July 7, 2013 2 Comments
Sometimes the absence of news is the biggest news.When parliamentary elections were held ten days ago in Albania. Tim Judah remarked on Twitter that “Albania holds election. The opposition win convincingly, no one cries foul and the prime minister resigns. Er…that is it.” And of course, despite some violence on election day the fact that elections resulted in an uncontested change of government is hardly news in any democracy, except in Albania which has not only seen violence in the most recent elections, but also only experienced two changes of power since the fall of communism, one after the state and government effectively collapsed in 1997 and in 2005 when Sali Berisha returned to power.
A second ‘no news’ news from Albania is the failure of Albanian nationalism to gain ground. In a speech in Skopje in November 2012, Berisha pledged to work for the unity of Albanians and challenged the existing borders in the region. While the idea of a “natural Albania” (i.e. an Albania based on ethnic criteria to include all territories where Albanians live or used to live, e.g. the Cham region in Greece), has been promoted in extreme nationalist circles and maps of such an imaginary Albania have been for sale in Albanian and Kosovo for years, the idea of Albanian unification has never received such a high level endorsement. Berisha’s call was noted by observers, including the historian Oliver Schmitt as a change of tone and leaked US memos took a critical line towards Berisha for abandoning he previous support for existing borders. While his party back-paddled not to lose critical external support (he had to go back on an election promise to extend Albanian citizenship to ethnic Albanians elsewhere in the region), a new political party, the Red and Black Alliance fully supported this agenda. The group attracted quite a bit of attention (see here, here, here and here)in recent years for its extreme nationalist policies and its links to the strong opposition movement Vetevendosje in Kosovo. Opinion polls in recent years have additionally been indicating that a majority of Albanians in Kosovo and Albanian would support unification of the two countries.
In the end, the Red and Black Alliance performed poorly. It only gained 10,171 votes (see here for results of the election commission), nowhere close to the 3 percent threshold with a support below one percent (only in the district of Tirana did the partydo slightly better than 1%). In brief, the party failed to break the polarized Albanian political system between Socialist and Democratic Party and nationalism seemed to not be a successful tool to achieve more than some international attention. While Berisha was not defeated for his nationalism, his efforts to evoke Albanian nationalism provided him with no electoral advantages. Dusan Reljic noted that it was economic and social issues that dominated, but still the rhetoric of Albanian unity is also evoked by the new governing party. However, the striking ‘no-news’ news remains the fact that while some romantic imagination of a unified Albanian state might exist among some, the reality of corruption and a difficult economic situation cannot be overcome with evoking the ‘national question’ as elsewhere in the region. In this sense, these ‘no-news’ are good news.