Freedom in the World
You are here
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Albania's political rights rating improved from 4 to 3, and its civil liberties rating improved from 5 to 4, due to slow progress toward stabilization and improved parliamentary elections during the summer
From World War II until 1990, former dictator Enver Hoxha's xenophobic Communist regime turned Albania into the most isolated country in Europe. In 1990, however, the Communist regime collapsed, and in March 1992, multiparty elections brought the Democratic Party (DP), led by Dr. Sali Berisha, to power. Berisha's government, however, was plagued by corruption, and Berisha quickly assumed autocratic ways of dealing with criticism. The collapse of several pyramid investment schemes in early 1997 caused much of Albania's population to lose their life savings and nearly resulted in civil war.
In the years since the civil unrest of 1997, during which Albania has been ruled by the Socialist Party (SP), the central government in Tirana has been unable to reimpose meaningful control over much of Berisha's stronghold in northern Albania.
Although a number of small parties run in elections, the most important political organizations are the DP and the SP. The differences between them, however, are more a matter of the personalities leading the parties than of serious programmatic or ideological differences between the two.
Albania's first parliamentary elections since 1997 were held over four rounds in June and July. Although the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) found the first round to be generally "free and fair," the subsequent three rounds were increasingly problematic, as allegations of fraud in the electoral process increased. Berisha's DP announced a boycott of parliament in protest. The OSCE admitted that there were "serious flaws" in the election process but still said that the 2001 polls showed progress in comparison with the previous election held amidst the anarchy of 1997. Socialists now hold 73 out of 140 seats in parliament, as against 46 from the opposition Union for Victory coalition, led by the DP.
Albania's political scene remains significantly polarized. Splits appear on the horizon in both major parties. In the DP, party members disaffected with Berisha's erratic leadership have formed a splinter party, the New Democratic Party, which has become the third largest party in the country. Moreover, the dimensions of the SP's victory over Berisha's coalition suggest that Berisha's best days are behind him. For the SP, a power struggle between current Prime Minister Ilir Meta and party chairman Fatos Nano threatens to divide that party as well.
Continuing problems plaguing the country are organized crime, trafficking of drugs and women, and official corruption. Berisha's control of districts in northern Albania adjoining Kosovo means that the region has remained an area where such activities remain strong.
Prime Minister Ilir Meta's government has received significant international support. One example of such confidence was the European Union's invitation to Albania to begin negotiations with the EU on an Association and Stabilization Agreement. Meta's government was also given high marks for maintaining a moderate stance during the civil unrest in neighboring Macedonia.
The Albanian constitution guarantees citizens freedom of association, freedom of movement, freedom of the press, and freedom of expression. On the whole, these rights are respected, but significant problems remain. Several political parties exist and compete for power. Albania also has several active trade unions, the most prominent of which are the Confederation of Trade Unions of Albania, with some 280,000 members, and the Confederation of Unions, which is affiliated with the SP. There were no significant reports of governmental harassment of either foreign or domestic nongovernmental organizations in 2001. Academic freedom, however, is considered limited.
The Albanian constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Overall, however, international observers still believe that the judiciary in Albania is inefficient and prone to corruption, and judges are often inexperienced and untrained. The combination of a weak economy and the growth of powerful organized crime syndicates makes judges susceptible to bribery and intimidation. Police corruption is also considered widespread. For instance, in 2000 alone more than 190 police officers were removed from their positions because of alleged incompetence, lack of discipline, or violations of the law. There are no reported political prisoners in the country.
In an important ruling on the balance of power between judicial and executive authorities, in May the parliament failed to produce a two-thirds majority needed to remove three judges from their positions. The judges had been accused of involvement in a scandal involving the release of a suspected drug dealer. Despite the nature of the accusations, the parliament's unwillingness to remove the judges was seen by some observers as a victory for constitutional procedure.
The Albanian constitution provides for freedom of religion and religious practice. Although much of Albanian society became secularized during the Communist period, approximately 70 percent of the population is nominally Muslim, 20 percent is Roman Catholic, and 10 percent Orthodox Christian. The Albanian Evangelical Alliance, an association of more than 100 churches in the country, has complained that the government has been creating various administrative difficulties in the churches' attempts to get legally registered. The government still has not fully resolved the issue of restitution of church properties confiscated during the Communist period. Albania's small Greek Orthodox minority (approximately 3 percent of the population, concentrated in southern Albania) has intermittently been subjected to various forms of discrimination.
Freedom of the press is also generally respected, and there are few direct attacks on the media. Most media outlets, however, are directly linked to certain political or business groups, which compromises their reporting. The state television and radio network, Radio Televize Shqiptare (RTSH), and the official state news agency, the Albanian Telegraphic Agency (ATA), are both considered excessively progovernment.
Traditional patriarchal social mores pose significant problems for the position of women in Albania. Many segments of Albanian society, particularly in the mountains of northeastern Albania, still abide by a medieval moral code according to which women are considered chattel property and may be treated as such. There are frequent reports from these areas of the kidnapping of young women to serve as brides. The Albanian constitution, however, places no legal impediments to women's role in politics and society, although women are vastly underrepresented in most governmental institutions. The Albanian labor code mandates that women are entitled to equal pay for equal work, but data are lacking on whether this is respected in practice. The trafficking of women and girls for the purposes of prostitution remains a significant problem.
Widespread lawlessness plagues large parts of Albania. Since 1997, more than 100 policemen have been killed in a country with a population half the size of New York City. The weakness of state institutions has allowed international criminal syndicates to operate with relative ease in Albania, and international law enforcement officials claim that Albania has become an increasingly important transshipment point for drug smugglers moving opiates, hashish, and cannabis from southwest Asia to Western Europe and the United States. Northern Albania is especially unstable owing to a variety of factors, including the fact that it is Berisha's home base and that the Kosovo Liberation Army has a presence in the region, which effectively prevents legitimate state institutions from establishing their authority there.
Another problem is the persistence of blood feuds between different families and clans. Recent reports suggest up to 2,000 children are being kept inside their homes for fear of revenge killings by rival families engaged in blood feuds.