Letter: Albania reverts to old habits

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The Independent Online
Sir: Andrew Gumbel ("God save us. God save Albania", 14 March) is right to point out how the polarisation of opinion between "left" and "right" among British commentators is confusing policy towards the current emergency in Albania. Unfortunately, political position-taking is also making it all the harder to interpret current developments.

Albanian politics cannot be understood in simple West European terms of left versus right. Much of what masquerades as politics in Albania is instead informed by clientage, personal allegiance and clan affiliation, all of which cut through conventional ideological positions. These loyalties are often reinforced by business and criminal connections.

On top of this, Albanian society has never recognised a distinction between public and private spheres. Public offices have therefore been perceived as private perquisites, to be plundered at the beneficiary's will. In this respect, there has been little difference in attitudes between the inter-war Zogist,the post-war Stalinist and the current Berisha regimes.

After 1945, Albania experienced decades of harsh Communist rule under which political power was understood to be the private possession of a small governing elite. Over the last few years, the successor governments have found it increasingly hard to maintain Stalinist levels of coercion, and have gradually had to relinquish power over the society they inherited.

More recently, the ruling Democrat Party has been entirely discredited as a consequence of the failure of the pyramids in which it is widely believed to have been a major stakeholder. With the contraction of the state and the damage done to its already tenuous legitimacy, Albanian society has begun to revert to its historic, pre-modern form.

Albania is now dissolving into the condition in which it entered the twentieth century: riven by faction, clan and blood feud, and divided by regionalism, custom and dialect. Categories of "left" and "right" will not help us explain the current tragedy.


Senior Lecturer in Central European History

University of London

London WC1