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Opinion: Albania needs reforms, not rhetoric

The images of violence and unrest in Albania seem like scenes from the 1990s. DW's Vilma Filaj-Ballvora says they show that the country must finally undertake urgently needed reforms.

Graphic of a fountain pen

Last Friday, a demonstration called for by the opposition in Tirana, the Albanian capital, left three dead and many wounded. It all started with a the release of a video in January which showed Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta talking with the then economics minister about how to manipulate a public tender.

Meta resigned two days later, but the opposition saw the incident as a case in point for their struggle against what they say is a thoroughly corrupt government. In fact, Albania has a reputation for being one of the most corrupt countries in Europe.

It's a topic that's dominated the political climate since the parliamentary elections in June 2009 - the opposition has repeatedly accused the government of rigging that election. Since the fall of communism there's not been a single vote in which the defeated parties have accepted the results. Political debate frequently takes place in the form of personal rivalries and accusations rather than serious arguments. It only serves to create a highly tense atmosphere in the country.

It was, therefore, not unexpected that thousands of people would turn out to protest last Friday. Even before the actual demonstrations, experts had warned the situation could escalate. Western governments' calls for calm went unheeded.

After the demonstrations turned violent, with three left dead and many wounded, tensions remained high. Leading politicians fail to find a voice of reason and reconciliation. On the contrary: It's especially politicians who continue to fan the fire by trying to blame their political opponents for the violence. But the rhetoric of blame and accusations is counterproductive. Compromise is what's needed to defuse the conflict.

But the country's politicians have not yet mastered how to deal with each other in a respectful way, in a democratic and constructive dialogue. Instead, they cling to their gridlocked positions - well aware of the fact that Albania's political crisis seriously hampers the country's EU membership ambitions.

Democratic dialogue is the only way out of the crisis, to pave the way for urgent reforms. Among the most pressing changes that the EU is calling for is taking on the fight against corruption in the judicial system and administration as well as consolidation of the rule of law and the full implementation of press freedom.

Albania has vowed to tackle all those problems, but there's still little actual progress on the reforms. Any further delay could have serious consequences for the country. And more unrest and violence is the last thing that Albania needs right now. The country has to consolidate its fragile democracy. In the wake of last Friday's bloody violence there are only political and moral losers.

Author: Vilma Filaj-Ballvora, Head of DW's Albanian Department /ai
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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