The World Today for June 01, 2023

NEED TO KNOW

Balkan Malaise

ALBANIA

Men from remote mountain regions have been among the majority of the more than 12,000 Albanians who have migrated to Britain in the past year. They ventured from their homes in the Balkans to the West European country due to “a lack of work or a sense of boredom and hopelessness,” wrote the Financial Times.

Albania’s economy is squeezing those on the lowest rungs of the country’s socio-economic ladder. Costs are rising. Wages are among the lowest in the region. Rising inflation has seen many Albanians now spending as much as 60 percent of their income on food. The country’s gross domestic product is expected to increase by around 3 percent this year compared with nearly 5 percent growth last year because of decreased lending amid higher interest rates, SEE News added.

The malaise could be one reason that voter turnout in recent local elections was less than 40 percent, a record low compared with other elections, Xinhua reported. Still, voters were happy enough to elect candidates from Prime Minister Edi Rama’s Socialist Party, which is now slated to control 53 of the country’s 61 cities and towns.

Helping Rama’s fortunes was the US government’s decision last year to designate opposition coalition leader Sali Berisha, a former prime minister and president, as “persona non grata”: He is unwelcome in the US due to a pattern of corruption, noted Balkan Insight.

American, European, and Albanian officials have made progress in targeting and rooting out corruption in the country, wrote Euractiv, citing Freedom House, the good governance advocacy organization. But many government agencies and other institutions remain marred by graft and a “culture of impunity” that erodes democracy and the rule of law. Public officials often also fail to uphold the human rights of women, LGBTQ folks, and ethnic minorities.

The question is whether the US and Europe will give Albania a leg up through its current membership in NATO and its push to join the European Union in a manner that doesn’t allow the country’s criminal class to thrive in the Atlantic alliance, or in the world’s largest and most powerful trading bloc.

Critics have claimed the US is neglecting Albania while Russia attempts to expand its influence in the formerly communist country. Albanian leaders, meanwhile, have been working hard on the many reforms necessary to join the EU – but they have yet to enact changes that would improve human rights and ensure free and fair elections, the European Interest added.

Everyone better move faster if they want more people to stay rather than search for greener fields abroad.

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