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Albanian Imlosion



The Role of the Individual

By keeping within the subject matter of the art of government, I will return to my recollections of early 1994, which shed light on the role of the individual in the leadership of the country.

In early January 1994, we were informed that President Berisha would be making an official visit in London. That was his first important trip to a Western country. The Cabinet of the President was in continuous contact with the Embassy in London about every item of the programme, the issues that would be discussed with the host and the agreements that would be signed.

In addition to instructions from Fatos Beja, the President would often telephone to enquire about the latest changes and suggest more meetings.

I am mentioning these details in order to point out how carefully and seriously he studied each single detail of this visit, and to show him in contrast to some high-ranking DP members in government.

I am sorry to point out that there were many who did not learn that the art of government is hard and gruelling work.

I am returning to that period in March 1994 in order to draw a comparison between the quality of the visit by the Albanian president and that of the president of another country which took pace at the same time in London.

Amongst other items in the programme of the visit, such as the meeting with Prime Minister John Major, the courtesy call to The Queen, the President was working hard on two main events: his speeches at the Chatham House and at the Centre Point.

In both cases, his speeches were expected to convey a core message which Albania sent to the United Kingdom and the world at large. He was fully aware of this and he worked to the last minute before the conferences, touching up a paragraph, cutting out another, putting a different edge to a phrase.

Berisha, with his impetuous flow of steady English, had the full attention of the audiences at Chatham House and Centre Point. Just as the speeches were strong due to the clear messages and a vision for the country they conveyed, so his answers were short and to the point, put with energy and a manner which reflected conviction, strong will and determination for success.

I was present in both cases and had an opportunity to watch the reaction of the audiences. I can say that the audiences in the question sessions were kind on Berisha. Many questions were asked but none with a bite. Berisha had established a direct relationship with the audience. He had won them over.

A few days after the visit I met an acquaintance. He had heard Berisha at Chatham House. His daughter had heard the president of the other country one hour before Berisha.

The comments of the daughter as her father reported them to me: "Berisha shook us awake." I must add that I was there when he dictated his speeches, returning to them time after time, asking for the right word, sometimes suggesting a word he wanted to highlight, asking for the correct pronunciation of a word when he was not sure.

One year later, I was at Chatham House to hear the Rumanian President, Iliescu. At the entrance there was group of people carrying placards with the words: "Iliescu - Killer with a Smile." The Rumanian President had been warned in advance of this and it appears he decided to skip the half hour reception with the diplomats, which is a rule with Chatham House. He walked straight into the conference room and after he was introduced to the audience, he started reading his speech in English. He read with a French accent, which is slightly unpleasant not to say offensive to the ear of an Englishman. Half way through the half-hour presentation, the audience began to get restless. During the questions session there were clear signs of irritation in the floor. A number of questions were obviously meant to upset the president. There was a moment when a few claps greeted a "vicious" question about the role of the miners in the Bucharest unrest. Clapping is not in order when the conference is in progress.


London has seen many Albanian visitors from the governing Party and the opposition parties. Since I devote these pages to the DP, I will consider only the former group. I may deal with the opposition Party visitors at some later stage.

I would say without hesitation that most of them came unprepared for their visits. Very frequently they did not even bother to warn the embassy of their arrival, or when they did it was just to get the embassy to collect them from Heathrow or Gatwick, or worse still to get the embassy staff to show them round London and indicated the best shopping streets. This category of people cannot help Albania get along and succeed in the uphill struggle against poverty and the communist resistance.

At this point I will dwell on the visit of Mr. Alfred Serreqi, Minister for Foreign Affairs 1992-1996.

Mr. Serreqi came to London in early December 1995 to participate in the Bosnian Peace Conference at Lancaster House, called by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

I have a rule I've learned from experience: never judge a man before you've seen him at work.

I watched carefully to see how Serreqi worked during this difficult conference, in which most of the decisions which were applauded at the conference room, were already taken in the corridors of the Lancaster House. One had to keep his eyes peeled and ears open, one had to be very alert and sharp in order to understand what the general phrases about Bosnia meant. Serreqi did not lack acumen and his alert mind picked up every "insignificant" signal, put the pieces of the jigsaw together quickly and tried to get to the bottom of the clashing undercurrents.

At one of the sessions of the second day the head of delegation of a "small" European country raised the issue of the French pilots held by the Bosnian Serbs, more delegates followed suite. To me it looked like a side issue compared with the debate on Civilian Annex of the Dayton Agreement.

Serreqi heard the comment about the French pilots and turned to me: - Something is up. Get around and see if you can find a lead, some hint or anything as to what all this fuss about the French pilots means. Look for your Bosnian friends. I see that someone is trying to divert attention to a side issue and smother the debate on the more difficult problems. Apparently someone is using a number of delegates to do his job for him.

I was still waiting to hear from the organisers of the Conference whether Serreqi's name was included in the list of speakers in the human rights session, and I was wary that the organisers might just keep his name out of the list. The host and some of the delegates were not too keen to hear the Kosova issue at this conference. Serreqi was aware of this.

I left to find out about the fuss over the French pilots, while Serreqi was still making broad corrections on the margins of his speech and listened at the same time.

He arrived in London directly from the Budapest conference where he had raised more or less the same issues, but things were changing fast and he had to see which way the wind was blowing.

When I returned to the conference room he handed me the speech with his final corrections and additions and said: - Copy it and, if you make any changes, let me know before you distribute it.

By that time I was assured that Serreqi's name was in the list and due to speak in the afternoon session.

I had three hours to type and multiply the speech. I left the counsellor behind and hastened to the Embassy, two hundred yards from the Lancaster House as the crow flies.

We were just a team of two in the Embassy and I had made a rule to do all the secretarial work myself. I felt safe that way.

Two days of conference work were more than I could put up with. For Serreqi it was his normal work load. The conference ended at three o'clock in the afternoon and we had three hours before Serreqi his flight was due to Vienna.

I took him to the Embassy to show him how we had managed with the small budged we got. He looked around, make a few remarks. Then, before sitting down to talk, I asked him whether he would have a drink. I knew he had had an operation and I did not want to tempt him. He said he needed one and we settled for the milder gin and tonic.

In the three years since I met him first, this was the first time I had an opportunity to talk with him at some length. I had heard people in the Ministry grumble and complain about his uneasy character. Complaints increased especially since his return to the Ministry after he was operated on. He explained things calmly. As he talked I could detect a slight sadness in his otherwise firm tone. I knew he could not tolerate cheats and I had nothing against it.

All in all, I am a better man for having known him and worked with him.

After the 1996 general elections Serreqi was removed from his post.


July 1991

A distant relative of mine, who is now living and doing his university studies in Canada, came to Zef and me one day with a request: a Canadian writer of social affairs, Stan Persky, had read the articles about Albanian politics by Paul Koring, a Globe and Mail” journalist based in London. Persky, with his roots in Russia, had an interest in the Eastern Bloc. He asked Mr. Koring and my relative to help arrange a few appointments.

He came duly and we met in the evening at the foot of the equestrian statue of Skanderbeg and next morning at the Publishing House. He struck me as awkward and odd at first, but as the conversation extended to areas of our particular interest, that is, the world of letters and learning, I found him to be genuinely interested in the inner life of the people like Zef and myself, who were caught in the maelstrom of a major social upheaval.

We had arranged an appointment for him with Mr. Azem Hajdari at the old DP headquarters down the Kavaja Road. He taped the interview as Zef and I took turns with interpreting.

Towards the end of the interview, which was often interrupted by various people walking straight into the office and many telephone calls, there was one particular call from Tropoja that spoke of the tru character of Mr. Hajdari.

After replacing the telephone handset, Hajdari wiped the sweat of his face and said in a rather shaky voice:

One of my nephews was shot dead this morning, - his eyes brimming with tears, which he could not hold back. He had a long pause and then: - Up there, in my village, there is my family cemetery. It is the largest of the region. If you read the grave-stones you’ll find out that most of my ancestors died young. Nearly all the males were shot in ambushes or in battles. Now it has started again. One day it might well be me. But no amount of killing can change anything with me and my own. We understand from first hand experience the expression: In the midst of life, we are in death.


September 1997

A corridor in the Albanian People’s Assembly. Four pistol shots rang. Azem Hajdari went down covered in blood. He knew what he was saying in 1991. Fortunately for his young wife and the little children, his life was spared.


In the summer of 1996 the government concentrated wholly on limiting the damage of a campaign launched by the left front (the socialists and their allies) to call in question the election results. ODIHR's condemnatory report on the Albanian elections had worked the way the socialists and their allies had wanted and many governments in the West were in a difficult position with regard to the legitimacy of the elections.

In these circumstances, the democratic government decided to counter the socialist campaign by intensive contacts with the Western governments in order to explain where the ODIHR report was wrong. Among other things, the plan of the DP was concentrated on exposing the fallacity of the claims of irregularity reported by a number of ODIHR observers. The main thurst against the credibility of ODIHR report was that some members of its team of observers were friendly to the Albanian Party of Labour and the SP. Indeed, allegations were made that a number of them had even spied on behalf of the Albanian communists during the Hoxha dictatorship.

The whole exercise to neutralise the effect of the ODIHR report was difficult and time-consuming. It was a drain on the energies and resources of the government and the DP. In the long run, the OSCE insisted on the validity of the ODIHR report. The OSCE-Albania relations were strained and soured and remained so even though contacts continued on an official basis.

There was nothing wrong for the DP to emphasise the socialist leanings of some of the ODIHR observers. But to base the whole strategy for the defence of the validity of elections on this only point, made the position of the DP untenable in the eyes of the socialists in the Western world, which with the exception of Spain and Germany was fast becoming leftist.

It is true that problems had developed between the DP and OSCE all along, and not just in the May 1996 elections. It is true also that the DP election HQ did not seem to have got the election campaign on the right track and many of its staff were not up to their duties, and often were too much preoccupied with winning the elections at all costs and not with what the observers would report.

The local and foreign media seized on the rumours about irregularities, intimidation, and vote-rigging which added credibility to the ODIHR reports and caused a huge damage to the DP.

During the election campaign many foreign correspondents and reporters were present in Albania and some of them witnessed what they reported back to their centres. The DP seems to have overlooked the importance of the foreign press, tv. and radio reports. Correspondents arrived at Rinas Airport in large numbers. The DP headquarters apparently did not have enough men and means to organise their reception at Rinas, to assist with accommodation and to show them around the country. The SP grasped immediately this gap in the DP election campaign plan and built on it to its great advantage. Reporters from prestigious western press were monopolised by the SP and were shown what the socialists wanted them to see.


On the eve of the three-week long campaign of parliamentary elections I had been informed that a number of British journalists were due in Tirana to watch both the campaign and the elections.

DP election HQ knew of the arrival of journalists from some of the most influential and widely red newspapers in London. The election HQ had been warned in advance about the quality of the journalists and the importance of assisting them to do their job as well as it would be done in our conditions.

It was in the interest of the DP to oblige.

A few days later, when I called Tirana to find out how they were doing with the British journalists, I learned to my amazement that the journalists were with the SP election HQ, touring the country in chauffeur-driven limousines, staying at the best hotels and taken to all the socialist rallies.

I tried to find out why the best journalists had ended up with the socialists, The answer was: "We had no time. We were busy running the campaign," as if working with the foreign press was not part of the campaign.


It struck me as unusual that the DP would keep repeating allegations against ODIHR's biased reports, and trying to pick holes in what they said, which did not convince the socialist governments in Europe. It struck me as strange that the DP did not put enough emphasis on the fact that the validity of the general elections to the People's Assembly would be put to the test soon, in the local elections due in October 1996.

Even when the interlocutors of the DP in the West offered them a chance to build their strategy on a different ground, i. e. on a half-acceptance of some irregularities in the parliamentary elections and the commitment that the local elections would be held according to higher standards, with due regard for the Western rules of democracy, I was surprised to hear the kind of response that the DP representatives were able to give.

When the Western government were making it clear that they would accept a kind of apology for some irregularities and especially for the beating of the opposition leaders two days after the election victory, the envoys of the DP misread the message.

Blaming the adverse reports on election results, reviling ODIHR observers as lackeys of the Albanian communist-socialists certainly would not help improve the position of the DP in the democratic world, in which political fair play, or a semblance of fair play, is important.

Accusing some ODIHR observers as spies in the pay-roll of the Albanian communist-socialists in the presence of Western socialist ministers was unwise, un-diplomatic, and un-statesmanlike, to say the least. There was no political logic, no foresight in all this.

OSCE-ODIHR condemnatory reports had reached every desk officer, every cabinet minister in the West. Ministers were fully briefed about the election results and irregularities. They had heard about how the Albanian police beat opposition leaders in broad daylight in the main square of Tirana. And they had formed their own opinion about the validity of the Albanian parliamentary elections.

To attack ODIHR in the home of the very people who had set it up as a democratic institution was adding insult to injury. The DP envoys did what they did without thinking that they hurt the people they were speaking with.

Local elections were due in October. As is the practice with the new emerging democracies, elections, whether for the parliament or for local administration, are hotly contested on a political ground.

The DP candidates won with a comfortable margin again. The results in percentage points turned out to be exactly the same as in the elections to the People's Assembly. Even then the DP had to work hard for nearly six months after the general elections and one month after the local elections in order to establish the legitimacy of the new parliament.

As later events showed, though, the new Parliament was short-lived. It struggled on in a bad shape until it was dissolved in May 1997. The DP reputation was badly frayed and not just in the edges. The opposition continued to refuse to recognise the election results and did not take its seats in Parliament until Berisha agreed under extreme pressure to call fresh general elections.

The Albanian State - a Vicious Circle

In a civilised society the State has definite duties towards the people and the country. The duties of the State are defined by law.

When the victorious partisans descended in the capital in 1944, the first thing they were ordered to do was to make a clean sweep of the administration and the civil service. After all, the purpose of the National Liberation War was to overthrow the old regime.

The administration was replaced from top to bottom. The partisan fighters, without abandoning their rifles, took up the pencil as well. At that time the only training they had, if any, were the short Party courses. The "reform" did not spare the army, either. Army officers, trained in military academies in Italy and elsewhere, were dismissed as unreliable. They were no good in the eyes of the new government. Civil engineers were eyed with suspicion and labelled as "bourgeois" by the new administration.

Under the communist dictatorship the State was expressly defined as a means in the hands of the vanguard Party of the working class, which is a Leninist definition of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In that situation, the only existing party in the country made the decisions and allowed the People's Assembly to endorse them and transform them into law, and ordered the government to act upon them. The system was strictly controlled through the various instruments in the hands of the Party.

The superfluity of the endorsement of the party policies in the People's Assembly was obvious in the results of the vote - a steady 100% in favour, which reduced the law-making body of the country into a mere records' office of the party directives. The executive in the country was just as superfluous, as far as the notion of this body and institution goes.

In 1968 the former partisan fighters, now office employees, posed a "threat" to the purity of the Party line in the government. Therefore the Party devised the system of rotation of cadres from a party office to a government office on a regular five-year term basis in order to ensure full control of what the government did. In a final move to establish absolute party control of everything that mattered in the life of the country, workers and farmers were drawn into government and state offices in order to "democratise" the system, to combat red-tape and to purge the country's state machine of murky bureaucrats.

The blue-collar worker and farmer turned white-collar worker thus found himself in a work environment which was strange to him. The experts and technocrats were either thrown out of office and ordered to take up blue-collar work, or were allowed to carry on under the supervision of the "new blood" from the working class (workers and peasants). The quality of service in the state offices went from bad to worse, but the party was not preoccupied with it. As long as it was in control the party leadership did not have to worry.

In addition to this, the party leader "discovered" anti-party groups within its own ranks regularly every five or six years. By this method Enver Hoxha was able to maintain the rest of the Party under absolute control through terror in the rank and file and in the leadership.

The next major shake up in the administration of the country came after the DP victory in the 1992 elections. The office workers of the old system, who were selected on a party-allegiance basis, were not capable of carrying our the reform policy and most of them either left their positions or were dismissed and replaced with "new blood" from the ranks of the victorious party.

The country did not have a civil service collage or any facilities to train civil servants. Therefore, the administration of the country became by and large the responsibility of unqualified people. Despite the efforts of the democratic government to set up short training courses and retrain the old civil servants who remained in office work, the results took time to show and the quality of service suffered as a consequence.

The latest shake-up in the administration of the country came with the armed revolution-rebellion-anarchy of spring 1997. The victorious socialist forces went over the same practice again. The DP supporters were instantly replaced with the new victors, with those who had contributed to the demise of their political opponents. The SP was eager to reward its "revolutionary" brothers and allies. Army officers who had been trained in foreign military academies since 1992 were replaced by the old caste of the party-faithful, the "army cadres" of the old regime.

In the span of fifty years the state administration has been completely revamped three times over and the country is none the better for it. If the pattern keeps repeating itself in this way in the future the country is bound to suffer irreparable damage. The Albanian State seems to be chasing its own tail in an endless useless and exercise.