Albania: the real story

Elias.Karagiannis at Elias.Karagiannis at
Fri Aug 6 16:12:19 PDT 1999

Here is an article by UPI on Albania. Just a reminder for those who did not know where Albania was prior to the aggression against Yugoslavia by the neo-nazis. When the pyramid scheme collapsed in 1997 and chaos was the king of the day in Albania, the news agencies reported that about 3,500 Americans left Albania right after the collapse. Everybody was surprised that so many Americans were in the north of the country. I am sure they were "vacationing" in otherwise beautiful Albania with its first class hotels and three star restaurants. Of course, nobody ever revealed what they were doing in that part of the country but the belief is that they were aiding the KLA in their cocaine business and in preparing to fight the Yugoslavians. Apparently the state department did not want any of their boys to fall victim of the chaos that followed the collapse, a chaos they themselves helped create. None of the free press of the West had the curiosity to find out what the good old american boys were doing in northern Albania. I guess there is no market in exposing American state terrorism against sovereign states. The north of Albania is said to exhibit the conditions of pre-Roman Europe. It is a living museum in this regard.


TIRANA, Albania, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- When Albanians began demonstrating against the Communist leadership in 1989, their call was to ``Make Albania Part of Europe.'' They didn't foresee an Albania with the anarchy, crime and isolation of Colombia.

But a decade after Central Europe broke from its Soviet-style governments -- a much more tepid process in Albania than in nations such as Hungary and the former Czechoslovakia -- the most pressing problem in this ragged Balkan country isn't related to the war in Yugoslavia. It instead dates back to the 1997 collapse of nationwide pyramid schemes that financially destroyed Albania and ended what little law, order and infrastructure remained from the Communist era.

The nominal Albanian government has still failed to collect thousands of police and army weapons taken by citizens during widespread looting of military barracks during the chaotic spring of 1997.

Several criminal gangs, which flourished after the uprising, kept links with the main political parties, Albanian media regularly reports.

A recent Mafia-style attack in the town of Tropoja -- in Albania's warlord-controlled north -- left four people dead and 20 wounded.

Most of the victims belonged to a clan connected to the Socialist Party, while the murderers reportedly belonged to a rival clan that supports the Democratic Party.

The clans of Albania, whose vicious tribal laws predate the Roman Empire, still control daily life and much public life in Albania. Enver Hoxha, the Communist dictator who ruled Albania for half a century and made it the world's most isolated country, built his Communist regime on the support of powerful southern clans -- clans now in control of the lucrative Balkan heroin-transport route that brings the drug from Central Asia to Europe. Former President Sali Berisha, who ruled during the mid-1990s until the pyramid schemes collapsed, brought his power from the rural northern clans who later worked with the Kosovo Liberation Army and its battles with the Serbs.

In July of this year alone, 75 people were murdered -- mostly in organized-crime killings -- and 87 others were wounded, official sources say. So far this year, there have been 261 reported murders, says a report from the Justice Ministry.

The murder rate is out of control for a European country with some 3 million inhabitants. Neighboring Greece, with nearly 11 million people, has an annual murder rate of about 250.

``Criminality is an acute issue of Albanian society,'' Pandeli Majko, the Albanian prime minister says.

He has promised to launch a serious fight against organized crime and has ordered police to shoot crime-gang assassins.

Many Albanian sociologists believe the crime wave is closely linked

to the unstable political climate in Albania.

The two main parties accuse each other of being corrupt and linked to gangs. Many gang members who were arrested after the unrest of 1997 have since been released, either through bribery, prison anarchy or actually serving their sentences.

Some of these jailed gangsters were considered the godfathers controlling the prostitute and drug trades alongside their Italian partners.

The gangs in Albania's north controlled illegal traffic of weapons to the Kosovo rebels -- and to the Bosnian Muslims during that earlier Yugoslav war -- and now control the smuggling of weapons and other goods into Kosovo. Hundreds of ethnic Albanian criminals have been arrested by KFOR peacekeeping troops in Kosovo; many are thought to be working for the warlords of northern Albania.

In Albania, honest police feel betrayed by lazy and corrupt prosecutors or judges, who soften often charges against murders and drug traffickers, says an expert at the Justice Ministry. Last week, police in the city of Shkodra blockaded the court building in protest of judges who released more criminals.

Prosecutors and judges say they are frequently threatened by gang lords.

``Albanian prosecutors and judges do not have protection, while the

politicians have bodyguards to give a show in Tirana's streets,'' says Bilbil Mete, the head of an Albanian group fighting organized crime. Mete has publicly accused police and politicians of corruption and smuggling, saying, ``The corruption is led by people with mobile phones'' -- which in Albania means high-ranking officials with the money and connections to get the prestigious cellular phones.

Albanian press reports say that in order to be appointed a customs officer or police chief in the major border posts, a bribe of between $20,000 and $100,000 is required. Major politicians pocket these bribes to fund their extravagant lifestyles, local media say.

Italy and Greece have repeatedly complained that Albania is sending

criminals, smugglers, aliens, illegal weapons and drugs into their countries.

Albanian officials accept the weakness of their police structure, but point out the known links between Albanian criminals and Italian and Greek criminals.

This week, Albanian police arrested and extradited Guissepe Muolo, a reported member of the Sacra Corona Unita mafia.

Now, after the end of NATO strikes against Yugoslavia and the repatriation of refugees who had been sheltered in Albania, an international ``Friends of Albania'' conference held in Brussels urged Tirana to establish real law and order.

A report issued at the close of the conference said, ``The overall situation continues to give rise to serious concern, particularly with regard to illicit trafficking across the Adriatic and the Greek-Albanian border, abductions, criminality and looting at refugees' sites.''

Conference attendees clearly warned Albania that investors won't touch the country until the lawlessness gets under control.

``The Albanian government was well aware of the negative effects of

continued insecurity on investment and other key international contacts, '' the conference's report said.

In the nationwide mess of political corruption and widespread crime,

ordinary citizens fear Albania cannot break out of its downward plunge -- and that the country is close to being written off as a Balkan version of Colombia, where the violence and corruption is constant and no one speaks of a better future.

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