Letter: Albania's leap forward since communism

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Sir: Far from being a "nasty mess" or "gangster state", as you call it (leading article, 15 February), Albania is one of the very few ex-Eastern Bloc countries where the vast majority of citizens have seen significant improvement in their everyday lives since the end of communism. This can hardly be said of Hungary, let alone Bulgaria or Russia, none of which are subject to such severe censure.

Unlike these places, the private sector in Albania is thriving - thanks partly to a genuine commitment on the part of the government to policies of low taxation and low inflation. These have created the conditions for one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe.

Can anybody who has actually visited the country in the last two to three years, and who remembers the medieval misery that marked it before, not be aware of this?

Albanians themselves are keenly aware of this: precisely why so many are now incensed at the prospect of sliding back into poverty. It has to be pointed out, however, that their anger with President Sali Berisha has less to do with his laissez-faire indulgence of boom-bust pyramid schemes, than with his sensible decision to suspend their operations and begin trying to compensate investors from their frozen assets.

Similar schemes collapsed in Romania and Russia without any provision at all for those who had lost out, and yet neither witnessed violent anti- government demonstrations akin to those in Albania.

The difference may lie in the fact that most of the Albanian opposition parties, being closely associated with the hated Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha and his mildly reformist successors, have little chance of taking office through the ballot-box. This was brought home to them by last year's general and local elections, which saw sweeping victories for Berisha's Democratic Party.

Only one international organisation - the OSCE-ODIHR - raised any serious protest about the conduct of these polls, and a number of the Western observers accredited by this body were later shown to have had unduly close connections to the losing Socialist Party.

Isn't it conceivable that former secret policemen and Communist Party officials are now exploiting the distress caused by the failure of the pyramid schemes (many of which they founded in the first place), to propel themselves back into power without the inconvenience of elections?


London SW1