The state of Albania has struggled with corruption for a majority of its modern history. The corruption in Albania has gotten to the point of slowing down the state’s democratic growth. The small Balkan state of Albania has had more years of authoritarian control since 1945 than democratic elections. After World War Two Albania fell into the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. The comunist regime collectivized farmland and killed or imprisoned political opponents who resisted collectivization. Albania also served as a member of the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet alliance that dominated Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Under communist authoritarian control there were no democratic elections, the arm of government was used constantly to suppress dissent by the people. In the post Cold War period Albania ratified the constitution, and held democratic elections. Under soviet control members of the government and criminals were able to solidify their power and grow their wealth. In the elections that followed the crime families and members of the old government use that power and money to control the outcomes.
Currently Albania is undergoing a period of unrest and, I would argue, democratic Stagnation rather than democratic growth or erosion. In 2019 Albania found itself in a set of contentious local elections which the Democratic Party (PD) and Socialist Movement of Integration (LSI) boycotted, causing the Socialist Party (PS) to win the most Mayoral and Council seats. LSI boycotted the elections on the word of Ilir Meta the President of Albania and member of LSI. Ilir Meta cited a 2017 article from Bild, a German newspaper that reported on a conversation between PS leaders and Astit Advylaj the leader of an organized crime family in Albanian. The conversation PS officials can be heard taking orders from Advylaj as to who to pick as candidates for the upcoming elections. This blatant corruption is causing people in Albania to distrust the political system and doubt its legitimacy. Governments and democracies receive their legitimacy from the people. When people distrust the political system that legitimacy fades away starting the process of democratic erosion. According to the Worldwide Governance Indicator, created by the World Bank, Albania ranked in the 33rd percentile in terms of corruption. Albania also ranked alarmingly low when it came to the rule of law only scoring in the 34th percentile. Albania saw a massive drop from 2017, when the recording of a crime boss and socialist party officials was reported being heard. Corruption in Albanian was in the 33rd percentile 2008, where it is currently ranked after a sump in the early 2010s.
Democracy is not all bad in Albania. Albania has aspirations of joining the European Union, and in order to do that, Albania must meet certain democratic standards. One of the standards is on corruption. In 2019 Albania’s ascension into the EU was blocked. France and Belgium cited fears of corruption in their elections as a reason to block ascension.The aspiration to join the European Union has led Albania to take an active role in fighting corruption. USAID has been working with journalists in Albania to be arbiters and investigate economic crimes and corruption to inform the people, avoid oversight from the corrupt media services and hold the government accountable. Grants are provided to organizations for a variety of reasons including to organizations that oversee elections and target corruption. The mitigation done by the Albanian government has been enough to keep Albania listed as a “partly free state” according to Freedom House.
Corruption is not the only issue stopping the growth of democracy in Albania. Freedom House and the Worldwide Governance Indicator also take issue on the status of the rule of law in Albania. This ties into corruption. The rich and powerful are able to escape prosecution because of their immense wealth. They also benefit from fear of retaliation from government officials. The connection of the PS and organized crime is well known by the Albanian people. These connections cause people to fear retaliation from these shadow entities.
Albania, like many other states in the former Soviet sphere of influence find themselves in a position where their democracy is so new and so fragile that the slightest separation for a democratic norm can upset the system. In order to achieve strong democratic growth Albania needs to not just mitigate the damage of corruption but take active steps to prevent it from happening.