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The drug state that skipped democracy

Fatos Lubonja
Fatos Lubonja
Fatos Lubonja is an Albanian writer who spent a total of 17 years in prisons and forced labor camps during Enver Hoxha's regime. He is the author of a number of books which have been translated into Italian, German, English and Polish. Among other prizes he received the Alberto Moravia Prize for International Literature in 2002 and the Herder Prize for Literature in 2004. See
ALBANIA / Why does the West support a country that is in the clutches of organized crime?


In the spring of 2019, members of Albanian opposition parties decided to relinquish their parliamentary seats. They had evidence of co-operation between organized criminals and the party that held power in the previous election, and did not want to help maintain a democratic facade in a drug cartel called "Europe's Colombia" by The Independent newspaper.

The opposition chose protests and civil disobedience as a method of raising awareness among its own people and among Western politicians. But from Brussels came a condemnation and a clear support for the current government. Brussels' main argument can be summed up as follows: You have made progress towards our standard of living, so now you must not take a step back.

Deputy Secretary of State Matthew palmer, now a US representative for the United States in the region, declared in a broadcast from a pro-government Albanian television station that any politician who calls for violence during the boycotted local elections will be banned from entering the United States. (Approximately the same attitude has prevailed against the opposition's anti-authoritarian protests in Serbia and Montenegro.)

The support given to the Albanian drug state by the Western establishment is mainly based on the West's aversion to acknowledging that neoliberalism and globalization have failed.

How do you explain the support for authoritarianism, corruption and the ever-increasing cooperation between the Albanian government and organized criminals? Some critics point to the spread of democracy's "stabilocracies" [states that regularly hold elections but have authoritarian leaders who govern through informal networks, editor's note] as the cause. Others emphasize geopolitical reasons, such as the risk of increased Russian or Turkish influence in the region.

The fact that the Albanian government has protected Iran's mujahedin is cited as an explanation for American support. These explanations cannot be overlooked, but there is a deeper reason for the support, and it has to do with developments after the Cold War, both in the West and in the former communist countries.

Course to the West

The story of the transition from being a former communist country to embracing the Western model, constructed in the early 90s, is based on two simplified paradigms: Fukuyama's "end of history" and Huntington's "torn countries". According to this presentation, the Western-oriented elite in the Eastern countries (as opposed to the Eastern mentality of the population, and therefore called "torn countries" by Huntington) had to lead the people towards the "promised land" that the West had already reached (Fukuyama's "end of history »). The notion of this journey, called the "transition", would eventually lead to an expansion of the West according to a model that could then conquer the world.

The Western political elite has taken on the role of facilitators of such changes vis-à-vis Eastern European countries for the past thirty years. On the other hand, the elite of Eastern European countries have used their political commitment to compete for who does the best job of achieving a Western standard. Some of these countries have already achieved EU membership, others, such as countries in the Balkans, make up the last part of the caravan to the West, but are historically on the right track.

We are, in fact, witnessing a completely different journey; in both west and east. Trump in power in the United States, Brexit, sovereignty in EU countries are examples of the West not having reached the "promised land", but moving towards a not so happy future.

The authoritarian and autocratic development in the new EU countries, such as Hungary and Poland – not to mention the development in countries that have not yet joined the EU: Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Kosovo and northern Macedonia – is far from 90 expectations of the number.

If we take into account that the transitional narrative also includes Turkey and Russia, the real journey becomes even more complex and problematic.

From dictatorship to post-democracy

Albania is a good example of the crisis in the history of the transition. The Albanian economy has always been weak, informal and increasingly based on money from organized crime. Look at the construction boom in Tirana, which has only a small share of the healthy economy, and we realize that they are laundering money for Albanian organized criminals, an organization that is widespread throughout Europe. Due to this socio-economic phenomenon, Albanian politics has become increasingly representative and supportive of criminal interests, and has evolved into a more authoritarian system with restrictive democratic spaces.

The fact that human traffickers and murderers have gained a foothold in parliament, and been elected mayor of several cities, is a phenomenon we could not have imagined in the 1990s.

As a consequence of the desperation this hopeless transition has created, the number of Albanians who have left their homeland has increased drastically in recent years. (According to a Gallup poll in 2017, 56 percent of Albanians want to migrate. According to UN forecasts from 2019, Albania, which currently has 2,87 million inhabitants, will have as few as 512 inhabitants by the year 000).

The Albanian economy has always been weak, informal and increasingly based on money from organized crime.

In fact, instead of a transition to Western prosperity and democracy, Albania is experiencing an authoritarian drug regime that appears to be deteriorating.

On the other hand, why do euro bureaucrats continue to insist that the country has made progress, forgetting that when analyzing developments, they are not willing to talk about dangerous steps backwards?

To me, this is fundamentally due to a common crisis / disease, both in the West and in countries like Albania: What was introduced by the system as "the end of history": neoliberalism, based on Thatcher's idea: "There is no such thing as 'society', they are just individuals. "

Increasing polarization

Following the original illusion of greater freedom and wealth for the individual, which has been warmly welcomed in the East, neoliberalism has paved the way for an increasing polarization between a few rich and the others – individuals who feel more and more powerless.

The difference between the western and the eastern countries lies in the extent of this disease related to the country's immune system. In the West, neoliberalism and globalization have created a post-democracy (Colin Crouch), a system in which politicians prove to be simple stewards of the economic interests of the few and leave the majority of the population without political representation.

Countries such as Albania are experiencing the most dramatic manifestation of post-democracy, for two main reasons: First, to use Crouch's term, they have gone directly from dictatorship to post-democracy without experiencing democracy, that is, without developing any immune system to protect themselves the power of the few.

Secondly because "the few" in Albania are mainly exponents of organized crime who have captured the state and made the country's institutions an extension of their economic power.

Globalization has failed

To conclude: The support given to the Albanian drug state by the Western establishment is mainly based on the West's aversion to acknowledging that neoliberalism and globalization have failed – both in their own countries and against the European project.

By refusing to view Albania as a caricature of themselves, they try to maintain optimism and use old definitions that only partially correspond to reality – where countries like Albania are "different" because of their communist past, and that the country overcomes these differences with their help.

In this effort, the euro bureaucrats – in common with the devastated elites of the Western Balkans – need to preserve the story of the transition to the West as an ideology of power, to divert attention from the public opinion that threatens the narrative, of populist movements to left or right (or the geopolitical effects of countries considered enemies, such as Russia), and not to the essential problem they have produced with their policies: the establishment of a post-democracy with human or inhuman faces in Europe.

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