The third sector and the the ‘Soros’ network in Albania should not be regarded locally, within Albania, because Soros’ decade-long influence on Albanian soil has created a wide network that has a strong influence in Macedonia as well. According to Albanian analyst for international affairs Ilir Kulla, the main culprit for DUI’s withdrawal of the coalition with VMRO-DPMNE is precisely Soros, who through his media has sent a clear message to Ali Ahmeti that they will commit political suicide if they accept a coalition with Nikola Gruevski.
On the other hand, the former wife of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, Delina Fico, until 2021, as director of civil society programs around the world in the East-West Management and as responsible for the region of Southeast Europe, will have the main say in the allocation of about 9.5 million dollars that through the American agency USAID will be given mainly to Soros’ organizations in Macedonia hidden behind the veil of the term “non-governmental”. She gets such an opportunity on the basis of a tender completed in September last year, when the whole thing is over because of a possible change of administration in the United States.
1. Why is it relevant to focus on a “Soros” network in Albania?
Far for being a product of a recurring right-wing conspiracy theory, the network of people and organizations influenced, funded and controlled by George Soros in Albania has an almost total grip on the government and on the state institutions starting from the Prime Minister Edi Rama and continuing to his designed successor Erjon Veliaj. Over the last decades, the unlimited, unchecked and largely unchallenged control of the Soros network on the funding of what is considered as “civil society” in Albania, his covert influence on the destination of funds donated by the American people for Albania, in addition to the open alignment of George Soros in favor of Edi Rama’s left-wing government, has greatly contributed to a growing alienation of the Albanians from the US foreign policy and its goals.
2. A formidable platform of power and influence
The “Soros” network of organizations, politicians, media personalities and local staffers working in the donor agencies in and around Albania is in a clear position to garner and international leverage and local funding for the Rama government and its affiliates, through the US Embassy in Tirana and through its contacts andinfluence in the State Department. The local members of this network are traditionally the privileged recipients of USAID and EU grants and projects that in Albania are designed and implemented by an exclusive club of persons and NGOs that is usually referred to as “civil society” the “NGO sector”, or “the third sector”. Over the last decade “the third sector” became largely identical with “the Sorosnetwork”. By 2015 both terms could be used interchangeably.
3. Key Actions
The network has actively lobbied for the adoption of the judicial reform in Albania, a clear attempt aimed at the capture of Albania’s judicial system by the Rama government. In the year 2015 USAID approved a project worth 9 million USD to reform the Albanian justice system. This project of strategic importance is implemented by a single NGO run by Delina Fico, Board Member of the Open Society Foundation for Albania, the wife of a minister of the present government and the former partner of Prime Minister Edi Rama.
In addition to the justice system reform, the Soros Fund finances and controls the key project “Growth in Albania” in the field of economic policy, implemented by the Harvard Centre for International Development (CID) led by Ricardo Haussmann. All of Albania’s economic reforms are designed by CID, including banking sector reform, privatization reform, deregulation, micro-finance and public-private partnerships. In addition to the almost total control and undisputed influence over a large chunk of foreign assistance for Albania that includes USAID funds and World Bank loans,George Soros is widely perceived as being in a position to influence the position of the State Department on Albania and of the US Embassy in Tirana in general andUS Ambassador Donald Lu in particular.
The explanations regarding such a position of immense strength of George Soros in relation to influencing US foreign policy on Albania are similar in nature to those explaining his influence in post-communist countries such as Armenia and Georgia. Certain facts seem to corroborate some of these arguments, especially in relation to several individuals projected and promoted to positions of power in Albania. Whilst it is clear that much of the rumors concerning George Soros and his influence on US foreign policy, US Embassies and Albanian decision-makers are overstated, few confirmations of their truth and their perception as such by a growingly attentive and critical public opinion is immensely detrimental to the prestige of the United States in Albania.
4. Key persons
The key interlocutor of George Soros for Albania and for the Balkans is Mr. Jonas Rolet. The most important Albanians directly associated with the SOROS network are: Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania, Andi Dobrushi, director of the Open Society Foundation Albania (OSFA), Valdet Sala, former OSFA board director, and former General Secretary of the Communist Youth of Albania, Delina Fico (former partner of the Prime Minister and OSFA board member), Linda Basha Rama (current wife of Prime Minister Rama and former OSFA board member) Milva Ekonomi (Minister of Economy and former OSFA board member) Ditmir Bushati (Foreign Minister, former NGO Director with core funding by OSFA), Erion Veliaj (Mayor of the Capital, former leader of the Mjaft! NGO established by OSFA), Arbjan Mazniku (Deputy Mayor of Tirana, former deputy leader of the Mjaft! NGO established by OSFA), Endri Fuga (head of PR of the Prime Minister, former head of PR of Mjaft NGO established by OSFA), Valentina Leskaj (Member of Parliament, former board member of OSFA), Eglantina Gjermeni (Minister of Territorial Planning, former director of an NGO with core funding by OSFA), Henri Cili (former board member of OSFA and owner of a private university established with OSFA core funding). The key influential people in the Albanian media sector directly associated to the Soros network are the following: Remzi Lani (also former General Secretary of the Albanian Communist Youth), Lutfi Dervishi, Iris Luarasi, Albert Rakipi, Pirro Misha, Besar Likmeta, Arjan Vasjari, Alfred Lela, Arianita Brahaj, Jonila Godoleand Afrim Krasniqi.
5. Keystones of the Soros NGO architecture in Albania
The key NGOs traditionally funded by the Open Society Foundation for Albania in conjunction to USAID and NED, most of which traditionally function as extensions of the Socialist Party into the civil society, with the few exceptions of two or three NGOs linked to officials of the Democratic Party of Albania are the following: BIRN Albania, Balkan Insight, Reporter.al, Open Data Albania, European Movement Albania, Centre for Parliamentary Studies, Mjaft, Partners Albania, Institute for Democracy and Mediation, Albanian Electoral Chamber, ResPublica, Albanian Media Institute, Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS), Albanian Institute for Contemporary Studies (ISB), Albanian Helsinki Committee, Gender Alliance for Development, Refleksione Association, the Association for Population and Development, the Human Development Promotion Centre (HDPC), the Albanian Platform for Policy Advocacy (APPA), Transparency International Albania, the Agenda Institute, the East-West Management Institute.
6. Influence of the Soros network on the Democratic Party of Albania
Whilst the network is controlled at 99% by persons affiliated with the Socialist Party of Albania, who are its main political customers and largest financial beneficiaries, it has made significant inroads into the right-wing opposition. The Democratic Party of Albania currently hosts several important personalities who have benefited from the strategic investment of OSFA in their political careers.These few DP leaders have direct contacts and run well-funded projects, either by OSFA or by its affiliated NGOs or international partners. Typically they receive, in a similar manner to SP high officials, astronomically high consultancy fees in exchange of reports or assessment studies of few pages and little or no value. This phenomenon has affected DP government advisors when PD was in power. It continues now at a time DP is in opposition, by greatly reducing the effectiveness of its action and by heavily compromising its credibility and its chances to win the elections.
Whilst it is very difficult to provide generic recommendations on such a network with local, national and international ramifications, it is by now quite certain that its final consolidation into a formidable structure capable of wielding such an amount of independent power and influence is not any longer beneficial neither to Albania, nor to a healthy US-Albanian relationship. It is clear that existence of the local “Soros” network and its perceived and actual wrongdoings cannot be wholly and personally attributable to Mr. George Soros, regardless of his direct involvement with Albanian politics in several occasions. This makes it even more important to expose the local nature of the network so as to isolate, to the highest possible extent, its detrimental ramifications at the national and at the international level. In particular, more attention ought to be given to reducing the influence of the local advisors and local staffers entrenched in the structures of USAID, US Embassy and other important foreign aid organizations operating in Albania, on the grounds of long-standing collusion and overt and covert cooperation with what we term as the “Soros” network. Full disclosure and transparency ought to be made with regard to the distribution and efficiency in the use of the funds donated by the American People in Albania. No cases of misuse and misappropriation of US funds have been made known to the Albanians to date, whilst it is quite obvious that the same people, largely affiliated to the OSFA and to the SP, either directly benefit or directly control them.