Albania Slides Into Totalitarianism And Corruption
If the director of Romania’s feared Securitate would lead Parliament, or political prosecutors from the Franco regime would lead major operations against Catalan politicians, there would be a collective outcry in the European Union. How could it be that those who collaborated with the darkest dictatorships in Europe could hold any position of power? If not imprisoned, those who enabled the most brutal regimes of the twentieth century should at least be kept far away from the political sphere. This is nothing but common sense.
Yet under the eyes of the well-fed and well-kept EU representatives in Tirana, Albania, the second Rama government has openly rehabilitated figures who served under the former dictatorship, while attempting to stifle research into its crimes. At the same time, one of the foremost experts and public figures addressing the crimes of regime, Agron Tufa, has been forced into exile in Switzerland after receiving numerous threats.
The most egregious example is of course Gramoz Ruçi, who succeeded Ilir Meta as Speaker of Parliament and has played a key role in the crooked implementation of the justice reform and the rushing through of legislative proposals that would otherwise have never passed the muster.
Gramoz Ruçi was former first secretary of the Labor Party of Albania (PPSh) in Tepelena and later Minister of Interior Affairs in 1990, just before the fall of communist regime. As such, he was politically, if not personally, responsible for the “April 2 Massacre” in Shkodra, when four people were shot by the regime when protesters invaded the local PPSh headquarters. He is also thought to be responsible for the wholesale destruction of archival materials of the Sigurimi, Albania’s secret services police. The absence of many of the dossiers makes the work of the Authority for Information about the Documents of the Former State Security Services (AIDSSh), which is supposed to perform background checks, basically toothless.
This became clear, for example, when the AIDSSh presented evidence that High Prosecutorial Council (KLP) member Bujar Sheshi had been a collaborator of the State Security (Sigurimi), which should have disqualified him from the position. Instead, Sheshi turned to the Administrative Court (which has not yet been vetted), and cleaned his own record.
Another example is Arben Kraja, who was recently elected as first chair of the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecution Office, SPAK. At the request of the KLP, the AIDSSh checked the (remaining) dossiers on Kraja and found that had been investigator under the communist dictatorship in 1990. In a letter from April 3, 2019, the AIDSSh states:
The verifications completed so far [my emphasis] show that citizen Arben Isa Kraja has exercised the office of investigator at the Investigation Office of the Shkodra County in 1990, so before July 2, 1991, which falls within the confines of the law on the basis of which the Authority operates. The contents of the documentation in our archives show that Arben Kraja has investigated a criminal case concerning two persons indicted for illegally crossing the border.
It is unclear whether the AIDSSh has actually finished its investigation, as it constantly operates under time pressure and with little funds by the Rama government. In its report, the AIDSSh argues that because the specific crime that Kraja investigated does not fall under the definitions that would disqualify him from holding office, he can be chair of SPAK. Yet at the same time it should be stressed that it is remarkable that of Kraja’s early judiciary career under the dictatorship only a single, minor dossier is left. Did he indeed spend most of 1990 twiddling his thumbs? Most probably not, but there is no evidence in his dossier to prove otherwise.
And even if according to the law on opening the dossiers Kraja cannot be banned from office based on a single investigation into an illegal border crossing (of people who were impoverished, famished, oppressed, and persecuted), I just want to ask whether it is desirable for a country still attempting to come to terms with its past to appoint someone to one of the most important functions in the judiciary who typed the following line in a dossier:
The arrest of the above-mentioned has happened because of: on date July 26, 1990 in collaboration with other persons they went to the city of Tirana, where they committed actions that violate communist norms and morality.
What sign does this give? A sign of justice? Interesting detail: Kraja worked in the same county as another holdover from the dictatorship’s justice system, Ardian Dvorani, who was prosecutor in Shkodra. Dvorani is currently the only judge left in the High Court, is years past his mandate, and will become for the second year in a row the default chair of the Justice Appointments Council. Why should we be surprised?
Finally, we should also mention Skënder Gjinushi, who, without any scholarly qualifications whatsoever and in violation of the legislative framework in place, was elected as chair of the Academy of Sciences. He was, however, Minister of Education under the communist dictatorship and co-responsible for the terror it inflicted on the Albanian people.
Prime Minister Edi Rama – son of the dictator Enver Hoxha’s favorite sculptor – has consolidated his power in government, parliament, in all but one local government, and oversees the “proper” implementation of the justice reform. He recently passed a draconian “anti-defamation” law in defiance of the international community, aimed at controlling online media. He has proposed new “anti-mafia” legislation that will directly intervene into citizens’ constitutional and human rights. He has aggressively attacked, bullied, and denigrated any journalist or citizen criticizing his government.
All of these actions signal an encroachment on human rights and personal freedoms, and together with the appearance of the former servants of the dictatorship in many of the plum positions in government, it is not very difficult to see where we are heading. The EU has locked Albania out, and Rama’s only “friends” appear to be autocrats like Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Aleksandar Vučić. We know where we’re going, because we’ve been there before.
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