Terrorism and Corruption: Albania’s Issues with EU Accession

By Reza Alghurabi

Albania has been longing for joining the European Union for years, but the tiny Balkan nation still faces major challenges to its hopes of joining the bloc.

Extensive economic and administrative reforms, noninterference in the judicial procedures by the government, Election transparency and combating corruption are among Brussels’s top demands from Albania before its annexation to the EU.

However, corrupt political leaders and their alleged links to organized crime which have triggered protests by people from time to time, have played a key role in turning Albania’s wish for joining the EU into an unrealized dream.

For instance, German tabloid “BILD” leaked six wiretapped conversations in June indicating collusion between Socialist Party officials and members of a notorious criminal organization regarding coercing voters in the upcoming election.

The controversial audio file has sparked rage among the opposition parties leading to calls for Prime Minister Edi Rama’s resignation and an earlier general election. Albania’s opposition parties have accused the governing party of corruption and of doctoring the results of the 2017 parliamentary election. Leader of the opposition party, Lulzim Basha, accused the Socialists of coming into power “through the votes of the crime and the mafia.” Basha’s Democratic Party relinquished their seats in Parliament in protest, and declared a boycott of the June 30 vote. 

The presence of the Mujahedin-e Khalq organization (MEK, a.k.a MKO, NCRI, PMOI), an exile Iranian group perceived by many experts as a terrorist cult, in a base around Tirana could also make Albania’s situation more complicated in its EU accession talks. The MEK was relocated to Albania under the U.S. pressure after no other countries took the group in following its expulsion from Iraq.

Listed for 17 years as a terrorist organization in the United States and the European Union, with various reports published about its violations of Human Rights and acts of violence and terror, the MEK enjoyed a significant increase in its activities during the first term of Prime Minister Edi Rama’s cabinet. Despite he was expected to limit MEK’s activities to its bases in Tirana, Edi Rama allowed the group to act freely in Albania and provided it with a huge land in Durres to construct its fortified headquarters.

MEK’s generous donations to the Albanian Police, journalists and political figures have been regularly reported by the local media. Making a name for itself in the government of Edi Rama, the MEK has been able to pay a number of Albanian political figures and Parliament members to advocate for the group in its events.

A recent tweet from PM Edi Rama in which he blames Iran for fueling tensions in the Middle East, indicating his support for Iran’s adversaries including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the U.S., resembles MEK’s stance against Iran. Considering these facts, MEK’s aids to Rama against his political opponents must be thoroughly investigated ahead of the upcoming election in Albania.

Albania should have understood in the first place why no other countries, including MEK’s top sponsor, the United States, agreed to allow the group into their soil after its relocation from Iraq. Wherever it has been, the MEK has been involved in conducting illegal activities and sabotage acts. The group’s dark past and a long list of its misconducts including violating the human rights of hundreds of its members in Albania, could cause many troubles for Tirana in the near future.

After 5 years of residence in Albania, the MEK has now become a part of the corruption process in this country and a link to its corrupted authorities. It is not unlikely at all to see MEK promote the ruling party, with which it shares common thoughts and interests, in the upcoming Albanian election. The experiences of MEK’s numerous overt and covert interventions in the Iraqi Parliamentary elections in favor of specific people through spending huge sums of money, could easily repeat in Albania and mark a more controversial situation than the 2017 Parliamentary election in Albania.

Finally, it is the Albanian people who will be the true victims of their government’s friendly policies towards the infamous MEK which has been known as a terrorist group for a long time; The policies that could negatively impact Albania’s already complicated accession negotiations with the EU.