The Albanian government prides itself on its successful foreign policy. Young Albanians in particular are turning their backs on the country because of delayed reforms.
Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama is proud that his country will host the EU-Western Balkans summit on Tuesday (December 6th, 2022): “Albania will experience the most important event in the history of its international relations. This is an undeniable achievement,” Rama praised himself during a virtual chat with journalists and citizens. This is the result of his government’s successful foreign and domestic policies.
In fact, Albania enjoys a good reputation in the EU in terms of foreign policy. This was also acknowledged by Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who visited the country on December 1st and 2nd, 2022. In a speech in the Albanian parliament, Steinmeier called the small Balkan country a “steadfast, reliable partner”.
As a member of NATO and the OSCE, and as a current non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, the country “has long since proven itself internationally as a mature democracy,” said the Federal President appreciatively.
In the summer of 2022, the EU gave Albania and North Macedonia the green light to officially open accession talks. But the people of Albania are aware that EU accession is still a long way off.
“The Albanians do not believe that the reforms demanded by the EU will progress so quickly and are therefore looking for ways to get into the EU individually,” Albanian political observer Edlira Gjoni told DW, referring to the warned against corruption and organized crime in their country. For many young Albanians, this prospect means emigrating to the EU.
Lediana Daci also decided to emigrate. The trained laboratory technician has booked a one-way ticket to Germany for January 3, 2023 to take up a position at a state hospital in Freiburg. “I’m happy, but also a bit worried about what’s to come,” she says.
Both she and her partner Bledi Voco, who works as an editor in a private TV station in Tirana, have salaries that are above the Albanian average of currently 510 euros a month. Nevertheless, the money is just enough to stay afloat. It would be difficult for a family with children.
So the couple decided to emigrate. The two have been learning German for two years. Bledi also got his truck driver’s license if he doesn’t immediately find a job in his learned profession in Germany.
According to the current Balkan Barometer, an annual survey of opinions and moods in the six Western Balkan countries, 78 percent of young Albanians are considering emigration.
This puts the country, with its almost three million inhabitants, in first place in the region. According to Eurostat, EU countries approved over 55,000 initial residence applications in 2021 alone.
But not everyone gets the chance to enter the EU legally. Many Albanians try their luck illegally or through asylum applications. In the Corona year 2021, more than 8,000 Albanians applied for asylum in EU countries.
For around 18,500, the journey ended at the EU’s external border, as can be seen from the EU statistics on migration and asylum for 2021. According to the World Bank, almost 22 percent of Albania’s population lives below the poverty line, which is currently 5.21 euros per day.
Kelkelejda Ania knows this extreme poverty. The employee of an international bank in the Albanian capital collects money from her work colleagues every month to buy groceries for two families living on the outskirts of Tirana. She met her at a benefit event at her company.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first visited the people,” Kelkelejda Ania told DW. “One of the families lives on the disability pension of the paralyzed mother. That’s 100 euros a month. They live in a tin barracks without heating, instead of panes of glass they have plastic sheeting as windows. I used to think it was not possible that something like this existed in Albania. Today I know: This is no exception.”
But Kelkelejda Ania also knows the other side of Albania: rich people who are not afraid to spend 5,000 euros in the bars of the capital in a single night. “It gives you a feeling of powerlessness, because you know that such wealth is not possible without political protection,” she says.
Every progress report by the EU Commission emphasizes that Albania must get the rampant corruption and organized crime under control before it can join the EU. “However, the fight only takes place under great pressure and rarely voluntarily,” says political expert Edlira Gjoni.
She regrets that the EU has blocked enlargement talks for so long due to internal divisions between member states. This took the pressure off the Albanian government to fight corruption and organized crime effectively. Gjoni hopes that this will change with the accession talks that have started.
Laboratory assistant Lediana Daci doesn’t believe that Albania will quickly free itself from corruption. “A few years ago I had hope, but now I believe that no matter who is in power, nothing will change,” she says.
The stagnation in Albania is not only due to the government, but also to the weak opposition, says Jonila Godole, from the Institute for Democracy, Media and Culture in Tirana. After former President and Prime Minister Sali Berisha was declared “persona non grata” by the US government for corruption in 2021, the 78-year-old has become politically active again to “save his honor”. He fights doggedly for the leadership of the Democratic Party he founded.
For December 6, 2022, the day of the summit, Berisha, who sees himself as a victim of a conspiracy, has announced demonstrations in the center of Tirana. He is also supported by former President Ilir Meta, who only left office in June 2022 and is at the head of the newly formed Freedom Party.
Berisha repeatedly asserts that his protest is not aimed at the EU. However, he wanted to draw the attention of the EU leadership to the fact that the country was being ruled by a “corrupt mafia”. “This is not the protest of the Albanian population,” Godole analyzes the announced demonstrations. “People no longer protest on the streets, preferring instead to emigrate. This is the silent protest of the Albanians”.
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The original of this article “Emigration to the EU – the silent protest of the Albanians” comes from Deutsche Welle.