The Unofficial View of Tirana (104)


Edi Rama (second from right) as a witness at the wedding of Turkish President Tayyip Erdoǧan’s daughter, May 14, 2016

by Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei

Now that in the wake of the Brexit vote the British political system is quickly unraveling along the lines not unworthy of a Shakespearian play, it is perhaps time to look at what Tory leadership cum PM contender and Brutus impersonator Michael Gove termed “The Albanian Option.” As I wrote before, Albania has the peculiar characteristic of occupying a token place in the fantasmatic structure of Western politics, as a place of dark, criminal forces (Taken), smokescreen wars (Wag the Dog), or simply as fodder for the imagination (The Mouse That Roared). It seems Gove has entered this mind space with his op-ed in the Daily Mail of April 29, 2016, entitled “Think the EU’s bad now? Wait until Albania joins,” which opens as follows: “The Albanian Option. It sounds like a John Le Carré novel. You imagine a story with political intrigue, hugs sums of money going astray, criminality and double-dealing. And you’d be right.” The supreme irony of these cropped opening lines is now for all to see, as UK politics has indeed descended into “political intrigue” and “double-dealing,” after criminally misinforming its population on the actual consequences of the Brexit, with “huge sums of money,” such as an imaginary NHS budget top-up, “going astray.” The Albanian Option, once again, has uncannily become reality.

This is, in a way, precisely what Gove – in what seems to be a characteristically contradictory, “journalistic” manner – argued for in earlier in the Financial Times of April 19, namely a trade model for the UK based on the EU’s current relations with Bosnia, Serbia, Albania, and Ukraine, which was quickly termed the “Albanian Model.” Both the Albanian Option and the Albanian Model now seem to be on the table, in spite of Albanian PM Edi Rama’s tone-deaf admonition to UK citizens not to leave the EU, and that it was “absurd” to drag Albania into the Brexit debate: “The Albanian–EU relationship is not a model for Britain to emulate. Take it from us, we live here.” Does this sound desperate, or what?

$80,000 photograph of Rama meeting Obama at a fundraiser in 2012, an image he later used during his own 2013 election campaign.

But what if we take the “absurd” as a model or option here, and follow the parallel between the UK and Albania to its logical conclusion. First of all, it seems that the relation between the political class and the “people” in the UK has never been more fraught, where politicians, experts, pollsters, journalists and the like appear to be equally despised and mistrusted by vast swaths of the population. This is very much the situation in Albania, where the political class appears to consist largely of criminals large and small, and the faith in parliament, government, political parties, and newspapers is ridiculously low. And whereas in the UK, the behavior of many Brexit favorites such as Gove and Boris Johnson have led to public outrage and derision, Albanians are hard pressed to be bothered by quotidian events such as the Rama illegally donating $80,000 to Obama through an Albanian–American limousine driver named Bilal Shehu for a photo op to be used in his own election campaign. Albanians – they even manage to corrupt the US President! (I have to think here of the notorious incident where George W. Bush’s watch was stolen in Fushë Krujë in 2007 – hilarity ensued.)

The second parallel can be found in the increasing privatization of governmental functions, driven by a neoliberal ideology. This is an ongoing process in most Western nation-states, with as a result the gradual dissolution of the nation-state and an evacuation of its sovereignty. As in the UK, this neoliberal impetus finds as one of its sources the figure of Tony Blair, the despised “Third Way” socialist and war criminal, who remains to this day an important and notoriously “unpaid” adviser of Edi Rama. In Albania, this dissolution happens under the terms of public–private partnerships, in which anything from hydropower centrals to airport security and education, and from taxation to healthcare and water is sold off to the highest bidder and with very little profit – if any – to the state, which in this way not only deprives itself of necessary income, but also loses more and more options to exert its governmentality, until it is – in Benjamin Bratton’s mocking terms – nothing but “a well-armed health insurance scheme with its own World Cup team.”



Recent draft of the new Albanian Constitution, “made possible by the US Embassy in Tirana.”

For Albania already has lost most of its sovereignty – not only to the EU, as the Brits contend – but to an amalgam of inter- and supra-national governmental and economical structures. The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, is basically in charge of drafting most of the far-reaching legislation regarding juridical and constitutional reform, functioning willy-nilly as a de facto arbiter between the government and opposition, while members of parliament are basically reduced to pushing yes or no buttons according to the whims of their leaders. The US Embassy has recently acquired an increasingly present role in national politics, with ambassador Donald Lu, often accessorized with EU ambassador Romana Vlahutin, regularly attending parliamentary sessions, meetings of the political factions, feeling free to comment whenever he desires on the right direction of Albanian politics. In exchange for this free advise and a NATO Summit, the Albanian government has admitted more than 2000 members of the Iranian Mojahedin-e-Khalq, formerly unpractically hosted in refugee camps in Iraq. The most recent intervention was the new draft of the Albanian Constitution, prepared in the context of the juridical reform, which on the back stated “made possible by the US Embassy in Tirana,” and in the colophon “The United States don’t take any responsibility for mistakes in this publication.” Meanwhile, the EU “Roadmap” continues to hover like a specter over the government, although everyone understands that a real Brexit will seriously crush Albania’s dream of entering the EU anytime soon. And then I say nothing of all the international corporations that manage to dupe the government’s lawyers contract after contract.



Rama on state visit in Turkey. Photos from Rama’s Facebook, July 1, 2016.

Perhaps that’s the reason that Rama was a one-and-a-half months ago a witness at the marriage of Turkish President Tayyip Erdoǧan’s daughter Sümeyye with defense sector industrialist Özdemir Bayraktar, and recently returned, just a week after the Brexit vote, to Turkey, narrowly escaping the bombing of Istanbul Atatürk Airport, on a state visit to attend, among other events, the opening of a new bridge across the Bosphorus. This rapprochement between Turkey and Albania, which should be read in the diplomatic context of Turkey’s recent apology to Russia for the downed fighter jet and the agreement reached with Israel, is only natural now an expansion of the EU seems ever further away.

Although the Brexit vote was marketed as a vote against the loss of sovereignty towards Europe, it may very well be that, if we follow Gove’s “Albanian Model,” not being in Europe constitutes an even greater loss of sovereignty, through a “death by a thousand treaties,” the possible secession of Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the absence of the weight of the EU’s supranational bureaucracy as shield, no matter how flimsy, against corporations whose bureaucratic, financial, and governmental capacities are simply no match for an English rump state. As Albania rapidly ages, with the younger generations still involved in massive exodus in search for work, its public sector fallen prey to unscrupulous multinationals, and with a state in retreat, it slowly but certainly has become an example for the fate of post-Brexit England (admittedly, in its bleakest form) and of the nation-state in general: dissolved in the acid excreted by unelected inter- and supra-national bodies and without any popular legitimacy left.

After breaking the strictest socialist regime in Europe in 1991,and exploding the most radical capitalist boom in 1997, it only seems proper to me that this country would be the first to dissolve the nation-state, too. What remains will be just a poorly armed UEFA-Cup team, without its own stadium.

About the Author:


Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei is a philologist, director of project bureau for the arts and humanities The Department of Eagles, and runs multilingual publishing house Uitgeverij. For Berfrois he writes a regular series on the state and concept of Albania, where he lives and works most of the time.