Gramoz Pashko

Pro-democracy leader in Albania
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The Independent Online

Gramoz Pashko, politician and economist: born Tirana 11 February 1955; Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy 1991; Deputy Minister of Education 2001-04; Rector, New York University in Tirana 2002-06; married Mimoza Ruli (one daughter, and one son deceased); died 16 July 2006.

For a brief period at the start of the 1990s, Gramoz Pashko, a prominent figure in Albania's pro-democracy movement, seemed destined to take over as one of the leaders of his country's post-Communist administration.

He was a founder of the Democratic Party of Albania (DPA) which broke the 45-year-long monopoly position of the Communist Albanian Workers' Party in the final days of 1990. The following year he was appointed Deputy Prime Minister in the broad-based coalition that tried to impose some measure of control over Albania's chaotic transition from hardline Communism to multi-party democracy. But by 1992 Pashko was out of government and, within months, expelled from the party he had founded after his rivalry with Sali Berisha, the DPA's leader, ended in his defeat.

Although Pashko was to retain some political influence for the rest of his life, he never managed to move beyond the periphery of government. In some ways, he was better suited to that position. An economics professor who came from Tirana's intellectual circles, Pashko lacked the crowd-pleasing populism and organisational skills of his more successful - and more ruthless - political rivals.

Besides, Pashko was seriously handicapped by his privileged background as the son of a family of senior Communist officials. Ironically for a man who was to set up the Democratic Party, his father, Josif, had been the main prosecutor in the trials of democratic politicians when he served with unquestioning loyalty Enver Hoxha, the Stalinist dictator who ruled Albania for over 40 years until his death in 1985. This family legacy was to haunt Pashko at a time when Albania's oppressed masses turned their anger against all vestiges of the Communist past.

An economics graduate from Tirana University, Pashko initially embarked on an academic career, specialising in the problems of the Western market economies, such as the "stagflation" of the 1970s and 1980s. It all seemed very remote from the concerns of Albania, where a Stalinist form of the centrally planned command economy survived until the end of the 1980s. But Albania's economic decline, exacerbated by its self-imposed isolation, led to growing unrest - especially as news of the collapse of Communism elsewhere in Europe began to filter through.

As the discontent spread to Tirana's university students, Hoxha's successor, Ramiz Alia, sent Berisha, Pashko and other trusted Communist intellectuals to negotiate with the young hotheads. However, the mediators soon realised the extent of the dissatisfaction and anger with what was Europe's most repressive Communist regime, and decided to provide a political structure and leadership for the protesters by setting up the DPA in December 1990. Elections in the spring of 1991 produced a victory for the ruling Communists over the newly established DPA, but mass demonstrations against a continuing Communist administration led to the formation of a coalition government in June.

Combining the posts of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Economy, Pashko became one of the key figures in the administration. His task was to oversee the dismantling of the command economy and its replacement with a free-market system. Pashko never got a real chance to implement his policies. Albania was gripped by anarchy as protestors demanded an end to Communist participation in government. While Pashko was visiting London in December 1991, Berisha decided to pull the DPA ministers out of the government, leading to its immediate collapse. It was a snub to Pashko, who had favoured a gradual approach to change and wanted it to happen within the framework of national reconciliation. Pashko's disappointment led to his bitter rivalry with Berisha. His position was undermined - and Berisha's strengthened - by the DPA's landslide victory in the elections of 1992.

A few months later, with Berisha elected President, Pashko and several of his associates were expelled from the DPA. They formed the Democratic Alliance, a centrist, liberal party which eschewed Berisha's radicalism, his settling of scores with the old regime and his authoritarian tendencies.

Pashko was among a group of opposition politicians who were briefly detained by police following a demonstration in 1996 against what they claimed was widespread ballot-rigging in that year's elections. He was in the United States on a research fellowship during the following year when the collapse of fraudulent pyramid investment schemes led to an uprising against the Berisha administration. The subsequent elections led to the return to power of the Socialists - the official successors to the Communist AWP - who led the anti-Berisha alliance.

Pashko had high hopes that, as part of a new coalition under Prime Minister Fatos Nano, he would regain his post as Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the economy. But his Democratic Alliance was a relatively small party in the coalition; and Pashko had to be satisfied with the job of a senior government economics adviser. He felt frustrated because his policy advice was frequently ignored. Four years later he was appointed Deputy Minister of Education and Science but he remained outside the inner circle of power.

His political development came full circle when he became reconciled with Berisha and rejoined the DPA in the run-up to the elections of 2005 which returned Berisha to office as Prime Minister. He justified this move by arguing that Berisha had learnt from his mistakes and had adopted a more open and inclusive leadership style. But Pashko's planned political come-back never materialised as he failed to get elected to parliament.

In any case, in his final years Pashko found a more rewarding occupation as the founding Rector of New York University in Tirana - a much-needed academic institution that provided American-style education at affordable prices for local students. He was enjoying a summer holiday along the Albanian coast when he was badly injured in a swimming accident. He was being taken for medical treatment to Italy when, in a cruel twist of fate, the government helicopter carrying him and his son, Rubin, crashed into the Adriatic, killing all on board.

Gabriel Partos

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