Newspaper says West ignores problems with democracy in Albania

Sunday, Jul 17,2011, 3:41:23 PM

How come western diplomats back Berisha? This is a question I am being asked from time to time by different people in different circumstances. I am afraid that my colleagues and also many other people that because of their profession or duty are supposed to know something more about this matter have been asked the same question. It looks like we are dealing with an Albanian riddle, still unsolved and perhaps unsolvable.

Actually it was some time since I was not racking my brains over this riddle but when the Electoral College did what it did, that is, put its seal on a forged electoral result; the protagonist's role the ambassadors were quick to assume brought it to my mind. Let it be understood, it was not that they said 'long live Berisha!' but they said what Berisha wanted them to say, that is, the institutions had given their word, that the government and the opposition must return to dialogue, that the two sides must respect the democracy of the institutions, and so on and so forth. Formally speaking all of their statements on this occasion were extremely proper (what could and should they have said otherwise?), and in this sense, they were unexceptionable. But the problem is not with their statements at that the moment. The problem is about something else.

The problem is that they know that Albania is drifting dreadfully away from the practices of democracy and the rule-of-law state and they are doing nothing to discourage this development, on the contrary, most of the time they are openly backing the Tirana ruler who, one by one, is conquering all the independent constitutional institutions and powers, the media, and the civil society. He just took the Tirana Municipality; indeed, he did not take it, he hijacked it; he hijacked it under the eyes of the whole world; and celebrated it with fireworks just as Robert Mugabe (where has a government been seen celebrating with fireworks an electoral result?). Next year he will take (in the legal way, of course) the office of the Prosecutor General, then that of the president of the republic, and as a consequence, will put the Supreme Council of Justice under his control. What will be left for him to do? He may let the odd paper or TV station talk through their hat, or he may subjugate them, castrate them, or intimidate them, as he has no reason for concern, for all non-government media have learned how they should go about it in order not to be in opposition or against the government, have learned to jabber that much as not to annoy the government, indeed, in the odd case, the government seems worried not about these media being aggressive with it but about their not being like that; even the government gang needs some semblance of democracy.

A media group among the more important of the country, rather noisy and aligned with the left ever since its birth (News24, Gazeta Shqiptare, Balkanweb, and others), is now neither aligned with the left nor the noisy. By means of a takeover on the media market (carried out in an entirely legitimate way, as always) the non-government media had one of their powerful arms cut. There is talk about other takeovers, too. The government-sponsored businessmen are putting the money together. The financial operations for the buying of opposition media will be just as legitimate, just as the process of the hijacking of the Tirana Municipality was (the central Election commission spoke, the Electoral College spoke, do you want more of it? Do you know of any more legitimate way for the certification of an election result?) So well have these financial operations and decision-making procedures been wound up to the detriment of the opposition and for the benefit of Tirana's Putin-like regime that the ambassadors who are extremely friendly with Berisha are happy that the latter knows how to wind up his transactions well, so they need not compromise their position when it comes to defend him. But even if they had to compromise their position, they would have no qualms about it. They have shown us that they are capable of doing it in the days that followed the 21 January events, that they are Berisha's unconditional allies.

But what do they do it for? It is not, nor can it be, related to the dislike Edi Rama aroused among them. Well, they do not value Edi Rama, and they do well in not valuing him (why should they value him?) but their support for Berisha and his regime is another thing. These ambassadors, along with their governments, may very well be in agreement to keep Berisha in power all along, but let them at least let us understand that they have domesticated him and keep him under control. But there is no question of it: they are doing the opposite, they have made him furious and have set him loose.

The chorus of ambassadors that sing in tune with Berisha is not related to their so-called culture of legality. There are people who swallow these pretensions of theirs, and it looks as if they are right, for these ambassadors from time to time speak about respect for the law and the institutions. Even now, after the Electoral College ruling, they speak in this same language. Then what? Then just try to find why they speak under their breath or with a feeble voice in defence of the institutions when these are being violated and trampled underfoot by Berisha. Their reaction when our prime minister openly and brutally refused to comply with the order of the Prosecutor General's Office the day after 21 January (the Prosecutor General's Office is also an institution as the Central Election Commission and the Electoral College), or when, before the cameras, he threatened the leader of the opposition with the words "just try it again and you will see that I will punish you as a bandit!" bordered on impudence. Do you want more of it? The OSCE ambassador, Eugen Wohlfahrt, who has come here in order to, among other things, monitor the state of freedom of the mass media, has never been heard raising his voice and expressing some sort of dissatisfaction with the fact that our public television (TVSh) has been turned into a Goebbels-style propaganda instrument. Apparently, he has not raised his voice also because the expressionless masque of his mug has been appearing several times a day on the screen of this channel that is kept with our money. This behaviour can be interpreted and explained in only one way: he and his colleagues do not bother about the institutions.

On this point we have another explanation that is doing the rounds: Berisha has opened the way for the unrestrained protagonism of the foreign ambassadors, people that come to Albania and that for the first time in their lives see themselves considered and subjected to public curiosity and attention. In their country they would just be numbers among the hundreds and millions of others. Nobody would know that they existed. In Tirana and Albania, however, they are more popular than rock stars. Here they live like in a dream. It is not surprising that some girls and women have become part of their erotic fantasies, or at least, it is not surprising that these ambassadors believe their hallucinations. "This is the Albania of Sali Berisha," they think, and it does not cross their minds that there has always been an Albania of spoilt ambassadors.

Or do they do that for the sake of the stability of the country? I do not believe they are so dull as to pass off the support they give a ruler as a contribution to stability. World history, the history of recent times in particular, has shown that precisely support for the bandits in power is the best contribution to the instability of a country. The history of post-communist Albania has proved the same thing, in 1997 in particular. The leader that enjoyed international support at that time, regardless of the fact that he was building a police state, was the same Sali Berisha.

Or do they do this because Berisha is a Balkan leader that knows only how to say okay to everything they want? Actually, Berisha is a past master in buttering up all those who in one way or another have his political future in their hands. If you leave Berisha in power, he will never create problems for you. On the contrary, he will be your tool at any time, even to the detriment of national interests. But here two explanations are necessary. First, who says that Rama would behave differently? Indeed, Rama seems to be totally indifferent to the extent of the Balkan response to his name and personality. Rama does not have a minimum of curiosity or eagerness to know what happens abroad, and when it comes to internal affairs, he will be ready just the same to call shit [kake in Albanian] a cake and a cake shit if the representatives of the international community ask it of him (and more frequently than not - the devil knows why - this is precisely what the representatives of the international community ask for). Second, Berisha is a 'yes-man' and a gentleman as long as he is allowed to make use of his power untroubled. The moment he feels that his power is being threatened, he will treat Arvizu, Sequi, or Wohlfahrt like dirt.

Another explanation for their support for Berisha is of a conspiratorial nature, and it says that Berisha has put in his pocket, Bechtel, the two Bushs, and Berlusconi, so factor B (recently another forgotten factor B turned up, former US Secretary of State Baker) that works for him. That may be one of my limitations, a limitation of my formation, but explanations of this kind escape my intelligence. I cannot accept them. I cannot make them my own.

Or should we believe that Berisha has bribed and bought the ambassadors one by one? There are not many of them. Practically there are only three: Arvizu, Sequi, and Wohlfahrt, and in this sense that would not be impossible, but the assumption is too gross, too folkloric, and too Albanian. The assumption is so vulgar that one feels ill at ease to calculate it as a variable in the equation with many solutions (or perhaps without any solution) about international support for Berisha. For myself, I would reject this explanation even if somebody were in a position to prove that the ambassadors have been bought.

There is a more credible answer I have been able to give and have heard others give to this question. The ambassadors believe that this is what Albania is all about, and this is what the Albanians are like. They know Berisha well, and the fact that the man is in power is for them just another anomaly in a country where the anomaly is the rule. Why should the ambassadors be concerned about an absurd situation in an absurd country?

I have not been able to find a more credible answer to this question: why should the western ambassadors be so mad about a madman? That is the only explanation that to a certain extent justifies them over this story. To our shame, of course.

Source: Shekulli, Tirana, in Albanian 14 Jul 11 p 9

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