On 2 October 2000, the day after Albanian elections were held, Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta faced one more battle in a press conference with a national and international audience. Attendance at the press conference was dominated by a diplomatic presence, as European and other ambassadors in Tirana were seen taking notes themselves, in effect, not trusting even their own press representatives.
Meta declared the entire electoral process a victory for Albanian democracy, marred by only a few technical defects during the voting process. The prime minister's assessment was supported in principle one day later by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Organisation for Democratic Initiatives and Human Rights (ODIHR) and representatives of the Council of Europe (CE), the entities that monitored the 1 October elections.
However, on the Opposition side, dominated by the Democratic Party (DP) and led by former Albanian president Sali Berisha, allegations were made that the voting was manipulated. In fact, Sali Berisha and the DP were threatening to not take part in the elections, having declared that the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) was biased and that they would not send a representative to sit on it. The DP even threatened it would not recognize the results of the election. Berisha and the DP claimed before and during the electoral process that some 400,000 voters—mainly DP supporters—were missing from the polling lists.
Fatos Nano, leader of the ruling Socialist Party, replied that Berisha's accusations were nonsense, but that the OSCE, the CEC and the government accepted the latest DP claim in principle and would publish a list of missing voters on the day of the elections. The Democrats, however, claimed it was a fictitious list, and according to press sources, very few of the individuals named on this added list voted, and many of the names of voters were incorrect.
Conservatives and moderates
With the latest elections, something significant has occurred deep in the Albanian electoral heart. This is probably the result of the recent success of pan-Albanian political movements and the recent adoption, by referendum, of the new Albanian Constitution, which in its preamble sanctions Albania's support of ethnic Albanian governments throughout the region.
Sali Berisha and Fatos Nano, leaders of the Democratic Party and the Socialist Party, respectively, have traditionally accused each other of ignoring the issue of national unity. In addition, Berisha and Nano have tended to personalise the political differences between their two parties, which dominate Albania politics. During the latest campaign, the personal differences between Berisha and Nano resulted in a strong political contest that concentrated on the national case and on relations between Albania and its neighbours.
Not long after Kosovo's liberation by NATO intervention, Berisha proposed an Albanian Confederation in the Balkans to assure that Albanian national rights would never again be violated by regional "anti-Albanianism." This proposal, which in fact was modified immediately by Berisha himself, caused a great deal of consternation in the region and beyond, generating fears of a possible Greater Albania movement.
Not much later, Nano, on behalf of the Stability Pact, proposed an Albanian leftist coalition in the Balkan region. Nano then declared that since leftist Albanians are part of most Balkan regional governments, they could be allied in a coalition for better co-operation between the countries in the region.
During the recent elections, Nano, while campaigning in southern Albania near the Greek and Macedonian borders, accused Berisha of viewing every Greek and Macedonian citizen as an enemy of Albania. Berisha replied that the Democratic Party sees Greece and Macedonia as necessary partners for Albania; still, he concluded by saying that "when the Democratic Party comes to power, Fatos Nano will leave the country for Thessalonica."
Berisha's DP campaign was dominated by his accusations against Nano and his ruling Socialist Party, who, he alleged, were corrupt and had sold Albanian national interests to Greece. Berisha also accused Greece of enflaming the 1997 Albanian crisis, during which Berisha was forced to leave power. In fact, the entire DP campaign in the local elections was overshadowed by Berisha's personal attitude, as he fought for a DP victory that would translate directly to the upcoming general elections. "When the DP comes to power," stated Berisha, "all the corrupt Socialist governors will be charged and their properties confiscated."
Superpowers take note
Lately, national sovereignty has become a leading issue in Albanian politics, fuelled by the belief that the interests of Albanian sovereignty movements in the region (in Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Greece) will be best served by an Albanian democratic state that supports national rights. As a result, the recent Albanian electoral campaign, unlike the earlier ones, has focussed on national issues.
Sali Berisha declared in public rallies around the country that if the DP wins the elections, resolving the land claims of Albania's Çam population will be a precondition for continued Albanian-Greek relations.
Even Socialist Prime Minister Ilir Meta, in rallies in the northern cities of Shkodra and Tropoja, referred to these cities as "bridges" between Albania and Montenegro and Albania and Kosovo, respectively. Meta accused his opponent Berisha of trying to divide Albania into north and south instead of unifying the two regions, thereby serving Milošević's strategy of creating tension within Albania.
Undeniably, these political positions disturb Albania's neighbours, among them Yugoslavia, with its precarious Kosovo situation, who fear a movement for a Greater Albania. During this last week prior to the 1 October elections, Spartak Poci, the Interior Public Order Minister, stated that his agency has information indicating that foreign secret service organisations are interested in causing unrest in Albania. "The Albanian police are on high alert for facing possible disturbances," declared Poci.
Yugoslavia and Greece are at present the neighbouring countries that have the most significant differences with a democratic Albania in terms of geopolitical and economic interests. The main Yugoslav difference with Albania is, of course, the Kosovo Albanian case, and the support that a stable democratic Albanian state could give to Kosovo.
The primary differences between Albania and Greece are concentrated on the regional transportation corridors and their immense economic potential. A main issue in this area is the multi-billion dollar Corridor 8 project that links Eastern Europe with the West. Greek experts and politicians believe that the project will pass through Greece instead of through Macedonia and Albania. In addition, Greece is disturbed by the demands of the Çam Albanian population (who established the Çamëria Association in Albania after the collapse of Communism) for the return of their expropriated lands in Greece.
It is evident that Greece, a dynamic member of the European Union, does not want to have Berisha in power in Albania, but the complicated political situation in former Yugoslavia, the fragile ethnic and political equilibrium of Macedonia, the still undecided status of Kosovo and the terribly precarious stability of Montenegro—all countries with Albanian ethnic populations—makes it difficult to have an independent nationalist power in Albania.
Politicians across the Balkans and beyond continue to express concern over demands for an independent Kosovo, fearing that the province's secession from Yugoslavia could lead to the creation of a Greater Albania, which would threaten regional stability.
To quiet such fears, officials in Tirana are attempting to reassure their foreign counterparts that they have no intention of establishing an enlarged Albanian state that would include Albania, Kosovo, and possibly parts of Macedonia, Montenegro and even Greece.
Election results and political reactions
It is clear that a possible civil war in Yugoslavia, exacerbated by other conflicts in the Balkans, especially Albanian ones, could quickly spread out of control in a region traditionally troubled by conflicting nationalisms.
Prior to last week's ousting of Slobodan Milošević, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had planned to take a diplomatic tour to meet with European foreign policyleaders for talks expected to focus on convincing the Yugoslav President to step down. According to the Reuters News Agency, when asked to describe the planned agenda of their talks, one European diplomat said, "The Balkans, the Balkans and the Balkans.''
Albright sent Robert Frowick, the Secretary of State's special envoy for the elections in Southeastern Europe, to Albania to observe the polling and electoral process. Albright also sent personal letters to the Democratic and Socialist leaders, Berisha and Nano, letters that were personally delivered by US Ambassador to Albania Joseph Limprecht. The precise content of the letters was unknown, but surely Albright's message urged understanding between the parties to prevent the possibility that the election results might not be accepted.
Frowick and Limprecht, together with Gert Ahrens, the OSCE Ambassador in Tirana, followed the voting process in the northern city of Shkodra and in the southern city of Berat. At the conclusion of their mission in Tirana, they lost no time in declaring that, beyond some technical deficiencies that would not influence the results, the whole electoral process was fair and successful.
The Central Electoral Commission, the spokesmen of the various political parties, and the media have declared a significant Socialist victory in the local election and a convincing loss for Berisha's Democratic Party. DP sources continue to denounce the manipulation of the electoral process, however.
Unlike the conservative leaders of the SP and DP, moderates in both parties, headed by former 1990 December Movement students such as former Socialist Prime Minister Pandeli Majko, current Socialist Prime Minister Ilir Meta and leader of the DP's reformist group, Genc Pollo, had very different opinions about the elections but showed no emotional bias.
The Democratic Party's Movement for Reform (DPMR), a faction not recognised by Berisha and his followers, led by moderate Genc Pollo, formerly Berisha's close colleague, has challenged Berisha's attitude to the election results. Its members called on Berisha to consider his party's loss as a natural part of democracy.
According to the DPMR, Berisha's irresponsible attitude might arouse unnecessary tensions and conflict and could provide a negative example for the upcoming elections in Kosovo. Referring to Berisha's pre-electoral statement that the election results would have personal significance for him, the DPMR considers the outcome a personal loss for Berisha, and has demanded his resignation as DP leader, concluding that the Democrats will have to make a great effort to win the upcoming general election.
Post-election media coverage has also appealed for Berisha's resignation, publishing indications of a possible political distancing of Ilir Meta's government from Fatos Nano's Socialist leadership. According to these reports, Meta is arguing that the electoral victory was due to Meta's moderate government policy and not to Nano's conservative positions.
Artur Nura, 6 October 2000
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