Balkans joining EU and NATO - (part 3): Albania - Ideology made it hard to make friends

The European Commission hoped to begin the membership negotiations to the EU in 2016, however Germany vetoed the opening accession talks until 2018.

For a period of time Albania had basically been a satellite of Yugoslavia, but some disputes regarding the price of Albanian raw materials deteriorated the relationship. The final stroke came when Yugoslavia was expelled from Cominform(Communist Information Bureau) in 1948, Albania then decided to turn towards Moscow instead, which was ready to step in and compensate for Albania’s loss of Yugoslav aid. Albania’s ties with the West had soured earlier in 1945, when Albania had restricted the movement of U.S. and British personnel in the country, accusing them of instigating anti-Communist uprisings in the northern mountains.

The United States and British began implementing an elaborate covert plan to overthrow Albania’s Communist regime by backing anti-Communist and royalist forces within the country, along with recruiting Albanian refugees and émigrés from Egypt, Italy and Greece, training them and infiltrating them into Albania. The coup failed and Albania saw a dramatic improvement in Healthcare and education in the early 1950s, thanks to the warm relationship with the Soviet Union under Stalin’s rule, Albania had begun to flourish. When Stalin died in 1953 and Nikita Khrushchev took over, Albania’s long time Communist leader Enver Hoxha(in office from 1944) mistrusted Khrushchev and the final straw came, when Khrushchev denounced Stalin in his “secret speech”. Hoxha defended Stalin, which started to sour the relationship between Albania and the Soviet Union. But Hoxha wasn’t done with communism, on the contrary he believed that the Soviet Union wasn’t communist enough, so he instead turned to China, who were willing to compensate Albania for the loss of Soviet economic support. Unfortunately Albania wasn’t geared to work with the Chinese counterparts and it wreaked havoc on Albania’s economy.

Albania started to open trade with France, Italy and several other states around 1970 to fix the economy, but was inherent against any friendly relationship and trading with the United States, whilst China was opening up to trading with the U.S., this became a point of dissatisfaction for Hoxha with his Chinese counterparts, which led to China ending the assistance programs for Albania soon thereafter. Albania continued to struggle with the economy and Hoxha relinquished many of his duties to Ramiz Alia in 1983 due to poor health. Ramiz Alia was no Enver Hoxha, where Hoxha had inspired several movements across the world, even so far as in China, Ramiz Alia quickly started to loose grip on the country amidst rising student protests. The students demanded multi-party elections and also the right to form their own political party. Whilst we don’t have any proof with Albania, i think it would be safe to assume, that like in all other Eastern-European countries, the United States somehow directly or indirectly had a hand in inciting these protests. Later the Democratic Party of Albania was formed, but lost its first election to the old communists (Party of Labour), leading to a general strike and the Party of Labour stepping down from power, which led to new elections and the Democratic Party coming out as the big winner, amidst accusations of having manipulated the election results.

Albania’s new friend, NATO

After the Democratic Party of Albania took power around 1992, it pretty soon raised the question for Albania to join NATO and applied to the North Atlantic Cooperation Council and was immediately accepted as a member of the council. Later the same year the president of Albania and founder of the Democratic Party Sali Berisha visited the NATO headquarters in Brussels in an effort to seal Albania’s future as a part of the NATO alliance. Berisha had been a part of the student protests that brought down the communist rule, from the very first day.

Towards the end of the first term of the Democratic Party, everything started to break down again in the wake of the collapse of some notorious pyramid schemes, somehow linked to the governments officials. This led to protesters taking to the streets accusing the government of having stolen their money, over $1 billion worth of Albanians life savings. This resulted in the Prime Minister resigning immediately, but Berisha refused to step down, and called in UN and European Multinational forces to step in and take the situation under control. They intervened and took control of the situation but this also resulted in early elections, which brought a shift in power, putting the socialist-led coalition of parties in the government.

Sali Berisha now became part of the opposition and in 1998 he was part of organizing violent protest in the streets. The protests culminated in tanks and armoured personnel carriers being seized by the protesters and kept at the Democratic Party’s headquarters. The Parliament subsequently lifted Berisha’s immunity due to his role in what was described as a coup d’état, but Berisha was able to avoid any charges being filed against him. Berisha even managed to get the Democratic Party re-elected in 2005 putting him in the seat of Prime Minister, but not without some additional drama brought by the Socialist opposition, claiming that the election was rigged and demanding a recount of the ballots, but Berisha refused. However this did not hinder the continuation of Albania’s accession to NATO and Berisha was the one to sign Albania off to full NATO membership in 2009.

The long road to the European Union

The Democratic Party was also key for pushing for Albania to join EU, and was an observing member of the European People's Party (EPP). Sali Berisha started all of this back in 1995 when he made Albania a member of the Council of Europe, but because of the ongoing political crisis with the opposition at that time, he was also the reason for EU not wanting to grant Albania official candidate status in late 2010. When the Socialist Party came back to power in 2013, Albania shortly thereafter received its official EU candidate status in 2014.

The European Commission hoped to begin the membership negotiations to the EU in 2016, however Germany vetoed the opening accession talks until 2018. Following a multitude of problems and reforms Albania's governments still hadn’t managed to live up to a range of requirements from the EU, including “free and fair” elections, selective justice, corruption and political interference in investigations and court cases.

Today there is some optimism for Albania to begin the negotiations in 2018, and the rising fear of the “Russian bear” might prove to be a winning hand playing into Albania’s favour, making EU willing to overlook many of the political and economical issues currently facing Albania.

See also:

Balkans joining EU and NATO - (part 1): Bulgaria - Turning the tide

Balkans joining EU and NATO - (part 2): Romania - Ending of an era


Balkans joining EU and NATO - (part 4): Serbia - Once were Yugoslavs

Balkans joining EU and NATO - (part 5): Kosovo - The long way to independence

Alexander Awayez

Alexander Awayez is an investigative journalist and researcher of Bulgarian/Iraqi descent who grew up in Denmark and later moved to Bulgaria.