Fatmir Xhafaj still doesn’t think of resigning. He claims that he has no moral or legal responsibility for the actions of someone else, even if that person his brother. Many public voices have come to his support, arguing that Xhafaj is a serious politician, who is doing good work as Minister of Interior Affairs. Some point out the role Xhafaj played in the Justice Reform. However, none of them has brought to the public discussion anything more than superficial impressions and emotional stances in support of Xhafaj.
However, there is a gap between the claims of those who sing Xhafaj’s praises and the Minister’s actual political career. In reality, rather than a reformer and progressive politician, Xhafaj represents a return to a 1980s apparatchik style politics.
Xhafaj completed his legal studies at the end of the 1970s, receiving a communist education, prepared to serve a regime in which human rights and freedoms were violated continuously. Beyond this education, he never received any other kind of training, and, seeing as, besides Italian, he knows no other foreign languages, his intellectual formation remains, fundamentally, the one that was shaped by a communist system.
Following his graduation, Xhafaj worked for several years as an investigator in the Kruja Prosecution Office. Political opponents and at least two people he investigated claim that he was a cruel, politically motivated, investigator. However Xhafaj himself maintains that he was apolitical, even though this claim means little in a dictatorial system where every aspect of life, let alone a justice organ, was permeated by politics.
In 1986 Xhafaj was catapulted from a simple investigator to secretary of the Central Committee of the United Labor Youth. Even though the the end of the 1980s had brought about a wind of liberalism in Albania, Xhafaj worked diligently to fight foreign Western influences on the Albanian youth.
With the regime change at the end of 1990, Xhafaj worked for two years with the transformed youth organizations, but apparently he saw no future in the field. It was the time when the Youth Eurosocialist Forum was born, created by more modern, open-minded, and non-implicated young people.
After 1992, Xhafaj worked as a private attorney for a few years.
Xhafaj’s political career was abruptly jumpstarted in 1997. Fatos Nano became Prime Minister and his first appointment was that of Xhafaj as General Secretary of the Council of Ministers. During this time, he is remembered as being a sycophantic and obedient servant of the Prime Minister, but acting sternly and roughly towards his subordinates. Being responsible for preparing the decisions of the government and the Prime Minister himself, Xhafaj was involved in all of the Nano government’s decisions, and, therefore, also in the corruption that gripped that administration since its beginnings. During this era, he also was involved in the process of drafting the country’s Constitution, that same document he would go on to criticize roughly 20 years later.
With Nano’s resignation in 1999, Xhafaj left the Council of Ministers to return to his profession of private attorney. However, with Nano’s comeback he also returned, first as Minister for Territorial Regulation and Tourism in 2002, and then as Minister of Justice in 2003–2005. He served as Minister of Justice precisely during the culmination of the Nano government’s corruption, at a time when Albania was taken over by criminal gangs that ruled over the countries main cities.
During his time as Minister, two lawsuits were filed against Xhafaj for abuse of tenders, while it was rumored, though no official investigation was launched, that he was also involved in corruptive construction projects in Pogradec. During this time, it was insinuated among Tirana’s journalistic scene – though this was never confirmed – that as Minister of Justice Xhafaj had negotiated with the Italian authorities to have his brother, convicted of drug trafficking in Italy, carry out his sentence in Albania. He then pulled the necessary strings so that his brother didn’t spend a single day in jail.
Ironically, as Minister of Justice Xhafaj held for three years the key role in managing the country’s judiciary system, including nominating judges, significantly contributing to shaping and strengthening that system he would go on to condemn 8 years later, in order to push the Justice Reform.
When the Socialist Party turned into the opposition in 2005, Xhafaj served as MP and, from 2009 to 2013, as deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Legal Issues, Public Administration and Human Rights.
His third comeback to the heights of Albanian politics came on the coattails of Edi Rama, who appointed him chairman of the Ad Hoc Parliamentary Committee on the Judicial System Reform in November 2014. The final judgement on the success of the reform will take time, but it is already clear that it was conceptually, politically, and technically poorly planned, and misapplied.
Meanwhile, it is becoming increasingly clear that the main purpose of the Socialists who drafted the Justice Reform was capturing the judiciary system, rather than improving it. Currently, the Constitutional Court has been dissolved, with a single remaining member, the Supreme Court is paralyzed, being left with less than half of its members, the entire prosecutorial system has passed under the complete control of the government, while the vetting process is controlled by Xhafaj and Rama, who have filled the new judiciary institutions with their own trusted people.
Since March 2017, Xhafaj serves as Minister of Interior Affairs – with a three-month break in summer 2017 – and he has radically changed the police personnel, placing his most trusted people in strategic offices throughout the entire law enforcement system.
Like Saimir Tahiri, Xhafaj has bragged about his reforms and successes in the police force, yet no real accomplishments exist and the police continues to perform subpar. For example, the much-lauded Force of Law operation is mere propaganda, lacking any tangible results; marijuana trafficking numbers have been higher than those of any other years, while cocaine trafficking is also on the rise; murders and violent crimes are everyday occurrences. The police has yet to apprehend or dismantle any important criminal group or leader, whereas cities like Vlora, Durrës, and Elbasan remain under the control of organized crime.
On the other hand, police violence and abuse against citizens has increased, perhaps a reflection of Xhafaj’s cruel interrogation style from his communist years, which he has brought with him to the police force. Ironically, after loudly advertising the vetting of the police force, in order to purge it from any corrupt and criminal elements, Xhafaj refused to undergo vetting himself. It is now clear that most likely Xhafaj wouldn’t have passed the vetting, as a result of his connection to his brother, Agron Xhafaj, an international drug trafficker convicted in Italy accused of continuing his criminal activity in Albania under the protection of the police.
Finally, even if Xhafaj has no hand in protecting his brother, his insistent refusal to resign and the scandalous arguments he has used to justify this refusal demonstrate a mentality that is incompatible with democratic and Western values.
During his entire career, Fatmir Xhafaj has no good accomplishments or deeds to show for. Three decades after the fall of communism, the fact that the country is being led by a politician who is the same as three decades ago is rather bleak. Actually, the fact that such a politician is among the most influential in Albanian politics in the year 2018 is a sign of the country’s failure to progress intellectually and socially.
Ironically, Xhafaj is widely considered by the public to be a serious person who is doing good work. There are several reasons that this is the case. A major role has been played by the extraordinary propaganda that surrounded the Justice Reform, with which the public has been bombarded for more than three years. An even bigger role has been played by a more recent propaganda about the reformation and strengthening of the police force, a propaganda effort that aims to create a public impression that the Tahiri case was an isolated incident and a closed chapter. Now, we have a Minister and a government who are willing to fight crime.
Certainly, what has also contributed to Xhafaj’s positive image has been his appearance and behavior as a firm and laconic man, that contrasted his predecessor and most of the Socialist leading figures, who tend to be ridiculously verbose. Xhafaj’s brooding theatricality has been mistaken by many as a sign of depth, capability, and seriousness. This posturing even managed to convince those unfamiliar with Xhafaj’s servile and submissive nature, when it comes to his superiors, that the Minister was so strong and principled in his fight against crime that he would go so far as to challenge Rama himself!
Foreign diplomats have also contributed to the shaping of public opinion about Xhafaj. With them, he has followed the same sly strategy as Rama: apparent servility and submission, presenting himself as willing to serve at any time, in any way, accompanied by behind-the-scenes manipulation and pulling strings. In fact, the fact that he served as chairman of the Justice Reform committee linked the success of the Reform to Xhafaj’s success, so foreign representatives who were personally invested in the success of the Justice Reform were always eager to praise Xhafaj in order to praise the Justice Reform and, in an indirect way, themselves.
It merits saying that Xhafaj himself has also been careful and has put in the work in order to maintain a good relationship with the media and public commentators, many of whom are used to confrontational, and often vulgar, politicians, seemed to have valued the Minister’s formal and restrained attitude.
Last but not least, it must be said that the Albanian public has been starved of serious and capable politicians, and is therefore inclined to trust anyone who shows any sign of seriousness. This, however, is not Fatmir Xhafaj.
Albania needs politicians of European formation and mentality, politicians of integrity and humane morals. Therefore, the country will only begin making political progress, once there is no longer room in its political scenes for politicians like Xhafaj.