A hundred years of Albanian Independence?

 

Vlora Independence Monument

The Vlora Independence Monument in 2011

Today, the 28th November, Albania celebrates the 100th Anniversary of it independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912. The streets and buildings throughout the country are festooned with red bunting and representations of the black, double-headed eagle but how independent is Albania really?

The declaration on independence in 1912 was in many respects nominal. There wasn’t any real agreement on what constituted the territory of Albania and what came to the boundaries of what is now considered Albania was established by the major European powers just before the outbreak of the First World War.

The Balkans were a flash point that contributed to that conflict and there was no way that Albania would be allowed to establish what it saw as its natural boundaries – and which leads to claims for a greater Albania to this day. This means that Kosovo is considered by Albania to be rightly a part of the homeland and if you go to Albania today you will see ‘I heart Çameria’ slogans sprayed on walls all over the country. Çameria is a part of northern Greece that nationalistic Albanians consider to be part of the country. This probably has some sanction from the present government in Tirana as it’s always a good thing to divert a population’s attention outside of the country’s borders in order that internal problems can be ‘forgotten’.

So independent Albania wasn’t that independent at the start. Even their first king was a German and given to the Albanians by the so-called Great Powers, just before those countries got their own people’s to fight against each other in the mindless slaughter of the trenches. This ‘king’ (William) began a trait of 20th century Albanian kings of running away when things got tough and (in the safety of exile) declared he was still head of state and that ‘he deemed it necessary to absent himself temporarily’. He never returned.

Once some sort of stability was re-established ‘independent’ Albania then became a protectorate of Italy as the republicans signed a number of treaties in Tirana in 1926 and 1927 to that effect. Into this mess appeared Ahmet Zogu, a feudal landlord, who with a combination of force and guile became first prime minister, then President and deciding that time was right for another monarchy declared himself King Zogu I, Skëderbeu III in 1928 – with some spurious claim that he was related to the 15th century national hero.

Maintaining the ruling class idea of independence he ran the country for his own benefit and that of the Italian fascists under Mussolini and that arrangement suited them both until April 1939, when war in Europe was becoming imminent, when the Italians decided to take direct control. True to his kingly nature Zogu ran away to England (Albania’s kings were good at running) and left it to the ordinary Albanian workers and peasants to fight for their country’s independence from first the Italian and then the German fascists. This eventually led to the liberation of the country by the Partisan army, under the leadership of the Communist Party.

For the first time since the declaration of independence in November 1912 Albania was truly independent.

This was opposed by the British and the North Americans who talk independence, but only if it suits them and throughout the early years of the new Socialist Republic made numerous efforts to manipulate disputes, overthrow the workers’ government, derail socialist construction and drag the country back into the capitalist fold. A result they finally achieved in 1991 for a combination of reasons that are too complex to go into here but which I hope to address in the not too distant future.

And that brings us to the situation to-day, the 100th anniversary of independence. So how independent is the country now?

For 45 years the country was able to provide the necessities of life (if few luxuries) for its population from its own resources. In the 1990s the nation’s industrial base was either looted or privatised and now the country is littered with derelict factories. Co-operative and State agriculture has been dismantled and now farming is at little more than a subsistence level. A country that has the potential to produce a vast variety of fruit and vegetables doesn’t do so as there is no modern machinery, no proper organisation, no infrastructure to process such products for a national, let alone an international market – apart from a few isolated exceptions.

In the financial sector the major banks have been privatised and now foreign interests have more say than the Albanians do about the future of their currency. Involvement with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund means that even more of the decision-making is made outside of the country. From being one of the very few countries on earth that had no national debt its obligations are growing year on year. This doesn’t effect public spending as there is virtually none to cut. The infrastructure of transport, for example, has been neglected – as is the case with the railways – or being developed in such a haphazard manner that no real improvement are being made – as is the case with the roads. Albania’s imports are more than double its exports and this shows no trend of changing in the near future.

The population is falling, there being little prospect for work in the country and many people who can try to find work abroad. Money from those people enable many to survive in the country but that situation must be under threat with the international financial crisis that is hitting hardest in those countries where Albanians have traditionally looked to work, Greece and Italy in the main. These remittances are so important that they are taken into account as a percentage of GDP. Corruption is rife, with the country coming 84th out of 97 in the list of countries in their efforts to prevent this cancer.

Internationally Albania has virtually prostituted itself to the western imperialist powers. For the same reasons that both Britain and the USA didn’t like the existence of a country, however small, outwith their sphere of influence from the 1940s to the 80s they are happy now to have a foothold in a geopolitically strategic region. There’s a British cemetery in Tirana which had the Prime Minister (Berisha) in attendance on Remembrance Day and there’s even a memorial to the German fascist invaders! Buildings built on the land that used to house the apartments of the Party of Labour officials up to 1991 are named the Twin Towers and the Stars and Stripes abound. Sali Berisha is so far up the fundament of the west you can barely see his feet. The country is a member of NATO and on my last visit was continually bumping into British soldiers on the coast and in the interior.

The present government is trying to give the impression that EU membership is around the corner and this will be the magic formula to develop the country. How this can be a viable option in the near future is beyond me as Albania would be a bottomless pit when it came to funding and I can’t see how the likes of Cameron being able to argue for the country’s membership when he has spent the last few months calling for cuts in the EU’s budget. And how many people would argue that EU membership allows for the independent development of a country – even those in favour of membership.

It seems to me today might well be a 100th anniversary but it’s of an event that occurred in Vlorë on the 28th November 1912, not the anniversary of independence.

 

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