ALBANIA The Role of Design BESNIK ALIAJ
Author: Besnik Aliaj
Affiliation: POLIS University
Between 1945-1990, Albania experienced one of the harshest authoritarian regimes of the Cold War period, and was considered the “Northern Korea” of Eastern Europe. The country prohibited any form of organized religion, private initiative, and freedom of movement. No foreigners could enter the country, practically. Indeed it was considered a strict “no fly zone” for tourists and any international transportation mean, both from east and west. The rest of the world was considered by the authoritarian regime of that time as “degenerate and corrupt”! Despite heavy preaching by the communist leaders which considered Albania the “center of the world” and “the only real” communist country, the reality during the 80s looked bleak. The whole country could be considered entrapped in a national imprisonment, where people lived from hand to mouth.
Since early 1991, Albania entered a radical process of change and nowadays the country is totally transformed from its state directly emerging from its dictatorial heritage. The transition towards pluralism, democracy and market economy during the 90s was harsh and often traumatic and included several episodes of national social and political unrest, because of the collapse of pyramidal investments schemes, as well as war in Kosovo.
During the last decade Albania experienced a stage of stabilization and rapid socio economic growth with an average GDP increase of 6% per annum. The country joined NATO, and it has since progressed regarding its EU membership, despite continuous internal political quarrels. Meanwhile foreign investments have gradually increased, but not at the expected potentials. This is mainly because of problems due to unclear land restitution policies. The country, in the meantime, has placed a lot of hopes on the growing industries of tourism, mining, alternative energy production, and bio- agriculture. Nevertheless the global economic crisis, especially in the neighboring EU countries like Greece and Italy, hinted at a crisis for the Albanian economy as well. In addition, remittances from emigration dropped from 50% during the 90s to 20% at present time.
Despite such a slowdown, during the last years the economy is still growing at an average of 1-2%, remaining far better than many neighboring countries in the region. Most of such relative success relies both on certain liberal policies from authorities and on the entrepreneurial spirit of Albanians.
However, the economy still remains largely informal. It is estimated that 50% of Albania’s economy operates out of formal channels, and more is to be done to achieve EU’s average standards.