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NATO and Albania: Now All Our Troubles Will Go Away

Fareed Zakaria says in his book The Rise of Illiberal Democracy that free and democratic elections have produced authoritarianism. He mentions Iran, Venezuela, and Russia. He needs to add Albania to that list.

Receiving the invitation to join NATO was a historic moment for Albania. The attitude the government has followed since then is historic, too.

Albania has a population of over 3.5 million people, according to the C.I.A. World Factbook, 13 percent of who are unemployed. Even though the G.D.P. growth these last years have been consistently 5percent to 6 percent, Albanians are still the poorest people in Europe, with over 25 percent of population living below the poverty line.

In recent months, food prices have increased over 15 percent. In May, inflation peaked at 4.4 percent, according to the National Bank of Albania, while the objective is 3 percent. After many years of growth in housing prices, and predictions about a property market boom, growth has abruptly stopped. As for electric energy, despite the supply crisis that left Albania without electric energy for nearly 15 hours a day in the villages a year ago, the government intends to raise the price 37.5%, which is a heavy burden for the middle class. Two years ago, 1 liter of oil was 500 lek ($6.50), now it is 1,700 lek ($22.10), and the government has done nothing to ease the crisis.

In 1998, Albania was ranked as the most corrupt country in the world. Today the situation has change for the good. It ranks third. In 2005, Prime Minister Sali Berisha came to power condemning the corruption of the socialist government. With his slogan referring to corruption—"with clean hands"—he won a great majority in the parliament.

But today, three years later, Berisha and his government have been accused of corruption more than any other government in Albania in the last 15 years. Two ministers of the cabinet have resigned accused of corruption. The current foreign minister, Lulzim Basha, has been accused of stealing more than $100 million in the construction of a road in Albania worth $1 billion. The government has said that the construction of that road is a big opportunity for Albania and that corruption is normal.

A few days before NATO invited Albania to join NATO, an ammunition depot exploded (in March) in Gërdec, a village near Tirana. Twenty-eight people died and 300 were injured. At first it just looked like a technical problem. But soon after, it was revealed that an investigation was being made by The New York Times. It had to do with Gërdec. The minister of defense had made some illegal transactions for sending arms to Afghanistan. The Pentagon was involved. The United States Congress is making an investigation of its own. Everybody is talking about huge corruption.

Let us not forget hospitals. If you go to the hospital, you had better have a lot of money with you, because in the "free" national hospital you have to pay much. If you do not bribe somebody, you do not have a chance to get some medical help. They let you die if you do not give money. And if you need a medication, well, you will just have to find it on your own.

What has the government done in recent months?

Prime Minister Berisha has embarked on a national tour across Albania to inform the people about his "great economic achievements." The NATO invitation has been proclaimed as a big achievement by the government. All our problems are now solved. Everything up to this point, every single reform that has been undertaken has been for the purpose of getting an invitation from NATO. We do not make a good army because we need it; we make it because NATO needs it. We do not have political stability because the country and its population need it, but because NATO demands it. We will do anything not for our own sake but because Europe demands it.

Fareed Zakaria says in his book The Rise of Illiberal Democracy that free and democratic elections have produced authoritarianism. He mentions Iran, Venezuela, and Russia. He needs to add Albania to that list. Why? Two months ago, the parliament approved a law for changing the constitution. The constitution was adopted in 1998 through a national referendum. But, the changes parliament just made to it, the first big changes since it was adopted, were not sent to a referendum

The worst part is the changes that have been made. All other institutions depend on the parliament; so, the majority in parliament controls everything. Even the president depends on the parliament. With the changes the president will be a part of parliament. This means that a consensus in the parliament between the majority and the minority is no longer needed to elect a president. The party that has the majority can elect a president at any time. It can also elect the head of the judiciary system, the judges in the Supreme Court, and the head of the institution that will count the votes in the next elections. Tragically, the minority in the parliament was O.K. with the changes.

Finally, I know that NATO is a great achievement for Albania. We should have taken the invitation in 1997 or 1998, but a grave political situation in those times delayed it. We got it in 2008 and it is a big thing. But our political class has made this invitation into a supreme good, one that will erase our difficulties and problems. We do not have to work anymore, because we are in NATO. This is the attitude the Albanian government has followed since receiving the invitation.

Published as part of Worldpress.org's Global Education Neighborhood.

Ledion Krisafi is a student in the faculty of journalism at Tirana University, Albania

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