Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Merkel, a distinguished academic personality, and a political scientist on democracy and democratization was the guest of honor together with Dr. Filip Milacic, senior researcher for democracy and society at the FES office in Vienna.
Polarization has been a significant issue in Albania, particularly in the political sphere. The Albanian political landscape is characterized by a long history of divisions and conflicts between different parties and their supporters.
In recent years, polarization in the country has been driven by a growing divide between the country's two main political parties which have frequently engaged in bitter political battles, accusing each other of corruption and incompetence. When political opponents become enemies, polarization has reached a dangerous level and negatively affects social cohesion and democratic development. The culmination of this polarization has been reached when the political opposition withdraws from the democratic institutions of the state and refuses to participate in local government elections. The result has been a lack of trust in the political system, low voter turnout, and a growing disillusionment with the democratic process.
Polarization is an issue that is not only perceived locally but also in the global context and is considered one of the major threats to democracy. The presentations of Prof. Merkel and Filip Milacic, provided for the participants in the conference a discussion focused on the quality of democracy, political polarization, the polarization of society, democratic resilience, etc.
The conference was organized together with the Albanian Institute of International Studies. The experts, Dr. Blendi Ceka, Altin Gjeta, Dr. Sokol Lleshi, Dr. Ines Stasa, and Andi Balla shared with us the papers focused on topics such as: "Polarization is not a choice-the only competing rule", "The origins of polarization in Albania", "Institutional choice, semi-loyal political party, and the trajectory of political polarization", "Transitional Justice as a tool for polarization in Albania" and "Media polarization: a driver or a reflection of societal polarization?".
The other two other events took place in academic environments. One was organized at the European University of Tirana (UET) and the other at the University of Gjirokaster, "Eqerem Cabej" with the participation of students and professors.
Reducing polarization in Albania will require efforts to promote dialogue and understanding between different groups, as well as steps to increase transparency and accountability in the political system. Encountering greater media independence and promoting objective reporting will also be critical for reducing polarization and promoting democratic values.