Can Europe Make It?

Albania: between a rock and a hard place

A recent spate of terrorist attacks in Albania has drawn virtually no international attention. But the consequences for the country could prove very serious indeed.

Klaudio Llusku
5 March 2015
The main square in Tirana, Albania. Demotix/Vedat Xhymshiti. All rights reserved.

2015 did not “debut” well for Europeans following the deadly attacks in Paris and Copenhagen. The brutality of the Kouachi brothers and grotesque video images broadcasting the execution of 12 people outside Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris, did not only alarm public opinion over the rise of Islamic terrorism in Europe, but raised fears over European-Patriot-Act-styled measures in countering future threats.

Indeed, and as French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, declared before France’s National Assembly, “[France] must respond to this exceptional situation with exceptional measures” and monitor high-risk passengers. Furthermore, Former French Minster of the Budget (under former President Nicolas Sarkozy), Valérie Pécresse, went even further suggesting that France should adopt its own type of the USA Patriot Act.

In Berlin, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel was pushing efforts towards adopting a new EU law on data retention whereas, just 678 miles north, UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron announced new surveillance legislations outlawing certain forms of encrypted digital communication in thwarting the means by which terrorist groups’ activities could be facilitated.

Leaving the EU club for a while, there’s one country whose endogenous terrorism has not – for reasons which I consider wrong and with long-term calamitous consequences – drawn much attention. Since February 2013, when the newly-elected coalition government, between Socialist Party of Albania (PS) and Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI), assumed power, Albania has witnessed an unprecedented wave of what the government has dubbed “terror attacks”.

One of the most recent incidents of terrorist activity took place on February 10, when two powerful explosions damaged a pharmacy business, reportedly owned by the family of Albania’s Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri, and the apartment of a senior police officer. The third bomb, which was placed at a bus station near Vasil Shanto School in Tirana, was successfully defused.

Albania’s recent state of turmoil appear aimed at the government’s anti-crime drive. Indeed, the government initiated and successfully delivered on its pre-election promises of cracking down on cannabis cultivation in the notorious village of Lazarat.

Saimir Tahiri – Albania’s acting Minister of Interior Affairs – was chosen as the “frontman” to lead the fight against organized crime and corruption which have, since its very inception as an independent democratic state in 1991, deprived Albania from prospering. According to Transparency International, Albania ranks 110th out of 175 states monitored in 2014, making Albania and Kosovo the region’s most corrupt states. On a business level, Business-Anti-Corruption Portal notes that Albania, compared to the regional average, is “the country where the highest percentage of companies expects to give gifts to get a government contract”.

Where does Albania’s esoteric hurdles stand in the European post-Charlie Hebdo arena however?

Fear is at the epicenter of what defines terrorism and, indeed fear, has set foot deep in 2015 Albania. Post- Charlie Hebdo mood in Europe may, rightfully so, encourage other states – in this case Albania – to initiate reforms on security legislation and intelligence.

If that is to occur however, Albania’s chances of developing politically authoritarian tendencies could prove dramatically high. Indeed, Albania’s weak state institutions, operating under an equally weak legal system, in conjunction with a judiciary which lacks independence and accountability, could produce a fertile ground for “Hobbesian desires” to manifest.

Rubbing salt in the wound, Albania’s past too could be seen problematic. Before 1991, the territory of what is now Albania, found itself under autocratic rule (under Roman, Byzantine, Bulgarian and Ottoman empires, the Kingdom of Albania and a communist dictatorship under Enver Hoxha) which has, undeniably, contributed in the formation of Albania’s present-day identity.

It should be mentioned, that according to CIVICUS Civil Society Index Analytical Report, “the short history of Albania as a free and independent country, and even shorter history as a functioning democracy, has been largely reflected in the history of civil society”.

Albania’s path towards EU membership have greatly encouraged and indeed improved the picture on the ground. The rise of terrorist activities across Europe – including Albania – however, could signal the beginning of Europe’s “introvert” character willing to push forward (on a national level) extreme measures in bringing terrorist activities under control.

If Berlin or Paris – with their vibrant civil societies and consolidated democratic institutions – are able to cope with it, for Tirana, similar measures could prove catastrophic.

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