“The link between transition and vulnerable groups in Albania”
- Viola Sadushaj
Supervisor: Edith FAVOREU
“The link between transition and vulnerable groups in Albania”
Problem statement: ‘Vulnerable groups’
Albania shares with the rest of Europe a cultural and historical heritage with roots in the Greek, Roman, and Ottoman civilizations and the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Muslim religions.
The country’s level of economic development and its physical and social infrastructure are like those of the poorest and least-developed areas in Africa and Latin America. The Albanian population has always been vulnerable to the problems of poverty and isolation from the outside world . Neither the Government nor the kinship networks have had the capacity to compensate for the social upheavals brought about by the fall of Communism. Since that time, new vulnerable groups have arisen as a direct result of the fragmentation of the social structure.
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The transition in Albania is characterized by volatile and dramatic disruptions. The country is searching for a way out of its economic and social difficulties without a clear sense of direction, and with little social cohesion to sustain whatever policy the Government may choose. Transition is characterized by disorienting, chaotic events, a loss of traditional social norms and organizational arrangements, a lack of credibility on the part of new political leadership, and the appearance of intermediate institutions operating as enclaves and detached from the dynamics in the society. The events of 1991, threw the country into a state of chaos that has been unpredictable in terms of both duration and outcome, making it very difficult to achieve social progress in a cost-effective, equitable, and compassionate way .
Albania is experiencing the emergence of social needs that cannot be addressed simply in terms of poverty reduction. Poverty reduction strategies generally assume that when an economy begins to improve within a scenario of greater political stability and foreign investment, many of the poor and unemployed will be mainstreamed into productive occupations .
The transition in Albania has identified two main conditions of vulnerability (a) social exclusion, which marginalizes people via the mechanism of rejection from mainstream society, and (b) gender abuse, which marginalizes women via the threat or use of violence. Such conditions have created at least seven highly vulnerable groups in Albania:
- Youth at risk of abandoning school: Dropping out of school exposes increasing numbers of youth to the risk of social exclusion, street begging in Italy and Greece, and, in the case of girls, gender abuse. It is also an important factor in the resurgence of illiteracy, lack of economic opportunity, and general cultural diminishment.
- Institutionalized and abandoned children: This group includes orphans, children abandoned by their families, and those with physical handicaps. Such children were strongly penalized under the Communist regime and their condition has not improved. Today their numbers are increasing and they are even more marginalized due to the disruptions and consequent breakdown of family relationships, which are their only guarantee of survival.
- Young men at risk of criminal behavior: Young men who have finished school are at risk of becoming socially excluded and eventually recruited by the criminal economy. The incidence of this phenomenon is correlated with the income level and employment opportunities in the various areas.
- Young men at risk of drug addiction: This group is recent origin, present mainly in Tirana and other urban centers, but also rapidly expanding in smaller cities. Albania is becoming one of the major drug crossroads in Europe, with cannabis widely cultivated in the south and heroin coming in from Turkey.
- Abandoned elderly: Traditional Albanian values require the family to care for the elderly. Nevertheless, massive migration and the breakdown of extended families is resulting in their neglect. Social institutions to care for the elderly are inadequate and unprepared to meet demands for assistance by the increasing numbers who do not have children or are not supported by children who have emigrated.
- Women at risk of gender abuse: The fall of Communist regime has worsened the condition of women. Young women are initiated into prostitution almost exclusively by close friends or boyfriends, many of them linked to organized crime. There is also a resurgence of the pre-Communist betrothal tradition; which exposes young women to the risk of violence both within and outside the family. As a result of this lack of security, parents are keeping girls out of school.
The vulnerable groups have varying features depending on where they are located. All seven groups are found in large numbers in the cities and rural communities of the middle and coastal regions, where uncontrolled migration flows are accelerating the breakdown of the traditional family structure in the context in which no mechanism are in place to support the emergence of strong nuclear families. The lack of economic opportunities for men and women in these areas, combined with the surge of criminal organizations are illegal residences, are producing increasing numbers of abandoned elderly, women, and children and are putting an entire young generation at risk of drug use and criminal activities that victimize others.
Problems caused by transition:
- Loss of state employment,
- Insecurity due to crime and gang activity,
- Family disaggregation.
Priority needs of people:
- Improve employment opportunities,
- Credit for small business,
- Improve infrastructure: water supply, power, transportation lines, telephone and communication systems etc.
- Improve social services,
- Greater security,
- Education and health services,
- Reduce the corruption.
In this phase of transition, Albania’s representative institutions are formally in place but operationally inadequate, while social intermediary organizations such as citizens’ associations are few and limited in scope. Large areas of the country, particularly in the north and east, are still organized according to extended family and clan relationships that control local administrations and have little interface with central government institutions. The emergence of the new vulnerable groups in society is at odds with the prevailing kinship ties, and their interests are scarcely represented in Albania’s weak body politic.
The country’s political institutions are further weakened by the continuing polarization between the Geghs (speakers of the northern dialect) and the Tosks (speakers of the southern dialect) in national politics and the central administration. In addition, the country’s labor unions, a driving force for social protection in Albania (as in all European countries), have collapsed as a result of closure of state industries, leaving industry and agriculture largely to microenterprises and family units. National cohesion also suffers from a fragmented press and the limited coverage of national issues. Religion does not have a significant official political impact in the country, although Moslem and Christian leaders express views on social issues such as abortion and education. As a result of all these factors, decisions relevant to large numbers of people are usually made through consultations and negotiations within informal networks.
At the central level the institution that presently endeavors to address the needs of vulnerable groups is the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Women (MOLSAW). The Ministry operates through its Policy Department and two autonomous subdivisions: the National Employment Services (NES) and the General Administration of Social Services (GASS). Most of MOLSAWs budget comes from the Finance Ministry, although efforts are being made to attract foreign donors and to set up special funds supplied by external aid. MOLSAW is now practicality the only source of financing for social programs, although the law enables rural communes and urban municipalities to levy taxes.
In 1996, the NE share of GDP decreased slightly from 1995, with an almost certain decrease in household allocations, and a negative – but unquantifiable – effect on particularly vulnerable household members. In 1996, households receiving cash benefits were estimated to be approximately 20 percent of all households – 35 percent according to World Bank estimates. Large numbers of poor are not eligible for the NE program, including those who moved to urban areas after December 1995- an exclusionary measure designed to slow migration to urban areas. Moreover, many who are eligible cannot get benefits due to the lack of records.
The Government provides limited social services through welfare institutions such as orphanages and homes for elderly, with very few social workers monitoring situations of poverty and social exclusion of individuals or groups. At present, there are only 22 Government welfare facilities in the entire country, operated by GASS and located in several communes. They include 5 residences for homeless and abandoned elderly, housing a total of 300 persons (30 applicants are on a waiting list and there are 7,500 pending request for admission); and 7 centers for the handicapped (1 each in Tirana, Berat, Korca, Lezha, and Durres, and 2 in Shkodra). Facilities and attendant services are grossly inadequate. The Government estimates that there are 27,000 handicapped individuals in the country, 6,000 of whom need specific, long-term treatment, which is unavailable. None of the 12 regional GASS offices has a physician on staff.
- The role of NGOs
The traditional extended family and clan-based structure of Albania, together with the half century of Communism, have produced a society in which civic associations, including those active in the care of vulnerable groups and dedicated to social development, are still scarce . Nevertheless, the number of indigenous NGOs has been increasing over the past years, and many foreign NGOs are also active. These organizations provide a range of social services but act quite independently from one another, and often with little interface with government.
Legislation concerning NGOs has been under consideration for some time, including a bill that would license NGOs working with vulnerable groups, as well as establish a mechanism to transfer resources from MOSLAW to those NGOs. The system would presumably consist of a grant fund useable for NGO projects or NGO-run activities; the NGOs would be selected to run certain projects on the basis of tenders. MOSLAW would have the responsibility to inspect and monitor NGO activities funded through that mechanism.
The Albanian NGO Forum, the main umbrella organization, includes more than 200 indigenous NGOs, of which roughly 90 appear to carry out some activity, while the others seem to exist in name only; the numbers are inexact due to the lack of registration standards. Most of the organizations are minuscule (one to three persons) and have little in the way of a track record or a well-defined mission. According to the Forum, no more than ten are able to carry out social service programs, and most of these are linked with foreign NGOs or NGO networks, or are supported by international organizations. There are no mass-based, grassroots NGOs. The Forum is oriented toward national development and civil progress issues. Of its 90 operative members, 18 are dedicated to women’s issues, and 4 of these are said to be influential in promoting networking among women to place gender issues on the national agenda. Others are involved in providing microcredit and skills training, thereby acting as information bridges to open up new economic and social perspective to their beneficiaries. Many of these are rural women, who are encouraged by such programs to start their own businesses.
A number of international NGOs are also active in Albania, the largest network of which is run by the Catholic Church. This network consists of worship, education, health, and social service centers staffed by a total of about 100 religious and lay personnel. The activities are carried out mainly in Tirana and major centers in the traditionally Catholic northern regions. Several Islamic NGOs also run childcare, education, and health programs. Some lay NGOs are active in issues concerning women, children, and babies; and one, the Soros Foundation, is becoming involved in the Albanian Development Funds’ urban microcredit program. While the international NGOs are making valuable contributions to human welfare, however their presence in the country remains suboptimal, which prevents them from undertaking programs that could have a system-wide impact.
- Is the transition process inclusive or exclusive regarding vulnerable groups?
- Does the transition process contribute to specific changes for the vulnerable groups?
- What should do the state of Albania to address a better response to these vulnerable groups in this process of transition?
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 Clarissa De Waal, “Albania today: a portrait of post-communist turbulence”, I.B.Tauris, 2007, pg.6.
 Clarissa De Waal, “Albania today: a portrait of post-communist turbulence”, I.B.Tauris, 2007, pg.8.
 Albanian NGOs are most active in sectors such as health, education, culture, youth, women, and the environment.
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