Civil Society: The most detained element of Albanian transition
Civil society and its constituent functional elements are new notions to Post-Communist Albania. There are a lot of reasons why history and attitudes towards the civil society are another particular aspect of the Albanian model of communism in relation to other ex-communist Countries. Concretely speaking, in distinction to many other countries, the notion was inexistent.
The official dictionary of the communist state of the Albanian language (1980)1, consisting of 41.000 words, does not include “civil society” as a term. The meaning of this is that the regime did not accept it as a concept, considering it foreign and hostile to politics concepts of the communist state. This conclusion is re-enforced by the fact that in the same publication, the term “civil” is defined as a non-military form of the society.
The second distinction is the existence of the law of year 1946, on associations and political and social organisations, which prohibited the establishment of independent organisations by the ruling party, The Albanian Labour Party. This law was avoided in December 1990, on the same day when the communist leadership was forced by student protests to accept political pluralism. This is why Albania did not have a syndicalism history, just like Poland did or other organised liberal groups, such as those in Hungary and ex Czech & Slovak Republic. Meanwhile these countries marked several achievements towards the liberalization of social life in 1974-1976, the establishment of several clubs and independent associations etc, Albania chose the most repressive communist model, total self isolation from east and west. Albania had the highest percentage of murder, penalty and political deportation in proportion to population figures. About 18% of the population, 60% of which was constituent of certified personalities in European universities, lawyers, writers, dissidents etc, was a direct part of repressive measures2. This made that Albania didn’t have any active and inspiring dissident figures, as Havel was in Czech, or Vanessa was in Poland.
The third distinction is the role of religious communities. Religious institutions, being centres of reflection, protective of faith and some of the human rights, also carry the function of preserving and cultivating of the notions and democratic values. In Albania, in 1967, communist leadership with no precedent decision prohibited religious faith, closed down all religious institutions and established an atheist state in Europe. Over 90 % of clergymen ended up in prison or deportation camps3. Every citizen predicting or practicing religious rituals, according to Penal Code was punished 5-10 years of prison. The decision was made with the occasion of the official campaign of the creation of the “new man”, by which it was meant faithful citizen to the regime, which before any personal or familiar interest; it put the interest of party-state.
The regime prohibited by law the private property, the contacts and economic collaboration with other states, the free movement, and other elements of the Human Right Card 1948, which Albania had refused to sign. Lacking of private property and the ‘private’ concept in the society was replaced by total state control. The process evolved when Constitution of year 1976 prohibited the existence of private sphere. There was emphasized4 that PPSH (party-state) controlled the political, social and cultural life and every other aspect of life and social organisation. Meanwhile in the Albania of 1989, thus in the last year of communist regime, the country was in total information darkness. Some of the official newspapers, a radio station and television station with 4-5 hours of programs per day, made up the only information institutions, these also destined to spread the official propaganda, being totally censured from independent information’s.
Another distinctive element, compared to other countries like Czechoslovakia, was the lacking of a democratic period between the two world wars. Albania was declared an independent state in 1912, not before 1920, it was established as a realist state, after 3-4 years of democratic experiment, violent acts brought down the government, and afterwards it was established the absolute kingdom, followed by the Italian occupation, and after that from the german occupation during World War 2. The lacking of a democratic period had a big influence for the lacking of history and the concepts of a democratic state, where civil society plays its vital part.
The biggest consequence of communist system was the inheritance left in the political and civil mentality and culture. In the year 1991 when the political system was changed, community feeling did not exist any more, having been misused by the regime of the past through initiatives and propagandistic actions. More than two generations of citizens grew up with notions of party-state, the political enemy, critic of taboo, fear from the state, law of political background and other elements, which resulted to be the main obstacle to fast democratic proceedings in post-Communist Albania5.
Birth of civil society, identity problems
Developments of the last 18 years in Albania are proof of the evolution and deep changes in the conception and role of civil society. The main problem emerged in understanding and accepting of civil society concept. During the first stage, with civil society was understood individual or grouped initiatives critical of the government, than the concept was explained with political actors not belonging to political parties and government and finally it was passed to the third stage of efforts for conception of the courier mechanism between the private and state. In the three stages the concept is viewed and understood in an utopian way, followed at the present, when it is has become fashionable the identification with civil society, and its self-identification with the highest moral and professional values in society6.
The most important and quick consequence of system change was the development of a new report between state and the individual. Fall of communism also started the fast withdrawal of the state from private sphere and individual’s life. The old (new) state was not able to guarantee safety to citizens, as well as to solve their economic problems. Re-established NPO-s according to ready made models and advice from state and international organisations, attempted to fill in this gap. The same situation was repeated in the case of the big social and political, as those of year 1997 and the Kosovo War 1999. The responsibility of the organizations of the civil society to replace the social function of state, by transforming it into voluntary structure for dividing and managing aids, giving support for needy layers, etc, didn’t help them to profile and to be transformed into institutions for thought processing, consultation and mental assistance, so much needed to Albanian society.
Chronologically it is worth mentioning that on December 1991 was established the first nongovernmental organization, Protection and Human Rights Forum (FMDNJ). Till the end of 1991 were established 20 such associations, most of political and cultural character.
During years tens of other companies and a part of the existing ones have ceased to exist. Concretely, in Albania have been registered 1620 organisations and nongovernmental foundations7. Compared to other countries in the region and in proportion to the number of population Albania is listed as a country with the smallest number of NGO. The fact remains alarming. It still remains alarming the fact that one forth of them is active organizations, being active and present on debates and public life. The other parts do not operate or have sporadic activity, leaving no mark in public opinion. The existence of only 365 active nongovernmental organizations to a country of 3.5 million inhabitants, thus where 10 thousand inhabitants have only one NPO, it is expected even activity results of civil society to be a little more than modest. In relation to the past, negative inheritance and huge needs for fast and steady democratic development, the lack of an active civil society and in some aspects, predominant, creates a huge gap with consequences on the level of democracy itself.
By analysing activity fields, it results that cultural groups, those of women protection, ecology associations etc, are predominant, meanwhile it is numbered a minimal number of research organizations, foundations and liaison centres During
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years 1991-1997 main successes of nongovernmental organizations were marked on protection of human rights8, as were protection of political freedoms, press and information freedoms etc. This sector is the most evaluated in projects and the priorities of different international donors, especially of American programmes for democracy. In years 1997-1998 the main activity of nongovernmental organizations was concentrated in management of the crisis caused by collapse of pyramidal firms, arms collection campaign by population, humanitarian and social projects, etc.
War in Kosovo in 1999 marked a new development for the organization of civil society. Within a few months, in Fact Court in Tirana and line ministries were registered more than 100 new NPO-s, which acted in international partnership for covering different aspects of war, as were mine disposal, training of violated women and children, training of refugees, management of refugee camps, etc9. This short period also marked the economic strengthening of a number of NPO-s, which benefited from numerous international donations expanding their activity and their capacities. Kosovo war also marked the first case of NPO-s’ labour shift from big urban centres and mainly Tirana towards suburb and urban areas.
In year 2002 about 100 organizations of civil society launched Coalition Against Corruption, with the support of Stability Pact Anti-Corruption Initiative10. This was the first attempt of civil society organization against corruption. The initiative didn’t give any results, because disagreements between the initiative and the government involved medietic confrontation and the necessary support of citizen and public opinion towards coalition was lacking. This came because in local elections 2000, 2003 and parliamentary ones in 2001, in the name of civil society, political parties candidate a great number of businessmen or other figures not having a real connection to the civil society. Part of the candidate were also most of media publishers in the country, a compromising fact for the independence of media and explanatory of the declaration of ex prime minister of that time, Mr Ilir Meta, who denounced11 political connections with the mafia by saying that “ mafia has become active in politics in the name of civil society.”
Another positive quality development was marked in year 2004. Two new civil groupings, youth association “Enough” and the Office for Citizen Protection, (CAO - ZMQ), became protagonist of the movements and massive public initiatives against power abuse, high government corruption, unemployment problems, etc. “Enough” opened its branches in the centre of each city, becoming the first organization of the civil society with regular local branches, which inspired by the positive ‘growth of trust’ climate and public support on the civil society, took on numerous initiatives in protection of local community rights. The other grouping, CAO also opened a free legal assistance office for trafficked victims, corruption denunciation and developed massive meetings with the wide participation of the public in most of the country’s cities.
The activity of these two groupings brought the entrance of civil society and nongovernmental organizations into a new phase of consolidation and strengthening. Coalition groupings were established for the first time with the function of election monitoring, an audit session was held with NPO-s in the Parliament for matters of education budget and other sensitive problems, the government announced a new partnership strategy with civil society and the civil activity itself was shifted from the model of seminars to concrete actions with participation of interest groups and of a great number of citizens. In November 2004 reaction in unison of human rights groups and media against a violent act of the inner minister towards a journalist, brought about the exempt of the minister. This was the first case of public renunciation of a high official from protests and requests brought by nongovernmental groupings.
Part of these developments became also university and academic centres, which initiated protests and movements, bringing important changes into financial and social training of university autonomy, as well as new ecological movements, which carried the biggest burden in public activities with participation of interested public. Positive achievements were marked also by activities of different social groupings, particularly associations treating the children rights, trafficked victims, drug addicted etc. Two big training and health centres were build in Tirana, whereas in other big districts of our country were established two social centres for protection of trafficked or violated women, girls, and children12.
1 Dictionary of the Albanian language; Science Academy, p.187, Tirana,1980.
2 Albania: “ The black books of communism ” ; p.75, Tirana, 2007.
3 The Bulletin of Catholic Church: p.12, Tirana, 1992.
4 The Albanian Constitutions, a.3, Tirana, 1976.
5 Afrim Krasniqi: Political Parties in Albania 1912-2006, p. 230, Tirana, 2006.
6 Afrim Krasniqi: Civil Society in Albania, p.16, Tirana, 2004.
7 Partner of Albania, NGO Directory, Tirana 2006.
8 US Embassy, National Conference, “ Problems of non-profitable organizations (NPO) in Albania ” , 2002
9 Afrim Krasniqi: Civil Society in Albania, p.122, Tirana, 2004.
10 SPAI, Albania: Civil Society Assessment Report, 2001
11 Ilir Meta: ATA / Albania Daily News, 16.08.2003.
12 PNUD / UNDP, “ Democratic Governance Framework ” , Albania, Tirana, 2006.