Political culture of Albania

Albania is a unitary parliamentary republic located in the South Western part of the Balkans. Back in the classic times, Albania was named “Illyria” and during the 3rdcentury it was under the Roman rule. Later in 1190, the entity formed the Principality of Arbanon. The Principality belonged to the Byzantine Empire. The same territory was later in the 15th century conquered by the Ottoman Empire for five remaining centuries. The Albanians declared their independence in 1912 but it was later invaded by Italy in 1939. Later on, Albania was occupied by Germany in 1943. Afterwards until 1991, Albania turned into a Socialist Republic under Communism and later it was declared as a democratic Republic. The main aim of this essay is to envisage the political past of Albania into nowdays political culture, political  thinking and inter-party organization. Has the past blocked the Albanian political perspective or is the past drastically separated from the past?

Political participation in Albania remains a relatively new concept that was presented on its true meaning during the late years of democracy. The term was even used during the Communist times, but its meaning lacked its basis: freedom of speech, fair voting and the right of assembly. It was commonly used as a way to describe partisanship, forced working under “volunteerism” and modified political language.  After living under such political participation, people inherited fear of speech, laziness and pessimism in self-organization and they saw little light in engaging in politics. But even before that, political participation meant military organization to fight the occupations.

Coming back to early years of democracy, people lacked the political information of self-organization and determination. The freedom of having the power in their hands was transmitted in euphoria of making all the wrong decisions and massive violence. So, the country fell into a chaotic stage of violence and that was a clear sign that  people had no knowledge of correct participation. Democracy started as power In the hands of common people who had no information of governing and most of them were involved in some kind of democracy

Another concept  of democratic participation is voting. The voting behavior has changed a lot in Abania. After Communism, people had no option into analyzing the political parties. They would vote for anyone promising to bring democracy and they were pretty much content.  Even after the first elections, Albanians continued to vote without analyzing benefits or even structured political and economical interest. After some years, Albania had a clear distinction of political parties. What continues to be a shocking issue in political behavior is the selling of votes, non participation in voting and doing so because of economical interest. Because the country remains a small one, political parties have a strong linkage with their citizens. Public administration and local representatives function as a link of benefits to the party supporters.  Gërxhani and Schram (2009) stressed on the importance of clientelism in Albania that has grown unavoidable after country’s transition to democracy. They argued that two major parties the Democrat Party of Albania and the Socialist Party of Albania have always favoured their own clients once they came to power.

The political parties were firstly presented in Albania during the Nazi regime and they were soon to be eradicated by the Communist regime. The people saw little interest in them because most of them had no idea what a party is. The Communist one build the image of the one that got the foreign troops out of the country, so people believed in it blindly. The aim and the image made it the strongest centralization of power Albania had ever witnessed. During their regime, there were no competing parties and had do vote for the single one there. Interestingly, this has impacted in the voting behavior of the people and the way the party is organized.

Nowdays, Albania has a multiparty system but most of the people would argue that there are practically two main ones. Since their very first creation, the main leaders centralized the power and it was very few delegated to capital based politicians. Albanians allocate the party image with the leader and it is well accepted in the country that the party is the leader. Analyzing the few past years, the two main parties have started building the image as owning internal democracy.  During their campaigns, their try as much as possible to highlight terms as “team” and people tend to crave the inner democracy more and more everyday. Because the concept of the inner democracy is automatically linked with democracy in governance, the leaders are trying to eradicate or simply hide the centralization of power that people believe in.

As Cinar mentioned in his work, Albania is stuck between democratization and long rooted tradition. Therefore, the country is currently facing many difficulties In cherishing values of a truly democratic country. As it has been declared in many international reports, the democracy has proved to be fragile and not structurally protected. He mentions that we have witnessed this in many ex-communist regime countries the integration in NATO, an organization which obliged member states to own a democratic regime. Yeziri (2005) asserts that Albania still lacks necessary pillars to support a properly functioning democracy and there is no way to establish such pillar because of the system in Albania is designed in a way to maintain the existence of the communists who benefit from legacy of the former communist regime.

Bogdani and Loughlin (2007) identified three main stages took place in almost all former communist Eastern European countries including Albania:  “The first stage is called ‘euphoria’ during which people in Albania was yearning for a change. The second stage is the ‘disillusionment’ in which repercussions of a radical transformation from communism to democracy was deeply felt. It was in this period Albania turned out to be a zone of turmoil and civil unrest. The third stage is the ‘nostalgia syndrome’ where people began to get suspicious about whether democracy was really recipe for problems they faced. In this period, people were forced to praise the old-communist regime because of anarchic social, political and economic atmosphere presented by the newly founded democratic regime.”

Another issue related to Albania is governance. In the Albanian dictionary there is no clear distinction between governance and government. That is because the state has never had such a thing. Lately, political parties have started using similar works and presenting theories that might come close to the above mentioned definition.  The people have no information about It and they search for interference in policy making through partisanship and volunteering at electoral offices. Interest groups are represented badly by people that have political linkages and they are not widely known to the public.

Minorities are not well represented and only ethnic minorities are part of political parties programs. Recently, in the past two years , the Roma and LGBTIQ Community have started advocating for representation and only one party has responded into including the second community into their political program. But, being a part of the political program does not mean that minorities or interest groups are taking part in governance. The average Albanian is not concerned with the governance issue and they are not concerned with fragments of society having a say in policy-making. Generally, society is fragmented only based on economical income and geographical location. Therefore, no fragmentization brings no targeting and policy making interference. Anyways, non-governmental organizations and international bodies have been working for years in such area. They are trying to target minorities or risk group and advocate for their rights and representation. In this light, there is a big improvement regarding the rights and political consideration.

Having a look at the history, women have always been oppressed by men. But, as Mill(1900) claimed, women oppression is one of the biggest obstacles to achieving full improvement. Coming back to current times, this inclusiveness marks an important pillar of democracy.  In 2011, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in Albania, created a research to find out whether women are participating in policy making in the country. It started with interview with three dominant parties(The Socialist Party, The Democratic Party and the Socialist Movement for Integration. The main focus of the whole research was to understand how binding democracy is when it comes to gender issues. Firstly, it analyzed the selection of women candidates and the allocation of women in Parliament. Secondly, it analyzes the barriers that women face to engage in politics and the widespread discrimination in media or other technological resources. The main problem as mentioned in the research lays on the fact that women are considered as not capable to engage in politics.

In 2017, international organizations and non governmental ones have done a considerable amount of work related to such issue. Thy are enforcing women to participate in politics and the European Integration has somehow forced a rapid change in policy making. Although the society is facing so rapid changes, the traditional customs in Albania make it hard for the society to widespread accept the idea. People cannot relate the leader figure with the figure of a woman, they are constantly seeking  for a strong male figure. That is strongly related to the historical past and to many more feminist issues.

In conclusion of the essay, I would mention that there is a clear linkage between the political present and the past. Albanians are partly active in political parties but they still try to stay visible about it. There might be a link between the injected fear of freely speaking. They who do not want to engage in political parties have very reasonable arguments. Regarding the evolution of party system in Albania, people do not have a clear image of the ideology and political program of each party. Therefore, they do not identify with the party and there is no sense of belonging. At the same time, we might add to that the well known theory that follows: “Poor countries are more concerned with survival than intellectual engagement in politics”. Because Albania is a poor country, people are left to partisanship only if there is a direct economical benefit to them or their relatives. At the same time, political communication and discussion is focused in urban areas and rural areas are left out of the political domain. So, a large quantity of the population is left outside.

The political culture of Albania is built in acceptance of centrality of power, not well analyzed political discussion and seeking help from the Internationals.  The three of this factors root in the political past of the country and the mindset of the people.  Apart from the traditional mindset and the linkage with the past, Albanians prove to be easily adaptable and accepting change if it comes in the light of integration into Europe.  Because of the process, parties are not only changing their internal structure, but they are also trying to change the functioning of the parties. Although they are legally advised to do so, the change may have a great impact in the expectations of the people.  If Albania continues to adapt to the Western light, the political linkages with the past might be eradicated forever.

  1. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albania,  “Albania”, last edited on 25 November 2017.
  2. Bogdani, M., & Loughlin, J. (2007). Albania and European Union;The Tumultuous Journey towards Integration and Accession. London: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd.
  3. Albanian Centre for Economic Research. (2008). Public Perception of Women’s Participation in Elections in Albania. Tirana: Albanian Centre for Economic Research;Albanian Social Economic Think Tank.
  4. Sinani, G. (2008). Political Parties and Minority Participation. Skopje: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.
  5. Reeker, P. T. (2013, May 6). Democracy in Albania: The Pace of Progress . Retrieved May 26, 2013, from Embassy of the United States, Tirana, http://tirana.usembassy.gov/pressreleases2/2013-press-releases/democracy-in-albania-the-pace-of-progress-may-6-2013.html SE Europe Programme. (2013, April 19). Albanian Elections Observatory Brief. Issue No 1 . SE Europe Programme.

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Tea Hodaj

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