Albania: Deal between two anti-democrats?

Martin Henze

Mr Henze, you are one of the best foreign experts on the Balkans and a friend of Albania, briefly to the party leader Basha, where must happen?

He may have the idea as leader that his party colleague Berisha should no longer be a member of the parliamentary group, only he has to let this opinion flow into the democratic opinion-forming process of the DP parliamentary group and the party, he also has to abide by the law, he is not the autocrat of the DP.

The indirect support of Basha’s activities by the pro-government media and the criticism of Berisha and also of his supporters, especially his US Albanian colleague, is striking. 

It appears that certain interested circles are providing propaganda support for Basha as if he were a member of the Rama government. 

As outsiders, we have to ask ourselves, is Mr. Basha still a member of the democratic party or is he a de facto member of Rama’s socialist party, has he made agreements with the autocrat that no outsider knows about?

There are voices in Albania that he did not take the legally correct path, i.e. vote in the parliamentary group and vote in the party convention, so that he would not suffer defeat.

I cannot judge that conclusively. But it seems to be the case. Even more surprising is his reasoning. He had pointed out that he would not allow anti-Americanism and would therefore bypass the committees. This, of course, is a true justification of an anti-democrat. 

For one thing, he is insulting the entire membership of the DP and imputing anti-Americanism to them, while they are all friends of the US and the EU.

 On the other hand, this can certainly not be an argument in a democratic constitutional state not to abide by the constitution and the law. 

Basha, who is still chairman of the DP, has gone outside the law with this behaviour and must therefore resign. In a transitional period, the former chairman should first take over the leadership and eliminate the division in the DP.

As a result, I may have been mistaken about Basha as a person and a democrat, I thought he was an upright Albanian and European democrat and not a complement to the person Rama, whom he has always massively criticised, all very incomprehensible. He told us many things and now it all seems in a different light.

We did not expect him to take illegal decisions, to deliberately flout the constitution and party laws, to realise deals in the USA. This is unacceptable behaviour and should not be tolerated by Albanians either. Our trust in this person is unfortunately close to zero. I don’t see any difference between him and Rama at the moment. Has he applied for asylum with the SP/Rama? I do not know.

In what way incomprehensible behaviour?

In Europe we expect a leader of a democratic party in Albania to abide by the constitution and party laws, unfortunately that is not the case here. If something like this had happened in Europe, the party leader would have apologised for his attempt to deliberately break the law and would have resigned from office within 24 hours and a date would have been set for the election of a new leader. Unfortunately, he did not do this, thereby depriving himself of any legitimacy to appear as a democrat. 

A democrat and Albanian patriot respects the constitution, the party laws and also respects the dignity of his party colleagues.

A party organisation must have confidence in a party leader that, on the one hand, he abides by the legal rules and that, on the other hand, he also has ethical principles, i.e. treats all party members respectfully, by respecting the laws. The way he dealt with the party member Berisha is also not correct for ethical and moral reasons.

Corruption is a big issue in the Balkans and the people of Albania are often accused of being corrupt, especially by the international community, what do you think about that?

Well, indeed, if we look at the criticism, also at the behaviour of some diplomats, we can get the impression: all people are corrupt in Albania, indeed, also the language of some diplomats is surprising.

How is this to be understood?

Well, I sometimes have the impression, especially when I listen to the US ambassador, that she treats the Albanian population as a nation that is not of age and that first needs to be educated. Rama, by the way, is taking a similar approach.

Isn’t that so?

No, Albania is one of the oldest cultural nations in Europe and has had a strong and progressive influence on European culture. 

There were impressive Albanians, such as Francesco Crispi, who co-founded the present-day state of Italy, I am thinking of Robert Elsie, an internationally renowned Albanologist, who unfortunately died much too early, or Midhat Frasheri, a very well-known US American journalist of Albanian origin. Albanians are politically very involved in the USA and other European countries, I have many intellectual friends in Germany from Albania. Scientists with Albanian origin are represented in all renowned universities in the West, many young Albanians have studied at the universities and are highly educated. There are also very committed entrepreneurs in Albania who have potentials like we have in Germany or the USA.

Albania has provided excellent fighters for the mission in Afghanistan , but also for other missions of NATO and our security organisations. We have fought side by side with Albanians against the Serbian war criminals in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Albanian politicians, including Berisha, led Albania out of socialism into a social market economy, into NATO and concluded the decisive international treaties. Of course, they also made mistakes, which government does not do that. However, the result of their policies was that the EU opened up the possibility for Albania to join in 2014, which was a magnificent achievement.

So, these are extraordinary achievements. The Albanians are not children, but adult Europeans, they are equal, with all their strengths and weaknesses.

Albania has structural problems, caused by poverty in the country and by drug trafficking and money laundering, which of course also leads to corruption. They have strategic problems, we will talk about Basha and Rama later.

But it is not the case that there is or was not also massive corruption and criminals in the highest institutions of the USA or Europe, so our representatives in Albania should not now treat the Albanians like stupid students.

What do you mean by that?

In the US, I would just like to point out the many corruptions in the Senate and the House of Representatives and the executive branch, the Watergate affair or the coup attempt in January 2021, the corruption of the Russian funding ration in the US, in connection with the 2016 election, but also in the EU there were massive corruptions.

In the EU?

Let me give you an example.

The Council of Europe is considered the guardian of human rights and democracy in the 47 member states, which include Russia and Turkey. 

Each state sends deputies to the Parliamentary Assembly, which meets four times a year in Strasbourg. In many Western European states, there is little interest in the work, but Azerbaijan has been keen to avoid condemnation of its human rights record by the Council of Europe in recent years. 

Thus, Azerbaijani MPs could celebrate it as a small victory that in January 2013 a report by the German Christoph Strässer on political prisoners in their country surprisingly failed in a vote. Azerbaijan could also be proud that the OSCE report on the parliamentary elections was so overwhelmingly positive. Among others, Volontè and other members, 15 in total, organised that the meeting room was fully occupied for the hearing, all of them were prepared accordingly, according to investigators.

Since then, there has been talk of “caviar diplomacy”. But the Volontè case is about more than caviar and carpets. Volontè has admitted to having received the 2.39 million euros.

It all started for Luca Volontè with a trip to Azerbaijan in July 2011. He flew in business class because the Azerbaijani Suleymanov was paying for everything. After his return, he wrote his Azerbaijani colleague an almost effusive thank-you email, promising a long-lasting friendship and thanking him for the “very good and very precious gifts”. The two stay in touch, and soon Volontè submits a concept on how to improve Azerbaijan’s image in the world. In May 2012, when the European Stability Initiative (ESI) reported on the caviar diplomacy for the first time, causing a stir in the Council of Europe, Volontè emphasised in an internal letter that there was no “evidence of corruption”.

In December 2012, a few weeks before the vote, Volontè detailed in an email to the Azerbaijani lobbyist Muslum Mammadov which “friends” should speak out in the debate. Named are persons who have attracted attention with unusually praising words about Azerbaijan. Volontè turns to the Spanish MP Pedro Agramunt, who was President of the Parliamentary Assembly, with hints on how criticism of the Strässer report could be spread. In December, Volontè also receives the first transfer from a company based in Great Britain, the transfer runs through an account at the Danske Bank in Tallinn. This is apparently to disguise the fact that the money actually comes from Azerbaijan.

After the Strässer report was surprisingly rejected, Volontè seems to fear that this could be the end of the lucrative friendship. “So you forgot about me after your victory …”, he writes to Suleymanov. A short time later, he suddenly requests a new resolution on political prisoners. But just one day later he withdraws the request. “Every wish of yours is an order,” he writes to his contact Mammadov.

Everything else is to be discussed at a meeting in Baku with Suleymanov and the Russian MP Alexei Pushkov.

The friendship is paying off for the Italian: According to his own statements, he should receive ten million euros over ten years. It doesn’t come to that because the payments in the bank come to light and the public prosecutor’s office in Milan gets involved. In court, however, Volontè does not have to answer for corruption, as demanded by the prosecutors, but for money laundering. In this context, of course, German politicians have also been bribed, including a German politician who wrote the election report on Azerbaijan very positively and received a seven-figure fee.

It has long since ceased to be just about Azerbaijan. In the meantime, there is a network in the Council of Europe that protects states with authoritarian tendencies from critical statements, which of course also concerns Albania. 

It is indeed to be feared that the autocratic government of Rama, similar to the Azerbaijanis, also wants to protect itself and is active. 

How do we explain the extremely positive progress reports on Albania, which have nothing to do with reality, how do we explain the incomplete OSCE reports on the 2021 parliamentary elections in Albania, which expressively verbis attests to massive structural election manipulations by the ruling party, but does not make any demands?  

How do we explain the euphoric congratulations of the US and EU ambassadors, the homage paid to the alleged election winner, the autocrat Rama? 

Why are there hardly any pictures and comments from the US ambassador and the EU ambassador on the problems of the poor people in Albania, the women and children, the old people, instead we are confronted again and again with pictures showing these two ambassadors with the elites of the executive, also celebrating.

Do we have here a second case of caviar diplomacy, yes, but I would call it a snowman diplomacy.

How is this to be understood?

The means of payment in Albania is cocaine or the proceeds from the sale of cocaine.

It’s amazing what’s happening in the US and the EU and what does that mean for Albania?

Well, look. Of course, there is also the attempt to influence the leaders of the major Albanian parties in the US, not without reason Rama is more often in the US or has his people in Berlin, Basha also has his issues. There were also some German members of the Bundestag who reported conspicuously, with a euphemistic tendency, about the Rama regime, certainly not without reason.

And Basha?

If we look at the case 645 for document forgery and money laundering against Basha from 2018 that was brought to a positive conclusion on 14 May 2020, I come to many questions and findings.

Which ones?

This is a bit complicated , I will try very briefly. We have the full documents from the US in the Nicolas Muzin/Basha case from 2017/2018 and the court documents from Albania from 2018-2021 including the minority opinion of Judge Shkelqim in the case of Criminal Case No. 645 and comments from international security circles.

The transaction structure that was the subject of discussion in the USA in 2017/2018 is similar in pattern to what we experienced with the Russians and the Azerbaijanis in Brussels in 2013. The same third countries and offshore account organisations have been used. It is about the attempt to exert influence. However, the judicial process in Albania is much more interesting. On the one hand, we have a procedure in which very different public prosecutors were involved, who evaluated the results of the investigation differently and appeared in different places, or, as happened, the accused Basha was not questioned, but a statement by Basha on TV was evaluated as a statement by the competent judge, which is adventurous, which is not allowed under procedural law in Albania. A procedure that reminds me more of a banana republic, but as I said, such things also happen in Western countries.In addition, there is a very insightful opinion by Judge Shkelim of 15 May 2020. If we now assume that in Albania, due to the very autocratic structure of the Rama regime, nothing happens without the knowledge and will of the regime, we come to a very clear first assessment.

I don’t quite understand, what do you mean by nothing happens in Albania without the consent of the Rama government?

Unfortunately, we are currently dealing with an entrenched autocratic government in Albania, due to the still dysfunctional structures of the Supreme Courts, there is no rule of law in Albania. However, there is legal uncertainty, and in this respect, politics is currently above the judiciary, there is a very clear relationship of superiority and subordination, and ultimately, at the political level, it is the Prime Minister who decides, and that is Rama.

Understood, and what is your assessment?

It is the same pattern as in the Saimir Tahiri trial. A trial was staged. What was the stage direction?

First an active prosecution, in the Basha case the script was modified a little bit, certainly so that the case would actually turn out that way. Three prosecutors, acting independently, were appointed at the very beginning of the trial, at the investigative level. 

Then, as in the Tahiri case, there was an indictment and then, just as in the Tahiri case, the process came to nothing. Tahiri, by the way, although sentenced to 3 years probation, is allowed to enter the US without any problems, why is he not persona non grata? So, the chef may have used a different recipe, but the result is the same.

Interesting picture, with the chef, who is paying the bill?

Sure, that’s one of the interesting questions. Who benefits and what has the person paid for it, so that the dish ordered also tastes good. 

And what do you think?

Since we must currently assume that there is political control of the judiciary in Albania, one could conclude that Basha made a deal with Rama, on the political level. 

It is interesting to note that Basha had seemingly left parliament in February 2019 without a strategic concept or goal. On the one hand, it was understandable to resign from a parliament that has no rights and is de facto only supposed to give an illegitimate government the appearance of a democratic government. But what surprised us in Europe was the lack of strategy on the part of the President. There were then certain increases, the opposition in Albania was de facto immobilised since June 2019. Also the non-participation in the local elections, surprising. There was no significant activity or demonstration initiated by Chairman Basha, for almost 2 years, despite the illegal and non-democratic local election. This led to stabilisation of the autocracy of Rama, responsible for the actions and inactions of the democratic opposition is solely Basha, who did it benefit: Rama.

The election campaign of the Democratic Party in Albania for the really important upcoming parliamentary election in 2021 only really started, 4 weeks, before the parliamentary election. Who did it benefit: Rama. Much too late, the ruling party had been in campaign mode for months. It was to be expected that the election would again be manipulated by the ruling party Rama, but also due to the immobilisation of the opposition, there were no such results of the parliamentary election that could have made manipulation more difficult or impossible. In this respect, it cannot be ruled out that there is a pattern between the active activity of the Albanian judiciary/government in the matter of File 645 and the behaviour of Chairman Basha. Incidentally, it is interesting to note that it was only after the conclusion of Case 645, 3 weeks later that Basha executed his signature on the compromise on the electoral law. 

The question arises, to what extent is Basha still open to blackmail because of this and other events and is there a deal between Rama and Basha and to what extent did the US ambassador participate in the deal. Did she call on Basha to take the illegal action to expel Berisha from the parliamentary party?

What do you think?

A deal between Basha and Rama cannot be ruled out. 

And what must happen now?

The problem is, Albania is facing real mega-problems. The state budget is in a massive structural imbalance, also because of the corruption of the Rama executive, the Albanian state is de facto insolvent, the real estate crisis in China will have a massive impact on investments in Albania, and the banks in particular will have problems. The question is whether the savings of Albanians are still safe in Albanian banks.

The economy has collapsed, and more and more young, well-qualified Albanians are emigrating, missing their families, but also the economy. There is no democratic electoral law and the 2017/2021 parliamentary elections were massively and extensively manipulated. Those politically responsible have no legitimacy. Covid 19 is not defeated in Albania, mutants are spreading massively, the 4th wave will break out in Albania in October at the latest and overwhelm the system. Many Albanians have left the country and many more Albanians now want to leave.

It is important that legality be restored to the party organisation of the democratic party. 

This can certainly only be possible through the election of an interim chairperson or team consisting of either the previous DP chairpersons or the last DP chairperson, this is of course conditional on Lulzim Basha voluntarily resigning or being voted out due to his massive breach of the law. Then the way would be clear to reconcile the party members again through your reorganisation of the DP, in the first period of transition an interim chairman should take over the office, who will reach and stabilise the heart of the democratic party again. I see only one person in a position to achieve that at the moment.

Mr Henze, thank you very much for the interview.

Interview in Albanian language:

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