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By: Faruk MYRTAJ

The year 1997 left Albania with gangs. Nowadays, they do not exist any more: some have exterminated each other, others are in jail waiting to be set free by political patrons they used to work for.

In Tirana people like to say: "Everything is connected with politics over here". The reason for this is perhaps that in Albanian reality you are nothing and nobody if you are not something in politics, you are worth nothing if you are not somebody's political servant. You cannot rely on getting even a simplest job if you are not engaged in a political party. Even after ten years of pluralist democracy, political shifts end up with rotations in the entire administration. In order to get a job in customs service, in a port, at a border crossing where the best salaries are, political approval is necessary and not professional qualifications, it is at times necessary to pay a bribe amounting to ten million, but you are aware that you will "earn" several times that sum.

Despite such a visibly corrupt Albanian reality, nobody in political circles has had to answer for it. Everybody knows that 80% of the workers are working illegally, with no contract, no social or health insurance. Only 10% of very wealthy people control 40% of national wealth. On the other hand, 20% of the poorest Albanian families live on only one dollar a day! At the same time, prior and after elections, all political parties declare themselves in favour of the struggle against corruption and organized crime, and later they themselves control them.

What is the origin of the suspicion that political parties are the main instigators of crime and corruption? The suspicion arises from the fact that nobody really knows what sources political parties are financed from. This is especially stressed by the fact that there is no regulation which would control their financing. It is obvious, however, that some of them lack everything but money. More precisely, there used to be a law, but the horror of 1997 happened, and the mentioned law remained just a "dead letter". As time went by, the media revealed grotesque facts: two biggest political parties - Democratic Party of Sali Berisha and Socialist Party of Fatos Nano - have large unsettled debts to large state enterprises such as the electric company and Telecom. Democracy implies responsibility of the holders of public offices, and criminal responsibility for those who break the law. But in the country where even courts belong to certain political parties, such responsibility refers only to those who are far away from the authorities. Cynics nowadays say that Albanian courts are not politicized, but just corrupt. They add that money has no political or party colour... But, unlike money, justice does have a specific colour. This colour usually matches the colour of the flag of the party which is currently in power. That is why witnesses usually refuse to testify that they have seen or heard anything. With no evidence, courts begin to resemble journalism from the darkest single-party system.

The year 1997 left Albania with gangs. They do not exist any more: some have exterminated each other, others are in jail where they are waiting for their political patrons they had worked for to set them free. Besides, not a single trial of a criminal gang has successfully been completed. According to the data of the Albanian Centre for Studying Organized Crime and Mafia in Tirana, trials of groups linked to politics are usually held behind closed doors by decision of the courts, and the judges usually resign and emigrate from the country.

Crime that sprang up in 1997 seems to continue to this day. On the first night of the bombing, there were no electricity cuts in Baghdad, and there was only one victim; during that same night Tirana had electricity for only four hours, and four were killed. The official explanation is typical: it was the result of a showdown between criminal gangs. But, according to rumour in Tirana which often turns out to be true, names of politicians are mentioned as the ones who inspired or supported the showdown. There is nothing strange about it if one takes into account the suspicion that local political parties are settling accounts among themselves through conflicts of criminal gangs, and then their mutual extermination is stimulated in order to keep the profit in the hands of a few bosses who will turn that capital into high buildings, luxurious malls. That is where rumours spring up about deputies elected by criminal gangs. In order to pacify the public, local media often stress that America was also developed in this way!?

Almost everybody in Albania nowadays admits that there is temporary and permanent organized crime. The former with a specific intention and limited duration, used for specific services during election campaigns. Permanent criminal groups usually have family relations with certain political parties. Such criminal groups are usually believed to be responsible for numerous crimes. Nevertheless, everything remains in the sphere of speculations. In the meantime, former president of the Association of Businessmen K. Dako was kidnapped and there is no sign whether he is still alive or dead. Florian Vila, businessman who was engaged in the import and export of iron and who correctly met his obligations, was murdered at the entrance of his weekend home. The Secretary of Muslim Community of Albania was shot in the premises of the Community. At the same time, Minister of Public Order said that the indictments against suspects were in preparation. Some time ago, the same Minister publicly declared in the Parliament that there are politicians among smugglers. However, there were no reactions of the authorities even to such accusations.

Nowadays, when the Balkan is striving towards regionalization and better mutual cooperation among states, it seems that the most efficient in regional cooperation is organized crime. That is the origin of the allegations that what Balkan politicians cannot achieve - mutual cooperation - criminal groups have already achieved at the very beginning when these societies were abandoning the socialist system. Albanian mafia originating from the most isolated communist country, quickly and resourcefully established contacts with other criminal centres in the region and broader. One could say that former ideological internationalism has nowadays been replaced by international trade of narcotics, humans, vehicles, tobacco, oil and similar. The media often report about cooperation of local criminal groups with similar ones in Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Russia. Its convenient geographic position can make Albania the centre of the Balkan and South-Eastern Europe. This country is becoming interesting for the Italian, Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian mafia. In other words, the mafia has a long time ago become multiethnic and it has implemented the multiethnic concept Europe so badly wants to see in the Balkan. But, its "multiethnicity" is a force that is destructive for the region.

The following few examples confirm how widespread regional interconnections of organized crime are. In April, May and November, 150 kilograms of heroine were transported from Turkey. In November 2001, an official report of the European branch of INTERPOL estimated that 40% of heroine is sold by the Albanians. In November 2002, a citizen of Kosovo suspected of having murdered a policeman in Albania, was arrested in Sofia on suspicion that he was involved in heroine smuggling. In February 2002, an Albanian smuggler managed to escape from a courtroom in Athens… All this illustrates that Balkan mafia has established very good cooperation. Indeed, only that can explain human trafficking which is impossible to organize without the assistance of the police from several Balkan countries.

There are no results of the thunderously announced struggle against corruption and organized crime by the current and all previous ruling teams. On the contrary. Crime and corruption are becoming the decisive forms of behavior which determine the destiny of the society. The responsibility for such a situation can, among other, easily be found in the corrupt judiciary equally as in the badly formulated laws which the local elite claims are in compliance with international institutions. The civil sector also proved to be helpless in the struggle with deviations that destroy all cells of the society.

In one of his latest speeches, Prime Minister of Albania confirmed that 200 members of the police were removed from their posts because they had participated in smuggling, but also that a certain number of police chiefs, directors in ministries, and even deputy ministers were accused of having committed different crimes. This is the best evidence that crime is inside the institutions, the very ones that are expected to fight against it. That is the reason for the irreparable pessimism of the citizens that it is impossible to even begin the struggle against corruption and organized crime because their main protagonists should be the ones to lead it. And how can anyone be expected to put his own hands in chains?

In Albania there have been several programs with Western experts for professional training of the local cadre. But, it is disappointing that the trainees of such courses are also persons loyal to the leading political parties. Political and party clans have penetrated all social structures, so they easily prevail in every struggle against others. Two facts have become public just a few days ago: first - negative - the Centre for the struggle against smuggling in Flora, pompously promoted and announced a year ago, was declared dead. Minister of police explained this by saying: "We still do not have the support of our partners!" And the partners were supposed to be the neighbours who suffer from the same problems. Certain international institutions from the West were also supposed to be the partners, but for the time being they do not seem to be sufficiently interested in this Centre. The second - positive - fact made public a few days ago is that a court for severe crime has been established and that its task is to deal with serious criminal acts, organized crime, terrorism in the country and outside it. The court consists of five members who will enjoy special personal protection and the protection of members of their families and property.

A year ago, Albania got a favourable evaluation of the American government, and it seemed that it was not in the company of the countries of the third level when high percentage of crime is concerned. The latest data and the criticism of Colin Powell during his visit to Tirana put Albania back among the countries of the third group which are threatened by international sanctions. Finally, on the Day of Justice, Public Prosecutor Teodori Solaku stated as follows: "Our institutions are dealing with a new phase of crime which has become more aggressive than ever before because it has become better organized, economically more powerful, and has firm connections with other countries in the region and broader.