Runoff elections fair but "less transparent"
Only 41 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the Sunday 15 October local runoff elections after the Democratic Party (DP) called for its members, candidates and commissioners to boycott the poll.
Data made public by DP sources claimed that 87 percent of DP candidates and local commissioners did not participate in the runoff, while the DP's Reform Group faction claimed that only 20 percent had honored the boycott. The DP has declared that it recognizes the results only in electoral zones that had not been manipulated by the Socialist Party.
Eugenio Polizzi, chief of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) election-monitoring mission, said that the electoral process had, as a whole, demonstrated that Albania has made progress toward democracy. Polizzi did say, however, that the 15 October runoff was "less transparent and inclusive" than the earlier 1 October poll.
One of the election's more interesting controversies centered around allegations that Greek activists had brought 40 busses of Albanian emigrants living in Greece back to vote in favour of the Greek minority candidate running in Himara. Polizzi said that the ODIHR had reported a group of Greek parliamentarians as having been in Himara during the runoff, but said none of them were observed trying to enter polling stations.
Polizzi said the Himara case had marred the end of an otherwise successful process, noting: "Nationalism is a notorious thing in Balkans and Albanians are the last to want to share."
Figures released by the political parties indicate that the Socialist Party won handily even in central Albania.
Himara case sparks international flap
Sources claim that the Socialist Party won an easy electoral victory in Himara municipality, but the course of the election there sparked an international flap this week.
A group of Greek parliamentarians in Himara is alleged to have visited polling stations on election day, and is said to have distributed propaganda supporting Omonia, a Greek minority rights association, and the Union Party of Human Rights, a similar Greek initiative.
The parliamentarians did not obtain the Central Election Commission (CEC) or Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) permission for the visit, as demanded under Albanian electoral law.
Government sources claim Athens and Tirana exchanged diplomatic notes over the Himara case, prompting senior Greek officials to publicly warn Tirana to mind its treatment of the Greek minority. The Macedonian Press Agency reported that the Greek defence minister compared the situation of the Greek minority in Himara with that of Kosovar Albanians a year ago.
Albanian analysts have called the Greek claims "nonsense," pointing out that the demography of southern Albania gives lie to the assertions that Greek Albanians are being persecuted or ethnically cleansed.
Government officials in Tirana responded to Greek assertions by claiming that the Himara flap was the result of an "emotional reaction" by a handful of local officials on both sides of the border and, as such, does not represent the official positions of either the Greek or Albanian governments. Tirana said bilateral relations are very strong and will continue to be so.
Local media, however, reported that in the wake of the Himara controversy, Greek security forces have stepped-up operations to expel Albanian emigrants in Greece. The Greek embassy in Tirana, they claim, is taking a similar hard-line in relations with Albania.
Meta attends Stability Pact Economic Table
Prime Minister Ilir Meta was in Istanbul this week for a meeting of the Stability Pact Economic Table. Meta sought support for more investment and infrastructure projects to help lower unemployment and hasten the nation's economic recovery.
Meta met with Bulent Ecevit, his Turkish counterpart, on Thursday 19 October. The two Prime Ministers later held a lively, well-attended press conference. Ecevit told the media that the USD 10 million in loans Turkey's Eksi Bank has extended to Albanian businesses would be followed by new projects.
Prime Minister Meta also met with Turkish military chief Hussein Kivrikoglu to discuss bilateral cooperation issues.
Milo in Kosovo
Foreign Minister Paskal Milo was in Kosovo last Thursday, telling reporters at Priština's airport: "I came here to [once again] strengthen our contacts and to exchange ideas with Kosovo's Albanian community in light of the recent developments in Serbia and in the regional security situation."
Milo had also met with Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) President and former Kosova Liberation Army (UÇK) leader Hashim Thaçi. Following the meeting, Milo said, "it is important that Albanian political groups in the region cooperate and work toward a common approach on issues in which they have common interests."
The Turkish Navy called at the port of Durrës this week, bringing new supplies for NATO forces stationed in Albania. Senior Albanian Defence Ministry officials were apparently present in Durrës to witness the deliveries, which they said were routine supplies.
Albanian forces have participated in a number of joint exercises with NATO troops, and the Alliance praised Tirana for its stalwart support of NATO during last year's bombing campaign in Serbia.
Defence Minister Ilir Gjoni recently announced his ministry is launching a major restructuring and re-equipping program designed to bring the Albanian Standing Army in line with NATO standards.
Tirana media this week quoted Finance Ministry sources as saying that the Albanian Financial Bourse (AFB) is to be privatised this year. The AFB was founded in 1996, and its financial activities have been fundamental to the success of the Albanian National Bank's programs.
The same sources claim the government recently decided to transfer the National Trade Bank (NTB)'s shares in the Albanian-Italian Bank (AIB) to the Finance Ministry.
Albanian brain drain
As much as 41 percent of Albanian intellectuals graduated from university degree programs have emigrated over the past 10 years. The results were presented at a seminar on the consequences of the emigration of the Albanian élite by the Center for the Study of Refugees.
Similarly, the Social and Economic Studies Center has found that, in the 31 to 40 year-old age range, approximately 50 percent of Albanian intellectuals have left the country, of which 32 percent were women and 67 percent men.
Editor's Note: Last week, we reported "40 busses of Albania-born Greeks who had emigrated to Greece were said to have been sent to Himara to cast their ballots in support of the Greek minority candidate for the municipality."
The 40 busses of "Albania-born Greeks" were, in fact, Albanian immigrants to Greece who were not legalized immigrants and thus susceptible to pressure to return and cast their ballots for the Greek candidate in Himara.
The error was introduced in the editing process. Our apologies for any confusion this may have created.
Artur Nura, 21 October 2000
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