‘You’re in charge. We, the internationals are happy to assist if asked’

‘You’re in charge. We, the internationals are happy to assist if asked’

By Johann Sattler* I have a weak spot for Albanian phraseology and I was baffled when I recently discovered a saying which is attributed to the Albanian statesman Faik Konica: Nuk behet Shqiperia me shqiptare (Albania cannot be built by Albanians).

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Albania’s transition, 1990-1992: U.S. support for a nascent democracy

Albania’s transition, 1990-1992: U.S. support for a nascent democracy

By Elez Biberaj* Thank you very much for the invitation to participate in this important conference.  I am delighted and honored to be here in the company of such distinguished personalities, colleagues, and friends. My presentation focuses on the role

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Editorial: The scary healthcare trap in Albania

Editorial: The scary healthcare trap in Albania

There is a popular expression that one hears often in Albania, with various versions of it going: “If you don’t have health you don’t have anything” — “Health comes first” — “Let us wish God gives us health and the

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Egypt’s strategy in combating terrorism

Egypt’s strategy in combating terrorism

 By Mohamed Khalil*      In a new world that is faced by various challenges and global issues like the Climate Change, poverty, food security, gender equality, health, education and more, arise the new phenomenon of terrorism that threatened the peace

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Editorial: Tirana’s populist and nationalist exercises

Editorial: Tirana’s populist and nationalist exercises

By Albert Rakipi It is everywhere — in the news portals and television. It is also on the Prime Minister’s own personal digital television station on Facebook — ERTV. Let’s call it the “the special show.” It involves government members,

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Editorial: Governing for the 1 percent – or just five people

Editorial: Governing for the 1 percent – or just five people

There is an ongoing global debate about rising levels of inequality in the world and the various degrees of power that economic elites exert in comparison to others. The debate has made it even into popular parlance framed with the

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Editorial: The red line: Setting a clear boundary between crime and politics

Editorial: The red line: Setting a clear boundary between crime and politics

Red lines in Albania when it comes to crime and politics have increasingly become blurry in recent years, and it is a subject this newspaper has addressed in length in the past, but when it comes to cannabis cultivation, it

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Analysis: Albanian-Greek relations reset: The risk of amateurism on the political and media side

Analysis: Albanian-Greek relations reset: The risk of amateurism on the political and media side

The two days summit that wrapped up this week in the island of Crete where the two Foreign Affairs Ministers of Albania and Greece with some of their closets staff sat down and discussed a number of pending issues between

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Scientific proof that prayers and black magic work!

Scientific proof that prayers and black magic work!

By E.L. Bono* At least that’s what the Austrian author E.L. Bono depicts in his novel “Shadow of the oath”. Imbedded in an unbelievable exciting thriller based on a true African family drama, he explains logically how the “Power of

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Slovenia’s Economy Minister:  Aware of Albanian market potential

Slovenia’s Economy Minister: Aware of Albanian market potential

By Rudina Hoxha Zdravko Počivalšek, Minister of Economic Development and Technology of Slovenia, accompanied by 24 Slovenian companies, paid a visit to Albania early this week demonstrating the full will of his own country to cooperate with Albania. “We are

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                    [post_content] => By Johann Sattler*

[caption id="attachment_132183" align="alignright" width="300"]Ambasadori Sattler Ambassador Johann Sattler (C)[/caption]

I have a weak spot for Albanian phraseology and I was baffled when I recently discovered a saying which is attributed to the Albanian statesman Faik Konica: Nuk behet Shqiperia me shqiptare (Albania cannot be built by Albanians). From this phrase – which of course has to be seen in its historic context having been created more than 100 years ago - it is a very short distance to the topic of today – the role of internationals in Albania.

Preparing for today I came across a booklet written by the private secretary of Prince Wied, the unfortunate first king who was kicked out of the principality of Albania in 1914 after less than half a year in office. Heaton-Armstrong describes the landing in Durres and Tirana:

‘The market square was crowed to overflowing and the people cheered, applauded and cried with joy. For 500 years the Turks had ruled the country and now at last Albania had a Mbret/King, and what king it had!’ And he continues his observations of Albanians concerning trust and suspicion: ‘Albanians are more suspicious of their own countrymen than they are of foreigner.’ But all the trust they had put in their new foreigner-king had also quickly evaporated. I quote: ‘The Tirana expedition was deemed a great success and none of us thought that exactly a month afterwards an insurrection would drive the King out of his capital.’

And that was the end of Prince Wied’s short reign as souvereign of the Principality of Albania. Wied left Albania unceremoniously in early September 1914.

This episode shows the eagerness with which foreigners are greeted in this country, but it also shows the limitations of foreign intervention. In Prince Wieds case, of course, it had also to do with the enormity of the task of holding together basically an ungovernable country with at the time hostile neighbours, but also with the utter unpreparedness of the Prince for the job. So in way it was a mission impossible. Or, as Fan Noli later put it: Pince Wied can be criticized only for being unable to perform miracles.’

So internationals have played a strong role in this country for a long time, in the early years after independence, in the inter-war period as well as in the recent so-called transition period.

Today’s conference is a good opportunity to reflect, to compare and draw lessons from successes and from mistakes made – in the good tradition of Soren Kierkegaard - Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived – unfortunately I may add - forwards.

The recent transition period in Albania has meant profound political, economic, and social transformations. It included: A political transition from dictatorship to democracy, an economic transition, from centralized planning economy to a market economy; a transition from a rural society to an urban one - with great uncontrolled demographic shifting and a transition from a closed society to a relatively open one

This is a lot for a relatively short period of time. On the other hand, how long can a transition last? We are now soon finishing the third decade of transition, one and a half generations have already passed having seen in their lifetime nothing else but a transition. And it is understandable that people become impatient, asking – when is this transition coming to an end so that we can start a normal life? There is the feeling, as a friend recently had told me that transition is often used as a convenient excuse for the political class. In the sense: things will become normal once the transition period is finished. But when will that be?

During the last decades internationals have been assisting Albania in the different transition aspects mentioned above. Sometimes successfully, sometimes less so. Often we are confronted here with completely unrealistic expectations (Prince Wied being a historic example). And I could bring you many more examples of citizens writing letters to us internationals, ranging from building playgrounds, to fighting the property agency to establishing an Austro-Hungarian protectorate as in the old days.

But how is this outsized role or better these outsized expectations explainable? First of all because there is trust – polls show over the last 20+ years a stable 80% trust rate for international institutions (NATO+EU in the lead), whereas the trust rate for the Government – according to last  Trust in Government Poll 2016 - lies at around 30% (Parliament at 22%, judiciary at 19%). An interesting question of course is if this stable expression of trust towards internationals is deserved. I personally believe the international community over the last decades was a positive factor developing the country. Apart from its role in helping to bring about a functional democracy and a market economy and in building capacities, the role of international  institutions was in my view especially important when it comes to social cohesion, education and the improvement of living standards throughout the country. My country, Austria, for instance, was in the beginning heavily focused on basics, like water supply. Later we added – and this is now seen as our most effective investment – education, building, running and assisting schools and supporting vocational education as the best means to give young Albanians a future in their country.

But I think one of the most important contributions of the internationals came when things got nasty and out of control, like in 1997. I personally happened to be part of the EU crisis management at the time (ECMM). I was surprised to find myself – driving in an armoured car through the streets of Vlora and Peshkopi. I will never forget the stream of Albanian men walking through the pedestrian zone and carrying their Kalashnikovs on their shoulders. And in between three guys in white uniform - of course this being the EU – without any arms.

The decisive role then was played by the OSCE, leading the international efforts to calm the dangerous situation and come to a political solution through early elections and the creation of a more inclusive interim government. It was then when the Danish OSCE Chairman in Office (Foreign Minister Petersen) asked Chancellor Franz Vranitzky to mediate between the political parties. Vranitzky  having survived 11 years of holding together a grand coalition in Austria - was quite effective in bridging the enormous gap between the parties.

I happened to meet Vranitzky recently – where he apologized that for health reasons he cannot be with us today and where he told me with wet eyes about the unbelievable scenes he witnessed but also about the gratitude he received from average Albanians for his efforts; he told me about the long hours he had spent in negotiations on an Italian warship – sent generously by PM Prodi after it was impossible to land in Rinas airport – mediating between politicians, warlords and clan-leaders. He asked me to convey to you his best wishes for the conference and for Albania’s development on its road to Europe.

Now, 20 years later, Albania is a NATO member, a candidate for membership in the European Union starting EU negotiations hopefully next year, and its international and regional role has increased significantly. There are still enough challenges, from a polarised political landscape to corruption to weak institutions and massive social problems. I think that this country has the potential to address also these challenges.

Albanians have shown in the past years that they can manage difficult situations. Or, as you say in your beautiful language: I zoti e nxjerr gomarin nga balta! – The owner/landlord pulls the donkey out of the mud! You’re in charge, you are the landlord. We, the internationals are happy to assist if asked. So that in the end Faik Konica will be proven wrong: Shqiperia po behet me shiptaret. (Albania is being built by Albanians).

These were the remarks Austrian Ambassador to Tirana, Johann Sattler, gave at the OSCE Conference - “The Role of the Internationals in the Transition in Albania” on 6 Dec.2017
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_121212" align="alignright" width="300"]Elez Biberaj Elez Biberaj[/caption]

By Elez Biberaj*

Thank you very much for the invitation to participate in this important conference.  I am delighted and honored to be here in the company of such distinguished personalities, colleagues, and friends.

My presentation focuses on the role that the United States played as Albania embarked on the difficult road of transition in the early 1990s.  After more than four decades of an absence of formal diplomatic contacts and with rising public discontent against Ramiz Alia’s regime, the United States in 1990 saw an opportunity to induce the communists to accept political pluralism and to facilitate a peaceful regime change in what was Europe’s last Stalinist country. Applying lessons learned from the revolutions in other Eastern European countries and working closely with key European allies, the United States began to articulate and publicly enunciate a clear policy, assuming a more direct and prominent role in an effort to reinforce democratic tendencies in Albania.   Washington attempted to effectively promote these policy objectives in several ways:
  • Introducing conditionality in its policy toward Tirana, predicating the restoration of diplomatic relations and support for Albania’s membership into the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) with progress toward political pluralism.
  • Encouraging Albania’s reformist forces, publicly endorsing democratic demands of student demonstrators in December 1990, and providing political support to the newly created opposition parties.
  • Assisting Albanians in laying the groundwork for the reshaping of the country’s political and institutional landscape.
  • And establishing a new constitutional order based on a clear separation of powers and the rule of law.
The collapse of communism in the other Eastern European countries in 1989 had an immediate impact on Albania.  Isolated and unable to address daunting economic and social challenges, Alia’s regime was faced with growing opposition.  Although he introduced some policy changes in spring 1990, Alia was interested in reforming rather than changing the system. However, the social compact that had ensured the regime’s survival was eroding rapidly. The question was no longer will the Albanian regime fall but when will it fall and how violent will it be, since there were no indications that the ruling communists were ready to renounce terror as an instrument of control.  With the outbreak of sporadic anti-government demonstrations in the first months of 1990, the United States saw an opportunity to encourage reformist forces and promote political and economic changes. Washington exerted pressure on Tirana by providing forthright support to calls for democracy and freedom and introducing conditionality in its policy.  In June 1990, Secretary of State James Baker predicated the restoration of diplomatic relations and support for Albania’s membership into the CSCE with progress toward political pluralism.  Baker bluntly laid out the conditions that Albania had to meet if it wished to join the community of free nations: progress toward political pluralism, full respect for human rights, release of political prisoners, free elections, and market economic reforms. The Congress and the influential Albanian-American community were fully supportive of this policy. During this critical period, the Voice of America, at the time the only Western international broadcaster in Albanian, expanded its focus on Albania.  VOA had already gained prominence as a credible, alternative news source for information-deprived Albanians. By May-June 1990, VOA was in a position to conduct telephone interviews with opinion makers in Albania. Through careful gleanings from the Albanian press, VOA attempted to identify and highlight reformist measures and statements. For the first time, Albanian officials and intellectuals with liberal, reformist inclinations were willing to express views which went beyond what were the standard Communist Party talking points.  By providing news and information that was empowering, and engaging members of the political and intellectual elite on politically sensitive issues, such as human and religious rights, political pluralism and market economic reforms, VOA was able to some extent to frame the political debate in Albania and to serve as a significant agent of change. The storming of foreign embassies in July 1990, which sent shock waves throughout the system, exposed the fallibility of the regime and were a clear indication that its slow disintegration was picking up steam.  But these events also showed that Albania was not yet ripe for a regime change.  Although years of disastrous policies pursued by Tirana’s highly repressive and inward-looking regime had caused widespread disillusionment and disaffection, no organized opposition had emerged. The July events captured the world’s attention, and the regime faced unprecedented international pressures.  A delegation of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, led by Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-Arizona), visited Albania during August 19-21, 1990.  The delegation concluded that the government had failed to implement “real reforms” and urged the State Department to oppose Albania’s request for membership in the CSCE, which had become a top priority for Alia.   The period following the storming of foreign embassies in Tirana was marked by a backsliding of Alia’s managed reform process, and intimidation of intellectuals. Government actions had a chilling effect on those advocating change, which was also reflected in the reluctance of many intellectuals to talk to VOA. In the weeks following the embassy events, VOA aired a series of interviews with recent refugees, focusing on Albania’s political and economic crisis, the human rights situation, and prospects for fundamental reforms.  The refugees offered new political insight and analysis of the true state of affairs in Albania. In October 1990, Ismail Kadare announced that he had asked for political asylum in France. Kadare’s defection shook the foundations of Albania’s political system and inspired intellectuals to act. In early December 1990, student demonstrations broke out at the University of Tirana, propelling Albania to the top of the international agenda.  With growing support for the students and fearing a popular uprising, Alia rejected the use of force to suppress the demonstrations and agreed to permit the establishment of opposition parties.  Albania was finally on the threshold of a dramatic political transformation. Circumstances in Albania, however, were less favorable for a transition than those in the other Eastern European countries.  
  • Because of the harsh repressive nature of its regime, Albania was the only East European country which was not able to develop an opposition movement before the collapse of the old political order.
  • Moreover, unlike in other East European states, lack of contacts and presence in Tirana had prevented the United States from identifying, engaging and cultivating relationships with individuals – potential agents of change – that could assume positions of responsibility once the country embarked on the road of democratic change.
  • The demise of the one-party state resulted in a societal breakdown and institutional collapse.  
  • The economy had practically collapsed and there was little knowledge of modern economics, the privatization of state owned property, and the mechanism of sharing the proceeds with the populace.
While some considered Albania’s democratic transition as improbable, most Albanians and their international supporters, particularly the United States, had great expectations about Albania’s democratic prospects. Immediately following the student demonstrations, Albania witnessed the creation of several non-Communist political parties. The leadership of the emerging opposition forces was a combination of former communists and regime supporters, liberal democrats, students, and a small number of people who had been imprisoned for anti-regime activities.  Untried and with no experience, opposition leaders faced inordinate difficulties. Their understanding of democracy, the rule of law, and market economy were rudimentary at best.  It was clear that the emerging leadership elites would desperately need assistance and guidance in their uphill battle to force the Communists to relinquish power. In the wake of the December events, the United States adopted a tough line, sharpening its criticism of Alia’s government, calling for a peaceful and orderly transition of power, expressing support for the emerging democratic opposition, and demanding the unconditional release of all political prisoners.  Through their public pronouncements, U.S. officials attempted to exert a moderating influence, emphasizing national reconciliation and the need for Albanians to put their tragic past behind them and embrace democratic principles. As Communists and the emerging opposition battled for control and with Albania facing political and economic meltdown, Washington decided to normalize relations with Tirana. In a highly unusual but significant move, Democratic Party leaders Sali Berisha and Gramoz Pashko were invited by the Department of State to attend the signing ceremony on March 15, 1991, and to meet with senior U.S. officials.  This was the first face-to-face contact between the two opposition leaders and American officials.  While Albania was officially represented by its Foreign Minister, Muhamet Kapllani, American attention was focused almost exclusively on Berisha and Pashko. In the wake of the establishment of diplomatic relations, the United States was now in a position to provide forthright and effective support for the cause of freedom and democracy in Albania. The American vision of Albania was one of a country with a pluralistic system with full respect for democratic norms.  A diplomatic delegation was dispatched to Tirana to prepare the ground for the opening of the U.S. embassy. And the U.S. Helsinki Commission send a large delegation to observe the country’s first multi-party elections, held on March 31, 1991. Although the communists won the elections, their support collapsed rapidly and in early June 1991 they were forced to enter into a coalition with the opposition. Recognizing this as a significant step in Albania’s tumultuous transition, the U.S. responded by endorsing Albania’s full membership in the CSCE, and Secretary Baker visited Tirana on June 22, 1991, extending America’s moral and political backing for Albania’s democratic transition. Baker’s visit was the most important and tangible U.S. expression of support for Albania.  In the midst of a huge outpouring of affection and huge expectations, the Secretary of State told more than 200,000 Albanians gathered at Skenderbeg Square that, “America is returning to you!” “Freedom works!” and “You are with us and we are with you!” In his talks with Alia and opposition leaders, the Secretary of State emphasized that Albania needed rapid changes and that the emerging political order had to reflect strong, democratic institutions, an independent judiciary, respect for the rule of law, a free and pluralist media, fully free and fair elections, security from arbitrary power, and adequate safeguards for civil liberties. In the wake of Baker’s visit, the United States launched a set of assistance programs, which were implemented during the period leading up to the March 1992 elections.  These focused on sustained democratization and economic stabilization:
  • Strengthening parliament and developing impartiality in the functioning of the political system.
  • Helping with political party development; training in election techniques and the general workings of democratic elections.
  • Experts to help draft a new constitution and develop a functional, post-Communist legal system.
  • Providing support for an independent media.  
Washington also dispatched an economic assistance mission to assess Albania’s needs and to assist the authorities to design a strategy of economic recovery. In addition, the United States mobilized international support and was instrumental in Albania gaining membership in the IMF and the World Bank. The opening of the U.S. Embassy in Tirana in October 1991 represented a significant milestone in bilateral relations.  The small group of American diplomats, led by Ambassador William Ryerson and his deputy Chris Hill, played an extraordinary role in promoting Albania’s democratization process and in helping Albanians craft a transition plan.  While continuing to engage President Alia and other leading Communist officials, American diplomats focused their activities on helping the fledgling democratic opposition. Baker, in his meeting with opposition representatives during his June 1991 visit to Tirana, had urged them openly to unite to defeat the Communists in the next elections.  American diplomats as well as representatives of the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute helped the opposition develop a coherent strategy to oust the Communists from power, providing pre-election support, civic education, party training, and technical assistance. In the period leading to the elections of March 1992, American support for the Albanian opposition was clear.  This was reflected in statements by senior State Department officials, the American Embassy in Tirana, and members of the U.S. Congress.   The Democratic victory in March 1992 signaled the end of Albania’s long Communist nightmare.  As the Albanians embarked on the difficult road of consolidating their democratic gains, the United States continued to play a critical role, serving as the most important external factor promoting Albania’s democratization, prosperity, and Euro-Atlantic integration. Despite formidable odds and zig-zags during the last 27 years, Albania’s democratic experiment has endured.  Albania has undergone profound transformations and democratic norms have largely been embraced. The overwhelming majority of Albanians accept the narrative that emphasizes their nation’s historical connections to European, democratic values. A member of NATO since 2009, Albania is poised to enter next year the critical phase of accession talks with the European Union.  And the current judicial reforms offer Albania an opportunity to remedy the reputational damage done by pervasive corruption and organized crime. But the transition has been challenging and most of the pillars of Albania’s democracy are still weak.  More than a quarter-of-a-century after the demise of communism, the Albanian polity is characterized by semi-democratic political arrangements, superficial checks and balances, pervasive corruption, organized crime, and daunting social and economic challenges.  The enduring polarizing patterns of Albanian politics, most vividly demonstrated by the inability of the country’s main leaders to forge a consensus on major issues and the propensity of the post-1990 elites to restrict free political contestation, have thwarted efforts of good governance and undermined the institutional basis of the new order. There are many factors that explain Albania’s democratic underperformance: lack of a democratic culture, the communist legacy, and economic underdevelopment.  But a strong case can be made that many of the difficulties that Albania has encountered are a direct function of the choices and decisions made by its governing elites.  Missed opportunities, misguided policies, mistakes, and failures have transcended Democratic and Socialist administrations. Albania finds itself at a critical juncture.  While the United States and the EU remain strongly committed to provide critical political and economic support, the responsibility for Albania’s democratic advancement lies squarely with its political leaders.  The status quo comes at a high price and Albania’s political system desperately needs a reboot. To fully consolidate its democracy, Albania will need to undergo a true institutional transformation, reform its current dysfunctional system of governance, and challenge the deep-seated culture of impunity. It remains to be seen if the Albanian elites have the political will to seize the opportunity and live up to the democratic expectations of their own people or will they simply choose to pay lip service to the imperative of implementing fundamental reforms. Dr. Elez Biberaj is the Director of the Eurasia Division of the Voice of America. This was his presentation at the Conference on “The Role of the Internationals in the Transition in Albania,” organized by the OSCE Presence in Albania on Dec. 6, 2017. [post_title] => Albania’s transition, 1990-1992: U.S. support for a nascent democracy [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albanias-transition-1990-1992-u-s-support-for-a-nascent-democracy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-12-08 09:48:58 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-12-08 08:48:58 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=134894 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 134891 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-12-08 09:39:24 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-12-08 08:39:24 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_134892" align="alignright" width="300"]Citizens bring their own heaters to the maternity ward in Lezha to warm up newborns since central heating is missing. Photo: Screenshot from a video Citizens bring their own heaters to the maternity ward in Lezha to warm up newborns since central heating is missing.  (Photo: Video screen grab from JoQ)[/caption] There is a popular expression that one hears often in Albania, with various versions of it going: “If you don’t have health you don’t have anything” -- “Health comes first” -- “Let us wish God gives us health and the rest will be taken care of.”  If you think these are expressions of a people which values health above all else you are mistaken. What they really mean is that let us seek the help of God not to get sick, otherwise poverty will be at the door. This is a largely due to the situation in Albanian healthcare system, both in the public and private sector, which resembles a scary trap one can only wish away with prayers for good luck. A regional economic report from the World Bank concludes that 4.5 percent of people in Albania were rendered poor because of their illness and healthcare expenditure. More than 120,000 people who experienced illness and had to cover medical bills, buy medicines and take care of themselves or their family members saw their pockets empty and their finances dwindle as a result of this situation. No other country in the region has such negative figures. The reason mentioned in the report is that despite the fairytale of free healthcare, which even the ruling majority has dropped now in its second mandate, the Albanian taxpayer is loaded with at least half of the expenditure for medical bills. Montenegro follows Albania with citizens covering about 42 percent while other countries cover much more leaving only 20-30 percent of the cost to the ordinary people. The picture is even wider and more complex than this: even though the rest of the middle class might make it out of an illness without really sinking into extreme poverty the uncertainty vested with healthcare in Albania is one of the key risk factors in their lives. A serious illness or a sudden accident will strip most of middle class citizens of all savings and make many of them turn to the banks to borrow. Some may borrow from family members when possible to avoid interest rates. This shall initiate a long and arduous circle of financial burdens and insecurities for them. The irony is that the same fate falls upon those seeking assistance both in the public sector and in the private one. In public hospitals conditions are often miserable, medicines have to be found in alternative ways and corruption still exists. Just yesterday the entire team of doctors at the emergency pavilion of the largest hospital in Albania was ready to sign a petition and even quit if necessary to protest the overload in patients and the bad working conditions. In the private sector, exorbitant bills pay for the seemingly better service. And all those who regularly pay taxes and contributions (healthcare contribution is around 4 percent of the income in Albania) do not get any benefits in the private hospitals despite many promises that their taxes would count for something: serving as a price discount in the private sector. A worse fate awaits those who do not live in Tirana or the big towns. Their costs are augmented by the trips they have to take and the job days they have to miss in order to meet with a specialty doctor in one of the bigger regional or capital hospitals since little towns or villages for many years now do not get regular service. That is why they also clog the capital hospitals, which are not prepared for that kind of workload. While this dark reality touches upon lives of Albanians every day, the virtual reality of ministers presenting new renovated hospital wings beams large and undisturbed from television sets. Healthcare is really a trap in Albania: once you step inside be prepared for a major battle, not only for your health but for your financial survival.     [post_title] => Editorial: The scary healthcare trap in Albania [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-the-scary-healthcare-trap-in-albania [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-12-08 10:19:08 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-12-08 09:19:08 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=134891 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 134846 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-12-04 17:37:25 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-12-04 16:37:25 [post_content] =>  By Mohamed Khalil*      In a new world that is faced by various challenges and global issues like the Climate Change, poverty, food security, gender equality, health, education and more, arise the new phenomenon of terrorism that threatened the peace and security worldwide, especially in the Middle East, winning new grounds everywhere, in place and number, targeting the stability of societies and terrorizing innocents regardless of their origin or orientation. The recent attacks in Egypt against the religious sites are a new dimension in the terrorist group’s strategy that is not related to the Islamic values of peace and coexistence. The terrorist attack on a mosque in the Northern Sinai village of Rawda, that took place last week, claimed unprecedented number of innocent lives (305 dead including children and 127 injured). The Egyptian government is determined to continue its efforts in combating terrorism within an integrated approach that takes into consideration the following steps simultaneously:
  • 1. The role of Egypt’s Al Azhar institution in promoting the moderate vision of Islam, fighting extremism and explaining the correct interpretation of some controversial topics.
 
  • 2. Development of remote areas, especially in Northern Sinai and Upper Egypt, within a strategy that aims at establishing mega projects, improve their living conditions and the standards of life in health, education and job creation, in order to eradicate poverty and to create a new generation capable of achieving their inspirations and active in building their country, away from the extremist ideas that use the unemployed and the poverty of young people.
 
  • 3. International efforts, within the United Nations and the concerned international specialized organizations, in raising the problem and proposing initiatives that would mobilize the international recognition of the phenomenon and the need to combat it. Within this context, Egypt submitted two draft resolutions at the United Nations, the first is “The effects of Terrorism on enjoyment of Human Rights”, and the second is “The effects of Terrorist acts against Religious Sites on the Culture of Peace”. Egypt believes that terrorism effects the full enjoyment of all forms of political, civil, economic, social and cultural human rights, which includes hindering development, destroying infrastructure and damaging tourism, as well as negatively effecting the flow of investments and disturbing economic growth, and it is the state’s responsibility in protecting individuals against terrorism and show solidarity with the victims and their families. Egypt will continue its efforts and coordination with friendly and brotherly countries to set a comprehensive international strategy to eradicate terrorism in all its shapes and forms in order to enforce international peace and security.
 
  • 4. Implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy with its four pillars: addressing the conditions conductive to the spread of terrorism and extremism, building state’s capabilities, strengthening the UN role in combating terrorism and respecting the principles of international human rights law.
 
  • 5. The need to talk and for mutual understanding of each other’s circumstances and cultures, as well as the importance of dialogue among all the stakeholders in analyzing the causes of extremism and terrorism, the solutions and the way forward. The International Youth Forum that was hosted by Egypt in November 2017 was an initiative within that approach. There is no doubt that investing in youth is an important element to become an effective asset and to be protected from falling victim to unemployment that leads to other problems like extremism, terrorism and illegal immigration.
 
  • 6. Last but not least, the security approaches, through international cooperation and coordination in facing the terrorist group’s strategies, exchange of experiences and information and draining the source of funding. We count on the support of the international community in facing this phenomenon and in supporting the Egyptian capabilities in our fight through actions rather than words.
It’s a fight that Egypt is facing on behalf of the world, a fight we had to deal with for a better future for the new generations, bearing in mind that the stability of Egypt is a cornerstone for peace and stability in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. *Mohamed Khalil is Ambassador of Egypt to Albania [post_title] => Egypt’s strategy in combating terrorism [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => egypts-strategy-in-combating-terrorism [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-12-04 17:37:47 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-12-04 16:37:47 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=134846 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 134794 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-12-01 09:20:36 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-12-01 08:20:36 [post_content] => By Albert Rakipi It is everywhere -- in the news portals and television. It is also on the Prime Minister’s own personal digital television station on Facebook -- ERTV. Let’s call it the “the special show.” It involves government members, parliament members, local authorities, the mayor and the staff too. There some young people too for good measure and in the full style of the Chinese cultural revolution. This week it happened in Lushnja, cleaning up a park, but it could really be in other places too. The Minister of Economy and Finances appeared with a grass mower, while the head of the parliament’s economy commission gave him directions on how to use it. The Minister of Agriculture was wearing gloves which, weirdly, he’d preferred to combine with the usual suit he puts on during governmental meetings. The rest were dressed semi-official and semi-sportive, but the entire scene looked like the circus had arrived to town and the curiosity of citizens passing by was big. Others looked through their windows just as curiously, but too shy to come closer. Two big signs could be spotted in the background -- “The Albania We Want” and “Let’s Clean Albania” the slogan read. This entire scene turned even more surreal when Prime Minister Edi Rama joined in. He was without a doubt the director and main protagonist. While the government members continued to clean the park and collect the garbage, they simultaneously kept an eye on the ‘big guy’, while the local authorities ran to meet him and welcome him. Dressed completely differently from the rest, neither wearing a traditional suit nor sportive clothes – he is always investing in surrealism – the Prime Minister, with an indifferent look that neared mockery, and without giving a second look to the ministers who were cleaning, took two-three steps towards the stage with a pair of black, dirty sunglasses that strongly resembled those of John Lennon.   This scene, so typical to the Chinese cultural revolution, is in fact the populist core of the current Albanian government. It is the same populist approach regularly applied to foreign policy. But usually, in November, Tirana’s populist methods are more frequent and colorful. Under the slogan “One nation, two governments, one future” not one but two joint meetings with Kosovo’s government were conducted this week – one in Korçë and one in Vlorë. The second one was during the National Flag Day. Big flags, speeches, a state guard -- and a dozen agreements were signed. Actually, cooperation memorandums between the two governments have been signed in abundance. Yet they have no timeframes and no instruments for implementation. So beyond the show of populism and patriotism, the actual relations between the two countries are shallow. During 2016, the economic trade between Albania and Kosovo reached 164 million euros, while the trade between Albania and Serbia reached 166 million euros. This is regardless of the fact that since 2014, Albania and Kosovo have held several joint government meetings. These joint government meetings are just another colorful show full of flags, but very similar with the Lushnja scene, where the ministers were the ones cleaning the park. Having the ministers clean that park in Lushnja is a show that made some people laugh. Albania will not be cleaned through a show, but through policies. The relations with Kosovo will also not develop through a show, but through policies, because, as we’ve seen, these bureaucratic meetings don’t help the economic development between the two countries. Not only are the two governments not proposing instruments that will increase economic cooperation, but in reality barriers that halt this development exist between the countries. Meanwhile, the show through these joint government meetings  -- framed with the slogan “One nation, two governments, one future” -- go beyond the mere populist words and show of the Lushnja park cleanup. It gains a new status and can be deemed populist-nationalist. The government is not the only one to take part in these populist-nationalist methods. The President also visited Medvegja, a commune inhibited by Serbian citizens with Albanian nationality and who represent the Albanian minority in Serbia. Think about the Greek President going to only visit a village in southern Albania, where Albanian citizens of Greek ethnicity live – the Greek minority. Many Albanians would not be very happy. But populist-nationalist methods, different from Lushnja’s cleanup, can also be individualistic. The joint governments meetings this week introduced by a declaration and proposal coming from the Minister of Diaspora – very creative and exhibitionistic in his exercise of populism and nationalism. The minister declared that on Jan. 1 of the following year Albania and Kosovo should open the borders and unite. When the order to go to war came to the good soldier Zvejk, if you remember, he said, confused: “It’s one thing everyone went crazy, but why would everyone go crazy on the same day?” The populist-nationalist methods of Tirana are becoming more frequent, especially in November. “I don’t want to be working in Tirana in November,” a Western, high-ranking diplomat living in Tirana says, “because I have to file long reports, with explanations for all these activities you call populist-nationalist methods.” My advice was simple: Please, show your bosses in the West the government’s cleaning show in Lushnja and come up with an abstract: What results does that show in actually cleaning up Albania?     [post_title] => Editorial: Tirana’s populist and nationalist exercises [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-tiranas-populist-and-nationalist-exercises [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-12-01 09:20:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-12-01 08:20:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=134794 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 134681 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-11-24 09:34:41 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-11-24 08:34:41 [post_content] => There is an ongoing global debate about rising levels of inequality in the world and the various degrees of power that economic elites exert in comparison to others. The debate has made it even into popular parlance framed with the well-known and frequently used terms of “the 1 percent” versus “the 99 percent,” and fans of both camps are to be found everywhere from politics to the media, from street protest to bank boards. In the United States, it is a well-known fact that the most important billionaires own as much wealth as five0 percent of the population, a staggering figure. It is naïve to believe anything else rather than the fact that these billionaires have unique access to power, unique opportunities to shape policies and decisions and profit from them. If one tries to analyze this in the context of Albania, a certain ugly vulgarity rises from it. The estimation is that in Albania we can find similar concerning numbers. Last week, we got some interesting insight that indeed the 1 percent in this country are five people. Last Thursday, during the parliamentary debate about the 2018 state budget, a key issue for governance, we heard about billionaires from none less than the Prime Minister and the  opposition leader. With a confidence bordering on arrogance, Prime Minister Rama mentioned the five wealthiest people in Albania (definitely among the ten richest although exact ranking may vary), largest tax payers and employers:  Zamir Mane, Bashkim Ulaj, Avni Ponari, Shefqet Kastrati and Rame Geci. His argument was that since these five people have planned investments next year, and since they will do them through the banking sector, then the opposition’s claim that the budget was a money laundering exercise could not stand. Rama could have added a few more names to this list for the sake of accuracy and comprehensiveness: Vilma Nushi, Aleksander Frangaj, perhaps even his former MP and friend Tom Doshi. They are all part of a public and official list from the ‘Pashko’ economic research think tank. But this is not the point, the argument can be made the same either for five or ten. The reaction was immediate, the opposition leader lowered his eyes in sentence probably gulping down in discomfort at hearing the names of his key donors. Indeed Rama pointed out that those five had been traditionally DP supporters, almost enjoying with a large beaming grin how he has managed to turn their sympathies over to his side. Indeed it is this side of the debate that media focused on: the achievement of Rama to turn over these stakeholders. Yet the debate misses several key points: First of all these businessmen have become so rich and powerful largely due to making profits using the natural wealth assets and resources of the country such as chrome, oil and land often manned by cheap labor under less than safe conditions. --a ll of which require significant political support. Just recently the municipality of Tirana has granted at least three of them permission to build skyscrapers in the middle of Tirana. Just last week, another miner lost his life in the chrome galleries of Bulqiza which generate millions in revenues for at least 30 concessionary contracts in the area. The largest of these contracts belongs to the first name in the list. Second, the way their names were used, the way their work were described and the entire tone of the debate creates a sad impression that whoever the Prime Minister is, whatever the government is called, it is going to rise at dawn and lay at dusk sparing no effort to please these people. In a country with persisting and crippling rates of poverty and unemployment, dramatic desire and interest of youth to migrate, punishing quality of public services and issues of transnational organized crime, Albanians must know that come what may the current and the potential Prime Minister and their government are going to work tirelessly to keep these five people happy, keep their balance sheet bottom lines fat and while at it keep their reputation growing. Last but not least, we have yet another confirmation that this so called ‘socialist’ government, skewing the ideology of protecting the middle class with vigor and pride, harbors a special kind of love for the richest and works incessantly to increase their benefits and profits through construction permits, PPPs and concessions and a variety of other means. The only news is that now we know by name, rather than by reputation who is the 1 percent.   [post_title] => Editorial: Governing for the 1 percent - or just five people [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-governing-for-the-1-percent-or-just-five-people [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-11-24 09:34:41 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-11-24 08:34:41 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=134681 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 134578 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-11-17 09:32:08 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-11-17 08:32:08 [post_content] => Red lines in Albania when it comes to crime and politics have increasingly become blurry in recent years, and it is a subject this newspaper has addressed in length in the past, but when it comes to cannabis cultivation, it bears repeating -- unless a thick red line is place and perpetrators who cross it are punished, Albania will continue to face tremendous problems. It is an undeniable fact that cannabis has been grown in Albania during the past four years at an industrial scale. In fact, cannabis has become an important element in the black economy, with thousands of people employed in previous years, from those who work in the fields to those processing it. Some data show that domestic use of this illegal substance has increased tenfold in recent years, however, the bulk of it is destined to European markets -- by trucks, boats and even planes. It is clear that there are now billions of dollars being made overall, and so the question goes -- where is the money going? The opposition has made grand accusations about the money being used to keep the left in power through purchasing elections and influence. If we keep in mind one statistic global statistic, that usually only about 10 percent of the drugs are seized by law enforcement agencies -- then with the 100s of tons seized so far in Italy and Albania alone, the profits overall must be astounding. It is an ominous time for Albania given the strength that criminal organizations can gain with that type of money.   In addition to cannabis, Albania is now on the map as a transit hub for harder drugs coming from the East. The trend only gets worse with profits from that source. Only a few years ago, the situation was not this bad. So what has happened to bring the country to this point? There are only two possible scenarios. The first one is that the government and its law enforcement agencies have lost control of the country’s territory and its borders. Law enforcement agencies have failed to do their job, to enforce the rule of law. This can be fixed. Where there is a will, there is a way. And the current government says it has a strategy that is working. However, the second scenario is even more troubling. It has the government itself being in the drug business, profiting from it. In both cases the government has failed to do its most basic duties. And no government in a normal country would be able to continue to run the country. We don’t know which scenario we are seeing. The second needs proof, the first is evident. However, as former interior minister is now under investigation, the first scenario is still a possibility. Whichever way things play out, Albanians deserve better, that’s why that thick red line is important in separating the criminal economy from the honest Albanians.     [post_title] => Editorial: The red line: Setting a clear boundary between crime and politics [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-the-red-line-setting-a-clear-boundary-between-crime-and-politics [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-11-24 18:22:10 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-11-24 17:22:10 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=134578 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 134575 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-11-17 09:27:39 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-11-17 08:27:39 [post_content] => The two days summit that wrapped up this week in the island of Crete where the two Foreign Affairs Ministers of Albania and Greece with some of their closets staff sat down and discussed a number of pending issues between the two countries was in the overall count a positive development. For many years now relations between Albania and Greece can be described frozen at best and fiery in some worst moments.  The opportunity to discuss in a safe and controlled environment about some of the most pressing disagreements between the two countries was a very positive sign that with the right political will many improvements can be made and even final solutions can be found. The expectations for this summit were set very high. The media speculated that by the end of the Summit the two Prime Ministers would travel to Crete and sign and shake hands. Unfortunately time showed this was not the only media speculation surrounding this important event. Every evening some of the major Televisions in the country opened their news editions with the ‘white smoke’ news that there was a very agreeable atmosphere and that both sides were very close to reaching a common position even on extremely complicated and sensitive matters. This was said about the agreement for the maritime continental shelf, the issue of removing the ‘Law of War’ on the Greek side, the rights of immigrants, etc. Reporters claiming to have photographed draft maps and texts boasted live on Tv that the new era of relations was dawning quickly in Crete and focused also on some of the side events such as a impromptu folk dance that the ministers joined.  As the final closure of the summit and the official declarations showed, at the end the only agreement was to continue to talk, this time with a similar event in Albania. A positive atmosphere was conveyed but with none of the freaky enthusiasm that had enveloped the televisions screens so far. This was one of the most clear examples that even serious media is sliding quickly into sensationalist coverage, jumping over the facts in search of a few more audience numbers or online clicks. It is a risky form of irresponsibility given that Albanian public still depends on Tv news for most of its information about current affairs. If only media had been so shallow, rushed and unprofessional. On the other side political forces in Albania also showed considerable flaws in dealing with the summit. The Albanian opposition displayed a baffling and disappointing stubbornness to stand behind the former agreement reached for the maritime shelf, which was struck down by a decision of the Constitutional court. The opposition stance not only reveals utter arrogance and lack of respect for the constitutional court decision, a fault per se, but weakens the position of Albania in any negotiation by revealing the internal fractures to the Greek side. As always Albanian politicians are unable to make the difference between short term their political calculations and long term national interest. Considering how unpopular this deal was at the time in Albania, the opposition seems to have calculated even its own interest wrong. The majority did not perform much better. They did not share the agenda of the talks or the preparation it had made with the Parliamentary Commission on Foreign Affairs. The debates in this Commission as a result degenerated into the usual political badmouthing. One of the key messages spoken clearly in Crete by Minister Kotzias was that Greece wishes to see Albania in the European Union. This is a positive message which despite some recent development does math with the real track record of the Greek government supporting Albania in its integration path. This is the most important anchor for the future of these relations and the most positive context in which they can be transformed. Next time Albanian political class and the media that generates the public opinion here needs to show much more professionalism, reflection and openness, since these bilateral relations are of strategic importance to all Albanian citizens. [post_title] => Analysis: Albanian-Greek relations reset: The risk of amateurism on the political and media side [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => analysis-albanian-greek-relations-reset-the-risk-of-amateurism-on-the-political-and-media-side [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-11-17 09:28:18 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-11-17 08:28:18 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=134575 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 134512 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-11-10 10:48:21 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-11-10 09:48:21 [post_content] => By E.L. Bono* At least that’s what the Austrian author E.L. Bono depicts in his novel “Shadow of the oath”. Imbedded in an unbelievable exciting thriller based on a true African family drama, he explains logically how the “Power of the Mind” works. For that he carefully researched the development of genetic and epigenetic science over the past 20 years. The results make you shudder, but they also give you hope.   On June 26, 2000, the President of the United States of America, Bill Clinton, and his British counter part Tony Blair officially announced the successful decoding of the human genome. Newspapers displayed excerpts from the heap of genetic letters. And that’s exactly what it was, an endless row of letters, not much more. It soon became apparent that the hope for the all-embracing explanatory power of the genes was exaggerated. Many called it the biological moon landing. A lot of money had been spent, but with hardly any relevant results. Fine, one knew now that the genes are responsible for our appearance. They decide whether we have a small or big nose, whether we are female or male, whether we have blonde or black hair, etc. But the butterfly and the caterpillar from that it emerges, have to 100 percent the identical genetic code. Nevertheless, they look completely different. There must be something else! Let us remember: every cell in our body has a 100-percent-identical genes in the cell nucleus, but there are about two hundred different cell types in our body. How is this possible, if only the genes are responsible for it? There must be something else! The explanation, that there had to be something else, was found by Professor Bruce Lipton in the field of epigenetic.  And this something finally turned out to be a modification of the genes, a kind of on and off switch, whether a gene is actually active or not without changing the genetic code (DNA). With Lipton's discoveries, we had now an explanation why creatures can have the same genetic code but have different appearance. Simply by activating or deactivating existing genes. But one question still remained open: Who can switch genes on and off? Henry Lai and Narendra Singh found the answer. They exposed rats to low-frequency electromagnetic fields for 24 to 48 hours, and then examined the animals’ brains. In the experiment, these fields had caused changes in the genetic material of the brain cells of the rats. And the longer the rats were exposed, the more DNA changes the researchers noted. Now it was clear: The Low-frequency electromagnetic fields, that our brain produces, can cause DNA changes. Actually, any kind of radiation or energy from atomic energy to our thoughts affects our epigenetic code. But there was even more. One of the most amazing discoveries of the new science was, that our heart has even much greater fine-energy effect on our body and our environment than the brain. The HeartMath research institute has demonstrated this in numerous experiments. Therefore, intentions that come from our hearts are more effective than purely imagined or spoken affirmations. The brain produces electromagnetic fields, but the heart produces fields that are electrically up to 100 times stronger and magnetically more than 5,000 times stronger than those of the brain. With a power of 2.4 watts, the heart is not only the strongest electromagnetic generator in our body, it also generates an energy field that extends far outside the body and surrounds our body like an aura. But what does that mean? No more and no less than that each of us is able to change the own and the genetic code of other people with the power of our thoughts and our heart. Praying, meditating, positive and negative thinking, vows, oaths, voodoo, black magic, etc., are now given a scientific explanation of how they could and do work. Still, we do not know the exact kind of thought to make a concrete change in the genes, but it is advisable to responsibly select what we think, because our thoughts could have dramatic consequences. _____________________________________________________________________________________ *The Austrian writer E.L. Bono, who lives in Albania, incorporated the effect of thoughts and emotions on other people in the form of African oaths into an exciting novel. In a Kenya (Africa) family drama, based on a true story, an internal family struggle is fought with the help of traditional incantations and leads to unspeakable misfortune. What is initially dismissed as an unrealistic sorcery is given by scientific knowledge a threateningly real credibility. The novel is available in Albanian ("HIJA E NËMIT", Tirana Times, ISBN: 1234567890) and German (“SCHATTEN DES SCHWURS "as E-book or paperback at www.amazon.de or at the homepage of the author www.el-bono.com). [post_title] => Scientific proof that prayers and black magic work! [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => scientific-proof-that-prayers-and-black-magic-work [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-11-10 15:19:09 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-11-10 14:19:09 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=134512 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 134502 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-11-10 10:20:55 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-11-10 09:20:55 [post_content] => By Rudina Hoxha Zdravko Počivalšek, Minister of Economic Development and Technology of Slovenia, accompanied by 24 Slovenian companies, paid a visit to Albania early this week demonstrating the full will of his own country to cooperate with Albania. "We are ready to share our know-how and experience with you. We are willing to share the investment policy of Albanian government. In addition, we express our full support to Albania 's integration to EU,” the minister said in an exclusive interview with Tirana Times while adding "the two countries need to further promote themselves because we are far closer than we think.” He underlined that Slovenia is aware of potentials which Albanian market can offer. “Agriculture and tourism are the prospective sectors in Albania that enable mutual projects. Tourism is an important sector of our economy as well and it contributes almost 13% of GDP. I am confident there are more options for cooperation, in promotional activities and investments. That is why I suggest that our two directorates and National Tourist Boards work together and make an action plan till the end of this year with solutions for mutual benefits,” Počivalšek said.  Mr. You visited Albania for the first time as Slovenia’s Minister of Economy. What is the context of this visit and what do you expect from it? It is always pleasant to travel across the globe and meet new people. New people you can do business with. I have to admit this is my first official trip to Albania. I must say I am truly satisfied by the talks we have already made with minister Ahmetaj and delegation. The current trade exchanges between Albania and Slovenia as well as Slovenian foreign direct investment to Albania remain quite modest (trade volume at 38 million euros annually and Slovenian FDI stock to Albania at 16 million euros in mid-2017, down from 25 million at the end of 2015, according to official Albanian data). Is there room for improvement or optimism in the short-run?  It is true that current bilateral economic cooperation between our countries is far below the potential of both economies. So, there is a lot of room for improvement! Exchange of goods was 61.2 million euros, exchange of services was 12.5 million euros. If I go more into details, Slovenia and Albania have a huge trade surplus. Hopefully, Albanian export to Slovenia will keep increasing to a reasonable level in next years. We will be keeping exporting goods to Albania, as we are doing already, so you will have a hard task to catch up with us. Because of no new major Slovenian investment in the country we came to negotiate with Albanian government to talk through all the possibilities in which both sides could benefit. Because there is always room for improvement.  How much are Slovenian investors familiar with Albania’s business opportunities and climate and is there any real interest in any concrete sector? Are there any perceived barriers? We are aware of potentials which Albanian market can offer. Agriculture and tourism are the prospective sectors in Albania that enable mutual projects. Tourism is an important sector of our economy as well and it contributes almost 13 % of GDP. I am confident there are more options for cooperation, in promotional activities and investments. That is why I suggest that our two directorates and National Tourist Boards work together and make an action plan till the end of this year with solutions for mutual benefits. In addition, environmental investment is a perspective for Albania as well as Slovenia, as the Slovenian industry in the field of environmental services and technology in globally competitive. There are also many companies here with us that are prepared for joint projects. We are glad that Slovenian Center for International Cooperation and Development has so far supported 5 projects in Albania:
  • Establishment of the Center for Vocational Education and Training;
  • Environmental protection activities and demonstration environmental projects.
  • Afforestation in the municipality of Erseka.
We fully support our ongoing projects which are: Sanitation of the landfill in Korca, Construction of a treatment plant for the settlement Pishkash, North. Environmental rehabilitation lakes in Tirana. What can EU aspirant Albania o to better to appeal Slovenian investors and tourists since the two counties are also linked through direct flights by a Slovenian carrier? We provide great impetus to the development of small and medium-sized enterprises.  Slovenian companies faced the challenges of the economic crisis in recent years. Now we can proudly say that the state of the economy in Slovenia is moving in a positive direction, and the prospects are also favorable. Economic growth in 2016 was 3.1% which is above the EU average. For 2017, the economic growth is predicted 4.4 % . Slovenia has made significant progress in competitiveness, which can be concluded also on the basis of Slovenia’s positive movement on many international scales. So the first thing as EU-aspirant country as you say, one of the most important things is good infrastructure. Direct flights are necessary if we would like to establish greater collaboration. And last but not least, tourism is one of the potential investment sectors for Slovenian investors.  Slovenia and Albania are two NATO allies and Adriatic countries which have almost the same population and size. However there is a huge gap in terms of development and welfare. Can you tell us Slovenia’s recipe to success? Slovenia was the most developed part of ex-Yugoslavia with strong industry, skilled workforce and efficient network of educational institutions and universities. We utilized these assets to maintain the export of goods and services at the same level even after our independence in 1991. Another beneficial factor to our export was the vicinity of our main trade partners, namely Germany, Italy, Austria and Croatia. This kept the transport costs of our companies at reasonable level. Gradually, in the late 1990s, we steered our activities in attracting foreign investors and started preparing to enter the EU, NATO and latter to adopt the EURO. In my opinion, staying an open economy and focusing strongly on needs and expectations of our main export partners in vicinity was a recipe for success. [post_title] => Slovenia’s Economy Minister: Aware of Albanian market potential [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => slovenias-economy-minister-aware-of-albanian-market-potential [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-11-10 10:20:55 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-11-10 09:20:55 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=134502 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 134896 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2017-12-08 10:03:47 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-12-08 09:03:47 [post_content] => By Johann Sattler* [caption id="attachment_132183" align="alignright" width="300"]Ambasadori Sattler Ambassador Johann Sattler (C)[/caption] I have a weak spot for Albanian phraseology and I was baffled when I recently discovered a saying which is attributed to the Albanian statesman Faik Konica: Nuk behet Shqiperia me shqiptare (Albania cannot be built by Albanians). From this phrase – which of course has to be seen in its historic context having been created more than 100 years ago - it is a very short distance to the topic of today – the role of internationals in Albania. Preparing for today I came across a booklet written by the private secretary of Prince Wied, the unfortunate first king who was kicked out of the principality of Albania in 1914 after less than half a year in office. Heaton-Armstrong describes the landing in Durres and Tirana: ‘The market square was crowed to overflowing and the people cheered, applauded and cried with joy. For 500 years the Turks had ruled the country and now at last Albania had a Mbret/King, and what king it had!’ And he continues his observations of Albanians concerning trust and suspicion: ‘Albanians are more suspicious of their own countrymen than they are of foreigner.’ But all the trust they had put in their new foreigner-king had also quickly evaporated. I quote: ‘The Tirana expedition was deemed a great success and none of us thought that exactly a month afterwards an insurrection would drive the King out of his capital.’ And that was the end of Prince Wied’s short reign as souvereign of the Principality of Albania. Wied left Albania unceremoniously in early September 1914. This episode shows the eagerness with which foreigners are greeted in this country, but it also shows the limitations of foreign intervention. In Prince Wieds case, of course, it had also to do with the enormity of the task of holding together basically an ungovernable country with at the time hostile neighbours, but also with the utter unpreparedness of the Prince for the job. So in way it was a mission impossible. Or, as Fan Noli later put it: Pince Wied can be criticized only for being unable to perform miracles.’ So internationals have played a strong role in this country for a long time, in the early years after independence, in the inter-war period as well as in the recent so-called transition period. Today’s conference is a good opportunity to reflect, to compare and draw lessons from successes and from mistakes made – in the good tradition of Soren Kierkegaard - Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived – unfortunately I may add - forwards. The recent transition period in Albania has meant profound political, economic, and social transformations. It included: A political transition from dictatorship to democracy, an economic transition, from centralized planning economy to a market economy; a transition from a rural society to an urban one - with great uncontrolled demographic shifting and a transition from a closed society to a relatively open one This is a lot for a relatively short period of time. On the other hand, how long can a transition last? We are now soon finishing the third decade of transition, one and a half generations have already passed having seen in their lifetime nothing else but a transition. And it is understandable that people become impatient, asking – when is this transition coming to an end so that we can start a normal life? There is the feeling, as a friend recently had told me that transition is often used as a convenient excuse for the political class. In the sense: things will become normal once the transition period is finished. But when will that be? During the last decades internationals have been assisting Albania in the different transition aspects mentioned above. Sometimes successfully, sometimes less so. Often we are confronted here with completely unrealistic expectations (Prince Wied being a historic example). And I could bring you many more examples of citizens writing letters to us internationals, ranging from building playgrounds, to fighting the property agency to establishing an Austro-Hungarian protectorate as in the old days. But how is this outsized role or better these outsized expectations explainable? First of all because there is trust – polls show over the last 20+ years a stable 80% trust rate for international institutions (NATO+EU in the lead), whereas the trust rate for the Government – according to last  Trust in Government Poll 2016 - lies at around 30% (Parliament at 22%, judiciary at 19%). An interesting question of course is if this stable expression of trust towards internationals is deserved. I personally believe the international community over the last decades was a positive factor developing the country. Apart from its role in helping to bring about a functional democracy and a market economy and in building capacities, the role of international  institutions was in my view especially important when it comes to social cohesion, education and the improvement of living standards throughout the country. My country, Austria, for instance, was in the beginning heavily focused on basics, like water supply. Later we added – and this is now seen as our most effective investment – education, building, running and assisting schools and supporting vocational education as the best means to give young Albanians a future in their country. But I think one of the most important contributions of the internationals came when things got nasty and out of control, like in 1997. I personally happened to be part of the EU crisis management at the time (ECMM). I was surprised to find myself – driving in an armoured car through the streets of Vlora and Peshkopi. I will never forget the stream of Albanian men walking through the pedestrian zone and carrying their Kalashnikovs on their shoulders. And in between three guys in white uniform - of course this being the EU – without any arms. The decisive role then was played by the OSCE, leading the international efforts to calm the dangerous situation and come to a political solution through early elections and the creation of a more inclusive interim government. It was then when the Danish OSCE Chairman in Office (Foreign Minister Petersen) asked Chancellor Franz Vranitzky to mediate between the political parties. Vranitzky  having survived 11 years of holding together a grand coalition in Austria - was quite effective in bridging the enormous gap between the parties. I happened to meet Vranitzky recently – where he apologized that for health reasons he cannot be with us today and where he told me with wet eyes about the unbelievable scenes he witnessed but also about the gratitude he received from average Albanians for his efforts; he told me about the long hours he had spent in negotiations on an Italian warship – sent generously by PM Prodi after it was impossible to land in Rinas airport – mediating between politicians, warlords and clan-leaders. He asked me to convey to you his best wishes for the conference and for Albania’s development on its road to Europe. Now, 20 years later, Albania is a NATO member, a candidate for membership in the European Union starting EU negotiations hopefully next year, and its international and regional role has increased significantly. There are still enough challenges, from a polarised political landscape to corruption to weak institutions and massive social problems. I think that this country has the potential to address also these challenges. Albanians have shown in the past years that they can manage difficult situations. Or, as you say in your beautiful language: I zoti e nxjerr gomarin nga balta! – The owner/landlord pulls the donkey out of the mud! You’re in charge, you are the landlord. We, the internationals are happy to assist if asked. So that in the end Faik Konica will be proven wrong: Shqiperia po behet me shiptaret. (Albania is being built by Albanians). These were the remarks Austrian Ambassador to Tirana, Johann Sattler, gave at the OSCE Conference - “The Role of the Internationals in the Transition in Albania” on 6 Dec.2017 [post_title] => ‘You’re in charge. We, the internationals are happy to assist if asked’ [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => youre-in-charge-we-the-internationals-are-happy-to-assist-if-asked [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-12-08 10:05:00 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-12-08 09:05:00 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=134896 [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] => 702 [filter] => raw [cat_ID] => 30 [category_count] => 702 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Op-Ed [category_nicename] => op-ed [category_parent] => 0 ) [queried_object_id] => 30 [post__not_in] => Array ( ) )

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