AIM: start

FRI, 19 OCT 2001 23:53:34 GMT

Political Ping-Pong in Tirana with the Islamic Conference

AIM Tirana, October 2, 2001

An invitation recently sent by the Secretariat General of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to Tirana and 56 other capitals of member countries for the participation in the extraordinary session of the Conference of Foreign Ministers of this Organisation to be held in the first week of October in Doha, Qatar caused Tirana much discomfort. Although in a few weeks time Tirana will mark ten years since it was granted observer status in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and nine years since it became a member, as in a theatre of the absurd Albania is still discussing whether it is a member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference or not. This political debate became extremely heated after terrorist attacks on the WTC in New York and when Islamic terrorism and its possible connections with Albania became a lead story in all Albanian media. In this context, the discussion whether Albania is or is not a member of the Organisation of Islamic Conference came to the forefront.

The problem of Albania's membership in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference is one of the most controversial issues of the political fight between two major political parties: the Socialist Party (leading the Government's coalition) and the Democratic Party (run by the opposition). The latest American tragedy started a debate on Islamic terrorism in which the media loyal to the Socialist Party accused the former Government of the Democratic Party of the former President Sali Berisha (1992-1997) for trying to turn Albania towards the East rather than the West, etc.

For its part, the media of the Democratic Party launched a counter-attack by accusing the Socialist Party for having secured Albania observer status in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. This veritable ping-pong caused a true confusion on this subject which their quarrels about the country's foreign policy only increased further.

There are two interesting elements in the ongoing debate in Albanian political circles regarding the participation in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. Firstly, how could these two major parties have created an impression in the public that the membership in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference was a heresy which must be somehow rectified? Secondly, neither of these two parties, which used to run the country's Governments, had the courage to present the document on Albania's membership, but one of them (the Socialist Party) even stated that such document did not exist, whereas the other (the Democratic Party) kept silent not even trying to justify its own decision.

The documents actually exist and are deposited same as all other documents of an international organisation. Albania was admitted to this Organisation as an observer on December 7, 1991 during the rule of the last communist President of Albania, Ramiz Aliu and became a member during the presidency of President Sali Berisha in December 1992. A letter signed by the then Albanian Foreign Minister Alfred Serreqi (a Catholic) was sent to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference on October 23, 1992 by which Albania was officially demanding to be admitted to the Organisation as full member because "it is linked to the Islamic world by old friendly ties with which it shared the same historic, cultural and religious traditions". On December 1992 Albania became full member of the Organisation at the extraordinary session of the Conference of Foreign Ministers held in Jeddah on December 2, 1992.

It is no secret that one of the strongest motives of the then authorities to have their poorest country in Europe join this Organisation were great expectations regarding economic assistance of Arab countries. However, this turned to be a great disappointment for Albania.

At the very beginning, the Socialist Party with its political background close to the Communist Party of Labour and its atheism, which was in 1992 the opposition, attacked Albania's joining the membership of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference wanting to score political points with the anti-communist and Catholic West. When Berisha's Democratic Party fell from power in June 1997 the Socialist Party, which succeeded it, not only continued with accusations, but also reduced to a minimum all contacts with and its participation in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. But, it seems that it did not gain anything by this.

What makes the situation even comical is the fact that high officials of the Government of the Left coalition, which came into power in 1997, issued a statement claiming that there was no official document proving that Albania was admitted to the membership of the mentioned Organisation. Even an Albanian Parliamentary delegation of the previous regime was prepared and sent to visit Iran, which upon its return claimed that no such document was found. Also, instead of making public and showing what official steps were made in relation to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, former high officials of the Democratic Government kept silent convinced that that was defence enough, but actually just increasing the overall confusion.

Surprisingly, but true, Albania itself always felt more strongly about its membership in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference than Western countries did. Wars in Bosnia and in Kosovo too, when the USA and Europe sided with the Moslem people, were proof enough. It should also be pointed out that immediately after Albania became a member of the Organisation of Islamic Countries, both Pope John Paul II and the NATO Secretary General Manfred Werner visited Tirana. Actually, some states of the region and political circles in Tirana (which are very sensitive to what their neighbours have to say about the Albanian foreign political moves) are those who added fuel to the fire in the heated discussion about Albania's membership in this Organisation.

On the other hand, since it gained nothing from this Western intolerance of this Organisation, Albania could choose another way, i.e. lose the support of 56 members countries of this Organisation, which, same as the West, expressed their support for the Albanians in Resolutions on Kosovo.

The problem with the Organisation of the Islamic Conference has turned into a political ping-pong in which players from the Albanian politics do not know whom to pass the ball to, Western observers show a lack of interest and regional observers applaud to the fact that both the Albanian opposition and the authorities have lost it.

AIM Tirana, Arjan LEKA