By David Philips*/
Leaders are judged by their performance,their plans, and theircharacter. This article provides analysis of Albania’s political and economic development, based on my experience working on Albanian issues for more than 25 years.
It assesses the quality of Albania’s current leadership, drawing on my impressions of Dr. Sali Berisha,Chairman of the Democratic Party,whom I first met in 1991. In writing this article, I have tried to take a step back and see the big picture giving historical context to Albania’s current challenges.
Dr. Berisha participated in the democratic movement that overthrew Ramiz Alia, ending one of the world’s worst dictatorships. He helped free Albanians from fear that paralyzed society during the paranoid and tyrannical reign of Enver Hoxha.
Overthrowing Communism was an event. However, removing Hoxha’s legacy of state-sponsored terror has been a process, which requires the transformation of Albanian society. Dr. Berisha has been a change-agent for more than two decades. He and other Albanians celebrated 20 years of freedom and democracy on March 22,2012.
Once ostracized by the West,Albania has been integrated into Euro-Atlantic institutions. In April 2009, Albania became a member of NATO. It was an historic occasion, which was the culmination of great efforts over many years.
Defense and security sector reforms, as well hard-fought democratic and institutional reforms were required for Albania to join the Alliance.
Albania is also making progress with its Euro-Atlantic integration.
I never cease to be amazed that the EU approved visa liberalization for Albanian passport holders in December 2010. Once the pariahs of Europe, Albanians now travel freely in Shengen countries. Albania is also moving towards EU membership.
The European Commission recommended a 12-step plan in 2009 then, validating Albania’s progress, the Commission recommended EU candidate status for Albania in October 2012.
Candidacy would not have happened if Dr. Berisha had not been willing to work with the opposition.
Showing flexibility and compromise,he forged agreement with Edi Rama and the Socialist Party on constitutional changes. The Democratic Party also forged a coalition with the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI).
Economic growth and Foreign Direct Investment have continued despite the recent global economic crisis. For 4 years in a row, Albania’s GDP growth was greater than any other country in Europe. Infrastructure has been built, including construction of the Kërrabë tunnel and hundreds of kilometers of new roads. Living standards are rising. Social services have expanded with the construction of 1,300 new schools. For sure, moremust be done to fight corruption and cronyism.
Albania celebrated 100 years of independence on November 28, 2012. Its entennial was attended by citizens and world leaders. Albania has gained significant influence in the region. It was pivotal, for example, stewarding Kosova’s path to independence that culminated in its coordinated declaration of independence in 2009.
Albania has unfinished business. Dr. Berisha is committed to political dialogue addressing the final hurdles to EU membership,including judicial and public administration reforms, as well as revised parliamentary rules and procedures.
Parliamentary elections will be a crucial test for the smooth functioning of the country’s democratic institutions. Dedicated to free and fair elections, the government has invited domestic and international monitors. Dr. Berisha insists that he will accept election results, which reflect the will of the people.
The Democratic Party’s platform includes plans for additional infrastructure. It pledges to invest $16 billion to create 250,000 new jobs over the next 4 years. It plans to increase salaries; raise pensions; and reform the labor market, transforming unemployment benefits into employment incentives.“Obligatory insurance of medical care” is planned for all citizens.
I have known Dr. Sali Berisha for nearly 25 years. So I feel qualified to say something about his character.
The 1997 pyramid collapse occurred on his watch. But Dr.Berisha did not shirk responsibility.
Rather, he struggled to stabilize Albania during the crisis, then negotiated,
then stepped aside, arrangingthe peaceful transfer of power to the Socialist Party. He is one of the few politicians who learned from his mistakes and emerged both a better leader and human being.
Dr. Berisha’s critics accuse him of being more devoted to power than public service. Opponents say he is vindictive and holds a grudge.
The man I know uses power with a purpose. He loves Albania and is devoted to Albanians. He is a conciliator, as evidenced by his cooperation with former opponents like Mr. Edward Selami and Mr.Dashamir Shehi Albania is at a historic crossroads on its path to European integration.
More than a passionate patriot, Dr. Berisha has the character and leadership to help Albania fulfill its destiny as a respected partner of the international community.
(*Mr. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building andRights at Columbia University’sInstitute for the Study of HumanRights. He is author of Liberating Kosovo: Coercive Diplomacy and U.S. Intervention).