Books: Power to the people

Europe’s most impoverished nation took several steps backwards last year. Now a new government is practising political moderation for what will be a long climb towards prosperity.

The World Today
2 minute READ

Albania is convalexcing after the violent upheaval of the last twelve months. A short visit there towards the end of last year gave the impression that public order has been generally re-established. With two other students of Albanian affairs, I travelled overland to Tirana from Greece via Korca, Pogradec and Elbasan.

There were control points manned by armed police at the entrances and exits of the towns: traffic was being carefully scrutinised but not seriously impeded. Large quantities of weapons and ammunition remain in private hands. None of it is to be seen in public, but the level of violent crime appears to be high. The government claims that its writ runs even in the remoter highlands, but it seems likely that this is true only if authority is not asserted too positively.

The street markets selling imported goods of every sort, which were such a prominent feature last year, have disappeared. Little stalls and kiosks offering local produce in small quantities are still there; and those who have money can buy imported food products and clothes in some shops.

The towns are animated in the early evening but very quiet later. Tr a ffic is much reduced. Hotel business is at a low ebb, but the cafes are full at the popular hours.

We were received by the President, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. The centre of power is now in the offices of the Council of Ministers where Mr Fatos Nano sits as Prime Minister. Under Mr Sali Berisha the power centre was in the offic e s of the Presidency, and Mr Meksi, the Prime Minister, was clearly subordinate to the President. The President’s constitutional powers have not been changed, but the new incumbent, Mr Rexhep Mejdani, makes it clear that he accepts that it is the responsibility of the government under the Prime Minister to govern.

Transfering the culture

The Prime Minister, has a firm hold on poli c y. He seems to aspire to be an Albanian Tony Blair in internal affairs and an Albanian Willi Brandt in external affairs. Like his British counterpart he aims at transforming the political culture of his country, rescuing it from its tendency to extremism, decentralising and bringing government nearer to its people and seeking to occupy the centre ground. Somewhat like the former German Chancellor, he wants to try and achieve change and a better future for his divided nation through rapprochement with his country’s eastern neighbours.

In internal affairs Mr Nano is encountering a paradox which has become familiar in Britain under New Labour. The would-be decentraliser and opener-up of government starts by running a highly centralised machine. The Prime Minister gives the impulse: lines of control have to run from and to him. He likes to draw attention to the fact that his government is a coalition and not drawn exclusively from the Socialist party, and that while Berisha’s key men are being changed wholesale, this is not occurring at lower levels.

Satisfied with security

As regards public order, he expressed himself satisfied with the progress made so far, but he reminded us that even under Enver Hoxha’s draconian regime, in the early postwar period, it was many years before all the weapons which every Albanian held were removed from circulation.

First for fifty years

At the time of our visit a major topic of conversation was Mr Fatos Nano’s talks with Mr Slobodan Milosevic at the summit meeting of leaders of south-east European countries at Crete in November. Such a meeting between Albanian and Yugoslav leaders had not taken place for 50 years.

Former President Sali Berisha denounced the get together as a national disgrace, and Kosovar leaders said or implied that it was a mistake. Mr Nano and his Foreign Minister, Mr Paskal Milo, insist that force and conflict will not solve the Kosovo problem. They say that metropolitan Albania, while supporting the Kosovars, cannot take the lead in trying to determine their future, that the initiative has to lie with the Kosovars, and that it is normal and right for the Albanian government to discuss matters of mutual interest with the governments of neighbouring states: the rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and the FYROM (Macedonia).

This brings the posture of the Albanian government closer to that of the European Union powers and the United States than to that hitherto adopted by the Messrs Rugova and Bukoshi and other political figures in Kosovo, who have for several years been committed to asserting its claim to independence in defiance of the occupying Serbian military and police forces.

The Kosovar leaders have been briefed in Tirana about the attitude which the Albanian government is adopting. They do not want an open disagreement, but there can be no doubt that they find the new posture hard to accept.

When Chancellor Willi Brandt sought change for Germany through rapprochement with the east he had the western powers behind him. In the Soviet Union he had a formidable power in front of him. Mr Nano.