CORRUPTION AND ORGANIZED CRIME IN ALBANIA BY ERSI DANI @ UCLA
Albania is a small country located between Italy and Greece, and also happens to be my birthplace. Albania is a country with strong tradition and warm people, but unfortunately it is plagued by immense corruption within the government that infringes upon the peoples’ constitutional rights and facilitates organized crime. After 47 years of communism, Albania became a democracy in 1992. Although it classifies itself, and is generally regarded as a democracy, Albania’s Freedom House democracy score is 4.14. The Freedom House score is based on a number of factors such as “guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law” and it ranges from 1 being the most democratic to 7 being the least democratic. Albania’s, score renders the country as a “Transitional Government or Hybrid Regime.”
In light of recent events, the democratic erosion in Albania is more evident than ever before. In the past month alone, The Justice Reform Commissioner, Heral Saraci, was fired for “obstructing his own institution’s work and for illegal hiring practices,” and “the Albanian police has confiscated 819 kg of cannabis, 616 kg of cocaine, and 13.3 kg of heroin.”
One of the main goals for Albania is to become a part of the European Union. In June of 2014, Albania became an official candidate country for the European Union. Negotiations are ongoing, however, as the European Union has certain democratic criteria for the countries it accepts. Albania’s far reaching corruption within the highest levels of government combined with the heightened levels of organized crime are tremendous factors that contribute to the democratic erosion in Albania.
On July 22, 2016 Albania embarked on a journey to fight corruption within the government and the justice system in order to restore the democracy to the people and to meed the standards for the European Union. The reform process dealt with decreasing corruption within the government and the judiciary, and lowering the levels of organized crime.
Democracy is experiencing an enormous crisis in Albania as high officials that benefit tremendously from meddling in organized crime and the judiciary are holding the government hostage and making reform nearly impossible. The majority of the wealth accumulated from high ranking government officials is attained through illegal means and corruption. As a result, the high officials hire only people that are willing to support their methods and immediately eliminate those that challenge the system and fight against corruption.
The ruling political parties leave no room for new participants within the political arena. This is due to the fact that many people’s employment positions are awarded to them on the basis of party affiliation as opposed to merit alone. In other words, should those people vote against their party, they could risk losing their livelihood. As a result, individuals are forced to overlook and even accept corruption as a necessary part of the system, caring only about their individual needs as opposed to the needs of the country as a whole.
Due to the elevated levels of corruption within the government, most of the taxpayers’ money allocated to improving the economy, infrastructure, trade, social programs, education, etc, ends up in the pockets of the corrupt officials. As a result, Albania is unable to minimize corruption within the education system and unable to create new jobs for the young people graduating. For these reasons, unemployment rate in Albania is very high and there is a very large gap between the lower and upper classes, as well as an almost inexistent middle class. People are forced to live between the two extremes because the money that is supposed to be used to improve quality of life is being used to line the pockets of corrupt politicians.
The firing of Heral Saraci is just another testament to how deep the corruption runs in Albania and how democratic erosion is being induced by these toxic individuals. It is a testament to this erosion when a justice official appointed to fight judicial and governmental corruption, is himself one of the people he was appointed to prosecute.
Organized crime is also an extremely problematic issue in Albania leading to democratic erosion as the safety of the citizens is not being protected due to the fact that organized crime is allowed to prosper by those high ranking officials in law enforcement that are being paid off to allow some enormous crime organizations to operate practically in the open without so much as a warning from law enforcement. These government and law enforcement officials that are being lured into cooperating with crime organizations are undermining the democratic rights of the citizens that voted them into their positions in the first place. They are abusing their vote, but also endangering the safety of the citizens that must live in a country that hosts some of the most dangerous crime and drug syndicates.
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Image: @GettyImages/AFP/G. Shkullaku.