Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Albania's civil liberties rating improved from 4 to 3 due to continuing normalization after the civil unrest and violence of 1997.
Albania experienced some political turmoil in 2002, going through three prime ministers during the course of the year, as well as switching presidents. On the more positive side, in June the Union for Victory parliamentary coalition, led by former president Dr. Sali Berisha's Democratic Party (DP), ended its boycott of parliament, bringing the legislature to its full complement, and Albanian political leaders were finally able to agree on a compromise candidate to become the country's new president.
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 DP, led by Dr. Berisha, to power. Continuing poverty and corruption, however, weakened Berisha's government, and in 1997 the collapse of several pyramid investment schemes caused much of Albania's population to lose their life savings and nearly resulted in civil war.
In the years since the 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 approaches.
Albania's first parliamentary elections since 1997 were held over four rounds between June and August 2001. Although international monitoring groups admitted that there were "serious flaws" in the election process, the polls were nevertheless deemed valid. Socialists now hold 73 out of 140 seats in parliament, as against 46 by the opposition, the DP-led Union for Victory coalition. Berisha's DP announced a boycott of parliament in protest against electoral irregularities, and did not return to parliament until January 2002.
Albania's political scene remains turbulent, which was shown by the considerable political reshufflings that took place during the course of 2002. Prime Minister Ilir Meta was forced to resign in January and was replaced by former prime minister Pandeli Majko. In July, however, Majko himself was replaced by the leader of the SP, Fatos Nano. In June, a potential political crisis looming over the country since September 2001 was finally resolved when the DP and the SP agreed on a new president for the country, retired general Alfred Moisiu.
The country's dismal economic situation showed little improvement in 2002, with official unemployment figures averaging 14.4 percent and an estimated one out of every three Albanians living below the poverty line. Although Albania was invited to open negotiations with the EU on a Stabilization and Association Agreement in October, realistic analyses of the country's situation suggested that it has far to go join European integration efforts.
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, and the country likewise has several active trade unions and independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). There were no significant reports of governmental harassment of either foreign or domestic NGOs in 2002. Academic freedom, however, is considered limited. There are no reported political prisoners in the country.
The Albanian constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Overall, however, the judiciary (along with law enforcement agencies) remains 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. In June, the government drafted what observers hailed as an important piece of legislation to combat official corruption--a new bill setting up an oversight committee in parliament to investigate the property holdings of some 5000 mid- and high-level government officials. A recent survey by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) found Albania to be the most corrupt country of any in the region, and a World Bank study released in 2002 claimed that Albania provided "a startling picture of systemic corruption . . . [that] is deeply institutionalized."
The Albanian constitution provides for freedom of religion and religious practice, and on the whole Albania has not been the victim of the interreligious tensions typical of its neighbors. Albanian Orthodox Church officials complained about provocations and vandalism of church property directed towards their congregations in 2002, but they attributed the incidents to weak state authority more than to religious persecution. There have also been reports of a rise in interreligious tensions (involving Roman Catholics and Muslims) in northern Albania. 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. The restitution of church properties confiscated during the Communist period remains unresolved.
Freedom of the press has shown marked improvement since the fall of communism, but considerable harassment of journalists persists. A report issued in 2002 stated that journalists in Albania risk harassment, physical assault, and criminal charges for defamation if they report critically on public officials or the police.
The Albanian constitution 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. Traditional patriarchal social mores, moreover, pose significant problems for the position of women in Albania. Many segments of Albanian society, particularly in northern Albania, still abide by a medieval moral code according to which women are considered chattel property and may be treated as such.
The trafficking of women and girls remains a significant problem; according to some estimates, up to 30,000 Albanian women (a figure representing almost one percent of the population) are working as prostitutes in Western Europe. Nevertheless, in June the U.S. State Department promoted Albania to "tier-two" status, implying that the country had made sufficient efforts to combat trafficking in humans to bring itself into compliance with international standards, although the U.S. government has threatened to impose sanctions on Albania if trafficking persists at current levels.
Widespread lawlessness plagues large parts of Albania, especially its mountainous north. Weak state institutions have increased the power of international criminal syndicates, 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. The weakness of state institutions in northern Albania has also resulted in the resurgence of traditional tribal law in these areas, most importantly the tradition of blood feuds between different families and clans. Up to 2,000 children belonging to rival families engaged in blood feuds are being kept inside their homes for fear of them becoming targets of revenge killings.