BY Jaime Pozuelo-Monfort/
Since I deliberately landed in Albania this past Sunday 30-August I have met about one hundred of the country’s most relevant personalities, including Ministers, Deputy Ministers, members of parliament, Presidents and CEO’s of the largest business conglomerates, University Rectors, Vice Rectors, Deans and Professors, NGO Leaders and Executive Secretaries, Ambassadors and Honorary Consuls, Foundation Directors, Writers, Painters, Museum Theater and Opera Directors, Mayors, Actors, Movie Directors, journalists, reporters, Presidents of Orders and Associations and Intellectuals. In fact I challenge anyone to find a foreign Author who in less than three months has recently met with more relevant authorities. Many are asking me what I think about the small and dynamic Balkan republic. My diagnosis must be brutal: the system has failed in Albania. My diagnosis is not personal but belongs to the one hundred of the country’s most relevant personalities whom I have met thus far. World Bank and IMF missions last a few days. You can only grasp a country’s reality under the appropriate circumstances and an accurate sampling strategy in three months.
Difficult it is for me to ascertain the convenience of being brutally honest. But I must. Otherwise I would be not abiding by a code of ethics which intends to make a contribution to the country’s future prosperity. In order to improve we must first be brutally honest with our weaknesses and identify the reasons why institutions and policies are failing. We must then design solutions which with vision, courage, discipline, leadership and determination shall be implemented for the sake of Albanians. I will leave the specific drawbacks of the system in Albania for later analysis. I would like to focus on the fundamentals addressed by the Experts related to why the system failed in the small Balkan republic after only 25 years of improvised and somewhat chaotic reforms driven and oftentimes imposed by the international agents and donors.
In 1991 Albania left behind the world’s most tight and closed communist regime dominated by Enver Hoxha until his death in 1985. Many areas in the previous regime worked better then than they do today. Market economy and democracy have brought chaos, corruption and improvisation to the young and dynamic republic. To be remembered institutions, public transportation, the educational system in the three levels primary, secondary and university all worked much better during the communist regime. Even culture was better funded and society was characterized by a total absence of corruption. Nobody questions the necessity and convenience of embracing a well-functioning market economy within a smoothly-ran democracy. This is not the case for today’s Albania where the need to embrace radical policy making is manifest.
I talk to the Albanian elites who might read my analysis. Many will be surprised even astonished by the clarity and brutality of my words. Do not be surprised. Be warned. These are not my words. These words, these statements that I make explicit today belong in the mouths and the offices of the country’s most relevant personalities. There is no room for optimism. The situation is dramatic. Albania must change the course of its path to change the course of history. The country can continue to move as fast as a steam wagon or become a maglev train. Be warned, in both scenarios we will be moving ahead with a perception of progress. The current elites lack the insight and the technology to accelerate changes so that relative improvement is feasible.
Albania is today a country ran by a myriad of political parties ran by a zillion of mediocre politicians. There are -as always- exceptions to the rule. Endogamy and nepotism feed the ranks of the public administration, where connections, money, or traffic of influence rules who is hired and who is turned down, within Ministries, the Central Bank, City Halls, Public Hospitals, Schools and Universities. A total absence of meritocracy encourages everyone to call a friend or acquaintance when trying to “place” sons and daughters in the public administration. Large corporate tycoons control a radically polarized and segmented media which according to the Western model purely broadcasts garbage entertainment full of irrelevant chartalan-based politics and violence which matters little next to the the country’s and the World’s real challenges. Undoubtedly and unwittingly, citizens become the miserable victims of a 1984-George Orwell’s big brother which contaminates the gossip with biased priorities.
Albania is today a country where corruption is manifest in every single level of society, from the individual to the group, from the poorest to the richest. Everyone without exception tries to find the shortcut to obtain an unfair competitive advantage exploiting the system at its best and most. Pressure from parents in the schooling system forces teachers and professors to inflate the grades of the children of the better off and the powerful. Members of parliament run private universities of questionable quality selling diplomas the youth will never be able to exploit while using the proceeds to finance their children’s education at top institutions abroad. Youth unemployment and a buoyant informal economy challenge the nation’s ability to raise taxes. Unable to raise taxes properly the political establishment chooses to engage in a rising taxes policy. Those living in rural areas migrate to the city in search for a better living which they shall not find. Those in Tirana who realize the lack of opportunity is here to stay choose to migrate abroad where they will usually remain underemployed in the services sector. In the meantime politicians try to dictate how society should be without excelling by example. There are no role models to follow or be inspired with.
The baby boomers born in the aftermath of the communist regime fall encounter a terrible job market in which their best aspirations consist in finding a job in a call center serving the Italian market. The lucky ones who do get a job exploit whatever connections they may have. The total lack of competitiveness makes Albanian Universities the worst choice possible, even the private ones. Those who can send their kids to study abroad, and to remain living abroad to avoid the country’s fallacy of apparent leadership and prosperity.
The international institutions are only worsening the scenario doing a disservice to the Albanian society by acknowledging the validity of accountability of the current elites. Everyone who has a vested interest in the system cannot speak up. I choose to speak up because I am a foreigner with nothing to lose and no conflicts of interest when it comes to being blunt and blatant with a reality which is impossible to digest any longer. A World citizen rather than a foreigner who by the way feels at home in Albania.
Yes there are many reasons to be optimistic when looking at the country’s progress since 1991. But there is enough room to be seriously concerned. The macroeconomic indicators could and should be much better starting with per-capita incomes, GDP growth, unemployment rate, foreign direct investment or public debt-to-GDP ratio.
In the meantime Western countries continue to export an obsolete economic model based on the inundation of unnecessary and redundant multiple-choice and programmed obsolescence products and services which by the way Western countries manufacture and export for the sake of their developed economics and their highly-educated personnel. Albanians continue to love Mercedes Benz and I-Phones, surprisingly abundant for a country with a per capita income under the USD 10 000 mark. Politics-based governance articulated according to the fragmentation of the ideological spectre is ruining the possibility of uniting society along an axis different from nationalism and football, which may bring apparent and temporary joy and pride but never progress or prosperity. And by the way in spite of the appearance of the left-wing or right-wing dress, all political parties exert a same ideology in the very center of the vast range of possibilities.
Albania and Albanians may be making absolute progress. But what matters in today’s world is relative progress compared to more developed nations. If relative progress is slow Albania will continue to fall and not climb in the international rankings. The drama, the orgy of bad governance, the pandemics of corruption, the evils of nepotism and connections will destroy a country and a society already confused, tired, lost in a transition to nowhere where the light is being shadowed by partisan and spurious domestic and international interests. Subsequent to Enver Hoxha’s death, Albanians opened Pandora’s box when they looked at the West as a benchmark to copy and follow. Western countries are the foremost example of what not to copy or embrace as standards for the developing World. Canada and The United States would not be what they are today in the absence of the massive diasporas of qualified personnel landing on their shores. Western Europe would not be what it is today in the absence of centuries of excessive and sometimes abusive colonization and annihilation of remote territories where societies were massacred and imposed upon systems and standards that simply did not fit.
Albania must change the course of its governance and leadership to change the course of history. The country must embrace extreme cooperation with its neighbors including Kosovo but also Macedonia and Serbia. A large market shall benefit everyone in the Balkans. The country’s protagonists and intellectuals must hear my call and join our efforts to launch post-politics as an alternative governance paradigm. The mediocre and corrupt must either resign or embrace radical change. Aggregate interest must prioritize individual interest until Albania reaches a reasonable level of prosperity well beyond its current level.
My due diligence is accurate, exact and fair. It portrays in a straightforward and descriptive narrative the central part of the distribution of opinions I have incorporated from circa one hundred personalities. Whoever wishes to challenge me can confront the domestic protagonists who have welcomed me and my presence in Europe’s friendliest republic. I feel confident and comfortable with my analysis. Statistically speaking I cannot be wrong or biased after speaking and spending hundreds of hours with the countries’ real insiders and visionaries.
I speak onto you Albanians. There is still time to re-route our journey towards the best possible future. You must be bold and brave. Together we can do it with the help of the Expert Dreamers. Europe’s most beautiful and friendliest republic can accomplish the dream, but not with the current players and stakeholders.(Courtesy- Hoffington post )