AIIS director: Albania-Kosovo union would create a weak state, if not an ungovernable one

AIIS director: Albania-Kosovo union would create a weak state, if not an ungovernable one

An interview with Albert Rakipi, the executive director of the Albanian Institute for International Studies What is your first reaction to the declarations of the Prime Minister Edi Rama according to whom should the perspective of the European Union membership

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Justice reform: Parliament approves members of two ad-hoc commissions

Justice reform: Parliament approves members of two ad-hoc commissions

TIRANA, April 18 – Parliament of Albania approved Tuesday evening the members of the two ad hoc committees that will select the members of the vetting institutions that will scan 800 judges and prosecutors as part of the judicial reform

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German, Dutch leaders calls on opposition to end boycott

German, Dutch leaders calls on opposition to end boycott

TIRANA, April.17 – Sigmar Gabriel, the German vice-chancellor and foreign minister, called on opposition parties in Albania to end their parliamentary boycott and not to block the launch of judiciary reform. During his visit to Tirana, Gabriel said that European

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Parliament fails to vote to select the next president

Parliament fails to vote to select the next president

TIRANA, April 20 – The first round of voting for the new president did not take place Wednesday, following a request from the governing Socialist Party’s parliamentary group. The election of the country’s new head of state goes through five

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Socialist Party hires services of lobbying firm with ties to Donald Trump

Socialist Party hires services of lobbying firm with ties to Donald Trump

TIRANA, April 17 – The Socialist Party of Albania has hired Ballard Partners, a Florida-based firm with ties to U.S. President Donald Trump for “advising, counseling, and assisting the foreign principal in communications with US government officials” aiming to increase

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LIBRA: Postponing election registration is a coup d’état

LIBRA: Postponing election registration is a coup d’état

TIRANA, April 19 – The chairman of the new political party Libra and former Socialist Party MP, Ben Blushi, opposes plans of the two governing allies to extend the deadline for the registration of political coalitions at the Central Election

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Main ruling parties do not register as coalition at the CEC

Main ruling parties do not register as coalition at the CEC

TIRANA, April 20 – Albania’s main ruling parties, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Movement for Integration, have filed a request to the Central Election Commission, demanding the extension of the deadline for the registration of electoral entities for the

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Minority bill sent to parliament

Minority bill sent to parliament

TIRANA, April 19 – Albania’s government has delivered to parliament a new bill which aims to regulate and protect the rights and liberties of minorities in Albania. The initiative was mandatory for Albania following the requirements set out by the

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Court seizes shares of MP’s wife at second tier bank

Court seizes shares of MP’s wife at second tier bank

TIRANA, April 18 – In a fresh round of trouble for a Socialist Party member of parliament, Alfred Peza, the Serious Crimes Court in Tirana has ordered a preventive seizure of shares of his spouse, Mirela Ndini ,at Credins Bank. The

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Suspected of working with cartels, several police stations see purges

Suspected of working with cartels, several police stations see purges

TIRANA, April 20 – At least 10 police officers and eight customs officials at the port of Durres and at the Qafe Thane border point were arrested Monday, following suspicions that they had facilitated the crossing of two various shipments

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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_130553" align="alignright" width="225"]Albert Rakipi, PhD Albert Rakipi, PhD[/caption]

An interview with Albert Rakipi, the executive director of the Albanian Institute for International Studies

What is your first reaction to the declarations of the Prime Minister Edi Rama according to whom should the perspective of the European Union membership for Albania wane then the country will seek unification with Kosovo?

European integration has been the driving force of state building in Albania, during the entire process of post-communist transformation, aiding the building of a functioning state, the modernization of the society, the establishment of a democratic system, establishment of the rule of law, the respect for basic freedoms and human rights as well as economic development.

This transformation process has in turn furthered the perspective of European integration of Albania. 

I believe that the logic behind such a statement is very fallible: that should the EU not accept Albania as a member then the country will unite with Kosovo. Kosovo and its unification with Albania could never replace the magic transformational power of the EU. To reach this conclusion is enough to reflect on how the unification with Kosovo could ever assist the establishment of a modern and functioning state, the rule of the constitution and the law in Albania, the values of freedom, the economic development and the modernization of the society.

What will happen if indeed there is no more enlargement of the EU or if for any other reason Albania and other countries which aspire to integration are no longer welcomed in the EU?

The integration of Albania in the European Union is not a matter of unification with a certain territory, in this case of uniting with the territory of the member states. Conceptualizing integration in such a way is very wrong in my opinion. According to this logic then if Albania is not united to the territory of the Union then it can be united to Kosovo.

The European Union is currently facing some very major challenges which concern its very survival (for example a victory of Le Pen, who has promised to do away with the Union, in France, automatically would mean the end of the Union). However does this mean that Albania and similar countries should abandon their project of building democratic systems and societies which are based on rule of law and freedom and human rights? The West and the societies that live in freedom have existed long before the European Union. 

Does this seem like a threat or some form of blackmail that is coming repeatedly from Albania?

This makes the situation even more ridiculous. Albania continues to try to play the giant in foreign affairs. This comes out of the communism’s political cultural legacy. I am reading a new study on bilateral relations between Albania and  China in their last period (under communism) when Hoxha sends a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist party of China and strongly condemns the fact the Pekin (Beijing) has decide to welcome the visit of President Nixon, without first consulting this with the Albanian Communist Party.  But it is not only a matter of the culture that comes from communism. Albanian leaders regularly and primarily are occupied with matters of international relations. This is one way to avoid facing the failures of domestic policy and also one way to think that they are in the radar of attention of European if not global stakeholders. Let’s remember here also the declarations of warnings from Albanian leaders of what would happen to the world should Donald Trump be elected as a president.

If indeed Albania and Kosovo are united then we have a risk. Both are very weak states and Kosovo is even an unconsolidated one. Both states are very much damaged by internal political conflict, have low state functionality and low democratic standards. The unification if it happens, would bring a bigger state but of course one that is very weak and perhaps even impossible to govern. This is without mentioning the integration of the two societies, which despite sharing the same language are very different and this would create a permanent tension. I know that the ‘colorful’ entourage of fanatic nationalists will become nervous towards anyone who speaks against national unification or against the national question, for which they speak as if we were one hundred years ago. Even more nervous will get those people who are still sheltered in the nationalist-communist bunker, from which they attack repeatedly with their long written complaints the American imperialism.

The national question has been solved with the independence of Kosovo and what our leaders and societies should do is to build states where rule of law prevails and develop societies that stop living under fear. Last but not least, Albania as a member of NATO not only should refrain from threatening but considering its small size should show seriousness and maturity in its behavior.

But doesn’t the idea of the unification between Albania and Kosovo exist even in Kosovo?

According to the latest study of the Albanian Institute for International Studies, only 9 percent of Albanians in Albania would consider unification of the two states as a positive thing. We also know that in Albania there is not one single political party, organization of influential individual that supports or encourages a political movement that calls for the unification of Kosovo with Albania. Even one political party in Albania that was launched with a platform for the unification of all Albanian (speaking) territories in the Balkans, did not receive even one percent of the national vote in the last two rounds of parliamentary elections.

In Kosovo there exists a political party, Vetëvendosja, which doesn’t recognize the state of Kosovo and which calls for the unification in one single national state but I think it is a public secret that despite the populism, which by the way is on the rise in political, cultural and intellectual elites, it is precisely the former, the political elites that in fact do not desire and are additionally actively against a potential unification option. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, April 18 – Parliament of Albania approved Tuesday evening the members of the two ad hoc committees that will select the members of the vetting institutions that will scan 800 judges and prosecutors as part of the judicial reform adopted in July 2016, considered key to Albania’s EU membership. 

The names proposed by the members of the ruling majority received the approval by 82 lawmakers present in the session while the opposition boycotted the vote.

In his address, Prime Minister Edi Rama said that the vetting process is irreversible and accused the opposition parties of trying to block Albania’s EU path.

“The failure to complete the vetting process hampers the country’s membership to EU. Unfortunately the Democratic Party is almost dividing us from Europe where we want to belong. At first they wanted Albania like all Europe, but now they are impeding integration and refusing to be part of the justice reform,” Rama said. “Vetting can be delayed, but the judiciary sector will be cleansed. The establishment of a justice system free from corruption and to serve the citizens cannot be stopped. This is not a political crisis, but a nervous breakdown of the Democratic Party.”

The first ad-hoc committee will have 12 members and the second one will have six members, with an equal share of representation from the ruling majority and the opposition. The majority has voted only for its nine members whereas the opposition is yet to put forward its candidates.

Earlier this week, opposition parties led by the Democratic Party said they were ready to join the vetting process on the condition that six laws of the justice reform are revised.

Following meetings with Germany and Netherland’s high officials, Democratic Party chairman Lulzim Basha said that a caretaker government is the only way. According to Basha, the caretaker government must have a political mandate to fight drug trafficking and drug money, implement decriminalization law and pave the way to free and fair elections.

“Rama has violated the agreement reached on July 21st to approve the seven laws. United States of America forced the law while EU failed to oblige Rama to stick to the deal,” Basha said, explaining that the six laws of the vetting process “have been approved without the consent of the opposition cast aside by Edi Rama in his efforts to capture the justice system.”

 
                    [post_title] => Justice reform: Parliament approves members of two ad-hoc commissions
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, April.17 - Sigmar Gabriel, the German vice-chancellor and foreign minister, called on opposition parties in Albania to end their parliamentary boycott and not to block the launch of judiciary reform.

During his visit to Tirana, Gabriel said that European Union member states including Germany couldn’t understand the Democratic Party-led opposition’s request for a caretaker government only weeks before the parliamentary elections scheduled for June 18.

“We do not fully understand why justice reform is being blocked. Nobody in Europe understands how elected lawmakers boycott parliament. This is absurd in Europe. Instead of doing their job, lawmakers gather in a tent and oppose the parliament although they are members of the assembly. We can not and should not accept these circumstances,” the German minister said at a joint news conference with Albanian counterpart.

“It is hard to imagine how a parliamentary minority attempts to change the situation through boycott rather than elections. It’s natural to perceive a certain kind of fear in regards to the implementation of justice reform which means that in the future they will not be able to pursue their interests,” Gabriel added.

According to Gabriel, “whoever boycotts parliament to hamper justice reform, damages the country and Albania’s reputation.”

Meanwhile, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders has also urged Albania’s opposition to end its parliamentary boycott. In a joint conference with Albania’s foreign minister, Koenders reiterated the urgency of the implementation of justice reform.

“The vetting, judicial reform is absolutely key in the whole process of integration into European structures,” he said.

Opposition parties in Albania that have been protesting since February have announced their plans to boycott the polls until a caretaker government is formed to guarantee free and fair elections. 

The Democratic Party has accused the Socialist Party-led government of using drug money to rig the elections.

The implementation of justice reform drafted by EU and U.S. experts has been hampered by the boycott, although it is considered crucial to Albania’s accession talks with European Union. As a result of the boycott, the parliament is unable to okay the formation of bodies that will vet the country’s 800 judges and prosecutors. The opposition believes vetting bodies could be subject to manipulation.

On Monday, Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha met with Gabriel and Koenders to share the views on the opposition on justice reform and said that the right wing parties were excluded and that the vetting process was being held by the prime minister. Basha insisted that free and fair elections are obtainable only through a caretaker government.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, April 20 – The first round of voting for the new president did not take place Wednesday, following a request from the governing Socialist Party's parliamentary group.

The election of the country’s new head of state goes through five rounds that must be completed within 35 days of the first round. The winner should secure at least three fifth of the vote in the first three rounds and roughly 71 votes in the last two rounds.  

If this is not possible, then the parliament will be dissolved and new elections must be held.

The election of a new president in Albania is a business affair. Leaders of the main parties have stepped up their negotiations although no official candidate is up for the vote. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Edi Rama said that the Socialist Party, Ilir Meta's Socialist Movement for Integration, LSI, and smaller allies decided not put up a candidate in the first round, in an attempt to secure a consensual candidate.

"The opposition will have the space to be involved. We will not have a candidate in the first round. We are waiting for the opposition MPs to come to parliament to elect a consensual president," he said in a televised interview.

The Democratic Party led by Lulzim Basha has been boycotting the parliament since February 18. They demand Rama’s resignation and the establishment of a caretaker government that can guarantee free and fair elections. Due to their unmet demands, the opposition parties have refused to register for the parliamentary elections scheduled for June 18.

The president, with a five-year mandate and a maximum of two terms, has a largely ceremonial role. The head of State's powers are honorary, but he is responsible for the respect of the Constitution, he commands the armed forces, appoints and dismisses some of the high ranking civil servants and embodies the unity of the Albanian nation.

Bujar Nishani, the 6th President of the Republic of Albania since the fall of communism, was approved 5 years ago after three failed attempts following disagreements between the Democratic Party and Socialist Party, then in opposition. Nishani, former interior minister was the only candidate put forward by the Democratic Party. He was elected in the fourth round with the approval of 73 votes. 

Opposition Socialist Party lawmakers attended the session but did not vote, refusing to support the “unilateral nomination” of Nishani.

This time as well, the election of the president is expected to highlight the deep divisions among Albania’s political class.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, April 17 – The Socialist Party of Albania has hired Ballard Partners, a Florida-based firm with ties to U.S. President Donald Trump for “advising, counseling, and assisting the foreign principal in communications with US government officials” aiming to increase bilateral relations with the United States and to boost its profile in America.

The news broke out on thehill.com website and was picked by several Albanian outlets. The website referred to disclosures filed to the Justice Department which do not provide details disclose the duration of the contract, or how much the firm is earning, which is typically included in registration forms.

The firm was founded by Brian Ballard who served as finance chair in Florida for Trump during the presidential campaign in the United States and also as a top fundraising official to help raise money for the president-elect’s inauguration.

The Socialist Party’s new lobbying services comes at a time when Albania is in the midst of a political crisis, as opposition parties have boycotted parliament and plan not to participate in the parliamentary elections.

Data shows that all Albania’s main political parties have had lucrative contracts with influential lobby firms.

During his visit to the United States earlier in March, the chairman of Democratic Party signed a three month contract with the lobbying company Stonington Strategies for a fee of 25,000 US dollars.

Earlier in January, the junior coalition ally, Socialist Movement for Integration hired the services of US lobbyists McKeon Group to secure invitations to attend the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump and to foster special relations between the party and the Republican administration. The agreement shows that SMI will pay 15,000 US dollars for six months.

In 2016, the Socialist Movement for Integration spent 26.1 percent of its declared expenses on consultancies and polls.

In the past years, Albanian political parties have hired the services of companies such as Podesta Group, Blue Star Strategies, Dutko International, BKSH & Associates and Rasky Baerlain Strategic Communications.

In 2009 and 2010 alone, the government and political parties spent 1.38 million US dollars in lobbying in the US.

U.S. President Donald Trump has imposed tough restrictions on former administration officials lobbying for foreign governments. In his first weeks in the Oval Office, he signed an executive order banning anyone who worked in his administration from ever registering as a foreign agent with the Justice Department.

 
                    [post_title] => Socialist Party hires services of lobbying firm with ties to Donald Trump
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, April 19 – The chairman of the new political party Libra and former Socialist Party MP, Ben Blushi, opposes plans of the two governing allies to extend the deadline for the registration of political coalitions at the Central Election Commission for the parliamentary elections scheduled for June 18.

Blushi said he believes that the Central Election Commission will approve the request put forward by the Socialist Party and Socialist Movement for Integration in a move revealing its political bias and hampering electoral standards few months before the elections.

“Postponing the deadline for the registration of coalitions is similar to postponing the elections,” Bushi said, arguing that the request is illegal.

“under the conditions when the country risks being without a president, elections, or justice system, Libra believe this request to be a coup d’etat organized by political parties in power and in opposition that are sabotaging institutions driven by corruption and fear from justice,” Blushi said.

 
                    [post_title] => LIBRA: Postponing election registration is a coup d’état
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                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-04-21 08:46:54
                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_132084" align="alignright" width="300"]Prime Minister Edi Rama of the Socialist Party and Speaker of Parliament Ilir Meta of the Socialist Movement for Integration. (Photo: SP/SMI 2013 campaign)  Prime Minister Edi Rama of the Socialist Party and Speaker of Parliament Ilir Meta of the Socialist Movement for Integration. (Photo: SP/SMI 2013 campaign)[/caption]

TIRANA, April 20 - Albania’s main ruling parties, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Movement for Integration, have filed a request to the Central Election Commission, demanding the extension of the deadline for the registration of electoral entities for the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for June 18.

The letter sent to the Central Election Commission was signed by the chairs of the parliamentary groups of the two ruling parties, Gramoz Ruci and Luan Rama.

“The Socialist Party, the Socialist Movement for Integration and the other parties of the Alliance for a European Albania have made constant attempts to negotiate with the opposition to enable the participation of all political parties of the country in the parliamentary elections,” the letter reads.

The letter however fails to mention the number of days required for the extension of the deadline but it states that “postponing the deadlines by few days would contribute to an all inclusive process.”

Prime Minister Edi Rama took to social media to welcome the request saying that it “represents a good gesture towards the Democratic Party,” but he hinted that the opposition will not respond to this “good deed.” 

Representatives of the opposition on the other hand condemned the letter saying that it does not represent an invitation to the opposition rather than a deceptive move.  

Oerd Bylykbashi, Democratic Party MP, says that the letter aims to “legalize the electoral farce without the Democratic Party.” According to him, the fact that Socialist Party and Socialist Movement for Integration are not being registered as a coalition shows that the two allies want to run against each other during the parliamentary elections. 

April 19 at midnight marked the end of the legal deadline for the registration of coalitions at the Central Election Commission.  Although parties were registered as electoral entities until April 10 no coalition has been registered yet.

The Socialist Party and Socialist Movement for Integration have not signed a new collaboration agreement but they have joined forces to demand a postponement in the deadline for the registration of coalitions and political parties as well.

The request is unprecedented. 

Extending the deadline is not a simple move for CEC, which Thursday decided not to approve the request. If the electoral watchdog were to extend the deadline, then the move would pave the way to the visit of David Mcallister representative of the European People’s Party who will come to Albania to help parties find a solution to the crisis.
                    [post_title] => Main ruling parties do not register as coalition at the CEC
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                    [post_date] => 2017-04-21 10:44:16
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-04-21 08:44:16
                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_132081" align="alignright" width="300"]nisha President Bujar Nishani visits Dervican, a Greek minority village in southern Albania, on the occasion of Easter last weekend. (Photo: President.al)[/caption]

TIRANA, April 19 - Albania’s government has delivered to parliament a new bill which aims to regulate and protect the rights and liberties of minorities in Albania.

The initiative was mandatory for Albania following the requirements set out by the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and European Commission.

The draft law has 22 articles agreed by some of Albania’s institutions and interest groups representing national minorities in Albania such as Greek, Macedonian, Serb, Montenegrin, and Vlach-Aromanian minorities.

The 2011 census carried out by Albania’s Institute of Statistics acknowledges two groups of minorities, those who are considered national ethnic and those who are considered cultural and lingual minorities. The first category includes the Greek, Macedonian and Serb-Montenegrin minorities. The new bill however recognizes Bosnian and Egyptian minorities as well. The census was opposed by minority groups on the grounds that it did not reflect the real presence of minorities in the country.

In the 2011 Census, the first official census held in decades, 83.2 percent of the respondents declared themselves ethnic Albanians, while 14.07 percent refused to answer questions on the basis of nationality, mostly, it is believed, to be Albanians that did not believe the question should not be asked in the first place, following calls of a nationalist party.

 “People who belong to national minorities have the right of peaceful gatherings, freedom to organize, freedom of having an opinion and the right to manifest their religion,” the draft reads.

The bill provisions that in areas where minorities represent 20 percent of the population, street addresses and services provided will also be in the ethnic language of the minority.  Furthermore, members of these minority groups that account for no less than 20 percent of the general percentage of population are entitled to receive electoral related information in their ethnic language.

Public hearings held in January revealed that minorities in Albania feel unrepresented in the country and unprotected from state institutions. Organizations representing Bulgarian ethnic minorities were not invited to the hearings, while Bulgarian MEPs have pushed hard for the rights of Bulgarians allegedly living in eastern Albania, a minority disputed by Albania. Bulgaria’s unofficial data show that about 50,000-100,000 people of Bulgarian ethnic origin live in Albania. 

 Albania has not listed those claiming Bulgarian ethnicity in any of the minority categories.





                    [post_title] => Minority bill sent to parliament
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                    [post_date] => 2017-04-21 10:31:27
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-04-21 08:31:27
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, April 18 - In a fresh round of trouble for a Socialist Party member of parliament, Alfred Peza, the Serious Crimes Court in Tirana has ordered a preventive seizure of shares of his spouse, Mirela Ndini ,at Credins Bank.

The court order came following a request by the prosecutors probing Alfred Peza and Mirela Ndini for illegal assets. 

The vice chairman of the Parliamentary Media Committee is suspected to have accumulated unreported wealth within a few years while his wife purchased around 1 million US dollars’ worth of shares from the second tier bank. 

Prosecutors found out that “although the bank shares were purchased by Mirela Ndini, the MP had also made significant financial contributions.”

Earlier, MP Peza claimed that he had managed to save 1 million US dollars used to purchase the shares at Credins Bank. He also said that the state institutions had audited his assets and found that he or his wife had never mismanaged public funds.

Peza, a former reporter and media director was elected a member of parliament from the ranks of Socialist Party in the parliamentary elections of 2013. He claims to have been paid millions of lek while he acted as a chief editor at a private TV channel.

Prosecutors have found out that the gross revenues of Mirela Ndini and Alfred Peza through the years amounts to 51 million Lek whereas their assets (real estate and bank accounts) amounts to 135 million Lek. According to authorities, Ndini and Peza are unable to justify the origins of at least 84 million Lek.

Peza and Ndini are being probed in the framework of the anti-mafia bill. They are suspected to have committed at least three penal offences such as “failure to reveal revenues,” “money laundering” and “false declaration or refusal to disclose assets.”

 
                    [post_title] => Court seizes shares of MP’s wife at second tier bank
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, April 20 – At least 10 police officers and eight customs officials at the port of Durres and at the Qafe Thane border point were arrested Monday, following suspicions that they had facilitated the crossing of two various shipments of roughly 10 metric tons of cannabis sativa to nearby Italy. 

The two shipments crossed the border in February and March, prosecutors said.

On Feb. 5, Italian officials seized eight tons of drugs hidden in a truck which was revealed to have entered Albania through the customs of Qafe Thane and then made it out through the Durres Port to Italy. Four police officers in Qafe Thane had already been arrested for their involvement on this case.

On March 24, Italian authorities detained an Albanian citizen driving a truck loaded with 2.2 tons of cannabis.

According to a statement issued by the high crimes prosecutors, the arrested officials had cooperated to help the drug shipments get out of Albania. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of drug trafficking.

Sharp increase in trafficking

The news of the arrests comes at a time when trafficking of marijuana from Albania has increased sharply. Since the beginning of 2017, local authorities in collaboration with officials from neighboring Italy and Greece, have seized huge amounts of of marijuana.

In 2016, authorities destroyed about 2.5 million marijuana plants and seized 30 tons of cannabis some of which was confiscated at border crossing points or from boats bound for neighboring Greece and Italy.

Police and political ties with traffickers suspected

In the latest push to fight against traffickers, authorities have resorted to disbanding entire police stations in several parts of Albania, because they suspect tens of police officials are involved in the criminal activity of growing and trafficking marijuana. Entire police stations in places like Permet, Skrapar and Lac have been purged.

Only recently, several drug laboratories have been discovered in Tirana and Fier, giving more fuel to the perception that cannabis is now being cultivated on an industrial scale.

The opposition has accused the prime minister and certain government segments of not just tolerating the drug cultivation and trafficking, but of being in control of the criminal activity.

Independent observers say it is not possible to cultivate drugs at such a scale without the control and protection of law enforcement.

Every day there are news items showing massive amounts of cannabis being seized by Italian or Greek police, as Albanian smugglers attempt to transfer drugs using sea or land routes.

Opposition denounces political ties

Two years ago, the Albanian opposition first publicly denounced drug trafficking through air routes, through small aircraft. This denunciation of the opposition in parliament was not seriously taken into account and the government said the small planes were spraying for mosquitoes. But the truth was quite different. At least two planes crashed near the Adriatic coastline, clearly looking to smuggle drugs. A couple of improvised runways were also discovered.

The Albanian domestic market is relatively small so it is clear the massive amounts being cultivated in Albania are destined for the West. 

Experienced experts who deal with fighting organized crime have also raised concerns that while everyone is focussed on cannabis, new smuggling routes of stronger drugs from Afghanistan and Turkey, including heroin, are taking root to establish Albania as a transit hub for the West, all with reaction from Albanians or the international community. 

Negative impact on the country

The criminal world and its money are working to get influence the country’s politics, many believe. The parliament speaker, Ilir Meta, who leads the junior coalition partner, has called for the creation of a government of trust to make sure the opposition can agree that no dirty money will be used to fund the electoral campaign.

According to OSCE’s head of presence in Albania, there are 2 billion euros in drug money circulating in the country, but other independent observers claim the figures are even higher. 

The opposition is worried the money will be used to buy votes and influence during the general elections. 

The opposition has long denounced what it says are the government's and prime minister's connections with the criminal world. 

In addition to everything else, the massive amounts of marijuana being cultivated are having a huge negative impact on the economy.

In many rural areas, viable agriculture businesses are being abandoned in favor of growing marijuana. Many workers have left their jobs to work in the marijuana fields and processing, further hurting legal businesses.
                    [post_title] => Suspected of working with cartels, several police stations see purges
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            [post_date] => 2017-04-21 11:12:01
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            [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_130553" align="alignright" width="225"]Albert Rakipi, PhD Albert Rakipi, PhD[/caption]

An interview with Albert Rakipi, the executive director of the Albanian Institute for International Studies

What is your first reaction to the declarations of the Prime Minister Edi Rama according to whom should the perspective of the European Union membership for Albania wane then the country will seek unification with Kosovo?

European integration has been the driving force of state building in Albania, during the entire process of post-communist transformation, aiding the building of a functioning state, the modernization of the society, the establishment of a democratic system, establishment of the rule of law, the respect for basic freedoms and human rights as well as economic development.

This transformation process has in turn furthered the perspective of European integration of Albania. 

I believe that the logic behind such a statement is very fallible: that should the EU not accept Albania as a member then the country will unite with Kosovo. Kosovo and its unification with Albania could never replace the magic transformational power of the EU. To reach this conclusion is enough to reflect on how the unification with Kosovo could ever assist the establishment of a modern and functioning state, the rule of the constitution and the law in Albania, the values of freedom, the economic development and the modernization of the society.

What will happen if indeed there is no more enlargement of the EU or if for any other reason Albania and other countries which aspire to integration are no longer welcomed in the EU?

The integration of Albania in the European Union is not a matter of unification with a certain territory, in this case of uniting with the territory of the member states. Conceptualizing integration in such a way is very wrong in my opinion. According to this logic then if Albania is not united to the territory of the Union then it can be united to Kosovo.

The European Union is currently facing some very major challenges which concern its very survival (for example a victory of Le Pen, who has promised to do away with the Union, in France, automatically would mean the end of the Union). However does this mean that Albania and similar countries should abandon their project of building democratic systems and societies which are based on rule of law and freedom and human rights? The West and the societies that live in freedom have existed long before the European Union. 

Does this seem like a threat or some form of blackmail that is coming repeatedly from Albania?

This makes the situation even more ridiculous. Albania continues to try to play the giant in foreign affairs. This comes out of the communism’s political cultural legacy. I am reading a new study on bilateral relations between Albania and  China in their last period (under communism) when Hoxha sends a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist party of China and strongly condemns the fact the Pekin (Beijing) has decide to welcome the visit of President Nixon, without first consulting this with the Albanian Communist Party.  But it is not only a matter of the culture that comes from communism. Albanian leaders regularly and primarily are occupied with matters of international relations. This is one way to avoid facing the failures of domestic policy and also one way to think that they are in the radar of attention of European if not global stakeholders. Let’s remember here also the declarations of warnings from Albanian leaders of what would happen to the world should Donald Trump be elected as a president.

If indeed Albania and Kosovo are united then we have a risk. Both are very weak states and Kosovo is even an unconsolidated one. Both states are very much damaged by internal political conflict, have low state functionality and low democratic standards. The unification if it happens, would bring a bigger state but of course one that is very weak and perhaps even impossible to govern. This is without mentioning the integration of the two societies, which despite sharing the same language are very different and this would create a permanent tension. I know that the ‘colorful’ entourage of fanatic nationalists will become nervous towards anyone who speaks against national unification or against the national question, for which they speak as if we were one hundred years ago. Even more nervous will get those people who are still sheltered in the nationalist-communist bunker, from which they attack repeatedly with their long written complaints the American imperialism.

The national question has been solved with the independence of Kosovo and what our leaders and societies should do is to build states where rule of law prevails and develop societies that stop living under fear. Last but not least, Albania as a member of NATO not only should refrain from threatening but considering its small size should show seriousness and maturity in its behavior.

But doesn’t the idea of the unification between Albania and Kosovo exist even in Kosovo?

According to the latest study of the Albanian Institute for International Studies, only 9 percent of Albanians in Albania would consider unification of the two states as a positive thing. We also know that in Albania there is not one single political party, organization of influential individual that supports or encourages a political movement that calls for the unification of Kosovo with Albania. Even one political party in Albania that was launched with a platform for the unification of all Albanian (speaking) territories in the Balkans, did not receive even one percent of the national vote in the last two rounds of parliamentary elections.

In Kosovo there exists a political party, Vetëvendosja, which doesn’t recognize the state of Kosovo and which calls for the unification in one single national state but I think it is a public secret that despite the populism, which by the way is on the rise in political, cultural and intellectual elites, it is precisely the former, the political elites that in fact do not desire and are additionally actively against a potential unification option. 

 
            [post_title] => AIIS director: Albania-Kosovo union would create a weak state, if not an ungovernable one
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