propagandist facade in the style of Edi Rama (the action in Lazarat) to throw dust in the eyes of the Albanians and internationals so that he could easier turn the entirety of Albania into Lazarat. For the Albanians it was clear that it wasn’t an incident that Saimir Tahiri became minister of interior, but that the prime minister chose him precisely as the right person for the job, just like the many other people from the criminal world that Rama put in parliament of at the head of many municipalities around the country.

The proofs are many and incontestable. Let’s mention the post-Lazarat increase to previous dimensions of the cannabis cultivation; the fact that the secret service ShIK informed the prime minister and chief prosecutor about the 128 police officers involved throughout the country in cannabis cultivation and trafficking and that nothing was done; the ridicule of the accusations of drug traffic, when the prime minister claimed the planes transporting them were actually spraying pesticides; the defense of Tahiri by the prime minister and his MPs, etc.

So, we are not talking about a step forward and a step back, as the report describes, but about a strategy to collaborate with crime together with Tahiri, who, let’s not forgot, was uncovered by the Italian prosecution and not the Albania one, which protected him when he was denounced by whistleblower Zagani just like it continues to protect him today.

We can follow the same reasoning with two other claims from the Freedom House report, namely that “Achievements in the war against administrative corruption was offset by the election of Ilir Meta as president of Albania, perceived by many citizens to be a symbol of corruption,” and that “the election through a simple majority in the Albanian parliament of a temporary General Prosecutor on December 18 […] seriously undermined the credibility and independence of the prosecution,” thus also undermining the justice reform.

What is lacking in these two important claims is an explanation of how it is possible that after a fight against corruption, the fighters against corruption themselves elected the most corrupt politician as president? How is it possible that majority has laboired to create this justice reform with independent judges and prosecutors, and then elects in a violent manner someone who convincingly shows on a daily basis militancy for one side as general prosecutor, against the spirit of the Constitution?

For the Albanians who live in Albania the answers to these questions are very simple: First, there has never been a fight against the system of corruption; on the contrary, it has grown, now that the most corrupt person has been and remains the one on top of the system, the prime minister. Second, the manner of electing the general prosecutor shows the true aim of the justice reform, the removal of the semi-control the opposition still kept over the justice system and its full capture by the majority to blackmail and intimidate its opponents and to protect it from the many accusations of corruption, which have reached unseen levels. The recent events in Kukës and the prosecution’s stance toward them were a clear proof of that aim.

Freedom House also speaks positively about the 2017 elections, highlighting the absence of conflict and the fact that the opposition didn’t contest them. But the report forgot to highlight that before the agreement between Rama and Basha, the opposition in the tent claimed that in Albania there couldn’t be free elections because they would be bought (following the model experimented during the local elections in Dibra) with the money of the oligarchy and the drug traffickers tightly linked with Rama’s power.

The situation was so conflictual that for the first time in those 25 years the opposition refused to enter the elections. The fact that Basha was strangled by the internationals or seduced by Rama, withdrew this plan, and entered the elections without contesting them doesn’t prove that the Albanian elections weren’t bought. Also the absence of conflict is not simply a good sign, but it might as well be the result of the compromised position of the opposition, its intimidation from inside and outside, and its weakening under a regime where the majority basically control everything through its links with the oligarchy and crime.

Another proof that the Freedom House report, in spite of its criticism, fails to portray the seriousness of the degradation of the country, would be the fact that nowhere the two most significant phenomena in Albanian reality are mentioned: the massive exodus of Albanians in recent years and the extraordinary growth of Albanian organized crime not only in Albania (where it is not measured), but also in Europe (where it is measured day after day with growing discern), a direct result of the decay of an economy that is increasingly buttressed by criminal money. And, of course, with a growing criminal economy we cannot speak of either progress or democracy.

And in spite of all of this, here comes Mogherini and speaks to us about a clear progress that clearly has been invented in Brussels. How may we explain this invention from Brussels? Some have found the easiest answer: that this fake report is the work of the corrupt EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin corrupted by the master of corrupting Albanians and internationals Edi Rama. Others claim that this is done to hide the failure of the Brussels bureaucracy which seeks to maintain and justify itself through this enlargement. Again others claim that this is a geo-strategical decision, because otherwise the Western Balkans would fall under the influence of Russia or Turkish President Erdoğan, which would influence Europe. Defending the latter thesis, EU President Jean-Claude Juncker spoke even about the risk of the Balkans returning to the wars of the 90s. Another argument is that the opening toward the Western Balkans is a strategy of the Europeanists against the growing nationalism in the main EU countries, threatening the EU project. But these last two arguments were opposed by French President Emmanuel Macron, according to whom this opening would further weaken the EU, which first of all, needs to be reinforced within its current borders, before opening further.

There may be many reasons why Brussels has drafted this fake report. The most positive spin that was offered to Albanians disappointed with this fake report was opposition leader Lulzim Basha’s, who said that entering the fold of the EU would allow us to fight the phenomena I listed above. But is this really true? This thesis deserves a thorough debate both in Albania and in Europe based on the Albanian and European experiences so far and the realities we live in. Personally I think that the bad things this fake report may bring outweigh the good things that it can bring through negotiations. The reasons why I will discuss in the next article.