Now that big brother Albania 6 has wrapped up, the upcoming elections are the only thing people are talking about on the street and on TV. Let me try to explain what is going on here in Albania regarding the Parliamentary elections on June 23rd.
On the “right” we have Sali Berisha who has been in charge of Albania for a combined 13 years as president and prime minister. On the “left” as leader of the socialist party, we have Edi Rama, former mayor of Tirana and, more importantly, the tallest Albania in recorded history.
I guess the first thing to mention is that in Albanian politics, there are no meaningful ideological or philosophical differences between the leading political parties. They’re simply factions promoting themselves. It makes more sense when you learn that all government employment is a political appointment. Everyone: municipality office workers, firefighters, professors at state schools, street cleaners, etc. When a party gains power, all state employees from the losing party lose their jobs or are demoted and those jobs are then given to members of the new party with some consideration given to their education. Political party affiliation is so tied up with employment it is almost defined by it.
Before elections, roads are paved for the first time or for the first time in years. Buildings are painted. New employees are hired based on securing the votes of their families and of those whom their family influences.
Perhaps the most chilling aspect is that political meetings and rallies are obligatory for state employees, with government money used to transport and feed them. These rallies and meetings are also monitored to see if anyone in town has jumped sides or shirked their duty to attend. I wish I were exaggerating.
Campaign promises are many and in some cases simply impossible. For example, both parties promise visa’s to America is they are elected (“vote for me and you can leave this country and go to the USA!”) you may have already realized how silly this is just on its face: that an Albanian prime minister can himself change the policies of the USA. The American Ambassador has already said that the USA won’t change visa policies based on election outcome.
Another campaign promise of both sides is to create two hundred or three hundred thousand jobs in Albania- a country of 3 million people. Imagine Obama claiming he could create 30 million jobs in the USA, which is a similar ratio! People believe, perhaps, because many of them remember when Albania had 0% unemployment under the Stalinist government.
After learning these facts of Albanian political life, the idea of election monitors ensuring a fair election becomes quixotic because, while you can count all the votes accurately, you’re merely capturing honestly one aspect of a undemocratic system.
Of the 3 laws of European integration, known simply as “the three laws”, one is the establishment of a civil service. Even though these laws have passed recently, Albania doesn’t exactly implement laws. Also they won’t come into effect until October. But it is of course a step in the right direction.
How does this affect my life as a humble American volunteer? That people are hired and fired based on politics means that projects are in jeopardy because I don’t know whether my colleague will be employed after June 23rd. The elections also mean that coworkers are often out of the office campaigning somehow for the party. Lastly because I’m supposed to be neutral and apolitical, it’s hard not give my opinions on this extremely prevalent phenomenon that affects me personally.
So let me end this on a positive note: the Albanian people are advancing very quickly from totalitarian, communist, tribal, Stalinist, pre-capitalist past to a culture and form of government that we can call modern and European. I have no doubt it’ll happen even within my lifetime. Given their history, few people are more deserving of a decent democratic government.
Sources: first hand experience living and working in Albania, talking with Albanians, reading and watching the Albanian media (specifically fiks fare). In fact, none of these things I claim here would be denied by anyone but the true believers. They’re simply facts of life.