Democracy and rights
Abbreviated as ALB by Abbreviationfinder, Albania has been a functioning electoral democracy since 1991, although political polarization is fierce and politics strongly person-oriented. Fundamental civil rights such as freedom of religion and assembly are well respected. But the democratic shortcomings are still great. Corruption and organized crime pose serious societal problems with an impact on politics, the judiciary, business and the media.
The elections are carried out in orderly form, but the European cooperation organization OSCE has pointed out that the electoral law is applied unevenly and there are voting and harassment of voters. Politicians have had a hard time creating a democratic spirit and almost all elections have been criticized for cheating and other shortcomings.
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Civil society is considered to have little opportunity to make its voice heard. Close ties between the political parties, the business community and the media make it difficult for other groups to influence development.
In rankings of the level of democracy in the countries of the world, Albania is described as a failing democracy or even a “hybrid regime”. The country is ranked 106th in Transparency International’s list of 180 countries ranked by corruption. It is the same location as Northern Macedonia, and of countries in Europe, only Moldova, Ukraine and Russia have poorer rankings on TI’s list (for the full ranking list, see here).
Freedom of expression and media
The constitution provides for freedom of expression and press, but the shortcomings are great in practice. The news reporting is often politicized and the journalists are exposed to threats and pressures from both the state power and organized crime. The situation has deteriorated in recent years.
Journalists are subjected to mockery, death threats and legal proceedings in order to deter them from digging into information about, for example, corruption. The climate has hardened and the number of attacks has increased in a short time, according to press freedom organizations. Prime Minister Edi Rama calls the media “junk” and accuses them of spreading fake news. At the end of 2019, Rama passed a new law that increases the state’s control over online publications and has been severely criticized both internally and abroad (see Calendar).
Some self-censorship also occurs because of a law that prohibits defamation of public figures. The law means that investigative journalists risk being sentenced to pay high fines, regardless of the truthfulness of the published material. The authorities are also accused of indirectly controlling the media through tax rules and advertising boycotts against government-critical media.
Following the democratization of Albania, many new newspapers and magazines were launched in the 1990s, often by political parties or other interest groups. The lack of external funding limits the independence of newspapers. The media thus often becomes a tool in the power struggle between the leading parties. Many media are also owned by businessmen who try to get the editors to give a positive image of a politician or a party in exchange for political favors, such as lucrative contracts. The ownership of etheric media is concentrated to a few financiers. In addition, journalists are often poorly trained. Several magazines are characterized by sensational journalism.
During the 2013 election campaign, it was noted that a significant part of the political reporting in TV was based on finished material from the parties. Prior to the 2017 election campaign, the state radio and television company RTSH decided to say no to all material from the parties and to allow all political reporting to be done by their own employees.
In Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, Albania ranks 84th out of 180 countries in 2020, a deterioration of nine steps in two years. Most of the neighboring countries in the Balkans are in roughly the same hierarchy, around the middle of the list (except for Slovenia in 32nd place) (the entire ranking list is here).
Judicial system and legal security
According to the Constitution, the judicial system should be independent of political power, but this in practice works poorly. The corruption in the justice system is extensive, the staff is poorly trained and the links between the judiciary and organized crime are strong in their places. All in all, this creates major deficiencies in the legal security of citizens. Corruption is widespread elsewhere in the state administration as well and is a serious obstacle to democratic development.
In order for Albania to become a member of the EU, the Union requires that the country’s ruler seriously address corruption and organized crime. In 2016, therefore, Parliament decided that an international committee of experts should review and approve all new judges and prosecutors. The appointments should be based solely on formal merits, not on political contacts. All judges and prosecutors who are already in service must also be examined. As a result, one judge has resigned or been dismissed after the other. There is only one judge left in the Constitutional Court. Six new judges are needed, but the nomination process has triggered a bitter political battle between the dominant parties and the court has been paralyzed and inactive since 2018.
The death penalty was abolished in principle in 2000 but remained formally for treason and military crimes until 2007. The last execution took place in 1995.
There are many weapons out there in the community, and a wide range of organized crime deals in human trafficking. Albania is both the country of origin and transit for this trade. Children, women and refugees are the most common victims of human trafficking. Everyday crime has been relatively low and the street scene in Albanian cities is strikingly calm, but both serious violent crimes and thefts have increased significantly over the past decade. This development is explained by both the lack of competence in the judiciary and the inability of rival political camps to constructive cooperation. The more difficult economic conditions are also considered to play a major role.