By Roland Qafoku
He’s not travelling just to visit Albania. This is a tour in the Balkans and he’s not coming here as a negotiator between the sides. Nonetheless, the visit of the US State Department official, Matthew Palmer on Tuesday (9 April) is particularly important due to the situation that the country is going through. What is the visit of the US diplomat expected to bring in Tirana? Will this be a courteous visit or will it have an impact on the crisis that Albanian politics is going through? Will he do what his predecessor, Hoyt Bryan Yee did in 2017, when he managed to solve the crisis with the opposition’s tent?
At a time when the two sides are more divided than ever, while the ongoing demonstrations have been a cause for concern not only for the government, but for society in general and when it’s not yet known if local elections will be held on time or if they’ll be held in autumn along with the general elections, the question that arises is the following: Will Palmer’s visit mark the start of the solution of the crisis?
1.Palmer’s visit shows that US diplomacy is not only interested on the situation in Albania, but that it’s also trying to offer a solution for it. For the US, the lack of political stability in Albania is closely related to the lack of stability in the region and beyond. The battle for Russian influence in the Balkans is closely connected to the battle to have stability in the region. The US cannot allow a Balkan region in turmoil and Albania is key to this stability, because the US has invested a lot in it. Chances are that Palmer’s visit will mark the start of a solution of the political crisis in Albania. Palmer is an expert of Balkan affairs and he covers this region. Therefore, this is the moment that US diplomacy should use to solve the Albanian crisis.
So in all likelihood, Tuesday will mark the start of the solution to this crisis. Palmer’s visit will also provide all the information that US diplomacy needs. Of course, the US State Department receives lots of information through the embassy in Tirana, but direct contacts and the arguments provided by the political sides will offer a more detailed picture as to what’s happening in Tirana. This seems to be the most difficult point of this situation. Up until today, we’ve only heard statements being made, individual meetings being held and calls for dialogue, calm and pleas to avoid acts of violence during demonstrations. Palmer’s visit takes the role of the US in this process to another level. Another important element is expected to come with Palmer’s visit to Tirana. The only thing which is non-negotiable for the US is the judicial reform. The role that the American government played in this reform and its logistical support may be considered as one of the biggest investments of the US in Albania during the transition period.
This is why Palmer is not expected to make any concessions on this. With its reactions about the situation in Albania, the US doesn’t seem to have favoured any of the political sides. The US State Department report issued a few days ago was a blow for the government, highlighting political pressure and widespread corruption. The report stressed that“officials, politicians, judges and powerful business people were able to evade indictments”, while voicing its concern about police and threats made against media.
Meanwhile, the opposition has also been criticized about its decision to boycott parliament and the fact that its protests have registered acts of violence. In this context, none of the sides is superior and none of the sides can feel as if they’re being favoured. The US is very interested to see stability and this stability cannot be achieved by polarizing the situation.
Palmer’s meeting with PM Edi Rama and democrat leader Lulzim Basha is also expected to be the very essence of his visit to Tirana. What is expected of these two meetings? We all know what Rama and Basha will say in these meetings. Rama will claim that the ruling party has better chances of winning the elections and that the opposition has decided to choose the path of boycott fearing it may lose these elections. Rama will say that the ruling party has done a lot for the judicial reform, while the opposition is afraid of this reform.
On his part, Basha will declare that the government is connected to criminals and that it has rigged the elections, offering the opposition no guarantees that these elections will be fair. Based on this, Palmer is expected to make an assessment. What we’re all hoping is for him to make an objective assessment of this situation.