Albania is often seen as the black sheep of Europe. It is a nation that has given the Old Continent so much over the last two millennia—ranging from notable Emperors of Byzantium and four Popes of Rome to George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, the defender of Christendom. Yet, at the same time, it has also suffered at the hands of its neighbours, due to European ambitions, from the horrors of communism, and because of the corruption of its politicians.
The odyssey of the Albanian people has been a long and arduous one. But through a combination of strength, patriotism, luck, and perseverance, the country has survived merciless neighbors and the occasional cruel twist of fate, without ever bowing its head.
Nevertheless, after nearly 45 years under a communist dictatorship and three decades of a chaotic transition, Albania is now in a traumatized state. Communism tried to deprive the citizens of their dignity and create the monstrous aberration it called “the new man.” The people were stripped of their freedom to think, speak, live, and love. Their properties, wealth, and self-respect were forcibly removed. Communism did its best to substitute everything good and honorable with spying, hate, fear, envy, and empty stomachs. Its aim was to deform the individual, make him mindless and soulless. Yet, there were many who resisted: the same who now seek a wealthy, market-based, patriotic, free, and fair Albania. Nonetheless, after the apparent fall of communism, greedy politicians have used the backing of foreign governments and organizations to seize power and steal whatever they can from this country.
Currently, corruption runs deep and wild. Crony capitalism is smothering competition and the private sector is falling into the hands of a few people. The socialist government has just won its third mandate despite accusations of massive manipulation. The opposition in the country, represented by what is commonly referred to as the center-right Democratic Party, has been unable to inspire independent voters and channel the people’s growing frustration into a massive turnout at the polls. The current Democratic Party is a closed, bland, uninspiring group, controlled by a small few and detached from its base. The party itself has moved from its conservative, anti-communist roots and has mutated into a social democratic organization.
In the face of this dire situation and with no hope for an alternative, the Albanian people have fallen into despair, choosing to leave and abandon what is dearest to them.
It is in the midst of all this hopelessness and chaos that a career diplomat—a staunch conservative with known for her integrity and honesty—has decided to run for the chairmanship of the Democratic Party. Edith Harxhi, an alumnus of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and former vice minister for foreign relations under the previous center-right government, and a leader with strong ties to Europe and the US, is hoping to restore her party to its ideological roots and rebuild the historic right in Albania.
Harxhi offers a promising yet ambitious vision for the country—one which freedom of speech and thought, meritocracy, anti-corruption, a higher level of democracy, anti-communism, and capitalism taking center stage. She wants to restore the “broken thread” of history and tradition, patriotism, intellectualism, and national sovereignty. And now, thanks to her, for the first time ever, such issues are being expressed clearly and in a conservative way in Albania.
During the last couple of weeks of campaigning, she often started her meetings with the party base in different cities by emphasizing the mea culpa that she says her party should offer to those who were persecuted under communism. The former vice minister vows to solve the issue of the never-returned property confiscated from its rightful owners by the communists, a problem that continues to plague Albanian society. Those persecuted in the nearly five decades of communism for simply daring to think and speak differently have also never fully received the compensation promised by the post-communist right. Under her leadership—and perhaps eventual government—those compensations would be paid, and the dignity of those who suffered be restored.
In the 1990s, individuals from the Communist Party and even some of those who committed the most heinous crimes infiltrated the Democratic Party. Harxhi promises to save the Albanian right—and society as a whole—from them by initiating legal measures inside her party and in Parliament, such as an anti-communist law similar to the ones enacted in every post-communist eastern European country.
Under her, the country’s youth and the middle class would find a home in the Democratic Party. She would open the Democratic Party to anyone who wants to contribute to its success, not just the cronies at the very top, in the hopes of creating a meritocratic party, in which those who work hard are compensated.
In addition, her support for low taxes, lower levels of public spending, reducing the bureaucracy, and offering incentives to produce more would expand the middle class and create a more attractive Albania for foreign and domestic investments. This clear, no-nonsense vision, combined with her quest to enter an arena traditionally dominated by men, as well as an elegant style of doing politics, and her uncompromising insistence on “doing the right thing” would bring a scent of the Anglo-Saxon culture into the rough Balkans. She is a blend of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, with some of the traits of the patriotic conservatism found in Winston Churchill. This makes her a welcome addition in a country desperately needing change and hope.
Harxhi has entered an uneven race, however. This weekend’s leadership contest pits her against the current leader of the Democratic Party, a man who—despite four consecutive losses—has refused to resign and is running again, with the help of the party’s current administration and the financial means he has at his disposal by virtue of the position he holds. Nevertheless, the one thing he does not have is the base of the party.
By voting for Harxhi, every Democratic Party member would be breathing new life into a party that is withering away and taking with it the hopes and dreams of all lovers of freedom in the country. The Democratic Party has one last chance to strengthen its structure, move towards conservatism, and restore democracy inside itself and throughout the country.
She knows the base of the party well because she has been working with its members since the very beginning. Furthermore, there is no doubt of her right-wing, conservative, and transatlantic pedigree. This combination makes her the perfect choice to bolster her Party, lead a strong opposition, and eventually govern the country. If she were to triumph in this party leadership contest, hope may have a chance to return to the small Balkan country—and patriotism and conservatism would finally return to Albania, making it a possible source of stability and democracy in the Balkans.
In her ‘Thatcherite’ endeavor to rebuild the right, reform her Party, and put Albania back on the right track, Edith Harxhi may be precisely what the conservative and independent electorate need in order to be sufficiently inspired—and produce the change the country so desperately needs. The conservative electorate is the key to making this happen.