Editorial: Albania–Kosovo Relations: the show goes on

Editorial: Albania–Kosovo Relations: the show goes on

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL  Even though the subject of having joint embassies and consular services has been promoted before, this week the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Albania and Kosovo presented with a lot of enthusiasm a mutually signed agreement that

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Polish President: “Without Western Balkans integration, Europe won’t breathe easy”

Polish President: “Without Western Balkans integration, Europe won’t breathe easy”

Without the Western Balkans’ integration, Europe won’t breathe easy, Polish President Andrzej Duda said during a Western Balkans summit in Poznan (western Poland) on Friday. Duda stressed that Poland supported the EU enlargement policy since it supported a Europe of

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Words vs Actions, or what makes a government great

Words vs Actions, or what makes a government great

By Sidonja Manushi  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and the Socialist government seems to have taken this quite at heart, as it relies much more on photo propaganda than it does on putting its money where

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Editorial: The Albania we (really) want?

Editorial: The Albania we (really) want?

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL The Socialist Party’s now famous slogan “for the Albania we want” seemed initially abstract and almost impossible to read by the majority of the party’s militants, be those officials heading central structures or local governance branches alike;

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- and there was no one left to speak for me.

- and there was no one left to speak for me.

By Sidonja Manushi   Martin Niemöller emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. He is perhaps best remembered for his postwar words, which go as follows:

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How to read the upcoming boycott

How to read the upcoming boycott

Alba Cela Faced with two political sides that are increasingly starting to resemble boisterous street gangs, Albanians are voicing their decision to stay away from the ballot box on June 30. The opposition has not moved an inch away from

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Editorial: Sham elections: the day after

Editorial: Sham elections: the day after

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL  In the first elections after World War II, precisely on December 2, 1945, ordinary Albanian citizens could cast their vote by inserting beads in a box. They had to hold the bead clenched in their fists and

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Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi

Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi

LETTER TO THE EDITOR  Dear Editor, I heard Austrian Ambassador Johann Sattler commenting on Albania’s current political situation while he was in Shkodra. Among other things, he touched upon the infamous BILD wiretaps published last week involving Socialist Prime Minister

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European integration: Searching for the enemy

European integration: Searching for the enemy

TIRANA TIMES 4 YEARS AGO  By Albert Rakipi The hopes and expectations for opening negotiations for Albania’s accession to the European Union have taken a hard hit even for the most realistic and skeptical people for whom it was clear that

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Editorial: Crime, punishment and violence- this government’s days are done

Editorial: Crime, punishment and violence- this government’s days are done

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL There have been consecutive releases of wire tappings in batches from the German media Bild, demonstrating again and again that starting from the Prime Minister himself Edi Rama and down to former ministers, Damian Gjiknuri and Sajmir

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL 

Even though the subject of having joint embassies and consular services has been promoted before, this week the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Albania and Kosovo presented with a lot of enthusiasm a mutually signed agreement that puts forward the plan for using shared spaces, exchange of personnel as well as joint cultural diplomacy calendar of events.

Despite the pomp and fanfare that is ever present in these presentations once again it remains unclear what exactly this agreement will achieve for the relations between the citizens, the economies and the cultures of the two countries. A large number of agreements have been signed, most of them during equally spectacular bilateral government meetings. All of them lack teeth: concrete implementation mechanism, responsibilities and budgetary provisions. They resemble shallow Memoranda of Understanding that are usually signed by organizations that implement a modest joint project.

This paper has written before about the façade character being prompted between the two countries where in the background the number of barriers for concrete relations and exchanges is multiplying. The situation is even worse now. There is a silent trade war raging in the background of this glossy shows of brotherly cooperation. Kosovo has threatened to impose the same tariff on Albanian goods as it has done with Serbia. The toll fee in the Highway connection Kosovo to Albania is a permanent pestilence on Kosovar travelers. Recently book publishers who retuned from the Book Fair in Prishtina revealed hefty customs fee sums that they had to pay.

Indeed in addition to several disagreements and the field of economy and culture, the political relations themselves are not blooming. There have been several and repeated tensions between Tirana and Prishtina especially in the realm of key strategic decisions about the potential agreement between Kosovo and Serbia as well as about the nature of the relations between Albania and Serbia.

It is even ironic that these agreements are dubbed by furious politicians in the region then as attempt to create “Greater Albania”. If they only knew the level of seriousness of the walls being reinforced between the two countries: the trade disagreements about all sorts of goods and services, the lack of systematic cultural exchanges and the deep discontent that citizens on both sides of the borders periodically vent off faced with the polices, taxes, tariffs, tolls and all kinds of impediments and costs at every interaction step. ‘Greater Albania’, which is not the case at all anyways, would for sure require a much more systematic and serious effort to be realized than the one we see unfolding in the last two decades.

One can only hope that this recent agreement for cooperation in foreign policy is at least a bit more successful than Albania’s previous repeatedly failed attempts to assist Kosovo in its international efforts. Those failed attempts stand as reminders of mismatched grand ambitions when there is some much more concrete work to be done at home.

A real strategic document for the relations between the two countries outlining priorities and detailing concrete mechanism for implementation is the real starting point that needs to be completed. The agreement signed by the two Ministers of Foreign Affairs cannot take its place.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => Without the Western Balkans' integration, Europe won't breathe easy, Polish President Andrzej Duda said during a Western Balkans summit in Poznan (western Poland) on Friday.

Duda stressed that Poland supported the EU enlargement policy since it supported a Europe of solidarity and openness instead of a Europe of mutual prejudice.

The head of state said that Poland's commitment to the Berlin Process "results from Poland's deep conviction regarding the importance of the Western Balkans for the stability and development of Europe."

"The Balkans are an integral part of Europe, in view of their geographical, cultural and historical position," Andrzej Duda went on to say.

"Without the Western Balkans' integration, together with their beautiful traditions and various cultures, Europe will not start breathing easy. I am conscious of the words I am saying, being the president of a country that makes use of EU funds, and which will be obliged to share these resources with new members in the future," he said.

"Poland is a country supporting the EU expansion policy since it supports a Europe of solidarity and openness instead of a Europe of mutual prejudice, which is confined to particular interests and fears. This is not the Europe we want," he said.

Duda admitted that today's Europe is in a difficult situation and suffers from financial and social crises but stressed that crises occurred irrespective of the number of EU members.

"The number of crises has never increased with the number of member states. New member countries bring new energy to integration," he said and stressed that the EU enlargement should not be pushed onto a side-track by the new European authorities.

According to the Polish head of state, the European project is alive and attractive, has a future, and there are countries which are willing to join the EU.

President Duda added that the EU enlargement should be included in the new visions defining the future of a common Europe.

"Unfortunately, I can see that not all our partners in the EU share this view. I am sad and disappointed when I hear about another postponement of the start of accession negotiations with aspiring countries like Albania and North Macedonia," the president said.

He recalled that the EU had positively evaluated reforms in the two countries and recommended that negotiations should start. "Both states have fulfilled their obligations, including such a radical step as the change of the name of the country in the case of North Macedonia."

He underlined that the political dispute regarding not the accession but the start of talks, now under way in the EU, was unacceptable.

"Being the European community, we are obliged to set a clear date of accession instead of giving more verbal declarations," President Duda stressed and repeated the words he had said in Tirana that "Poland does not accept a situation whereby the Western Balkan countries take part in a race with an invisible finish line."

He underlined that such a message should become a clear declaration of the Poznan summit. "We owe this to South-eastern European countries," he added.

The president said that the Polish people knew that this was a complicated process, which required huge changes and sacrifice.

"You will have to implement reforms, which are unpopular. You will have to cope with dissatisfaction of some privileged groups, whose interests will be violated, and to build democratic institutions and a free-market economy. But let me stress that joining the EU is worth this," he said.

The current EU enlargement process includes partners from the Western Balkans and Turkey. The EU opened accession negotiations with Montenegro in 2012, with Serbia in 2014 and with Turkey in 2005. North Macedonia has been an aspiring country since 2005 and Albania since 2014.

The Berlin Process is a German-led inter-governmental initiative to promote the expansion of the European Union to the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia) and to strengthen regional cooperation. The initiative comprises tent EU countries, namely, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Great Britain, Bulgaria, Greece and Poland, which joined the project last year and took over its presidency in January. 

 
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                    [post_content] => By Sidonja Manushi 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and the Socialist government seems to have taken this quite at heart, as it relies much more on photo propaganda than it does on putting its money where its mouth is.

The examples are, of course, endless, but two will suffice in this column. 

Once, maybe twice a year, when celebrating national holidays in particular, the Albanian and Kosovo governments hold joint meetings, usually to “strengthen cooperation in practical and beneficial fields such as trade and economy, telecommunication, border controls and security.” These meetings are characterized by flashy red colors and a lot of national symbols, state representatives (from both sides) shaking hands and speaking about the historic and traditional ties between them, which will surely be translated in similar economic and executive ties. 

It’s all fun and games, until one opens the newspaper - those still reporting independently and freely - and realizes not only that Albania is far from being Kosovo’s number one economic partner, but also that maybe ten percent of the content and promises of these joint meetings are feasible and applicable. 

The cherry on top, however, always comes when there are international meetings and summits involved, because then hiding behind photos becomes increasingly difficult, as facts speak for themselves. 

Take for example this year’s Western Balkans Summit, held in Poland’s Poznan. The pictures of Rama being present and, even friendly, with European and regional leaders are all there, and they speak of a leader who is willing to share his neighbors’ experiences and learn from the summit’s hosts alike, a friend of economic growth and democratic development.

It makes one a tad uncomfortable, then, to learn that Albania did not benefit any of the seven, 700 million euro infrastructure projects approved during the summit for the WB. Meanwhile, North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were awarded three projects in the fields of transport and natural gas extraction, Kosovo was awarded assistance to finalize its railroad project and Serbia, already working on its integration process after having opened dialogue with the EU, will be a new interconnection line. 

Maybe Albania would have also benefited financial aid if it had attended the summit prepared and with a valid project, instead of playing the old marketing game - in politics, looks only get you that far. Maybe it would also help if the government actually took EU and EC advise and stopped granting important construction projects to Public-Private-Partnership contracts, where the private sector is usually represented by shady companies that have little experience in the field, but still manage to win without any competition. 

Well, these are just some thoughts after all. But, nine times out of ten, if your actions don’t live up to your words (or your pictures), then you don’t really have anything to say. 

 
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TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

The Socialist Party’s now famous slogan “for the Albania we want” seemed initially abstract and almost impossible to read by the majority of the party’s militants, be those officials heading central structures or local governance branches alike; virtually everyone but the ‘great Leader’ had trouble comprehending it. Calling the winning party’s central figure ‘the great guy’ or the ‘great leader’ comes from Albania’s years under dictatorship, but is naturally not an Albanian invention. Many oppressed countries and people, statesled by pseudo-democratic regimes, autocracies to dictatorships, be those party-based or personal, as Albania’s case has been time and time again, revolve around the same concept of the “great leader.”

This time around, when Albania’s “big guy” first introduced “the Albania we want” slogan, not a few of his supporters also outside of the Socialist party, but also those who criticized the previous government, were reserved to judge, believing in positive change despite the abstract slogan. Nonetheless, during the last four to five years, the “Albania we want” became more and more concrete - “the Albania we want” became concrete and clear.

“The healthcare” we want,” or the ideal free healthcare. Germany, of course, does not actually offer ‘free’ healthcare, but in Albania as we want it this miracle has easily happened. “The jobs we want” has also been achieved - it can be mainly found in Germany, together with all the students coming from the “education we want.” In Albania as we want it, according to the great leader’s vision and project, the public administration was one of the biggest achievements: during the last five years, the administration we want paid in compensations almost 110 million euros for all those it had unrightfully dismissed. Indeed, “the Albania we want” was no longer abstract, but it doubtfully resembled anyone’s vision.

The same “Albania we want” could not have been complete without the Sunday elections. Actually, after Sunday’s elections, one can surely say we’ve reached the finish line regarding the “Albania we want.”

The “Albania we want” travelled thirty years back in time, holding elections almost identical to those under communism, when 99,99 percent of the votes were immediately given to the party candidate. Actually, truth be told, these elections were even more impeccable, with Socialist candidates in 12 electoral districts, among which the capital and the second biggest city were included, making indestructible wins by 110 to 130 percent, all by citizens happy with the “Albania we want.”

We are now this close to fully achieving the “Albania we want.” Very few things remain to be done - among the most important, the President’s dismissal. This is the last frontier to be crossed, the last castle to be overtaken and the last-standing independent power to be neutralized.

This is better depicted in one of Albania’s own communist movies, when one of the leadership’s most liberal minds reminds his colleagues that the elimination of political opponents is against their own approved rulebook. His colleagues’ reply is immediate: “our own rules will not stop us from fighting class enemies.”

Is this really the Albania we want?

[post_title] => Editorial: The Albania we (really) want? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-the-albania-we-really-want [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-07-05 10:16:52 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-07-05 08:16:52 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=142481 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 142478 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2019-07-05 10:11:23 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-07-05 08:11:23 [post_content] => By Sidonja Manushi   Martin Niemöller emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. He is perhaps best remembered for his postwar words, which go as follows: "First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me."  A few days after Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama carried on with his controversial local elections, marked by an extremely low voter turnout, a resigned opposition, no real competition for the Socialist representatives in most districts and irregularities conducted in broad daylight for the world to see, reading Niemöller's words gives me goosebumps like never before. This morning, one of Rama's adherents (their ministerial posts don't seem to matter much, anymore) came out and announced an updated draft law aiming to decapitate press freedom based on the lawlessness of defamation and the "respect" towards human rights. Rama's "anti-defamation" package, ironically coming some weeks after he himself promised to stop calling journalists doing their job "trash bins," seeks to formalize and regulate all online media through enforced registration. Each media outlet will then be bound to ensure that all articles are true, non-defamatory, and objective and must not be used for criminal purposes. Albania is one of the few countries in Europe where libel and defamation are still considered as criminal, as well as civil offences. Albania wants to be like France, but Albania's Prime Minister cannot handle a country where journalists are allowed to think, say, write and, if necessary, even mock their political figures, alla Charlie Hebdo style.  Albania wants to be like Germany, but Albania's Prime Minister cannot grant journalists the right to investigate and report freely, because that violates his human rights, and the PM's human rights are more important than the human rights of those who journalists protect.  Albania wants to be like the US, but Albania's Prime Minister does not, cannot, fathom stepping down when caught in fault or, even worse, when his own people stop trusting him. And yet, what is more concerning is everyone's apathy towards this fast-growing plague. They came for the workers and the taxpayers, the political opponents and the journalists, the students and the thinkers, the doers and the believers. On its way to forty years in the past, there will be no one left to speak for Albania before it's too late.   [post_title] => - and there was no one left to speak for me. [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => and-there-was-no-one-left-to-speak-for-me [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-07-05 12:16:54 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-07-05 10:16:54 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=142478 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 142418 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2019-06-28 10:18:59 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-06-28 08:18:59 [post_content] => Alba Cela Faced with two political sides that are increasingly starting to resemble boisterous street gangs, Albanians are voicing their decision to stay away from the ballot box on June 30. The opposition has not moved an inch away from its requests of overthrowing the government. The president maintains that his decision to annul the elections is still valid even after the Electoral College struck it down. The majority is proceeding with its calendar of ‘wedding orchestra fitted’ campaign meetings. Three sides oblivious to each other and to reality. Each of the encouraging instability with a cruel irresponsible wink. “Have we really waded so much in depth of absurdity? ”- citizens ask shrugging in quiet despair. They feel powerless to change the designs and cunning maneuvers of these powerful “political strategists” so they find their only way of responding, of taking agency. Not participating in this process. Now this boycotting decision should be read carefully. The opposition might quickly feel vindicated and celebrate it as a result of their actions. However not going to vote is a refusal of everyone’s actions, extreme positions and unwillingness to compromise. Not going to the ballot boxes does not mean for one moment that most of these people align to the cause of the opposition but rather that they wish for all these endless and relentless political rivalry to end. Many veteran voters, people who have voted regularly all their lives, people who consistently rush to vote as soon as the centers are open at 7 am, are openly saying that this time they won’t go. People that have sympathies for all sides, that have rooted for long for their political positions, at this time feel utterly let down. They feel the stupidity and, the paralyzing enmity, the pointlessness. The overall participation level in this elections, if they still happen after all, is going to be the last resort message that citizens of this country are going to send to the politicians. That they have had just about enough!   [post_title] => How to read the upcoming boycott [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => how-to-read-the-upcoming-boycott [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-28 10:18:59 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-28 08:18:59 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=142418 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 142415 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2019-06-28 10:11:53 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-06-28 08:11:53 [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL  In the first elections after World War II, precisely on December 2, 1945, ordinary Albanian citizens could cast their vote by inserting beads in a box. They had to hold the bead clenched in their fists and insert their hand in both ballot boxes and drop it in the box they preferred. They say that the boxes representing the opposition, the side competing with the Communist party, had a metal lining on the bottom which would click therefore revealing the “traitor” that was dropping the bead there. Back then, the Democrats were running with independent candidates and although they managed to win 6.2% of the votes, they did not win any seats in parliament. All 82 were reserved for the Democratic Font, behind which the Communist Party hid. A full three quarters of a century later, Albanian citizens are even more exposed than their grandfathers given away by the click of the bead. On June 30, if they choose to go to the voting centers they will have only one alternative, to vote for the candidates of the majority, of the Socialist Party or to be correct of its ‘Rilindje’ permutation which has delineated a separate profile in the last years.  The polarization between the two political camps has reached the extreme. Despite the recent messages and actions which point at the likelihood of violence abating there are no guarantees that Election Day will not be marred by incidents. However, even if nothing of the sort were to happen on that day, the damage has already been done. The political checks and balance system has fallen and if the majority materializes the removal of President as they have vowed, then the chaotic vicious circle of one party having all powers will be complete.  The international community in Albania has walked away from its usual role of mediator. A single balanced reaction came with the decision of the Local Authorities Commission of the Council of Europe to cancel its observation mission upon grounds that there is no sense observing a one-sided election. The same should have been done long ago by the OSCE/ ODHIR Mission to safeguard its own legitimacy and also to prompt a solution to the crisis. By taking sides, this institution has also played a part in the exacerbation of the polarization on the ground.  The elections on June 30 serve no purpose, no interest and basically no one.  The only elections that could have served to re-establish legitimacy and authority of a normal democratic government would have been snap general elections immediately after the scandals were published by foreign media providing evidence of the solid links between organized crime and the current political majority that served one purpose: to severely manipulate and eventually determine the electoral outcome in at least two regions (Durres, Diber) and most likely in all of them. Those elections, if done by the rules and with the participation of all sides, would have been the way out of the crisis. Now it’s too late. The damage has been done to the country’s governance, future, integration, economy and image. The lack of accountability and responsibility over the electoral crimes increases the likelihood of this damage calcifying into a long term fatal flaw in the system. The lack of willingness to dialogue makes sure that the paths of solution remain blocked. June 30 is a few hours away. On July 1st the country will wake up to a grimmer reality, with the crisis even more pronounced, with the number of businesses and foreign donors packing their bags increasing steadily, with the European governments having one more reason to debate returning the visa regime for Albania.  Given the very few hours remaining it is perhaps futile to make a last call for a solution, for responsibility, for vision. Perhaps the only remaining call ifs for all sides to refrain from violence and avoid embedding the country into an even more disastrous situation which would have no way forward.   [post_title] => Editorial: Sham elections: the day after [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-sham-elections-the-day-after [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-28 10:11:53 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-28 08:11:53 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=142415 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 142359 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2019-06-26 13:56:31 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-06-26 11:56:31 [post_content] => LETTER TO THE EDITOR  Dear Editor, I heard Austrian Ambassador Johann Sattler commenting on Albania’s current political situation while he was in Shkodra. Among other things, he touched upon the infamous BILD wiretaps published last week involving Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama and Co. - I say infamous, also because international representatives in the country are mostly choosing to ignore their publication and all it might imply. Sattler, like a real diplomat, did say the wiretaps might be genuine, (PM Rama and other government officials involved have accepted the wiretaps as genuine) but reiterated their veracity should be left to the judicial system to decide (actually the wiretaps come straight from the prosecution investigation files). “Hope lies in justice,” he said, and even brought forward as an example Austria’s recent video-scandal case, which saw the publication by two German media of a video that showed the Austrian deputy chancellor and leader of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), Heinz-Christian Strache, talking to an unidentified woman purporting to be the niece of a Russian oligarch at a luxury resort in Ibiza. The video provided considerable reasons for the Austiran justice system to be implicated in solving it, but the case did not reach that far - Strache and his parliamentary leader, Johann Gudenus, who had initiated the meeting, resigned on Saturday, saying their behaviour was “stupid, irresponsible and a mistake”. Shortly after their resignations, the chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, of the centre-right Austrian People’s party, called snap elections, likely to be held in September. This seems to me a bit of a “quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi” case - “what is permissible for Jove ( Jupiter), is not permissible for a bull.” Austria sought to save itself from a deadlock and political crisis by not only accepting the politicians’ resignation as the most normal thing to do, but also by heading to snap elections. However, Austrian representatives advise the opposite in a country like Albania, where the same judicial process will probably last for years before (and if) someone gets punished by law.   Double standards between states may be understandable in any case, except for when the democratic values and European integration of one are at stake like never before. David Stojani Student [post_title] => Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => quod-licet-iovi-non-licet-bovi [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-27 11:57:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-27 09:57:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=142359 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 130513 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2019-06-23 10:50:16 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-06-23 08:50:16 [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES 4 YEARS AGO  By Albert Rakipi [caption id="attachment_130553" align="alignright" width="225"]rakipi Albert Rakipi, AIIS executive director[/caption] The hopes and expectations for opening negotiations for Albania’s accession to the European Union have taken a hard hit even for the most realistic and skeptical people for whom it was clear that it would never happen in 2017. According to the best possible scenario on this issue, the opening of negotiations, could be discussed in the first half of 2018, while within the same scenario a specific date for the opening of the negotiations could be set in the end of 2018. That would position the actual start of the negotiations process in the spring of 2019. It has been also made clear that during 2017 there shall be no country report (formerly known as progress report), which has been the usual annual instrument of the European Union to assess, monitor, support and finally urge the necessary reforms in Albania and the other aspiring and candidate countries. Things look actually worse than they are due to the great expectations that the government, but also some local European representatives, set out for Albania's public opinion. However, other less positive scenarios are possible and even likely, and they are primary related to domestic developments in Albania, including: The political stability and security of the country will see challenges which must be faced with a full respect for international standards in the next general elections, shielding them from criminal influences, shady funds, intimidation and using the resources of the state to influence the elections as well as to buy votes and control the media. With the scope of functioning rule of law, we expect to see the practical implications from the start of the implementation of the justice reform. This is another area where expectations are high. The determining factor in this situation is whether the degradation of the democratic standards in governance shall halt, whether the rules of the democratic and electoral game shall be followed through, whether there shall be sustainable economic development and finally whether the influence of drugs and other criminal economic activities in the governing policies and decisions can be stopped. The effect of other external developments concerning the EU itself, and some key member states, shall be no less important for the less positive scenarios than what is described above. The EU is faced now with very crucial challenges for a number of interrelated factors and issues: Brexit, the march of populist movements, the rise of support for the parties of the extreme right, the rise of terrorist threats, the ebbs of the immigrants crisis without forgetting to mention here the economic stagnation and in some member states an outright economic crisis still to overcome. These might be actually the biggest and most substantial crises that the Union has ever faced. In this scenario, every negative development would have an incremental negative impact on the hopes and aspirations of Albanians to see their country inside of or closer to the European Union. We could be faced even with an existential question for the very first time: is a European future possible for Albania without the European Union? Or in other words: Is it possible to construct and develop a democratic society, a functioning and just state based on respecting the fundamental rights and responsibilities of its citizens and an effective economy without the European Union? This question is hypothetical and might be premature but it touches the essence of European integration. Albania can be a member of the EU only if it is a democracy and a state where laws, values and human rights are fully respected. It is not accession to the EU that magically transforms the country into such a democratic, rule-of-law state that cherishes human rights and values. The opposite is true. Albania, and other similar countries, do not have the possibility to influence the developments and even less the future of the European Union, but the Albanian society and the leading elites have the power not only to influence but also resolve the challenges that their country is facing now that the process of integration has been hardly hit.  Would it be possible for a process of reflection to start? The reflection is primarily needed for the political leaders to accept the fact that despite circumstances not very favorable in the Union and in member states, the real progress that Albania has made is not enough to open negotiations for accession. For those who really want to read and understand, beyond the dry, bureaucratic and subtle language that the Commission uses in its reports, the message was clear: the country is yet to realize the progress asked by the EU. However, instead of this necessary deep reflection what seems to be happening is a quest to try to find the enemy, to blame the others. In the philosophical realm it is a well-known constant that the existence of an enemy gives us the key to understand the nature and core of political activity. There is a fundamental question in this context: Is Albania building democratic policies and does Albania's governance resemble a democratic regime? There is certainly no 'Albanian dream' per se, but there is an 'American dream,' the dream of the West – it certainly exists. And dream of the West is unrivaled, but it does not explain the reason of why Albanians do not want to build the future of their children in this country. This year alone, at least 13 percent of the population, the young and vital part, either left the country or is trying to legally leave it. There is an immediate and simple answer: The dying desperate hope of transforming Albania into a place that follows the model of European countries. Said differently, European integration is not progressing. And instead of reflecting on this, the political elite is involved in a fierce and divisive conflicts – searching for enemies. In the case of backward and frightened societies, where democracy is a façade the enemy serves to mobilize ‘us’ against ‘them’, the enemy. The government rushed to claim that the conditional recommendation of the Commission to open accession negotiations was “historic” by reducing the conditioning, which is key, to the approval of one of the laws connected to the justice reform. This is the so called vetting law which according to the official rhetoric the opposition is sabotaging. During this entire year and in particular during the political debates about the justice reform “the enemy” was clearly projected in the dual equation: on one side the government, the US and the EU and on the other side the opposition as an enemy of the West. The silence of the representatives of the local EU institutions regarding this laughable equation, obviously does not make the opposition an enemy of the West, but it does lower the credibility of the EU in the eyes of the Albanian public. In the official communications from the EU officials, including the country report, the political consensus for the justice reform was acclaimed and even described as progress to avoid deep polarization. The truth is that there is no progress in addressing the deep polarization, on the contrary political polarization in Albania has reached another apex. The 100 percent approval voting in the parliament of the justice reform did not result from consensus. Hiding the deep political conflict, divisions and class warfare based on a Stalinist philosophy that demonstrates itself occasionally even violently in the same parliament resembles a mission impossible. Once again, Albania has made no progress whatsoever in reducing polarization and conflict in politics. Claiming progress would be a blatant lie while the very opposite is true. Just as in “the good old times of communism” the enemy was not only from within but definitely also from outside. The opposition is not alone in its ‘battle against integration’, against the west. Enemy groups were also identified in Europe such as important Members of the German Parliament. Even member states of the Union were spotted and projected in public as enemies of Albania’s integration. Therefore Greece resulted as a key enemy for the perspective of the European integration of Albania. (Greece has all the power needed to be an enemy of Albania's EU integration, therefore, why should Greece not be faulted?) Last but not least the enemy is now being projected in the geopolitical sphere as well. That goes along the lines: if the EU does not accept Albania or the Western Balkans as a whole, than Russia or other competing powers shall replace it. The argument and the idiotic hope in this case is to blackmail EU and some member states. Who can believe this? The ultimate irony is that in this country, with each passing day, Albanians are building a regime that is increasingly resembles Kremlin Inc. – all this while we ring the alarm bells for the threat of Russian imperialism in the Balkans to scare the rest of Europe to take us in.   [post_title] => European integration: Searching for the enemy [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => european-integration-searching-for-the-enemy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-23 11:45:59 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-23 09:45:59 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130513 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 142276 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2019-06-21 09:05:28 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-06-21 07:05:28 [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL There have been consecutive releases of wire tappings in batches from the German media Bild, demonstrating again and again that starting from the Prime Minister himself Edi Rama and down to former ministers, Damian Gjiknuri and Sajmir Tahiri, followed by respective area MPs such as Xhemal Qefalija and Pjerin Ndreu just to mention a few, everyone that matters in the Rilindje version of the Socialist Party was involved in communication with people who manipulated elections. The recently released intercepts reveal that in particular that the heads of police stations and officials from the Ministry of Interior Affairs and the regional Department of Education have been systematically instructed to exert pressure, use threats about employment and offer money in exchange for votes. The case in question is that of the Dibra local elections, which in the past had been a bastion of the DP and last time were curiously won by the SP with an incredible margin. It is exactly this margin and the methods used to acquire it that the criminals and the politicians are celebrating with boastfulness and crudity in these phone calls. First of all it is now clear that this government is not legitimate anymore and has lost all credibility and morality. It should not stand. The Prime Minister should resign. The publication of these intercepts in any other normal democratic and responsible country would have brought the government down more than once. It has been showed with clarity that the electoral process has been deformed beyond any recognition. Second, the stealth alliance between politics and organized crime need to be dismantled once and for all in order to avoid the cyclical crisis pattern that is not allowing Albania to take even the smallest step forward as a democracy, as a country that wants to join the EU and as a normal place where citizens can build functional lives. A particularly sad thing to notice also in these communication is the banal language filled with obscenities that all these high ranking figures use in their phone calls. This kind of crude language has become a particular and revealing trademark of the alliance between the “Rilindje organization” (that has devoured the Socialist Party) and the organized crime syndicates. It is revelatory of the scary abyss where the values and role models have fallen. The lack of legitimacy and the degree of crime that this intercepts have highlighted are not the only reason why this government should go. The last week has shown an alarming increase in the level of violence in almost all the municipalities of the country. The local institutions run by the opposition have acknowledged the presidential decree of annulling the elections and are taking steps to dismantle the electoral infrastructure. This has put them on a collision course with the state police. Confrontations have escalated into arson and beatings. Many arrests have been made. The situation is tense and ripe for more concerning clashes. There are no guarantees in place for the safety and security of citizens, businesses and institutions. Albanians are pitted against Albanians in yet another absurd politician run drama. All stakeholders need to step back and reflect on the need to avoid violence including the international ones. The President of the Republic has taken a step to officially communicate with the OSCE-ODHIR mission in Albania about his decision to annul the elections exactly for the reason of avoiding confrontation and instability.  The OSCE presence in Albania is increasingly being evaluated as a partial and biased actor and that is irreparably damaging its credibility as a necessary referee of elections. They, alongside other international actors who seem oblivious to the coming deluge, should adjust their course as soon as possible. A few days are left to take the right decision that would dissipate the tension and open the path to a necessary dialogue and solution. It can and it should start with a simple step. This government should take the responsibility to account for its wrongful and illegal actions. [post_title] => Editorial: Crime, punishment and violence- this government’s days are done [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-crime-punishment-and-violence-this-governments-days-are-done [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-23 09:24:22 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-23 07:24:22 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=142276 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 142612 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2019-07-11 18:27:57 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-07-11 16:27:57 [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL  Even though the subject of having joint embassies and consular services has been promoted before, this week the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Albania and Kosovo presented with a lot of enthusiasm a mutually signed agreement that puts forward the plan for using shared spaces, exchange of personnel as well as joint cultural diplomacy calendar of events. Despite the pomp and fanfare that is ever present in these presentations once again it remains unclear what exactly this agreement will achieve for the relations between the citizens, the economies and the cultures of the two countries. A large number of agreements have been signed, most of them during equally spectacular bilateral government meetings. All of them lack teeth: concrete implementation mechanism, responsibilities and budgetary provisions. They resemble shallow Memoranda of Understanding that are usually signed by organizations that implement a modest joint project. This paper has written before about the façade character being prompted between the two countries where in the background the number of barriers for concrete relations and exchanges is multiplying. The situation is even worse now. There is a silent trade war raging in the background of this glossy shows of brotherly cooperation. Kosovo has threatened to impose the same tariff on Albanian goods as it has done with Serbia. The toll fee in the Highway connection Kosovo to Albania is a permanent pestilence on Kosovar travelers. Recently book publishers who retuned from the Book Fair in Prishtina revealed hefty customs fee sums that they had to pay. Indeed in addition to several disagreements and the field of economy and culture, the political relations themselves are not blooming. There have been several and repeated tensions between Tirana and Prishtina especially in the realm of key strategic decisions about the potential agreement between Kosovo and Serbia as well as about the nature of the relations between Albania and Serbia. It is even ironic that these agreements are dubbed by furious politicians in the region then as attempt to create “Greater Albania”. If they only knew the level of seriousness of the walls being reinforced between the two countries: the trade disagreements about all sorts of goods and services, the lack of systematic cultural exchanges and the deep discontent that citizens on both sides of the borders periodically vent off faced with the polices, taxes, tariffs, tolls and all kinds of impediments and costs at every interaction step. ‘Greater Albania’, which is not the case at all anyways, would for sure require a much more systematic and serious effort to be realized than the one we see unfolding in the last two decades. One can only hope that this recent agreement for cooperation in foreign policy is at least a bit more successful than Albania’s previous repeatedly failed attempts to assist Kosovo in its international efforts. Those failed attempts stand as reminders of mismatched grand ambitions when there is some much more concrete work to be done at home. A real strategic document for the relations between the two countries outlining priorities and detailing concrete mechanism for implementation is the real starting point that needs to be completed. The agreement signed by the two Ministers of Foreign Affairs cannot take its place.     [post_title] => Editorial: Albania–Kosovo Relations: the show goes on [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-albania-kosovo-relations-the-show-goes-on [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-07-11 18:27:57 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-07-11 16:27:57 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=142612 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [queried_object] => stdClass Object ( [term_id] => 30 [name] => Op-Ed [slug] => op-ed [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 30 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 864 [filter] => raw [cat_ID] => 30 [category_count] => 864 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Op-Ed [category_nicename] => op-ed [category_parent] => 0 ) [queried_object_id] => 30 [post__not_in] => Array ( ) )

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