The High Life

In Tirana, MPs refuse to let politics get in the way of business

The High Life

In Tirana, MPs refuse to let politics get in the way of business

Friday, 19 February, 1999

Albania has become much like the new film "The Truman Show" - by day the politicians accuse each other of corruption and incompetence, while by night they sit in the Rogner Hotel sipping on gin and tonics. Away from the public eye in the Pirro Cafe, located in the western-style Rogner Hotel, the Democrats and the ruling Socialist's leading political leaders enjoy a few hours of relaxation over western-priced cappuccinos and drinks.

At the initiation of Dan Everts, OSCE representative in Albania, a good-will soccer match was organised between the government and the opposition Democratic Party (DP) on January 30th. The night game was televised live on state television. The illuminated soccer stadium in the middle of Tirana looked like a space ship. In the end, the government won 1-0. Most of Albania missed the goal because of an electrical power shortage. This promoted Gazi, a Tirana taxi driver, to sarcastically say, "Our political leaders are so corrupt they even steal the light of day."

Newspapers are full of stories of corruption, and political attacks by both the government and the opposition. The DP has been accused of blowing-up electrical power lines, while the government has been accused of running the Vlora-based speed boats that transport refugees and drugs to neighbouring Italy.

Meanwhile, the West continues to applaud the "success" story of the year--the meeting between Prime Minister Pandeli Majko and DP leader Sali Berisha. The new-found co-operation between the government and the opposition has been followed-up with western-sponsored conferences. Members from both the government and the opposition sit around tables and discuss cultural, political and social issues. These showcases highlight the West's ability to bring the warring parties together, but fall short of resolving the number one issue, corruption.

Both the government and the opposition go through the motions of public service, while driving around in BMWs and sporting the latest fashions from Paris and Milan--all on salaries of just $200 a month.

Though defined by their political parties--e.g., Democrats, Socialists, Democratic Alliance, Social Democrats--these names have nothing to do with either political ideologies, nor short and long term economic plans. The greatest success to date has been Majko's war on kiosks. Over 100 illegal kiosks built on public property during Berisha's term in office have been bulldozed. The idea was to show visible change to the public.

The government is cautious when introducing new policies. Choices have less to do with the immediate needs of the people and more with avoiding direct confrontation with the opposition, the mafia, or for that matter the government's own leadership. Consequently, the show goes on during the day. The government blames the opposition for being an obstacle, while the oppositions blames the government for being incompetent and corrupt. One thing is for sure, Albania will be the only European country that will enter the 21st century with a candle in one hand and a mobile phone in the other.

Fron Nazi is an IWPR senior editor.

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