The Truth that Must not Die

The Truth that Must not Die

The President of Poland on the 75th Anniversary of Liberation of the Nazi German Death Camp KL Auschwitz   On January 27, 1945, Soviet soldiers liberated the German Nazi death camp KL Auschwitz. What they found there continues to sow terror

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Early Parliamentary Development in Albania – A Brief Survey

Early Parliamentary Development in Albania – A Brief Survey

by Prof. Bernd J. Fischer  The generally accepted narrative concerning Albania’s early parliamentary development has it that while the leaders responsible may have been well-intentioned, they achieved little in the way of concrete accomplishments, which allowed Albania, by the middle

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Editorial: The relentlessness of abuse will kill the justice reform

Editorial: The relentlessness of abuse will kill the justice reform

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL In the course of these few years since the Constitutional package that set the way for the start of the justice reform there have been many questions, doubts and even disappointments with the way things have proceeded.

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Editorial: From Republic to neighborhood, a society in flight

Editorial: From Republic to neighborhood, a society in flight

TIRAMA TIMES EDITORIAL  Nowadays the massive flight of Albanians abroad does not need to be presented in numbers. People are feeling it every day with family members, neighbors, colleagues and peers taking up their luggage and moving away. However, for

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Albania in 2020

Albania in 2020

The year that is wrapping up was one of the most negative and unfortunate ones for Albania at least since 1997. A raging political crisis has left the citizens without due representation in the parliament, without a basic constitutional order

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Balkan Mini-Schengen: A Well Thought Regional Initiative or a Political Stunt?

Balkan Mini-Schengen: A Well Thought Regional Initiative or a Political Stunt?

By Agon Demjaha Introduction Although countries of the Western Balkans have made full integration into the European Union one of their key strategic priorities, mainly due to bloody wars that followed the disintegration of former Yugoslavia, the process of integration

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Editorial: The Albanian government in Wonderland

Editorial: The Albanian government in Wonderland

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL As the year 2020 slowly rolls in, the Albanian reality and the Albanian government could not be more separated from each other, each operating in an exclusive dynamics with little tangential contact if any. Battered by a

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Editorial: Media regulation or strangling free speech

Editorial: Media regulation or strangling free speech

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL Despite a very strong opposition by all the media sector in the country, by more than 30 media and human rights organizations worldwide and in spite of substantial criticism from international organizations such as Council of Europe,

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Decriminalization of the Balkans condition of all conditions

Decriminalization of the Balkans condition of all conditions

By Sonja Biserko  Any discussion about Serbia-Kosovo relations has to take into account the international context and interests of some global players that strongly influence regional dynamics, relations between Serbs and Albanians included. In the early 1990s at the outbreak

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Albin Kurti’s victory to work out an old agenda of Kosovo

Albin Kurti’s victory to work out an old agenda of Kosovo

By Naim Rashiti  Kosovo held new snap elections on 6 October this year. The record-high turnout brought change in the political landscape. Vetëvendosje  Movement (LVV) of Albin Kurti won the elections with 29 out of 120 seats of the Kosovo

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                    [post_content] => The President of Poland on the 75th Anniversary of Liberation of the Nazi German Death Camp KL Auschwitz

 

On January 27, 1945, Soviet soldiers liberated the German Nazi death camp KL Auschwitz. What they found there continues to sow terror and elicit unequivocal moral condemnation to this day.

Nearly 7,000 prisoners regained their freedom then. Previously, between January 17-21, about 56,000 prisoners were taken out of Auschwitz and its sub-camps, and forced on devastating death marches into the heart of the Third Reich. Those who remained in the camp were but shadows of people, permanently mutilated by unimaginable physical and mental torture. They miraculously survived inhuman living conditions, hunger, frost, illness, slave labor, merciless beating, humiliation and abuse from the henchmen. Some of them were victims of criminal medical experiments. Every day they would watch the death of their fellow sufferers: men, women, the elderly and disabled, and children. They were witnesses to numerous executions - including those carried out by members of the SS for cruel entertainment. Some prisoners were forced to move the bodies of those murdered into gas chambers and to burn them in crematoria, knowing that they would experience exactly the same fate.

This is only a brief description of the hell on earth, represented by the Konzentrationslager Auschwitz as it was, the place where more than one million Jews and thousands of victims of other nationalities were slaughtered, including Poles, Roma, Sinti, and prisoners of war from the Red Army. The same fate was shared by millions of Jews murdered in other German Nazi death camps: Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Kulmhof, Stutthof and dozens of others. The authorities of the Third Reich planned and carried out the total extermination of the Jewish people. That is why they created a network of camps operating as real death factories. Murders were perpetrated there as if in a cycle of industrial activity – by hundreds and thousands, efficiently, bearing in mind the time factor and cost of transport, keeping minute records. There had been no historical precedent for such extreme dehumanization and degradation of millions of innocent victims.

It is hard to put it into words, to read, to talk about it... In the biblical Book of Kohelet we find the following words: For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. Nevertheless, the effort must be made. This knowledge must be passed on to new generations even at the price of sorrow it causes. We must forge the future of the world based on a profound understanding of what happened more than 75 years ago in the heart of Europe, and what eyewitnesses continue to relate to us. What befell the nation of descendants of Leibniz, Goethe, Schiller and Bach, when they were infected with the virus of imperial pride and racist contempt - may come as an everlasting warning. We must also not forget that the last, decisive step leading towards World War II, the war without which there would have been no tragedy of the Holocaust, was the secret pact between Hitler and Stalin of August 23, 1939. The agreement meant that Central and Eastern Europe were deprived of its freedom and sovereignty, and the ensuing close cooperation between the two totalitarian regimes lasted until the very last hours before the attack, which Nazi Germany launched on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.

The truth about the Holocaust must not die. It must not be distorted or used for any purpose. In the name of sacred memory of the annihilation of the Jews and out of respect for other victims of the 20th century totalitarianism - we cannot, and we shall not condone it. We will not cease in our efforts to make the world remember this crime. So that nothing of the kind would ever happen again.

Very early on, the Polish resistance movement took up the mission of uncovering the truth about the Holocaust and of supporting Jews threatened with extermination. The Polish Underground State, established on our occupied territories, tried to protect all those who until recently were citizens of independent Poland. In September 1940, Witold Pilecki, an officer of the Polish Army, acting in agreement with the underground authorities, deliberately let himself be imprisoned in Auschwitz. He escaped in April 1943, and then produced and passed on a report on what was happening there. A passage from it reads as follows: "Those sick [with typhus], unconscious but also those almost recovered (...) were packed into vans and taken (...) to the gas chambers. (...) One eight-year-old boy asked the SS man to leave him. He knelt before him on the ground. The SS man kicked him in the stomach and threw him into the van like a puppy.” Also, Jan Karski, an emissary of the Polish authorities in exile, watched with his own eyes the horrors occurring in the Warsaw Ghetto and in the German transit camp in Izbica. He prepared a memorandum on German systematic genocide of Jews. Starting from December 1942, he was presenting it to opinion leaders and to top authorities of the Allied Powers. Earlier, General Władysław Sikorski, prime minister of the Polish Government in London, addressed a note to the Allies adopted at the meeting of the Council of Ministers on June 6, 1942. He reported in it: "...the destruction of the Jewish population takes place in unbelievable proportions. In cities such as Vilnius, Lvov, Kolomyia, Stanisławów, Lublin, Rzeszów, Miechów, tens of thousands of Jews are massacred. The Gestapo carries out mass executions in the ghettoes of Warsaw and Cracow every day. (...) Jews in Poland have suffered the most terrible persecution in their history.”

At the same time, the Polish Underground State established the Council to Aid Jews at the Government Delegation for Poland. That allowed nearly 50 thousand people to obtain documents, shelter, money and medical care. Polish diplomats were organizing escapes for Jews to territories not controlled by Nazi Germany. A significant percentage of Holocaust survivors owed their lives to thousands of Polish Righteous Among the Nations. In our family stories, historical and literary documents, the memory about many people of Jewish origin hidden in attics, cellars and barns, is still alive. So are the memories of sharing with Jewish fugitives a modest meal or showing them a safe escape route. And it must be remembered that in Poland, every such gesture was punishable by death at the hands of German occupiers, something that happened hundreds of times. Among millions of Poles there were also people who could have helped Jews in the hiding, but did not because they could not overcome their fear for their own lives and for the lives of the loved ones. There were also those who, acting on a base impulse, handed Jews over to the German occupation authorities or committed disgraceful acts. Under dramatic circumstances of that time, the judiciary of the Polish Underground State would sentence such criminals to death and have them executed.

German Nazi concentration camps built in occupied Poland were and still are an unbearable humiliation for us today. They stand in a stark contrast with our one thousand years’ long culture and history, with the Polish spirit of freedom, tolerance and solidarity. Genocide of Jews, albeit perpetrated almost all across war-time Europe, came as a particularly heavy blow to the Polish state, which was for centuries multinational and multi-confessional. The Jewish community in pre-war Poland was one of the most numerous in Europe. Of the 6 million citizens of the Republic of Poland who died in the wake of World War II (over one-fifth of the total population), as many as 3 million were Polish Jews. And they were the largest group of Holocaust victims. The Jewish community, which lived and prospered on Polish soil for nearly ten centuries, have almost disappeared within a few years’ time. Poland suddenly lost thousands of Jewish artists, researchers, doctors, lawyers and clerks, businessmen, craftsmen, merchants and other valued professionals. Among those murdered were spouses, friends, neighbors and fellow employees. In our cities, memory persists about the martyrdom of Jews forced by the German occupiers into the prison-like ghetto districts. There are but a few pre-war synagogues left serving as houses of prayer today. Yiddish and Hebrew no longer resound in the surviving buildings of Jewish religious schools or in ritual baths. Within Poland's current borders, there are nearly 1,200 identified Jewish cemeteries, but no surviving people to visit the graves there. Jewish works of art and craft, antique books, prints and manuscripts written by scholars, writers and composers were irretrievably destroyed.

The history of Jews in Poland and their annihilated world is now retold through publications and scientific conferences, festivals, exhibitions, concerts and monuments, sponsored by state scientific and cultural institutions such as museums, theatres, archives and libraries. Gradually, Jewish religious communities, community organizations, publishing houses and magazines are being brought back to life. We support these actions, because German Nazism cannot have the final say in the narrative of the Polish Jews and their martyrdom.

Commemoration of the tragedy of the Shoah should be an important and lasting element in education for peace – as a story that sinks deeply into human hearts, bringing down barriers of prejudice, division and hatred. It should be a lesson about how to show understanding and help those who are hardest hit by adversity.

It is in this spirit that we will mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. By decision of the UN General Assembly, for fifteen years now it has been commemorated on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. That is why in four days' time, in the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, where the ashes of more than one million Holocaust Victims are buried, we will meet with leaders and high representatives of countries from all over the world. We shall be accompanied by venerable survivors. On the 75th anniversary of the symbolic end of the extermination, we will bear witness to the truth. Together we will call for peace, justice and respect between nations.

Eternal memory and reverence to Those Executed in KL Auschwitz!

Eternal memory and reverence to the Victims of the Holocaust!

 

*President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda
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                    [post_content] => by Prof. Bernd J. Fischer 

The generally accepted narrative concerning Albania's early parliamentary development has it that while the leaders responsible may have been well-intentioned, they achieved little in the way of concrete accomplishments, which allowed Albania, by the middle of the 1920s, to slip into authoritarian rule leaving no room for a functioning parliament. While there may be some basis to support this scenario - certainly Albania's road to parliamentary democracy was less than smooth -  early parliamentary development in Albania can only be understood in the context of contemporary conditions.  It might be useful, therefore, to begin a discussion of early parliamentary development with a description of the contemporary scene in Albania at the time of independence and in the years immediately thereafter.

When a group of intellectuals, tribal leaders, and former Ottoman officials proclaimed the independence of Albania in November 1912, they were motivated in part by fear. They were afraid that unless Albania established some separate political identity immediately, Albanian-inhabited lands would be divided among the participants of the first Balkan war. They were afraid, too, that in 1912 Albania was little more than a geographic expression with few of the prerequisites for the establishment of a unified European nation-state. Many of the necessary pre-conditions generally associated with unity were lacking. There was no centralization of any kind, no religious or linguistic unity, no leadership of a self-conscious class, no foreign intellectual stimulus and not even widespread discontent with foreign rule. Indigenous Albanian circumstances and conscious Ottoman policy had created a people divided. Regionally and to some extent linguistically, Albanians were divided between the Tosks in the south and the Gegs in the north; there were four major religious groups including Sunni and Bektashi Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox. Social and economic disunity was fostered by the co-existence of three conflicting stages of civilization, the mountain clans in the north, the feudal beys in the south and the more educated and urbanized, but generally unarmed population of the Hellenic and Catholic fringes.

So, Albania’s founding fathers were right to worry. Although the fledgling state was saved from the belligerents fighting the Balkan wars – by the support of Italy and Austria-Hungary who hoped to block Serbian access to the Adriatic – the issue of the construction of a viable nation-state based on a parliamentary democracy was certainly in doubt prior to World War One. The war itself changed little in that regard. The Peace of Paris which ended the war left Albania truncated with fully half of its population in the newly constructed Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (to be renamed Yugoslavia in October 1929). One result of the division of Albanian speakers was that the new state of Albania, with its population of just over 800,000 people, was home to very few minorities. Almost 96% were ethnic Albanians, approximately 2.4% Greek and 1.3% Macedonian. So, the nationality issue was much less serious than in the rest of the Balkans – but irredentism became a major concern and remains one today.

Other problems, however, were legion. The war saw Albania occupied by no less than six foreign armies, which did little to foster the unity which Albania required.  Arguably, when the war ended, Albania faced perhaps the most serious problems found in any European state. Apart from the issue of unity, Albanians suffered from a unique Weltanschauung, a legacy of the Ottoman Empire which included a strong distrust of government and the city, coupled with a cleverness employed to cheat the authorities, a practice which was considered not only completely normal but admirable. Five centuries of Ottoman domination had adversely affected the economy as well, creating none of the necessary bases for modern economic development. In the early 1920s over 90% of the population was engaged in either agriculture or animal husbandry, and yet only approximately 9% of the land was arable. Industry was either nonexistent or of the handicraft variety. Mineral resources were ignored, and transportation facilities were primitive. On the few roads that did exist, wheeled traffic was possible only during the summer months. Albania had entirely passed over the railroad age and would not have its first functioning train until after World War Two. The country’s entire rolling stock in the early 1920s consisted of three miserable old Fords left behind by an American relief mission.

When Albania emerged from World War One it was occupied by the British, Italians, and French in Shkodra in the north, the Serbs in the east, and the French and Greeks in the south. The Italians, who in 1917 had unilaterally declared a protectorate over a united Albania, occupied the rest of the country. A provisional government had been set up in Durrës in 1918 led by Turhan Pasha, a prominent landowner. The primary concern of this regime was to save the country from partition, similar to the principal goal of Albania's original government constructed in 1912. The Turhan Pasha government, however, commanded little respect, and failed to gain international recognition because it was essentially controlled by the Italians who, in exchange for their sponsorship, received valuable oil and asphalt concessions. Groups of clan leaders and landowners increasingly recognized that the provisional government was little more than a puppet, and that the Great Powers at the Paris Peace Conference could not be relied upon to follow through on promises to create Balkan boundaries based on the principle of national self-determination. In became clear to many that trusting in the Great Powers was to believe in a broken reed - Albanians must rely on themselves alone to achieve real independence and territorial integrity. Acting on these concerns, a group of Albanian clan leaders and landowners decided to convene a congress at Lushnjë to organize an independent temporary government to deal with the threat posed by foreign troops on Albanian soil. Fifty-six delegates from across the country, including some from areas outside the state, convened with the goal of replacing the provisional government in Durrës, putting together a new administration of  patriots, and then holding a general election for  a national legislative assembly which would draw up a new constitution. The Italians, who had more than their share of internal difficulties, did not intervene, but members of Durrës government ordered their prefect in Lushnjë to prevent the meeting. However,  the two companies of militia sent to disrupt the meeting refused to do so. The Congress, meeting from 28-31 January 1920 under the presidency of Syleman bey Delvina, but dominated principally by the young chief of the Mati tribe Ahmed Zogu, adopted the so-called Lushnjë Statutes. This Congress would prove to be one of the most important developments in the emergence of Albanian independence, and in the foundation of parliamentary democracy.  The ambitious goals of those who called the Congress included finding a solution to the basic question of what kind of government Albania would adopt.  A series of resolutions were passed, including a note to the powers against the partitioning of Albania, and a protest to the Italian parliament concerning the continued occupation of Albanian lands. A general besa was reaffirmed, and the contentious of issue of where a new capital would be located was addressed. Tirana was chosen for a number of reasons. The town was inland away from borders and foreign influence, there were good transport links to Durrës, but critically it was close to the territories controlled by Zogu who with his considerable armed retainer served as something of a protector for the Congress.

The crucial question of the  type of state Albania would become, was addressed.  The Organic Constitution of 1914, which had created the principality under Prince Wilhelm of Wied was reaffirmed. Since the constitution had never been abrogated or suspended and Wied had never formally abdicated, the Congress invested limited executive power in a Supreme Council of Regency, made up of four persons, one representing each of Albania's principal religions. Once chosen, this body saw to the appointment of a prime minister, Syleman bey Delvina,  a nine-member cabinet, as well as a 37- member senate which was to be entrusted with parliamentary powers until a general election could be held. Mehmed bey Konitza was appointed foreign minister and Zogu assumed the portfolio of minister of the interior, effectively the second spot in the cabinet. Zogu was the logical choice for the number two spot on the strength of the number of armed men he controlled, which proved to be the indispensable feature of post-war Albanian politics. As minister of the interior, Zogu took control of the police and gendarmerie and became Commander-in-Chief of the Albanian armed forces, although there was little in the way of an organized force at the time, other than his own retainers of some 2,000 men. On 20 February 1920, all those members of the Durrës government who had remained under the protection of the Italian navy deserted the town and brought the archives and treasury to Tirana, providing the new regime with additional legitimacy.

The governmental system as it worked out in practice was a combination of the principality constructed by the Great Powers in 1912, and traditional tribal autocracy. There were of course immediate internal struggles. The political struggle within the assembly and within part of the country concerned, to a certain extent, a struggle between the old and new orders, with Bishop Fan Noli, who had arrived in Albania in 1920 from the United States, emerging as the representative of liberalism, modernization and westernization. On the surface, then, we have a battle between near-feudal landlords on the one hand  and an Albanian variant of liberalism on the other. But other issues emerged. Among the liberals, the extent of reform was an issue, as was the form of government. Supporters of monarchism and republicanism were to be found in both camps. Some forces were pro-communist, while others were merely liberal, hoping for stronger ties with Great Britain, France and the United States. Others hoped that Italy would emerge as the benefactor.

In early 1921 at least the broad outlines of a political system were established and therefore elections were called for a new national council or parliament to replace the unelected officials put in place by the Lushnjë Congress. While Albania's first elections were intended to be for a constituent assembly and not a parliament, voting for the former was postponed pending final delimitation of borders. The decision of the Lushnjë representatives to hold elections for a parliament was not in keeping with the Lushnjë statutes and angered many leaders, in particular those who hoped for the emergence of a democratized Albania or wanted to see the key questions facing the state settled once and for all. Complicating matters further, on 5 December 1920 the unelected parliament passed an electoral system that left power firmly in the hands of those who had designed the system, the traditional land-owning aristocracy. While perhaps the only practical system as the time, voting was to be indirect and conducted in two rounds. In the first round, based on available census data from ten prefectures, every 500 males selected one delegate; the delegates subsequently elected a 75-member parliament of deputies from a list of candidates which was usually drawn up to give the designers of the system legislative authority. There was one deputy for approximately every 10,000 citizens. This system made the voter something of a spectator in the process, and indirect voting, at least in the Albanian case was ripe for corruption. It was especially despised by the country's emerging liberal elements for being inherently undemocratic and serving the interests of the landowners.  Under this system, the first election, held between February and March 1921, elected a chamber that opened on 5 April 1921. The new deputies were divided almost evenly between the two principal political groupings at the time, the popular and progressive parties. In reality, however, because of an easily manipulated electoral college system, the senate was made up entirely of supporters of those few tribal leaders and patriots who had called the Congress. The first prime minister, Syleman bey Delvina, served as a figurehead while the real power rested with cabinet positions, like Zogu’s, which had been divided among the major chieftains and landowners based upon the fire power each could muster. That this modified principality system was flawed and did not conform to the realities of Albanian political life seems to have escaped only the few. Indeed, most of those who supported its construction at Lushnjë considered it little more than an expedient to facilitate a temporary truce among the tribes, so that the external threat could be effectively resisted.

Once the outside threat was gone, the principality system rapidly came apart due primarily to one of its greatest flaws - it contained no provisions for the arbitration of old tribal animosities. Ultimately, it appears that each chieftain was willing to continue paying homage to Western ideals of democracy by observing the parliamentary methods of opposition only as long as success by these means was anticipated. Once it became clear that all could not lead, political compromises designed to avert violence began to break down. Albania was shaken by coups and upheavals motivated primarily by the refusal on the part of the tribes to bend to central authority. It was in this atmosphere that Zogu was to demonstrate his remarkable talent for statecraft in the Albanian setting. Zogu used his accumulated military and political capital as early as November 1920 to engineer the fall of the Delvina government, hoping to advance his own position in the ensuing crisis. But Zogu had perhaps been too successful militarily and the frightened regents turned to Ilias bey Vrioni, a major landowner from the south. In response Zogu helped to form a vague political grouping called “the clique.”  Although it is difficult to determine who was involved in this group at any given time, since there did not seem to be any particular criteria for membership and since the kaleidoscopic combinations, unions, and disintegrations are rather difficult to follow, the purpose of the group seemed clear enough. It was basically opposed to those in power, whoever they happened to be, and its primary aim was the acquisition of power and wealth for its own members by any means available. Although the organization itself foundered on the rock of the Kosovo issue – the dispute being whether to push for irredentism immediately or wait for some stability in Albania, with Zogu supporting the latter position – Zogu managed to hold enough of the group together to destroy the Vrioni government. But Zogu, with his reduced clique, was forced to settle for the position of minister of war in a regime headed by Pandeli Evangjeli, an Orthodox Christian from Korça. Evangjeli survived a scant two months before in early December 1921 he was required to resign by one of the regents who sent a body of armed men to Evangjeli’s bedroom, awakening him with the muzzles of their guns. Zogu, who had been off campaigning against insurgent tribes in the north, marched on the capital, deposing those who had deposed Evangjeli, and established a puppet prime minister while further consolidating his own support.  Then on 16 December 1922, at the age of 27, Zogu became prime minister while retaining the crucial position of minister of the interior. With the exception of a six-month period in 1924, Zogu would remain the leading figure in Albania, in one capacity or another, until his ouster by Mussolini in 1939.

Zogu had learned a great deal in these first two years of participation in Albanian national politics. He came to the realization that he was particularly well suited for Albanian politics. His ability at intrigue was superior, his military prowess, in terms of strategy and in terms of attracting supporters, was established. Indeed, it was clear that he was one of just a few Albanians competent enough to play a role on the national scale. The problems he faced were the same as those Albania had faced in 1920. While the various tribal groups had clawed at one another from 1920 to 1922, all of Albania’s problems had simply been obscured. Once the dust had settled, these difficulties became much more visible.

Zogu’s motivation as the new head of government, as it was to remain until his ouster, was that of an opportunist – Zogu was principally concerned with remaining in power. But that, of course, required some unity and stability. So, not for the first time and not for the last, Zogu’s and Albania’s needs seemed to coincide. This conferred on Zogu the legitimacy of a nationalist, something of which he would become an ever more ardent proponent, as it became clear that the survival of his power base depended on it. During his tenure as prime minister, which lasted about one year – a remarkable achievement in itself under the circumstances – he hoped to continue the process of power consolidation. His strategy included financial corruption in order to enrich himself. What concerned his opponents and his allies alike, however, was that he was using his personal wealth to consolidate and increase his own prestige. To this end he began to call for a revision of the Statutes of Lushnijë. It was clear to all that Zogu’s goal here was the construction of a somewhat more authoritarian system to end the political chaos that reigned in Albania. The principality had by this point been completely overwhelmed by Albania’s Ottoman heritage. The administration was overburdened with officials who had little or nothing to do but to oversee the extensive corruption that had continued from Turkish times. Albania’s first governments had been intolerant, oppressive and violent and were accused and were most likely guilty of numerous assassinations and attempted assassinations. All of this frightened investors and international bodies without which Albania would never be able to lift itself out of its economic morass. Zogu hoped to serve his own quest for power and provide for some stability in the state by either scrapping the system entirely or at least reorganizing it along more authoritarian lines – something that might have been more appropriate for Albania in the 1920s.

In the meantime, however, he felt obliged to conform to the guidelines established at Lushnjë. The parliament which had convened in April 1921 remained outside the political battle emerging. After all, a parliament was intended to come after a constituent assembly, not before. Legislative achievements were meager, no substantive investments was attracted and no loans were offered - as parliament remained hopelessly stalled by conflict between popular and progressive parties. In the summer of 1923 elections for a constituent assembly were finally called, after having been postponed repeatedly. Again, these elections were designed ostensibly to decide the fundamental question of the state structure. The first round of voting was to take place in September, and the second round in December. The constituent assembly would both function as a parliament and draft a new constitution to replace the Lushnjë statutes. The type of government, republic or monarchy, was a central question. After fulfilling this agenda, the assembly was expected to resign before new elections were held for a regular parliament. Seeing these rules as a substantial disadvantage, Noli and the progressives attempted to do away with indirect voting and hoped to impose a new electoral law to replace the December 1920 regulations which stipulated that voting was to be held in two rounds. Noli and the progressives felt that this might be the only way to halt what they saw as Zogu's march to dictatorship. They argued that direct voting was more democratic and would result in a more representative assembly which could then move to do away with corruption in the second round.  The progressives also wanted to broaden the franchise to include women, and neutralize the army and the gendarmerie as political forces. But Zogu and his supporters opposed all of these democratic innovations,   no concessions were made and the proposed new electoral law was defeated in a parliamentary vote.

The election campaign was fierce with Zogu pushing for discipline and stability while Noli preached westernization, democratization, and modernization. There were claims of electoral fraud by the opposition, but the major problem seems have been outside funding.  Zogu probably benefitted from Greek, Yugoslav and Italian money, while Noli was funded by Vatra in the United States. But in general, the outcome of the election appeared to be an accurate representation of Albania's political climate - neither political group secured a majority. After the second round of voting on 27 December, of the 102 seats in the assembly, the opposition took 39 seats, and Zogu took 44. But because of the fact that Zogu was able to gain the support of some of the remaining independents he was able to retain his position as prime minister. The assembly which  convened on 21 January 1924 went on to act solely as a regular parliament and neglected the mandate for a new constitutional order. Before the new assembly could take any significant steps towards stability, however,  Albania was again faced with a series of crises.

On 24 February 1924, as he was walking up the steps of parliament, Zogu was shot several times by Beqir Walter, a supporter of one of Zogu’s political rivals. Zogu, wounded in the hand and thigh, staggered into parliament, gun in hand, and made it to the government bench. The scene in parliament was understandably tense; most of the deputies seemed to recognize the danger of an open gunfight since everyone present was armed. Shooting continued in the fore hall between Walter and the followers of Zogu. Walter then locked himself in the bathroom and commenced singing patriotic songs as he shot through the doors. After the assailant was finally subdued, Zogu from his bench announced in a loud voice, “Gentlemen, this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened. I ask my friends to leave it alone and deal with it afterwards.” Zogu had possibly prevented wholesale carnage within the assembly hall.

Zogu was temporarily sidelined, in part because he needed to recover and in part because Albanian blood feud custom required that he not leave his house until the outrage was avenged. Under the circumstances, Zogu felt it best to relinquish his post as prime minister, after convincing the regents to appoint his ally the landowner Shevqet Verlaci to take his place. But the government was unstable and unable to address Albania’s myriad problems effectively. Discontent in both the north and the south grew. This unrest was fanned by the irredentists, who hoped to eventually replace Zogu with someone more concerned with unifying Albania and Kosovo. All of this growing opposition to Zogu was brought together by the murder of Avni Rystemi on 5 May 1924. Rystemi, whom Zogu blamed for the attempt on his life in February, was a leader of Bishop Fan Noli’s progressive grouping.

The progressives withdrew from parliament, declaring that no opposition deputy was safe in Tirana. Military and gendarmerie commanders, as well as some of the principal northern chieftains joined Noli and the progressives and declared open revolt. The government declared general mobilization on 1 June  but soon found that there were few left to mobilize. The Prime Minister resigned and of the four members of the Council of Regency, one resigned and three fled. Most of the government fled to Italy. Zogu was the last to remain, hoping to rally the capital and the diplomatic community, but it was too late. On the afternoon of 9 June Zogu called on the citizens of Tirana for support but it soon became clear that they would not die for Zogu. As the 7,000 troops commanded by the insurgents closed in on Tirana, Zogu with his retainers withdrew. Following some light fighting between Zogu’s force and the troops of several northern chieftains, Zogu was obliged to withdraw into Yugoslavia.

While Zogu was in Belgrade, Fan Noli, a Harvard University graduate and founder of the Albanian Orthodox church in America, organized a government. Noli produced an idealistic program for radical land reform along western lines, thereby raising the hopes of the peasantry while frightening the conservative landlords. The landlords need not have worried, however, since Noli’s reforms were never implemented. The only tangible results of Noli’s plans were the alienation of the peasants, who had their hopes raised and dashed, and the alienation of the landlords who were given an idea of what Noli would have done, had he been able to. Noli’s experience was another lesson for Zogu in what not to do in Albania. It soon became clear that those who had assisted Noli in ousting Zogu had little more than their fear of Zogu in common. Noli was faced with a cabinet crisis within a matter of weeks. Zogu, in the meantime, was not idle. He quickly put together a military force consisting of his own retainers, loyal tribes, Yugoslav troops, and a contingent of White Russians from Baron Pyotr Wrangel’s now defunct army. By late December 1924, Zogu was marching back to Albania. Because of Noli’s inability to rally the capital, Zogu captured Tirana by the end of December.

Zogu moved quickly to liquidate those who had opposed him, and bought off those who had remained neutral. The momentary dearth of opposition afforded him the opportunity to construct a government and parliamentary structure more in line with his own plans and perhaps more in step with the realities of Albanian political life. By 1924, Zogu had significant evidence to suggest that the parliamentary principality, which the Great Powers had constructed in 1912, was ill-suited to local conditions. The failure of Fan Noli provided further evidence that not only was the system not working but Albania might actually have been worse off following its imposition. Western-oriented parliamentarianism had not only failed to create the basis for stable internal development but had added another dimension, that of politics, to the already alarming level of indigenous conflict.

With many of his enemies dead or in exile, Zogu was presented with a unique opportunity to create an autocratic regime. While he had often declared that this is exactly what he would do if given the opportunity, once absolute power lay within his grasp he backed away and accepted qualified authority for several reasons. Zogu’s somewhat truncated education led him to believe that Europe would react with hostility to anything but a representative form of government and a parliament. He also assumed that only if he restrained his desire for unqualified authority could he attract the bureaucrats who had served in the previous regime. He correctly assumed that it would be a serious mistake to alienate anyone with administrative experience. But despite these fears, he knew that in order to survive, significant changes in the structure of the Albanian political system were necessary.

Zogu proceeded with vigor. Aware that he needed to legitimize his position as quickly as possible, he reconvened the Constituent Assembly elected in 1923 – naturally without the troublesome opposition. Sixty-four of the original 102 deputies  assembled in Tirana in January 1925 and all but two were persuaded to construct a republic and elect Zogu as president. The assembly promulgated a new constitution in March which replaced most of the Statutes of Lushnjë and established a bicameral legislature with an eighteen-member senate (twelve elected and six appointed) and a 57 member assembly, elected on the basis of electors who were controlled by local authorities. The senate, whose members served for six years, was to serve as a high court at the discretion of the president and its approval was required for all measures passed by the assembly. The president had an unrestricted veto over laws passed by parliament and could dissolve parliament and call for new elections at any time. The president also used the senate to block the assembly if he did not want to become personally involved with an issue. The new constitution outwardly looked very much like the American version but the major difference, of course, was that the Albanian version left almost all of the power in the hands of the president, who was elected for seven years and served as both head of government and head of state. He completely controlled the cabinet and senate, which he appointed and dismissed at will. He commanded the armed forces, controlled the administration and had the sole right to initiate changes in the constitution. He also had significant control over the assembly. This left only the courts in a position of partial independence, although Zogu did control judicial appointments. The Constituent Assembly, clearly on Zogu’s initiative, also instructed the president to institute a series of measures meant to aid in the establishment of stability. The 5,000-man army, which had become a hotbed for politicians and had been a major source of opposition of Zogu, was replaced by a smaller less formal militia. This would allow Zogu, with his tribal retainer to personally be one of the most powerful military forces in Albania. The Constituent Assembly also established a decree law that officially was designed to combat treasonable propaganda. The real purpose, however, was to allow Zogu to imprison persons against whom evidence sufficient to satisfy the courts had not been found. This law, by overriding the ordinary process of justice, gave Zogu greater power than the constitution would allow.

But Zogu was not yet fully satisfied - he eventually came to the conclusion that his power base could only be completely secured with the construction of a monarchy, with himself as king. In 1928, therefore, after consulting the Italians who had by this point become his principal benefactors, he took the final step and became King of the Albanians, supported by a new constitution. With the establishment of the monarchy, the role of parliament was further reduced. The bicameral structure was replaced by a one house - 56 member parliament. The election process continued to insure that only such candidates who were of certain loyalty, or appointed by local officials, stood a chance of winning. The fact that the head of the commune, or the local government was an official appointee made it possible for him to secure the election of the body of second electors which included only those who could be relied upon to elect to parliament the slate prepared in Tirana. Political parties were no longer legal so no other candidates stood for election. Moreover, a large sum had to be paid to the municipality by every would-be candidate before his name was listed. Few could afford to pay the fee without the help of the government. The king designated the officers of parliament, and he fixed the agenda of parliament. He had the sole right to introduce bills and could dismiss parliament at will. As a result, no political issues of any importance were decided by the elections or by parliament. Politics and a functioning parliament in Albania essentially ceased to exist, and would not return until the collapse of the communist regime.

While these developments were perhaps disappointing to those who hoped for the rapid development of a liberal parliamentary democracy, they were not unusual. Indeed, Albania succumbed to a pattern of illiberalism which was not only experienced everywhere else in the Balkans, but blighted much of the rest of Europe as well. World War One had unleashed forces which fledgling democracies all over the continent found it difficult to overcome. Albania was in a particularly vulnerable position in this regard because its level of political, economic, and social development lagged behind not only the rest of Europe, but also the rest of the Balkans. It was perhaps unrealistic to hope that a functioning parliamentary democracy could flourish in such infertile ground. Zogu had argued that stability and unity should be the first priority and this is what he strove for with varying degrees of success. But much was sacrificed - including a functioning parliament, representing the will of the people and actively participating in the development of the nation and the state.
                    [post_title] => Early Parliamentary Development in Albania - A Brief Survey
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

In the course of these few years since the Constitutional package that set the way for the start of the justice reform there have been many questions, doubts and even disappointments with the way things have proceeded. However nothing has ever come close to the situation nowadays where the conduct of justice people yet to be vetted has administered the hardest blow on the expectations of citizens for justice. A series of decisions that have set free high profile criminals with lifelong sentences, people whose name stills trikes fear in the hearts of those who have been affected or who have even just followed their stories, has yet again brought to the surface the question: when will it be enough?

Criminals and gang leaders who have been dealt sentences for multiple murders, kidnappings, racketeering, drugs trade, possession of military equipment ( needless to say simple caliber weapons would simply not be enough for this kind) are now set to gain their freedom with minimum constrictions such a probation.

Experts have started to point out that the reform has not foreseen the panic that would prompt judges and prospectors to make devil’s deals and secure their financial future before being left out of the system for good.

There is such a bitter irony in the fact that sentences for minor misdemeanors often caused by poverty or social marginalization hold solid as iron whereas the perpetrators of crimes that have rattled society through the years walk free wearing their smirks on the face. This bitter irony is in fact a potent acid that risks to corrode all the frame of justice reform and send it down to the ground.

Meticulous media investigations have listed clearly the series of infringements upon law, conspiratorial actions and behaviors and absurd tweaking of calculating sentence time that these judges, which bring shame to their office and utter disgust to the public, have used to grant freedom to these figures of the dark world.

It is now up to the institutions that have taken charge to examine the conduct of judges and prosecutors to take a decision on what kid of investigation that will launch to determine the legitimacy of these decisions that go against what much higher instance courts up to the level of Constitutional Court have determined previously.

Much have been said before about the justice reform and its ultimate goal of ‘catching the big fish.’ The metaphor has exclusively refereed to high level politicians and grand corruption. However if the reform is to succeed all those who spend their diplomatic, political and even economic capital behind it must come to terms with the fact that for now the real sharks lurk still in the first instance courts offices.

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: The relentlessness of abuse will kill the justice reform 
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                    [post_content] => TIRAMA TIMES EDITORIAL 

Nowadays the massive flight of Albanians abroad does not need to be presented in numbers. People are feeling it every day with family members, neighbors, colleagues and peers taking up their luggage and moving away. However, for the few skeptical remaining mostly among the political class, which is conveniently turning a blind eye to the phenomenon, the numbers were up once again this week. Just in 2018, INSTAT has counted almost 46.000 Albanians leaving the country. In total more than 350.00 have migrated in the last 8 years alone. Additionally in a study carried out by the “Pew Research Center” and the United Nation’s several scenarios about demographic changes have been explored: a realistic scenario sees Albanian population at around 1 million at the end of this century whereas the worst scenario sees it half that number, resembling a modest neighborhood in a big city.

Albania however will not need to wait for the end of this century to feel the burden of their dramatically thinning out population. Everything that makes the fabric of the society hold: the pensions’ scheme, the human resources of the healthcare sector, whatever is left of the quality of higher education and the very hope for political change is at stake and risks collapsing around us very soon.

In the midst of this population loss the brain drain is particularly painful to observe: the doctors, engineers or even excellent students leaving in droves, depriving the future of Albania of its best and brightest, making structural challenges even more embedded in the never-ending transition difficulties.

The resurgence of migration and particular brain drain is observed all over the region. Given its overwhelming presence and impact, it is quite baffling why the political class in the whole region would chose to bypass this subject other than bitter calculative opportunism. In the case of Albania the cynical attitude towards the phenomenon and the attempt to normalize it are even worse.

In contrast to the government, Albanian citizens seem much more observant of the issue albeit with a spirit of surrender to destiny. While youngsters pack up their bags, the old generation laments the foreseen destiny of a country bereft of youth and perspective whereas parents in middle age are already researching legal mechanism of obtaining papers as family members.

Therein lies the first myth that needs to be dismantled if we seek to address the society in flight. This is not inevitable, it is not written in the stars. This is the outcome of decades of authoritarianism, chaos, blind infighting, corruption, nepotism and political militantism.

For every individual this is a personal and family decision. However we should not forget that ultimately this is the victory of those who stand to profit most when left alone to do what they want. And most importantly this is the defeat of our society, of our country. 

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: From Republic to neighborhood, a society in flight  
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                    [post_content] => The year that is wrapping up was one of the most negative and unfortunate ones for Albania at least since 1997. A raging political crisis has left the citizens without due representation in the parliament, without a basic constitutional order that secures the strength of institutions and the separation of powers and with an economy teetering on the brink of recession.

The local elections held in the summer generated a complete centralization of local and central power in the hands of the majority and most importantly returned the clock of democracy in Albania back three decades into the times of mono-party state.

The situation in the judicial sector is no better. The prolonged and issue-riddled justice reform has left the country without a Constitutional Court and with a dysfunctional High Court. Despite some movements which have paved the way for these vacancies to be corrected in early 2020, the process is still politicized and controversial, exactly what it was not supposed to be according to the reform objectives.

To top it all off, the high magnitude earthquake in the end of November that claimed more than 50 lives, wounded hundreds of people and destroyed the livelihoods of many others reveled also deep and painful structural problems with governance.

Finally as a year-closing gift, the majority just passed draconian laws to “regulate” the media which are sure to impose and controlling environment where propaganda and self-censorship will further harm the fourth power.

Internal Politics

As far as political developments expected in 2020, one main conclusion is clear: 2019 with all its negative baggage will shape most of 2020 and even reach beyond into 2021. The situation inside the parliament is of particular absurdity. The fake opposition which fills only a small part of the seats left vacant is being used to legitimize key reforms such as the Electoral reform,

This will all but guarantee its failure since it deprives it of legitimacy. The role of the international community in this regard has also been very critical. Through recognizing these individuals as the new opposition the international community has also furthered the political crisis instead of trying to mediate it.

Some experts claim that if the reform is passed a round of new elections might follow it to test the new agreed system. However if the real stakeholders of Albanian politics, hence the real opposition that stands outside of the parliament does not participate in this reform one can expect only more of the same: boycott, crises and confrontation. Indeed one of the warned developments is the return of political protests as announced by the Democratic Party.

The other key actor in the arena is the President of the Republic which is still under parliamentary investigation and potential impeachment though the likelihood of the latter is low in the absence of a Constitutional Court. The authority and impact of the President has been seriously diminished and damaged by the developments in 2019 the President chose not to resign even after his decree for new elections in October was completely ignored and even not published by the government. The president’s constitutional rights are not being respected by the respective institutions. There impeached or not he stands as only the empty shell of the institution it is supposed to be.

Foreign policy

In the midst of this bleak context, Albania’s chairmanship of the OSCE seems ridiculous at best. Despite the majority’s propaganda around it celebrating this as a big opportunity to promote Albania in the international arena or even as already an achievement per se, the chairmanship is in direct juxtaposition for what the OSCE stands at least in principle: democratic elections and due representation, human rights, free media.

Albania’s integration perspective took another hit this October when the Council of the European Union failed to reach a decision on the opening of the negotiations. The future of enlargement is ever unclear with requests from member states like France to change the methodology and the persistence of member states that support enlargement to give the green light to the western Balkans. There are alto of expectations vested in the next WB EU Summit to be held in Zagreb this upcoming May, during the Croatian Presidency of the EU. However there is still a lot of confusion about the way the Union wishes to proceed with the region.

Economy

Albanian citizens would be all but forgiven for not reacting enough to this political crisis given that they have to navigate a dire economic environment in their daily lives. Economic growth has faltered and to make thing seven more difficult the bill of damages that the earthquake caused will take its toll on public finances as well. The majority has announced an ambitious rebuilding package for housing for those families affected by the earthquake and named a relevant state minister to oversee it however concerns about its management and transparency are already on the table.

In the meantime the hefty PP costs keep rising and the lack of transparency and due regulation makes them a high risk for the wellbeing of the economy in general. Criticized by both national and international economy experts and institutions, the majority however is stubborn in protecting them and even conjuring up new ones to be considered next year for various infrastructure projects and public service fields.

 

 National census to be held

The public statistics institute INSTAT plans to carry out the national census of people and building in Albania, the third one in post-communist times to be carried out with previous ones held in 2001 and 2011. Census undertaking are often controversial in Albania in relation to the figures they produce about the country’s social composition.

Sports                                                                                                                                   

Euro 2020: Albania out Kosovo maybe in 

The Albanians national team has already lost the chance to participate in the coming European Champion ship however Albanian soccer fans will keep cheering on the Kosovo team that will face North Macedonia early next year in order to qualify. The Kosovo team may still get in the prestigious competition that will be held in 12 different European cities this summer and will use for the first time the controversial VAR system.
                    [post_title] => Albania in 2020
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                    [post_content] => By Agon Demjaha

Introduction

Although countries of the Western Balkans have made full integration into the European Union one of their key strategic priorities, mainly due to bloody wars that followed the disintegration of former Yugoslavia, the process of integration of these countries came with certain delay as compared to the rest of the European post-communist states. While in Central and Eastern Europe, the phases of stabilisation, transition and integration basically followed one another, in the Western Balkans the EU integration was a condition of stabilisation, rather than the other way around. As a result, the EU has in addition to the Copenhagen principles and universal Western criteria for the Western Balkans adopted regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations as an additional cluster of accession criteria. After the Kosovo war in 1999, the EU has introduced a more comprehensive and positive-looking regional approach through the Stabilisation and Association Process for the Western Balkans and the regional Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe. For countries of the region, the Stabilisation and Association Agreements clearly stipulated the importance of regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations as central to their path towards the EU. The Stability Pact, on the other hand, was given unique powers to convene representatives of SEE and the international community to work on regional co-operation strategies in different areas such as democracy, economy and security. Clearly, for EU the development of regional cooperation represented a key factor for establishing political stability, security and economic prosperity in the region. Through both these mechanisms, the EU has significantly contributed to increased sensitivity for the regional issues and problems among countries in the region. As a result, it is not surprising that until recently the majority of regional organisations and initiatives that emerged throughout the region have been initiated and driven by the EU.

With the beginning of the Berlin Process in 2014 and especially after the Trieste Summit in 2017, the notion of regional cooperation in the Western Balkans was raised to another level. Concrete measures were introduced in the fields of infrastructure, trade, investment, mobility and digitalization, and so forth. The EU Strategy A Credible Enlargement Perspective for an Enhanced EU Engagement with the Western Balkans has in February 2018 also reflected on the project of building a common market and integrated region in the Balkans. When in October 2019 the bids of Albania and North Macedonia to start the EU accession negotiations were blocked by France and some other EU members, the leaders of Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia decided to initiate the creation of their own free transit area. Such area, often-nicknamed "mini-Schengen" after the EU's borderless zone, is supposed to guarantee the freedom of movement of goods, services, people and capital in the region. The leaders reiterated that full and free movement of goods, services, capital and labour throughout the entire region represent the best way for a small region like Western Balkans to generate growth in an increasingly changing and globalized economy. Nevertheless, while the European Union and the US have welcomed this initiative, in the region itself such idea has from the beginning deeply divided the public opinion with many voices pro and against it. The aim of this paper is to dwell on the necessity, feasibility and impact of this new regional platform, while at the same time analysing pros and cons of such initiative.

Current State of Affairs

When it was launched by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2014, the Berlin Process was promoted as an ad-hoc high-level initiative that aimed at overcoming the fatigue of enlargement in a time of crisis of relations between the European Union and Western Balkans. In this context, it aimed at intensifying and facilitating regional cooperation among six Western Balkan (WB6) countries through active multi-frontal engagement. In its attempt to revitalise the accession process of the WB6, the Berlin Process placed great emphasis on increasing connections and cooperation between countries in the region. By promoting more connectivity between the Western Balkan countries, the process at the same time was trying to achieve something that the EU has long sought from the Western Balkans countries - their cooperation without the EU oversight. As already mentioned, almost all earlier regional organisations and initiatives in the region were initiated and driven by the EU. For a long period, the perception was that if left on their own, the Western Balkan countries would remain isolated from each other and might potentially even fall back into conflict. As a result, as envisaged by the Multi-annual Action Plan adopted at the Summit of the Western Balkans Prime Ministers in Trieste in July 2017, as part of the Berlin Process, the WB6 have initiated the process of the establishment of the Regional Economic Area (REA).

Nevertheless, it took some time before any significant progress in this direction was made, mainly due to continued political disagreements. When at a Brussels summit in October 2019, French President Macron vetoed the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, the idea began to materialize. Such decision was afterwards followed by a two-and-a-half page "non-paper" that called for changes in the current accession process to the EU. The document proposes a new seven-stage process with "stringent conditions in order to effectively converge towards European norms and standards," as well as a "reversibility" component that would allow the EU to abandon membership talks if a candidate country's government backslides away from the bloc's standards. In addition to temporarily blocking further accession of Albania and North Macedonia, the non-paper has also blurred the accession terms for those countries already in that process - Serbia and Montenegro. Such move was already interpreted as France’s attempt to simply block any further expansion of the union. In its non-paper, France reaffirmed its support for the EU's overall approach to Western Balkan countries, stating that they "belong to Europe, by virtue of their history, culture and geography." Nevertheless, fears were raised that the country was trying to put an end to the EU enlargement under the guise of reforming the accession process. Whatever the reality, French actions have certainly precipitated the launching of the idea for the Western Balkans free regional economic area. Namely, according to the Austrian diplomat Wolfgang Petrich, France's decision to block negotiations with Northern Macedonia has contributed toaccelerating the idea of the "mini-Schengen".

Consequently, on 11th of October 2019, the Prime Ministers of Albania and North Macedonia together with Serbian President, met in Novi Sad and signed a declaration of intent to establish the so-called “four freedoms”, i.e. free movement of people, goods, services and capital between the three countries. The three leaders underlined that the initiative is open to the remaining members of the “Western Balkans Six” and invited Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Kosovo to join it. Nevertheless, although according to Vucic, the remaining three countries were also invited to join the “mini-Schengen,” their representatives did not participate in this meeting. Three leaders emphasized the necessity for a more active and creative approach to ensure the circulation of goods and capital, movement of people, integration of services and labour, as well as intensified cross-border cooperation. They also recognized the urgent need to tackle the structural imbalance between theWestern Balkans and the EU, which might very easily turn into an impediment for WB6 to joining the EU in the longer term.

The next meeting of the three leaders from Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia took place in Ohrid on 10 November 2019. The aim of this meeting was “to accelerate the implementation of Regional Economic Area by identifying a list of priority measures, which can be further expanded, in order to achieve practical and visible results for our citizens as soon as possible.”As a result, two priorities were identified in relation to “free movement of goods,” five priorities for “free movement of people and freedom to provide services” and one priority related to free movement of capital.” In addition, for each priority specific measures were agreed in order to achieve these priorities in the shortest time possible. Among others, these measures include a system that would enable the citizens to travel with ID cards only, and to get work permits and recognition of qualifications in any of the three countries without additional procedures. In this way, workforce accessibility would increase directly, thus making the whole region more attractive for new investments. Companies coming to any of these countries will not have to worry about the workforce, as they will be able to recruit qualified workers from all the countries in the region without additional procedures. The adoption of a common package of documentation needed for the transport of goods, mutual recognition of professional qualifications and incentives for student exchanges, joint research and development projects as well as border cooperation and fight against crime and terrorism was also discussed. An action plan for the implementation of these specific measures is expected to be adopted soon.

In addition to the three leaders from Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia, representatives from Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina have also participated in the meeting in Ohrid as observers, while Kosovo refused to participate. Immediately after the meeting, the Montenegrin Minister of Economy Dragica Sekulic said that whether Montenegro will join the so-called "mini-Schengen" initiative would depend on its eventual benefits to their country. She clarified that further analysis was needed to conclude whether the initiative accelerates country's European integration and brings tangible benefits to citizens and the economy. Interestingly, few days later, Minister Sekulicdeclared that joining the “mini-Schengen initiative for Western Balkan states would be a waste of energy because her country is already a member of CEFTA (Central European Free Trade Agreement) that guarantees the free flow of people and goods.Similarly, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denis Zvizdic, said that BIH still does not have a defined position on this regional initiative. According to him, the Bosnian institutions must first become formally aware of the "content and expected benefits" of the initiative as well as models for removing customs barriers. He stated that his country would adopt its position only after a serious analysis conducted by institutions, business community and experts. On the other hand, the President of Kosovo Hashim Thaci refused to participate in the meeting and listed several arguments to support its stance on the initiative. According to him, the initiative is meaningless as long as Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina do not recognize Kosovo’s independence. Similarly, Isa Mustafa, the former Kosovo Prime-minister and leader of the second largest political party in Kosovo, pointed out that the “mini-Schengen initiative is in essence like a new Yugoslavia, with Albania, without Croatia and without Slovenia. The leader of Vetevendosje and the most likely new Prime-minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti also stated that the initiative represents an attempt to establish the fourth Yugoslavia and even the so-called Greater Serbia. It is worth mentioning that the Albanian Prime-minister Rama criticized Kosovo’s position on the initiative and pointed out that Kosovo was excluding itself.

The third and the last “mini-Schengen” meeting so far was heldin Tirana on 21st of December 2019. In addition to the three leaders from Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia, the President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic for the first time also attended the meetingKosovo representatives have again refused to participate in the meeting for the same reasons that were mentioned in two previous occasions. In this meeting, decisions on enhancing trade in the region were reached and the creation of a “more unified” labour market was discussed. In this direction, it was agreed that Albania and North Macedonia would take over from Serbia a software system that would enable citizens of both countries to apply electronically for their jobs. Such step would create opportunities for citizens of these countries to work in any of these three countries without additional documents, work permits or visas. The leaders also discussed on creating a system to permit foreign citizens who enter in one of the participating countries, to no longer need additional documents when traveling throughout the Western Balkans. Discussions on paperless systems to be used by the customs services of countries in the region and other agencies were also part of the discussion. In this meeting, a summary of past meetings was also made, future steps were discussed, and it was decided that the next meeting would be held in Belgrade.

Arguments in Favour and Against the Initiative

As mentioned earlier, the initiative to deepen the Regional Economic Area in the Western Balkans has immediately causeddisagreements across the region, with many arguments in favour and against it. Proponents of this proposal insist that while many of the existing regional initiatives were initiated and driven externally, this one is a home-grown one and comes directly from the three leaders in the region. As such, it represents an attempt to find common ground and a way forward, rather than being convinced or forced in doing so by external powers.Moreover, according to the International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES), the mini-Schengen initiative would bring the region only positive effects, including ones totheir EU membership aspirations. In addition, contrary to many other regional initiatives that operate with the philosophy that whatever structure brings Balkan countries together is positive in itself, this initiative outlines a clear ambition and a tangible end-result. Namely, the “mini-Schengen” initiative specifically outlines what it wants to achieve and what would be the benefitsfor the citizens and businesses of the region. Moreover, supporters of the idea emphasize that with prospects for accession of Western Balkan countries delayed at least until 2025, this initiative provides opportunities for concrete achievements that do not depend entirely on internal EU developments, while at the same time preparing WB6 countriesfor EU integration.

Some analysts have mentioned several positive effects of the freedom of movement on the West Balkan countries, most notably the increase of their competitiveness on the market with 20 million inhabitants. Namely, according to World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimations, regional integration would contribute to economic development in the region, and increase growth for at least 3-4 percent already next year. For instance, according to the WB, trucks waste 26 million hours every year as waiting time at border crossings between the countries in the region. Certainly, such reality makes economies of the WB6 slower and more expensive than required to compete in global economy. On the other hand, once border inspections are in place, supporters believe that a sum of around 129 million euros will be saved at individual crossings between countries, and the overall trade among WB6 countries will be boosted. At the same time, within two years, the region would witness tremendous investment growth since the ability to exchange engineers and workers from countries in the region will attract new investors.

Proponents also claim that increased regional co-operation couldease political relations and accelerate the resolution of open bilateral issues. As a result, the business community and citizens in the region are exercising great pressure on their state governments to join the initiative and ensure its fastimplementation.

On the other hand, the number of voices and arguments against the initiative is even bigger, and mainly comes from Kosovo and different Albanian circles in Albania and North Macedonia. To begin with, opponents argue that it is not clear what “mini-Schengen really is, what are the basic criteria, and how it works. In addition, there is no clear analysis how internal and external borders will be managed, and whether the initiative deals with all “four freedoms” or just with some of them. On the other hand, as already mentioned, all key Kosovo politicians have questioned the benefits of such an initiative under the current circumstances. They claim that instead of recognizing Kosovo’s independence, Serbia is using the initiative to deliberately isolate Kosovo. On the one hand, Belgrade is trying to promote regional cooperation through the creation of themini-Schengen, while on the other hand, it aggressively continues to oppose Kosovo’s statehood, does not recognize the documents issued by Kosovo institutions, and constantly obstructs the movement of goods and citizens of Kosovo.Moreover, for the outgoing Prime-minister of Kosovo, RamushHaradinaj, the initiative for the Western Balkan mini-Schengen is not at all in Kosovo’s or Europe’s interest since it represents an attempt by President Vucic to expand Russian and Chinese influence in Europe. Similarly, Ziadin Sela, leader of the party “Alliance for Albanians” in North Macedonia, considers that the so-called regional initiative “mini-Schengen” is scandalous for all Albanian political factors independently where they come from. He also points out that Serbia is utilizing the initiative to extend Russia’s influence to the countries of the region.

Different opponents have raised initiative’s lack of inclusiveness as serious concern as well. Although the leaders of Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia have from the beginning claimedthat the initiative is open to all six countries of the region, so far only these three countries have fully participated. The Albanian Prime-minister Rama has in several occasions emphasized that Kosovo should also be included on a “legal basis and on an equal footing”. The President of Albania, Ilir Meta has on the other hand made it clear that Albania does not need an initiative that is not inclusive and does not put Kosovo on equal position. He has expressed support for any initiative that is based on inclusiveness and not exclusion, and that brings cohesion rather than confusion. According to him, the proposed initiative has so far only brought divisions and has practically led to strong disagreements in the region. The Macedonian President, StevoPendarovski has supported the idea of the “mini-Schengen, but he has also warned that for it to be functional and to succeed, it should be composed of all six members of the region. Similarly, the US diplomatic envoy for the Kosovo dispute Richard Grenell, has endorsed the “mini-Schengen” initiative between Macedonia, Serbia and Albania, but has also called on the countries to include Kosovo in their initiative. Professor of the University of Graz Florian Bieber, shares a similar opinion and points out that for this initiative to have an impact, it should include all countries of the region.

Another argument put forward by the opponents of the initiative is that envisioned benefits are asymmetric and not equal for all countries of the region. President Vucic has already argued that the initiative benefits Serbia the most since it has the most competitive economy and the largest market of all Western Balkan countries. While this is undoubtedly true, the logical question is what are additional benefits to other countries to join.Furthermore, the critics argue that Serbia as a land-locked country through this initiative is seeking access to seaports in Albanian and Montenegro, as well as a 20 million market for its exports. Others have claimed that at least in a short-run, North Macedonia is the one to benefit the most from the initiative.Still, overall benefits for the region in general and the specific countries in particular, for the time being are unclear and raise plenty of questions. For instance, what impact would a strict “Schengen border regime” vis-à-vis Serbia has on RepublikaSrpska that already has special close relationship with Serbia? Similarly, would Albania and Kosovo accept such a strict new “Schengen border regime,” knowing that they are intensifying their special relationship well beyond good neighborly ones? Finally, will Serbia accept Kosovo’s full inclusion on a legal basis and on an equal footing, prior to a final bilateral agreement?.

Additional issue that has risen serious concerns in different countries of the region is the fear that the Balkan “mini-Schengen” might serve as an alternative to the EU integration. The critics of the initiative have warned that this would only distract the Western Balkan countries and shift the focus away from disappointment caused by the postponement of the opening of EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. Meanwhile, fears related to this issue have been expressed not only by Kosovo, but by Montenegro and Bosnia as well. All these three countries have made it clear that Euro-integration remains their primary focus. According to Denis Zvizdic, the representative of BIH, some guarantees that the initiative does not attempt to substitute for Euro-integration have already been given. Namely, at the first meeting in Novi Sad, the three leaders have recognised the importance of the joint EU accession perspective and their full commitment to mutual support, respect and assistance on the European path. They have also confirmed thatthe objective of membership to the European Union remains a goal of the WB6, and that no alternatives to this goal for the Region are viable. Clearly, one of the conditions for the candidate and potential candidate countries to achieve full membership to the EU is establishing effective regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations. According to Srđan Cvijić, Senior Policy Analyst at the Open Society European Policy Institute, “mini-Schengen” initiativedirectly contributes towards that. However, Montenegro is sceptical about the initiative and insists that the Western Balkan states should join the original Schengen area, and not create their own version. Even North Macedonia and Albania that have from the beginning endorsed the initiative share similar fears. After the EU failed to deliver the long-awaited opening of accession negotiations, there are concerns in these countries that this initiative represents some sort of consolation for a broken promise.

Necessity and Feasibility of the Initiative

In addition to arguments in favour and against, another aspect that has been heavily discussed by different experts and analysts is how justified and necessary the proposed Balkan regional platform is at the given moment of time. To conduct such an analysis, one needs to go through different arguments that were given as motives for the proposed initiative. For instance, as for the ability of the citizens from WB6 to cross the regional state borders just with their IDs, this is already happening in most of the cases. Even Kosovo citizens who still do not have visa liberalization are able to travel to all neighbouring countries only with the ID. While there are still few remaining cases where the passport is needed, they could easily be dealt with through a simple bilateral accord. Abandoning completely border controls between WB6 as is the case of the original Schengen Area would certainly mean a huge step forward for citizens of these countries. However, that requires new systems and institutions as well as specifically trained personnel that cannot be completed overnight. On the other hand, even if achievable, under current conditions such open borders will probably bring more benefit and relief to criminals and drug dealers than to the citizens of WB6 countries.

On the other hand, it is not clear how will new regulations for the “mini-Schengen” area comply with other existing regional agreements that deal with regional cooperation and infrastructure arrangements in the wider region in which all WB6 countries are already members. For instance, Serbia, Northern Macedonia and Albania, are already part of the CEFTA agreement, in which Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia and Moldovaparticipate as well. Having in mind that CEFTA aims at facilitating the movement of goods and free trade between these countries until they join the EU, the necessity of another similar initiative becomes questionable. As already mentioned, Montenegrin representatives declared that joining the “mini-Schengen” initiative represents a waste of energy since its CEFTA membership guarantees the free flow of people and goods. It is true that “mini-Schengen” plan would remove the customs procedures, which are the most important administrative barriers when exporting within the CEFTA region. However, this alone hardly justifies the necessity of the initiative since better customs procedures and passport-free travel are to certain extent already in place on a bilateral basis.

Even if one could agree on the necessity of the Balkan regional platform, making it work represent a huge challenge. There arestill neither implementation plans nor institutions and time-bound commitments in place. Consequently, the proposed initiative depends entirely on the political will of the three signatory governments. Moreover, even with political will, the full achievement of all four freedoms is a complex process that involves considerable administrative capacity and continuous action for years. So far, only three countries in the region have joined the initiative, and as already explained, for it to function it needs to be all-inclusive. In this direction, Kosovo’s refusal to join the initiative represents a fundamental challenge. Kosovo borders North Macedonia, Serbia and Albania, and without it, the entire concept of four freedoms would become an infrastructural nightmare. On the other hand, Serbia and Bosnia still refuse to recognize Kosovo as an independent state. In addition, after years of the Brussels dialogue, Kosovo and Serbia still do not fully recognise travel and vehicles documents, let alone the full implementation of four freedoms. Bosnia, on the other hand, due to its internal problems has limited ability to engage in external relations as proposed by the initiative, thus completing the picture about difficulties with implementation of the initiative.

On the other hand, regional mistrust and unsolved bilateral issues are still present throughout the region. Tensions between Kosovo and Serbia represent a major impediment not only for bilateral relations but for regional cooperation as well. Serbia is on the one hand proposing initiatives that build bridges between countries of the region, but at the same time, it is inflaming its domestic public against the neighbours. Moreover, Serbia’s long waged de-recognition campaign against Kosovo raises serious doubts about its commitment to being a constructive regional player, and directly undermines the premise of an all-inclusive “mini-Schengen”. The initiative cannot offer any functional model for solving bilateral issues without inclusion of all other WB6 countries – Kosovo especially. Even if the envisaged economic effects would bring positive results, it is questionable how a region like Western Balkans governed by ethnic tensions will respond to such results.

Though the initiative among others aims at solving bilateral disputes, so far it has only further divided the already troubled region. It has also created serious frictions between the Albanian Prime-minister Rama on the one hand, and Kosovo leaders as well as Albanians in general on the other. Although the two countries have signed an agreement on strategic cooperation in foreign policy, political elites in Kosovo claim that Rama did not consult with them prior to the launching of the initiative.However, Prime-minister Rama insisted that Kosovo is self-isolating itself since there are no additional conditions for its participation. He claims that the initiative was inclusive, and represents the path for Kosovo’s integration and economic development. Meanwhile, mass protests of Kosovo Albanians and representative of the Albanian opposition have taken place during the ‘mini-Schengen” summit in Tirana. Protesters demanded Albania’s withdrawal from the initiative, which they fear, would increase Serbia’s influence in the Balkans. Clearly, the initiative has stirred huge public debate across the region, with more arguments against than in favour of it. Moreover, its justification in the given moment of time seems rather dubious. Finally, even if the launching of the initiative could be justified, its full implementation represents a serious challenge. If the initiative is to be feasible and sustainable, it has to be institutionalised and move beyond the current top-down andleader-centred approach. At the same time, it needs to show that it contributes to moving the region closer to the EU membership, and the involvement of the EU is necessary in this regard.

[post_title] => Balkan Mini-Schengen: A Well Thought Regional Initiative or a Political Stunt? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => balkan-mini-schengen-a-well-thought-regional-initiative-or-a-political-stunt [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-01-13 16:47:19 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-01-13 15:47:19 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=143893 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 143832 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2020-01-10 09:36:15 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-01-10 08:36:15 [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL As the year 2020 slowly rolls in, the Albanian reality and the Albanian government could not be more separated from each other, each operating in an exclusive dynamics with little tangential contact if any. Battered by a paralyzing political crisis, a low quality facade democracy with little institutional substance, a stagnant economy and withdrawing international investments, and struck by a terrible natural disaster hat left thousands homeless, Albania is definitely not on its feet, its crawling on the ground. To top this off, Albania was just referred to by Iranian authorities, as a “devilish little place” where their opposition is hosted upon a request from the United States, being added thus as a vulnerable target in their list. However if you would rely to get your information on Albania’s current affairs on the social media of its government, you would believe the country is thriving. You would believe that great plans are in place to build airports in touristic key sites, that oil is ready to spring up in the fields of the southwest and that the mini-Schengen regional cooperation recipe is just the right invention to bring both prosperity and integration. However the real jewel on this crown of parallel realities, enough to provoke severe cognitive dissonance, is the much celebrated Albanian chairmanship of the OSCE. This historic achievement of foreign policy is supposed to inspire all Albanians to celebrate. In his speech at the ceremony for this starting chairmanship the Albanian Prime Minister covered subjects from inclusion of women in the security agenda to the implementation of Minsk Agreement. Global subjects and glide naturally in the rhetoric of leaders of all sides who silently continue to believe as preached in communist times that Albania is the center of the world. They only stumble when talking about mundane domestic issues. A country which is deeply unsafe for its own citizens now takes the responsibility to promote peace and security all over the northern hemisphere.  The wonderland creatures of Lewis Carroll sees highly realistic in comparison. In parallel realities, while people are throwing hand grenades in local municipality offices and there are more than a dozen people murdered in just the first week of 2020, for motifs ranging from blood feud to mafia settlements, according to the official reaction of the law enforcement agencies the killing spree of these first days in several towns for is just a banal glitch. In parallel realities, while the government and its magic mayors are setting the ground for the shiny brand new neighborhoods that will be built to host the homeless people after the earthquake, the deadline for staying in the hotels has expired and families are left wondering where to spend the next night with their children and belongings. The list goes on and on, dispiriting at least, enraging more often. One is left to least to hope that within the world of magic there exists a potion that will one day wake this administration up and convince them to cross on the other side, start work on real issues and adopt a minimum standard of modesty and responsibility towards their constituents. Perhaps that is also possible in Wonderland. [post_title] => Editorial: The Albanian government in Wonderland [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-the-albanian-government-in-wonderland [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-01-10 09:36:15 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-01-10 08:36:15 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=143832 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 143730 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2019-12-19 20:04:06 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-12-19 19:04:06 [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL Despite a very strong opposition by all the media sector in the country, by more than 30 media and human rights organizations worldwide and in spite of substantial criticism from international organizations such as Council of Europe, OSCE and even the European Commission, the Albanian majority was set to approve two laws that will deeply affect freedom of media and freedom of expression in the country. These laws that are best described as draconian by relevant experts will increase disproportionately the controlling powers and the overall influence of two government regulatory agencies:  AMA (Media Supervisory Authority) and AKEP (Telecommunication and Postal Authority). Both these agencies will assume juridical powers, shadowing the role of courts in disputes about fake news and defamations and will have the right to impose very hefty fines on media channels and portals or even close them temporarily. This struggle to discipline the media market and fight fake news has been a long one with many setbacks for the current majority. It has always faced strong internal and external opposition. Empowered by the irresponsible behavior of certain media the majority however pushed forward this week doing its best to fuel a populist hatred in the public towards media much in the style of other authoritarian leaders who find it easy to blame everything on the messenger. The need to have some sort of control mechanisms on media that might spread hate speech or false alarms or even defamatory rhetoric on individuals is real and global. Different mechanisms are applied in different states. However he present action of the majority has the traits of an endeavor to limit free expression and put in place a controlling and intimidating environment that will strengthen self-censorship and propaganda in reporting. The process through which these legislative measures were put on the decisions makers’ agenda was characterized by an aggressive verbal confrontation between stakeholders.  The extreme obsession to get this through despite all the criticism put forward by serious international institutions is baffling at best. Usually adapting a careful approach claiming that they are always on the international partners’ side this time the majority finds itself at odds with the international community. And let us not forget that these laws are being discussed and passed when there is still the numbing vacuum of the constitutional court which under normal conditions would strike them both down immediately for violating key constitutional principles of both free expression and for the separation of powers. Therefore it becomes clear that the main objective of the so called “censorship package” is not the regulation of the media sector and the fight against fake news. It resembles much more a heavy handed approach to get the fourth power under control, no matter how absurd this sounds in the current circumstances. [post_title] => Editorial: Media regulation or strangling free speech [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-media-regulation-or-strangling-free-speech [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-12-24 11:36:32 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-12-24 10:36:32 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=143730 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 143764 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2019-12-18 13:02:17 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-12-18 12:02:17 [post_content] => By Sonja Biserko  Any discussion about Serbia-Kosovo relations has to take into account the international context and interests of some global players that strongly influence regional dynamics, relations between Serbs and Albanians included. In the early 1990s at the outbreak of Yugoslav wars, the liberal order that implies international cooperation was still functional. That was evident in the way the Contact Group coped with the Yugoslav crisis, and in operations of other mechanisms in which major international players were involved. International engagement was in the function of bringing the Balkans in transatlantic integration. In addition to the aspect of security (NATO), EU member-states operated in the Balkans through soft power with and economic integration. Dynamic of the Balkans’ integration depended on the region’s potentials. However, the financial crisis (2008) changed EU’s priorities, while Brexit, Donald Trump’s presidency and Russia’s penetration into the region (2013) disturbed its existing agenda. There is no telling so far what will come out of EU’s attempt – Germany’s in the first place – to effectuate normalization through Belgrade-Pristine dialogue, and consequently Kosovo’s recognition and its membership of UN. The Brussels dialogue, which resulted in an agreement and a number of other special agreements, was unfortunately halted was halted the moment Commissioner Mogerini chaged the format of dialogue and accepted the deal the two presidents, Thaci and Vučić, made on Kosovo’s partition. Partition of Kosovo has always been Belgrade’s only option, but it was surprising that Thaci and Albanian Premier Rama said yes to the deal. The deal also had the support of certain international circles, but failed thanks primarily to German opposition to changing borders. Tariffs imposed on the goods from Serbia, assassination of Oliver Ivanović and a numenr of other developments have led to blocking of dialogue and raised tensions. The recent Kosovo elections and the victory of Albin Kurti (Self-determination and LDK) have changed the political panorama in Kosovo and opened up the possibility of creating a new framework for dialogue and a possible solution. The results of the Kosovo elections have led to a relaxation in Kosovo society and raised expectations regarding the fight against corruption and addressing every day problems. Albin Kurti is a politician without a war record or corruption in his file. He immediately announced lifting of 100-percent- tariffs that enables reopening of the dialogue with Serbia. He also announced the principle of reciprocity requesting equality for Kosovo in its dialogue with Serbia.[1] Thaci and Haradinaj are true electoral losers, mostly because of irresponsibility they have demonstrated at home and at international scene. Their foreign policy ended up in a fiasco – their policy for visa liberalization failed and Kosovo was not admitted to Interpol and UNESCO. Belgrade’s campaign against Kosovo’s recognition resulted in withdrawals by some smaller countries. Hence, repute and opportunities for the young state of Kosovo were seriously undermined. No doubt that Kurti’s unyielding stance about Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity considerably decided the electoral outcome. Albin Kurti denies recognition to the Serbian List that won all the ten minority seats in the parliament. He argues that it does not represent Kosovo Serbs but the Serbian government. Another electoral loser in Kosovo is President Vučić, who had strongly influenced developments in Kosovo via the Serbian List under his control. Belgrade is dissatisfied with the outcome of elections as it no longer has the partner to deal with on Kosovo’s partition (Thaci), it is particularly dissatisfied with the fact that Kurti becomes prime minister. It still hopes that US would exert pressure on LDK to make a coalition with Thaci’s party that ranks third by the number of votes won. Apart from Vucic and his environment, disappointment with the election results is not hidden by other actors in the Serbian scene and it can be said that there is consensus in this respect. They mostly argue that Kurti’s “extremism” and messages he has put across “leave no room for improvements, reducing tensionsand continuation of negotiations.” Commenting on Kurti’s victory, Serbian tabloids ran headlines labeling him “A European Šešelj,”[2] “Serb-hater,[3] and “Great Albania dreamer.”[4] President Vučić himself called him “a most dangerous man.”[5] Current political elites in Belgrade, Prishtine and Tirana as well are conspiring against Albin Kurti hoping that Kosovo might go to the polls again. While speculations in this regard multiply, Kurti continues to meet all major partners from the EU and the US. Serbia looks forward to Americans’ influence on the composition of Kosovo cabinet. However, as things stand, the West and US have accepted Kurti as a new leader capable of coping with corruption and crime. As indictments from The Hague will be coming in soon, Kurti is probably the only politician ready to extradite the accused. The fact that US appointed two special envoys for Kosovo and the Western Balkans leads to the conclusion that it would try to speed up a settlement. It allegedly plans to force Serbia and Kosovo to take their seats at the negotiating table and reach a sustainable solution. US’ primary objective is to suppress Russia from the Balkans and have the Western Balkans in the membership of NATO. President Vučić is barely pleased with these possibilities. His statements following on his meeting with newly appointed US envoy Richard Grenell were rather pessimistic. Belgrade has all its hopes on Russia in terms of reaching a "Kosovo compromise" that is partition. Because, as many point out, "Russian support is essential for the survival of the Republika Srpska as much as it is for the defense of Kosovo and Metohija.[6]  In addition, given the changed international circumstances, Belgrade reckons that Russia has a number of reasons to support Serbs in national positions of vital interest, regardless of its relations with Washington. Vučić pins his hopes on the meeting with President Putin, scheduled for late 2019. Russian Premier Medvedev’s visit to Belgrade also symbolically mirrored Belgrade’s expectations from Russia. Ever since it resolutely stepped in the Balkans (2013) Kosovo has been Russia’s main argument – and instrument – for blocking the region’s movement towards Euro-Atlantic integrations. Regressive trends in each country of the region only strengthened Russia’s influence on overall developments. Democratic capitalism has been less and less attractive to Western Balkan countries; hence, they have been more and more turning towards other players such as Russia, China, Turkey or UAE. Alternatives to modernity the latter are offering are anyway more appealing to incumbent authoritarian leaders in the region. Besides, those players are placing financial resources for infrastructural projects in their hands. Actual geopolitical circumstances in the Western Balkans and, especially, the inertia of EU (as it let down Macedonia and Albania) open up more room to Russia’s presence, even in the countries wherefrom it has been expelled recently (Montenegro and Macedonia). As status quo in Kosovo perfectly suits Russia; hence, it has been invoking UNSC Resolution 1244. The key to the problem of Kosovo is, in a way, in Russia’s hands, rather than Serbia’s. Besides, at the hearing in the European Parliament, Jose Borrell, EU’s newly appointed commissioner for foreign policy, reminded that Kosovo could not be a state unless recognized by “China, India and Russia.”[7] Even the “Small Schengen” project Vučić has been offering to Albania and North Macedonia plays into Russia’s hands. For, if EU neglects the Western Balkans (French President’s decision to prevent opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania), its credibility in the region will be sloping downward. Russian analysts also argue for a status quo in Kosovo. Katarina Entina of the High School of Economics predicts yet another backward step in negotiations, and says that Kosovo is not on America’s priority list; as Trumps has begun campaigning for another presidential term, he cannot be expected to take some stronger stand about Kosovo, so everything will remain as it is for another year and a half. EU also needs to protract Serbia’s progress in the fulfillment of technical requirements for its membership. Therefore, speeding up the solution to the Kosovo issue suits neither EU nor Trump; so, “the dialogue will be only formal and technical.”[8] Western policy for the Balkans has been unproductive because it has excessively banked on corrupted elites in power and the promises they made. Having neglected democratization – and, hence, the media, civil society and opposition – it enabled strengthening of authoritarian regimes and leaders. No major progress towards stability and sustainable peace could be expected in the Balkan region unless it is crime cleansed. This is why Kosovo elections and Albin Kurti’s victory heralds of a new era in the Western Balkans. It will not be a process without resistance and violence, but it is certainly the only way to change the paradigm so far. And the hints we witness now require stronger presence of EU in the region, and its full support. To sum up, the region necessitates thorough reforms, which the Western world is facing also with great resistance. It is necessary to restore faith in the liberal system and institutions. Only in this key can the Kosovo issue, as well as all other relations in the Balkans, be resolved. That’s the only key to the solution of the Kosovo problem, and all other problematic relations in the Balkans. *This article first appeared at the Tirana Observatory (www.tiranaobservatory.com) [post_title] => Decriminalization of the Balkans condition of all conditions [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => decriminalization-of-the-balkans-condition-of-all-conditions [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-01-13 15:49:57 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-01-13 14:49:57 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=143764 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 143762 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2019-12-18 12:59:30 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-12-18 11:59:30 [post_content] => By Naim Rashiti  Kosovo held new snap elections on 6 October this year. The record-high turnout brought change in the political landscape. Vetëvendosje  Movement (LVV) of Albin Kurti won the elections with 29 out of 120 seats of the Kosovo parliament. Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) came second with 28 seats. The governing coalition of warriors lost elections. Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) of Kadri Veseli came third with 24 seats. The Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) of Prime minister Ramush Haradinaj earned only 13 seats. The victory of the opposition parties, VV and LDK need still work to materialise.  Elections results were certified only in late November, almost two months after the vote and the electoral system  impose coalitions of large number of parties. In public, the opposition parties until now, LVV and LDK brought hopes. Voters expect them to change governance, fight corruption, attract investments and stand up against any possible ‘controversial options” for an agreement with Serbia. Kosovo’s context offers little room for radical improvement; it will be constrained by both the socio-economic reality, with an inefficient, starved-for-funds state and a dysfunctional party system, and the need to move forward in the various international-sponsored processes. All of this, in a difficult political landscape. Despite the generally cordial campaign that preceded the elections, relations between key political actors remain tense; leaders do not trust each other and basic norms of cooperation between actors are still missing. That is especially true for the case of Albin Kurti, the leader of Vetëvendosje, who has spent much of his time in opposition (and before that, as an activist) attacking other parties, including his current potential partner LDK. Last two years, Prime Minister Haradinaj had tense exchanges with President Hashim Thaçi, and the President of the Assembly, Kadri Veseli, the leader of PDK, the largest party of the coalition. At some point, relations between them broke down to a point of refusing to talk one to another. Vetëvendosje and LDK made a strong largely not-so-loyal opposition to Haradinaj; should they join forces in power, they will face the same treatment by the remnants of the PAN coalition.  In particular, Haradinaj’s AAK will harshly defend the tariffs against Serbian goods once Kurti  will remove them. In addition, PDK, which would then be the largest party in opposition, will be a challenging partner for the new government. Furthermore, how the new government will interact with President Thaçi and his office remains doubtful. President Thaçi has so far exercised a more central role in Kosovar politics than his predecessors, due to the continuous presence of his former party in the previous governments. However, in a government led by Vetëvendosje and LDK, his influence will certainly diminish. In fact, given past animosities with them, it is likely that conflict will continue, at least until Thaçi’s end of mandate in 2021. Should the Head of State fail to build a working relationship with the Head of Government, a number of issues will risk stalling, including Foreign Affairs and the Dialogue with Serbia. Similarly, various appointments for independent constitutional institutions require consensus of both and can become a source of conflict between them. Sustained personal distaste, a shared history of mistrust and discord, and conflicting egos will make building constructive relations difficult, if not impossible. If Kurti were to secure the premiership, he ought to build some relations with both his coalition partner and the opposition, with whom he never tried to reconcile. Any new government will have to create a favourable climate to enact the promised reforms. In the case of Kurti, especially, would entail making a U- turn and engaging with the opposition from day one. First, he has to agree with LDK on a governing coalition and share of power; both had long engaged in talks and claimed to  have come together to a joint governing program, a structure of the government, priority policies, dialogue with Serbia etc. Yet all broke down when they set to negotiate posts. LDK leader wants VV to grant him the post of the country President in 2021, after the mandate of Hashim Thaci end. For Kurti this is too much. Even if an agreement between LVV and LDK is reached soon, they ought to negotiate with minorities, including Serbs to vote their government, whose position is still unknown. Kurti chose LDK with whom have considerable differences; LDK is a conservative party that is loyal to the statehood and identity of Kosovo, and fully adhere to liberal policies of economy, governance etc. VV insists on opposite policies. For example. LDK support full privatisation of society owned and public enterprises, Vetëvendosje wants to put all companies under a government scheme. LDK’s trust on its potential is very low, and worry that  it will be marginalised in the Kurti government or divert policies. It’s a relation that was never tired; often conflicts between them were much higher than with others, in particular when LDK leader Isa Mustafa led the government of Kosovo between 2015 and 2017. Both, LVV and LDK oppose new compromises in the dialogue with Serbia. For Albin Kurti, dialogue with Belgrade is not a top priority. EU and U.S. expect the new government to immediately engage in the dialogue. The Kurti-led government will remove the 100 percent tariffs imposed on goods coming from Serbia and Bosnia but will impose “full reciprocity” that will not make any easier for Belgrade. Kosovo’s allies worry that new measures can delay dialogue and if does not start soon, “the dialogue will pose for much longer”.  U.S. with two envoys, and EU to-soon-appoint a new special envoy expect Albin Kurti to appoint a broad-based negotiating team and together with President Hashim Thaçi to soon participate in the high-level dialogue, i.e. upcoming Paris Summit that French President Emanuel Macron has long aimed at doing.  LDK is more sensitive than VV toward the demands coming from international friends of Kosovo. In recent months Albin Kurti has attempted to make himself a more Kosovo centric politician. Yet, LDK remains concerned  and worry that Kurti can change position toward Kosovo statehood,  its symbols, constitution, territory etc. Led by Vjosa Osmani, but not only, LDK wants to consolidate ‘Dardania’ identity of Kosovo, established by the former leader Ibrahim Rugova. This is not one of Kurti. Many local and international actors worry that should Albin Kurti fail to conduct or conclude the dialogue with Serbia, he may shift to his old agenda, the laisse deep in his hear, a confederation with Albania. It has become a practice for the leaders of Kosovo and Albania to promote unification every time they fail at home, but all doubts intentions of Edi Rama or Hashim Thaçi when they do so. In the case of Albin Kurti is different; he had long promoted this policy.  LDK will oppose any formal rapprochement with Albania; it will rigidly oppose the debate for any special arrangement, a confederation or any institutional make between two countries, that undermines the sole sovereignty of Kosovo. Likewise, LDK will strongly oppose new regional initiatives, i.e. min-Schengen that recently leaders of Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania launched. Kurti objected cautiously, largely aiming at avoiding public disagreements with Albanian Prime minister Edi Rama. LDK will oppose Rama too. Kosovo domestic problems are enormous too. Yet, the new government can find a much greater leeway to launch its own initiatives on key reforms, accountability of government, functioning of the institutions, depolitisation and effectives of highly corrupted independent agencies and regulatory bodies, foreign policy and attracting investments. It shall priorities strength of the institutions, fight against the informal economy and employ competent officials. Kurti needs to strengthen rule of law and reforms of judiciary, increase pace on the fight against corruption and organised crime and lobby to the EU member states to secure long-delayed free visa travel for Kosovo citizens, no later than second half of 2020, when Germany preside the council. Low quality Education and a dysfunctional healthcare are in high demand better policies. Citizens expect Vetëvendosje and LDK to soon deliver on all those ‘priorities’. Kurti needs to show rapid change to meet the high expectations, to which he has long contributed too. The composition of the government, domestic politics and international developments will determine the success or failure of Albin Kurti as leader of Kosovo.   This article is written before the new Kosovo institutions are constituted, and anticipate that Vetëvendosje and LDK will reach an agreement to form a majority and Albin Kurti to lead the government.
*This article first appeared at the Tirana Observatory. (www.tiranaobservatory.com) 
[post_title] => Albin Kurti’s victory to work out an old agenda of Kosovo [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albin-kurtis-victory-to-work-out-an-old-agenda-of-kosovo [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-01-13 15:54:05 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-01-13 14:54:05 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=143762 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 144017 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2020-01-24 11:39:10 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-01-24 10:39:10 [post_content] => The President of Poland on the 75th Anniversary of Liberation of the Nazi German Death Camp KL Auschwitz   On January 27, 1945, Soviet soldiers liberated the German Nazi death camp KL Auschwitz. What they found there continues to sow terror and elicit unequivocal moral condemnation to this day. Nearly 7,000 prisoners regained their freedom then. Previously, between January 17-21, about 56,000 prisoners were taken out of Auschwitz and its sub-camps, and forced on devastating death marches into the heart of the Third Reich. Those who remained in the camp were but shadows of people, permanently mutilated by unimaginable physical and mental torture. They miraculously survived inhuman living conditions, hunger, frost, illness, slave labor, merciless beating, humiliation and abuse from the henchmen. Some of them were victims of criminal medical experiments. Every day they would watch the death of their fellow sufferers: men, women, the elderly and disabled, and children. They were witnesses to numerous executions - including those carried out by members of the SS for cruel entertainment. Some prisoners were forced to move the bodies of those murdered into gas chambers and to burn them in crematoria, knowing that they would experience exactly the same fate. This is only a brief description of the hell on earth, represented by the Konzentrationslager Auschwitz as it was, the place where more than one million Jews and thousands of victims of other nationalities were slaughtered, including Poles, Roma, Sinti, and prisoners of war from the Red Army. The same fate was shared by millions of Jews murdered in other German Nazi death camps: Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Kulmhof, Stutthof and dozens of others. The authorities of the Third Reich planned and carried out the total extermination of the Jewish people. That is why they created a network of camps operating as real death factories. Murders were perpetrated there as if in a cycle of industrial activity – by hundreds and thousands, efficiently, bearing in mind the time factor and cost of transport, keeping minute records. There had been no historical precedent for such extreme dehumanization and degradation of millions of innocent victims. It is hard to put it into words, to read, to talk about it... In the biblical Book of Kohelet we find the following words: For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. Nevertheless, the effort must be made. This knowledge must be passed on to new generations even at the price of sorrow it causes. We must forge the future of the world based on a profound understanding of what happened more than 75 years ago in the heart of Europe, and what eyewitnesses continue to relate to us. What befell the nation of descendants of Leibniz, Goethe, Schiller and Bach, when they were infected with the virus of imperial pride and racist contempt - may come as an everlasting warning. We must also not forget that the last, decisive step leading towards World War II, the war without which there would have been no tragedy of the Holocaust, was the secret pact between Hitler and Stalin of August 23, 1939. The agreement meant that Central and Eastern Europe were deprived of its freedom and sovereignty, and the ensuing close cooperation between the two totalitarian regimes lasted until the very last hours before the attack, which Nazi Germany launched on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. The truth about the Holocaust must not die. It must not be distorted or used for any purpose. In the name of sacred memory of the annihilation of the Jews and out of respect for other victims of the 20th century totalitarianism - we cannot, and we shall not condone it. We will not cease in our efforts to make the world remember this crime. So that nothing of the kind would ever happen again. Very early on, the Polish resistance movement took up the mission of uncovering the truth about the Holocaust and of supporting Jews threatened with extermination. The Polish Underground State, established on our occupied territories, tried to protect all those who until recently were citizens of independent Poland. In September 1940, Witold Pilecki, an officer of the Polish Army, acting in agreement with the underground authorities, deliberately let himself be imprisoned in Auschwitz. He escaped in April 1943, and then produced and passed on a report on what was happening there. A passage from it reads as follows: "Those sick [with typhus], unconscious but also those almost recovered (...) were packed into vans and taken (...) to the gas chambers. (...) One eight-year-old boy asked the SS man to leave him. He knelt before him on the ground. The SS man kicked him in the stomach and threw him into the van like a puppy.” Also, Jan Karski, an emissary of the Polish authorities in exile, watched with his own eyes the horrors occurring in the Warsaw Ghetto and in the German transit camp in Izbica. He prepared a memorandum on German systematic genocide of Jews. Starting from December 1942, he was presenting it to opinion leaders and to top authorities of the Allied Powers. Earlier, General Władysław Sikorski, prime minister of the Polish Government in London, addressed a note to the Allies adopted at the meeting of the Council of Ministers on June 6, 1942. He reported in it: "...the destruction of the Jewish population takes place in unbelievable proportions. In cities such as Vilnius, Lvov, Kolomyia, Stanisławów, Lublin, Rzeszów, Miechów, tens of thousands of Jews are massacred. The Gestapo carries out mass executions in the ghettoes of Warsaw and Cracow every day. (...) Jews in Poland have suffered the most terrible persecution in their history.” At the same time, the Polish Underground State established the Council to Aid Jews at the Government Delegation for Poland. That allowed nearly 50 thousand people to obtain documents, shelter, money and medical care. Polish diplomats were organizing escapes for Jews to territories not controlled by Nazi Germany. A significant percentage of Holocaust survivors owed their lives to thousands of Polish Righteous Among the Nations. In our family stories, historical and literary documents, the memory about many people of Jewish origin hidden in attics, cellars and barns, is still alive. So are the memories of sharing with Jewish fugitives a modest meal or showing them a safe escape route. And it must be remembered that in Poland, every such gesture was punishable by death at the hands of German occupiers, something that happened hundreds of times. Among millions of Poles there were also people who could have helped Jews in the hiding, but did not because they could not overcome their fear for their own lives and for the lives of the loved ones. There were also those who, acting on a base impulse, handed Jews over to the German occupation authorities or committed disgraceful acts. Under dramatic circumstances of that time, the judiciary of the Polish Underground State would sentence such criminals to death and have them executed. German Nazi concentration camps built in occupied Poland were and still are an unbearable humiliation for us today. They stand in a stark contrast with our one thousand years’ long culture and history, with the Polish spirit of freedom, tolerance and solidarity. Genocide of Jews, albeit perpetrated almost all across war-time Europe, came as a particularly heavy blow to the Polish state, which was for centuries multinational and multi-confessional. The Jewish community in pre-war Poland was one of the most numerous in Europe. Of the 6 million citizens of the Republic of Poland who died in the wake of World War II (over one-fifth of the total population), as many as 3 million were Polish Jews. And they were the largest group of Holocaust victims. The Jewish community, which lived and prospered on Polish soil for nearly ten centuries, have almost disappeared within a few years’ time. Poland suddenly lost thousands of Jewish artists, researchers, doctors, lawyers and clerks, businessmen, craftsmen, merchants and other valued professionals. Among those murdered were spouses, friends, neighbors and fellow employees. In our cities, memory persists about the martyrdom of Jews forced by the German occupiers into the prison-like ghetto districts. There are but a few pre-war synagogues left serving as houses of prayer today. Yiddish and Hebrew no longer resound in the surviving buildings of Jewish religious schools or in ritual baths. Within Poland's current borders, there are nearly 1,200 identified Jewish cemeteries, but no surviving people to visit the graves there. Jewish works of art and craft, antique books, prints and manuscripts written by scholars, writers and composers were irretrievably destroyed. The history of Jews in Poland and their annihilated world is now retold through publications and scientific conferences, festivals, exhibitions, concerts and monuments, sponsored by state scientific and cultural institutions such as museums, theatres, archives and libraries. Gradually, Jewish religious communities, community organizations, publishing houses and magazines are being brought back to life. We support these actions, because German Nazism cannot have the final say in the narrative of the Polish Jews and their martyrdom. Commemoration of the tragedy of the Shoah should be an important and lasting element in education for peace – as a story that sinks deeply into human hearts, bringing down barriers of prejudice, division and hatred. It should be a lesson about how to show understanding and help those who are hardest hit by adversity. It is in this spirit that we will mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. By decision of the UN General Assembly, for fifteen years now it has been commemorated on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. That is why in four days' time, in the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, where the ashes of more than one million Holocaust Victims are buried, we will meet with leaders and high representatives of countries from all over the world. We shall be accompanied by venerable survivors. On the 75th anniversary of the symbolic end of the extermination, we will bear witness to the truth. Together we will call for peace, justice and respect between nations. Eternal memory and reverence to Those Executed in KL Auschwitz! Eternal memory and reverence to the Victims of the Holocaust!   *President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda [post_title] => The Truth that Must not Die [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-truth-that-must-not-die [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-01-24 11:39:10 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-01-24 10:39:10 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=144017 [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] => 916 [filter] => raw [cat_ID] => 30 [category_count] => 916 [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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