The colours of Tirana. Photo: flickr/lassi.kurkijarvi
The colours of Tirana. Photo: flickr/lassi.kurkijarvi

Albania

Albania stands out among the countries of the Western Balkans, and not only because it was never part of communist Yugoslavia. As a country whose independence goes back to 1912, it is not haunted, as many of the Western Balkan countries, by border disputes or national identity crises. Albania also does not have to bear the historical weight of the wars which ravaged the Balkans throughout the 1990s, having stayed out of the fighting.

But then there are other issues particular to Albania. Some of them weigh heavily on the country's present condition. Communist Albania was among the most ruthless totalitarian regimes in Europe (arguably, only Romania came close), its economy one of the weakest and its infrastructure one of the least developed. Little effort has been made to deal with the scars inherited from the former regime.

After the introduction of some market-oriented reforms by the Democratic Party of Sali Berisha (elected in March 1992), Albania witnessed a few years of respectable economic growth. In December 1992, it became the first country from South-Eastern Europe to sign an Agreement for Trade and Cooperation with the EU. However, corruption, irregularities during the 1996 elections, plus the ensuing collapse of a huge pyramid scheme in which more than half of Albanians lost part (if not all) of their savings, brought about the collapse of state structures. By the spring of 1997 Albania had disintegrated into anarchy.

The Albanian socialists had two consecutive spells in power to overcome the effects of the crisis, before Berisha returned to power in 2005. In June 2006 Albania signed the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, which constituted the first step towards EU membership. Other steps followed: on 1 April 2009 Albania joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation; less then a month later, on 28 April, it submitted its application for EU membership.

Albania's prospects faded when Berisha's re-election in June 2009 plunged Albania into a political crisis. The opposition parties, led by Edi Rama, then mayor of Tirana, launched a months-long boycott of the National Assembly and organised several protests to demand a vote recount. The situation reached a climax in January 2011, when protests in Tirana erupted into violence following a corruption scandal involving the Deputy Prime Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ilir Meta. Four people were left dead.

In its November 2010 opinion on Albania's membership application, the European Commission expressed serious concerns about Albania's political polarisation and refrained from proposing to grant Albania official candidacy status. It finally did so in October 2012, conditioned on the completion of a number of reforms.

Parliamentary elections in June 2013 were again expected to be tight. Many feared another political crisis, like in 2009. However, Edi Rama's Socialist Party and its allies won a decisive victory; Sali Berisha conceded defeat.

It took another year before the EU granted Albania official candidate status on 27 June 2014. It has not yet set a date for the start of accession negotiations.

25 July 2014

     
 
Albanian and EU flags, Gjirokastra. Photo: flickr/Nomad Tales
Albanian and EU flags, Gjirokastra. Photo: flickr/Nomad Tales
 
"Albanian Renaissance". Photo: pre tv
     
 
Albanian Parliamentary Elections 2013. Photo: ESI
Albanian Parliamentary Elections 2013. Photo: ESI
 
Saranda, Albania. Photo: Alan Grant
Saranda, Albania. Photo: Alan Grant
     

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