Could it be? There are some optimistic noises coming out of Albania these past few days, after a late-February visit to Tirana by James Steinberg, a U.S. deputy secretary of state. One report goes so far as to say, “The United States has put an end to the political crisis that has plagued the country for more than two years.”

That might be putting it too strongly. Steinberg apparently urged Tirana (read: Prime Minister Sali Berisha) to let the general prosecutor investigate the killings of four protesters on 21 January while urging the opposition not to threaten the country’s stability. Both sides have a chance to put their case before the public in a less-dangerous way in the 8 May local elections. They are to begin negotiations on the conduct of those elections, and Tirana has requested the presence of international observers during the electoral process.

The Albanian reports I have read suggest that Steinberg used the United States’ significant political capital in that country to indirectly discredit Berisha’s defiance of a law-enforcement probe while not allowing his remarks to be co-opted by the opposition Socialists, who have been protesting the results of parliamentary elections two years ago that they say were rigged.

As commentator Mero Baze wrote in the Shekulli daily newspaper:

So, in a way, this high U.S. official has made it impossible for Berisha to use his visit as support for what he has been doing since 21 January. He met and supported all the state actors whom Berisha accused of being conspirators. On the other hand, Steinberg expressed himself with extreme care in order to ensure that the opposition do not misrepresent his statements. He denounced the killings on the Boulevard, but he tried not to draw a parallel with the democratic situation in the Maghreb, so as not to encourage a political overthrow through demonstrations.

That sounds like skillful diplomacy, and I wonder if it took the four deaths to make everyone more serious.

Barbara Frye

Barbara Frye is Transitions Online’s managing editor. Email:

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