27 June 1995

Doc. 7339

1403-27/6/95-11-E

OPINION

on the application by Albania

for membership of the Council of Europe

(Rapporteur: Mr RUFFY,

Switzerland, Socialist)


Contents

Page

Introduction        2

I.       History        2

II.       Controversy over the Albanian constitution        3

III.       The arrest of Mr Fatos Nano        5

IV.       Difficulties in relations between Albania and Greece        5

V.       Ethnic Albanian minorities in neighbouring countries        7

Conclusion        8

Map of Albania        9

Introduction

      Having broken the chains of communism, Albania is about to enter the next millennium with the hope it will be part of a united, democratic Europe. Since the elections on 31 March and 14 April 1991, which were monitored by a delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, whose rapporteur was Mr Albert Pfuhl from Germany, Albania has moved towards a multi-party parliamentary democracy. Today, Albania is trying to enter democratic organisations which will give it the strength to stabilise and continue democratic reforms.

      The Council of Europe is one of the institutions that has extended its hand towards Albania. Albania obtained "special guest status" with the Parliamentary Assembly on 25 November 1991 and applied for full membership on 4 May 1992. However, at the time the number of difficulties it had to overcome before gaining full membership were diverse. Facing difficult economic reforms and a growing unemployment rate did not make the democratic process any easier for Albania. There are also problems between Albania and neighbouring states. One reason is the large number of ethnic minorities which reside in Albania and the region in general. Other obstacles have been created within the new internal political system and its effectiveness to govern democratically its Albanian citizens. All these issues constitute hurdles which this new government and its citizens had to overcome in order to be a part of a large democratic Europe.

I. History: Albanian political and economic evolution

      Albania's long and hard battle for its present independence is close to that of its Balkan neighbours. But only in 1912 did Albania achieve its independence from the collapsing Ottoman Empire.

      This was followed by a strenuous coexistence with the surrounding states. The tension was caused by state boundaries which were based primarily on geopolitical rather than ethnic criteria. The result was that a large number of Albanians found themselves living outside its borders, in what is today Montenegro, Kosovo (Serbia), Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia1 and northern Greece. In addition, the new Albania contained a Greek minority in the south.

      The time between 1913, when the Albanian borders were first created, and the period between 1987-88, when relations with its neighbours began to normalise, was a very strenuous period for the Albanian people. Albania fell under the domination of protector states (Italy, Yugoslavia, Russia and China), each of these partnerships ending brutally. Between 1978 and 1988 Albania was completely isolated due to unfriendly relations with its neighbours while also encountering world-wide criticism for having one of the hardest totalitarian systems in central or eastern Europe.

      However, Albanian relations with neighbouring countries began to change after the death of Enver Hoxha in 1985. Hoxha, the head of state and Communist Party leader, had ruled Albania under a ruthless communist regime from 1944 until his death. These forty-one years were filled with religious oppression, political persecution and economic deterioration. Hoxha had been criticised constantly by Greek governments of pursuing what amounted to a "denationalisation" programme directed against the Greek community. These actions by the communist regime had alienated Albania from the rest of its Balkan neighbours, and it was only after Hoxha's death that one of the hostile neighbours, Greece, lifted the officially declared state of war between the two countries on 28 August 1987.

      In the late 1980s, after the communist regime had begun to weaken, student demonstrations against the government pushed the regime towards change. On 12 December 1990 the Communist Party authorised the formation of other political parties, legalising Albania's Democratic Party. After a mass exodus of about 20 000 Albanian citizens to neighbouring countries which began in the middle of February 1991, the Albanian Government decided to hold elections. The elections were held on 31 March, 7 and 14 April 1991, the results handed the power again to the Party of Labour (former communists) by 65% of the people's vote. The main opposition party, the Democratic Party, received 26% of the votes. The delegation of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly which monitored them concluded that

      "these elections, while not totally fair, particularly during the election campaign, can be regarded as free and democratic, especially if compared to the 1987 elections in which, out of 1,8 million voters, the single party obtained 100% of the votes (only one vote against)".

      Free elections were held in Albania again on 22 and 29 March 1992. This time the results were very different, with 62% of the votes going to the Democratic Party and 26% to the Party of Labour, which had changed its name to the Socialist Party.

      The current President of the Republic of Albania is Mr Sali Berisha, the Democratic Party leader. His government is facing economic difficulties and a growing opposition to its handling of state affairs. However, political and economic instability did not create an obstacle for foreign investment. The economy of Albania, which was a few years ago the poorest country in Europe, has achieved remarkable progress in terms of growth and at the same time in curbing inflation.

II. Controversy over the Albanian constitution and the existing

constitutional laws

      The Albanian Government has shown great interest along with political groups in parliament to accept the control of the judicial organs of the European Convention on Human Rights. The government acknowledges that membership of the Council of Europe and accession to the European Convention of Human Rights is vital for the country, because it will give it the democratic experience which it needs. One of the criteria that Albania must fulfil in order to join a democratic Europe, but more specifically the Council of Europe, is the need for a legislation in conformity with the standards of the organisation.

      On 6 November 1994 a draft constitution was submitted to referendum and was rejected by the Albanian people by a vote of 54% to 42%. However, this leaves Albania neither in a constitutional vacuum, nor with the communist constitution of 1976. A new constitutional commission involving all parties represented in parliament will try to create a new draft constitution with the highest standards for the protection of human rights.

      However, eight laws of a constitutional character provide the current framework for democracy. These laws establish a parliamentary republic and provide for the separation of powers. They embody a list of human rights and fundamental freedoms, following consultation of international and European experts. The first two of these laws were passed in April 1991 and February 1992, while the last six were passed from April 1992 to September 1993.

      The constitutional laws were thought to be sufficient protectors of human rights. In the report they prepared for the Bureau of the Assembly on human rights in the Republic of Albania, Mr Loucaides, member of the European Commission of Human Rights, and Mr Makarczyk, Judge at the European Court of Human Rights, found that "the laws with constitutional force enacted until now by the People's Assembly provide sufficient legal protection of human rights to a standard which in general corresponds to the basic principles found in the European Convention. In certain respects the protection provided by the laws in question seems to be even more extensive, elaborate and adequate than the one found in the European Convention".

      These laws have not however eased the fears of the Greek ethnic minority, which has insisted that some of their fundamental human rights have been violated. Fears have for instance surfaced over the arrest of five ethnic Greek Albanians on 21 April 1994; MM. Velianis, Papachristos, Martas, Kiriakou and Sirmos were accused by the Albanian authorities of conducting espionage for the Government of Greece. Their conditions of detention, and the type of interrogation to which they were subjected were regarded as cruel and unfair. The nature of the charges on which these five persons were tried and the long jail sentences handed out to them were questioned by the ethnic Greek minority. They have now been freed thanks to pressure from the Council of Europe inter alia.

      Other concerns in the above-mentioned report on human rights in the Republic of Albania were the legislation regarding the formation of political parties which prohibits the formation of such parties based on ethnic considerations. This was a cause of concern to the Omonia Party, which represented Albania's Greek minority in the first democratic elections. The legislation was changed prior to the second democratic election in 1992 and prohibited Omonia from participating. The minority has also complained about the fact that, in practice, the Albanian Government considers as members of their ethnic minority group only those ethnic Greek inhabitants who reside in the districts surrounding the towns of Argyrocastro and Ayii Saranta, with the exception of the towns themselves. In this way the Albanian Government continues not to recognise minority rights to a great number of "Greeks" who reside outside the prescribed "minority areas", either in compact groups or scattered in different areas of Albania. This creates problems in the field of education, where state funds are given for education in the mother tongue only to ethnic minorities who live in the "minority areas".

      In regard to "the Right to Property", the Albanian authorities had only recently passed a law when the report was being drafted, so in Mr Loucaides and Mr Makarczyk's capacity it was difficult to determine its effectiveness. However, there were complaints from representatives of religious groups about the way the government had handled the property which belonged to them. In some cases the government had returned religious property which had been confiscated by the previous dictatorial regime, only to confiscate the property again. The religious groups were assured by state organs that the property would be returned at some future point in time.

      The Albanian Government is willing to reform the present system. In co-operation with the Council of Europe and the European Union, programmes have been set up to train Albanian judges, to reform the Ministry of Justice and to restructure the system of prosecution. Other programmes include the redefinition of the prison system and the training of police. A new civil code and a new penal code have been adopted. Albania may be considered to be moving in the direction of a society based on the rule of law and to be making progress in the implementation of the necessary related principles.

III. The arrest of Mr Fatos Nano

      On 30 July 1993, Mr Fatos Nano, a member of the Albanian Parliament and chairman of the Socialist Party, was arrested. The Albanian authorities accused him of appropriation of state funds (Italian aid for Albania) during the period from March to June 1991. Mr Nano was the Prime Minister of the transitionary government when the alleged appropriation of state funds occurred. Since the time of his arrest, Mr Nano has been held in the prison of Tirana.

      The arrest was carried out by the Tirana prosecution office. The prosecutor had been appointed to his post twenty-four hours before the arrest, after the refusal of his two predecessors to prosecute Mr Nano. They believed that no legal grounds existed for his arrest.

      The charges brought against Mr Nano at the time of the arrest were misuse of power and falsification of official documents.

      During the meeting it held in Tirana on 7 and 8 September 1993, the Committee on Relations with European Non-Member Countries had the opportunity to have an exchange of views with Mr Sanxhaku, Mr Nano's lawyer, who considered that the latter was a prisoner of conscience.

      In any case, the length of the detention on remand and of the indictment procedure, as well as the defense possibilities of Mr Nano do not seem to be very satisfactory and raise a number of questions about the independence of the judiciary in Albania. The authorities should authorise an international enquiry to assess the charges against the former Prime Minister.

IV. Difficulties in relations between Albania and Greece

      Albania and Greece have been at odds since the creation of the Albanian state back in 1912 when it gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire. One reason behind the difficult relations between the two countries is the presence of large ethnic minorities; territorial disputes have outlined their unwillingness to co-operate and discuss their differences.

      Another reason is the controversy over the southern part of Albania which is referred to by many Greeks as "Northern Epirus". Greek nationalists still argue that the southern part of Albania belongs to Greece because of the large ethnic Greek population living there and the predominantly orthodox religious profile of the region.

      Albanian-Greek relations were extremely poor during the rule of the communist leader Enver Hoxha, who attempted to foster a siege mentality and the notion that Albania was surrounded by hostile powers. Greek claims to the "Northern Epirus" region were, together with the Yugoslav threat, one of the reasons behind Hoxha's plans to isolate Albania from the rest of the world.

      In 1987 at the initiative of the Prime Minister of Greece, Andreas Papandreou, relations with Albania were completely normalised. Greece lifted the officially declared state of war between the two countries and formally gave up all future claims to "Northern Epirus".

      During the collapse of the communist regime in Albania thousands of Albanians fled to Italy and Greece in search for better economic opportunities. This migration of Albanians to Greece forced the two countries to discuss possible solutions for the refugee problem.

      In 1991 the Greek Prime Minister, Konstantinos Mitsotakis, visited Albania with what seemed as a promise for a new era for Greek-Albanian relations. During the visit, agreements were made to try to control the flow of refugees (200 000 economic immigrants as estimated by Greek sources).

      In December 1991 however, as a result of the adverse effects of these immigrants on the Greek economy, the Greek authorities began to implement a programme of deportation called "Operation Broom", sending large numbers of Albanian illegal immigrants back to their country. Tensions between the two countries were renewed as a result of this operation by the Greek authorities.

      The size of the Greek minority in Albania today is being disputed by both states. The Albanian official figure from the 1989 census is 58 000 ethnic Greeks making them 2,4% of the Albanian population, while Greek authorities believe that there are between 300 000 and 400 000 ethnic Greeks residing in Albania. In this connection, it would certainly prove useful if a census could be organised with the assistance of international experts, as it was the case for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in 1994.

      The issue of the Greek minority in Albania can be regarded as the single most important hurdle to overcome, in order for these two countries to get along in the future. President Berisha has repeatedly said that he is doing all that he can to help the Greek community regain all that was taken away by the communist regime. The Greek community acknowledges that its position in the Albanian state has improved since the elections in March 1991. However it has continuously complained of widespread discrimination by the authorities in the fields of education, culture and religion.

      The Albanian Government has stated that its treatment of the Greek minority is according to human rights documents of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe at Helsinki in 1975 and Paris in 1990. This has been confirmed by the CSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Max van der Stoel, who visited Albania twice in 1993.

      Tensions further escalated between Greece and Albania, when in April 1994 masked men attacked and killed two Albanian soldiers on the border between Albania and Greece. Seen by many as a retaliation to that incident, the Albanian authorities arrested five ethnic Greeks on 21 April 1994 and accused them of conducting espionage for the state of Greece. Greece complained that the human rights of the five ethnic Greeks had been violated. Greece in turn responded by blocking European Union assistance and saying that it would not hold direct discussions with the Government of Albania until the five were released.

      Recently, however, both sides have shown their interest for renewed co-operation. Greece, after suggestion by its European Union partners, lifted the veto which blocked the assistance that was offered to Albania. On the other hand the Albanian authorities on 8 February 1995 released the ethnic Greeks that had been accused of conducting espionage. This decision by the Albanian Court of Cassation was viewed by many as a sign of improving relations between the two countries.

      On 14 and 15 March the Foreign Minister of Greece, Mr Karolos Papoulias, paid a visit to Albania where he met with the President of the Republic, Mr Sali Berisha, the Prime Minister, Mr Alexander Meski, and his counterpart, Mr Alfred Serreqi. There were high hopes before the discussions began, both sides agreeing that Albanian-Greek relations were very important, not only for them, but for the whole Balkan region. Issues that were brought forward to the discussion table included economic and military co-operation, minority rights and the status of Albanian immigrant workers in Greece. The two sides also decided to set up a joint committee that would oversee economic and military co-operation, border crossings and the situation of the minorities in both countries. The two states also decided to sign a peace agreement before the end of 1995.

V. Ethnic Albanian minorities in neighbouring countries

      Albania has a population of approximately 3 300 000 inhabitants, of which, according to Albanian authorities, 98% are ethnic Albanians. Today, there are another 3 000 000 ethnic Albanians residing outside the Albanian borders, the largest percentage of them in Kosovo (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) and in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Albania is concerned, because these ethnic Albanians are discriminated and their human rights are constantly violated.

      The Albanian ethnic minority in Kosovo has been subjected to large-scale repression by the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). Police brutality, arbitrary searches and arrests have become part of everyday life for the ethnic Albanians. The ethnic Albanian political parties are constantly being persecuted, thus hindering them from participating in the local administration. There are also arbitrary dismissals of ethnic Albanian civil servants, doctors and others from the medical profession. The authorities have closed Albanian language secondary schools, universities, as well as other cultural and scientific institutions.

      Concern has also been expressed by the Albanian Government for the ethnic Albanian minority residing in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which, according to the census carried out in 1994 with the assistance of the Council of Europe, represents 23% of the population.

      Last spring, the Government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia tried to prevent the opening of an Albanian language university in the town of Tetova by using force. The Albanian Government expressed its concern, all the more so since in its opinion the request for the opening of the university was made on legal grounds based on Article 45 of the constitution, which recognises the right of the citizens "to establish private schools at all levels of education, with the exception of primary education". It should nevertheless be added that, according to Article 48 of the Constitution, "members of the nationalities have the right to instruction in their language in primary and secondary education, as determined by law. In schools where education is carried out in the language of a nationality, the Macedonian language is also studied".

      The Albanian Government has shown great restraint so far, but one wonders for how long it can witness without reacting to persecution of Albanians in other countries. Protecting the human rights of Albanians in other territories, but at the same time being careful not to upset any of its neighbours, has been one of the top priorities for the Albanian Government.

Conclusion

      One could have believed that Albania, after emerging from forty-seven years of communist rule, without having any prior knowledge of how democracy operated, would have failed in its quest for a democratic society. Albania and its citizens have been successful in changing the old habits of the communist regime and even managed to turn the catastrophic state-run economy into the, for the moment, fastest growing market economy in Europe. However, this enthusiasm does not appear without refrains, the Albanian Government is being criticised for its autocratic style rule, reminding us in some respects of the previous communist regime. If the Albanian leadership wants to be respected by other states and especially by its citizens, it must show the world that the "rule of law" is firmly in place. Undeniably progress has been made in the Albanian state, but the willingness to continue with reforms must exist. The Council of Europe must stand by its democratic values, constantly suggesting to Albania what is in need of change. This is why the Assembly will have to thoroughly monitor the commitments entered into by Albania, as they are set out in paragraph 17 of the draft opinion by the Political Affairs Committee (Doc. 7304), while paying particular attention to the democratic functioning of local and regional authorities. Albania appears to show the will and enthusiasm that is needed in order to help construct a democratic Europe. We, in turn, must do all we can to help this state share the most important values of our future Europe: democracy and the rule of law.

Map of Albania

      Reporting committee: Political Affairs Committee (Doc. 7304).

      Committee for opinion: Committee on Relations with European Non-Member Countries.

      Reference to committee: Doc. 6638 and Reference No. 1794 of 30 June 1992.

      Opinion approved by the committee on 27 June 1995.

      Secretary to the committee: Mr Dufour.


1 11. Name of country in the United Nations.