Albanian elections — A story of disputed results and conflict

Albanian elections — A story of disputed results and conflict

The following is a historical look at Albanian elections and an analysis of the parties in the current race, their programs, ambitions and coalitions, as well as some background information about the political and economic context in which these elections

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Editorial: Albania decides: The future is not what it used to be

Editorial: Albania decides: The future is not what it used to be

By Alba Çela On Sunday, June 25, Albanians will cast their ballots to decide the make-up and course of Albanian political landscape but also the fate of many ongoing key reform processes that the country is undergoing. This is the

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Albania on the eve of elections: A country most vulnerable

Albania on the eve of elections: A country most vulnerable

By Alba Çela While domestic and international observers have noticed and applauded the reduced rhetorical tension of this political campaign, at least until the fight between the coalition partners started, other developments are not being properly observed. The country, at

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Editorial: The unraveling of an ugly alliance

Editorial: The unraveling of an ugly alliance

The coalition between the Socialist Party and the Socialist Movement for Integration always felt like a forced deal, an unnatural development, an obnoxious handshake. In the entirety of its four years both sides blackmailed, pressured and bothered each other. They

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Kosovo: To be or not to be in UNESCO

By Aleksandar Pavlović* After Kosovo’s failed UNESCO bid in 2015, the question whether Kosovo should reconsider its prospective 2017 bid is being a matter of fierce disputes, and with new Kosovo right-wing government likely to be formed soon, it warrant

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Editorial: Why foreign policy is missing from Albania’s electoral campaign

Editorial: Why foreign policy is missing from Albania’s electoral campaign

By ALBERT RAKIPI It is understandable that in a small country like Albania foreign policy is not going to get much attention on the campaign trail. That’s even more the case in a small country that is poor, has frighteningly

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The European Union needs strong partners in the Western Balkans

The European Union needs strong partners in the Western Balkans

Speech by German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at the eighth Aspen Southeast Europe Foreign Ministers’ Conference on May 31.   My esteemed fellow Foreign Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased that you have come here to Berlin!

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Editorial: More accountability needed for election promises

Editorial: More accountability needed for election promises

With the electoral campaign for Albania’s June 25 general elections in full swing, the parties likely to gain representation in the next parliament are putting forward promises to try to lure in voters. Most of these promises have to do

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Editorial: EU integration in focus: A glimmer of light at the horizon

Editorial: EU integration in focus: A glimmer of light at the horizon

Is there a new opportunity to go forward with the process of EU integration for Albania? After being caught up in a vicious political gridlock that left little to no hope of asking such questions, now, after the much sought

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Meeting Roma integration goals in Albania and the region

Meeting Roma integration goals in Albania and the region

An interview by Lutfi Dervishi with Orhan Usein, team leader of the Regional Cooperation Council’s Roma Integration 2020 Action Team. Roma Integration 2020, sounds like an ambitious title project since we are already on 2017. At the end of the

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                    [post_content] => The following is a historical look at Albanian elections and an analysis of the parties in the current race, their programs, ambitions and coalitions, as well as some background information about the political and economic context in which these elections take place.

Albania has a short and poor history of operating under a multiparty political system, one that provides several alternative parties and candidates on which voters then decide through elections. Albania’s first experiment in democracy, back in the 192os and 1930s, was short lived. It ended tragically with the establishment of the communist regime after World War II. In December 1945, the communist regime organized the first parliamentary elections after coming to power. They were the first and last nominally pluralistic elections held by the communists. Immediately after the elections, the communist regime launched a campaign of terror against the liberal opposition that had begun to emerge. A number of opposition candidates who ran in the 1945 election were arrested and severely persecuted. After that, the parliamentary elections in Albania were simply a charade. While elections took place every four years, voters had no alternatives from which to choose. They were rubber-stamp elections for a rubber-stamp parliament, since the creation of political parties or organizations other than the Communist Party (later renamed the Labour Party) was banned by the constitution. The so-called elections were always won by Democratic Front candidates, an organization set up by the Communist Party, and they were won with results that consistently went to up to 99.99 percent. Turnout was also 99.99 percent, if not 100 percent. Non-participation in elections was considered treason to the Communist Party and the country and it came with harsh penalties such as imprisonment, political internment and loss of right to vote in the future.

With this dark legacy, Albania held its first pluralistic election on March 31, 1991, after nearly a half century of communist dictatorship. For the first time, there was a true opposition party in the race. The Democratic Party had been founded in December 1990, following a pro-democracy movement led by students at the University of Tirana. That first electoral process was conducted in an atmosphere of chaos, intimidation and violence. The opposition won a clear victory in the big cities, however, failed to win the election in the rest of the country. The case of the 1991 election was, among other things, an example of the opposition (the Democratic Party at that time) not competing with just the party in power -- the Communists of the Labour Party -- but with the entire state apparatus with its bureaucracy, resources -- human and material -- including instruments and institutions of violence and terror, such as the secret police, which were still very much feared at the time.

The use of all the state’s power in the 1991 election, including instruments of violence as well as propaganda (primarily through the public information institutions like the Albanian Radio Television) continued what had been common practice during the fake election processes held under the communist regime. But unlike previous elections, in the first multiparty election of March 31, 1991, the state and its institutions were used against a real political opposition. Unfortunately, such practice of using state resources against the opposition continued to be present in all future democratic elections. The circumstances and dynamics were different, but the practice of using the state’s power and resources to favor of the ruling party has been a continuous feature in all Albanian elections.

 On March 22, 1992, parliamentary elections were organized by a caretaker government, following the resignation of the last communist-led government in May 1991. The polls brought to power the non-communist opposition, represented by the Democratic Party[1]. These 1992 parliamentary elections entered into Albania's post-communist history as one of the few processes where the losing side did not contest the results. However, it is difficult for these elections to be seen as normal and a pure case of an uncontested process, because these elections did not simply mark a change in government, they marked a change in regime, one that had completely lost its legitimacy[2].

On May 26, 1996, Albania held the next parliamentary election. The race marked the first confrontation between the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Socialist Party, a rebranded and reformed Labour Party. In many respects, these elections were seen as a real test of the ability of Albania’s fragile democracy to function. The process was a failure. The Socialist Party and its smaller allies abandoned the election, saying the process had been rigged. What could have been a normal victory for the Democratic Party became a charade after government candidates "won" almost all constituencies[3]. The Socialist opposition disowned the results of these elections and boycotted parliament and other institutions. Within a few months, the country was engulfed by anarchy, following the collapse of pyramid schemes that accompanied the failure of the electoral process. These Ponzi investment schemes took away the savings of most of the country’s citizens, leading to riots and rebellion. The 1997 crisis, the worst in the modern history of Albania, led to the entire collapse of the state. This crisis was not just associated with the failure of pyramid schemes, it also had roots in the failure of the political elite to organize proper parliamentary elections.

Slightly more than a year after the election of 1996, the country went to the polls again in early elections, which were held during a grave period for Albania, and with the presence of a multinational military force, which was called in to maintain law and order.

The elections of June 29, 1997 were held under a climate of tension in which there was lack of state control over large parts of the territory, lack of security, and an inability of candidates to go to almost half of Albania depending on the party they represented. As such, more than an election, the polls were an institutional effort to find a solution for the crisis in Albania. The elections were won by the Socialist Party and its allies. For a time, President Sali Berisha's Democratic Party, in opposition, did not recognize the electoral process as free and fair. Just as the Socialists had boycotted parliament after the elections of 1996, the Democrats boycotted parliament after the 1997 polls.

By this time, a dominant feature of post-communist Albania had appeared: a trend in which the election results are contested by the losers who then boycott institutions, creating a crisis that demands the involvement of the international community.[4] In the future, even if any progress was made, it would not solve the essence of the problem in Albanian democracy: the intention to distort the outcome of the elections and lack of commitment to organize a legitimate electoral process, based on laws and procedures in the books.

The next parliamentary elections were held on June 24, 2001, and were a key second test after the failure of 1996. Elections were held in a political atmosphere dominated by conflict. A government attempt to manipulate the results in favor of its candidates, using a legal vacuum that allowed candidates to be both party representatives and independents failed after an intervention by OSCE-ODIHR.

However, the government was able to change the results in a more sophisticated way, which stood in a legally grey area. The voting process was delayed in one hundred constituencies and in a single area. The ruling Socialist Party then instructed its members and supporters to vote for the allied parties, using the electoral system to produce more deputies for its coalition through strategic voting that distorted the true results of the elections. From that strategic voting, ten MPs were awarded to parties allied to the Socialist-led government. The Socialist Party managed to secure through such distorting efforts three fifths of seats in parliament, which enabled it to have the majority required to have the ability to elect the next president and all heads of independent institutions.

The Democratic Party of former President Sali Berisha, in opposition, rejected the Socialists’ victory, which it saw as fabricated, and under international pressure, the Socialists were forced not to use the power of three-fifths they had in parliament. In 2002, the country’s new president was elected with the consent of the opposition, marking a rare example of consensus in Albanian politics.

The parliamentary elections of 2005 marked the first electoral process that enabled a normal transfer of power from the governing Socialist Party to the Democratic Party, which was able to return to power after eight years in opposition. There were again charges of rigging and violations of rules in the election process and procedures, but ultimately the election enabled the transfer of power from government to opposition. The Socialist Party, which had been in power for eight years, went into the elections divided. After internal clashes, a faction of the party led by former Prime Minister Ilir Meta (2001) split and created the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI). This division affected the results of the parliamentary elections of 2005, along with other factors related to bad governance and loss of public trust in the Socialist-led government.

The impact such rift had on the Socialists’ loss remains unknown. Many other hypothetical questions remain unanswered as to how parties would have behaved should the ultimate results not have been in favour of the opposition. However, the fact remains that the parliamentary elections of 2005 made ​​it possible for the first transfer of power from government to opposition through normal elections. Nevertheless, it remains questionable whether Albania’s parties had achieved political maturity, or whether the electoral process had ended the legacy of vote rigging, distrust and political conflict, which hurts the country’s wellbeing every time an elections cycle is completed.

The 2009 parliamentary elections marked the return of the dominant characteristic of the post-communist Albania: the rejection of the results and boycott of institutions. The opposition Socialist Party accused the government, controlled by the Democratic Party, of rigging the elections and demanded the opening of the ballot boxes so a recount could take place. The Socialist opposition protest radicalized through consistent boycott of parliament and other institutions for a long time and then a number of Socialists, including MPs, went on hunger strike in front of the prime minister's office. In April 2009, Albania had been a member of NATO for only four months, and its parliament was in shambles, boycotted by the parliamentary opposition. In addition to not recognizing the election results, the opposition had gone to the extreme of organizing a hunger strike to demand a recount. An angry Socialist opposition, continued its boycott of parliament for more than one year following the election. The election results did not actually give a governing majority to either of the two major parties. But the Democratic Party was able to create a governing majority coalition by inviting the Socialist Movement for Integration into the government. SMI had competed in the 2009 elections as an opposition party and asked for the support of voters to remove the Democratic Party from power and send Prime Minister Sali Berisha to "political retirement". But after the election, SMI votes were used to keep the Democrats and Berisha in power.

The parliamentary elections 2013 brought the Socialists to power. Edi Rama's Socialist Party managed to build a winning coalition with the Socialist Movement for Integration of Ilir Meta and a few smaller satellite parties, many of which were previously unknown. These elections were very important for Socialist Party and seen as the last chance for Rama at the helm of the party after losing the 2009 elections and his seat as mayor of Tirana two years earlier after holding it for 11 years since 2004. Losing the elections would have effectively ended Rama’s political career, which experts saw as a key factor in him seeking an alliance with the SMI, giving the smaller ally a blank check in key areas of a future government. In addition, to win, Rama creating a huge coalition which included tiny parties and some led by people with shady pasts that would come to haunt him later during the governance period.

On the other hand, the SMI, which became a key factor in the large win for the Socialist-led coalition, decided it would break off with DP after ruling with it for four years, seeing at very hard for DP to get a third win in a row. The win for the coalition was strong, but the Socialist Party itself only managed to get 65 seats, which were insufficient to government alone.

Perhaps the most positive outcome of the elections was that the Democrats did not challenge their loss, and there was no major conflict over the results, despite some allegations of wrongdoings. As a result, the transfer of power was fast and calm, culminating with the resignation of perennial leader of the Democratic Party, Sali Berisha, from the leader’s position.

This material has been prepared by the Tirana Center for Journalistic Excellence. Please visit TCJE.org for more information.

 

[1] In addition to the Democratic Party, other opposition parties such as the Republican and Social-democratic parties had been founded.

[2] Albania was the last country in the former communist Eastern Europe to end its communist regime. By then, then the chances of keeping such regime going in Albania were nearly nonexistent.

[3] Democratic Party won 87 percent of seats in parliament, and together with its allies, the victory went to 93 percent, while the opposition held only 7 percent of the seats. This absolute domination of the political scene, however, was on shaky ground from the beginning.

[4] Elections were held under the presence of a military force mainly from EU member states, led by Italy, including Romania and Turkey. OSCE led international presence. From this year, the OSCE continued to maintain a presence in Albania. The international community continues to be involved in a significant degree in domestic politics and in particular in elections.
                    [post_title] => Albanian elections -- A story of disputed results and conflict
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                    [post_content] => By Alba Çela

On Sunday, June 25, Albanians will cast their ballots to decide the make-up and course of Albanian political landscape but also the fate of many ongoing key reform processes that the country is undergoing. This is the first electoral campaign without posters and flags that used to litter every street, road, town and village. The first time neighbors of different political convictions don’t have to fight over whose flag shadow projects on their balcony.

That is not the only novelty. For the first time in the relatively brief history of Albanian political pluralism, the two main opponents, the Socialist Party and Democratic Party have put aside a major part of their conflict and are pursuing a fierce attempt to decrease the influence of smaller parties. 

Therefore the electoral campaign is witnessing the most aggressive rhetoric not between the two traditional competitors but between the parties of the coalition that has been governing in the past four years. 

It is make-or-break time for small parties that have been decisive in forming ruling coalitions in the past. Depending on the electoral results, they risk losing their kingmaking power. Should they succeed, they will have cemented their presence in Albanian political decision-making for a long time. Alternatively, some of the third parties might shift their position acquiring unexpected clout.

Should the two traditional big parties choose to form a grand coalition after the elections, Albania will see a first-time development, an experiment never tried before and with the potential for many surprises. However, the possibility is still remote.

The electoral system is the same as last time, allowing for very little choice in the candidates pre--selected and ranked in the lists by the party leaders. 

According to an analysis from a political studies think tank, Albanian voters select between 25-30 MPs while the rest are safely projected in the parliament due to their position in the list. Should the electoral reform go ahead as promised after the elections and as part of the crisis-solving deal, parties will have to include the concerns expressed by a large number of experts that the current system is highly undemocratic.

Given the presence of the technocrat ministers chosen by the opposition in the current cabinet overseeing the electoral process, it is most likely that the result will not be contended, barring any major resistance from third parties. 

This, combined with some degree of progress achieved these weeks in the implementation of the justice reform, spells positive expectations about the assessment of the European Commission and potential likelihood for some good news about the opening of EU membership negotiations. 

However, any positive steps are heavily dependent on the situation inside the European Union as well.

The most important thing this upcoming Sunday is that the process goes calmly, without any violence, incidents and intimidation.  

Participation level according to the latest polls is expected to be satisfactory. The main result for all Albanian citizens is that their elections are free, fair, and peaceful to fulfill normal democracy standards. The rest is politics, it can be survived.

 

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Albania decides: The future is not what it used to be
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                    [post_content] => By Alba Çela

While domestic and international observers have noticed and applauded the reduced rhetorical tension of this political campaign, at least until the fight between the coalition partners started, other developments are not being properly observed.

The country, at least the one we see in the media, is in the middle of a serious crime wave. A small number of crimes are related to the campaign: beatings of party activists, issuing of fake documents. 

However, the largest number of grave incidents seem related to vendettas and organized crime. Large numbers of drugs are being seized at the borders, murders are occurring every day, including mafia-style executions, cars are being blown up. 

Vlora, a city notorious for its persistent security issues, is yet again in the daily news. Even the most routine traffic accidents with serious consequences such as children deaths have increased witnessing a rollback of the results achieved in the disciplining of traffic and drivers performance. 

The state structures, consumed by campaign events, seem to have been taken by surprise. Yet it is a well-known fact that crime organizations and criminal individuals planning hits always make good use of the times when the attention is elsewhere, from electoral cycles to New Year Eve celebrations. 

However the political circus shadows everything else with its carefully curated rallies, luncheons, meetings and inaugurations. Right after this citizens are invited to watch and pour over the latest polls over potential winners and losers from the imaginary coalitions. 

There is another factor that seems to have weakened the institutions and therefore their ability to respond to the situation: The leadership in key ministries of the executive were replaced by technocrats whom have yet to establish their authority and are mostly consumed with hunting for wrongdoers among political opponents in a so-called quest to save the elections. In addition, the police is under attack by high level political figures, diminishing its authority and questioning its legitimacy. It’s a real feast for criminals. 

Albania on the eve of the elections, with its scattered institutions and officials in the electoral campaign and the attention of decision makers over vote calculations and predictions, is a country vulnerable and on the edge. 

As if the electoral process and the eternally under construction roads were not a big enough turn off for the tourist season, rising crime is also a potential problem for the delicate short tourist season in the country. 

Law enforcement agencies and state institutions should step up and guarantee the stability and well-being of citizens. This includes the technocrat ministers, whose first and foremost responsibility is to the country. 

The country’s prime minister, president-elect and head of the opposition should also reflect on their extreme political behavior and its impact on the safety of ordinary citizens. The campaign, even if it’s late in the night, does go to sleep. Crime never sleeps.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => The coalition between the Socialist Party and the Socialist Movement for Integration always felt like a forced deal, an unnatural development, an obnoxious handshake. In the entirety of its four years both sides blackmailed, pressured and bothered each other. They did not have good words for their performance, they were quick to assign blame in case things went wrong, they behaved as if they were two separate spouses in a house each accusing each other for the bleak state of their families. They never took responsibility for co-governing, they never spared one occasion to throw jabs.

The SMI, smaller but decisive in its kingmaker position, was particularly aggressive in this game but the SP also looked constantly to sabotage their junior partner. At the base level, where party activists are still in the jungle survival game for jobs, tenders and favors, this kind of conflict often got ugly. In the last months before elections, when the political crisis with the official opposition reached an apex and especially after the difficult deal was reached with the DP, this coalition of the unwilling started to unravel. This split comes as a relief to many and to some others as a big gamble by the SP which risks being in the same position as in 2009, if its calculations don’t hold up.

The current campaign is exposing the rotten flesh and suffocating smell of this alliance gone wrong. Citizens watch, some in disbelief and some in disgust, how sides that govern together and reach deals together and are quick to lure everyone when it fits their purpose are now dismantling all the nasty rhetoric and battling with under the belt punches. The rightful cynics look away thinking it’s just a shameful artificial act and the parties shall make up again if they need to.

One should be careful to lament the decline of third and small parties. Smaller parties in Albania have often failed to bring vibrancy to democracy and accountability to governance, they have most often be caught up in the game of power, trying to force their hand when they could and sneak into coalitions to guarantee their survival. If indeed these new developments get rid of the leeches in the Albanian political system, then it is good to root for it.

On the other hand, if all third parties are reduced to almost zero influence, authoritarianism in Albania, be that in the kind of a two party system, can spike up in a hazardous way. The deal between the two key parties in the country right now looks really attractive, a national rallying behind noble objectives, the letting go of old hatred and conflict. However, if the two major parties have agreed that they shall go unchecked since they can always support each other enough while waiting for their turn to reign, then dark days are coming.

Eventually many of the answers shall be clearer after June 25. Let’s just hope the cynics are not right this time and we are not forced to see another nauseating ‘kiss and make up’ episode of the never ending political soap opera.

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: The unraveling of an ugly alliance
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                    [post_date] => 2017-06-16 10:06:49
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                    [post_content] => By Aleksandar Pavlović*

[caption id="attachment_132858" align="alignright" width="300"]APavlovic_2017_photo Aleksandar Pavlovic[/caption]

After Kosovo’s failed UNESCO bid in 2015, the question whether Kosovo should reconsider its prospective 2017 bid is being a matter of fierce disputes, and with new Kosovo right-wing government likely to be formed soon, it warrant further discussions. The main point of this contribution to the Kosovo UNESCO case could be conveniently summarized by the words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet: "If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.” In other words, the question of Kosovo UNESCO membership in my view is not the question of if or whether, but of when. In the 2015 voting Kosovo was only three votes short to get membership, and it is significant that the USA did not take part in it due to an unpaid membership fee. But, on October 21, 2015, the UNESCO Board decided to put the Kosovo bid to a vote, despite Serbia’s opposition to it. That is, in the long run, a winning combination for Kosovo, as it now has the right to request its membership every two years. This autumn Kosovo is eligible for another bid, and its officials are still considering whether to take the chance or risk another humiliation in the eyes of the public. But, even if it fails to get membership this year, Kosovo has the right to request another voting in 2019 and so on, again and again. In the spirit of a Serbian proverb that it is not the good looking one but a persistent one that succeeds, if Kosovo remains persistent it will be admitted to UNESCO, sooner or later.

Sovereignty vs protection

Both Serbian and Kosovo media dedicate huge attention to the UNESCO case, but always, or almost always, through a prism of sovereignty, i.e. if it belongs to Serbia or Kosovo, and rarely through the question of legislation that applies to it, the rights it enjoys and the chances to improve its position.

So, how do these laws actually look like? The basis for the legal status of Serbian heritage in Kosovo is provided by the Marti Ahtisaari’s 2007 Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement. The annex 5 of this plan reads: "The Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo shall be afforded the protection and enjoyment of its rights, and that those Serbian cultural sites which are considered to have special significance for Kosovo Serbs will be provided with security by the Kosovo police force”. In addition, Ahtisaari’s plan allows for the creation of special protective zones around certain Serbian monasteries and churches, in order to "provide for the peaceful existence and functioning of the sites to be protected; preserve their historical, cultural and natural environment, including the monastic way of life of the clergy; and prevent adverse development around them… (Article 4.1).

In accordance with the Ahtisaari’s plan, Kosovo Assembly since 2008 adopted a number of laws that grant protection of Serbian cultural heritage, which is explicitly mentioned in the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo:

Article 9 [Cultural and Religious Heritage] The Republic of Kosovo ensures the preservation and protection of its cultural and religious heritage.

Article 58 [Responsibilities of the State]
  1. The Republic of Kosovo shall promote the preservation of the cultural and religious heritage of all communities as an integral part of the heritage of Kosovo. The Republic of Kosovo shall have a special duty to ensure an effective protection of the entirety of sites and monuments of cultural and religious significance to the communities.
One issue is that the adoption of these laws spurred heated debates in Kosovo. Statements such as "Serbianization of Kosovo", "terror", "humiliation" were used by MP Alma Lama (Democratic League of Kosovo - LDK). In addition, members of the Orahovac (Rahovec) Municipal Assembly stated: We, members of the Policy and Finance Committee see the approval of this bill as unreasonable, since it envisages the formation of a mini-municipality in the municipality of Orahovac, to which the village Velika Hodža (Hoçë e Madhe), inhabited by the Serb minority, belongs”. Members of the Prizren Municipal Assembly also objected that all the construction around the Orthodox sites depends on the Orthodox Church. They argued that the Orthodox Church in Kosovo is granted more power than in Serbia. The debate required the participation of the then Prime-minister Hashim Thaçi and minister Dardan Gashi,who said: "This law directly affects the relations of the Republic of Kosovo with the friends and allies of the Republic of Kosovo and as such, I pray and ask you and urge that the law is adopted in the proposed form” (Plenary session, 20.04.2012). Hampered implementation In short, the current laws were eventually passed, but with great efforts and difficulties and, in all honesty, only to the international pressure and conditionality of full independence. Yet, full five years later, the laws have still not been implemented. There are yet continuing incidents of demolition, theft and vandalism against cultural and religious sites, particularly Serb cultural heritage, as well as the lack of cooperation between local authorities and national government in the implementation of the laws. Implementation of the laws has either been boycotted or regularly by-passed by the local Prizren or Orahovac authorities. The major problem is illegal construction around the protected sites often caused by the municipal authorities. UN Security Council has also pointed to the limited financial and logistical support for implementation of the laws and lack of political commitment by municipal Prizren and Orahovac authorities. For those opposing these regulations, they do give wide autonomy and guarantees for the Serbian Orthodox Church. But the one who thinks Ahtisaari did not do justice to Kosovo Albanians should be reminded that it was precisely his plan that announced what not even NATO did not publicly proclaim neither during nor after the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia – that Kosovo shall be independent. Besides, these rules were designed after the 2004 riots, when the property of Serbian Orthodox Church has indeed been endangered, burned and vandalized. To sum up, it would be more beneficial in the long run if Serbian politicians were to pay more attention to securing the granted legal protection for the Serbian heritage in Kosovo, and less to sabotaging Kosovo’s UNESCO bid. Equally so, Albanian politicians would improve their case by putting more effort into fully adopting provisions from the Ahtisaari plan and ensuring their full implementation. But, be as it may, in the long run Serbian heritage is doomed to depend neither on the NATO soldiers not Kosovo policemen, but on the people living in its surroundings, and that means Albanians for the most part. It is inadmissible that nowadays foreign soldiers are guarding Dečani/Decani monastery from the local Albanians who wish to burn it to the ground over a dispute involving few acres of land, while the distinguished fiset of these very same local Albanians protected it during the perilous Ottoman rule and wartime periods. During my last visit to Gračanica/Gracanica, a brilliant Serbian medieval monastery near Prishtina, I pondered about the fact that, still, there is something in the Balkans that sustained for 700 years, something that no army, banditry, be it native, Ottoman (comprising the Turks, Circassians, Tatars, Arabs and what not), or Western European did not destroy or vandalize; mainly due to our ancestors who kept and protected these holy objects. So, I sure do hope that we today aren’t the worst of them all. *Aleksandar Pavlović is a researcher at the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory of the University of Belgrade and an associate of European movement in Serbia He is currently a fellow of the Centre for Albania-Serbia Relations at the Albanian Institute for International Studies in Tirana. He holds BA and MA from the University of Belgrade and PhD in Southeast European Studies from the University of Nottingham.     [post_title] => Kosovo: To be or not to be in UNESCO [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => kosovo-to-be-or-not-to-be-in-unesco [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-06-16 15:29:38 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-06-16 13:29:38 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=132864 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 132793 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-06-09 10:21:27 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-06-09 08:21:27 [post_content] => By ALBERT RAKIPI [caption id="attachment_130553" align="alignright" width="225"]Albert Rakipi, PhD Albert Rakipi, PhD[/caption] It is understandable that in a small country like Albania foreign policy is not going to get much attention on the campaign trail. That's even more the case in a small country that is poor, has frighteningly high unemployment and has a state system that is so weak it cannot guarantee its citizens the basics of quality in services like infrastructure, healthcare, education and justice. These take priority, and so foreign policy has to take a back seat. The political context has changed too. In the early days of Albania's transition, foreign policy was seen as a strategic choice in state formation to focus the economy on creating ties with the West. Albania had to leave behind its isolation forced from a system that had placed surreal barriers on relations with the world. Now that country has solid relations with the West, the major challenge is the creation of a proper functioning economy and the creation of a fully democratic society. A successful foreign policy that is stable gives its positive results only when internal policies are also successful, as a rule of thumb. Less than a month ahead of the election, the 25-year-old tradition of conflict and division continues. Albania's political class also continues to show it is dependent on and has a frightening inferiority complex toward the international community. So what kind of foreign policy can there be under these circumstances? The above mentioned factors make foreign policy issues unattractive for political parties on the campaign trail. Structured foreign policy programs are nowhere to be seen in electoral discussions. Instead there are promises – all tied to getting more jobs and more perks – and mostly unrealistic, according to experts. Even though there is an absence in discussions, foreign policy, especially in dealing with regional issues, does make an appearance in the official programs of political parties in Albania. The current situation comes as a contrast at how the government has acted in the past four years, launching Albania as a global giant that can play on issues like the future of trans-Atlantic relations, the crisis in South Asia, North Korea's nuclear program – and issues like relations between Russia, the US and the EU. Back to reality in the electoral campaign, Albanian parties are of course staying away from these grander global issues. That might be a good thing, but parties that are hoping to rule the country for the next four years should indeed focus on certain foreign policy issues which relate to the basic interests of Albania, its democratic rule, regional security and stability. These are issues that do affect Albanian voters and Albania. For example, let's look at Albania's relations with Greece. There has been for the past four years a status quo of relations with this very important country for Albania. A populist approach has done much harm to these relations and stopped their improvement. When it comes to relations with Greece, Tirana has had an amateur approach to foreign policy, with its diplomacy showing arrogance and often ignorance of proper foreign affairs -- intertwined with a populist approach that has resulted in an ongoing conflictual relations. In the past four years, leaders have been beating their drums on relations with Kosovo too, however, the real result is seen in the low level of economic relations between the two countries. The populist approach has again hurt the proper development of relations as two sovereign countries. This is made worse by a paternalistic approach by Tirana on Prishtina, something that saw a lot of resistance by the Kosovo government and its political elite. Relations with Macedonia too ended up nearly frozen, again due to to a populist and paternalistic approach by Tirana's foreign policy chiefs, including the famous cooking up of “the Albanian platform” in Tirana, giving the agreement among ethnic Albanian political parties the hue that it was done from the outside rather than being an organic deal for the betterment of that community and Macedonia as whole. Moreover, the agreement said nothing more than is already spelled out in the Ohrid Agreement. Relations with Serbia, despite growing dialogue between the two prime ministers, failed to be channeled into a normal, stable and long-term foundation. Exchanges between the two countries remain weak, especially when it comes to the economy. Moreover, Albania’s approach to reconciliation between Albanian and Serbs in the region lacks proper foundation and it cannot be done because it is not accepted from Kosovo, the government of which made it clear that Albania cannot discuss issues relating to Kosovo with Serbia on behalf of Kosovo. Serbia and Kosovo can discuss bilateral issues as two sovereign states. The government of Kosovo has been clear that reconciliation of Albanians and Serbs goes through Prishtina, not Tirana. All these issues could and should have been part of the campaign, but in the absence of a coherent and beneficial approach, the drums of populism continue to beat. The PDIU party is the sole nationalist element in the campaign after the Red and Black alliance folded out of the race. PDIU is speaking about uniting all Albanian lands, selling a lie to voters with the hope of getting more votes. This party, which represents primarily the Cham community, is the only still focusing on the national issue, speaking about it as if 100 years have not gone by. While the rhetoric is there, there is an absence of a serious foreign policy approach about making its promises happen. Even the Cham issue is spoken as a myth, rather than finding a real solution for the community. And the cherry on the cake is Tirana's renovated Skanderbeg square, which opens this weekend following a multimillion-euro reconstruction. It includes stones from all areas of the region where ethnic Albanians live, including the Presevo Valley in southern Serbia and Filat in northern Greece, under the idea that Tirana is the capital of the Albanian nation. This is populism at its best. Presevo's capital is Belgrade. Filat's is Athens – also the capital of Albania' NATO ally, Greece. And Tirana is not the capital of Kosovo, it's Prishtina.     [post_title] => Editorial: Why foreign policy is missing from Albania's electoral campaign [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-why-foreign-policy-is-missing-from-albanias-electoral-campaign [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-06-09 10:21:27 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-06-09 08:21:27 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=132793 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 132785 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-06-09 10:05:20 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-06-09 08:05:20 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_132787" align="alignright" width="300"]Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s Federal Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s Federal Foreign Minister[/caption] Speech by German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at the eighth Aspen Southeast Europe Foreign Ministers' Conference on May 31.   My esteemed fellow Foreign Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased that you have come here to Berlin! I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to you, Mr Ambassador, and the Aspen Institute for the hospitality and preparation of this conference. I am especially pleased to open our discussions today on the Western Balkans together with you, Jacub [Deputy Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic]. Because we stand here today as the representatives of two countries whose parents’ generations still faced each other as bitter enemies. They became enemies after the peaceful coexistence of our two countries was brutally destroyed by the Nazi policy of expansion and aggression. Destruction, devastation and forced displacement – all of this left deep and painful scars in the relations between our two countries, the Czech Republic and Germany. Therefore, we had to rebuild trust and learn again to deal with each other peacefully. This rapprochement required strength, time and also some courage. Because not everybody in the Czech Republic and Germany was in favour of a new beginning after so much violence and hatred. With the German-Czech Declaration of 1997, we allowed our common history to become fertile ground for a close partnership, and even a friendship. We are now neighbours and friends, closely connected to each other through the European Union. Today’s conference is another result of the excellent cooperation between the Czech Republic and Germany. This genuine reconciliation between our countries and the very close relations we enjoy today – not only between governments but also between our societies – could perhaps be an inspiration for the Western Balkans, too. Because when I look at our neighbouring region today, a region which is so important to us, I am concerned about the developments there. This is why I am convinced: All of us, especially the countries of the region, must work harder for a peaceful, prosperous and European future for the Western Balkans. Ladies and gentlemen, Let me therefore share with you which I think are the trends in the Western Balkans that are worrying me. And also what I think we can do to reverse these trends. Tensions within and between the region’s countries have increased. We see that political divisions within societies contribute to more confrontational regional politics – and vice-versa. The demons of nationalism and of ethnic divisions that seemed to have been overcome already, seem to be re-emerging. I believe we have to look closely at what is causing these developments. We then come to the conclusion that the main problems are homegrown. I am talking about reform gridlock, corruption, economic stagnation and political instability. And we see how fears and unresolved traumas are used to divert attention from these problems. These are issues internal to the region. However, we must also be aware that the Western Balkans region isn’t immune to what is happening in Europe and around the world. I am concerned that countries from outside the region try to re-establish spheres of influence through old geopolitical thinking. Thereby, they pit neighbours against each another – and also against the European Union! Of course, it also doesn’t help either when the impression is created that Europe is primarily attending to its own affairs and does not care enough about the Western Balkans! These factors – which are not rooted in the region, but have an impact on it – weaken the reform dynamic even further. This is only strengthening the forces that are interested in maintaining a bad status quo. In other words, ladies and gentlemen, something must be done – because the critical developments in the Western Balkans have a direct impact on us in Central Europe. The positive message here is: The close interdependency also holds true in a positive sense – when things are going well for countries in the Western Balkans, this is also good for the European Union because we need strong partners in the Western Balkans. Therefore, I am convinced that it is in the interest of the countries of the Western Balkans as well as of the European Union to do everything to jointly adopt the right course again. And the overall direction is clear since the summit in Thessaloniki, and I would like to reaffirm it: European Union membership for the six countries in the Western Balkans – that’s the goal! Because the accession process and subsequent membership in the European Union are the best ways we can imagine to stabilise the region in the long term. But an honest analysis also has to include a bitter truth: The prospect of membership in the European Union has lost some of its appeal in recent years in the Western Balkans. There was always a downturn in enthusiasm for EU accession when the public realised that the process itself is challenging and takes a long time. There are of course tangible reasons for this trend: The benefits of closer ties with the European Union, as well as the progress already achieved, have so far been barely visible for the populations. On the contrary, many people are primarily confronted with the social hardships that are a consequence of implementing long-needed reforms in the candidate countries. It is often the elderly and underprivileged who suffer most from this, but also the younger generations. The employment statistics show a clear picture. Youth unemployment is sometimes over 60 percent. This means that young people barely have a chance of finding a suitable job in the domestic labour market. One of the consequences is that many of those people who have the opportunity “vote with their feet‟ and leave. Young and well-educated people, in particular, are leaving the region in great numbers. This, of course, is the group of people most needed to build thriving economies. Ladies and gentlemen, It is therefore clear to me that we can’t simply continue doing things as we did before. And we must target different levels: Firstly, we must work together on changing the stories that we tell here in the European Union – but also in the countries of the Western Balkans – and adapt them to reality. That applies to all sides! We in the European Union have to acknowledge, more than we have previously, that such a profound transformation process requires a lot of strength and courage. We must give greater recognition to the fact that societies in the Western Balkans are in the middle of a huge reconstruction process – economically, politically and socially. However, I think it also means that the elites, in particular, in these countries should avoid telling the wrong stories about the European Union. The European Union is, of course, not a messiah that can suddenly solve all the problems of the Western Balkans. Such expectations can only lead to disappointment! And the European Union is also not the devilish power that forces the countries of the Western Balkans to implement reforms. I completely understand that economic reforms are difficult and not always popular – we have seen this in Germany in the last decade and we have similar difficult discussions in the Euro Zone today. But one thing has to be clear: Regardless of the accession process to the European Union, it is in the interest of the countries of the region to push these reforms ahead. Because this is the only viable way to make their countries competitive in the long term. These reforms are not a favour to the European Union. They are in the interest of your own countries! But we have to be careful not to limit this conversation to economic issues. We should encourage a more comprehensive discussion. I say this because sometimes it seems to be forgotten that the EU is first and foremost about peace. There is no better guarantor of peace with your neighbours than being member states of the European Union. Nowhere else in the world can people live with such freedom, safety and social protection as in Europe. Instead of blaming the European Union for all that goes wrong, responsible politicians should encourage their citizens not to forget this  – because our offer of membership still stands! We must also make sure that the extensive support that the European Union already provides for the Western Balkan countries becomes more visible. It should not be the case that in Serbia, for example, a large proportion of the population – according to the surveys – still believes that Russia is the country’s largest financial supporter. If the people are completely unaware of everything that the European Union does, it’s hardly surprising that their interest in the accession process is limited. One example: I don’t understand why one is greeted on the trip from Belgrade Airport into the city centre by a large poster that celebrates the Russian-Serbian friendship, while the yellow and blue of the European Union is totally invisible. In this regard, we must make significant improvements together – meaning the EU as well as the Western Balkan countries. However, it isn’t just a matter of the stories that we have to change, ladies and gentlemen. The second level on which something needs to be done is the area of practical cooperation. We, as Europeans, have to take concrete steps: The European Union’s enlargement process must be enhanced and given additional support. Otherwise, it cannot be ruled out that the Western Balkans will slip away from us before our very eyes. This is not what we want. Therefore, we must stay the course! That does not mean – and I want to stress this – that I am advocating compromises in the conditions for membership. Nothing of the sort. There should be no discounts in key areas, particularly in relation to the rule of law, the justice system, the fight against corruption and press freedom. However, I am firmly convinced that we in the European Union must develop more and fresh ideas. Yet not only ideas. We should also provide more financial means for their implementation in order to reduce the social hardships associated with the region’s transformation. Furthermore, it would be in our own best interests if we were to allow the Western Balkan countries to participate in more of the European Union’s programmes. Another key point that we have to consider is the strengthening of regional cooperation. I am pleased with the positive dynamic that the “Berlin process” has created. But I also say quite openly that all of us here need to be much more ambitious. We need a “Berlin process reloaded”! The process must generate visible improvements for the local populations. Therefore, we should give priority to ideas aimed at making the region an attractive economic area. This would inevitably lead to closer ties with the European Union and would help to accelerate the accession process. I therefore welcome the efforts of Commissioner Hahn who is actively working toward the creation of a common economic area in the region. This path is both right and forward-looking; better conditions for intra-regional trade and investment don’t just help to unblock development potential. Economic integration of the Western Balkans based on European standards also makes integration into the European Union easier. But we should not stop there. We must now also accelerate the large infrastructure projects that are economically vital! Projects that also have special symbolic significance, such as the highway between Serbia, Kosovo and Albania. In order to finance it, I propose that we should set up an additional fund for infrastructure projects. Member states of the EU as well as the EFTA and the European Economic Area could contribute to the fund as donors. The growth of Industry 4.0 also offers great prospects for the Western Balkans. However, the Western Balkan countries will only be able to benefit from this, if they have an efficient IT infrastructure and if there is a reliable legal framework for IT services. It is imperative that the Western Balkan countries address this collectively so that each country doesn’t end up with a different standard. It is important not to lose any time on this. In my opinion, an IT summit in the region would be an ideal opportunity to promote this idea. I am convinced that generally more should be done to make the region more attractive for foreign investment. But we all know that investors are less likely to invest if they feel the rule of law is not taken seriously. So there is also a strong economic argument to strengthen independent institutions: the parliaments, the justice sector and to protect the independence and freedom of the media. We all know also that countries with well-educated skilled workers are attractive investment locations. Germany has benefited from this for decades. The key to success in our case is dual vocational training, meaning the theoretical transfer of knowledge combined with an apprenticeship at a company. Why don’t we establish a fund for the countries of the region to finance projects in the area of dual vocational training, which the countries can then apply for? This would create positive competition and ensure that the funds are used where they are really needed. Ladies and gentlemen, I am aware that all these things cost money. But I say to you: If we don’t make money available today to keep the Western Balkans on the right track during this crucial phase, the consequences will be a lot more expensive for all of us! The European Union needs strong partners in the region. But, my fellow Foreign Ministers, it is now your responsibility to make it clear to the European Union that your countries want to stay the course in the same way. To stay the course toward a future that won’t just benefit your citizens economically and socially. But a future that also binds your countries together as neighbours in a peaceful manner. We – Czechs and Germans – have experienced this wonderful transformation! Therefore, I appeal to you to take advantage of this historic opportunity! And I can assure you: We will support you on this path!       [post_title] => The European Union needs strong partners in the Western Balkans [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-european-union-needs-strong-partners-in-the-western-balkans [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-06-09 10:07:08 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-06-09 08:07:08 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=132785 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 132674 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-06-02 10:10:46 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-06-02 08:10:46 [post_content] => With the electoral campaign for Albania's June 25 general elections in full swing, the parties likely to gain representation in the next parliament are putting forward promises to try to lure in voters. Most of these promises have to do with the economy – more jobs, fewer taxes and more public investments, depending on which party leader is speaking. If the Value Added Tax of 20 percent is lowered to 15 percent – for example, or removed entirely for basic foods – it would have a huge impact on the budgets of Albanian families, particularly those with the lowest incomes. The percentage of their income Albanian families spend on food is sky-high if compared to more developed countries. The flip side of this is that the state budget gets a huge chunk of its income from VAT, and other sources of taxation would need to be found, to keep up and improve services. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and the international IMF advisors of the government want to see more taxes, not less, all recent reports show. Yet this single promise to slash the largest tax in the economy by 25 percent, as the center right Democratic Party has done, which in a normal Western country would have made the top headlines, in Albania gets little play in the local media, where achievements are measured in how many buildings have been pained this month and how much dirt and dust the Socialist-led local government can put up during the campaign to show how hard it is working for Albanians to spend taxpayer money one better looking, better working cities. If not offering tax cuts, some parties are offering jobs, and in Albanian fashion, they are offering surrealistically high numbers. Four years ago, this newspaper called the promise of 300,000 jobs by the Socialist Party completely unrealistic. Indeed, the Socialist-led government has failed to meet that number, even including jobs that are now simply formalized and that had existed before. Clearly not learning from the experience, the Socialists are now promising more than 200,000 new jobs in the next four years, again a high and unrealistic numbers keeping in mind macroeconomic trends in Albania and beyond. The problems is not that the parties make unrealistic promises. The problem is that there is little in terms of a system to keep them accountable. If polls are to be believed, voters are skeptical and angry. Approval ratings for each side of the political divide are below 50 percent. They are not really buying what the politicians are selling. However, history shows that Albanian voters do not vote for someone, rather than against someone. The politicization of economic opportunities means that many members of the society simply vote for the party more likely to keep them and their families in their current public sector job or for the party that is more likely to put them in that job, of course by sacking the neighbor. They also vote for the party more likely to help their own business or the business they work for. Of course it helps if the party in power promises to increase public sector wages by 40 percent, meaning the rest of the society has to shell out that money in taxes, somehow, or increase public debt accordingly and let the kids pay for their parents sins. That's assuming there will be any kids left to pay since polls show that not only are young Albanians continuing to leave the country in droves, many of those still here are looking to do so as soon as possible should they have an opportunity to do so legally. As long as there is not a mechanism to keep the politicians who make promises accountable – other than booting them out every four or eight years in elections – the flow of unrealistic promises – often blatant lies – will continue, disappointing and killing hope for even more Albanians than they already have.   [post_title] => Editorial: More accountability needed for election promises [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-more-accountability-needed-for-election-promises [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-06-02 10:10:46 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-06-02 08:10:46 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=132674 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 132588 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-05-26 10:37:47 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-26 08:37:47 [post_content] => Is there a new opportunity to go forward with the process of EU integration for Albania? After being caught up in a vicious political gridlock that left little to no hope of asking such questions, now, after the much sought after political deal is done, we can finally re-examine the chances that the country has to put another step forward in its European path. The deal reached between the majority and the opposition, at least in paper, sounds very promising as far as EU integration is concerned. Prime Minister Rama highlighted the fact that the deal foresees a unique voice of Albanian political class when it comes to asking the EU for opening negotiations. Furthermore one hopes that this becomes a norm, it is high time that Albanian politicians leave their skirmishes at the door when being represented in high level European fora and talking about the joint future of their country. Since this deal will be the basis for a peaceful and regular electoral process and secures consensus and wide backing for a series of key reforms then the expectations of it servicing the integration objective are well justified. The re-activation of the implementation of the justice reform which has been for a long the key word in the requirements from the Commission is of particular importance in this context. The completion of the vetting commissions in the Parliament is a key positive development in this regard. It might sound naïve but there is a real opportunity that the deal is respected in this particular clause and that it is reflected very positively on the assessment of the Union’s institutions, particularly the Commission about Albania. The solution of crisis in Albania and Macedonia were warmly greeted by the EU which now has to also step up its commitment and re-invigorate the connection with the region. The recent meeting of High representative Mogherini with all Western Balkans’ leaders is a promising sign of continuous attention and prioritizing for the region. This is welcomed and should be intensified also by the Commission and the Parliament. The Summit of Trieste that will happen in July is another chance to step up and develop the Berlin process for the purpose of assisting the European membership perspective of the entire region. The Berlin process has been mostly stagnating with the projects being primarily still in draft forms and other institutions such as RYCO (Regional Youth Cooperation Office) being put in place with inexplicable delay. The Berlin process is vital for the functional integration of the region which needs to precede or at least go parallel with accession talks of each country. Finally, and of equal importance, the situation inside the European Union is considerably better after the French presidential elections and will not change after the German elections where both first runners are pro-European and pro-enlargement. The Union seems slightly re-energized and the positive talk of a new deal to strengthen the integration is pervasive. Albania can benefit from this positive momentum. The first challenge is coming in one month. The elections should fulfill all standards of being free and fair. After the deal there is a solid infrastructure at state level to secure both that these standards are observed and to guarantee that the process is accepted by all competing sides. After June 25, if all goes well, it will be time to seek a date for the opening of the negotiations.   [post_title] => Editorial: EU integration in focus: A glimmer of light at the horizon [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-eu-integration-in-focus-a-glimmer-of-light-at-the-horizon [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-26 10:37:47 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-26 08:37:47 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=132588 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 132591 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-05-26 10:35:58 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-26 08:35:58 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_132592" align="alignright" width="300"]Orhan-Usein Orhan Usein[/caption] An interview by Lutfi Dervishi with Orhan Usein, team leader of the Regional Cooperation Council’s Roma Integration 2020 Action Team. Roma Integration 2020, sounds like an ambitious title project since we are already on 2017. At the end of the year 2020 what "integration" will mean for a Roma family let say in Albania? The “Roma Integration 2020” (RCC RI 2020) links the  project with the EU Agenda 2020, focused on socio-economic development across Europe, including the enlargement region, as Roma integration is a priority and conditionality for the enlargement countries aiming to join the EU. So the governments will have to show tangible results of the integration of Roma before joining the EU, as increased attention is devoted to it. RCC RI 2020 project is not starting from the scratch but is rather building up on achievements of the Roma Decade initiative, which established the grounds for public policy processes and institutional arrangements on Roma integration, as well as other large scale projects and programmes that have aimed at improving Roma living conditions across the region, including in Albania since 2003. In other words, it is an ongoing process which requires continuous political will, commitment of all stakeholders and cooperation between different line ministries. The lessons learnt from past accessions suggest that promoting Roma integration does not only require an enhanced political commitment to Roma inclusion but also the allocation of appropriate resources under the national budgets, better coordination with all relevant donors and stakeholders in general, as well as the systematic evaluation and reinforced monitoring. Therefore, the Roma Integration 2020 project, through its regional approach, and embedded into the ongoing Regional Cooperation Council’s (RCC) Strategy and Work programme 2017-2019 as well as South East Europe 2020 Strategy (SEE 2020) for the governments of Western Balkans, aims to assist governments to integrate Roma specific policy measures into the mainstream socioeconomic policies and the national budget planning and service delivery through work at national and regional level. At the national level we provide continuous direct assistance and technical support to the governments on implementing and reporting on policies for Roma; including through consultative meetings, trainings and recommendations on policy formulations, prioritizing, mainstreaming, budgeting and monitoring. One such mechanism is through the public dialogue forums, as the one in Tirana, which aims at opening the policy process to all relevant stakeholders including the Parliament, the national and local government, NGOs and wider civil society, media and others in order to disseminate information, provide possibility for accountability and advocacy. At the regional level, the project aims to establish regional standards applied by the governments when it comes to implementing the Strategies and Action Plans on Roma. We have organized several workshops brining diverse government delegations from the Western Balkans and Turkey to discuss issues related to Monitoring and Reporting on Roma policies as well as Budgeting for Roma integration policies. These workshops are designed with the idea to build capacities of government officials, as well as to share of best practices from the region and beyond. In short, it is all about inclusiveness. The region needs to walk the path to EU with its entire people, and Roma cannot be left behind. It provides an opportunity for public officials in charge of policy reforms and public budgeting, to work together with their colleagues in charge of Roma issues to find ways so that schools, social centres, hospitals, and employment agencies can provide service to Roma as they do for other citizens. Before going any further let me clarify on the term ‘Roma’. Within this initiative, the term is used as it is used by the European Commission, and refers to Roma, Sinti, Kale and related groups in Europe, including Travellers and the Eastern groups (Dom and Lom), and covers the wide diversity of the groups concerned, including persons who identify themselves as Gypsies. In the context of the RCC RI2020 participating economies, the term Roma also covers Ashkali and Egyptians as relevant. Coming back to your question, in 2020 an average Roma or Egyptian family living in Albania will primarily have capacitated institutions to better formulate and deliver integration policies, will have better access to public services. It will be aware about the procedures for civil registry and change of residence, which will improve its access to health services. It will also increase the chances to enroll children in pre-school education and compulsory education, as well as encourage its youth to pursue university education. It will have more chances to be part of the formal labour market and will less likely live in an informal settlement. Let’s be clear that full integration requires work with generations of people, both Roma and non-Roma, and it’s a continuous process. But even for a short period of time, as up to 2020, we should set our vision ambitiously and motivationally.   Governments easily say that they subscribe to "Roma integration", but when it comes to the budgeting issues - Roma's problems are at the bottom - at best.  How can we be sure that words/promises of governments will be match by their actions? The launching event of the Roma Integration 2020 held in June last year in Brussels showed high commitment of the participating economies. We are aware that participating economies apply different approaches to budgeting for Roma integration, including through mainstream and targeted measures as well as applying programming and itemized budgeting processes. During the recent regional workshop that RI2020 organised in Skopje it was pointed out how important is the relationship between planning and budgeting to ensure that the policy and strategic priorities related to Roma integration are adequately reflected in mid-term and annual governments’ budgets. The challenge is how to ensure that the key objectives and priorities of the National Roma Integration Strategies and related relevant strategies and Action Plans are budgeted and implemented. The RI2020 is working both on how to budget for Roma integration policies as well as how to develop monitoring and reporting mechanism. As we speak, the participating economies are finalizing their first reports for 2016. It should be noted that Strategies and Action Plans for the integration of Roma have been developed, most often, with the participation of the Roma civil society and the international community. Often these policies are some kind of a compromise between the good will and wishes on one hand and administrative limits on the other hand. There is a need for realistic and focused evidence-based planning. We aim at supporting governments to build their capacities for such policy formulation and budgeting. Our philosophy is that one measure per priority area would be sufficient for a year-long period, but only if it is well planned with all the necessary planning elements and it is realistic – something that can be and will be done. Step by step, we are closer to the aim of full integration   What are the commonalities and differences of Roma's situation across the region? Roma represent about 5.5 percent in the average of the population in the Region.  Across the region Roma still face social exclusion and discrimination. That leads to lack of education, chronic unemployment, limited access to healthcare, housing, limited access to essential services and widespread poverty and no or limited participation in decision making. This is common. Another thing that all participating economies have in common is that there are no complete, accurate and undisputed statistics regarding the number of Roma. These affect policies, budget allocation and overall attention paid by the governments and other stakeholders to Roma communities. We should also be  aware that there are differences within a particular economy. Recent report produced by the Roma Integration 2020 shows, for example, that there is a great heterogeneity amongst Roma population in Albania in terms of wealth, lifestyle, level of education, challenges they face and so on. Nevertheless, across the region, a new generation of young well-educated Roma activists is emerging. These people have created new or strengthened already existing associations and non-governmental organizations and work to empower the Roma communities. Being educated have provided them with better access in the labour market and better positioning in the society at large. It may be expected that this will lead to creating of Roma communities that are well-educated, have good jobs, financial resources and thus came out of marginalization and poverty. The empowerment of Roma communities shall be seen in the broader human rights framework in order to work towards empowerment of the other Roma generations and communities. The empowerment journey should not stop once a Roma be it a young person, or a family, or a group is better off, but should lead to actions to support the rest of the Roma communities. We avoid comparing the economies. They all have different sizes of different Roma groups, and to large extent different political and administrative systems. Moreover, the history and the starting point of all those countries have been different, as well as the conditions and developments surrounding Roma integration policies. Therefore, it is ungrateful to compare them.  What we strive to do is to take into account the specific context when we put our efforts in building the capacities and setting the mechanisms for effective and efficient Roma integration in the economies, at the same time identifying common needs and challenges in order to set regional standards.   When we talk about best practices - can you describe a concrete example from the region? The notion of best practice of Roma integration, in our view, is a controversial issue. What constitutes a good practice? Is that a practice that has achieved the ultimate aim – full integration of Roma in the society, preserving their distinct identity, which is sustainable over long period of time? If so, can we really speak about existence of such a good practice? However, we can talk about initiatives and practices that are promising and show positive developments and results that may grow into good practice. Or, we can talk about specific aspects of different practices that are positive and contribute to achieving the ultimate aim. There are such practices across the region, of course, and many governments and international organizations have documented and publicized those, including the European Commission. For example, there are such practices in Albania, as the one from Lezha, where the Municipality engaged Roma and Egyptian communities in identifying a project that the two communities would benefit from.. It also gave an office to the local Roma Association providing a meeting place and formalising the relationship. At the ministerial level, many ministries have developed interesting initiatives like free training for Roma women or have allocated budget lines for Roma housing. In terms of establishing structures and mechanisms to support the implementation of the Action Plan the recent development of appointing Roma Focal Points at the ministries and local government units is very welcomed. An interesting publication elaborating factors that contribute to the success or failure of a measure or policy aiming at Roma integration is the Decade Secretariat’s “Decade Intelligence”. I would recommend this report to all officials, central and local, working on development and implementing Roma integration policies.   Only 7% of the businesses in SEE say that they hire Roma. What can be done to change the situation? Deeply rooted stereotypes and prejudice falsely portray Roma as unsuitable work force, prone to stilling, avoiding work, creating uncomfortable work environments. This is, of course, not true. It is a generalization that stigmatizes Roma, who most often have to work 5 times harder to prove worthy as the non-Roma. That is if they ever get the chance to prove it. Even when businesspersons are open to hiring Roma, they are aware of this widespread stigma in the general population, including their potential clients. Therefore, most of them do not consider Roma in their workforce. There are, however, socially responsible companies that are not interested only in profits, but also in their contribution to a better society. These are the once that are ready to hire Roma. Changing stereotypes and prejudice, reverting discrimination towards Roma, in all areas, including employment, is a hard, long and resource-demanding process. But most of all it needs commitment, consistency and determination by the leadership and their own freedom from prejudice. Changing beliefs and attitudes is the most difficult task of a leadership. It requires long-term interventions in the education, media, legislation and other spheres of life that provide opportunity to building tolerance, understanding and equality. It also requires good examples among the Roma. There are such examples, but we need more of them and we need their inclusion in all spheres of the society in order to spread out the good word.   One big problem for Roma people in Albania is registration, and that is the main reason why numbers of  Roma asylum seekers from Albania to Germany is low. What can be done to address this issue? Roma population has lived dramatic and precarious change of their social and economic situation in the post-socialist times and the transition to a market economy. They moved from a relative integration into the mainstream society to a marginalization in extreme poverty, including losing their legal status in many cases. One must be aware that the issue of legal invisibility is in particular relevant to generations born after the collapse of the former regime - many children were not registered and the trend persists. However, bureaucracy often did not change ast quickly as the socio-economic situation of the citizens. Difficult procedures and the principle of citizens approaching public service, rather than the other way around, remained. Citizens, particularly those in most vulnerable positions, were forced to pay more and more efforts to their surviving strategies, while at the same time public services were not reaching out to them. This was the case with a number of public services, not only civil registration, which influenced further deterioration of the situation. Becoming aware of the issue, governments have attempted to solve it. There were, for example, measures to encourage civil registration, such as exemption from administrative fees, informative campaigns, etc. The most effective measures are those including reaching out to people, such as in Serbia through Roma mediators. Measures such these resulted in significant drop in the number of legally invisible persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, for example. We hope Albania will follow the good example and learn from its partners in the Roma Integration 2020 on this issue.   Housing/unemployment are another big problem for Roma and not only for them. Government across the region have failed to address those issues in general. What can they particularly do to address this issues for Roma community? The Decade of Roma Inclusion made significant progress in the area of education across the region. Education was believed to be the key to ending the vicious circle of poverty and a starting point to progress in all other areas. While this is partially true, a person, regardless of level of her/his  education, cannot progress in life without a roof over the head or without income providing job and ensuring food on the table. This is an approach  we try to promote  - an integral one, , when the integration efforts deal simultaneously with all the needs of a person or family. Housing and employment are important and, as you noted, still represent a significant problem. Moreover, trends show that while unemployment is being reduced among Roma, employment is not increasing, but informal employment is. In housing, segregation seems to be on the raise. This is evident from the data of the Roma Inclusion Index. The good example of education from the Roma Decade may provide for a more comprehensive approach to these issues. Internationally, an institution was created – the Roma Education Fund (REF), which works on the two most important levels simultaneously: intervening in the official education policies to remove obstacles for education of Roma, and providing direct support to Roma for and in education. It has to be noted that REF was well resourced to do this comprehensive job both with funding and with capable Roma staff. Similar structures may be introduced in housing, and in particularly in employment at regional level. We hope to work with the governments to develop this idea.   What do you expect from Public Dialogue Forum in Tirana? I would like to recall that this is the first such event in Albania organized under the framework of the RCC’s Roma Integration 2020 initiative. We expect that it will bring together a wide spectre of relevant stakeholders from the government, both at the local and national level, to the civil society and academia as well as international stakeholders.  In other words, around 70 persons with vast and relevant experience and ideas discussing the achievements related to the implementation of the National Action Plan for Integration of Roma and Egyptian (2016-2020) in 6 priority areas; civil registration and access to justice, education, employment, health, housing and social protection and building on the lessons learnt the priorities for 2018. It is also expected that a reference will be made to the operational conclusions of the 2016 EU Roma seminar. Finally, we expect to discuss the implementation of priority measures for 2017 and 2018, including the monitoring and budgeting process.   Originally from Ohrid, Macedonia, Orhan Usein is the Team Leader of RCC’s Roma Integration 2020 Action Team. He holds an MA Degree in International Relations and European Studies from the Central European University. Before joining the RCC, Mr Usein worked for the Decade of Roma Inclusion Secretariat Foundation as Program Manager responsible for providing conceptual, operational and technical support to the Roma Decade countries. In 2012, Mr Usein was a Lantos Fellow at the United States House of Representatives working in the office of Congressman Elliot L. Engels. While there, he wrote several statements for the Congressman on the situation of Roma in Europe. Mr Usein was a representative of the Advisory Council on Youth in the Council of Europe. He has also worked in various capacities for the Roma Education Fund, the European Roma Rights Centre and the European Commission. Within the Roma Integration 2020 Action Team Mr Usein is responsible for the overall coordination and implementation of the project between the European Commission, the RCC Secretariat, the National Roma Contact Points and the Open Society Foundations. More concretely, he manages the project by engaging the respective economies in the process of Roma integration driven by the EU accession and national budget-timing, as well as by facilitating peer learning, expert input and civil society engagement. Mr Usein’s tasks include streamlining the initiative with the RCC work; cooperating with the Roma Integration 2020 Task Force; assisting economies with the usage of the monitoring and reporting template; representing the RCC Action Team at international and national events; and coordinating communication. Besides overseeing the work in each participating economy, Mr Usein also serves as a desk officer for Bosnia and Herzegovina.   [post_title] => Meeting Roma integration goals in Albania and the region [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => meeting-roma-integration-goals-in-albania-and-the-region [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-30 10:56:26 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-30 08:56:26 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=132591 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 132957 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-06-23 10:34:44 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-06-23 08:34:44 [post_content] => The following is a historical look at Albanian elections and an analysis of the parties in the current race, their programs, ambitions and coalitions, as well as some background information about the political and economic context in which these elections take place. Albania has a short and poor history of operating under a multiparty political system, one that provides several alternative parties and candidates on which voters then decide through elections. Albania’s first experiment in democracy, back in the 192os and 1930s, was short lived. It ended tragically with the establishment of the communist regime after World War II. In December 1945, the communist regime organized the first parliamentary elections after coming to power. They were the first and last nominally pluralistic elections held by the communists. Immediately after the elections, the communist regime launched a campaign of terror against the liberal opposition that had begun to emerge. A number of opposition candidates who ran in the 1945 election were arrested and severely persecuted. After that, the parliamentary elections in Albania were simply a charade. While elections took place every four years, voters had no alternatives from which to choose. They were rubber-stamp elections for a rubber-stamp parliament, since the creation of political parties or organizations other than the Communist Party (later renamed the Labour Party) was banned by the constitution. The so-called elections were always won by Democratic Front candidates, an organization set up by the Communist Party, and they were won with results that consistently went to up to 99.99 percent. Turnout was also 99.99 percent, if not 100 percent. Non-participation in elections was considered treason to the Communist Party and the country and it came with harsh penalties such as imprisonment, political internment and loss of right to vote in the future. With this dark legacy, Albania held its first pluralistic election on March 31, 1991, after nearly a half century of communist dictatorship. For the first time, there was a true opposition party in the race. The Democratic Party had been founded in December 1990, following a pro-democracy movement led by students at the University of Tirana. That first electoral process was conducted in an atmosphere of chaos, intimidation and violence. The opposition won a clear victory in the big cities, however, failed to win the election in the rest of the country. The case of the 1991 election was, among other things, an example of the opposition (the Democratic Party at that time) not competing with just the party in power -- the Communists of the Labour Party -- but with the entire state apparatus with its bureaucracy, resources -- human and material -- including instruments and institutions of violence and terror, such as the secret police, which were still very much feared at the time. The use of all the state’s power in the 1991 election, including instruments of violence as well as propaganda (primarily through the public information institutions like the Albanian Radio Television) continued what had been common practice during the fake election processes held under the communist regime. But unlike previous elections, in the first multiparty election of March 31, 1991, the state and its institutions were used against a real political opposition. Unfortunately, such practice of using state resources against the opposition continued to be present in all future democratic elections. The circumstances and dynamics were different, but the practice of using the state’s power and resources to favor of the ruling party has been a continuous feature in all Albanian elections.  On March 22, 1992, parliamentary elections were organized by a caretaker government, following the resignation of the last communist-led government in May 1991. The polls brought to power the non-communist opposition, represented by the Democratic Party[1]. These 1992 parliamentary elections entered into Albania's post-communist history as one of the few processes where the losing side did not contest the results. However, it is difficult for these elections to be seen as normal and a pure case of an uncontested process, because these elections did not simply mark a change in government, they marked a change in regime, one that had completely lost its legitimacy[2]. On May 26, 1996, Albania held the next parliamentary election. The race marked the first confrontation between the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Socialist Party, a rebranded and reformed Labour Party. In many respects, these elections were seen as a real test of the ability of Albania’s fragile democracy to function. The process was a failure. The Socialist Party and its smaller allies abandoned the election, saying the process had been rigged. What could have been a normal victory for the Democratic Party became a charade after government candidates "won" almost all constituencies[3]. The Socialist opposition disowned the results of these elections and boycotted parliament and other institutions. Within a few months, the country was engulfed by anarchy, following the collapse of pyramid schemes that accompanied the failure of the electoral process. These Ponzi investment schemes took away the savings of most of the country’s citizens, leading to riots and rebellion. The 1997 crisis, the worst in the modern history of Albania, led to the entire collapse of the state. This crisis was not just associated with the failure of pyramid schemes, it also had roots in the failure of the political elite to organize proper parliamentary elections. Slightly more than a year after the election of 1996, the country went to the polls again in early elections, which were held during a grave period for Albania, and with the presence of a multinational military force, which was called in to maintain law and order. The elections of June 29, 1997 were held under a climate of tension in which there was lack of state control over large parts of the territory, lack of security, and an inability of candidates to go to almost half of Albania depending on the party they represented. As such, more than an election, the polls were an institutional effort to find a solution for the crisis in Albania. The elections were won by the Socialist Party and its allies. For a time, President Sali Berisha's Democratic Party, in opposition, did not recognize the electoral process as free and fair. Just as the Socialists had boycotted parliament after the elections of 1996, the Democrats boycotted parliament after the 1997 polls. By this time, a dominant feature of post-communist Albania had appeared: a trend in which the election results are contested by the losers who then boycott institutions, creating a crisis that demands the involvement of the international community.[4] In the future, even if any progress was made, it would not solve the essence of the problem in Albanian democracy: the intention to distort the outcome of the elections and lack of commitment to organize a legitimate electoral process, based on laws and procedures in the books. The next parliamentary elections were held on June 24, 2001, and were a key second test after the failure of 1996. Elections were held in a political atmosphere dominated by conflict. A government attempt to manipulate the results in favor of its candidates, using a legal vacuum that allowed candidates to be both party representatives and independents failed after an intervention by OSCE-ODIHR. However, the government was able to change the results in a more sophisticated way, which stood in a legally grey area. The voting process was delayed in one hundred constituencies and in a single area. The ruling Socialist Party then instructed its members and supporters to vote for the allied parties, using the electoral system to produce more deputies for its coalition through strategic voting that distorted the true results of the elections. From that strategic voting, ten MPs were awarded to parties allied to the Socialist-led government. The Socialist Party managed to secure through such distorting efforts three fifths of seats in parliament, which enabled it to have the majority required to have the ability to elect the next president and all heads of independent institutions. The Democratic Party of former President Sali Berisha, in opposition, rejected the Socialists’ victory, which it saw as fabricated, and under international pressure, the Socialists were forced not to use the power of three-fifths they had in parliament. In 2002, the country’s new president was elected with the consent of the opposition, marking a rare example of consensus in Albanian politics. The parliamentary elections of 2005 marked the first electoral process that enabled a normal transfer of power from the governing Socialist Party to the Democratic Party, which was able to return to power after eight years in opposition. There were again charges of rigging and violations of rules in the election process and procedures, but ultimately the election enabled the transfer of power from government to opposition. The Socialist Party, which had been in power for eight years, went into the elections divided. After internal clashes, a faction of the party led by former Prime Minister Ilir Meta (2001) split and created the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI). This division affected the results of the parliamentary elections of 2005, along with other factors related to bad governance and loss of public trust in the Socialist-led government. The impact such rift had on the Socialists’ loss remains unknown. Many other hypothetical questions remain unanswered as to how parties would have behaved should the ultimate results not have been in favour of the opposition. However, the fact remains that the parliamentary elections of 2005 made ​​it possible for the first transfer of power from government to opposition through normal elections. Nevertheless, it remains questionable whether Albania’s parties had achieved political maturity, or whether the electoral process had ended the legacy of vote rigging, distrust and political conflict, which hurts the country’s wellbeing every time an elections cycle is completed. The 2009 parliamentary elections marked the return of the dominant characteristic of the post-communist Albania: the rejection of the results and boycott of institutions. The opposition Socialist Party accused the government, controlled by the Democratic Party, of rigging the elections and demanded the opening of the ballot boxes so a recount could take place. The Socialist opposition protest radicalized through consistent boycott of parliament and other institutions for a long time and then a number of Socialists, including MPs, went on hunger strike in front of the prime minister's office. In April 2009, Albania had been a member of NATO for only four months, and its parliament was in shambles, boycotted by the parliamentary opposition. In addition to not recognizing the election results, the opposition had gone to the extreme of organizing a hunger strike to demand a recount. An angry Socialist opposition, continued its boycott of parliament for more than one year following the election. The election results did not actually give a governing majority to either of the two major parties. But the Democratic Party was able to create a governing majority coalition by inviting the Socialist Movement for Integration into the government. SMI had competed in the 2009 elections as an opposition party and asked for the support of voters to remove the Democratic Party from power and send Prime Minister Sali Berisha to "political retirement". But after the election, SMI votes were used to keep the Democrats and Berisha in power. The parliamentary elections 2013 brought the Socialists to power. Edi Rama's Socialist Party managed to build a winning coalition with the Socialist Movement for Integration of Ilir Meta and a few smaller satellite parties, many of which were previously unknown. These elections were very important for Socialist Party and seen as the last chance for Rama at the helm of the party after losing the 2009 elections and his seat as mayor of Tirana two years earlier after holding it for 11 years since 2004. Losing the elections would have effectively ended Rama’s political career, which experts saw as a key factor in him seeking an alliance with the SMI, giving the smaller ally a blank check in key areas of a future government. In addition, to win, Rama creating a huge coalition which included tiny parties and some led by people with shady pasts that would come to haunt him later during the governance period. On the other hand, the SMI, which became a key factor in the large win for the Socialist-led coalition, decided it would break off with DP after ruling with it for four years, seeing at very hard for DP to get a third win in a row. The win for the coalition was strong, but the Socialist Party itself only managed to get 65 seats, which were insufficient to government alone. Perhaps the most positive outcome of the elections was that the Democrats did not challenge their loss, and there was no major conflict over the results, despite some allegations of wrongdoings. As a result, the transfer of power was fast and calm, culminating with the resignation of perennial leader of the Democratic Party, Sali Berisha, from the leader’s position. This material has been prepared by the Tirana Center for Journalistic Excellence. Please visit TCJE.org for more information.   [1] In addition to the Democratic Party, other opposition parties such as the Republican and Social-democratic parties had been founded. [2] Albania was the last country in the former communist Eastern Europe to end its communist regime. By then, then the chances of keeping such regime going in Albania were nearly nonexistent. [3] Democratic Party won 87 percent of seats in parliament, and together with its allies, the victory went to 93 percent, while the opposition held only 7 percent of the seats. This absolute domination of the political scene, however, was on shaky ground from the beginning. [4] Elections were held under the presence of a military force mainly from EU member states, led by Italy, including Romania and Turkey. OSCE led international presence. From this year, the OSCE continued to maintain a presence in Albania. The international community continues to be involved in a significant degree in domestic politics and in particular in elections. 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