The unwritten history of the Chamber

To date we have not inherited any written story about the Tirana Chamber of Commerce. It is an unexplored field, both by historians and other scholars, so much so that for years the opinion has been circulating about the Chamber of Tirana, written in the documents of the Chamber, that it was created in 1926. How much it corresponded to reality this fact,  appeared since the first historical documentary research, when we found in letter no. 9, dated 7.X.1923, that the newly elected chairman of the Chamber of Commerce of Tirana, Ali Begeja addressed the Chamber of Commerce of Shkodra, informing him that “The Chamber of Commerce located here since d. 22.VIII.1923, was formed “, giving below the names of the chairman and members of the Council of the Chamber. This was a confrontation with the facts of the Chamber’s historical past that gave us the courage to delve into the depths of the documentary abyss of archives, and today we can speak with assurance that we have discovered many of its enigmas.

The economic-commercial past of the Tirana region is the basis for the later economic and social development. It is true that the history of Tirana begins with its establishment as a city in the XVII century, but the earliest evidence discovered, goes deep into historical antiquity. Archaeological sources have discovered in this area treasures of coins of Apollonia and Durrës, as well as Roman republican denari, which shows that in the 1st century bc, the monetary economy was developed, even in the area of Tirana which testifies the penetration of the Roman economy in this part of Southern Illyria, and which is related to the development of property, production and trade exchanges.

The birth and formation of the institution of chambers of commerce is closely related to this period of the formation of administrative councils of prefectures and sub-prefectures as new institutions in the Albanian social and administrative reality. Of course, it is important for us that, while the administrative reform had started in the 1940s and Tirana, as a kaza, since 1848, had a deputy prefect and modern administrative institutions of local government, this also means the existence of representatives of the chambers of trade, as part of this new administration, as well as of the commercial courts, two of the institutions that are not mentioned, but implied, since they were part of the administrative structure. Also, since the administration of the sub-prefectures of Tirana was complete, as early as 1848, we must admit, that the institution of the Chamber of Commerce also existed during that period and had its representatives in the city administration. This statement, which would lead to the beginnings of the Tirana Chamber of Commerce 160 years ago, in 1848, remains one of the objectives of research and deepening of our further study.

Chamber of Commerce, dates before 1897

In a document from 1897, the Chamber of Commerce of Tirana appears to us, through the note left by the honorable academic, Prof. Kristo Frashëri and which constitutes a very important document for our work and research: it is a rare data, which proves the existence (but not the establishment, implying and accepting that the formation should have been done long ago ) of the institution of chamber of commerce, agriculture and industry, as part of the administration of the municipality of the sub-prefecture of Tirana. The note, which was left to us as a legacy by the well-known historian, is written in pen on page no. 71 of the book “Tirana 1937” and is the translation of a Turkish chronicle, which belongs to the Vilayet of Shkodra of 1313 (1897) and deals with the administration of the sub-prefecture of Tirana. In the note, after mentioning the name of the Mayor, Mehmet Ali Bey and the names of the five members of this Municipality, we read: “Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce – Agriculture – Industry: Fuat Bey”.

The translation of this Chronicle of the Vilayet of Shkodra, which included the sub-prefecture of Tirana, gives us an indisputable fact and we have no choice but to admit that in 1897, in the administration of the Municipality of sub-prefecture of Tirana, the Chamber of Commerce, Agriculture and Industry was also part of it and its chairman was Fuat Bey. But who is Fuat Bey?

We did not learn more from the archival documentary data, until we met Academician Kristo Frashëri, who confirmed to us that: “I wrote the note with the contents of the Chronicle that you tell me. It is a translation made about 60 years ago, from the Old Ottoman language. It is as I have written: in the administration of the Municipality of the sub-prefecture of Tirana, the Chamber of Commerce, Agriculture and Industry was also part and its Chairman was Fuat Toptani. Fuat Bey is Fuat Toptani. There were no other Fuat Beys at that time. The others were newcomers. Fuat Toptani was him, the first of the Toptans “. A truth that sheds light on what can be called the “Historical Genealogy of the Tirana Chamber of Commerce” and that is the first known stone in its foundations. From the conversation with the honoured professor, we also learned and got to know the President of the Chamber of Commerce, who was Fuat Bey Toptani. But, from this conversation, came another conclusion, that this Chamber is not that it was created in 1897, when this chronicle was written, which in fact proves the state of the sub-prefecture administration in that year, although we still do not know when this administration was formed with this composition stated in the document.

Our Chambers of Commerce were created and were part of the state administration and performed the tasks assigned to them by this administration. The renaissance of chambers of commerce in the 1920s and their development until 1944, placed them in the positions of a body initially subordinated to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, with a building structure and function under Ottoman law of Chambers of Trade, and this continued until the Albanian legislation was drafted.

The interest of the government was that, in dealing with the solution to the problems of the economy, the state should have to deal with representatives of traders and not with the individual trader, craftsman, farmer or industrialist. This was especially evident when, after the convening of the Congress of Merchants on July 31 and August 2, 1922, the government failed to achieve its objectives. For the government, it was more appropriate to have representatives of Chambers of Commerce in Congress. And from this time on, initiatives will be launched for the convening of several Congresses of chambers of commerce, where state bodies seek opinions and ways to provide solutions to concerns in terms of economic and trade development. The years 1920-1940 can be called the years of Merchant Congresses, because 7 Congresses take place: in 1922, 1924-25, 1928, 1930, 1932, 1934 and 1939.

The first Congress of merchants in 1922 was of special importance because it came up with the decision to “create chambers of commerce everywhere”. From this time begins the reform of the Chambers of Commerce even where they existed, with the difference that now they would be bodies recognized by the state and would be considered part of the Department of Finance, as stated in decision no. 144, dated March 25, 1924, of the Council of Ministers, according to which “the newly created chambers and trading clubs would depend on the Ministry of Finance, next to which the General Directorate of Commerce would be established”.

With the issuance of the law “On the establishment of Chambers of Commerce” no. 56, dated March 14, 1929, dependence on the government would be legalized, when the chambers would be declared as “government intermediaries, on the one hand of farmers, industrialists and traders, on the other and dependent and regulated by the National Ministry of Economy. Practice showed that they turned into bodies of the department of economics, as an adjunct to the government for solving the tasks and problems it had. With the release of the new law, new elections took place and its chairman will be Hamdi Bimbashi, a prominent patriot who leaves lawyer activity in Istanbul, and with the call of Aqif Pasha of Elbasan, joins the country’s leadership and raises the Albanian flag of Independence in Peqin, on November 26, 1912.

On April 30, 1932, the law “On the Establishment of Chambers of Commerce” was issued, and after that new elections of the Chamber were organized. Entrepreneur Omer Fortuzi is elected its chairman, who would continue to run the Chamber even after 1940, although he was elected Mayor of Tirana.

This story would be deficient if we did not address the history of the Chamber of Commerce during the communist regime, in terms of liquidation of private property and the establishment of centralized economic relations of the state. The establishment of the Albanian Chamber of Commerce in 1958, was a reality that existed in Tirana and the Chamber of Commerce maintained relations with many Chambers of other countries, performing the tasks that in the West were performed by the Chambers of Commerce.

During the years 1958-1990, the Chamber of Commerce, although legally appeared with the function of a “social organization to give a further impetus to the development and strengthening of trade relations with other countries, for the development and technical progress in the field of products for export and that of propagating the achievements of our country”, in practice was nothing but an institution or enterprise, part of the state administration. This was clearly seen and expressed in the composition of its members: The Chamber of Commerce was a top-down union of state-created economic enterprises, which represented its interests in foreign relations, according to the various branches of the economy. As stated in the decision of the establishment the Chamber of Commerce “aimed to promote the development of Albania’s economic relations with the outside world.”

In 1958, an advisor to the Prime Minister of Albania, Koço Prifti, was appointed Honorary Chairman of the Chamber, and in 1964-1966 he would be its permanent chairman. During the 40 years, until 1990 when the democratic changes took place and the free market economy was established, at the head of the Chamber were also: Thanas Gjoka (1960-1961); Sheri Baboçi (1967-1973); Petraq Bellani (1974-1975); Nikola Profi (1976-1983); Ligor Dhamo (1986-1993).

The Chamber of Commerce, the great change in the market economy, the democratic transformations that took place in Albania after 1990, created the conditions for radical changes in economic relations and in their development. The establishment of a free market economy, the free enjoyment of private property and the exercise of private business, the promotion of the development of the economy through the laws and rules of the capitalist market economy, were measures that led not only to a steering wheel in the economy; trade, but also the establishment of basic institutions for the creation and formation of new development alternatives.

The ’90s are years of revolution in the newly established business relationship, which was just breathing freely and was taking its first still uncertain steps on a ground dominated by completely insecure political, economic and social relations. The Chamber of Commerce itself, which until now continued to be a single one and represented Tirana and Albania, during 2003 became the initiator of the preparation and opposition to the first law “On Chambers of Commerce and Industry” no. 7804, which was approved by the Albanian Parliament and is dated March 10, 1994, which was an attempt to establish a Chamber of Commerce of the new model. Under the new law, an organized system of Chambers of Commerce and Industry was established in Albania; they could be created in all 36 districts of the country, as well as the creation of the Union of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, as an institution that would gather around itself, the entire system of Chambers, becoming their representative at the national level, as in foreign relations, with international organizations.

It was the first law that organized the function, activity of the Chambers of Commerce in the conditions of an economy based on free trade. Lack of experience, not knowing the problems of business relations, etc. were some of the factors that made this law very quickly show its shortcomings and require improvement and change. The new law “On Chambers of Commerce and Industry”, no. 9640, dated 9.11.2006, made many changes in the construction structure of this institution, deciding to set them up in the 12 regions of the country, while in the cities, where it was deemed necessary, there would be representative offices.

During these years, for the first time, is created a Chamber of Commerce that supports private business and is put at its service. Tirana Chamber of Commerce and Industry had the following leaders: Zenel Hoxha (1993-1994); Arben Shehi (1994-1999); Luan Bregasi (1999 – 2007); Gjokë Uldedaj (2007-2009) and Nikolin Jaka from 2009 onwards. We have been able to discover documents for 15 presidents in the years of this Chamber, starting with the first president known to us: Fuat Bej Toptani – in 1897; Ali Begeja (1923-24); industrialist Alexander Hobdari (1926-28); Hamdi Bimbashi (1929-31); entrepreneur Omer Fortuzi (1932-40); Koço Prifti (1958-60 and 1964-66); Thanas Gjoka (1960-61); Sheri Baboçi (1967-73); Petraq Bellani (1974-75); Nikola Profi (1976-83); Ligor Dhamo (1986-93); Zenel Hoxha (1993-94); Arben Shehi (1994-99); Luan Bregasi (1999 – 2007);

A new reality was created in the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Tirana, where during one year substantial structural changes were realized and, with the operating departments closer to the real needs of the business, a new face of the business institution of the capital was created. A professional direction, with a clear vision for the future, has placed the Tirana Chamber of Commerce in the orientation point for all businessmen of the capital, domestic and foreign, for the central economic institutions of the Albanian state and prestigious international economic organizations, and has made it a reference center in developing economic support structures for business and increasing services to it.