The Endless Presence of the OSCE

It is becoming a bit of a joke. The OSCE Presence in Albania started this week the training of the police forces for the local elections of 2019, which, as it now seems, will be held without any of the major opposition parties.

The OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) has been present in Albania since decision no. 588 of the OSCE’s permanent council in 2003, when it was decided that the OSCE would focus on “electoral reform,” among other topics of interest. The mandate was supposed to last until December 31, 2004 and would be subject to an “annual review and assessment.”

Sixteen years later, the OSCE is still working on “electoral reform,” becoming in fact a permanent player in the cheap soap opera that the Albanian elections have become since the previous electoral reform from 2008 and its amendment in 2012. Again, both reforms fell squarely within the mandate in the OSCE, and we all know how they turned out: a concentration of power in the hands of party leaders, little accountability of MPs to voters, and a party financing system that has basically become a giant money laundering machine.

As a result, after every election, the OSCE issues a damning report urging for the reform of the reforms of 2008 and 2012, and then goes on to train dozens of policemen and officials to implement the next elections, which it then condemns in its report. However, precisely by helping each election, by appearing side by side with government officials, by insisting in a “democratic process” when it is clear democracy has moved to the streets, the OSCE is becoming an accomplice in the non-reform it insistently complains about.

What if the OSCE said: We’re sorry, you have ignored our reports for the last decade, so we are no longer going to provide your police forces with a veil of decency while they ignore the criminals roaming the streets buying votes.

But the OSCE does not say that. Year after year, they sing the same tune without any noticeable result. The Albanian politicians, of course, know this song, and satisfy the OSCE with a few insincere steps on the dance floor.  And each year, ever since 2004, the Permanent Council of the OSCE decides to extend the mission – without any justification whatsoever. Each year, it “decides to extend the mandate of the OSCE Presence in Albania until 31 December” of the next year. Nothing more.

How different is the decision process with other missions. Sometimes a mission is extended at the request of the pertinent government. Sometimes there is a Memorandum of Understanding between the host country and the OSCE. But in the case of Albania – which, by the way, is the only “Presence” of the OSCE – there is simply the endless repetition of the same.

No matter which government is in power, no matter which opposition is on the streets, no matter how many votes are stolen, the Head of the OSCE’s presence will dutifully instruct the police to “protect” the vote, urge for “electoral reform,” and validate with their presence whichever crook is in power – and of course, keep their own comfy job.

That appears to be the actual role of the OSCE Presence: just to be present – forever.

– Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei