Editorial: The Western Balkans in the times of Donald Trump: brace for impact

Editorial: The Western Balkans in the times of Donald Trump: brace for impact

Today the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States of America shall usher in a new era not only for the US itself, which voted and has been bracing for dramatic changes, but also for the rest of

Read Full Article
Editorial: The risky war games in the Balkans

Editorial: The risky war games in the Balkans

More than fifteen years ago while taking about Europe and the Balkans the former EU Commissioner, Chris Patten gave one of the most eloquent philosophical depictions of the dynamics of change in the region: he said that in the Balkans,

Read Full Article
The Trump tsunami: The beginning of a new, stronger, prouder America

The Trump tsunami: The beginning of a new, stronger, prouder America

By WARREN ANDERSON* in Washington D.C According to Hollywood’s chattering class of self-appointed political geniuses, specifically Meryl Streep and Rosie O’Donnell, as well as a true American Hero of the Civil Rights Movement, Representative John Lewis (D-Ga.), the world will be ending

Read Full Article
Editorial: The harsh winter of discontent

Editorial: The harsh winter of discontent

It only takes the slightest tweak in the utterly spoiling Mediterranean climate of Albania to show its alarming vulnerabilities in infrastructure, public services and social alertness. They should really write on it ‘Machinery unable to operate at below 0 temperatures’. 

Read Full Article
The need to publish MP candidate lists at least 90 days ahead of the upcoming June 18 general elections

The need to publish MP candidate lists at least 90 days ahead of the upcoming June 18 general elections

By Zef Preçi* Considering the institutional and political positive developments, especially the constitutional amendments of the summer of 2016 and the beginning of implementation of the law on decriminalization, I would like to bring to your attention some problems related

Read Full Article
Explore Albania! But how?

Explore Albania! But how?

By Alan Andoni* Albanians are quite rightly proud of their country’s   beaches and mountains.  Albania’s politicians  have underlined the potential of tourism that would not only bring in badly-needed foreign capital but also give the opportunity for Albanians to show

Read Full Article
European integration: Searching for the enemy

European integration: Searching for the enemy

By Albert Rakipi The hopes and expectations for opening negotiations for Albania’s accession to the European Union have taken a hard hit even for the most realistic and skeptical people for whom it was clear that it would never happen in

Read Full Article

Op-ed: The EU should not wait to admit the Western Balkans as full members

To save democracy and European values in the region, the European Union should accept Albania and all states with Yugoslav roots as full EU members for geopolitical reasons — now — before it is too late. By ANDI BALLA A

Read Full Article
Editorial: European integration where do we go from here on?

Editorial: European integration where do we go from here on?

The meeting of the Foreign Minister of the EU member states did not produce any news about the European integration perspective of Albania other than endorsing and reiterating the recommendation of the Commission to wait for tangible progress in implementing

Read Full Article
Editorial: The fabric of society is unraveling

Editorial: The fabric of society is unraveling

By Alba Çela Do not turn on your TV sets and don’t look at your phones. Every glance at the screen will cause one to shiver and squirm: Men who kill women by throwing them naked out the windows, men

Read Full Article
WP_Query Object
(
    [query_vars] => Array
        (
            [cat] => 30
            [error] => 
            [m] => 
            [p] => 0
            [post_parent] => 
            [subpost] => 
            [subpost_id] => 
            [attachment] => 
            [attachment_id] => 0
            [name] => 
            [static] => 
            [pagename] => 
            [page_id] => 0
            [second] => 
            [minute] => 
            [hour] => 
            [day] => 0
            [monthnum] => 0
            [year] => 0
            [w] => 0
            [category_name] => op-ed
            [tag] => 
            [tag_id] => 
            [author] => 
            [author_name] => 
            [feed] => 
            [tb] => 
            [paged] => 0
            [comments_popup] => 
            [meta_key] => 
            [meta_value] => 
            [preview] => 
            [s] => 
            [sentence] => 
            [fields] => 
            [menu_order] => 
            [category__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [category__not_in] => Array
                (
                )

            [category__and] => Array
                (
                )

            [post__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [post__not_in] => Array
                (
                )

            [tag__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [tag__not_in] => Array
                (
                )

            [tag__and] => Array
                (
                )

            [tag_slug__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [tag_slug__and] => Array
                (
                )

            [post_parent__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [post_parent__not_in] => Array
                (
                )

            [author__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [author__not_in] => Array
                (
                )

            [ignore_sticky_posts] => 
            [suppress_filters] => 
            [cache_results] => 1
            [update_post_term_cache] => 1
            [update_post_meta_cache] => 1
            [post_type] => 
            [posts_per_page] => 10
            [nopaging] => 
            [comments_per_page] => 50
            [no_found_rows] => 
            [order] => DESC
        )

    [tax_query] => WP_Tax_Query Object
        (
            [queries] => Array
                (
                    [0] => Array
                        (
                            [taxonomy] => category
                            [terms] => Array
                                (
                                    [0] => 30
                                )

                            [include_children] => 1
                            [field] => term_id
                            [operator] => IN
                        )

                )

            [relation] => AND
        )

    [meta_query] => WP_Meta_Query Object
        (
            [queries] => Array
                (
                )

            [relation] => 
        )

    [date_query] => 
    [post_count] => 10
    [current_post] => -1
    [in_the_loop] => 
    [comment_count] => 0
    [current_comment] => -1
    [found_posts] => 612
    [max_num_pages] => 62
    [max_num_comment_pages] => 0
    [is_single] => 
    [is_preview] => 
    [is_page] => 
    [is_archive] => 1
    [is_date] => 
    [is_year] => 
    [is_month] => 
    [is_day] => 
    [is_time] => 
    [is_author] => 
    [is_category] => 1
    [is_tag] => 
    [is_tax] => 
    [is_search] => 
    [is_feed] => 
    [is_comment_feed] => 
    [is_trackback] => 
    [is_home] => 
    [is_404] => 
    [is_comments_popup] => 
    [is_paged] => 
    [is_admin] => 
    [is_attachment] => 
    [is_singular] => 
    [is_robots] => 
    [is_posts_page] => 
    [is_post_type_archive] => 
    [query_vars_hash:WP_Query:private] => 3a34538d78988538a9d85ecb4b237c35
    [query_vars_changed:WP_Query:private] => 
    [thumbnails_cached] => 1
    [stopwords:WP_Query:private] => 
    [query] => Array
        (
            [cat] => 30
        )

    [request] => SELECT SQL_CALC_FOUND_ROWS  wp_posts.ID FROM wp_posts  INNER JOIN wp_term_relationships ON (wp_posts.ID = wp_term_relationships.object_id) WHERE 1=1  AND ( wp_term_relationships.term_taxonomy_id IN (30) ) AND wp_posts.post_type = 'post' AND (wp_posts.post_status = 'publish') GROUP BY wp_posts.ID ORDER BY wp_posts.post_date DESC LIMIT 0, 10
    [posts] => Array
        (
            [0] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 130805
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2017-01-20 13:31:21
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-20 12:31:21
                    [post_content] => Today the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States of America shall usher in a new era not only for the US itself, which voted and has been bracing for dramatic changes, but also for the rest of the world.  The Western Balkans and in a relevant way Albania as well has been for all the transition years recipients of considerable influence, assistance, guidance and sway of American foreign policy. Therefore it is safe to assume that decision makers, opinion makers and a variety of other stakeholders in public life in the region are observing carefully and trying to imagine what the impact of a Trump presidency and administration shall be on their countries.

The most obvious statement to make here is that Donald Trump has been a formidable challenge to all prediction makers. His rhetoric, tone and statement about the expected policies depict a picture of many expected changes. Should the promises, plans and statements about the future materialize we can expect to see an arriving administration with a clear and strong isolationist policy, much less interested in intervention, potentially cutting funding for development assistance, skeptical of NATO’s efficiency and ultimately a President that is publicly not a fan of the European Union.

Donald Trump has been vocal in questioning US’s role in NATO especially criticizing the relative inequality of funding from defense expenditure of member states.  In addition to putting Baltic States and other eastern European countries on edge, this negative consideration of NATO has been of concern to many states in the Balkans for which NATO has been a game changer and later on an important guarantee of regional peace and stability.

Trump and his partners have also cast doubts on preserving the amount of financial assistance that countries all over the world receive through mainly USAID and other related programs. Some campaign proposals have favored cuts in order to afford focusing on home priorities. Curtailing these funds would mean less investment in the region in strategic areas such as infrastructure, local economic empowerment, capacity building of key state institutions, etc.

Finally the latest statement from the President that shall be sworn in today in his latest interview is that “Brexit will be a great thing for the UK.” Trump is on clear controversial terms if not a collision course with key European leaders such as Merkel, the latter being depicted as the last standing fortress of liberalism in the west. The lack of American support and encouragement for the European enlargement and for the integration process of aspiring countries in the Balkans compounds the already difficult existing climate in the Union. The very ascent of Trump has inspired the populist and right wing euro-skeptic movements across Europe and might have a pertinent impact on upcoming elections in key member states hence presenting even more challenges in this regard.

Most of what is mentioned above do not spell optimism for the majority of the Western Balkan states. It has become a recurrent theme after the American elections that a candidate and a president act very differently as the office changes the person and makes him more responsible about the long standing commitments hence softening very revolutionary proposal. It stands as a fact that the real impact for which we can try to brace now can only be evaluated after the new administration is well established and has had time to propose and enact new plans and strategies.

A new era is starting where there are no set guarantees.  It is important to keep hoping for the best while carefully preparing for potential impact.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: The Western Balkans in the times of Donald Trump: brace for impact 
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => editorial-the-western-balkans-in-the-times-of-donald-trump-brace-for-impact
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2017-01-20 13:31:21
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-01-20 12:31:21
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130805
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [1] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 130758
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2017-01-20 10:21:45
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-20 09:21:45
                    [post_content] => More than fifteen years ago while taking about Europe and the Balkans the former EU Commissioner, Chris Patten gave one of the most eloquent philosophical depictions of the dynamics of change in the region: he said that in the Balkans, just as in the old English folk dance, it is often a case of two steps forward, one step back. The statement fits with the current charged atmosphere with Kosovo and Serbia whose already difficult relation almost deteriorated into a full fledge conflict at the borders.

The voyage of a train that was supposed to connect Serbia to the north of Kosovo caused an immediate crisis: the train was painted red, white, and blue of the Serbian flag with the slogan "Kosovo is Serbia" written in 21 languages on it. Inside the train was decorated with images of icons from medieval Serbian monasteries (many of them located in Kosovo). After publicly declaring that they would not accept the train, the Kosovo authorities deployed forces at the border to halt its passing. The train was ordered to stop before reaching the border by the Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic who ominously commented: "If I had not asked the Serbs to stop the train, we would have had war."

The departure of this train was clearly meant to be a severe provocation. The declaration ‘Kosovo is Serbia’ so publicly displayed all over the train was not taken lightly not only by Kosovo but also by many of the countries that recognize it and let’s not forget that means more than 100 of them including all the most powerful countries of the West. Such a move in 2017, when the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo for unresolved issues has been going on for years, spells disrespect for the process as well as lack of concern and responsibility for peace and stability in the region.

What followed were even more worrisome allegations and controversial rhetoric. Vucic claimed that there was information that Kosovo people had planted explosives on the rails, an allegation that was strongly denied by the Kosovo police who checked and inspected the length of the rails close to the border. Even more aggressive in his tone, the Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic declared that: "We don't want war, but if it is necessary to protect Serbs from being killed, we will send an army to Kosovo. We will send soldiers; we'll all go. I'll go, and it won't be the first time that I go [to defend Serbs]."

The silver lining in this discussion was the sober reaction of many citizens in Serbia who criticized this war mongering and refused to participate in it. This includes several serious voices from North Mitrovica itself who refused to be used for political capital in a context of upcoming presidential elections in Serbia. What was worryingly lacking was the strength and precision in a week EU reaction which clearly underestimated the risk that these developments pose to the Agreement that the EU itself has brokered between the 2 sides in 2013.

The incident comes at a vulnerable time when the transition of power in the United States is being celebrated by extreme wings in Serbian politics as a door to a potentially different US policy in the region. This is in sharp contrast with the strong declaration from the US State Department which supported the right of Kosovo as an independent state to control access to its borders. That has not halted conspiracy theory fans though who are quick to mention the fact that the train was a gift from Russia.

The Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov in another display of rising aggressive Russian public declarations did not miss an opportunity to seek from Albanians in Kosovo to stand back from areas where Serbs live. Russia is firm in purporting at home and abroad a line of politics where ethnic lines stand above civic unity which differentiates it from the West.   Therefore the EU should not hesitate to display its strength in such occasions as to avoid unhelpful vacuums.

In fact there are two more developments that augment the risky situation created with the incident of the train. First the presence and further construction plans of the wall in Mitrovica are reminiscent of the Cold War and a tool of further isolation and division. Second and more pertinent the developments with the court process of Ramush Haradinaj in France due to a search warrant that Serbia still upholds from the previous regime. The fact that Serbia produced an extradition request for former PM Haradinaj shows its utter disrespect for the Special Crimes Court established in Kosovo with the approval of the Kosovo institutions which showed clear will and intent to prosecute alleged war crimes.

All these developments have negative implications over the situation between Serbia and Kosovo as well as one the general stability level in the entire region. Things seem to be returning to a much tensioned atmosphere with several setbacks and in the milestones that have been achieved with much difficulty and a lot of international engagement.

The only way forward is the challenging and exhaustingly tough dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo which is, despite all the difficulties, the only solution. In addition all these developments should serve as reasons to deeply reflect on the need to face and address the past. As the well-known French author Dominique Moisi says the people in the Balkans are the only ones who have not apologized to each other and the only ones who seem to be stagnant.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: The risky war games in the Balkans
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => editorial-the-risky-war-games-in-the-balkans
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2017-01-20 10:21:45
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-01-20 09:21:45
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130758
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [2] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 130719
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2017-01-18 11:34:39
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-18 10:34:39
                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_130720" align="alignright" width="200"]Warren Anderson Warren Anderson[/caption]

By WARREN ANDERSON*
in Washington D.C

According to Hollywood’s chattering class of self-appointed political geniuses, specifically Meryl Streep and Rosie O’Donnell, as well as a true American Hero of the Civil Rights Movement, Representative John Lewis (D-Ga.), the world will be ending at Noon, January 20th when Donald Trump becomes the 45th President of the United States at the 58th Inauguration of a United States President. While Streep is highly critical of President-elect Trump’s words and alleged deeds, Lewis has stated that he questions Trump’s legitimacy as the newly elected president due to alleged Russian/Putin attempts to influence the U.S’s election and democratic process. Rosie O’Donnell has left all sanity behind and shown her complete ignorance and contempt of the U.S. Constitution by calling for Martial Law to be declared (by whom? How? Supported by what force?) to prevent Trump from becoming president.

At present, close to 40 U.S. Members of Congress—all Members of the House of Representatives and all Democrats—have declared they would boycott the Inauguration of Trump, due to his words, his alleged actions, and the policies he seems to be proposing. That may seem like a lot, but they are really not very significant to Trump or his plans; they are all from safe, secure Democrat districts that would vote for a dead dog before a live Republican human if the dog had Democrat next to its name on the ballot; Republicans have a large and solid majority of votes in the House of Representatives to help pass his plans, and; to date, no Democrat Senator has decided to boycott the Inauguration.

It is important that those outside the United States, as well as U.S. citizens, understand what Inauguration Day is and what it means. Yes, to a small extent, for the election day victors, it is a celebration of that victory. But it is not primarily a celebration of the person elected president. It is a celebration of the fact that the most powerful person in the world—in this case one well-loved and popular—is willingly and peacefully giving up his position to someone less popular, as prescribed by a Constitution written over 200 years ago, without a tank in the streets or the threat of any coup to prevent the transition. It will be the peaceful, thoughtful, and unthreatened handing of unbelievable power from the President to a private citizen who then becomes President while the formerly powerful becomes just another U.S. citizen.

President Donald Trump? President Donald Trump! Maybe it is the end of the world! Who would have believed it possible when, on June 16th of 2015 he announced his candidacy for president? Certainly, not the political experts and media pundits! Certainly not sixteen other Republican candidates for president! And most certainly, neither Hillary or Bill Clinton! World leaders were also dismissive and shocked at Trump’s candidacy, the U.S. election season and the world shattering results; Donald Trump, elected 45th President of the United States of America!

What should the world make of what will take place at noon, January 20th, 2017? NATO members and allies, the EU block, Britain, Germany, Mexico, Russia, China, and Taiwan, as well as the nations of the Middle East, especially Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia all will be greatly impacted by the impending Trump tsunami headed their way.

The Trump tsunami is coming, if his words are to be believed: NATO nations will need to increase their contributions to the expected 2% of GDP (Albania spends 1.16%, according to NATO); Trump supported Brexit and has indicated he will make better trade deals with Britain; Germany will need to buy more U.S. made cars; Mexico—one way or another—will be paying for a wall that will put a halt to the on-going invasion of America through her southern border of about 500million per year; a deal may be made with Russia/Putin to ease sanctions in return for a nuclear weapons reduction treaty; there may be a rethink of the U.S’s “One China” policy and a more open support of democratic Taiwan versus authoritarian, communist China, and; a complete reversal of Obama’s look at the Middle East with Israel back in favor, the Iran deal in question and the forthright, determined elimination of ISIS and radical Islam. The United States of America will once again take its place as the leader of the free world, with its interest’s primary. No more apologies for being who it is and its place in the world. Work with us and there will be harmony and good for all; try to cheat us, hurt us, or take advantage of U.S’s  good nature and you will incur the wrath of Trump.

The United States is divided. I see it here in Washington D.C., compared to where I live now on the border of Minnesota, North Dakota, and Canada. I hear it in my conversations with my sister living in New York city. The U.S. is divided between those living on the East and West coasts versus those of us in the middle—or “fly-over” part—of the U.S. It is the inner cities—which often have corrupt, incompetent, and ineffective one party (Democrat run) governments—that depend on Federal government hand-outs for many of their citizens to survive. There are no good paying, long term, proper jobs available. Their public schools are, for the most part, failures. There is no hope. Instead, there are demands for more benefits, more government programs, all to be paid by someone else; someone in the “fly-over areas."

January 20th will not be the end of the world; it will be the beginning of a new, stronger, prouder America. If Trump and the Republican House and Senate can work together—with some help from more moderate Democrat Senators—I believe that the currently divided America will come together. A new and improved health care plan, a fight to keep and increase quality, well-paying jobs in currently blighted areas around America, a fair and reasonable immigration policy, and a strong and determined America internationally can be the real Trump tsunami.

* Warren Anderson is a Tirana Times op-ed contributor, covering the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington.
                    [post_title] => The Trump tsunami: The beginning of a new, stronger, prouder America
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => the-trump-tsunami-the-beginning-of-a-new-stronger-prouder-america
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2017-01-18 15:23:56
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-01-18 14:23:56
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130719
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [3] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 130679
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2017-01-13 10:57:14
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-13 09:57:14
                    [post_content] => It only takes the slightest tweak in the utterly spoiling Mediterranean climate of Albania to show its alarming vulnerabilities in infrastructure, public services and social alertness. They should really write on it ‘Machinery unable to operate at below 0 temperatures’.  Schools have been closed for 2 weeks now as the state does not know what to do with the cold temperatures and an epidemic of flu. Many argue that the real reason is that the overwhelming majority of school do not have a functioning heating systems, hard to believe fact yet painfully true. In 2017 most Albanian children who go to public schools learn while shivering and that should put to shame everyone who claims achievements in the education sector.

The self-made solution of citizens to put water reservoirs on roofs have fired back to them since the pipes have frozen and been damaged so entire cities like Durres are suffering severe water shortages. Water meters have frozen and are dysfunctional and need to be replaced by the public water company. Many cities and villages have been deprived of electricity for prolonged periods. The most expensive road in Albania, the Nation’s Highway was closed on and off and is very difficult to be passed still. Same old story: the grander the name the faultier the real thing. Even the National Theater closed its doors with the announcement that its furnace broke down.

All the missing links of investment from past and current administrations, local authorities and public bid winners have been laid bare once again by the cold. Broken-down roads, abusive private companies tasked and funded to clean up the snow but that fail to show up to work, unheated schools, chaotic health care system that advertises the flu vaccine months after its recommended time. This is augmented by the behavior of individuals: careless drivers, unprepared for the additional difficulties that come with freezing temperatures, indifferent shop keepers who still empty their buckets on the pavement, the water quickly turning into ice that makes pedestrians life tough.

It is important to note here that the temperatures, at least in most of the country would be considered as quite normal to winter time.  Most of what we hear on the news being interpreted as due to abnormalities, never before seen realities and interesting records are in fact situations that arise out of the unpreparedness of state and society, out of mistakes from the biggest: public investment choices to the smallest; individual blunders.  Albania as a country and as a society should learn to deal with harsh weather as blizzards, floods and other harsh weather.

It is important to highlight that it is not only the state and institutions to blame for this reaction. People themselves need to summon up the necessary strength and do the necessary things like shoveling their driveways, taking the precautions needed to protect their pipes and gearing up their cars. Wailing and lamenting that the state is not helping them while not even taking the smallest actions to help themselves is quite inexplicable.

The silver lining of these days has been the solid level of solidarity shown by many citizens and businesses that have helped to equip the social shelters that host homeless, poor and vulnerable communities especially in the capital. This sense of community sharing needs to be encouraged especially in the younger generations.

Additionally there are lessons to be taken here so that the mistakes do not repeat as in a broken reel! The companies, institutions and authorities responsible for past mistakes should be held accountable so others feel the responsibility to perform in a serious and timely matter. The media should focus on informing and providing sensible advice instead of rushing to capture picture perfect shots of heroic leaders examining the extraordinary measures.

Luckily the situation is expected to change in the next days with rising temperatures across the board. But stay tuned for the eventual crisis of weather and unexpected abnormality! Remember: it only takes a little tweak.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: The harsh winter of discontent 
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => editorial-the-harsh-winter-of-discontent
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2017-01-13 10:57:14
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-01-13 09:57:14
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130679
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [4] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 130634
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2017-01-10 16:11:19
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-10 15:11:19
                    [post_content] => By Zef Preçi*

[caption id="attachment_130060" align="alignright" width="300"]Zef Preçi Zef Preçi[/caption]

Considering the institutional and political positive developments, especially the constitutional amendments of the summer of 2016 and the beginning of implementation of the law on decriminalization, I would like to bring to your attention some problems related to the success of undertaken reforms.

According to some of our studies, the major part of Albanians remain skeptical regarding the expected results of the undertaken reforms such as the reduction of the number of  officials with criminal records, elected and appointed in different public positions. That due to the lack of will and skeptic attitudes in implementing the law, especially by the governing coalition, and from Socialist Party (SP) as the leader of the coalition.

Due to the disturbing spread of the cultivation, trade, consumption and export of cannabis sativa throughout the country, huge amounts of money is estimated to have been accumulated in the hands of a few individuals, who are likely to be invested in the upcoming parliamentary elections, leading this way to a real threat of the legitimacy and integrity of the entire electoral process, with predictable consequences for the stability of the country and the future of democracy. Slow progress on the work of the special parliamentary commission on the electoral reform has made it difficult to reflect the remarks of the OSCE/ODIHR from previous elections. Poverty also seems to have increased and hopes for a "livable Albania" for a major part of the Albanians are waning. Meanwhile, despite the transition stage of the justice reform, data published by mass-media, according to the General Prosecutor's Office on the results of self-declarations, prove that political parties and the public administration have serious concerns as individuals with personal criminal past have penetrated them.

Independent studies and observations prove that segments of organized crime, after having extended their influence on the local leadership of some political parties and local administration, managed to seriously station at the Albanian Parliament and from there “control and lead" the  budget cash flow and "protect" their businesses. They still keep affecting the allocation of loans by the banking system, appointments within the administration, some of which are immersed in a conflict of interest, appointments within the police, customs, justice, diplomacy, etc.

Hence, the "state capture" explains why public tax collection policies fail even when the number of registered businesses has significantly increased; why the collection of social security payments fails despite the increased number of insured persons; why Western business firms do not invest in Albania but in other countries of the region; why monetary policy fails to reduce "bad loans"; why massive bankruptcy includes only small businesses and some medium-sized ones, but does not affect those controlled by the oligarchs; why the economy is reeling so slowly and why very few people believe in the possibility of its rapid improvement.

Since we're tackling the decriminalization, I strongly believe that the process launched and the judiciary reform are irreversible, but that will take some extra time to get tangible results and for the system to become stable, thus reviving public trust in the institutions in general and in the justice system in particular. This way, the rigorous implementation of the decriminalization process creates opportunities for Albania to have normal governance and a functioning state, a product of the citizens' vote, as happens in the democratic world.

Secondly, despite the extremely slow progress of the electoral reform, I personally believe that the awareness of the leading politicians about the usefulness of amending the Electoral Code and international pressure will enable at least two or three serious interventions within the Electoral Code of the country: a) increase inspection over the funding of political parties b) enable open regional lists, and c) clarify the figures / personalities that political parties will offer as candidates in the general elections of June 18, 2017.

I will focus only on the third issue of those amendments - on shedding light on the figures / potential candidates for the upcoming elections.  I humbly invite all public stakeholders, mass media and especially civil society activists and international institutions assisting electoral reform to advocate for the amendment of the Electoral Code regarding the compulsory obligation for the publication, through the Central Election Commission of the official list of candidates not later than 90 days before the elections.

Let us not forget that since the constitutional amendment of April 26, 2008 on the basis of which were compiled the candidate MP "lists," there have "de facto" stopped and vanished even those democratic mechanisms of electing the leadership of political parties, those of membership consultation, etc. The election of political leaders has already become formalized and has largely weakened competition in the selection of individuals holding high-level public positions within and outside the executive. At the same time, there was an alarming rate of corporatism within the justice system and this phenomenon currently constitutes a real nepotistic threat within the public administration and other public institutions.

The publication of the official list of candidates not later than 90 days before the elections would make possible for the sovereign, citizens and various communities to recognize those who really will govern for the next four years, make it possible for them to somehow influence on the political preferences towards attributes such as the integrity and professionalism of candidates / individuals.

Likewise, citizens and communities will be able to denounce "feats and misery" of those who manage to penetrate lists through known and unknown methods, such as the investment of legal and illegal money during electoral campaigns ("de facto" buying the political mandate), but also the civil society will be able to analyze and eventually publish in an appropriate format, the past and the legitimacy of businesses run by those candidates nominated by political parties / coalitions.

The publication of the official list of candidates not later than 90 days before the voting day will also be a legitimate opportunity for the candidates who exercise different functions in the public administration to resign from the respective functions in order to compete as equal to the opposition candidates, considering this as a moral act and an obligation for any candidate who accepts to run on behalf of political parties or as an independent candidate in the general elections of June 18, 2017.

In my opinion, this process would create the appropriate ground for the introduction of traditional political parties within the process of internal democratization or at least point out the major governance issues and the lack of accountability within them, thus increasing the citizen pressure for further reform and real democratization of political parties as constitutional elements in our country.

If the proposed points are taken into consideration, the Albanian state budget would save significant funds which could go to investigate into many political villains who target buying their problematic past with law by becoming members of municipal councils and even enter the Albanian Parliament.

I sincerely believe that for most of the political leaders, the publication of the official list of candidates for deputies not later than 90 days before the election day of June 18, 2017 will be a great and legitimate institutional help in order to increase the citizens’ confidence towards the economic and social system in general. This way, together, we would contribute to the good governance of the country, for "a more livable Albania," reviving hope and faith as well as curbing the abandonment of the country in the past few years…

*Zef Preçi is the director of the Albanian Center for Economic Research
                    [post_title] => The need to publish MP candidate lists at least 90 days ahead of the upcoming June 18 general elections 
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => the-need-to-publish-mp-candidate-lists-at-least-90-days-ahead-of-the-upcoming-june-18-general-elections
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2017-01-10 16:15:59
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-01-10 15:15:59
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130634
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [5] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 130574
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2016-12-27 13:32:11
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-27 12:32:11
                    [post_content] => By Alan Andoni*

Albanians are quite rightly proud of their country’s   beaches and mountains.  Albania’s politicians  have underlined the potential of tourism that would not only bring in badly-needed foreign capital but also give the opportunity for Albanians to show off their natural hospitality.  Foreign visitors would also have a chance to experience a different Albania to that which they often read about in their press at home.

However, unfortunately, while Albanians are foreigner-friendly, Albania, or more precisely, the infrastructure of Albania,  is not.

The starting point is entering the country.  If a tourist decides to come to Albanian overland from Macedonia, Montenegro or Greece, they have to be involved in some serious detective work on the internet.  As there are no trains into Albania and a general absence of public transport,  they have to travel by private bus or, for the more grossly affluent, by taxi. Any traveller  accustomed to finding information on-line at or a bus station with a timetable, the lack of available information will deter all but those few who delight in venturing into the unknown.  The real alternative form of road transport for the tourist coming to Albania is by their own car but accompanied by a highly developed eye for random holes in the ground, eccentrically placed directions and other road drivers habitually dicing with death. By contrast, arriving by sea is easy; get on the ferry in Italy and arrive in Albania in 7 or more hours or a have short sea trip from Corfu.  It’s a pity Albania isn’t an island.

Or the traveller can fly into Albania to the one civil airport that serves the whole of the country. Although there are charter flights, the current airlines flying in to Albania have little competition and therefore the flights tend to be more expensive than routes in other European countries.  Savvy Albanians find it cheaper to fly abroad from Ohrid, Podgorice or Corfu. For foreigners,  Albania   is currently off the cheap weekend breaks circuit. Barcelona, Tallinn and Prague have nothing to fear just yet.

Lack of cheap flights is not the only barrier to travelling with ease here. While many of us may agree that it may be worth paying extra money just to come to Albania, we  would like  the powers- that-be to make an effort to make us feel more welcome.  Unfortunately,   confusion is the first reaction of the lone first-time traveller unlucky enough not to be met at the airport by someone in the know or not part of a tour group.   On arrival to land-side, they   will be greeted by taxi drivers offering to take them to Tirana. They have no way of knowing whether the price quoted is   genuine or not other than the taxi driver’s assurance that it is ‘a good price.’ What has been absent is a sign to inform   them   that there is a bus that will take them to Tirana for a tenth of the price of a taxi. The visitor can go out of the airport terminal to search for a bus but why would they? They make the assumption: no sign for a bus, therefore no bus.

Of course, they have to go to Tirana. All routes to Korçë, Durres, Shkoder or anywhere else in Albania start from there. Perhaps there is no demand for public transport from the airport to somewhere else in the country, but how would they know?

Once in Tirana the adventure continues and a lack of proper signs is a problem that dogs the traveller throughout his stay. There are now three bus stations in Tirana but there is no way of finding this out, except by coming across a local or a taxi driver who might be aware of this innovation. The station for the south west is strategically placed at the other end of Tirana to the station for the south East, which is now inexplicably wedged in at the entrance to the student village. So if the traveller gets it wrong, they have to trek across town, either by bus (which bus and where?) or by getting a taxi. The taxi driver may know where the right bus leads from.   Or they might happen to be in the right part of town and be accosted by a man who whispers ‘Fier’ or ‘Vlora’  in their  ear and takes them  down a side street to a private furgon.  In fact, travelling by private bus in Albania  appears to have  become  a more clandestine operation than buying marijuana. What the foreigner doesn’t  realise is, of course,   that   unless he happens to be psychic, in Albania public information is acquired on the grapevine which unfortunately   is not readily available to outsiders

What this means is that while Albanians are  resigned to this process  of  a haphazard discovery of simple things, foreigners are not.  In fact, apart from the young intrepid   backpackers who crave adventure,   visitors really don’t want to spend their holiday time trying to find out basic information. They might rightly argue that data on travel   routes, times and stations  can be easily available by the simple expedient of the authorities documenting them  on an easy –to-access website.  In the end, if   the authorities cannot be bothered organising the information flow (let alone a proper, relatively comfortable, transport system), then why should the foreigner bother to travel round Albania?

All these issues may seem baffling to a foreigner. For long-suffering local people who have to travel on public  transport it is just plain annoying, especially when some of their taxes presumably goes to   a ministry which should make travel in Albania less stress-free  but  has been unable to do so. It is not simply a matter of money; it is a matter of political will and doing things properly.  For sure, however, if all those with money and power (including foreigners tasked to support Albania’s development) spent a week routinely travelling by public transport instead of using their own cars, there might just be a rapid improvement.  In the meantime the same mantra and speeches about tourist potential will continue to be made but without any real strategy to join up the dots and make it  happen.

*Alan Andoni is the author of Shqiptaret para Pasqyres and the Xenophobe’s Guide to Albania.
                    [post_title] => Explore Albania! But how? 
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => explore-albania-but-how
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2016-12-27 13:37:13
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-27 12:37:13
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130574
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [6] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 130513
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2016-12-23 11:50:16
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-23 10:50:16
                    [post_content] => By Albert Rakipi

[caption id="attachment_130553" align="alignright" width="225"]rakipi Albert Rakipi, AIIS executive director[/caption]

The hopes and expectations for opening negotiations for Albania’s accession to the European Union have taken a hard hit even for the most realistic and skeptical people for whom it was clear that it would never happen in 2017. According to the best possible scenario on this issue, the opening of negotiations, could be discussed in the first half of 2018, while within the same scenario a specific date for the opening of the negotiations could be set in the end of 2018. That would position the actual start of the negotiations process in the spring of 2019. It has been also made clear that during 2017 there shall be no country report (formerly known as progress report), which has been the usual annual instrument of the European Union to assess, monitor, support and finally urge the necessary reforms in Albania and the other aspiring and candidate countries. Things look actually worse than they are due to the great expectations that the government, but also some local European representatives, set out for Albania's public opinion.

However, other less positive scenarios are possible and even likely, and they are primary related to domestic developments in Albania, including:

The political stability and security of the country will see challenges which must be faced with a full respect for international standards in the next general elections, shielding them from criminal influences, shady funds, intimidation and using the resources of the state to influence the elections as well as to buy votes and control the media.

With the scope of functioning rule of law, we expect to see the practical implications from the start of the implementation of the justice reform. This is another area where expectations are high. The determining factor in this situation is whether the degradation of the democratic standards in governance shall halt, whether the rules of the democratic and electoral game shall be followed through, whether there shall be sustainable economic development and finally whether the influence of drugs and other criminal economic activities in the governing policies and decisions can be stopped.

The effect of other external developments concerning the EU itself, and some key member states, shall be no less important for the less positive scenarios than what is described above.

The EU is faced now with very crucial challenges for a number of interrelated factors and issues: Brexit, the march of populist movements, the rise of support for the parties of the extreme right, the rise of terrorist threats, the ebbs of the immigrants crisis without forgetting to mention here the economic stagnation and in some member states an outright economic crisis still to overcome. These might be actually the biggest and most substantial crises that the Union has ever faced.

In this scenario, every negative development would have an incremental negative impact on the hopes and aspirations of Albanians to see their country inside of or closer to the European Union. We could be faced even with an existential question for the very first time: is a European future possible for Albania without the European Union? Or in other words: Is it possible to construct and develop a democratic society, a functioning and just state based on respecting the fundamental rights and responsibilities of its citizens and an effective economy without the European Union?

This question is hypothetical and might be premature but it touches the essence of European integration.

Albania can be a member of the EU only if it is a democracy and a state where laws, values and human rights are fully respected. It is not accession to the EU that magically transforms the country into such a democratic, rule-of-law state that cherishes human rights and values. The opposite is true.

Albania, and other similar countries, do not have the possibility to influence the developments and even less the future of the European Union, but the Albanian society and the leading elites have the power not only to influence but also resolve the challenges that their country is facing now that the process of integration has been hardly hit.  Would it be possible for a process of reflection to start? The reflection is primarily needed for the political leaders to accept the fact that despite circumstances not very favorable in the Union and in member states, the real progress that Albania has made is not enough to open negotiations for accession. For those who really want to read and understand, beyond the dry, bureaucratic and subtle language that the Commission uses in its reports, the message was clear: the country is yet to realize the progress asked by the EU. However, instead of this necessary deep reflection what seems to be happening is a quest to try to find the enemy, to blame the others. In the philosophical realm it is a well-known constant that the existence of an enemy gives us the key to understand the nature and core of political activity.

There is a fundamental question in this context: Is Albania building democratic policies and does Albania's governance resemble a democratic regime? There is certainly no 'Albanian dream' per se, but there is an 'American dream,' the dream of the West – it certainly exists. And dream of the West is unrivaled, but it does not explain the reason of why Albanians do not want to build the future of their children in this country. This year alone, at least 13 percent of the population, the young and vital part, either left the country or is trying to legally leave it.

There is an immediate and simple answer: The dying desperate hope of transforming Albania into a place that follows the model of European countries. Said differently, European integration is not progressing. And instead of reflecting on this, the political elite is involved in a fierce and divisive conflicts – searching for enemies.

In the case of backward and frightened societies, where democracy is a façade the enemy serves to mobilize ‘us’ against ‘them’, the enemy.

The government rushed to claim that the conditional recommendation of the Commission to open accession negotiations was “historic” by reducing the conditioning, which is key, to the approval of one of the laws connected to the justice reform. This is the so called vetting law which according to the official rhetoric the opposition is sabotaging. During this entire year and in particular during the political debates about the justice reform “the enemy” was clearly projected in the dual equation: on one side the government, the US and the EU and on the other side the opposition as an enemy of the West. The silence of the representatives of the local EU institutions regarding this laughable equation, obviously does not make the opposition an enemy of the West, but it does lower the credibility of the EU in the eyes of the Albanian public.

In the official communications from the EU officials, including the country report, the political consensus for the justice reform was acclaimed and even described as progress to avoid deep polarization. The truth is that there is no progress in addressing the deep polarization, on the contrary political polarization in Albania has reached another apex. The 100 percent approval voting in the parliament of the justice reform did not result from consensus. Hiding the deep political conflict, divisions and class warfare based on a Stalinist philosophy that demonstrates itself occasionally even violently in the same parliament resembles a mission impossible.

Once again, Albania has made no progress whatsoever in reducing polarization and conflict in politics. Claiming progress would be a blatant lie while the very opposite is true.

Just as in “the good old times of communism” the enemy was not only from within but definitely also from outside. The opposition is not alone in its ‘battle against integration’, against the west. Enemy groups were also identified in Europe such as important Members of the German Parliament. Even member states of the Union were spotted and projected in public as enemies of Albania’s integration. Therefore Greece resulted as a key enemy for the perspective of the European integration of Albania. (Greece has all the power needed to be an enemy of Albania's EU integration, therefore, why should Greece not be faulted?)

Last but not least the enemy is now being projected in the geopolitical sphere as well. That goes along the lines: if the EU does not accept Albania or the Western Balkans as a whole, than Russia or other competing powers shall replace it. 

The argument and the idiotic hope in this case is to blackmail EU and some member states. Who can believe this? The ultimate irony is that in this country, with each passing day, Albanians are building a regime that is increasingly resembles Kremlin Inc. – all this while we ring the alarm bells for the threat of Russian imperialism in the Balkans to scare the rest of Europe to take us in.

 
                    [post_title] => European integration: Searching for the enemy
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => european-integration-searching-for-the-enemy
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2017-01-16 13:17:51
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-01-16 12:17:51
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130513
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [7] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 130403
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2016-12-16 13:01:26
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-16 12:01:26
                    [post_content] => To save democracy and European values in the region, the European Union should accept Albania and all states with Yugoslav roots as full EU members for geopolitical reasons -- now -- before it is too late. 

By ANDI BALLA

A decade ago, on the sidelines of a conference in Tirana discussing the enlargement of the European Union in the Balkans, two diplomats -- a German and a Croat -- were asked about the frustration many Albanians felt about the snail-pace progress the country was making EU membership. Those were the enthusiastic days of EU enlargement, and to the impatient and optimistic it appeared that within a decade or so Albania and all its neighbours would all become full EU members. 

The German answer was sober: No, it will take much, much longer as the region is way behind the EU core in all aspects. The Croat, a seasoned diplomat from the Yugoslav era, was more optimistic: Don’t despair, he said, it could happen sooner, but only if the conditions are right.

Those right conditions, for the EU to step up and admit the Western Balkan states immediately as full members have never been more evident. These right conditions are independent of meeting the ever more stringent standards the EU bureaucrats are now imposing to deal with the myriad of negative trends that plague the Western Balkan countries. This week, as they do every December, the region’s governments received an official answer by the EU member states. It’s the same answer they have heard for years: You’ve made some progress, try harder, and there will be years of negotiations ahead, but we do want you to join -- at some point. In other terms: Wait, indefinitely. 

The Western Balkan countries are not ready by German or French standards. They might not be for decades. But Spain wasn’t when it became an EU member. Neither was Greece. Romania and Bulgaria were arguably in similar position to the Western Balkans when they were admitted. These countries were all admitted for the same reason the Western Balkans should be as soon as possible -- geopolitics.

The United States and Great Britain, key countries that have been major investors in the stability and democratic revival of the Western Balkans for more more than two decades, are in the process of withdrawing their focus from the region. The Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump will not mean an overnight withdrawal of focus, but for all intensive purposes, these two countries won’t play as a big role in the region as they have in the past. 

The vacuum they leave behind is massive, and unless it is filled with EU membership, as the security vacuum was filled with NATO membership in the case of Albania, and soon Montenegro, the Western Balkan countries become fair game in the geopolitical sphere. Outsiders are ready to fill the vacuum for their own purposes and the ones to lose most will be the residents of the Western Balkans, those that today believe in the power European values and democracy and tomorrow might not.

To save democracy and European values in the region, the European Union should accept Albania and all states with Yugoslav roots as full EU members for geopolitical reasons -- now -- before it is too late. 

EU membership would not solve problems overnight. But it would bring these countries into the fold, providing a clear European identity they so much crave. It will also give a massive economic boost to the region through the free flow of people and capital. One only needs to look at the increase in GDP for Romania and Bulgaria in the past decade to see the immediate economic benefits of membership. 

But more than about economic benefits, this is about politically legitimizing a geographic fact: The Western Balkans are already surrounded by the European Union, and the bloc needs the region to be healthy to avoid further crisis.

Many point out to the fact that the very future of the European Union is no longer secure, and as such the point of Western Balkan membership becomes mute. But there is also a debate about what the European Union, if it survives, will look like in the future, and those who support Western Balkan membership, especially in Central Europe, want to see a European Union that slows down its race to become a federal union and speeds up the enlargement under the current model of a union of independent states. For the Western Balkans, the second option is beneficial, because it allows for immediate membership and provides a clear European identity, if not Western European prosperity. 

It is a shame that in 2017, the old western border of the Ottoman Empire, under the yoke of which the people of the Western Balkans lived for centuries, still survives on the map to leave the Western Balkans surrounded by the EU but excluded by it. The six countries that now make up the region also suffered under a different oppression for decades -- that of communism, inspired by the Soviet Union. As such, membership in the European Union for the region’s peoples is about correcting the historical injustices that tried to destroy their European identity. That’s why the Western Balkans have no stronger proponents than Central European countries like Poland and Hungary that themselves know what it is like having outside powers trying to alter their identity.

But what about corruption, poverty and bad governance? Yes, they are all real. But the current path Brussels has set for the region -- of indefinite postponement of membership until the pie in the sky ideal conditions are met -- is disingenuous to both the region and to those in Western Europe that oppose EU enlargement as a concept. Brussels is telling one side that they will be members at some point in the future if they keep up the good work, while telling the other that there is no enlargement in the foreseeable future, so they don’t need to worry. You can’t have it both ways. 

True supporters of EU membership in the Western Balkans need to be told the bitter truth: Unless they take massive action now to lobby for immediate admission, they are headed the way of Turkey -- never to be good enough. Unlike Turkey, the Western Balkan states have not yet turned their backs on the EU project, but with the proper outside influence and growing domestic irritation with the pace of integration, those that until know have been supporters of integration could seek alternative solutions. 

Left to their own devices, the political and oligarchic classes now firmly in power across the Western Balkans, which in many cases benefit from lack of firm rule of law and a full European identity, will only pay lip service to wanting to join the European Union while benefiting from the delays at the expense of democracy and well-being of the people of the region. 

As the recent elections in Macedonia showed, a Western Balkan government proven to be corrupt and working against the best interests of its people can still win elections through a combination of political patronage, pay-to-play jobs and vote buying. Macedonia is not alone. This and other trends are happening across the region. Organized crime in Albania has returned with a vengeance as the country’s EU prospects stall. In Serbia, Russian troops have conducted military exercises near the border with Kosovo. Ethnic tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina are rising. Economic growth has been virtually nonexistent in the region for years, at time when the economy should be growing at a high rate to help them catch up. The region is clearly moving backward, not forward.

Unless the EU steps in to fill the void, there could be some very dark days ahead. The EU has ran out stick. The region’s people now need the ultimate carrot. 

ab(at)andiballa.com
                    [post_title] => Op-ed: The EU should not wait to admit the Western Balkans as full members
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => the-eu-should-not-wait-to-admit-the-western-balkans-as-full-members
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2016-12-16 23:51:00
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-16 22:51:00
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130403
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [8] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 130401
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2016-12-16 13:00:49
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-16 12:00:49
                    [post_content] => The meeting of the Foreign Minister of the EU member states did not produce any news about the European integration perspective of Albania other than endorsing and reiterating the recommendation of the Commission to wait for tangible progress in implementing the justice reform before proceeding with more concrete steps about negotiations.

The meeting was interesting for other reasons though, with the disunity that led to no formal adoption of a resolution, it really showcased the frozen spirit of the Union. Upon the insisting Austrian demand to freeze all further steps with Turkey, contradicted by the majority of the others, the meeting ended on a jumbled note.

Where does Albania go from here?

A few words on the context of all future efforts: the EU will experience a tense year with elections in several key member states.   Populism, anti-enlargement feeling and a general skepticism over the existence of the Union itself are on the march in many places at once.  Current liberal elite shall have to exert caution and restraint not to alienate already confused voters.  There shall be no country reports evaluating annual progress and readiness, despite the fact that the Commission says that they are not bound by calendar obstacles. For all practical means and purposes meaningful developments in the enlargement agenda are left for the first part of 2018 the earliest.

This brings us to the domestic situation and what should be done not to make things more difficult than they are at present. Our overall progress in fulfilling the criteria for integration, in creating the suitable political and economic climate that favors integration is not satisfactory and we have managed quite a few times to miss the train of opportunity. Our absurd political conflict has produced the almost same negative effects for our country, and the eventual delays, that the legacy of war has done for the former Yugoslav countries.

First and foremost the justice reform is on the table, not because it is a magic wand that will suddenly solve corruption but because it is the necessary step to start doing it. The opposition should stop trying to sideline it by attempt to put elections in the limelight. The same applies to the majority which tries to sideline elections. Both are important and both shall be judged and either is or can be allowed to be an obstacle to the other.

The electoral campaign should not hold hostage the progress in the justice reform finalization and implementation. Here there is a role for other state and social actors such as the constitutional court, the Union of Judges and other representative institutions and organizations of the justice system not to fight the reform for short term personal gains or protection.  Their reactionary approach cannot and should not be allowed to freeze Albania’s European future.

Elections shall be an outright test to the usability of the de-criminalization law. Both shall be closely observed and evaluated in terms of standards, practices and trends. It is imperative that political forces show maturity and responsibility, try to improve representativeness of MPs and organize and overall peaceful and democratic electoral process.

Overall, Albania shall have experience a charged political year with dual presidential selection and general elections coming up, each testing important indicators of preparedness to move forward towards integration. The Presidential selection is an opportunity, though many shall say a long shot, to try once again inclusiveness and dialogue.

Last but not least Albanian foreign policy but also overall general political rhetoric has to recalibrate to veer off unnecessary friction and collisions with neighboring countries, especially EU member states.  The electoral gains are not worth the potential risk that comes from perceived provocations. Albania is a small and dignified country also because it has behaved with serious reasonability and pro-western stance in all forums. This is not the time to play nationalists since we have seen that nothing valuable has come out of it in our neighbors’ cases.

European Union is still the dreamed destination of the overwhelming majority of Albanian citizens. This is remarkable. For the umpteenth time, politicians at home and in the EU as well as other influential stakeholders should try more honestly to fulfill that dream.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: European integration where do we go from here on?
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => editorial-european-integration-where-do-we-go-from-here-on
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2016-12-16 13:00:49
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-16 12:00:49
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130401
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [9] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 130279
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2016-12-09 10:01:42
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-09 09:01:42
                    [post_content] => By Alba Çela

Do not turn on your TV sets and don’t look at your phones. Every glance at the screen will cause one to shiver and squirm: Men who kill women by throwing them naked out the windows, men who strangle children with wire threads and then hang themselves, teenagers who attempt to rape little boys behind school yards, bitter souled people who pour out venom on social media sites after the death of a journalist just because he had a fixed political position, sons who go to the hospitals to strangle their ill fathers with belts. Irresponsible people leave a construction site on a road without warning signs at night so a young boy is killed in a fatal car accident. Inferno cannot even keep up!

The values and sense of community that help to make society safer and kinder are becoming extinct, replaced by a senseless race for nothingness. Not much can stand against this dark tide. Quality education that emphasized empathy, instills values and strengthens a solid sense of responsibility is desperately lacking. Both schools and dinner tables are failing at it. The family is now perhaps the greatest source if vicious crime in the country with domestic violence grave incidents up the roof. Despite important changes in legislation, experts say that legal loopholes and gaps persists and that the implementation of existing laws is marred by inefficiency and corruption.

Ever more indifferent and punishing, both media and the online society react first with a force hypocritical uber-noise and then with cruel silence. 
Civil society watches powerless as their fight for human rights and empowerment and protection of the vulnerable hits the wall of patriarchal mentality, demographic and geographic upheavals, dramatic upturns in the value system and the gray economic and social context that empowers evil to prevail.

This is not happening only in Albania, yet it is as scary as in any other place. This is a small country where people still know each other and see each other and interact with each other at very high frequencies therefore it is even harder to accept a reality where they seem to kill and harm each other with such ease.

Something needs to change. Efforts to increase information and awareness among those who are under threat and harm’s way on likely protection and escape routes need to be better coordinated, increased, and managed well. People need to change through introspection but also through being introduced and encouraged to participate in referral mechanisms. They need to be better educated, young people need to be enabled to protect themselves and their peers. Otherwise this is the inferno we all deserve.

                    [post_title] => Editorial: The fabric of society is unraveling
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => editorial-the-fabric-of-society-is-unraveling
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2016-12-09 10:02:34
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-09 09:02:34
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130279
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

        )

    [post] => WP_Post Object
        (
            [ID] => 130805
            [post_author] => 29
            [post_date] => 2017-01-20 13:31:21
            [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-20 12:31:21
            [post_content] => Today the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States of America shall usher in a new era not only for the US itself, which voted and has been bracing for dramatic changes, but also for the rest of the world.  The Western Balkans and in a relevant way Albania as well has been for all the transition years recipients of considerable influence, assistance, guidance and sway of American foreign policy. Therefore it is safe to assume that decision makers, opinion makers and a variety of other stakeholders in public life in the region are observing carefully and trying to imagine what the impact of a Trump presidency and administration shall be on their countries.

The most obvious statement to make here is that Donald Trump has been a formidable challenge to all prediction makers. His rhetoric, tone and statement about the expected policies depict a picture of many expected changes. Should the promises, plans and statements about the future materialize we can expect to see an arriving administration with a clear and strong isolationist policy, much less interested in intervention, potentially cutting funding for development assistance, skeptical of NATO’s efficiency and ultimately a President that is publicly not a fan of the European Union.

Donald Trump has been vocal in questioning US’s role in NATO especially criticizing the relative inequality of funding from defense expenditure of member states.  In addition to putting Baltic States and other eastern European countries on edge, this negative consideration of NATO has been of concern to many states in the Balkans for which NATO has been a game changer and later on an important guarantee of regional peace and stability.

Trump and his partners have also cast doubts on preserving the amount of financial assistance that countries all over the world receive through mainly USAID and other related programs. Some campaign proposals have favored cuts in order to afford focusing on home priorities. Curtailing these funds would mean less investment in the region in strategic areas such as infrastructure, local economic empowerment, capacity building of key state institutions, etc.

Finally the latest statement from the President that shall be sworn in today in his latest interview is that “Brexit will be a great thing for the UK.” Trump is on clear controversial terms if not a collision course with key European leaders such as Merkel, the latter being depicted as the last standing fortress of liberalism in the west. The lack of American support and encouragement for the European enlargement and for the integration process of aspiring countries in the Balkans compounds the already difficult existing climate in the Union. The very ascent of Trump has inspired the populist and right wing euro-skeptic movements across Europe and might have a pertinent impact on upcoming elections in key member states hence presenting even more challenges in this regard.

Most of what is mentioned above do not spell optimism for the majority of the Western Balkan states. It has become a recurrent theme after the American elections that a candidate and a president act very differently as the office changes the person and makes him more responsible about the long standing commitments hence softening very revolutionary proposal. It stands as a fact that the real impact for which we can try to brace now can only be evaluated after the new administration is well established and has had time to propose and enact new plans and strategies.

A new era is starting where there are no set guarantees.  It is important to keep hoping for the best while carefully preparing for potential impact.
            [post_title] => Editorial: The Western Balkans in the times of Donald Trump: brace for impact 
            [post_excerpt] => 
            [post_status] => publish
            [comment_status] => closed
            [ping_status] => closed
            [post_password] => 
            [post_name] => editorial-the-western-balkans-in-the-times-of-donald-trump-brace-for-impact
            [to_ping] => 
            [pinged] => 
            [post_modified] => 2017-01-20 13:31:21
            [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-01-20 12:31:21
            [post_content_filtered] => 
            [post_parent] => 0
            [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=130805
            [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] => 612
            [filter] => raw
            [cat_ID] => 30
            [category_count] => 612
            [category_description] => 
            [cat_name] => Op-Ed
            [category_nicename] => op-ed
            [category_parent] => 0
        )

    [queried_object_id] => 30
    [post__not_in] => Array
        (
        )

)

Latest News

Read More