Democratic Empowerment and Transnational Threats

Are demographic trends mirroring Albania’s vulnerabilities?

It is believed that among the negative sides of globalisation – or rising global inter-connectedness – there is also the brain-drain that many small less developed countries are experiencing in recent decades. One of these countries is definitely Albania, a state in the middle of its path to becoming an EU Member States, amid socio-democratic enhancement and economic development. While Albania goes through this very critical moment of its history, two important questions must be addressed to understand its possible pathways: which are Albania’s future demographic projections? Are they simply systemic or do they reflect critical aspects of Albanian society?

A 2014 publication by the Albanian Institute of Statistics (INSTAT) sketches out different projections for the Albanian population until 2031, against the backdrop of the 2011 census results. In the 2011 census Albania’s population was around 2.9 million residents, in decline of nearly 200,000 people from the previous 2001 census. This considerable decline for a small state like Albania can fundamentally be explained by two distinct factors: (1) lower fertility rates; and (2) continued emigration flows. Today’s fertility rates cannot match pre-1991 ones – which accounted 3-5 children per household – for various reasons. One of the most important ones regards women emancipation in society. Indeed, when women become more educated and switch from being housewives to strong participants of the workforce, they tend to have fewer children, since also their role in society changes accordingly. Another important reason has been communist propaganda: more children meant more soldiers and more workers, all subject to military-industrial growth. Thus fertility, besides being high for social causes, it was also seen favourably by the regime. As for the second factor – i.e. continued emigration flows – even if the 2000s decade lags behind of the 1990s when there was a boom of Albanian migrants towards Western countries, still the demographic erosion of the country continued steadily.

Projections for 2031 are divided into three scenarios: one that predicts the trends for a high growth rates of the population, one for medium rates, and one for low rates. The extreme scenarios value either an increase of population up to 3 million (high growth scenario), or a sharp decrease to 2.5 million inhabitants (low growth scenario) by 2031. In the low growth scenario, Albania would lose 400,000 people in 20 years: more than one every half an hour. The gap between the two values – shifting from minus 14% to plus 4% of the 2011 population – depends on the two aforementioned factors: fertility and emigration. However, even putting aside extreme derangements in only 20 years, the picture does not become more comforting: according to the medium growth scenario Albania’s population will decline by more than 100,000 inhabitants by 2031.

[source: INSTAT – Population Projections 2011-2031]

The two variables of fertility and emigration do not have the same importance and value that they have had until now for Albania’s demographic trends. Indeed, if the latter continues to play a crucial role for population oscillations, fertility is becoming a more stable factor due to the modernising and socio-economic development of the country. Thus, possible declines in Albania’s overall population will be more a consequence of people leaving the country than of birth rates. If Albanian authorities want to invert the trend, they have to examine the deeply-rooted causes for migration. Since after the fall of the communist regime, Albania has not been able to stop its fast population drain, thus strengthening Albanian diaspora and presence abroad.

Therefore, in order to understand Albania’s demographic problem, the crucial question to be addressed is why do Albanians migrate. First and foremost for better living conditions. This does not regard money, as it is commonly believed; it regards opportunities: opportunities to achieve self-emancipation and achievement. It regards a political, institutional and social architecture able to fully support the lives of its citizens, ranging from services to healthcare, from education to transparency. Many people go abroad leaving back in their country even a decently-paid job, and maybe work for lower mansions. However, outside of Albania you can find countries which are more reliable in terms of democratic performance and are less corrupt. They provide a better schooling system, a better business environment, better social and institutional support. Even if Albania has seen important economic growth in recent years (see World Bank Data regarding GDP growth in Albania), the country still lingers in widespread corruption, institutional fragility and organised crime.

This epidemic of people fleeing Albania – as is the case for most of countries – fundamentally regards young people, that are eager to a find a better way of life and are not connected so deeply with their homeland, as may be the case of their parents. Therefore, the brain-drain that Albania has been experiencing in the last three decades is worrisome and can hinder its future development. An alarm bell that looks to be ringing for the deaf ears of central authorities. Indeed Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has referred to the phenomenon as an ambiguous one, with blurred lines regarding its positive and negative consequences. PM Rama, indeed, has often depicted higher rates of emigration as connected to higher rates of Foreign Direct Investment in the country resulting from its diaspora and, in general, with higher fluxes of money entering Albania: the latter with respect to Albanian youngsters working abroad and sending back home money to help their parents and families. However true it can be, the negative effects of brain-drain are not comparable: a whole skilled working class that will shrink, e.g. doctors and medical personnel. This will also have consequences for the whole welfare system as it is the middle-age group of people that usually carries most of its economic weight. Once again, the key for Albania’s progress relies on the fight against corruption and on the strengthening of the institutional system.  

By Fabio Seferi

Fabio holds a Master's Degree in International Relations and European Studies from the University of Florence, Italy. His Master's thesis focused on the role and influence of Russia, Turkey and China in the Western Balkans. He has been Programme Assistant Intern at the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank, and Ad-Hoc Research Assistant for The Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime. Fabio’s main research interests focus on conflicts, political violence, hybrid warfare, intelligence analysis and organised crime.

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