Editorial: 33 deputies to rule them all

Editorial: 33 deputies to rule them all

In a departure from tradition, which saw deputy ministers usually get appointed quietly by ministers themselves without much public presentation, the current 33 deputy ministers of the ‘Rama 2’ cabinet were announced as publicly as possible during the Assembly of

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Editorial: The bells toll for Albania’s labor force

Editorial: The bells toll for Albania’s labor force

In the Albanian psyche, it is often said, one avoids to do checkups at the doctor because what you don’t know can’t hurt you. As such, major issues get neglected until there is nothing that can be done about them.

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Editorial: Crime is winning

Editorial: Crime is winning

In a famous TV series entitled ‘Narcos’, a CIA operative converses with an agent of DEA, the primary agency engaged in the fight against narco- trafficking. The exasperated DEA agent complains that the other agency is not helping to win

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NATO General: The Alliance sees the region’s future in Euro-Atlantic integration

NATO General: The Alliance sees the region’s future in Euro-Atlantic integration

Interview by Ani Ruci with General Petr Pavel, the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee What is NATO planning to do to strengthen security in a fragile region such as the Western Balkans? How will the NATO concept of Collective

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Shifting to the right priorities in foreign policy

Shifting to the right priorities in foreign policy

By ALBERT RAKIPI Albania’s parliamentary commission on foreign relations had its first meeting in the new legislature, and according to media reports, the head of the commission said that the current priority issue is football stadium drone flyer Ballist Morina’s

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Editorial: European integration: a fleeting dream or still a guiding compass for Albania?

Editorial: European integration: a fleeting dream or still a guiding compass for Albania?

The last State of the Union address from Commissioner Juncker made a brief mention of enlargement, comforting enough for some, yet re-iterating the negation of any significant enlargement decisions until spring of 2019. A few concrete and hopeful words were

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Editorial: Albanian society has given up on itself

Editorial: Albanian society has given up on itself

By Jerina Zaloshnja Fildes Hafizi, a mother of two, was killed last week in Tirana by her ex-husband, a crime that exposed the frightening level of violence against women in Albanian society — a society still involved in a transition

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Editorial: The more things change, the more they stay the same

Editorial: The more things change, the more they stay the same

During the last Assembly of the Socialist Party a few days ago, in a speech much anticipated for weeks even months, the Prime Minister of Albania outlines the vision for the governance in the next four years and perhaps longer.

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Editorial: Challenges and questions as new government set to form

Editorial: Challenges and questions as new government set to form

At the end of this month, Prime Minister Edi Rama will likely publish the list of people he is going to have in his new cabinet, the first in eight years in which the winning party does not need a

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Albania-Serbia cultural cooperation, mostly sporadic and on individual initiative

Albania-Serbia cultural cooperation, mostly sporadic and on individual initiative

By Monika Maric* Although political relations often cast a shadow on cultural cooperation, cultural exchanges between Serbia and Albania have been in constant growth. Cooperation is primarily based on individual initiatives, where networks of civil society represent the main communication

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                    [post_content] => In a departure from tradition, which saw deputy ministers usually get appointed quietly by ministers themselves without much public presentation, the current 33 deputy ministers of the ‘Rama 2’ cabinet were announced as publicly as possible during the Assembly of the Socialist Party. A typical party meeting was definitely a curious venue and time for a team which according to the Prime Minister himself signals an attempt to look outwards, a break from tradition of picking party people.  The deputies are at the core of his so personal political project called ‘PS Plus’- some loosely defined attempt to govern more inclusively. 

A more careful inspection of the list however shows a consistent group of people with longtime ties to the Prime Minister himself since the period he was a mayor of Tirana, a pool from which he is known to preferably select people renowned for their loyalty. This group is so well known to the public that there are certain nicknames invented to funnily refer to it including “Rama’s women” pointing to the fact that it is a nicely gender balanced bunch. The group also includes lifelong friends of the PM, interestingly placed well outside their expertise field.  This cluster is then sprinkled for fun and show with some oddities such as the 4 deputies from Kosovo, mostly very young, a move that has raised many eyebrows abroad and even in Kosovo itself.  Other oddities are added, and then presented as decisive outsiders. Stir well. Serve chilled. 

First of all, this is not to say that the choices are at fault. Perhaps the majority of them are quite capable professionals, some with impressive education backgrounds and even solid performance track records. However if they are picked for loyalty or even worse for show, one is left to wonder at what really their task list will consist of. Shall they be Rama’s emissaries, a permanent check on the ministers who this time are under strict indicators that will be monitored periodically? 

Finally some consideration should be given to the number itself which will make a little dent in the state budget with all the salaries coming through. The logic is that deputies will take care of specific sectors especially in the ministries that merged different areas of governance becoming mammoth structures, ‘too big to fail.’ In spite of this need, the spiked number of deputy ministers does undermine the effort to consolidate the state. After all does the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural development really need 4 deputies? 

Indeed the ‘PS-Plus’ project including these deputies points at something else. Considered in combination with the much pumped co-governance platform ( with a carefully chosen title The Albania that we want) which the Prime Minister insists on presenting and promoting himself, despite having appointed the former Minister of Interior Tahiri to run it, there seems to be a state of the art project to centralize power. This means concentrating all flows of information, decision making, policy fine tuning, public communication and all else in one single institution, the office of the Prime Minister. In this case one does not know where to start worrying: whether this centralized power will further erode democratic standards or whether the office shall be able even to cope with such a tremendous workload. Well at least we have nothing less but 33 deputies that can help with the second concern.  

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: 33 deputies to rule them all
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                    [post_content] => In the Albanian psyche, it is often said, one avoids to do checkups at the doctor because what you don’t know can’t hurt you. As such, major issues get neglected until there is nothing that can be done about them.

Like going to the doctor, major trends are often neglected by consecutive Albanian governments, or paid nominal lip service to, until it is too late to do something about them.

Albania’s coming labor force crisis is one such issue. A combination of a rapid decline in birth rates and continued out-migration means Albania is slowly being drained of its people.

Do not let the streets of central Tirana – filled with young people in cafes -- fool you – all the statistics show Albania will soon become a land of old people with one worker having to support the retirement of about two people, an unsustainable system.

Businesses are already feeling the effects of this trend. We have for years heard of high unemployment rates among youths, but increasingly we are also hearing about companies that are unable to find qualified people to fill positions that are available. This is often attributed to a mismatch between the education sector and market needs, but the issue is not that simple. We are simply seeing the numbers game shifting – those with skills and energy that can be used in places like Germany or the UK have left, and those left behind simply can’t compete in today’s global marketplace.

Then there is the question of incentives: A recent report on global worker satisfaction showed Albanians were among the worst placed in Europe – with typical concerns being low wages and job insecurity. With high living costs and high taxes relative to medium income, Albanian workers are very badly positioned to improve their quality of life in Albania. Lack of job security and a moody political environment are also factors that push people out.

Part of the problem is that Albania is poor and as such, of course, it cannot afford to pay its workers more. However, that is only part of the reason things are the way they are. Lack of proper labor management skills and ineffective governance are also to blame.

Nowhere is the pain being felt more than the country’s healthcare sector. Already a country with the lowest per capita doctor numbers in the region, under the current trend, Albania’s medical schools are working full time to supply wealthy European countries with doctors, nurses and pharmacists. Not only is it unfair to Albanian taxpayers who are financially supporting the education of their bright daughters and sons who have gone into medicine – it borders on unethical for the countries that are now heavily recruiting Albania’s healthcare workers.

Better pay, better management and setting priorities is the answer, and Albania’s government must act quickly to limit the damage.

An implementable strategy is needed to help buffer the pain Albania will feel with its coming labor shortage crisis before it joins the European Union. If other Balkan countries that have already joined are any indication, EU membership will only accelerate outmigration of workers.

Also, it is time to stop playing politics with migration. This is an Albanian issue – not a Socialist or Democrat one. It is time to for political actors to come together and help meet this massive challenge, not simply blame the other side for Albania’s shared shortcomings.

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: The bells toll for Albania’s labor force
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                    [post_content] => In a famous TV series entitled ‘Narcos’, a CIA operative converses with an agent of DEA, the primary agency engaged in the fight against narco- trafficking. The exasperated DEA agent complains that the other agency is not helping to win the war against drugs. With a typical bitter irony the former conversant replies: “Which war? The war on drugs?? We lost that war long ago!”

The Albanian citizen is entitled to feel the same feeling of exasperation and bitterness while watching this week a video showing a skirmish between a police car and a car allegedly in ownership of narco-traffickers. A police car with a high level officer on board is hit by the other car. The police get out but they appear confused, afraid, almost paralyzed and unwilling or unable to do anything while the perpetrators of the incident safely and swiftly get away. They escape into a gated market nearby and the guard does not let the police get in to get them. 

This grave incident unfolded in Elbasan, a major city just 45 minutes east of the capital and a major hub in the route of drug trafficking: from East Asia, to Bulgaria and Macedonia through Albania and then onwards to Greece or Italy. The event displays the extreme vulnerability and possible corrupted linkage between police and this crime organizations.  It is a visual cue to a major problem with rule of law, with the inability of the state to exert basic control over its terror and its subjects. On a deeper level it is a signal that the war against organized crime is at high risk of failure.  

This occurrence got a lot of attention in the media with specific talk shows debating at length the alleged crime situation in Elbasan, the competing factions of the organizations fighting for ‘drug territory’ and even the potential corruptive affairs that might exist there involving the municipality, the police etc. according to media analysts the incident is the product of a situation in which the authorities favor or protect one gang at the expense of another. The entire attention of the public debate, media and institutions was captured in this case. All these debates remain the level of allegations, speculations, at best potential explanations or at worst simple conspiracy theories as long as there is no official conclusion of a formal investigative process. However the video as a piece of hard evidence is clear of doubt.  It reveals to everyone a desperate situation where the state kneels in front of the crime.

The response from the police to this incident was in fact very quick and aggressive however many doubt its efficiency. The Special Forces went to Elbasan and many checks were performed especially targeting luxury cars. A few arrests were made. However one cannot fight the power of crime syndicates through routine traffics tops. Making a strong performance and a visible action in front of the citizens has its own merits. It shows that the state is present and reactive. However a much more serious, comprehensive and deep-reaching plan is necessary from policy makers and law enforcement in order to severe the roots that crime is entrenching especially transforming some key cities into their fortresses. 

The fight against drug trafficking is the hardest fight for every state in the world. It is particularly difficult in a country like Albania. However a sense of urgency and mobilization beyond what has been done so far is imminent. So far it seems like crime is winning. The state needs to change that for its own sake and for the sake of all its citizens.

 
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                    [post_content] => Opening of the NATO Military Committee ConferenceInterview by Ani Ruci with General Petr Pavel, the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee

What is NATO planning to do to strengthen security in a fragile region such as the Western Balkans? How will the NATO concept of Collective Defence be implemented in the region?

- The Western Balkans is a region of strategic importance for NATO and we have invested in the security and stability of the Western Balkans for more than two decades. With that assistance, the region has made significant progress since the 1990s. NATO has helped end two ethnic wars in the Western Balkans. Stability and security in this region benefits stability and security in Europe. We intend to maintain our presence, our focus and our engagement in the Western Balkans for as long as our help is required, and support the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of countries in the region.

This being said, the security environment has changed significantly over the last couple of decades. NATO allies, including those in the Western Balkans, are facing a wide range of complex challenges, ranging from a more assertive Russia, to turmoil in the Middle East, terrorism and the resulting migration as well as hybrid threats and cyber-attacks.

For almost 70 years, we have preserved the stability and peace because we have been able to adapt. To be able to defend against any opponent or threat, NATO must have credible defence and deterrence.

These new security challenges have triggered the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War. NATO must ensure that it has a range of capabilities and options to respond appropriately when required. We have increased the readiness of our forces, and our ability to deploy them quickly if needed. We have reinforced our Eastern flank with our Forward Presence and our multinational Battle groups. At the same time, we have increased our presence in the Black Sea region – on land, in the air and at sea. We are also strengthening our coordination with other organisations, including the European Union.

These adaptations send a clear message that an attack against any Ally will be met by the Alliance as a whole. This includes the NATO Allies in the Balkans. Should one of them invoke Article 5, Allies will stand united, determined to defend NATO territory and deter any possible aggression.

 

What are the factors that put at risk and make vulnerable peace and stability in the Western Balkans in NATO’s viewpoint?

In today’s security environment, the threats and challenges at our periphery and beyond are as diverse as they are many. One of the challenges currently at our borders is a more aggressive and assertive Russia – a Nation with whom the Alliance worked to build a partnership for more than two decades following the Cold War. The other is the fight against terrorism where we need to ensure we address not only the immediate problems but also the root causes.

Nations can and must prepare to face these external threats but vulnerability can also stem from internal challenges.

Democratic values, rule of law, domestic reforms, and good neighbourly relations are vital for regional cooperation and stability. It is not an easy path. It demands real commitment, real progress in reforms, and in reconciliation. The Alliance sees the region’s future in Euro-Atlantic cooperation and integration for those who want it and we are determined to help the countries of the region to implement real reforms for the benefit of their citizens, regardless of whether they want to join NATO or not. We respect their choice, whatever it is.

 

What is the core of NATO’s short- and medium-term strategy to neutralize new geo-political influence, particularly the Russian one, from penetrating into the Western Balkans?

NATO fully respects Nations’ right to choose their own political and security arrangements. This is a fundamental principle of European security that we have all signed up to, including Russia, as enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act.

However, we have seen an increase in attempts from outside sources to intervene or influence democratic processes in the different countries in the Western Balkans. Any external interference, whether with hacking, propaganda or inciting unrest, is contradictory to the principles of good international relations.

We encourage local governments and institutions to increase their resilience against these types of interventions and to make sure that their democratic institutions remain strong, fight corruption, modernize and implement necessary reforms. NATO will continue to work with the different partners in the region to help strengthen their different democratic institutions and help reform their armed forces.

 

What are the preconditions and chances for the two aspiring Western Balkans countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia to join NATO? What about Serbia and Kosovo?

NATO’s door remains open to all European democracies which share the values of our Alliance, which are willing and able to share the responsibilities and obligations of membership, and whose inclusion can contribute to our common security and stability.

In June, we welcomed our 29th Ally, Montenegro. This proves that NATO’s Open Door policy works. But let me be clear this is not an easy nor is it speedy process. It is a long and demanding process. So quite naturally nations grow impatient because they want to see immediate results. On the other hand, the process is naturally long because to implement these substantial reforms requires, not only resources but it also requires time and determination.

Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia both have a Membership Action Plan (MAP) which is NATO’s programme of advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries aspiring to join the Alliance. Both Nations are actively working to fulfil the conditions set by the Allies in the MAP. But as I said this is a long process and I would call for aspiring members to have what we could call strategic patience.

I would advocate that NATO membership is the ultimate goal but not all Nations aspire to join NATO. Take Serbia, for example. Serbia does not wish to join NATO and it has a right to choose its own security arrangements. We do not force Nations to join our Alliance.

Some of those Nations who do not want to be NATO members do choose to be NATO Partners. NATO cooperates with more than 40 countries around the world. And these partnerships are a real success story. They help to preserve peace, reinforce stability, and promote progress for all of us. These countries enjoy the access to this very broad cooperative framework. That is extremely important in itself, not only getting access to all the expertise and experience of NATO countries but also getting access to courses, exercises, and operations. And we simply cannot forget the political support that is behind a strong sign of NATO partnership. And this very expression of strong partnership also sends a strong message to potential opponents. So I believe that there is a great value in itself in strong partnership.

 

The Western Balkans is not immune to terrorist threats. What did the NATO Military Committee Conference in Tirana propose to avoid them?

The NATO Military Committee’s first meeting in Tirana was dedicated to NATO’s efforts in Projecting Stability, the NATO Chiefs of Defence discussed a number of concrete proposals with regard to military contributions to support a comprehensive, systematic and coherent approach. They welcomed the Hub for the South achieving its Initial Operational Capability, the important role it will play in improving NATO’s regional understanding and ability to anticipate crises in the region, and stressed the importance of continued cooperation with other relevant stakeholders, namely the European Union.

Our work to fight terrorism involves many different lines of effort and types of activity. Ranging from our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, to our training for Iraqi forces, to developing new technologies for de-mining or bomb detection.

We are now a full-fledged member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and we have stepped up the contribution of our AWACS surveillance planes, which give the Coalition a better air picture. We are also working to improve our awareness and the way we share information, so that Allies can take swift preventive actions against the threats we face, including terrorism.

But we need to bear in mind that terrorism has no religion or boundaries. It cannot simply be defeated militarily, but it has to be dealt with on several layers – social, economic, political as well as, when needed, military. There is no simple solution. Terrorism is not in itself new, but has reemerged in recent years, most significantly in the form of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or as it is also known Daesh. To be able to deal efficiently with a problem, we need to understand it and we need to use all the tools available. I believe that the Alliance’s efforts coupled with those of our Partners and multinational organisations can greatly contribute to the demise of terrorism, but it will take time, resources and determination. There is no quick fix solution.

 

What is NATO’s stance on the timing of Albania Armed Forces in their transformation from their support role in NATO missions, to Armed Forces fully in line with NATO standards?

I am very grateful for Albania’s strong commitment to our Alliance and your contributions to NATO missions, operations and activities, namely our missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo as well as our deployment in the Aegean Sea. You do not have a very large Armed Forces, but you contribute as much as possible.

You also contribute to NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence with troops to the Canadian-led Battle group in Latvia.

You also provide strong support to our partners, including contributions to our Trust Funds for Ukraine, helping with cyber defence and military career transition. In addition, Albania plays an important role in the fight again ISIL, providing equipment and Special Forces trainers to Iraq.

Albania also helps build stability closer to home, by promoting cooperation throughout the Western Balkans. You are a strong advocate for NATO’s Open Door policy, and for integrating your neighbours into the Euro-Atlantic family.

Albania has also offered to host a NATO Centre of Excellence on Foreign Fighters. NATO and Albania are coordinating the way ahead.

Albania makes valuable contributions to international security and you are a promoter of stability in the Balkans and beyond.

 

Is there anything else important General Petr Pavel would like to share regarding the outcome of the NATO Military Committee’s first meeting in Tirana?

Let me first thank Albania for the great support and warm hospitality we received during the Military Committee Conference in Tirana, (15-17 September 2017).

The Military Committee Conference was an opportunity for NATO Chiefs of Defence to discuss some of the important items on NATO’s agenda such as the need to fill the current CJSOR shortfalls in our Resolute Support Mission.

RSM’s purpose is to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces and institutions and it continues to provide an essential contribution to the fight against terrorism. NATO currently has over 12,000 troops in our Resolute Support Mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan forces. In recent months, more than fifteen nations have pledged additional contributions to enable our troops to continue delivering the kind of assistance required by Afghan security forces, especially with regard to Special Forces, the Air Force, and the development of new leaders.

And although some work still needs to be done, the force generation process continues. The NATO-led Resolute Support Mission is an essential contribution to the fight against terrorism. And it is key to Afghanistan military progress and sustainment.

 
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                    [ID] => 133847
                    [post_author] => 279
                    [post_date] => 2017-09-20 12:08:03
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-09-20 10:08:03
                    [post_content] => By ALBERT RAKIPI

Albania’s parliamentary commission on foreign relations had its first meeting in the new legislature, and according to media reports, the head of the commission said that the current priority issue is football stadium drone flyer Ballist Morina’s potential extradition from Croatia to Serbia. It is, of course, an issue that can feed the appetites of populist local politicians as a part of the Albanian public is sensitive to it. However, the clear solution is to implement European and international laws on the matter.

It is very legitimate to ask whether the system of justice in Serbia can meet international standards in protecting the rights -- even the very life -- of Morina. This newspaper believes it would not be a smart move for a trial to take place in Belgrade as there aren’t sufficient guarantees Morina will escape nationalist, populist, even extremist tendencies he is likely to face in Serbia. His very life would be in danger in a Serb prison, an even more important reason not to extradite him there.


On the political side, an extradition would negatively affect bilateral relations between Albania and both Serbia and Croatia -- and even between Serbia and Croatia themselves. Already there are conspiracy theories out there that Croatia is trying to worsen Albania - Serbia relations with the prospect of extradition. As such Albanian diplomacy needs to do its job to help Morina return to Albania while protecting its international relations with both two countries involved.


That said, Morina cannot be the headline of Albania’s diplomacy, as there are currently a number of very important issues that need attention. These include relations between Greece and Albania -- relations that are stuck into patriotic and populist gear.

Current issues to be solved include seeting the maritime border between the two countries following the collapse of previous agreement as well as the paradox of the ‘law of war’ between the two countries. Then there are issues relating to Albanian migrants in Greece -- their pensions in particular. There is of course the Cham issue too, often dealt with a populist approach by Albanian politicians. On the Greek side, there is the recent problem with property rights for ethnic Greeks in Albania, an issue recently raised by Athens.


These are concrete issues, and just a few examples of what’s on the plate. European solutions to these issues should be a priority of Albanian foreign policy. They need substantial solutions -- not facades -- to be solved in order to to ensure a European future for Albania and the region.


Economic relations with Serbia are almost nonexistent. And while the Government of Albania preaches the spirit of economic diplomacy, it should stop thinking and acting as a representative of Kosovo too, an independent state that cannot be represented by Tirana.


Relations with Kosovo have also fallen in a populist and nationalist propaganda trap. Since its independence, economic relations lack substance and are at a lower level than relations between Kosovo with Serbia. There are plenty of meetings, but very little has been accomplished.


Relations with Macedonia must also be a high priority for Albanian diplomacy as are those with Montenegro.


Meanwhile, it is also important to reflect on relations with Turkey as a return of geopolitics to the Balkan requires a full understanding and potential action from Albania.

The entire Balkan region with its numerous problems must be a priority of the Albanian diplomacy. It cannot be Ballist Morina.

Based on Prime Minister Edi Rama’s recent speech to Albanian ambassadors abroad, economic diplomacy will be the priority. But one could not help but remember the highly critical and humiliating way in which he described the job done so far. As such the foreign policy committee should set as a priority to reform the services and human capacities of the Albanian foreign service, which are currently based on patronage, clans and in everything else but laws and procedures.

 
                    [post_title] => Shifting to the right priorities in foreign policy
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                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2017-09-15 11:31:41
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-09-15 09:31:41
                    [post_content] => The last State of the Union address from Commissioner Juncker made a brief mention of enlargement, comforting enough for some, yet re-iterating the negation of any significant enlargement decisions until spring of 2019. A few concrete and hopeful words were given for Serbia and Montenegro, the forerunners of the process while Albania and the rest of the region aspirants had to be content with a dry re-affirmation of their European perspective.

The rising complexity and worse insecurity of the enlargement process is starting to dawn over even the most optimistic pro-EU societies like Albania. European integration is included in the key priorities of the new government program unveiled this week. Yet the confusion persists. Prime Minister Rama omitted integration from his first speech outlining the governance spirit and included it in the Assembly presentation, expressing hopes for opening of negotiations next year.

Opening of negotiations however seems like a significant step in the enlargement framework, one of those steps which seem to be postponed after spring 2019 if we are to take the State of the Union address to word.

Is the European integration project then a fleeting dream?

For almost all the transition years integration has been the rationale, the framework and the spirit of major reform sand developments. It is reassuring that it continues to be so.

Albania is just starting to implement the justice reform, one of the key demands of the process. The difficult and fragile surgery into the organs of justice and the very core of the functionality of the state has just begun. And given from the results we are seeing it is at least exposing the illness at full extent. The vetting process has already unmasked some of the incredible vastness of wealth of the highest judges in Albania, and most importantly has highlighted the fact that it is unjustified, unaccounted for.

Justice reform and vetting process were not only approved with substantial push from European actors and institutions but more importantly are going to be done under careful guidance and monitoring from the EU. This adds valuable efficiency and legitimacy to the process.

The justice reform might be the most important and the most talked about right now but it is certainly not the only one powered by the European integration objective.

If integration continues to fuel this reformation of the state, the improvement and transparency of institutions, the setting of standards and the ultimate economic and social development of the country, then it continues to be a guiding compass that we cannot afford to lose.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: European integration: a fleeting dream or still a guiding compass for Albania?
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            [6] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 133709
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2017-09-08 10:45:34
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-09-08 08:45:34
                    [post_content] => By Jerina Zaloshnja

[caption id="attachment_133704" align="alignright" width="300"]Fildes-Hafizi-1 Late judge Fildes Hafizi[/caption]

Fildes Hafizi, a mother of two, was killed last week in Tirana by her ex-husband, a crime that exposed the frightening level of violence against women in Albanian society -- a society still involved in a transition that has been taxing, chaotic and violent -- and which is unable to protect women, mothers and girls from violence. The failure is not the society’s alone. All state institutions failed in their duties to protect her too.

The case of Fildes Hafizi, just like dozens of other cases of violence against women that often ends up in murder, has conclusively demolished Albania’s facade of a modern and advanced society resembling other European societies. Nowhere is this truer than in the case of the state facade of a gender-balanced government and the increased number of women in governance.

But there is more.

Fildes Hafizi was a judge, and that takes this case to an entire different level. Courts, prosecutors, police, the High Council of Justice, and all other relevant bodies failed not just to protect the life of a woman and mother -- but a judge too. To make things worse for authorities, this judge had asked for help from all the relevant state institutions.  She was failed by them all.

The sort of extreme violence she suffered goes against the very foundations of a democratic society and her murder is proof the Albanian state cannot provide security and fundamental freedoms to mothers and victims of domestic violence -- a fact that has been a public secret for years.

But it gets worse.

In addition to asking for help officially from prosecutors, judges, police chiefs -- even the High Council of Justice -- Fildes Hafizi also wrote a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to Tirana, asking him to help protect her life. This is not an uninformed citizen we are talking about. It’s about a judge that knows the system well and believes that seeking help from a foreign diplomat is the safest bet to protect her life from threats. It's a deserved slap in the face of Albanian institutions that routinely fail to protect victims. Fildes Hafizi is proof of the failure of the state, the justice system and law enforcement -- it’s proof this society is morally bankrupt. When there was nothing else she could do, the last appeal was to the U.S. ambassador.

Her appeal was not unique. In a territory that has nominally a state and a government, the U.S. ambassador is seen as the last appeal for all sort of issues. At times, EU and other international representatives are also thrown in the mix. Victims of the communist regime looking for compensation from the state write to the ambassadors, media have routinely reported in the past. People stripped of their properties during communism also write as they receive no solutions from the Albanian state. Relatives of the victims of the January 21 demonstration also write. The list goes on.

When President George W. Bush visited Albania, soon after he received a letter from an Albanian retirees organization protesting the Albanian government’s failure to increase their pensions. This is a true story, and not meant as a joke. Truth is stranger than fiction sometimes.

And then there are political representatives, the elected officials, the highest state representatives too -- always complaining to ambassadors when the government or the opposition does something they don’t like -- seeking international mediation for mundane and perpetual crisis.

The writing is on the wall: Albanian society has given up on itself.

Why else would there be a pervasive culture of humiliating dependence in place? Where is this unconditional surrender coming from, this total and fatal dependence on foreigners, even if they are representatives of great countries that want to see Albania do well?

Montenegro is a tiny country of 600,000, but neither judges nor politicians make it a trend of writing letters to U.S. and EU ambassadors. Croatia is about the size of Albania, and we don’t dare to think about a Croatian judge having to ask for help to save her life from an American, French or German ambassador, or even the head of the EU delegation.

There is not country on earth where salvation, a great life and prosperity have been gifted from outside. It has not happened, and it will not happen, and as long as Albanians believe that is the case, the situation will continue to be helpless.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Albanian society has given up on itself 
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            [7] => WP_Post Object
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                    [ID] => 133654
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2017-09-01 11:25:54
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-09-01 09:25:54
                    [post_content] => During the last Assembly of the Socialist Party a few days ago, in a speech much anticipated for weeks even months, the Prime Minister of Albania outlines the vision for the governance in the next four years and perhaps longer. He presented the principles that he believes will be key in the governing strategy and finally presented the cabinet that is supposed to bring them to life.

This was an interesting speech, composed by two parts: one longer detailing the spirit, the philosophy and the elements of governance and one, shorter detailing names and some reasons for picking them. The two pieces could not be any more at stark contrast to each other.

In the first part the Prime Minister spoke about setting up a new relationship with the governed, a ruling coalition where citizens are direct stakeholders, a direct communication at least weekly between voters and the elected members of parliament. He spoke about the necessity to reduce the “torturing influence of the administration on the lives of citizens” and one economic activity, about the need to eliminate, reduce and reform institutions, directories and procedures. His analysis was correct and his communication simple and genuine. It connected very well to the audience which can easily see the arguments behind the new course of governance. He enveloped all his thesis in a promise to rule at the service and common good of all Albanians in response to what the socialist are calling ‘black and red’ mandate.

Even those who have not voted for Rama can find the logic to stand behind his proposals. The need to have a small, functioning and modern state for a territory less than 30.000 km square and inhabited by less than 3 million people is within the grasp of many who just exert common sense. And with cumbersome, greedy coalitions out of the way there might just be the right opportunity to downsize the many fake, absurd and corrupted public officials breathing down the neck of citizens and businesses.

However putting to practice these principles is also connected to the team in charge of things. And here we come to the second part. Whereas this first part was all about hugging the new, the second one was a dry affirmation of the old.

The cabinet chosen by the Prime Minister was the same one as in the past. All the most important names did not change, despite the Prime Minister’s very personal lack of enthusiasm and growing doubts about them. His insisting request to the Assembly not to applaud as he was spelling out names was at the very least baffling. He repeated several times that the Party won not because but in spite of the past performance, a thoughtful and self-critical remark that surely endears him to many ordinary voters. The only reason one can think about this choice of sticking it out with the old is loyalty. None of these names would pose a threat, an alternative and therefore they are safe bets. Loyalty is after all since the times of the Ottoman Empire the most important ingredient that nourishes authoritarianism.

The cold celebration of the past was furthermore ingrained in the choice of the Speaker of the Parliament, a politician that has survived all storms of transition having been a former Minister of Interior Affairs in the communist regime, a heavy baggage despite all claims to the contrary.

Another bitter detail witnessing carelessness, was the complete lack of mentioning of the European integration as part of the vision for the next years. In the counting of names of ministries the Prime Minister did not speak one word about the Ministry of European Integration, which apparently had been merged with that of Foreign Affairs although it was not clear in the speech. It was announced haphazardly in the online media only later after several people commented on its sudden disappearance.

This speech outlining the future of the Albanian executive was therefore strife with internal contrast and discrepancy instead of being a reassuring one. Let’s hope that the next days shall bring more transparency over the upcoming changes in the institutions and sectors, because as far as names are concerned it is already clear. The more things change the more they stay the same.

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: The more things change, the more they stay the same
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                    [post_date] => 2017-08-11 16:38:13
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-08-11 14:38:13
                    [post_content] => At the end of this month, Prime Minister Edi Rama will likely publish the list of people he is going to have in his new cabinet, the first in eight years in which the winning party does not need a coalition party to rule.

Rama himself has indicated he wants a lean cabinet with fewer ministries. The questions that now remain relate to what ministries will be merged and how. The core ministries of the interior, defense, healthcare, education will likely remain as they are but all others are candidates for merging or restructuring into new bodies. The ministries of economic development and finance would like merge into a single institution, for example.

Other questions relate to who the ministers will be. Will any opposition-nominated minister make the cut, as some have suggested? If the Democratic Party does have some sort of participation in government, it would widen the appeal of the government but then it could also weaken the opposition, as critics of any grand coalition have suggested.

One thing is certain, however, Rama can rule alone. He has a comfortable majority for day-to-day governance in parliament. He is now free to act on his ideas without being burdened by other parties looking “to get a piece of the pie” as Rama has put it.

Rama’s campaign and actions following his victory in the general elections have created certain expectations among citizens. He has chosen a populist move to hold public hearings across the country, seeking “a co-governance with the people of Albania.” His findings from the hearings are not surprising – people want jobs and better infrastructure. They want quality healthcare and education. They want their property rights to be better protected.

It remains to be seen how and if Rama will be able to meet their expectation in this second mandate. What we do know is that Rama will likely start with a purge in the public administration. Some of the higher officials have already been sacked or forced to resign. Lower level purges are likely to continue. We can only hope this will lead to better services for Albanian citizens rather than simply opening the way for one party’s activists to get the jobs of activists from other parties.

Albania has major challenges ahead. Despite a more optimistic economic growth forecast this year, it must be translated into job number and better wages to stem the massive exodus of young and qualified workers leaving the country in droves to look for better jobs elsewhere.

Albania’s bid to open membership negotiations with the European Union will also likely be an uphill road. In addition to domestic issues related to organized crime, drugs, corruption and poverty – Albanians are now realistic about expecting little in terms of a push from Brussel.

As European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker put in an interview this week, he is “not in favor of the Western Balkans joining the EU soon.”

The region and Albania for now will continue to better serve as the boogeyman for the union and others. In Junker’s words: “If you take away the European perspective, then we will again experience what we experienced in the 1990s. In this respect, the stability of the composition of the European Union is a prerequisite for the Balkans not being at war again.”

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Challenges and questions as new government set to form
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                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2017-08-10 09:14:01
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-08-10 07:14:01
                    [post_content] => By Monika Maric*

Although political relations often cast a shadow on cultural cooperation, cultural exchanges between Serbia and Albania have been in constant growth. Cooperation is primarily based on individual initiatives, where networks of civil society represent the main communication channel

Potential membership in the European Union (EU) is the main foreign policy priority of both Serbia and Albania. In accordance with their European orientation, both Serbia and Albania are willing to prove their commitment to the promotion of regional cooperation. After 2005, Serbia and Albania have signed the following joint documents: agreement on the avoidance of double taxation, agreement on economic and trade cooperation, agreement on cooperation in tourism and several protocols.

Although political relations often cast a shadow on cultural cooperation, cultural exchanges between Serbia and Albania have been in constant growth. Cooperation is primarily based on individual initiatives, where networks of civil society represent the main communication channel. Since 2000, various institutions, art groups, amateur theaters and others, have established cooperation and constant exchange of cultural content. To mention only a few of them, there’s the participation of the Children's Cultural Center from Belgrade at the Children's Festival in Durres (October 2007), the 2009 Serbian-Albanian co-production of the "Honeymoon" movie by Serbian director Goran Paskaljevic in cooperation with Genc Permeti from Albania.

The main channels of official cooperation, at the state level, have been established through multilateral initiatives and programs such as the Council of Ministers of Culture of South East Europe (First Round Table: Tourism, Culture and Inter-University Cooperation), Cultural Heritage: The Bridge to a Common Future in the field of culture and cultural heritage established in 2004).

In 2016, the Forum for International Relations of the European Movement in Serbia (IPA) and the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS) launched the project on the Joint Centre for Albania-Serbia Relations, with the support of the Federal Republic of Germany. The cooperation between Serbia and Albania has a strategic importance for the European integration of the Western Balkans. Main obstacles to the establishment of normal and fruitful relations between Albania and Serbia include the lack of knowledge about each other and the lack of opportunity for contact and mutual cooperation. Bearing all this in mind, the Albanian Institute for International Studies initiated the establishment of a joint center that would encourage interaction between experts, journalists, researchers, artists and decision-makers of the two countries. The project will help young people fight against mutual prejudice, pave the way for media cooperation etc.

 

20th century cultural relations

During the 20th century, Albania-Serbia relations included short periods of cooperation and good neighborly relations. The first official contracts between the National Committee for the Liberation of Yugoslavia (NKOJ) and the Provisional Government of Albania were set on 20 February 1945. For the beginning of cultural support and help by the Yugoslav authorities to a neighbor, it was of great importance Article 5 of the Treaty on Association and Mutual Assistance between Albania and Yugoslavia that insisted on maximizing the development of cultural and economic cooperation.

On July 20, 1946, the Albanian State Choir performed in Rijeka and in Opatija. After that, the stay of the Yugoslav art group during 1947 in Albania lasted for 23 days. During this time, members of the group performed in 17 events and three radio shows. There were also attempts to organize an art exhibition. Cooperation also involved the education of Albanian cultural workers in Yugoslavia, in Zagreb. The Albanian Committee for Culture and Art sought cooperation, and in particular the creation of repertoires (programs and texts for Albanian art institutions), they sought professional literature on theater arts, school programs for music, theater and painting schools. Albanian cultural workers received the greatest help in the development of classical music. For this purpose, the Yugoslav Committee for Culture and Art sent a conductor and music professor Bojan Adamič. At the beginning of May 1947, a mixed choir was established with the association for the cultural cooperation of Albania with Yugoslavia in Tirana. The conductor of the choir was Milo Asic. After 1 July 1948, all interstate agreements were terminated.

 

Literature

The Department for Albanology (Albanian Studies) at the Faculty of Philology of the University of Belgrade has a long tradition in educating new generations of teachers of Albanian language, literature and culture. According to the latest curriculum or the faculty, each year there are 19 places for the future students at the department. Since 1990, 283 students have been enrolled in this department, with 69 of them having successfully graduated by May 2010. This Faculty has cooperation agreements with the universities of Shkodra and Tirana. Currently, two professors from the University of Shkodra are teaching at the Faculty of Philology as visiting professors. In May 2010, the Department hosted a delegation from the University of Tirana.

Although it has been more than twenty years since diplomatic relations between Serbia and Albania were renewed, and in recent years there were regular visits and meetings between government officials including a cultural cooperation deal, literary cooperation between Serbian and Albanian authors remains at an extremely low level. Literature from Albania available in Serbian remains limited to several old Kadare novels and some isolated translation in anthologies or a "missed" translation from surrounding countries.

On 26 May 2017, the Joint Center for Albanian-Serbian Relations organized the cultural event "Unknown Albanian literature," dedicated to the Serbian-Albanian literary and cultural cooperation. The aim of this event was to get acquainted with the contemporary literature of Albania, to present the latest translations, and encourage its publication as a comprehensive anthology, as the countries in the region already have. In addition, this meeting was at the same time an opportunity to consider opportunities for broader literary and cultural cooperation between Serbia and Albania. Among the guests from Albania was also Arian Leka, (Durres, 1966), a prominent Albanian poet, essayist and translator, and founder of the influential magazine and cultural club "Poeteka", which promotes translations and cooperation in the Balkans.

As for the translation from Albanian to Serbian language and vice versa, until now the following books have been translated from Albanian:

 

Ismail Kadare 

The General of the Dead army (1968)

The Siege (1977)

Chronicle in Stone (1979)

The Palace of Dreams (1991)

The Fall of the Stone City (2008)

The Belgrade-based publishing house "Književna radionica Rašić" has published in Serbian language "Ormar", a book of essays by writer Arian Leka. The book consists of two main parts: "In search of the lost shirt" and the essay "Born in the Province". The book, translated by Natalija Žaba Stojilković and Sabri Halili, is accompanied by a preface by writer Andrej Nikolaidis, one of the most esteemed literary authors of the region.

In 2006, two books from Milovan Djilas were translated into Albanian: “The Unperfect Society: Beyond the New Class” and “The face of totalitarianism.”

Ivo Andric has had his Bosnian (Travnik’s) chronicles (2012) translated into Albanian. It is interesting that the books of Vuk Draskovic, who is a politician, were translated into Albanian language. They include “The Judge” and “The Memoirs of Jesus.”

Two of Milorad Pavic's books have also been translated into Albanian - Dictionary of the Khazars (2012) and collection of the “Terrible Love Story.”

Albanian publisher Onufri has published the luxury edition of Hazar, while Nikola Sudar did much to bring Serbian literature closer to Albania with the translation of “Terrible Love Stories.” Both books had a solemn promotion at the latest Book Fair in Tirana.

Chief-editor Lidija Kusovac said that the publishing house "Samizdat B92", which has been operating for 23 years, has paid special attention to books by Albanian authors and is also planning to provide translation of Serbian titles into the Albanian language.

During 2016, in addition to the novel "The Palace of Dreams" of Kadare, they repurchased the copyright for his collection of stories that will soon come out. "Samizdat" has published, following the "Millionaire" novel and essay publications under the title "Ambassador and other Heretic Notes", another novel by Veton Surroi - "All Love of Marija Gjakoni".

"Samizdat" also translated and published in Serbian "Sacrifice," the latest book by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama on the eve of his 2016 visit to Belgrade. And in Albanian, this publisher translated the first and second autobiography of famous actor Bekim Fehmiu "Brilliant and terrifying".

"Samizdat B92" also published bilingually, in Serbian and Albanian, the book of Petrit Imami "Serbs and Albanians through the ages", which demystifies established historical misconceptions about Serbian-Albanian relations.

 

Filmography

“The Hornet” is a 1998 Serbian drama film directed by Gorčin Stojanovic. The film tells about love between Albanians and Serb women on the eve of the war in Kosovo.

“Besa” (Solemn Promise) is a 2009 Serbian drama film directed by Srđan Karanović. The film was selected as the Serbian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards, but did not make it to the final shortlist. The film portrays the drama between Azem, an Albanian man, and Lea, a Slovenian woman married to Filip, a Serb. The film speaks about love, the sacred Albanian promise ‘Besa’, as well as the cultural, ethnic, and language barriers in the Balkans. The movie shows how the sacred given word can be stronger than love and temptation.

“Honeymoon” is the first Serbian-Albanian film from 2009. It was directed by Goran Paskaljevic, who also wrote the script along with Genc Permeti. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival on September 5, 2009, and had its Belgrade premiere in November 2009.

Honeymoon, as the first Serbian-Albanian co-production, at least attempts to demolish self-imposed barriers and unnecessary taboos.

“I honestly believe that the Honeymoon can be an important step in the process of approaching two nations who have been living since forever as neighbors, but who turned their back to each other,” Goran Paskaljevic has told Serbian magazine “Vreme” in an interview.

“Certainly, cultural cooperation with Albania will continue to develop,” he added.

Other sporadic cooperation events include mixed theater performances and classical music in Tirana and in Belgrade.

 

Cooperation prospects

Future cultural cooperation should continue to be based on individual initiatives, but the governments both in Serbia and Albania have to support and encourage initiatives, events, travel and other exchanges.

Bearing in mind everything that has been done so far in the field of culture, but mostly in the past few years, I believe that cultural cooperation will increase. As we can see, both sides are interested in getting to know the neighborhood literature, so publishing houses are also interested in translating and publishing books. Both sides are interested in movies, theater performance and music (about what I will write on another occasion). Student exchanges should increase, there should be more summer camps and school to overcome prejudice and learn about culture. Young people should be familiar with cultural festivals and events that exist in both countries. The media plays a key role in promoting culture, so both countries should be promoted this way.

*Monika Marić has graduated in Albanian language from the University of Belgrade at the Albanian Language Department of the Faculty of Philology.  She is currently doing a “Cultures in dialogue” Master’s at the University of Belgrade. Monika is the third Serbian fellow of the Centre for Albania-Serbia Relations at the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS) in Tirana.

 
                    [post_title] => Albania-Serbia cultural cooperation, mostly sporadic and on individual initiative 
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            [post_content] => In a departure from tradition, which saw deputy ministers usually get appointed quietly by ministers themselves without much public presentation, the current 33 deputy ministers of the ‘Rama 2’ cabinet were announced as publicly as possible during the Assembly of the Socialist Party. A typical party meeting was definitely a curious venue and time for a team which according to the Prime Minister himself signals an attempt to look outwards, a break from tradition of picking party people.  The deputies are at the core of his so personal political project called ‘PS Plus’- some loosely defined attempt to govern more inclusively. 

A more careful inspection of the list however shows a consistent group of people with longtime ties to the Prime Minister himself since the period he was a mayor of Tirana, a pool from which he is known to preferably select people renowned for their loyalty. This group is so well known to the public that there are certain nicknames invented to funnily refer to it including “Rama’s women” pointing to the fact that it is a nicely gender balanced bunch. The group also includes lifelong friends of the PM, interestingly placed well outside their expertise field.  This cluster is then sprinkled for fun and show with some oddities such as the 4 deputies from Kosovo, mostly very young, a move that has raised many eyebrows abroad and even in Kosovo itself.  Other oddities are added, and then presented as decisive outsiders. Stir well. Serve chilled. 

First of all, this is not to say that the choices are at fault. Perhaps the majority of them are quite capable professionals, some with impressive education backgrounds and even solid performance track records. However if they are picked for loyalty or even worse for show, one is left to wonder at what really their task list will consist of. Shall they be Rama’s emissaries, a permanent check on the ministers who this time are under strict indicators that will be monitored periodically? 

Finally some consideration should be given to the number itself which will make a little dent in the state budget with all the salaries coming through. The logic is that deputies will take care of specific sectors especially in the ministries that merged different areas of governance becoming mammoth structures, ‘too big to fail.’ In spite of this need, the spiked number of deputy ministers does undermine the effort to consolidate the state. After all does the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural development really need 4 deputies? 

Indeed the ‘PS-Plus’ project including these deputies points at something else. Considered in combination with the much pumped co-governance platform ( with a carefully chosen title The Albania that we want) which the Prime Minister insists on presenting and promoting himself, despite having appointed the former Minister of Interior Tahiri to run it, there seems to be a state of the art project to centralize power. This means concentrating all flows of information, decision making, policy fine tuning, public communication and all else in one single institution, the office of the Prime Minister. In this case one does not know where to start worrying: whether this centralized power will further erode democratic standards or whether the office shall be able even to cope with such a tremendous workload. Well at least we have nothing less but 33 deputies that can help with the second concern.  

 
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