In a tweet that marks a new low for the European Commission’s communication strategy in Albania, EU Ambassador Luigi Soreca implied yesterday that Albanians lack “honesty” and “integrity”:
Fighting corruption is a whole-society effort and needs to be fought from various angles at the same time, with clear political will and robust institutional framework. The aim is to produce a deeper cultural shift towards a society that fully values honesty and integrity.
The tweet was accompanied by a photograph of a table featuring Ambassador Soreca, Prime Minister Edi Rama, and US Ambassador Yuri Kim, in front of a sign that said “High Level Conference,” as if Albanians needed a reminder that what was being said was, indeed, of a “high level.”
In reality, the tweet shows not only the complete disconnect of the European Commission from Albanian reality, but also the deeply problematic, colonial and orientalist mindset that has taken hold in their offices. When they claim that the aim of “fighting corruption” is “to produce a deeper cultural shift towards a society that fully values honesty and integrity” the implication is that corruption in Albania is an endemic problem embedded in Albanian culture, a culture that apparently does not fully value honesty and integrity.
Let us take a moment to digest this. When Italy elects a fascist government, as it has done in the recent past, is there any foreign ambassador that says that Italians need to produce “a deeper cultural shift towards a society that fully values human rights and democracy”? When the Dutch government operates an international tax haven cum money laundering machine, as it currently does, is there any foreign ambassador that voices the need to produce “a deeper cultural shift towards a society that fully values solidarity and equity”?
Of course not. Because it would be ridiculous to blame the fascism, greed, or corruption of a country’s government simply on “culture.” What should be blamed are concrete policies, officials, and institutions – not a vague notion of “cultural values” that would need to “shift.” These types of statements immediately recall the racist cultural stereotypes that were the product of Western European colonialist expansion, and which still dominate discourse even within the EU (“frugal Dutch” versus “lazy Spaniards”).
By blaming Albanian “culture” rather than the systemic failure of Albanian policies, officials, and institutions, the European Commission fails to call out the backsliding that has occurred under the Rama regime in terms of corruption.
Albania has been sliding down on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for the last 4 years. Is it the fault of Albanian “culture” that lucrative construction tenders always happen to go to companies close to the government or that public–private partnerships always include unknown shell companies registered in tax havens? Will a “cultural shift” help those Albanian people who need to bribe hospital officials to have their loved ones receive a minimum of proper care?
All of these problems have to do with the failure of the Rama government to implement and strengthen the legal anti-corruption framework and the failure of the judiciary to prosecute government officials and high-ranking politicians involved in corruption. But rather than calling out the problem, the European Commission wrote the following in the executive summary of the recent Country Report:
Good progress was made in the reporting period. Albanian authorities strengthened operational, coordination and monitoring capacities in the fight against corruption, thus meeting the condition for the first IGC [Inter-governmental Conference].
Twenty pages later, deep in the report, the Commission buried the simple truth:
Overall, corruption is prevalent in many areas and remains an issue of concern. […] Investigations have so far not resulted in a substantial number of final convictions of high-ranking state officials. This fosters a culture of impunity within the higher levels of the State.
But rather than openly articulating this “impunity within the higher levels of the State,” the tweet of Ambassador Soreca blames Albanian “culture,” which would not fully value “honesty” and “integrity.” This is an offense that no Albanian who lives a daily life ruled by an utterly corrupt political class should have to suffer. An official apology would be in order.