The tragedy should serve also as an occasion to move toward ending the political crisis in Albania
By Harry Bajraktari
A devastating earthquake in Albania killed more than 50 people, wounded hundreds, and left thousands without homes.
However, it prompted also a great wave of support from the diaspora, including the Albanian-Americans, who within days raised several million dollars for the victims and their families.
There were several initiatives from the community, but many Albanian-Americans donated also directly to Albania-based fundraisers.
It was a heartwarming show of solidarity. Proof that we are one, no matter where we live.
Now, it is important that the funds and other forms of help that has been accumulated are put wisely to use. It should reach those in need and should be used only for them.
It is imperative that the government of Albania shows transparency in the use of the aid and help or press non-state actors to do the same.
Prime Minister Edi Rama’s personal involvement in the operations throughout areas affected by the earthquake is very appreciated, but he should be more accommodating to expressions of suspicion and doubts over the potential abuse by the authorities on the ground.
Corruption has been widespread for years in Albania and the public trust in the institutions is low. That is why Albanians are more inclined to donate to private individuals and organizations, rather than to official channels.
This is a time of crisis and we should try to be pragmatic and realistic. A commitment to transparency may not convince everyone, but it is a great chance to start rebuilding the public trust.
We should think not just about the victims and the damages of this earthquake, but also about future humanitarian emergencies like this one. Without a transparent and convincing use of this generous help, people will be discouraged from helping in the future. It was a wonderful show of solidarity that should be promoted and emulated.
The tragedy should also inspire a solution for the political crisis in Albania. I commend the opposition and the leader of the Democratic Party, Lulzim Basha for giving the government space to respond to the situation and leaving politics aside so that the country could heal.
It is time for both sides to offer an olive branch to each-other and bring the change that the people want and need. The opposition should be involved and participate in joint commissions to oversee the reconstruction and the relief operations. On the other hand, as the new year sets in, the government should start planning for an early election. Prime Minister Rama is enjoying a comfortable political domination, but the country is looking like a one-party state. This is not normal for a democracy. The voice of the people needs to be heard in full. Otherwise the country will slip towards a full autocracy.
Rama’s threats to punish the media for alleged irresponsible content is not a step in the right direction. Albania needs more freedom and democracy, not less. It needs a normal parliament where all the political parties are represented.
This is not the time to solve political issues, but it is nevertheless the time to build bridges and to make promises for a normalization in the political life of the country.
Rama, Basha and the political class in Albania, Kosova, and in other Albanian territories should draw lessons from this great show of solidarity that came from the diaspora. They saw our power to raise money. We have professional experts in every field, know-how, connections, experience, and above all, love and commitment for our old homeland.
We can do more than respond to tragedies. Our contribution could be of a much larger scale and long term. It has the potential to transform Albania, Kosova and the rest of the region. However, for this to happen, we need real measures against corruption and organized crime; we need to see rule of law, an independent judiciary, and true political stability and accountability.
Transparency with using the aid for the earthquake and renewed efforts to solve the political crisis in Albania would be two welcomed steps in the right direction.
Harry Bajraktari is founder and publisher of Illyria newspaper (1991-1998), an Albanian-American community leader, philanthropist and recipient of many awards, including the Honor of the Nation Order by the President of Albania, Kosova’s Presidential Medal for Merits & the White House Presidential Call to Service Award.