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TUE, 25 DEC 2001 02:03:52 GMT

Political Crisis in Tirana Causes International Concern

AIM Tirana, December 14, 2001

A senior diplomat of an EU country told AIM that ahead of a Socialist Party of Albania steering committee meeting held on Dec. 3, the European Commission thought it would be necessary to dispatch EU security and foreign policy envoy Javier Solana to Tirana to mediate in a conflict between Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta and Socialist party president Fatos Nano. The government of the country this diplomat comes from, however, cancelled Solana's mission because it would have been the first time that an EU envoy interfered in a clash inside a political party in a country that has applied for EU membership, possibly causing controversy.

This story shows a rather high degree of concern in Brussels and other European centers over the conflict between Socialist party president Fatos Nano, who also heads the ruling coalition, and Prime Minister Ilir Meta. Through diplomatic channels Brussels sent a clear signal to Tirana that this fray could affect Albania's relations with the EU. Albanian Foreign Minister Arta Dade also warned that the row could endanger Albania's European integration and lead the country to a dead end.

So Javier Solana did not show up in Tirana, but European Commission Chairman Romano Prodi did, thus being the first ever senior EU official to pay a visit to the Albanian capital, although the official reason for his arrival was to receive the Honoris Causa Award, granted to him by Tirana University.

His arrival, however, which coincided with Albania's national holiday, and the fact that at a Nov. 29 joint press conference with the Albanian prime minister he three times stressed the word "stability", are proof that the struggle for power inside the Socialist party has by far exceeded the boundaries of the party itself, even Albania. Diplomatic sources claim that Prodi's sudden announcement that negotiations on a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Albania would start in March was prompted by a desire to calm political tensions in Albania.

International concern over the new political crisis is most of all linked to fears that the fighting inside the Socialist party could cause a parliamentary crisis, warranting new elections not even a year after the previous elections, held on June 24, and accompanied by a number of problems. Europe obviously believes that new early election would mark a period of destabilization whose outcome would be hard to forecast.

On the other hand, this concern is also linked to developments in Macedonia, Kosovo, southern Serbia and Montenegro. Diplomats and institutions in Brussels have openly expressed their fears that destabilization in Albania could have negative effects beyond Albania's borders, in territories populated by ethnic Albanians. The cabinet of Ilir Meta has been praised by the EU, the U.S., the OSCE, and the Council of Europe for its constructive and moderate attitude towards the conflict in Macedonia and its active support of the EU and the U.S. peace mission. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Janet Bogue in a meeting with the Albanian prime minister on Dec. 8, said that President Bush and the U.S. government appreciated views and support offered to the U.S. and the consolidation of peace in the Balkans.

In such conditions, diplomatic circles in the West believe that a continuation of the political crisis in the Socialist party and the possible opening of a parliamentary crisis would be not only inappropriate but harmful. This is why Western diplomats showed disliking for a major cabinet reshuffle. This is why U.S. Ambassador Joseph Limprecht, in a speech that coincided with the Socialist party steering committee meeting and delivered at a conference devoted to the 10th anniversary of Albania's admittance into the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, praised the cabinet, stressing stability as its foremost goal.

The fact is that the severe political crisis and the struggle for power inside the Socialist party has created additional insecurity among Albanians living beyond Albania's borders. It is well-known that Prime Minister Ilir Meta has much more influence among Albanians on the other side of the border that the former prime minister, Fatos Nano. The West fears that the news of instability in Tirana could create room for radical groups in Tetovo or Pristina to renew their activities, because, as he put it in an analysis of the political crisis in the party, internationally known Albanian writer Ismail Kadare said that "if stability is endangered at the very center of the Albanian world, all Albanians will suffer."

International officials have clearly demonstrated that they would not like the crisis to develop into something that would result in insecurity. Not all segments of Albanian society, however, were pleased with this international engagement. Even Romano Prodi's statement was used by the warring factions inside the Socialist party to back their respective arguments. Still, political circles in Tirana, both Socialist and from the democratic opposition, are aware that political games and the struggle for power cannot go beyond the limits, endangering the greater interests of stability and peace in the region. An appeal by the U.S. ambassador, who said that time had come for the cabinet to do its job and that it should be allowed to do it, was a message heard by all, regardless of whether they liked it or not.

The Albanian public has perceived this international concern, aimed at quelling the crisis, as a positive step in this direction.

Arjan Leka

(AIM)