Walking through the chaotic Tirana – Thoughts of a citizen from abroad

Walking through the chaotic Tirana – Thoughts of a citizen from abroad

By Baldur Baldoni* With the beginning of spring I start spending more time on the streets of Tirana. By walking to meetings or for shopping one gains many impressions and this stimulates some bitter thoughts about the recent situation. Imagine

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Editorial: The tax of shame starts at 6.5 percent

Editorial: The tax of shame starts at 6.5 percent

Another week, another breathtaking scandal as a armoured vehicle transporting large amounts of money was stopped and robbed on its way to the airport. None of the security measures which are mandatory had been followed. Yet again the security of

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Europa first!

Europa first!

By Jean-Dominique Giuliani* For a long time now many have been demanding for the European Union to project itself powerfully in the international arena. The latter is transforming rapidly and Europe no longer has the influence it should. The new

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Op-ed: Show-off early campaign promises spell trouble for taxpayers

Op-ed: Show-off early campaign promises spell trouble for taxpayers

Albania’s ruling Socialist Party is opening taxpayer-funded state coffers for large show-off projects ahead of the parliamentary elections in June, leading to concerns among taxpayer advocates and opposition representatives who say the funds could be put to better use. The

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Stadium of shame

Stadium of shame

By Alan Andoni* In less time than it takes to fill in a pothole on a major intercity road, the historic main stadium of Albania was demolished. It has been replaced, at time of writing, by a large empty space,

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Editorial: For those who are eager to implement the justice reform: persevere

Editorial: For those who are eager to implement the justice reform: persevere

There is nothing easy about the justice reform in Albania. The approval of the constitutional changes in the parliament as well as that of the related laws was not easy. It was a long, tiring and controversial process which stalled

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Editorial: The coalition fell, the government stands

Editorial: The coalition fell, the government stands

The coalition between the Socialist Party (SP) and the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI) was never a coalition. It is even less so today.  At best it was an odd arrangement to be in power, but not share responsibility, share

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Ruling coalition allies sticking together — for now

Ruling coalition allies sticking together — for now

TIRANA, Feb. 1 – Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and his biggest parliamentary ally, Ilir Meta, don’t see eye to eye on the next parliamentary elections. During a meeting of the chairmanship of the Socialist Party, Prime Minister Rama said

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Spoiling for a fight?

Spoiling for a fight?

By Alan Andoni* Warren Anderson’s article last week in support of trump (The beginning of a new, stronger, prouder America) was a litany of insults, threats and generalisations. Whether you support Donald Trump or not you certainly should be concerned

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Reexamining the concepts and philosophy of Robert Schuman for the EU future

Reexamining the concepts and philosophy of Robert Schuman for the EU future

Comments by AIIS Executive Director Albert Rakipi for the DW on the occasion of the publication of Robert Schuman’s book in Albanian.   What puts today at risk the political European project as envisaged by Robert Schuman?   The European

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                    [post_content] => By Baldur Baldoni* 

With the beginning of spring I start spending more time on the streets of Tirana. By walking to meetings or for shopping one gains many impressions and this stimulates some bitter thoughts about the recent situation.

Imagine you were somebody else in your society – you would be shocked

Sometimes I imagine to be somebody else – for example a disabled person or a mother with a child, one in a buggy. While I am sometimes scrambling on bad pedestrian zones (if available and not blocked by cars or hoardings) I start to realize the situation of a mother with a buggy: No way! It would be even worse if I were a disabled person in a wheelchair: absolutely no way! Back on some sidewalks that are possible to walk on (at least for some meters) I think of my Albanian friends who are so polite and helpful – why isn’t society like that as well? Is there such a big difference between Albanians and the structures they have to live within? A visitor once came to Tirana and mentioned publicly that the city or even the country gave her the impression that there were no disabled people in it. This is an understandable glimpse since one nearly never sees them. They are imprisoned at home due to an infrastructure that has totally forgotten them! And mothers with buggies need to have a car and mostly a nice husband, understanding parents, good friends and so on in order to reach the central playground by car – buses are not very helpful too. Unfortunately they don’t find playgrounds around their houses and flats. Why not? So Tirana doesn’t seem to have children either; children that would like to play outside, to do sport or playing games on a little piece of nature. Either they seem to be used playing with computers or mobiles at home, or they have to be carried like packages by car somewhere else to find what they are looking for. It is a bitter finding that this city – for a third of all Albanians – is only made for healthy people between 16 and 60! This is the contrary of the impressions a foreigner gets when he or she is lucky to meet his or her first friends in Albania. They personally are so careful, helpful and polite – society is just the opposite!

Highest pollution ever – without industry or coal-fired power station etc.

Talking about healthy people – are they really living in a healthy town? Of course not! While the Bashkia is praising car-free Sundays for better air in the city, it is only realizing dreams of some who obviously don’t have to live in the center of the city. The Skanderbeg Place shall become the new “heaven” of the citizens, a pedestrian zone with a nice outfit and modern looking. But it is a nightmare for all normal people who cannot have these nice dreams since they have to struggle for energy or water! And also the new football-stadium will not make forget the daily problems that most of the citizens have. A lot of money is spent for the sake of only a few, that was my first thought when I realized the plans and later saw the mass. Yes, pollution might shrink on the Skanderbeg-Place but it doubled and more around it, because you get the most dangerous exhaust gases of cars which are standing, not driving but with running engines. They are standing longer than in many other cities in the region where we have much more cars per capita than in Tirana. So one has to find out who could really start blocking the main streets and even roads before managing alternatives. Is it because things have to be ready before elections (like every four years) or only because the main political actors and their planning teams simply are not capable enough? Whatever the answer may be, I still don’t understand why people are not protesting more. In other countries there are for example Motor Clubs with a membership of car-drivers. Most of these interest organisations are really big and have a strong influence. I only imagine how they would act against the daily stupidity of traffic planning and traffic regulation of policemen who even don’t know what every beginner in car driving has to learn.

It is still your country – but one has to fight for a livable country

Coming back to my office I try to understand why things can happen here which were impossible in other neighbor countries in Europe. Following polls etc. people are not really satisfied with all responsible actors and organizations – in contrary. But why are they always voting for them again only few months later without any question or demand for better policies? Unfortunately you only get to know about other people’s thoughts in cafeterias but not in public political debates. Have the Albanians already given up their dreams of the 90ies? They shouldn’t! The city of Tirana and the whole country are really worth fighting for in order to achieve positive changes and better living conditions.

*Baldur Baldoni is a German living in Tirana
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                    [post_content] => Another week, another breathtaking scandal as a armoured vehicle transporting large amounts of money was stopped and robbed on its way to the airport. None of the security measures which are mandatory had been followed. 

Yet again the security of citizens trying to reach the only airport in the country was compromised. Time after time banks and private security firms have shown irresponsibility, complicity with crime and a head bashing inability to learn from their mistakes. Time after time police have suffered blows to their credibility. 

It does not help that political actors jump in the debate immediately taking sides, considering the institution of the police as a political tool for maneuvering. The success of the police in catching the culprits in short time is laudable. Their initiatives to take over the money transfers to the airport on the other side shows the deep flaws that exist in the strategically important financial sector when it comes to their security.

On the larger scale the episode highlights the additional cost of doing business in Albania. What is the cost of crime and insecurity, fear and lack of protection? The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has actually measured and quantified it. It is 6.5 percent of the gross annual revenues and for business who are more exposed to risk it goes up from there. This is how much business have to pay, this is their loss to criminals, to incidents like this, to kidnappings, thefts, bribes and racketeering.

For those who pretend to struggle why FDI doesn’t increase in Albania, the answer was made a bit more clear this week. There is an additional tax of 6.5 percent. Of course Albania is not the only country in the region or for that in the world to have this. In Serbia the tax is 4 percent, the average regional figure is at 5.9 percent. This hidden cost is of course more than numbers. It is a cost that often determines the decision of investors whether to start at all an economic activity, it keeps large companies away. Combined with the unfortunate heinous attacks on foreign business people such as the beatings last year it puts quite a few things in perspective.

Negative developments like this dismantle achievements in other fronts with incredible speed. Once again, they can happen everywhere, even in countries where public safety and order are much better preserved. Yet, the re-occurrence of such a similar theft of the money from a bank, at the vicinities of the airport, largely due to fault sin private security firms is a sad repetition. Many people have written tons of sound advice after it had happened. Yet much of it was not taken by the relevant stakeholders. The incident only adds to a series of thefts near and inside the airport, adds to the already forgotten dark saga of the money stolen from the treasury department of the very Central Bank for which the Governor was sacked yet declared innocent in court. And so on.

Hence it seems only a matter of time until the next thing strikes. In the meantime cross fingers that the 6 percent tax of shame does not jump higher.  

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_131225" align="alignright" width="244"]juliani Jean-Dominique Giuliani[/caption]

By Jean-Dominique Giuliani* 

For a long time now many have been demanding for the European Union to project itself powerfully in the international arena. The latter is transforming rapidly and Europe no longer has the influence it should. The new strategic and political context now requires that it devote itself to this as a priority. Its security, its economy and its political model are in the balance.

Divided, the European Union is no longer able, due to its history, its competences and its treaties to rise to an ever increasing number of challenges. Indeed there can be no powerful diplomacy without a military tool that lends it credibility. There cannot be long lasting peace without a pro-active fight to guarantee and even impose it. And yet, only a few of its Member States seem to share the same vision of the world and be able to undertake military action. Most are depending on an alliance made with the USA under NATO. Brexit and the American election have shown that an alliance, however strong and useful it might be, cannot substitute the autonomy of thought that is the foundation of independence. A European defence treaty is necessary to reassert true collective security, with goals, means and a strategy. Stubbornly pursuing the creation of community instruments that will, at best, only function after total political union, does not match the urgency of the situation. However, it is crucial that together we pool our political will and our capabilities.

The same rationale applies to the economy. Europe, a continent far more powerful than its demographic and geographical size, has to be open to the world. It has to overcome the wave of national withdrawal that is occurring everywhere, if it deems itself an autonomous, effective entity that can respond to the expectations of its people. It has to rethink its competition and trade policies, in an open spirit. It has to think in terms of reciprocity and European preference. Its single currency is an asset, its trade capacities a considerable advantage, and they can also be used as arms at the service of a policy.

As for the migratory issue, which we shall have to face for a long time to come, it raises a series of questions about identity, the economy, and social issues to which the States themselves no have the answers. In real terms some of the latter could take leadership of a pioneering group to lay down a common asylum policy in line with our values and an adapted economic immigration policy, in other words, one that takes on board the varying needs of each of the Member States.

To move forward in these three areas that are vital for the European project - security, economy, immigration - Europeans can now have faith in common institutions that can help and facilitate cooperation. The "Juncker Turning Point" is real. It is political and deliberate. But nothing can exonerate the heads of State and government of their responsibilities. It is up to them to show the way. Hence progressive integration via norms and laws might be succeeded by integration via example, ie showing way to some whilst remaining open to States that want to join in. In a way we are asking them to take a political decision and to act, far from the indifference that they show towards European integration and even the easy, cowardly criticism they make of the common policies. In a way it is now their turn to proclaim: Europa First!

*Jean-Dominique Giuliani is Chair of the Robert Schuman Foundation. Republished by permission of the author, first appeared on robert-schuman.eu and jd-giuliani.eu
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                    [post_content] => Albania’s ruling Socialist Party is opening taxpayer-funded state coffers for large show-off projects ahead of the parliamentary elections in June, leading to concerns among taxpayer advocates and opposition representatives who say the funds could be put to better use.

The official campaign period begins a month ahead of the parliamentary elections of June 18, however, both the ruling and opposition parties have already hit the campaign trail. 

This week, there was a presentation of the plan for the construction of 17 new schools in Tirana, part of the government’s ambitious $1 billion project, which aims to revive the country’s infrastructure, education and health sector through private-public-partnerships should the the ruling coalition get a second mandate.

Mayor Erion Veliaj was accompanied by Prime Minister Edi Rama. Rama said that there are about 53 new schools that will be constructed and 97 other schools that will be reconstructed all over Albania as a result of the $1 billion project.

But schools and parks are the face of the PPPs the government wants to showcase, the much larger projects will be healthcare and infrastructure, and it is yet unknown who will directly benefit from taxpayer funds. The record so far has been spotty.

Rama made another electoral promise and said that in the next 2-3 years, Albania’s economy would grow up to 6 percent, which economy experts doubt is an achievable goal.  

Rama had four years ago promised to create 300,000 jobs, a number that the government has not proven it has come even close to making a reality. After winning the elections, Rama said he meant these would include jobs that already existed but were not part of the formal economy. In addition, more than 100,000 Albanians left the country to seek a better life elsewhere since Rama came to power.

This week’s meeting was held at Fan Noli School in Tirana and was also used to call on citizens to vote for the ruling coalition in the upcoming elections of June 18. Civil society representatives have expressed concern that using public works as an electoral tool is unethical, as is using schools to campaign. There has been previous international condemnation of both.

Opposition representatives have said PPPs are a way for the government to recycle money gained from crime and drug trafficking. 

Central and local government officials have increased the frequency of inaugurations and start of public works, especially in Tirana, where every stage of every project is accompanied by a blitz of polished public relations campaign produced in government offices, which is then often carried on with little vetting or editing on mainstream media outlets as news. It led the Albanian section of Voice of America to aptly dub the method as “creating a virtual reality.”

In addition to reconstructing Skanderbeg Square in Tirana for the third time in a decade and tearing up the tourist area in Durres to spend millions and potentially damage a major archeological site just ahead the elections, the government has been caught up in major controversies in lack of proper public healthcare and suspicious public-private partnerships.

On the other hand, the main opposition Democratic Party, which holds a very weak executive position as it does not rule any major local or central institutions, is resorting to promises of deep tax cuts to attract voters.

Opposition leader Lulzim Basha has said he will lower most taxes to a flat rate of 9 percent from the current 15 percent and will cut the VAT to 15 percent from 20 percent should he be elected as prime minister. 

The opposition parties have launched several meetings with supporters and business representatives, issuing its first electoral promises. 

“Taxes have increased by $1.5 billion in the last four years. Every Albanian citizen has paid an additional $500 in taxes. We will reinstate a flat tax of 9 percent and businesses will pay a fixed fee of 1.5 percent of their turnover,” Basha said in a meeting earlier last week.

The promises of such deep tax cuts might not be realistic and come at a time when international advisers tell Albanian governments to increase rather than lower taxes to meet budget targets.

Albanian politicians have made a habit of fighting their official and unofficial campaigns on infrastructure, education, health and economy, but history has shown that the government has the upper hand on electioneering.

On the way, long before the race even begins officially, as Albania’s electoral history reveals, there will be countless inaugurations and appearances by the government leaders, a wave of online and TV ads from the parties and interest groups, and unprecedented promises of economic recovery.

It won't change the fact that five months to the parliamentary elections, the level of trust in the Albanian government and the political system in general has plummeted.

 
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                    [post_content] => By Alan Andoni*

In less time than it takes to fill in a pothole on a major intercity road, the historic main stadium of Albania was demolished. It has been replaced, at time of writing, by a large empty space, reminding us that it is easier to destroy than create.

It took all of five days to turn the crumbling – but still functional national stadium of 72 years –into a mass of rubble. The stadium was begun in 1939, halted in 1943 because of the war finally completed by the Communist authorities in 1946 who named it Qemal Stafa after a young communist partisan killed by the occupying forces during WW2. It was originally designed by the Italian architect Gherardo Bosio as part of a rationalist and modernized expression of Italian architecture, along with the Dajti hotel and the Prime Minister’s office. Together with   the fascist neo-renaissance style of buildings around Skanderbeg Square and the road sweeping down to the Polytechnic, it provides the most pleasingly aesthetic part of Tirana. It is now to be replaced by a brand new stadium.

Proponents of the new stadium, including the previous prime minister and the current one, may point out that at 19,700 seats, the old stadium was too small and the new one will be larger with 22,500 seats. Moreover, it can be argued that modern football  stadiums are a hallmark of an advanced economy and a source of pride to a country. This one might fill that role: the new complex will contain a shopping centre. It can also be claimed that the original structure, with its location in the centre of town, had to be demolished because it was old, crumbling and no longer relevant to the needs of the 21st Century. Just like the Coliseum in Rome, in fact.

Currently the cost is estimated to be €60 million, though the price of such public projects tend to escalate given unforeseen events, including the parts of funding that may be sliced off for personal gain. Some argue that Tirana needs better hospitals and university facilities more than sports facilities. Others point out that Albania  already has one stadium  seating 12,800 people  in Elbasan - within an hour’s drive of Tirana – or much less when an Albanian authorities get round to finishing the road link. There is a bigger one (seating capacity of just over 16,000) which was recently rebuilt in Shkoder at a cost of €17 million. With a proper public transport system people could be transported between cities in the same time it takes to get from Gatwick airport to Wembley stadium in London and perhaps three sports stadiums within travelling distance is a luxury for a country with a population of 3 million and one of the lowest performing economies in Europe.

Others suggest that it would be better to build a larger stadium on building land near to the city, as in the case of the Allianz stadium in Munich, thus avoiding the inevitable disruption to traffic during its construction. Moreover, a stadium on a green-field site near Tirana would not have the effect of blocking the sun out from the apartments surrounding it. However, those that say this miss the point. Not being in the centre of the city, it would lose its ‘wow’ factor, so urgently sought by an Albanian leadership.

In any case, none of this  matters. Once the decision was made, it was inevitable that the old stadium would be demolished, given a tendency to avoid public consultation.  The idea of a new stadium was conceived at the very top. The project had been designed and contractors chosen, not by public tender but by a simple process of nomination. In developed countries, the design would be put to public consultation with the general public through a hearing. In this case, it was  presented, not in the public arena, but on the private premises of the Tirana hotel thus allowing the authorities to select the audience and bar those who might object. A handful of protesters -  including the ex-political prisoner Fatos Lubonja - were prevented by security guards from entering, as the earlier billed ‘hearing’, suddenly became a ‘fait accompli’.

Of course, this way of public projects being directed from the top by a small group of one is not unusual in an undeveloped country and to this effect the demolition of the old and the possible construction of the new stadium symbolises the current state of governance in a democratic Albania.

But perhaps the public deserve no better. While the government was busy demolishing this public monument, the crowds were gathered less than 100 meters away, oblivious to the destruction being wreaked in their name. Rather than gathering to protest at the destruction to a national monument, people were busy focussing their attention on the Euro 2016 game projected onto big screens while drinking beer and cola in Nene Teresa Square. It would be far too cynical to suggest that when destroying the stadium, the government calculated and depended on the apathy and tendency for instant gratification on the part of the voters. In any case, this may be a metaphor for the people’s relationship with their government. One can only wonder for how long the general populace will continue to allow themselves   to be politically castrated in this way.

Thus, the destruction of a part of national heritage has wider implications for Albania. In years to come, people may realise that it is in their long term interests to challenge what they are being told and what is being done, to be aware of the rich getting richer at their expense and to make their voices heard. By that time, the old architecture of   Tirana will have been completely destroyed to be replaced by buildings which are monuments to selfishness and greed. At its head will be the symbolic ‘Stadium of Shame.’

 *Alan Andoni is a Brit living in Albania and a regular Tirana Times op-ed contributor. He is the author of the Xenophobe’s Guide to the Albanians.

 

  [post_title] => Stadium of shame [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => stadium-of-shame [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-02-10 11:07:24 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-02-10 10:07:24 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=131110 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 131107 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-02-10 10:34:54 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-02-10 09:34:54 [post_content] => There is nothing easy about the justice reform in Albania. The approval of the constitutional changes in the parliament as well as that of the related laws was not easy. It was a long, tiring and controversial process which stalled often and in some cases was even on the brink of complete crisis. It follows naturally that its implementation is going to be even more difficult. The first pangs of this tough necessary change are being manifested these days. There is a conflict between domestic and international actors which is being played out in public in a tug of declarations and developments. It points to a tension created by the duality of domestic and foreign factors in the most important reform process that the country needs to get through. There is a vital and delicate balance that should be obtained and preserved when it comes to setting roles of internal and external actors in this process. Yes the reform needs to be locally owned and responsibly managed by Albanian state institutions and Albanian people. The law indicates clearly that international actors are placed in observing, advising and monitoring roles. It is unreasonable to expect that others will do and keep doing a job that needs to become the norm for all years to come and which is crucial in order to take further steps towards EU accession. However it was clear from the onset that the reform would be impossible without the support and guidance of the international community: both political and technical assistance were vital for it. In the same vein the mission of the international judicial experts in the current process of vetting will secure public trust in the process. Public trust vis a vis the justice sector in Albania is sorely lacking. Numerous trustworthy polls reveal that more than 80 percent of people believe the sector is corrupt and under political influence. In these conditions the presence of the international experts should be welcomed not fought. That said there remains one issue to be addressed still: managing the expectations of the public regarding this reform. These expectations currently run way too high and therefore run the risk to cause major and early disappointments. The reform will take much longer than the vetting process, despite the latter crucial importance for the whole process. The reform needs to be accompanied by other measures off fighting political corruption and petty corruption mentality in order to produce the rule of law that the country needs. Finally the justice reform cannot escape the horizon of that dark hole which is Albanian politics especially on the eve of elections. We can distinguish the political games and calculations being played at the expense of the functioning of the reforms. Albanian politicians that revel in this game should bear every potential cost of delay and failure and be identified as the people who kept the European integration of the country at bay for their own interest. The Albanian society, media and civil activists should keep a coherent, constructive and intense pressure on their institutions and encourage them to perform. They should not take for granted the integrity and professionalism of internationals but on the other hand they have no reason to fall prey to conning from their own actors interested in keeping the status quo. To those who are eager to go through with the justice reform the message is: persevere. [post_title] => Editorial: For those who are eager to implement the justice reform: persevere [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-for-those-who-are-eager-to-implement-the-justice-reform-persevere [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-02-10 10:39:25 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-02-10 09:39:25 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=131107 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 131010 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-02-03 12:24:09 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-02-03 11:24:09 [post_content] => meta-rama-pritja-1024x761The coalition between the Socialist Party (SP) and the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI) was never a coalition. It is even less so today.  At best it was an odd arrangement to be in power, but not share responsibility, share the plunder and not the results and keep each other nervous but not accountable. The arrangement almost fell in the heated discussion over the justice reforms this summer. It looked quite vulnerable this week with the removal of the Justice Minister Ylli Manjani, a SMI appointee, a brash and loud opponent of specific Rama ministers as well as the PM himself, from his position and the subsequent immediate replacement with a softer spoken Petrit Vasili.   Had it been a coalition it would have fallen this week, but because it never was a coalition it lasted. Arrangements can always be revived, renegotiated. No one cares if they look ugly for as long as they work. And their work does not need to be anything more than a slow cruel crawl in the mud pond. Who needs to fly when you can revel? In the subsequent press conference the demoted Minister of Justice launched the usual tirade of grave accusations to the government and the Prime Minister; they are drug dealers, their morals are lacking in governance and in private life, they restrict freedom of speech of the ministers themselves! Yet nobody seems alarmed or indignant because everyone has become used to the arrangement. ‘Barking dogs’ the PM says, ‘follow the institutional route’ is Meta’s final instruction to the minister that left. The former Minister himself has his own problems with public trust, being part of the game… More press conferences followed throwing even more confusion to the public and exchanging sophisticated passive-aggressive threats between the arrangement partners. After all the media is for them the favorite instrument to exchange signals over calculations, hints of plots to come and the occasional dark jokes. The junior coalition partner jabbed at the SP by mentioning that his party is not afraid to be in opposition, not afraid to stand alone. Not in any hurry anyways. After all the alliance is strategic, for strategic objectives of course. The key issue here that gets lost in smoke and mirrors is: why does the junior coalition member, the SMI, behave like an opposition party when it is co-ruling Albania? Why do they keep staying in this power arrangement when key ministers from this political force have the most serious and aggravated accusations for a government that according to them behaves unconstitutionally, is captured by criminal interests and refuses to allow any free speech? Why does the Speaker of the Parliament, the head of this party, urge the President of the Republic to convoke the National Security Council over what it claims is a failure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to arrest a drug lord? The alternative just method would be to go out of the “coalition” since they consider this a matter of national security for a country which is a NATO member state and proceeding with EU integration. How can all the accusations be personal thoughts when the heads that host them are ministers and key party figures? And we can share the same bafflement over why the Socialist Party endures this never ending load of mud being relentlessly thrown at it. After more than three years together these two parties share nothing but the willingness to consume their power to the deadline and a certain desire to keep the painful coexistence going for as long as it keeps them there. Their relation is characterized by such mutual contempt, silent fist fights and ransom logic that it could be the stuff of real case studies in political science. Coalitions have limits, for arrangements the sky is the limit. The sky is June 18 of this year when Albanians shall face the ballot box. It is very likely that the arrangement will have lasted by then. But even if it doesn’t the model shall persists, it will always be available to other actors and other configurations. The coalition has fallen, the government stands, the arrangement survives, and any resemblance of the principles have become cadavers long ago for anyone to care… [post_title] => Editorial: The coalition fell, the government stands [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-the-coalition-fell-the-government-stands [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-02-03 12:24:53 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-02-03 11:24:53 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=131010 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 130988 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-02-03 11:42:14 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-02-03 10:42:14 [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 1 – Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and his biggest parliamentary ally, Ilir Meta, don't see eye to eye on the next parliamentary elections. During a meeting of the chairmanship of the Socialist Party, Prime Minister Rama said that the Socialist Party wants to go to elections in a coalition with Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI), but the option of not teaming up is still on the table. Rama believes that SP and smaller allies are still able to get 71 votes needed to form a government, in case of a victory in the next general elections. “The Socialist Movement for Integration is making tactical moves, whereas SP considers the alliance a strategic move,” Rama said in the meeting, adding that the Socialists want to honor the agreement and continue their partnership with SMI. Speaker Meta however challenged Rama immediately saying that “if Socialist Party can get 71 legitimate mandates than SMI can exit the majority and be in opposition.” “SMI is no addition to any other party. If Prime Minister Rama confirms 71 legitimate mandates needed to govern Albania, SMI can be in the opposition right away. If Rama or Basha confirm 71 mandates in their respective coalitions, SMI will be in opposition,” Meta said in a press conference on Tuesday. Tensions between the two government allies further escalated this week when Prime Minister Rama ousted the outspoken Minister of Justice Ylli Manjani, an MP from the Socialist Movement for Integration, saying he wanted to better cooperate with parliament to push through judicial reforms. Meta’s party did not oppose the move, but Manjani accused Rama being vengeful following his statements about cannabis growing and alleged corruption ties of government officials. Manjani's dismissal sparked hours of heated debates and tensions between Meta and Rama who  have to settle their friction or split as they decide whether they will run together in the parliamentary elections of June 18 or try their luck separately. Rama’s Socialist Party (SP) is the major component of the alliance, but the current governing majority depends on the support of Socialist Movement for Integration and many other smaller parties. Under the current agreement, Socialist Party has 61 MPs, whereas the Socialist Movement for Integration has 20 MPs. Party for Justice Integration and Unity has 6 mandates. April 19 marks the final deadline when Meta and Rama make a final decision on the future of coalition. The Electoral Code states that coalitions must register at the Central Election Commission until the second week of April.   [post_title] => Ruling coalition allies sticking together -- for now [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => ruling-coalition-allies-sticking-together-for-now [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-02-03 11:42:14 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-02-03 10:42:14 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130988 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 130979 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-02-03 11:17:06 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-02-03 10:17:06 [post_content] => By Alan Andoni* Warren Anderson’s article last week in support of trump (The beginning of a new, stronger, prouder America) was a litany of insults, threats and generalisations. Whether you support Donald Trump or not you certainly should be concerned about the tone of some of his supporters. For example, Anderson disparages critics of Donald Trump -  and specifically Meryl Streep - as ‘self-appointed political geniuses’. In fact, Streep had earlier commented on Donald Trump’s mocking of a disabled person by saying ‘disrespect brings disrespect, violence breeds violence,’  a sentiment which it would be difficult to disagree with. In his article, Anderson also dismisses the citizens who voted for those Democrat lawmakers boycotting the presidential inauguration as people ‘that would vote for a dead dog …. if the dog had Democrat next to its name on the ballot.’ This is not only highly unamusing but also   both insulting and demeaning to a part of the American electorate. Ironically, and perhaps unintentionally, Anderson has also demonstrated the validity of Meryl Streep’s comments above. The threatening language in the article also gives cause for concern. Anderson writes ‘Try to cheat us, hurt us or take advantage of US’s good nature and you will incur the wrath of Trump.’ Apart from the obvious question of what constitutes a threat and who actually decides what a threat is, there is the potential debate on the extent of the US’s ‘good nature’ While there are many who would agree with the United States’ ‘good nature’ and with good reason, there are those who have had negative experiences of US foreign policy. Similarly, ‘The wrath of Donald Trump’  and ‘The Trump Tsunami is coming’ as Mr Anderson put it, supposes that the President is a political version of the lone Ranger or Superman. However much as this may be an aspiration of Donald Trump or Warren Anderson, he is surely aware that successive generations of US law makers have tried to fine-tune a system of checks and balances  to ensure no President can act without control from a number of institutions around him. This is a cornerstone of American democracy. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that the Republicans do not necessarily share Mr Trump’s world view or his policies, as was obvious in the presidential nomination battle and therefore these checks and balances may severely curtail Mr Trump’s future scope of action. The unashamed idealism over pragmatism also fails the analytical test. For example, the idea that ‘Germany will need to buy more US cars’ will only work in a capitalist economy if the USA produces cars that Germans want to buy. Similarly, ‘better trade deals with a Brexited Britain’ will only work if there are good economic reasons for doing so. The type of Idealism in international foreign policy as given in Anderson’s article is also inadvisable. A return to a ‘two-China policy’ is a unnecessary distraction from weightier political matters. Taiwan is not terribly keen on it either as they are only too aware of the Pandora’s box that will be opened as a result. A reappraisal of a balanced middle Eastern policy may similarly have international repercussions that involves more than just the USA and Israel. While it is not unknown for past American presidents to make foreign policy blunders in  their first year, a multiplicity of mistakes committed by an inexperienced President and  his advisors could be disastrous. The avowed rapprochement with Putin’s Russia is not new. George Bush had once ‘looked into Putin’s eyes and found the soul of a decent man.’  The potential negotiation to link arms control with a review of sanctions recalls Obama’s attempts to discuss a reduction of arms with Russia at the beginning of his presidency. It should be added that Russia is not too enthusiastic about reducing nuclear arms and for good reason. Russia has the 6th largest economy in the world and the 4thlargest military spend behind the USA, China and Saudi Arabia. Its main – and perhaps only - claim to world superpower status is in terms of its nuclear arsenal. It is difficult to see under what conditions Russia would voluntarily diminish its main global advantage. By contrast, Anderson talks about a stronger, prouder United States. To an outsider, this is puzzling. The USA already has the largest military force in the world; 8 out of the top 20 companies in the world are American; 4 out of the top 5 universities in the world are in the USA; American sportsmen have won  twice as many Olympic medals as the next most successful country (USSR) and  3 times as many Nobel prizes. How much prouder and stronger   does Anderson want the USA to be? And at whose expense? The tone of Anderson’s article appears  to support a new era of confrontational politics. It reflects a level of idealism which pays little heed to practical considerations. We should be worried because such machismo power-play in politics eventually leads to war, death and destruction and the legacy of resentment  for generations to follow, as our neighbours in former Yugoslavia know only too well. * Alan Andoni is a Brit who lives in Albania and regular Tirana Times op-ed contributor.    

  [post_title] => Spoiling for a fight? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => spoiling-for-a-fight [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-02-03 11:17:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-02-03 10:17:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130979 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 130976 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-02-03 11:07:15 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-02-03 10:07:15 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_130977" align="alignright" width="300"]dw AIIS director Albert Rakipi[/caption] Comments by AIIS Executive Director Albert Rakipi for the DW on the occasion of the publication of Robert Schuman's book in Albanian.  
  • What puts today at risk the political European project as envisaged by Robert Schuman?
  The European Union started out as a project for security and then developed into a peace and development project which has given Europe the longest peace times in the entire modern history of the continent. Furthermore this has influenced positively on peace, freedom and development on a global scale. The achievements of the project established by Schuman and other founding figures are incomparable and unreachable. What puts today this project at risk are many things, are essential things, it’s the very current shape and workings of the EU itself. This situation where the very existence of the Union is at stake urges the need for a deep reflection on what needs to change and how should the EU face the serious challenges it has today in front of it. These include controversial internal developments which suggest the need for the reflection to identify the changes that should be undertaken because in addition to external factors the Union faces threats from itself. Returning to the basics and reexamining the concepts and philosophy of Robert Schuman and the other founders are perhaps the best method to reflect upon the future of the EU which in a way is the future of Europe, of peace and freedom, the future of development and progress.    
  1. Keeping the Schuman European project in mind, what would you say are the current challenges that the European Union and more specifically the enlargement policy over the Western Balkans face?
The EU is confronted today with several essential challenges that concern multiple interrelated factors: Brexit, the onward march of populist movements, the rise in support for parties of the extreme right, the rise of the terrorist threats, the immigrant and refugee crisis, and let’s not forget the economic stagnation still present in some EU member states as well as the economic crisis in some others. These might be the most substantial challenges that the EU has ever faced. Any negative developments in these context would have immediate negative consequences on the efforts and aspirations of Albanians to see their country join the European Union. And maybe it would be the first time ever that they would confront the question: “Is there any feasible European future for Albania without the EU?” or even more clearly “Is it possible to build a democratic society, a functional and just state that respects human rights and basic freedoms, a functional market economy without the European Union?” Maybe this question is premature and of course it is hypothetical but it concerns the essence of the process of European integration. Albania can become an EU member state only if it is a democratic country where laws, values and human rights are fully respected. The membership in the Union will not transform Albania, magically into a democratic country where there is rule of law and respect for the values, human rights and fundamental freedom. The reverse is true.
  1. Does this project still have relevance today or has time come for it to respond to a reality fundamentally different from the period of Robert Schumann?
There is a mythic Europe and a real Europe. It has always been this way. The European Union has helped both the mythic Europe and the real Europe. Since its establishment the EU has been an attempt to reconcile the mythic Europe with the real one. The incredible attractive power of the EU, its soft power, stands perhaps on this magic coexistence of the mythic with the real. Every weakening of the EU at least weakens this connection between the myth and the reality which ah sin turn resulted in peace, development and the upholding of human freedom and rights. Today’s times seem nothing like the times in which Robert Schuman and the other founding fathers of the EU realized their project however the threats that the EU faces are very similar. They pertain again to peace, development, freedom and progress.   [post_title] => Reexamining the concepts and philosophy of Robert Schuman for the EU future [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => reexamining-the-concepts-and-philosophy-of-robert-schuman-for-the-eu-future [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-02-03 11:07:15 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-02-03 10:07:15 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130976 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 131242 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-02-17 11:49:41 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-02-17 10:49:41 [post_content] => By Baldur Baldoni* With the beginning of spring I start spending more time on the streets of Tirana. By walking to meetings or for shopping one gains many impressions and this stimulates some bitter thoughts about the recent situation. Imagine you were somebody else in your society – you would be shocked Sometimes I imagine to be somebody else – for example a disabled person or a mother with a child, one in a buggy. While I am sometimes scrambling on bad pedestrian zones (if available and not blocked by cars or hoardings) I start to realize the situation of a mother with a buggy: No way! It would be even worse if I were a disabled person in a wheelchair: absolutely no way! Back on some sidewalks that are possible to walk on (at least for some meters) I think of my Albanian friends who are so polite and helpful – why isn’t society like that as well? Is there such a big difference between Albanians and the structures they have to live within? A visitor once came to Tirana and mentioned publicly that the city or even the country gave her the impression that there were no disabled people in it. This is an understandable glimpse since one nearly never sees them. They are imprisoned at home due to an infrastructure that has totally forgotten them! And mothers with buggies need to have a car and mostly a nice husband, understanding parents, good friends and so on in order to reach the central playground by car – buses are not very helpful too. Unfortunately they don’t find playgrounds around their houses and flats. Why not? So Tirana doesn’t seem to have children either; children that would like to play outside, to do sport or playing games on a little piece of nature. Either they seem to be used playing with computers or mobiles at home, or they have to be carried like packages by car somewhere else to find what they are looking for. It is a bitter finding that this city – for a third of all Albanians – is only made for healthy people between 16 and 60! This is the contrary of the impressions a foreigner gets when he or she is lucky to meet his or her first friends in Albania. They personally are so careful, helpful and polite – society is just the opposite! Highest pollution ever – without industry or coal-fired power station etc. Talking about healthy people – are they really living in a healthy town? Of course not! While the Bashkia is praising car-free Sundays for better air in the city, it is only realizing dreams of some who obviously don’t have to live in the center of the city. The Skanderbeg Place shall become the new “heaven” of the citizens, a pedestrian zone with a nice outfit and modern looking. But it is a nightmare for all normal people who cannot have these nice dreams since they have to struggle for energy or water! And also the new football-stadium will not make forget the daily problems that most of the citizens have. A lot of money is spent for the sake of only a few, that was my first thought when I realized the plans and later saw the mass. Yes, pollution might shrink on the Skanderbeg-Place but it doubled and more around it, because you get the most dangerous exhaust gases of cars which are standing, not driving but with running engines. They are standing longer than in many other cities in the region where we have much more cars per capita than in Tirana. So one has to find out who could really start blocking the main streets and even roads before managing alternatives. Is it because things have to be ready before elections (like every four years) or only because the main political actors and their planning teams simply are not capable enough? Whatever the answer may be, I still don’t understand why people are not protesting more. In other countries there are for example Motor Clubs with a membership of car-drivers. Most of these interest organisations are really big and have a strong influence. I only imagine how they would act against the daily stupidity of traffic planning and traffic regulation of policemen who even don’t know what every beginner in car driving has to learn. It is still your country – but one has to fight for a livable country Coming back to my office I try to understand why things can happen here which were impossible in other neighbor countries in Europe. Following polls etc. people are not really satisfied with all responsible actors and organizations – in contrary. But why are they always voting for them again only few months later without any question or demand for better policies? Unfortunately you only get to know about other people’s thoughts in cafeterias but not in public political debates. Have the Albanians already given up their dreams of the 90ies? They shouldn’t! The city of Tirana and the whole country are really worth fighting for in order to achieve positive changes and better living conditions. *Baldur Baldoni is a German living in Tirana [post_title] => Walking through the chaotic Tirana – Thoughts of a citizen from abroad [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => walking-through-the-chaotic-tirana-thoughts-of-a-citizen-from-abroad [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-02-17 11:55:46 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-02-17 10:55:46 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=131242 [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] => 626 [filter] => raw [cat_ID] => 30 [category_count] => 626 [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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