Sali Berisha
Berisha in 2009
President of Albania
In office
9 April 1992 – 24 July 1997
Prime MinisterVilson Ahmeti
Aleksandër Meksi
Bashkim Fino
Preceded byRamiz Alia
Succeeded byRexhep Meidani
32nd Prime Minister of Albania
In office
11 September 2005 – 15 September 2013
PresidentAlfred Moisiu
Bamir Topi
Bujar Nishani
DeputyIlir Rusmali
Gazmend Oketa
Genc Pollo
Ilir Meta
Edmond Haxhinasto
Myqerem Tafaj
Preceded byFatos Nano
Succeeded byEdi Rama
Leader of the Democratic Party
Assumed office
22 May 2022
Preceded byLulzim Basha
In office
July 1997 – June 2013
Preceded byTritan Shehu
Succeeded byLulzim Basha
In office
1990–1992
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byEduard Selami
Leader of the Opposition
Assumed office
22 May 2022
Preceded byLulzim Basha
In office
1997–2005
Preceded byFatos Nano
Succeeded byEdi Rama
In office
1991–1992
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byFatos Nano
Personal details
Born (1944-10-15) 15 October 1944 (age 79)
Tropojë, Albania
Political partyParty of Labour (1968–1990)
Democratic Party (1990–present)
Spouse
(m. 1971)
Children2
EducationUniversity of Tirana (MD)
Signature
Websitehttps://www.sali-berisha.com

Sali Ram Berisha (Albanian pronunciation: [saˈli bɛˈɾiʃa]; born 15 October 1944) is an Albanian cardiologist and conservative politician who served as the president of Albania from 1992 to 1997 and 32nd prime minister from 2005 to 2013. Berisha serves as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Albania since 2022 and has held the position previously from 1990 to 2013. He also serves as the incumbent Leader of Opposition in the Albanian parliament.

He has been banned from entering the United States and the United Kingdom after being accused of "involvement in significant corruption" and links to organised crime groups and criminals that pose a "risk to public safety in Albania".

On 9 September 2021, Berisha was expelled by party chairman Lulzim Basha from the Democratic Party's Parliamentary Group due to legal issues with the US Department of State.[1] This decision led to Berisha starting a nation-wide movement to remove Basha as leader of the Democratic Party, causing a major rift in the party's internal structures, between Berisha's and Basha's supporters.

On 30 December 2023, Berisha was placed under house arrest for allegations regarding corruption in his previous governments.[2]

Early life and career

Berisha was born in Viçidol, then Tropojë District, in northern Albania, to a Muslim family of mountain farmers, his family are a part of the Berisha tribe. As a child, he tended sheep.[3]

After his father became a functionary of the Party of Labour of Albania, Berisha enjoyed a higher education and was then able to study medicine at the University of Tirana, graduating in 1967. With a one-year scholarship, he specialized in cardiology in Paris.[3]

Subsequently, he was appointed as an assistant professor of medicine at the same university and as staff cardiologist at the Tirana General Hospital. At the same time, Berisha became a member of a discussion forum for changes in the Albanian Party of Labor[4] while having been enrolled as a member a few years earlier. During the 1970s, Berisha gained distinction as the leading researcher in the field of cardiology in Albania and became professor of cardiology at the University of Tirana.[citation needed] In 1978 he received a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural (UNESCO) fellowship for nine months of advanced study and training in Paris. He also conducted a research program on hemodynamics that attracted considerable attention among his colleagues in Europe. In 1986 he was elected to be a member of the European Committee for Research on Medical Sciences.[citation needed]

In an interview for the Albanian Writers League newspaper published also in the international press, Berisha demanded that the remaining barriers to freedom of thought and expression be ended, that Albanians be granted the right to travel freely within the country and abroad, and that Albania abandon its isolationist foreign policy[clarification needed]. At an August 1990 meeting of the nation's intellectuals convened by President Ramiz Alia, Berisha urged the Albanian Party of Labor to abolish the third article of the communist constitution which sanctioned that the Party of Labor had the hegemony of the Power, to recognize the Human Rights Charter, the drafting of a new democratic constitution, and to remove all monuments of Stalin in the country.[citation needed]

In an article published in the Bashkimi newspaper on 17 September 1990, Berisha condemned what he termed the "cosmetic reforms" of the Alia regime, which had only served to aggravate unrest within the nation. Without political pluralism, he argued, there could be no true democracy in Albania.[clarification needed]

Berisha emerged as the chairman of the Democratic Party of Albania (DP), the first and largest of the new opposition parties. All leading members of the party wore white coats during demonstrations. He was formally elected DP chairman in February 1991 at the party's first national congress.[citation needed] He was elected member of Albania parliament in 1991, 1992, 1997, 2001 from the constituency of Kavajë.[citation needed]

President (1992–97)

See also: Fall of communism in Albania and 1997 unrest in Albania

After the 1992 elections—the second free legislative elections held in the country—Berisha was elected president on 9 April 1992. He was the country's second freely elected head of state, and the first non-Communist head of state in 53 years.

Following his election, Berisha and his government were engaged in a profound course of political, economic, institutional, legislative and multifaceted reforms. Therefore, the complete privatisation of land and residencies, as well as of all small and medium state enterprises, was accomplished over the period 1992–96; prices and exchange rates were fully liberalised, and Albania changed from a country of a three figure inflation rate and economic growth regression of −20% into a country with a one-figure inflation rate and with an average economic growth rate of 9% in 1992 and, in '93 – '96, 75% of GDP was generated from the private sector.[citation needed]

Albania opened towards the West: it signed the Partnership for Peace Agreement in 1994[5] and it became a member of the Council of Europe in 1995.[6]

Berisha also introduced Islam to the Albanian political scene, pursued re-Islamisation of the country (approximately 74% Sunni Muslims of Albania's population) to reverse decades of anti-religious policy under Communism. Non-Governmental Organisations from Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Muslim world were invited in to build mosques and schools and provide other aid, and spread Wahhabi or Salafi Islam to Albania (and along with it, Saudi geopolitical influence).[7][8]

The collapse of the Ponzi schemes towards the end of 1996, into which Albanians allegedly invested $1 billion worth of life savings from 1994, recapped the crisis. The schemes failed, one by one, from December 1996, and demonstrators took to the streets accusing the government of having stolen the money. In the midst of the crisis that had escalated into a civil war, Sali Berisha was re-elected president for a second five-year term on 3 March 1997 by a parliament totally controlled by the Democratic Party.[9][10]

During the first ten days of March, the situation deteriorated, culminating in the desertion of large numbers of police and military, leaving their arsenals unlocked. These were promptly looted, mostly by militias and some criminal gangs, and for a time it looked like civil war would erupt between the government and rebels. Although the Prime Minister resigned immediately, Berisha refused opposition demands to step down, claiming he had to ensure continuity, and UN and European Multinational Forces were required to step in and take the situation under control. After their intervention in Albania, early elections were held in June 1997, leading to the victory of a socialist-led coalition of parties.[citation needed] On 23 July 1997, a month after the DP lost the 1997 elections to the left coalition, Berisha stepped down as president and was replaced by the socialist Rexhep Meidani.[11] In 1997 he became the chairman of the Democratic Party, which became the biggest opposition party. He eventually returned to power as Prime Minister between 2005 and 2013.[citation needed]

Opposition leader (1997–2005)

The murder of DP MP Azem Hajdari on 12 September 1998, triggered two days of violent protests in Tirana. During Hajdari's funeral procession on 14 September 1998, armed DP supporters ransacked government offices, and for a brief period, held the PM's office, the parliament building, and the Albanian State television and radio building.[12] Estimates of casualties during the protests and riots ranged between 3 and 7 deaths and 14 and 76 injuries.[13][14] After 72 hours, the Government restored order and reclaimed tanks and armored personnel carriers seized by DP supporters that were being held at the Democratic Party main offices in Tirana. Parliament subsequently lifted Berisha's immunity due to his alleged role in what the government described as a coup d'état, but no charges were laid. Berisha blamed the Socialist Party of Albania and its leaders for the murder. Twelve people were arrested for their alleged involvement in the violence.[15] In February 2002 five people, including Jaho Mulosmani, were sentenced for the murder by a Tirana district court.[16]

Sali Berisha led the coalition of the center-right parties in the general elections held in five rounds in June–August 2001.

In the winter of 2004, a number of protests with over 20,000 people were organized by the opposition led by Berisha demanding Nano resign as prime minister which became known as the "Nano Go Away" Movement (Levizja "Nano Ik").[17]

Prime Minister (2005–13)

Sali Berisha and George W. Bush in Tirana, June 2007.

On 3 July 2005, Sali Berisha led a coalition of five right center parties into the 2005 parliamentary elections, which eventually won a majority of 74 MPs from a total of 140. He was appointed Prime Minister of Albania on 8 September 2005.

On 10 June 2007, Berisha met with U.S. President George W. Bush in Tirana. Bush became the first U.S. president to visit Albania and repeated his staunch support for the independence of neighbouring Kosovo from Serbia: "At some point in time, sooner rather than later, you've got to say, enough is enough. Kosovo is independent."[18]

Berisha with Angela Merkel during the EPP Congress in Bucharest, 2012.
Berisha meeting with Jadranka Kosor and Borut Pahor.

On 15 March 2008, Berisha faced the toughest challenge of his government when an ammunition dump exploded in the village of Gërdec near Tirana, killing 26 people and injuring over 100. Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu resigned, and the press reported many irregularities at the blast site, operated by an Albanian company that deactivated the country's aging ammunition and then sold it for scrap.[citation needed]

Sali & Liri Berisha with Barack & Michelle Obama, in September 2009.

In June 2009, Democrats declared a narrow win in the parliamentary elections. Berisha's alliance came up one seat short of a majority and had to join forces with a splinter socialist party, the Socialist Movement for Integration of Ilir Meta, in order to retain power. Berisha appointed Meta to the post of Deputy Prime Minister and at the same time Minister for Foreign Affairs, and later Minister of Economy, Trade and Energy. It was the first time since the start of multi-party democracy in 1991 that a ruling party had been forced into a coalition due to not winning enough seats on its own.[19]

The 2009 elections were called flawed by the socialist opposition, which asked for a recount of the ballots. Berisha refused, on the ground that the Albanian Constitution does not call for such a procedure.[citation needed] He however called the opposition to the Parliament to change the Constitution, but the Socialist Party refused.[citation needed] The political crisis between government and opposition worsened over time, with the Socialists abandoning parliamentary debates for months and staging hunger strikes to ask for internal and international support. The EU attempted a conciliation, which failed. The ongoing political crisis was one of the reasons for the EU's refusal to grant Albania official candidate status in late 2010.[20] However, The elections were certified by the OSCE/ODIHR as having marked significant progress in voter registration, the identification process, the legal framework, the voting process, the counting of votes and the resolution of complaints.[21]

In 2009 during the government led by Berisha, more than 10,000 km of roads were built, connecting over 900 villages with the municipalities and 169 municipalities with the national road infrastructure with paved roads. To be mentioned are the Tirana-Elbasan road and, in particular, the Durrës-Kukës road, otherwise known as the "Nation Road", because it connected neighboring Kosovo with the city of Durrës. The latter crosses Albania from east to west and is the largest road project in the history of Albania. The construction of this road was criticized by the Socialist Party.[19]

On 21 January 2011, clashes broke out between police and protesters in an anti-government rally in front of the Government building in Tirana. Four people were shot dead by government special forces.[22] The EU issued a statement to Albanian politicians, warning both sides to refrain from violence,[23] while Berisha called the protests and subsequent charges by judges upon policemen as stages of an attempted coup against him – consequently, he attempted to consolidate his grip on state institutions. He accused the then-President of having been part of the coup after relations had soured between the two, and embraced his perceived victim status to install his own 'yes man' in the office.[24]

In 2011, commenting on the Middle East, Berisha said: "Peace between Israel and the Palestinians must go through direct negotiations, and by guaranteeing the security of both states.... The solution must bring full security to both states, but I have not seen any support for the acceptance and recognition of the State of Israel."[25]

Under his leadership, Albania made several strides in sustainable development. In the 2012 Environmental Performance Index, the country ranked 4th out of 132 countries, while maintaining an average GDP growth of 5.1% between 2007 and 2011. By 2012, the country was producing more than 96 percent of the energy through renewable hydropower resources. For his significant achievements and contributions to sustainable development, he was awarded the Fray International Sustainability Award in 2012.[26]

After his party's defeat in the 2013 parliamentary election, Berisha resigned as party leader, but remained in parliament.

Opposition leader (2022–present)

Following the decision of Lulzim Basha in expelling Berisha from the Democratic Party parliamentary group.[27] Prior to this, members of the Democratic Party who had been also unsettled with Basha over election results following two consecutive losses in parliament.[28] Calling for him Basha to resign. However Basha was not willing to resign. On 9 September 2021, Basha had expelled Berisha from the Democratic party due to issues concerning the United States and Berisha and his Public Designation by the United States Department of State.[29][30] On 11 December at Arena Kombëtare, Berisha and members who were against Basha during the national council voted to remove Basha as leader of the Democratic Party.[31] On 8 January 2021, Berisha and members of the Democratic party who were against Basha staged protests outside the Democratic Party headquarters which resulted in the RENEA being called in due to the protests becoming violent.[32][33]

On 21 March 2022, due to demand Lulzim Basha stepped down from party leadership which resulted in Berisha being elected.[34][35] However, despite Enkelejd Alibeaj claiming he is the official leader of the Democratic Party, Berisha is considered the de facto leader.[36] As de facto leader, on 7 July 2022, he staged protests against the Albanian government over prices and wages in front of the Prime Minister's Office.[37] Berisha also stated that the future of Albania and the Albanians was at risk and the people should decide in their own hands.[38]

On 6 December 2022 during protests Berisha was assaulted in the face resulting in him being given a black eye.[39] The assailant's mother had told the media that her son had been suffering from mental problems for 5 years.[40] He is awaiting trial.[41] President Begaj, Prime Minister Rama, and Lulzim Basha all condemned the assault on Berisha.[42][43] Berisha himself forgave the perpetrator.[44]

Personal life

Berisha is married to Liri Berisha (née Ramaj), a pediatrician. Liri Berisha is the president of Albanian Children Foundation. Her foundation focuses on children with autism and Down syndrome. The couple have two children, a daughter, Argita Malltezi (née Berisha) who is a professor of law at the University of Tirana, and a son, Shkëlzen Berisha.[45]

On October 21, 2023, Berisha's son in law, Jamarbër Malltezi, was arrested by Albanian police on accusations of corruption and money laundering allegedly committed during Berisha's tenure as Prime Minister of Albania. Berisha himself was accused of aiding and abetting the alleged crime, and had his passport confiscated by the prosecutors, until the trial's end. Berisha has strongly denied the allegations, and has publicly accused the prosecutors of a political attack, claiming that they were acting on the orders of Prime Minister Edi Rama.[46]

Sanctions

On 19 May 2021, Berisha, his wife, son and daughter were sanctioned by the US Department of State and barred from entry into the United States after being accused of "involvement in significant corruption".[47] On the press conference Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken stated:

In his official capacity as Prime Minister of Albania in particular, Berisha was involved in corrupt acts, such as misappropriation of public funds and interfering with public processes, including using his power for his own benefit and to enrich his political allies and his family members at the expense of the Albanian public's confidence in their government institutions and public officials.

Berisha has disputed the allegations.[48]

On July 21, the British embassy in Tirana announced it had taken action against several Albanian individuals but did not disclose their names. The prime minister's special envoy to the Western Balkans Stuart Peach said in a statement:

This week, we took disruptive action against several Albanian individuals with well publicised and documented ties to criminality and corruption. This is the first wave of a set of actions intended to encourage accountability and end impunity.[49][50][51]

The next day, Berisha revealed that he was subject to this action.

Controversies

Human rights abuses

In 1996, published a report regardingrights abuses perpetrated under Berisha's administration.[52] It claims that: ((Blockquote |text=Since coming to power in March 1992, the Democratic Party (DP), led by President Berisha, has used a variety of means to promote itself and stifle the opposition. The secret police, the state-owned media and the judicial system are used to silence political opponents. There have been numerous violations of the right to association, peaceful assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of the press directed against the political opposition and other initiatives that express views critical of the state. |source=

Haklaj family

In December 2022, Zylfie and Muharrem Haklaj filed a lawsuit against Berisha and 15 other people in the Special Prosecution Against Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK) for allegedly ordering and directing the murder of their four brothers Shkëlqim, Halil, Fatmir and Ylli Haklaj in Tropojë in the late 1990s and early 2000s and the attacks with shells and TNT against their tower in the village of Kirnajë.[53][54][55][56]

Partizani complex

On 22 October 2023, the Special Prosecution Against Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK) officially announced the charges against Sali Berisha, his son-in-law Jamarbër Malltezi and builder Fatmir Bektashi.[57] Sali Berisha was accused of "Passive corruption of high state officials or local elected officials".[58] He was also given the measures "ordered to appear" and "not to leave the country".[59]

On 30 December 2023, an Albanian court has ordered house arrest for former Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who leads the opposition Democratic Party due to corruption charges. Judges accepted the prosecutors’ request to Berisha under house arrest after he violated the previous restrictive measures of reporting every two weeks.[2]

Honours and awards

See also

References

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Party political offices New political party Leader of the Democratic Party 1991–92 Succeeded byEduard Selami Preceded byGenc Pollo Leader of the Democratic Party 1997–2013 Succeeded byLulzim Basha Political offices Preceded byRamiz Alia President of Albania 1992–97 Succeeded byRexhep Meidani Preceded byFatos Nano Prime Minister of Albania 2005–2013 Succeeded byEdi Rama