‘The lesson from Auschwitz is that kindness is the real strength’

‘The lesson from Auschwitz is that kindness is the real strength’

Anna Miszewska, the head of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, has called on Albania to become the 39th country to join their project in preserving the physical remains of the Memorial for future generations through financing conservation projects. “Auschwitz-Birkenau represents the nightmare

Read Full Article
Editorial: Albania as EU’s migrant camp: A price too high

Editorial: Albania as EU’s migrant camp: A price too high

A debate has been taking place in Albania after international media revealed proposed plans to create massive camps in Albania for non-European refugees and migrants aiming to reach the European Union’s wealthy member states. In an interview for a German

Read Full Article
Why Albanian-Greek relations are moving backwards

Why Albanian-Greek relations are moving backwards

By Bashkim Zeneli* Bilateral relations between Albania and Greece have always had, and still continue to have, a great importance. Not only for the sake of good neighborly relations between the two countries, and the friendship between our people, but

Read Full Article
Editorial: Thanks but no thanks! – Refusing murky deals in exchange for integration

Editorial: Thanks but no thanks! – Refusing murky deals in exchange for integration

In the last days, the number of migrants, mostly from the Middle East countries but also from places such as Afghanistan, crossing illegally into Albania has increased significantly. It is obvious that they don’t want to stay in Albania but

Read Full Article
Welcome to the beach of Himara mayor!

Welcome to the beach of Himara mayor!

By Nikollaq Neranxi As we were on vacations in Himara three years ago, we woke up by midnight because my little granddaughter was very sick. She was running a high fever and could hardly breath. We rushed to Tirana  at night thinking that

Read Full Article
Editorial: I am a Muslim, but Albania is not a Muslim country

Editorial: I am a Muslim, but Albania is not a Muslim country

BY JERINA ZALOSHNJA The Albanian ambassador to Washington notified through a long and exalting social media post that President Trump invited her in a special Iftar dinner – the Ramadan evening meal. “I had the honor and big privilege to

Read Full Article
Editorial: Thorough investigation needed on Xhafaj affair

Editorial: Thorough investigation needed on Xhafaj affair

The case of Agron Xhafaj, brother of Interior Minister Fatmir Xhafaj, has led to renewed conflict in Albania’s political scene. But, perhaps more importantly, it has raised questions among Albanians that require better answers than what the public has received

Read Full Article
Albania-Grece relations in the context of Albania’s EU integration: gap between reality and perception

Albania-Grece relations in the context of Albania’s EU integration: gap between reality and perception

By Alba Çela Albania-Grece relations in the context of Albania’s EU integration process: gap between reality and perception Abstract: Most of Albanian citizens asked in a national poll in 2013 about whether Greece would like to see Albania in the

Read Full Article
Concessions in road sector management and operations – a contrasting view

Concessions in road sector management and operations – a contrasting view

By Robert Butler*  The recent occurrence of the violent reactions to the payment of tolls for the A1 motorway in northern Albania brings to the forefront the whole question of who should pay for road transport infrastructure; the provision of

Read Full Article
Editorial: New uncertainties hit Albania’s EU bid

Editorial: New uncertainties hit Albania’s EU bid

Optimism for anything happening fast on Albania’s bid to join the European Union has long evaporated, but even for the few remaining optimists that hoped to get a date on the decade-long horizon at a key summit in Sofia this

Read Full Article
WP_Query Object
(
    [query_vars] => Array
        (
            [cat] => 30
            [paged] => 2
            [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] => 
            [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] => 771
    [max_num_pages] => 78
    [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] => 1
    [is_admin] => 
    [is_attachment] => 
    [is_singular] => 
    [is_robots] => 
    [is_posts_page] => 
    [is_post_type_archive] => 
    [query_vars_hash:WP_Query:private] => a0ad0b22f05d2f4fdacc4dc7c0ac86a8
    [query_vars_changed:WP_Query:private] => 
    [thumbnails_cached] => 1
    [stopwords:WP_Query:private] => 
    [query] => Array
        (
            [cat] => 30
            [paged] => 2
        )

    [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 10, 10
    [posts] => Array
        (
            [0] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137635
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2018-06-22 14:16:13
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-06-22 12:16:13
                    [post_content] => Anna Miszewska, the head of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, has called on Albania to become the 39th country to join their project in preserving the physical remains of the Memorial for future generations through financing conservation projects.
“Auschwitz-Birkenau represents the nightmare of the genocide – we should all take responsibility for its future. We have 2 million visitors from around the world coming to the Museum each year. It’s a chance for all of us to teach young generations about what war really means,” she tells Tirana Times in an interview

Your visit to Albania is considered a good omen as Remembrance is still a hot topic in Albania. What are the challenges facing your institution with remembrance and what is the Polish government’s attention to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation activity?

-We all need to be very careful when it comes to remembrance – we need to stick to the facts and resist the temptation to choose narratives coherent to current political agendas. This applies not only to countries and their governments but to everyone who is interested in the past. Auschwitz is a sacred place – it’s a symbol of the Holocaust and a place of martyrdom of many Poles, Roma and Sinti and many others. Our project, which involves preserving the physical remains of the Memorial for future generations through financing conservation projects, has had a lot of support from Polish government since the beginning. We have 38 countries that have decided to donate funds to our Endowment. Poland is among our biggest donors with contribution of €10 million. The Polish Ministry of Culture is responsible for maintaining day-to-day expenses of the Museum.

Your government has drafted a law regarding the legacy of Auschwitz-Birkenau and its confession to foreigners. Can you explain that more clearly to the Albanian public?

-Personally I don’t think that there is much sense in regulating historical truth by the acts of law and from what I understand our legislators will be rethinking this idea. Their notion was not to undermine the suffering of any nation but to make it clear that Poland was not responsible for the Holocaust. Of course it was not. The Polish government in London opposed Nazi’s actions towards Jewish citizens of Poland and it was the Polish underground that informed the allies about the situation in ghettos and that there were death camps. The government is not responsible for the actions of individuals, but we as a society need to remember that most of us remained indifferent to the tragedy that came upon our Jewish compatriots. Some 25 percent of all the people who were granted the title of ‘Righteous among Nations’ come from Poland – that is a lot but we need to appreciate their heroism and remember that their attitude was exceptional.

What is your Albania visit focusing on? Is there anything special?

-We would like Albania to be the 39th country to join our project. Auschwitz-Birkenau represents the nightmare of the genocide – we all should take responsibility for its future. We have
2 million visitors from around the world coming to the Museum each year. It’s a chance for all of us to teach young generations about what war really means.

Is the younger generation leaving behind the dark legacy of Nazism? Do you think that all this process is organized by structures that are interested in keeping away and forgetting Auschwitz 's legacy?

-We live in the times of uncertainty – the world is changing really fast and the political situation in many countries is unstable. This can lead to the rebirth of dangerous tendencies among young people. It is our job to make sure that they know that being afraid of “the other” will not fix the problems of contemporary world – it will for sure create new ones. There will always be people who will take pride in hatred and they will appear strong to young people. The lesson from Auschwitz is that kindness is the real strength.

Even Holocaust revisionism has remained on the periphery of public awareness since the 19th century (in Germany, revisionists refer to the Holocaust as Auschwitz-Lüge or the Auschwitz lie) and over the last decade revisionists have popularized their cause in a series of spectacular court cases in Germany, France, Canada and the United States. Why is this happening right now in your opinion? 

-Holocaust denial is a serious issue but I don’t think that we should treat denialists seriously. These people look for controversy and fame. They should not be a part of the main discourse. But they can be influential. This is why we treat all the objects, we preserve them as memorabilia of course, but we also remember that that is proof of genocide. The conservation team’s main goal is to protect the authentic tissue of Auschwitz – so that no one will ever be able to say that we cannot prove that Holocaust happened. Yes we can. Of course that happened.

There is probably no more appropriate single location than Auschwitz-Birkenau to grasp the scope of the Nazi horror. But the unprecedented and unparalleled nature of that horror makes it somewhat inappropriate as a useful lesson for preventing genocide today. When you’re waiting for something that looks like Birkenau, it’s almost too easy to say, "never again." From what your Foundation is doing, have you carried out any scientific research about the future prospects of Auschwitz?

-I’m not sure if I understand the question correctly – our Foundation has just one goal – to preserve physical remains of Auschwitz, but the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum has an excellent scientific department. People who work in this department are still learning new facts about how the camp functioned, they still find new stories. When it comes to Auschwitz being a place of education – yes it can be perceived as a controversy to teach on the cemetery. But we don’t have a choice because it is also a necessity. If we have a chance to show younger generations that hatred, anti-Semitism and xenophobia lead to gas chambers it is our duty to do it, otherwise the death of millions would go to waste.

Have you heard of about Albania's case of remembrance?

-I know that Albania is very respectful of its past – especially the times of Hoxha’s regime. There are important places like the Spaç prison that also need to be preserved because the story they tell needs to be heard and not only in Albania but throughout the world. I wish more people know how many Albanians were involved in saving Jews during II World War.

Is there any number or evidence of Albanians in Birkenau?

-We know of a few victims from Albania, but we have little to no information about them. Only 10 percent of the German archives survived.

Is it difficult for your Foundation to find a common language with donors when it comes to Birkenau?

-No, our donors understand our mission and want to be a part of it. The toughest work that our Foundation is doing is carried out in Birkenau. This part of the camp, unlike Auschwitz which was established in the preexisting building, was built by the prisoners with second-hand materials that were not supposed to last 75 years. Our donors know that if we want the future generations to be able to come and pay homage to the victims, we need to act together and we need to act fast.

In your opinion, why don’t Auschwitz's bitter messages forbid this repression policy that seems to take endless lives in Syria and around the world?

-It is terrifying that after what happened during World War II, we still allow innocent people to suffer. We all know that’s wrong, but we will not take time to act against it. I urge all readers to do their part, even the smallest contribution to humanitarian organizations or your presence at protests will make the world a little better. The strong voice of Bulgaria’s public opinion saved the lives of 50,000 people! We need to be vocal in our disagreement also because today there’s Syria and Myanmar, but anybody can be next in line. If we don’t show compassion to those who suffer today, we have no right to expect solidarity when hatred knocks on our doors.

Do you think that Albania can learn from your Foundation's experience of remembrance?

-I think we can learn from each other. Although much different both the history of Albania and Poland is very complex. I think there is a great value in sharing our history with all its dark and shameful spots so that we have a better understanding of the world we live in.

 
                    [post_title] => ‘The lesson from Auschwitz is that kindness is the real strength’ 
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => the-lesson-from-auschwitz-is-that-kindness-is-the-real-strength
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-06-28 15:45:27
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-06-28 13:45:27
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137635
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [1] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137595
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2018-06-22 09:45:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-06-22 07:45:00
                    [post_content] => A debate has been taking place in Albania after international media revealed proposed plans to create massive camps in Albania for non-European refugees and migrants aiming to reach the European Union’s wealthy member states. 

In an interview for a German television station, Albania’s deputy interior minister said Albania has the capacity to handle refugees, as it had during the Kosovo war, when it hosted 600,000 fellow ethnic Albanians. 

The number has stuck in the debate, and alarm bells are flying for Albanians who know their weak state cannot handle even a tenth of that number. For reference, 600,000 people would equal more than 20 percent of Albania’s population today. During the height of the refugee crisis, Germany took in about 1 percent of its population.   

Albania does not make for a pretty picture. It is one of Europe’s poorest countries. And it has problems so big with organized crime and corruption, anyone should know it cannot handle the task proposed. 

Yet serious media outlets from Germany and France are talking as this is a done deal. High EU officials are quoted saying Albania and Tunisia are being discussed as non-EU migrant hubs, where processing and holding can take place without these migrants being allowed to step on EU soil and thus move up to the wealthy countries, their desired destination. 
The Albanian government has largely stayed silent, issuing statements that more than clarify, murky the waters ahead of a decision next week whether the EU is to open accession talks with Albania.
Yet, former Prime Minister Pandeli Majko, the man who led the country during the Kosovo War, says if opening the negotiations will only come in exchange for acceptanting these unwanted migrants, then the price is too high, and Europe (meaning the EU) would become unwanted instead. His sentiment captures the general mood this week.

There are massive implications with turning Albania into EU’s migrant holding centre. These include national and human security - in fact it could tear the very nature of Albanian society, dwindling in number as it is. 

In addition, there are regional security implications, as Italy across the sea, would simply become the preferred destination for the migrants who have no desire to be held in a poor country like Albania. Organized crime and human trafficking would flourish once again. 

So why is the Albanian government hesitating in giving a direct official no to such a request? Is opening EU accession talks worth the negative effect of accepting a huge number of EU’s unwanted migrants? Such an action would essentially be a national suicide for Albania and for its future security and development.

But experience has shown that Albanian leaders are willing to accept anything in return for external support, seeking legitimacy from outside the country.
A significant example is the original acceptance of Syria's chemical weapons processing. In that case, the government was forced to back off after popular pressure.

Another example is accepting about 3,000 members of an Iranian opposition group from Iraq with a history of a violent struggle. These are gradually turning Albania into a base for their political operations, living in a segregated camp, when the original messaging noted they were coming as refugees to escape threats to their lives and wellbeing. 
The idea of ​​settling refugees in Albania should be rejected clearly and without any hesitation.
Albania is not prepared for exchanging EU accession with taking in the bloc’s unwanted migrants. This is not what the European Union stands for and it is not what Albanians want out of their EU integration.

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Albania as EU’s migrant camp: A price too high
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => editorial-albania-as-eus-migrant-camp-a-price-too-high
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-06-22 09:45:44
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-06-22 07:45:44
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137595
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [2] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137601
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2018-06-22 09:35:10
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-06-22 07:35:10
                    [post_content] => By Bashkim Zeneli*

Bilateral relations between Albania and Greece have always had, and still continue to have, a great importance. Not only for the sake of good neighborly relations between the two countries, and the friendship between our people, but also for the future of our Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Albania has always viewed Greece, a member of the European Union and NATO, as a gateway to NATO, and now to the EU. Truly, the Greek support in our Euro-Atlantic processes has always been convincing. And the support coming from Greece after the 90s has been reassuring. Without doubts, in Greece we have always found an ally, a friend, a neighbor who has always been there to support us in our difficult transition path, not only in the European integration process, but also in our economic and social development. In all these years, Greece has stood on our side, encouraging and supporting our democratic transition processes, but also being one of the important partners in our trade and economic relations.

In particular, after the Thessaloniki Summit, held in June 2003, Albania has been a foreign policy priority for the government of Greece, not only under the political aspect, but also through its support with comprehensive development programs. Our relations have been meaningfully of a strategic, comprehensive and sustainable partnership. These relations have been characterized by a European and forward looking spirit.

We should not forget or regard as irrelevant, as it has commonly happened in recent times, the extraordinary sense of humanism that Greek people showed in the beginning of the 1990s when they opened the doors to Albanian emigrants seeking a better life in Greece. Today, well-integrated in the Greek society as equal and well-respected citizens, they are building a better life for themselves and their families. Without any doubts, the Albanian community in Greece is a precious capital in the relations between our two countries. This is a fact that we need to attribute a much greater importance, and not treat it just as evidence and reminder only during electoral campaigns, through the incursions of political forces towards our compatriots in Greece.

The Greek Minority

On the other side, the presence of a Greek ethnic minority in Albania has been, and still is, a very important political, moral, and human element in the relationships between our countries. In Albania, a special attention has always been paid to fulfilling the minority rights and standards of this noble minority community, in full accordance with the European and international standards. Albanians love and respect the Greek minority, and they cohabitate perfectly with each other. I am confident that certain property or regulatory plans, would never compromise this relationship, neither harm the Greek minority in Albania.

Nevertheless, it´s important to look more carefully at the problems that the Greek minority is facing, and understand their demands, and their legal rights. No one, ever, should think in a way …” we gave this or that…to the Greek minority”. Absolutely not! The Greek minority, like any other minority, should enjoy their rights not as a “gift” or “reward”, but as legally deserved rights. And I can say that some good work is being done in this direction. The most recently created problems, should not be over-exaggerated, or even worse, seen as political attitudes towards the Greek minority. This would harm our bilateral relations. Between Albanians and the Greek minority there are no divisions, in every aspect, in their rights and obligations. The sustainable commitment of the Albanian government to fulfill the European standards of the Greek minority in the country, should be at the center of the attention of the politicians and state institutions. It would never be “too much” what we are doing for the Greek minority in Albania, but we also should increase our efforts to demand better fulfillment of the standards for our compatriots living and working in Greece.

People of our respective countries live in friendship and good understanding, in harmony, and they love and respect each other. They closely collaborate in all sectors, turning into important factors not only in economic and social exchanges, but also crucial for the stability and peaceful development of our region. Ours is, unfortunately, a troubled region still affected by ethnic hate and dangerous nationalism.

Looking back at our historical relations, it is noticeable that the path for their reconciliation has not been easy. Instead, our relations have faced challenging and delicate moments, well-known to all of us. But only through dialogue, often a difficult one, and a collaborative and forward looking spirit, leaving the dividing past behind, the necessary dialogue has been achieved.

The sporadic hate feelings, or some incidents, some of them even dangerous, often intentionally and grotesquely amplified by the media, fortunately have not been able to dictate or ruin our bilateral relations. The good understanding and the friendship between the people of our countries goes back in time, in history, traditions, and culture. Fortunately, we´ve not fallen into the trap of provocations, or emotional daily events. Our relations have moved into the right direction, when courageous answers have been given to negative speculations, very often created from certain groups that have tried to misuse or misinterpret old enmities for their political gains, both in Albania and Greece.

When the spirit of positive political dialogue has been kept alive, to defend the good relations between our two countries, also a courageous response has been given to groups negatively predisposed to harm the bilateral cooperation, and stimulate the sense of hate between our nations. Any behavior in opposition to the general consensus and the European values of good neighborly relations and cooperation, has been harshly criticized. When politicians have done well their job, this has helped in strengthening the relations between our nations. On the opposite, good relations have been harmed, when politicians have been led by nationalistic and xenophobic tones, based on “ethnic hate” and false protagonism. When both sides have genuinely looked forward in strengthening good neighborly relations, cooperation in all areas has benefited. Such a cooperative spirit has given to our relations a strong human dimension, which I´m afraid, today is missing!

With a strong political will and through healthy dialogue, both in Tirana and Athens, we have been able to jointly give solutions to old traditional enmities or new Balkan problems. Real dialogue, through respect, tolerance, and compromise has been in the interest not only of our two counties, but also for peace and stability in the region…This is not an empty slogan, considering current developments. Nothing has been easily achieved, but everything has been possible only with a comprehensive understanding, and trust in each other. Problems need to be called for what they are, without using “folkloristic” backgrounds, acting in the name of our common European future. Of course, it takes courage to solve issues, and courage does not lay in rhapsodies; courage lays in future thinking.

We should be clear and not “distracted” in our strategic relations, both politically and diplomatically. The “cheque” diplomacy, or the “cultural” and “religious” ones should not replace our strategic, long-term relations. Strategic relations should be based on solid principles, and should not change because of “theoretical fabrications” of clientistic politicians for their power games.

I believe, modesty aside, I can speak confidently about the relations between Albania and Greece. And, I really look at these relations, with great objectivity. In this context, I can say, not without disappointment, that our bilateral relations have been worsening in the last 7-8 years. I also tend to disagree with the alleged perception that the worsening of these relations should be attributed to the current socialist government, despite the fact that the latter has been also “confused” in this direction.

Today, it is obvious that our bilateral relations are frozen. Unfortunately, relations have sled backwards, with the main actors falling pray of this “frozen situation”, despite voices claiming otherwise. I’m afraid, we are facing this situation with frivolity and lack of responsibility. The political class should take full responsibility for the current situation, for the bilateral failures in the efforts to solve the current problems. Numerous diplomatic meetings have not managed to bring any solutions. In addition, we have succumbed to unacceptable political and diplomatic language.

The situation has escalated at the point that ministers in Greece point out that …. they are much stronger than us (as if we, both NATO members, are preparing to face each other). Our side responds…asking the neighbors “to put down their tales….”

Why are talking like this to each other? What is to take pride in such declarations? Why are we getting stuck in this situation, suffering a significant lack of trust between each other, focused on “revealing each other´s tricks”? A natural question arises “why is the politics, intentionally or unintentionally, freezing relations between two friendly nations”? There is constantly only talk, instead of finding the solutions to “untie the string knot”. What is the perspective of our relations in our capitals, Tirana and Athens? Are our relations captured by nationalistic and xenophobic rhetoric?

I think, unfortunately, instead of liberating ourselves from the traditional reservations, and doubts and distrusts of the past, we´re mainly holding on to them, and using them politically. We forget that the adaption of such extreme positions, despite promising and euphoric declarations on both sides, is sending the wrong messages to the public, irritating people and their relations. (In the last 4-5 months there have been some moves in the positive direction, and we wish to improve the “frozen relations” of the last 7-8 years. And without any real responsibility, there have been numerous declarations on “our good relations”).

The Maritime Border Agreement. 

The policy of European values has been long replaced, perhaps unintentionally, by the petty accusations, and an awkward willingness to react against each other.  The current issues that we are facing, which I would not consider so problematic to hinder our relations, are restricting us to see beyond them. These long term “cramps” are harming our relations. Particularly, our relations have worsened (I use this term without any hesitation) after the decision of the Albanian Constitutional Court on the annulment of the Maritime Border Agreement.

According to the Albanian Constitutional Court, the agreement does not exist. According to the Greek side, the agreement is valid. Without getting into the details of this well-known debate, the real question is: what has been done until today to resolve this issue, from the moment that the DP government signed the agreement, to the SP government that aimed to solve this problem?

During the last 8 years, we have heard petty political declarations of ministers in TV shows, we have witnessed a professionally unacceptable “spinning” of the issue for the public opinion, a shameful incompetency. There have been conflicting declarations over time. We have heard talk of new projects, courts, and arbitration possibilities, new working groups and experts, negotiating team, foreign experts…

It has been said that we are taking the best experiences from Turkey, Italy and Cyprus. The Slovenian model has been mentioned as a potential solution…In what terms have we sat down with the Greek side to discuss this issues? What is the space for improvement, correction, calculations, and recalculations? Shouldn´t the Albanian public know what is happening with this agreement, which is turning ten-years-old ‘without an agreement’? Obviously, yes! It is a political, legal, moral and national duty for the political class to explain these questions to the public. For the sake of transparency, the Albanian public should know the position of the Greek side on this issue. What is the opinion of the Greek Government? What is acceptable and unacceptable for them? Is there any room for compromise? Who should answer on these questions? What are the perspectives of solving this issue?

This is a matter of national security, and everyone should be informed. Communication with the public should be done institutionally and with great responsibility. It is a duty of the government to keep its own citizens informed. The Albanian parliament has kept silent on such issues of important national security.  In the developed Western countries, parliaments also play crucial roles on these issues of national security, keeping everyone accountable for their actions or inactions.

(It seems that we are moving towards a solution on this issue, but there is no transparency. What is more dangerous is that we´re still seeing in this “agreement” treason and traitors. Treason 8 years ago, still treason today. Is this a bad political game? Yes! A political game is being played to show to the people that we have “big gains” with the new agreement. We need a fair, honest, a legal agreement. There is a need to explain to the public opinion what has changed in this new agreement that is being negotiated from the previous one). 

“The state of War, The Cham Issue”

Especially in the last few years, the issues of the “state of war”, the Cham question, and the cemeteries of the Greek soldiers fallen in Albania during the war against the Italian fascists, have been frequently at the center of discussions. I will not address separately each of these issues, since other authors will elaborate on those issues in more details. However, these issues were not born yesterday, they have existed for quite some time. Each of those has been previously discussed, there is history and analysis behind them. But today, I think, these issues are being referred for mainly internal political consumption. Addressing these issues on these political nervous tones, has increased aggressively in declarations from both sides.

Today, more than ever, there are continuous discussion on the “state of war” between the two countries, where certain political segments are falling prey of disinformation on this issue. In the worst case, they are intentionally using this issue to harm relations between the two countries. Infamous organizations, individuals, and different groups, who are skeptical or opposed to good relations between Albania and Greece, keep digging in the far past, stuck behind in history. Certainly, creating problems between our two countries. We should not forget that since 1996 there is in existence a Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, good neighborly relations, and security between Albanian and Greece…!

People in both countries live in harmony, and have mostly put the difficult past behind them. I think, while not viewing the absurd issue of the “state of war” as an obstacle to fall prey in our bilateral relation, we need to insist that the Greek parliament abolish this law. Despite the fact that with the Greek Government Decision of 1987, “the issue of the State of War with Albania is a closed case, politically and legally”. On this issue the parties should really have a dialogue, not just talk. If this law is just a relic of the past, its place is in the museum. (The Greek government is saying that will soon abolish this law, and this would be really a very important step for our relations).

Similarly, in recent times, stronger than ever, there are discussion about the Cham issue and a potential solution. Our government officials have constantly requested the solution of this issue to their Greek counterparts. Their answer has always been that “there is no Cham issue”. What are our requests in regard to this issue? For sure, we are NOT asking for any border changes. The Albanian requests in regard to this issue should be treated in line with the standards of human rights, with a new spirit of cooperation, in a good-understanding of what is acceptable for each side. This requires real trust on each other. Above all, it requires that we look forward, without falling prey of prejudice and pressure. But at the same time, not accepting that this issue “cannot be discussed”.

The issue of the cemetery of Greek

The issue of the cemetery of Greek soldiers fallen in Albania, is another issue that I think merits a solution. Passing the ball from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Ministry of Defense will not help solve the situation. There has been a very long unjustifiable bureaucratic process on this issue, long overdue. Too many commissions have been established and abolished.  Naturally, this is a very sensitive issue for the Greek people. Without any doubts, soldiers fallen in the war must be honored and respected. They are respected not only by the Greek people, whose sons died in the war, but also by the Albanian people, well-known for their anti-fascist values and contributions during the wars.

Numbers and locations of the Greek soldiers´ cemeteries, is a matter that should be bilaterally discussed with the spirit of cooperation and full responsibility. Everything can be solved when there is good will and no prejudice. More than 12 years ago it was agreed in principle between the two countries to release a joint government statement concerning this issue. But, it was agreed to postpone it after the parliamentary elections of 2005 in Albania. It would be in our honor as a country, under the political aspect, but also for the moral and human aspects to have this issue finally resolved. (I had written these line on October 3, 2017. The Albanian government decision on this issue of few weeks ago needs to be positively recognized).

The above mentioned issues and others, have a negative impact in the relations between our countries. As I mentioned above, issues are not new (with the exception of the Maritime Border Agreement), but the way these are being handled with dangerous political tones and with lack of a constructive dialogue, will not help solve these issues.  These problems can only be resolved with a European spirit and its progressive philosophy. (Let´s wish for the best interest of our countries and our people, that finally, in the last few months we seeing signs of some good reciprocal understanding).

We should be worried that there been no new agreement signed in the last couple of years, with the exception of any rare protocols, considering that several years we would sign up to 10 agreements a year. Agreements are a sign of good cooperation.  Agreements in the fields of education, culture, healthcare, or other cross-border cooperation have been forgotten. There are no new economic agreements in a long time, despite the fact that the economic exchanges between our two countries have increased (this is a very important element),

The number of official exchange visits is also decreasing. Even when they take place, their follow-up declarations leave a bitter taste. In the last 5 years, there have been no official visits at the level of the prime ministers. This tells a lot, and above all, it has never happened before.

In the past few years, relations have gone in the wrong foot, using the concept that “we raised all our issues, the ball is on the other field”. In politics and diplomacy, there should be hard work every day, even with small little steps, but consolidated.

The Albanian in Greece

In addition, we should seriously take into consideration, the importance of almost 800 thousand Albanians that live and work in Greece, not only with electoral campaign slogans and politicians´ visits. On the other hand, we should treat the Greek minority in Albania in adherence of all European standards and rights. Our people, on both sides, want to live in peace, friendship, and good cooperation. This needs to be ensured and guaranteed by our governments. It can only be achieved by avoiding unnecessary clashes, hatred, hostility, which are unfortunately amplified intentionally.

Any respective “good words” or evaluations for each other have been missing for a long time. Greek politicians exclaim that we are seeking a “greater Albania”. This is really absurd! On our side, “the Trojan horse” appears now and then on every issue to be solved. This is another absurdity! There are those “giving credit” to officials for finally “teaching the Greeks a good lesson”. These people are nothing but megalomaniacs, xenophobic and provocateurs, who are convinced to “winning credits” for encouraging hostility and divisions between Albania and Greece.

People do not accept such a language, such negative messages. More than anyone else, the Albanian community living in Greece does not accept such a behavior. For decades they have worked honestly for a full coexistence, friendship, and cooperation with the Greeks. Rightly so, many of them consider Greece as their second homeland. Their children are being raised and educated there, proud to be amongst the most distinguished at every level of schooling. I know personally, many Albanian families whose kids have been awarded for their excellent results with scholarships from the Greek government to study in other countries, such Germany, Austria, the UK and France.

Inter-marriages among Greeks and Albanians are becoming commonplace. This is a beautiful thing. This is a fact of life! Many of them have become Greek citizens, too. What´s wrong with this…to call them “traitors”? Why is it considered a “good thing” only when you become a German, British, American, or French among others?

When relations between our two countries are frozen, the human dimension is what suffers most. It is easy to fall prey of nationalistic behavior, but that cannot lead the way forward in our future. “Frozen relations” is not just reflected in people´s lives, but it also hurts them. Nothing should be overlooked in the bilateral relations, but above all, wrong expectations and long delays could be really harmful. In such a situation, positive developments have no present and no future.

Several years ago, the bilateral relations were considered as excellent, on the basis of a strong strategic partnership. Our two countries have greatly cooperated in every field. Several agreements and cooperation protocols have been signed and ratified. Hundreds of Albanians with severe illnesses have been treated for free in Greek hospitals. Hundreds of Albanian students have been awarded scholarships in Greek universities. Since the end of 2002, the Greek government has allowed Albanian citizen who live in Greece to cross the borders even without proper documentations, enabling their free movement, and being able to visit their homeland outside any Schengen area regulations…

The Greek prime ministers, Mr. Simits and Mr. Karamanlis, in their official meetings with their Albanian counterparts have evaluated relations between our two countries as a model for cooperation in the region and beyond.

I believe that there should be “more walk” and “less talk”. This is the message to be passed every day. Good bilateral relations need much work, but they can be built up and strengthened. But, it takes just a moment to harm good relations, and freeze them. This can happen when the attitudes are characterized by a weak European spirit. (As an example, Germany wouldn’t have been able to achieve anything, hadn´t it been led by a strong European spirit after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and in the 329 days that followed until the German re-unification. A great example of leadership that focused on the European future).

Obviously, the political will to overcome this “frozen situation” between our two countries, needs to be reciprocal. We face common challenges, and need to resolve them together.

Relations between Albanian and Greece take a higher importance nowadays, not simply for the bilateral cooperation. These relations should be put in the regional and European context. You cannot stand for European values on one hand, and fail to have good neighborly relations, on the other hand.

Certainly, the European Union is going through difficult times, wrapped into its own problems and challenges. In many EU countries, the trust toward the EU has decreased, being placed by Euro-skepticism. The Great Britain exited the EU. Nationalistic parties are on the rise in Europe. In their last elections, countries like France, the Netherlands, and even Austria, were threatened by nationalistic parties’ anti EU- rhetoric. In other EU countries, mainly in the former communist East Europe, populism and illiberal democracy are on the rise.

Terrorism is threatening Europe more than ever. The refugee crisis has given birth to new problems both for the EU member states and the EU institutions in Brussels. In this context, a new racist and xenophobic behavior is being evidenced everywhere in Europe. Eastern European countries in the EU, inclined to go against the EU policies, opting to build walls in the doors of Europe, are even asking for EU financial funds to finalize those projects. Other countries claim that they only accept catholic refuges, or not accepting any Muslins (a real shame for the European human and cultural values for which these countries fought for in the beginning of the 1990s).

Turkey, a NATO member and EU aspirant, due to its own internal developments, has been worsening its relations with the EU, and some of its most prominent member states, some of which with great contributions for the Turkish emigrants in Europe. The Turkish foreign minister declared, recently, that “Europe is inclined towards fascism, going back to its situation of before WWII”. Such a declaration is really concerning. President Erdogan openly declared “We don’t need Europe”!!! or that “the students who study in the West, return as voluntary Western spies.” (The Economist, September 30 – October 6, 2017, pg. 27). Driven by a nationalistic agenda, threatening towards Europe, the Turkish foreign policy seems unacceptable. Turkish relations with Russia have been strengthening, while those with the United States have seen worsening.

To complicate further the current security situation in Europe, you add US-Russia, Europe-Russia, and Europe-US relations, with new problems and confrontational attitudes. Other security challenges, such as ISIS’ aggression, the endless bloodshed in Syria, the annexation of Crimea by Russia, or the nuclear threat by North Korea.

Well, unfortunately, we are not living in a peaceful world of freedom!

On the other side, recent developments in our region are not peaceful and democratic in their core, despite sustainable efforts of the Western countries to promote peace and stability in the Balkans. In spite of the goals of Euro-Atlantic integration, and some positive progress made in that direction, the Western Balkans is still suffering from a narrow-minded concept of European values and standards. Nationalism is on the rise, with dangerous inclinations towards nationalistic governments. Ethnic disputes and hatred are dangerously shaping regional relations.

The Western Balkans, in its EU integration path, today more than ever, is in great need of reconciliation. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has been strongly repeating this message since the first meeting of the Berlin Process. Countries in the region, in specific moments, unfortunately too frequent, tend to hold on ethnic, xenophobic, and religious problems. (The well-known German magazine ‘Der Spiegel’, few weeks before the Trieste Summit in July 2017, had dedicated a long piece of five-full pages to the developments in the Western Balkans. The analysis was titled “Step-children of the continent”, focusing on the rise of the nationalistic rhetoric of the past).

Countries in the Western Balkans, including Albania and Kosovo, in more than few occasions, have threatened Europe with alternative options, which are completely absurd. “Der Spiegel” made it evident, that in Tirana and Prishtina, EU disappointed Albanians could undertake a change of the national borders in Europe. (N. 26, 26.02.2017, pg. 93)

With everything mentioned above, Europe is not living in its best days. Problems are challenging. However, the EU should not, under any circumstances, forget the Western Balkans. On the other side, the EU integration is the only game in town for our region. There is no other alternative!  Without the EU, there can be no peace, freedom, stability, and development in the Western Balkans. By doing our own homework in strengthening the rule of law, in our integration path, we also give our own contribution in in strengthening the EU. (The most recent published EU Commission strategy on a credible enlargement perspective for the Western Balkans, is a very positive signal, and a significant turn in the EU´s vision for the region. However, the recent visits of the EU leaders in the region, expected with high optimism, turned to be a routine tour).

Any doubts for a sustainable peace in the region, or any rhetoric for alternative options outside of the EU, would be dangerous for the future of the Western Balkans.  The European political language in the region shouldn’t be replaced by unclear jargons, euro-skepticism, disappointments, or speeches of national superiority.

It is dangerous that every time that the “European appeal” decreases, the “nationalistic rhetoric” increases. Such a nationalistic “readiness” is dangerous for the future. On the other side, it speaks about the seriousness and honest commitment to the Euro-Atlantic integration. I will use FYROM as an example. They signed the EU Association Agreement more than 16 years ago, an EU candidate for the last 11 years.  On the other side, 9 years ago, FYROM received a conditional invitation to become a NATO member, but it has remained stuck of the nationalistic policies and ethnic clashes to resolve the name issue with Greece. (Fortunately, in the recent months, the new government led by Zaev is moving seriously in the positive direction in the European path).

In Bosnia and Hercegovina, the nationalistic narrative and the ethnic divisions, but also demands for a political separation of the country have been increasing. Other countries in the Western Balkans have their similar problems with rise of nationalism and ethnic disputes. In a certain way, there has been also some backsliding also in the democratic developments in the region.

I mentioned the examples above, to reiterate that Albania too, should look at the European integration, also in the framework of good neighborly relations, and regional reconciliation. I don’t find excessive to remind ourselves of the legendary quote of the German Chancellor, Vily Brandt, a Nobel Prize winner, when he referred to good neighborly relations “not next to each other, but with each other”. This can be really demanding, but also at the same time a big test for us. It requires clear and courageous actions! We need to talk to each other, not against each other.

Clearly, we will not be able to progress with good faith and confidence towards the European Union, if we´re not able to move ahead in improving relations with our European neighbor, Greece. Fortunately, the Western Balkan countries aspiring to become EU members are bordering in the north with Croatia, and in the south with Greece, both EU and NATO members. We need to take good advantage of this very fact.

Getting back into the bilateral relations with Greece, it is very important to work, on both sides, based on the conviction that we can only move forward if we work together. Far more things unite us, than those that divide us. Politicians owe this to their people. They want to live in peace and friendship. We cannot close our eyes, but instead understand better, that we are witnessing very tragic events not far away from our region. People and nations, not far away from us, are living in hostility and war, a hostility that seems to never stop. These nations have taken no steps, with or without foreign mediation, to reconcile, to come closer to each other, and leave the past behind. And these are people with important cultures, traditions, and history.

In our bilateral relations with Greece, we should not allow (in reality we should be worried) the creation of any curtains. The ability to move over this situation, to believe in partnerships, should not be absent at any situation. We need to know each other better, and move beyond all obstacles, to be real strategic partners, trusting in each other and in our common future. The full responsibility for the future requires all of us to give up the nationalistic rhetoric.  On October 3, 2017, at the occasion of the 27th anniversary of the German reunification, the German President Steinmeir declared that “the big love for our country should not lead to nationalism. Homeland means responsibility for the future”.

I have personally publicly supported Prime Minister Rama´s efforts for the normalization of the bilateral relations with Serbia. We could not afford anymore to continue to be “frozen” in our relations with Serbia, in the context of our common European future. But, I cannot agree that, voluntarily or not, our relations with Greece have moved backwards. We should not leave our old friends aside, to make new ones.

For a thousands of reasons, from any point of view, our bilateral relations with Greece are more important. But unfortunately, on both sides, we have remained hostage of the shadows of the past, allowing those to dictate our future relations with each other.

I share a great respect for the Greek President, Pavlopoulos, with whom I have had an excellent cooperation on issues related to Albanian immigrants, during the years of my service in Greece, when he was Minister of Interior. He has always been very supportive, and I have always expressed my gratitude to him for his commitment. But, I was really caught out of a surprise when he told the French President Macron, that “in Albania, human rights are violated, especially property rights”. (After this declaration, there have been some other hasty declarations from other politicians).

In the last 28 years of transition, there have been many unresolved, or “badly resolved” property issues in Albania. But, I am 100 percent convinced that there no bad government intention, or anything specific against to the Greek minority´s property rights. On the other side, I agree, that if the property of an Albanian has to be torn down, we need to “think twice” when we deal with the property of a member of a minority. In certain political circles and some Greek media, it was presented as the Albania government undertook a “blitzkrieg” against the Greek minority. This was also supported by political and media segments in Albania. Minority issues are always more sensitive than others. I believe that the new minority law that will be passed in the Albanian parliament will be a good step in the right direction for the full respect of their rights.

I mentioned the example above, to show that when we carry along problems from the past, we have a “readiness” to add “new quarrels” to those. Is there a political will to overcome this situation? When I talk about “will”, I don´t mean just a “desire”. “Will” means, above and foremost, clarity, responsibility, and European standards. Dragging necessary solutions over time, creates room for new quarrels, problems, and disputes. Conflict breeds conflict. The spectacle of diplomatic meetings is only producing more euphoria, at least judging from the joint press conferences, or declarations from Greek restaurants that we are very close to good solutions. How long will this last? Shouldn´t we instead, without much noise or publicity, take the first necessary steps of dialogue towards the real solutions?

Our citizens have the right to know what is happening, what are the new developments, what is the reciprocal compromise, what are the obstacles? Solutions cannot come from “brave” declarations from a distance. Lack of transparency talks about lack of professionalism, but also lack of political clarity. Where there is only rhetoric, there is no progress.

In my numerous articles or television talks in the past recent years, focusing in the relations between our countries, I have always highlighted that, unfortunately, there is lack of mutual trust. For some time now, we look at each other with doubts and serious reservations. This is indeed unacceptable. It points out to a move in the backward direction.

In this situation, it is unforgivable that the diplomatic relations between our countries are not “waking up” to see that we are stuck in a “frozen situation”. No side is undertaking the necessary steps to improve the situation.  Once, it took only a declaration of the British Prime Minister, Thatcher, before the German re-unification that “two Germany-s are better than one”, for the German deputy Chancellor and minister of foreign affairs, Genscher, to immediately fly to London to meet with her. He talked with Thatcher. Again, when the French foreign minister, Frances Duma, said that “a unified Germany would be a danger”, minister Genscher flew again immediately to Paris to meet with President Mitterrand. He took similar trips to Moscow, Warsaw, and Washington, together with Chancellor Kohl. The reason was simple, to clarify every declaration, any prejudice, any reservations. And with great transparency and accountability, everything would be reported back to the Bundestag.

The numerous declarations from a distance, not only fail to solve any issues, but they actually are reminders of our problems. Perhaps, we are stepping back being shy in front of the obscurantist, populist, and nationalist voices, on both sides. Will our politicians allow these nationalist voices to define our mutual behavior? The joint political responsibilities should go beyond the good will to normalize relations between our two countries, but they also should address our European future, being crucial for peace, stability, and security in the region.

Our political leaders should learn to “swallow words” declared in Tirana and Athens, which have “heated” the situation. This requires courage and responsibility. Our countries have common interests, for this we need to work together to find the necessary understanding, without any confusion, prejudice, or reservations. To look forward in our bilateral relations does not mean that problems should not be discussed.

I believe we need a new “guide” for our common European future. We need a guide of European standards, not Balkan ones. We need a clear guide, an advanced one! And the basis of this guide should be trust. Trust, and efforts to re-establish trust. Without re-establishing trust, we cannot move forward. We could certainly put a façade, and after formal meetings, we could declare that things are being resolved, that a good climate is being established. However, it would be only temporary, and not sustainable.

To reestablished trust, courage and clarity are crucial. To be led by courage, means to feel and take responsibilities. It is a responsibility towards the good friendship and understanding of our people, who have lived together for centuries. Responsibility should be bare of momentary declarations, under nationalist or populist tones.

To take on responsibility and to sit down to resolve problems, means to actually work in favor of hundreds of thousands of Albanians living in Greece, whom have high expectations for better relations between our countries.

To take on responsibility means to show more attention to the everyday problems of the Greek minority in Albania, not only related to property issues, but also to more broader cultural, educational, and social issues.

Claiming responsibility means showing added, daily, attention to the minority for each of its issues, not just property, but also cultural, educational, social. Trust is won through actions, not just words. There is no trust when words are rounded up, when promises are overlooked, when momentary and domestic interests take over. Only open, European, and honest behavior, should be a real standard of re-establishing trust. Trust is measured through attitudes.

We cannot move ahead in our European integration while looking back. History has taught us that Europe was made of brave men to serve their people in peace and liberty, in friendship and understanding, taking responsibility for the future, and leaving the past behind. And they were capable of leaving an ugly past behind them.

Our problems (for what they are, without adding unnecessary additional value to those) cannot be solved in one day with a magic stick. But, I don´t think we have seriously sat down together to resolve those issues. For this reason, we should not waste any more time.

Skilled and capable experts, on both sides, should sit down, without nationalistic loads and populist guidance. These experts should be skilled, experienced, and visionary diplomats, with high integrity, and not spoiled and servile, which unfortunately are in large numbers. (Let’s talk seriously, despite the fact that bilateral meetings have been held in Crete and Korca, the “heated” declarations in Athens and Tirana have continued).

It has been more than 13 years since the start of the discussions about inspection commissions to review the history textbooks. The objective is to strip them off untruthful and faulty interpretations of the past. Is this initiative so difficult to be undertaken? An important step that would serve to the historical truth of our past.

The European future should be “seen in the eyes” every day, in every step, in every relationship. We need to be clear about our alliances, and our strategic allies. Of course, Greece should be a strategic ally for us, in the region and beyond. A strategic ally, is among other things, someone that loves Europe, and contributes positively towards its future. European values should lead our way to the future. Today, any friendship or cooperation, in every field, should not be seen outside these European values. (Will we ever be able to say out loud, eventually, that “we love Greece”, and our relations are strategic? Will be clear on our positions, today, five years after repeated declarations that “we are working to sign a strategic partnership agreement?”

Foreign policy, especially diplomacy, are based on seriousness, honesty and credibility. That is what makes a real interlocutor, a credible partner. “Punch lines” are not political, neither can guarantee a better future.

What has been built up in our bilateral relations, should not be allowed to get spoiled by certain segments, associations, speculative, populist, and delusional individuals, on both sides. Our governments should take their full responsibilities, and should not be influenced from nationalistic voices who operate for their petty domestic interests.

Governments should take their full responsibilities when genuine interests of people, and their friendship are negatively affected and threatened. The ability to overcome incidents, prejudices, tensions, is the ability to have a clear picture of the future and to know how to achieve future objectives.

I personally think that Prime Minister Rama should look at the bilateral relations between Albania and Greece with a timely high responsibility. Any populist declarations will not suffice. He should not listen to those biased advisors “whispering in his ears” “it was great what you did to the Greeks”. We should learn our lessons from what is happening in Europe, and not “clap” those leaders that are challenging the EU. Our “friends” and “brothers” should be in line with the European integration. Very clearly! In their words and actions! Out loud!

For us, good relations with Greece, as a NATO and EU member, as a neighbor and beyond have a significant importance and deserve to be clearly prioritized.  We should not lose sight of the fact that relations between Albania and Greece should be strategic ones.

We need to commonly undertake initiatives to return to the best days of our relations.

Albanians and Greeks are good neighbors, good friends and should coexist as such. Politicians and governments should serve this end. This is what the people want and they will always hold their governments responsible and accountable, both in Tirana and Athens.

 

*Bashkim Zeneli is the former Albanian Ambassador to Greece. This paper was presented at a conference on Albanian-Greek relations held by the Albanian Institute for International Studies in Tirana last March

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
                    [post_title] => Why Albanian-Greek relations are moving backwards
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => why-albanian-greek-relations-are-moving-backwards
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-06-22 10:18:34
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-06-22 08:18:34
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137601
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [3] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137509
                    [post_author] => 281
                    [post_date] => 2018-06-15 13:12:06
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-06-15 11:12:06
                    [post_content] => In the last days, the number of migrants, mostly from the Middle East countries but also from places such as Afghanistan, crossing illegally into Albania has increased significantly. It is obvious that they don’t want to stay in Albania but rather use it as a transit point to cross north or west into the European Union member states. Faced with rising fences and anti-immigrant policies in several entry points, immigrants will seek alternative routes and Albania is geographically positioned in a way to get their attention.

Additionally, there is a growing rumor amplified in the international and national media about the possibility of Albania hosting large reception centers for immigrants. These include serious declarations from top level European decision makers. It might be part of a Plan B now that the Return deal with Turkey is on rocky ground. The further elaboration is that Albania might be rewarded with the opening of negotiations if it lends such a ‘helping’ hand to manage the refugee influx before reaching the shores and borders of Western Europe.

For the moment there is no official plan to do so, but should these rumors materialize, the Albanian authorities and if necessary the Albanian society should strongly and vocally refuse such a deal.

First of all let’s get any misconception out of the way: Albania and Albanians do not suffer from a solidarity deficit and they have already proven themselves. They know what conflict and poverty is. They have had the former and they definitely have the latter. Indeed, Albanians themselves are leaving their country in large droves to escape lack of economic opportunities at home. Therefore refusing to host reception centers for migrants is not a matter of lacking sensitivity to their plight but strictly a matter of painfully lacking any sort of readiness and capacity to manage such a situation.

A country with structural poverty and systemic deficiencies in the law implementation, with police bodies that were just under accusations for allowing large scale narcotics trade and with a justice system still under reformation, Albania is NOT the country to welcome large numbers of immigrants.

First, this will have severe implications for national security given the problems and capacity gaps described above. Receiving assistance from agencies such as FRONTEX or others cannot make up for the deficiencies of Albanian authorities. There is absolutely no guarantee that the migrants can be properly screened and monitored here to allow for the safety and security of the domestic population.

Second, it might impose a lot of grave problems with neighbors such as Italy and Montenegro because large numbers of migrants will generate a strong demand for the services of human traffickers. Having suffered this phenomenon in the nineties, Albania and Italy should be very weary of such prospects. It took them a lot of time and effort to put the issue down the first time, it is not clear if it can be managed once more. Montenegro in the meanwhile has already threatened a possible fence built.

Finally, Albania should not be given and should not accept such dangerous shortcut for the integration milestones. European integration should be an exclusive outcome of the success of the national reforms and not an exchange deal with long term negative consequences. The European Union and its member states should be very cautious about the messages they are sending. Downplaying or delaying long term investment in reforms for short term political gains is dangerous and harmful. It discredits the entire integration process which has been the main drive of the necessary changes so far.

In the end the reaction of the entire society is also necessary. Albanians have refused such murky exchanges in the past, for example in the case of the Syrian chemical weapons that were planned to be neutralized on Albanian territory. The government and civil society should be ready to refuse once again.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Thanks but no thanks! - Refusing murky deals in exchange for integration
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => editorial-thanks-but-no-thanks-refusing-murky-deals-in-exchange-for-integration
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-06-17 11:58:57
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-06-17 09:58:57
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137509
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [4] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137544
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2018-06-15 13:00:14
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-06-15 11:00:14
                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_137070" align="alignright" width="300"]Nikollaq Neranxi, the head of the Association for the Protection of Traders and Market of Albania  Nikollaq Neranxi is a former MP who heads of the Association for the Protection of Traders and Market in Albania[/caption]

By Nikollaq Neranxi

As we were on vacations in Himara three years ago, we woke up by midnight because my little granddaughter was very sick. She was running a high fever and could hardly breath. We rushed to Tirana  at night thinking that more medical care would be offered in the Capital. During our trip, the situation of the granddaughter got worse and we stopped in Vlora to get emergency medical aid. After making all the tests in Tirana the doctor told us that the girl had been infected by dangerous bacteria for the health, Salmonella and Escherichia coli. Her body was covered with bacteria and the question he asked was: At what beach has the girl been? As a matter of fact, she had gone sunbathing on the beach in the area of Spile in Himara, where we also have our house, and as the children do she stayed almost all the day in the water.

I knew that sometimes ago sewage was discharged into the sea but could not imagine that the question had not been resolved yet. At that time, I made a great noise over the fact of the disposal of sewage into the sea. Even TVs came and broadcasted chronicles but as it always happens in this country the noise of a news, despite how much alarming it is, lasts until a new story comes up and afterwards everything is forgotten and nothing is solved.

What makes me turn back to this issue is the fact that even now when I am writing these lines this problem remains unsolved. The tourist season has started and sewage is discharged into the crystal waters of the Ionian in Himara. When I asked the doctor, who treated my granddaughter when she was gravely ill running a fever as high as 42 degrees C that what threatens someone who bathes in a place where sewage is discharged he offered me this medical explanation: "The discharged sewage into the sea along with the very dangerous chemical composition has much aerobic and anaerobic bacterial strains, which become virulent when they penetrate into organism through different ways like skin, its fissures, through mouth into stomach because of involuntary swallows, through secondary genital organs, through the conjunctivitis of eyes and ears etc. Bacteria like Salmonella, Escherichia coli of different strains cause severe infections in the stomach. Staphylococci and streptococci cause severe skin infections which can lead to severe situations of septicemia etc.

As soon as these bacteria enter the organism they cause grave damages to the eyes up to the harming of cornea, ears' infections which can create complication like meningites and meningoencefalite in cases of children. Diarrhea can also lead to situations that the patient should be urgently hospitalized and sometimes chronic forms of colitis remain. They can cause  vulvite uretrite etc. in the secondary genital organs," said the doctor.

I considered it reasonable to publish this detailed medial explanation to understand the effect caused by the irresponsibility of people for whom we vote and pay taxes so that they serve us. But by not carrying out their duty for which they are elected, they become murders of citizens' health and life.

As inhabitants we have not remained indifferent during these years. The public is aware of the meetings that the Himara inhabitants have held at the City Hall and with Mayor Jorgo Goro. They called us to present us the plan of the Urban Requalification of the zone and because of the many debates taking place those meetings became a media spot at that time. This is the case to recall once more what was the matter in discussion. They wanted to show what investments they wanted to make in our zone while we as inhabitants opposed that for two reasons: first, because the inhabitants had not taken the inherited properties and no work can be done if any inhabitant does not the property title in his hand, and secondly, the investments there were not being made according to the needs and priorities of the zone.

Whoever goes today to Himara will see how the sand has been replaced with concrete, the buildings have been painted with some nasty red colors that only someone who hates that zone can humiliate that so, and hundreds of century old olive trees have been uprooted planting pine trees afterwards. Nothing more disgusting than that could be done! As inhabitants we demanded that as soon as the property problems were resolved investments could be made according to priorities and one of them was the biological cleansing of the sewage which is putting at risk seriously people's life. You, who are reading this article now, could have been faced for sure with diarrhea in beaches, vomits, fever and probably you have thought that it was a seasonal virus.

As a matter of fact 'No', you were wrong; apparently that has been caused as the Mayor, Jorgo Goro has 'treated' you with the zones' fecal discharged into the sea as a welcoming gesture. Because Goro has another program; today he is working for power's oligarchs how to plunder our lands and properties and invest there. He does not have time to care for the zone and carry out his duty. So you will get sick as long as Goro & Co will be very busy filling their pockets insatiably and shamelessly by going back on his promises to the community which cast the vote for him, and putting a very bad stain on a zone as ours which has always known to maintain and care for that natural wealth given by God to us but which is being destroyed by the barbarians in power.
                    [post_title] => Welcome to the beach of Himara mayor!
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => welcome-to-the-beach-of-himara-mayor
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-06-17 12:02:33
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-06-17 10:02:33
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137544
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [5] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137431
                    [post_author] => 281
                    [post_date] => 2018-06-08 08:05:14
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-06-08 06:05:14
                    [post_content] => BY JERINA ZALOSHNJA

The Albanian ambassador to Washington notified through a long and exalting social media post that President Trump invited her in a special Iftar dinner - the Ramadan evening meal. “I had the honor and big privilege to be part of his (President Trump’s) table, inside the White House State Dining Room,” the ambassador wrote. The rest of the ambassador’s diplomatic telegraph for the Albanian audience then continued with the old cliche those of us who were born and raised under communism recognize so well: “I told the President the Albanian people are very grateful to him…” and the sort.

Without a doubt, the fact our ambassador had the chance to meet the US President is extraordinary, but let’s keep in mind we are a small country; so small, it is highly possible the US President is not completely clear on Albania’s geographic location, especially President Trump.

And every chance our diplomats get to meet the White House Chief is valuable, and should be used. Our ambassador should simply be congratulated for the smart, wise and appropriate things I believe she told President Trump and the Vice President. However, there is another fact I’d like to focus on. 

The President invited the Albanian ambassador in the official iftar dinner hosted by him for Ramadan as the ambassador of a Muslim country. “I had the honor and big privilege, -- our ambassador to the US writes in her public telegraph -- to be part of President Trump’s table, together with colleagues from Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Bangladesh.” This is one of the arguments that lead to the conclusion that in the White Houses’ protocol, Albania belongs to the Muslim countries category; there’s also the President’s own tweet for the dinner, the Iftar with the ambassador of ally Muslim states, which shows that for the United States, Albania is a Muslim country. On the other hand, this perception or reality is not solely related with the Trump administration. Former President George W. Bush, who strongly supported the country’s NATO membership, also saw Albania as a Muslim state, the US ally.

We should say it loud and clear: There is nothing wrong with being a Muslim country. But Albania is not a Muslim country. Islam, the religious doctrine, has no part in the organization of Albanian society, and even less in the organization of the state, unlike many countries in the Muslim world. I am a Muslim, but my country is not. In Albania’s case, this is not an equal equation.

There is a perception in the political and even intellectual elites of EU member states that Albania is a Muslim state -- some go as far as to think and declare that Albania is ruled by Sharia Law. This country is still unable to be ruled by the rule of law, but every European lawmaker, every journalist, must know a simple truth: Albania neither has been ruled, nor will ever be ruled by the Sharia -- but by the Constitution, by laws. And this is the case not only in relation to European countries. Albania’s relations with Turkey, very important relations, are increasingly being viewed as strategic relations also due to the common religion. This is untrue, and I believe wrong and harmful. 

The perception of Albania as a muslim state is historic and inherited, and it might also stem from the figures among the three main religions, where Muslims make up the majority. This is also a mechanical interpretation of post-communist Albania. But it seems that we too feed the perception of a Muslim country. For example, although mosques have been built in all Tirana neighborhoods to serve Muslim adherents for their religious rites, they prefer to organize their prayer publicly at the Skanderbeg Square. But the square is a public space destined for all citizens, while practicing any kind of religious rite is an activity meant to happen inside religious institutions, in mosques or churches, but not in squares.

Two days ago, the Mother Teresa Square transformed into an open-air restaurant to serve Iftar. Some Austrian journalists that happened to be there focused on the public event, which, truth be told, looked similar to events in the Middle East. 

I was told that Johann Sattler, the Austrian Ambassador to Tirana, was explaining to these journalists that Albania “is a magical place, and incredible when it comes to religious faith. Orthodox, Muslims and Catholics coexist peacefully. He was even reciting Gjergj Fishta, the great Albanian patriot poet (and Catholic priest), to them: “Kemi Bajram dhe Pashke, por Shqiperine e kemi bashke” (“We celebrate Eid and Easter, but we share Albania.”) 

Actually, this is the Albania we should be promoting, like the Austrian Ambassador to Tirana does.   

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: I am a Muslim, but Albania is not a Muslim country
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => editorial-i-am-a-muslim-but-albania-is-not-a-muslim-country
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-06-08 10:53:36
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-06-08 08:53:36
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137431
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [6] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137265
                    [post_author] => 281
                    [post_date] => 2018-05-25 09:40:52
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-25 07:40:52
                    [post_content] => The case of Agron Xhafaj, brother of Interior Minister Fatmir Xhafaj, has led to renewed conflict in Albania’s political scene. But, perhaps more importantly, it has raised questions among Albanians that require better answers than what the public has received so far.  

Agron Xhafaj is now said to have gone to Italy to serve a prison sentence issued back in 2002 for drug trafficking. Albania’s opposition says his brother, Fatmir Xhafaj, first as a powerful Socialist lawmaker and then as minister of interior shielded him for years. 

Fatmir Xhafaj has denied the charges and said his brother was at the wrong time at the wrong place, and he had not been involved in anything illegal in more than a decade. And, regardless, according to the minister and Prime Minister Edi Rama, the brother has his own life and should not harm the political career of the minister of interior. 

However, an investigation performed by a journalist and then handed to the opposition for making it public has brought forward a series of pressing questions. According to a wiretap done by cooperator, the minister’s brother allegedly continued his criminal activity in drug trafficking until very recently. Based on the wiretap, the opposition alleges that the brother has strong influence in the criminal underworld of Vlora, Albania’s second largest port city and one with a long history of powerful organized crime networks. 

The opposition accuses the minister of in effect granting his brother immunity, not only through not sending him earlier to Italy to serve the sentence -- but also by allowing him to continue his criminal activity in a protected environment. These accusations have been called “nonsense” by the minister.  And the reactions to the accusations from the government have been that they believe the wiretap is fake. The prime minister says he has checked it with an unnamed expert organization and he believes it is not real, but has refused to divulge more details. However, he agrees a proper, thorough and independent investigation should now take place to determine the wiretap findings.  

The brother’s choice to go and surrender to Italian authorities also raises questions whether he did so to escape Albanian authorities, and the conflict of interest with the brother leading the Ministry of Interior. 

This is the second controversy in a few months involving a Socialist interior minister so questions abound: What kind of state is this and based on what standards? These questions are even more pressing as Albania hopes to open membership negotiations with the European Union. The EU is first a family of strong states and second a family of democratic states.

Rama says the DP has invented the scandal to hurt Albania’s chances of opening EU membership negotiations, while the Democrats say they want negotiations to open precisely so there can be more supervision and pressure on Albania’s government when dealing with cases such as this. 

Ultimately, all can agree that the Albanian public and its friends abroad need thoroughly-investigated answers on this case. That’s a good place to start. 

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Thorough investigation needed on Xhafaj affair
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => editorial-thorough-investigation-needed-on-xhafaj-affair
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-05-25 10:35:54
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-05-25 08:35:54
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137265
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [7] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137269
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2018-05-25 07:15:14
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-25 05:15:14
                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_137271" align="alignright" width="300"]AIIS conference on “Re-examining Albania-Greece relations: challenges of the present, prospects for the future” held in Tirana in March 2018. Photo: AIIS AIIS conference on “Re-examining Albania-Greece relations: challenges of the present, prospects for the future” held in Tirana in March 2018. Photo: AIIS[/caption]

By Alba Çela

Albania-Grece relations in the context of Albania’s EU integration process: gap between reality and perception 

Abstract:

Most of Albanian citizens asked in a national poll in 2013 about whether Greece would like to see Albania in the European Union answered no[1], an answer that might sound expected in the context of the difficult relationships but that actually sounds perplexing when compared to the past track record of relevant developments. This belief that Greece is out there to become an obstacle to Albania’s integration path is unfortunately present in segments of the population. Yet it sharply contrast to the real performance of the Greek state and representatives when it comes to Albania’s integration. Whereas it remains true that Greek politicians from time to time mention integration when complaining about the handling of some issues in Albania, Greece has not done any significant step to halter integration so far. Greece has never vetoed any significant milestone in Albania’s European path compared to let’s say other countries such as the Netherlands did when it came to granting Albania candidate status. On the contrary Greece, just like Italy and Austria, is one of the engaged supporters of Albania’s European path. This paper tries to analyze this gap between perception and reality and offer a rationale for efforts to improve communication related to this particular issue. 

Keywords: Albania-Greece relations, EU integration, bilateral disputes, communication challenges  

  Introduction

European integration is a complex and rich process that has the potential not only to transform countries internally but also to significantly improve the relations between neighbors sharing a tough history fraught with misunderstandings and even enmity. The European Union’s appeal stands first and foremost in its being a project of and for peace. When it comes to the process of European integration of the Balkan countries, the Union has been clear and determined to outline the condition that countries need to have normalized relations before membership. The solution of bilateral issues for example is one of the key components that has harnessed attention and effort during these years. [2] The solution of bilateral disputes is an unnegotiable condition that stems not only from the values of good neighborhood which are at the core of the EU, but also from the EU’s previous bitter experience with cases such as Cyprus.

Unfortunately countries have become veto-powers and obstacles when it comes to the progress of European integration and have continued their conflictual rhetoric even after becoming members such as the cases of Croatia and Slovenia show. The most obvious example is that of Greece vetoing any further steps of the European integration of the Former Republic of Macedonia based on the name issue.

The fear that something similar can happen to Albania is quite present in Albanians discourse, shadowing the real relationship that has existed these years between the two countries when it comes to EU integration.

The risk is alarming. The European integration process is not only a national aspiration with no political alternative in Albania. It is the process by which all important reforms are vested with legitimacy, assistance and are monitored. The EU conditionality pushes forward the transformation of the country. All delays and obstacles in this process are simultaneously delays in the overall progress achieved in the transformation of the country.

However the record has shown that Greece has had a different attitude towards Albania, at elats until recently. It has supported the reforms and shown considerable backing for Albania’s integration milestones in the past such as status issue or even visa liberalization.

As Albania approaches a hopeful time for the possibility of opening negotiations, with a positive appraisal from European actors[3] upon the solution of its recent political crisis and the regular held elections, the issue of guaranteeing the support of its neighbors becomes a primary importance item. In the first address to the Albanian Assembly, Prime Minister Rama said that the only country with which Albania had ‘issues’ was Greece and that he was determined to seek a collaborative relation while upholding Albania’s rights.

These declarations come at a time when the press is pushing hard once again the possibility of Athens blocking the integration path upon unresolved issues, including a recent one concerning properties in Himara. This context brings forward once again the persisting contrast between the fiery rhetoric of both countries when it comes to their relationship and the European integration framework and the previous experience of sustaining constructive assistance in the process of accession.

Brief history 

Despite many political problems, confrontations and unfortunate events, Greece has been a crucial partner in Albania’s transition. One need to remember the impact of hundreds of thousands of Albanian citizens who found an economic viability and then build a life in the southern neighbor, providing precious remittances to their parents; the important economic investments and assistance provided by the southern neighbor and most pertinently its continuous political and international support when it comes to both NATO and European integration processes.

More specifically during the decision making times in the Union regarding Albania, Greece has consistently fallen in the supporting camp.

Of course the complexity of relations between Albania and Greece has been often reflected in the EU integration developments. For instance right wing MPs in the European Parliament regularly debate and challenge the progress reports and relevant positive resolutions on Albania on grounds that they don’t reflect the problems of the Greek minority here or even worse raising issue about ‘Greater Albania’ aspirations. [4] However these claims are usually not getting in the way of real developments since they are clarified and dismissed by EU actors.

Furthermore recently there have been some promising attempts to address the outstanding issues in a more formal and constructive manner, the most recent one being the Bushati-Kotsias package which has been highly praised by Commissioner Hahn. However even in this case the debate has brought up sensitive claims on the Greek side that the Commissioner wrongfully addressed the Cham issue, which remains unrecognized by Greece. [5]

Political context and electoral rounds greatly influence the serenity of the relations and therefore the integration narrative as well. In the last elections round in Albania, the perception was that the political establishment was siding with the rhetoric of the PDIU, the political party in Albania most at odds with Greece since they represent the Cham community in the country. This was coupled with a decreasing frequency of high level meetings and   generally tepid bilateral relations.

More recently integration is coming up repeatedly in the complaints from the Greek side, as a potential negotiating chip further exacerbating existing perception and fears that Greece could indeed bloc Albania’s future in the EU.

Perceptions

There is a widely held perception among Albanians than when push comes to shove, Greece will block Albania’s entry to the European Union. This perception is comfortably nested within some other myths often perpetuated by the media or irresponsible politicians.  Quite a significant number of Albanians also mention Greece to be a threat to the security of Albania,[6] despite the fact that both countries have signed a Treaty of Friendship and most importantly that they are NATO members.

In general the perceptions of Albanian regarding Greece and relations with Greece reveal a very mixed picture. The results of a public poll in 2013 show that “45 percent of the citizens believe that these relations are normal. 22 percent believe they are in a bad shape and a small group of 5 percent say that they are in a very bad shape. Similarly 27 percent believe the relations are in a good or even very good divided respectively between 21 and 6 percent. Albanians seem to believe that governments of Albania and Greece enjoy a better relationship with each other than do the respective people of each state. While 52 percent of Albanians believe relations between Greek and Albanian government are normal only 42 percent say the same about the relations between Greeks and Albanians themselves.”[7]

When it comes specifically to the perspective of Albania’s integration within the European Union, the Albanian public opinion is fragmented and generally skeptical about Greek support. Hence when asked if their fellow citizens in Greece would support the European integration of Albania, Albanian themselves seem divided in almost there equal parts between those who believe in the Greek support, those who are afraid of a negative relation and those who don’t know. With a very small advantage of 37 percent Albanians are hopeful that Greek citizens would support Albanian E integration while 34 percent believe that Greek citizens do not support this aspiration of Albania. 30 percent is the group that does not have a clear opinion on this matter. Even grimmer seems to be the perception of whether the Greek government has been to help to Albania in its effort of European integration. In this case a majority of citizens , 46 percent, believe that this has not been in the case while 35 percent believe that the Greek government has helped. 18 percent do not know the answer.[8]

The difference in the perceptions about the role of citizens and government is particularly odd. Whereas skepticism and even dislike among the Greek population regarding Albania might be existing and might increase after specific incidents, the Greek government has had to surpass that in sustaining Albania’s effort to join the EU.

For a comparative perspective, an opinion poll undertaken in Greece has revealed that “About half of the Greek public opinion views current relations with Albania as neither good nor bad, while one third consider them as good.” When it comes specifically to questions about integration, “six out of ten (58%) [believe] that the Greek government has assisted Albania in its EU accession process. 32% of respondents believe that Greeks do not want Albania to become a member of the EU, while 56% disagree with that statement.”[9] It is interesting to note in the last result that the majority of Greeks seem to be of a positive attitude towards Albania’s European perspective.

Media role

Of course these perceptions are flamed by occasional media coverage of declarations of Greek politicians as well. For example in the case of the debacle about some properties of Greek minority citizens in the city Himara frequently generate strong statements. This is not the only time. European standards that have to be respected are brought up when it comes to complaints about Greek minority, properties of the Orthodox Church, Greek soldiers’ cemeteries on Albanian territory, etc.

There is no doubt that the long list of unresolved issues and long held misunderstandings puts this relationship in a far from perfect position. However the media articles also do not provide the right contextualization and use titles that sound more sensational than the coverage would warrant.

A previous study of the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS), has shown that the percentage of articles and coverage with negative and quasi negative connotation in Albanian press when it comes to Greece and Greek-Albanian relations is double that of positive articles. The study also points to few positive stories while exposing some stories such as the infamous ‘Kareli case’ which poisoned relations in the public opinion for a long time. [10]

One example is the case of the declarations at the end of last year, of former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, Nikos Kotzias about Greece not being generous with the vote pro opening of negotiations for Albania.[11] The most used title in this case was ‘Greece will block the European integration of Albania’, suggesting absolute certainty and not possibility.  In fact the full statement regards the necessity of Albania fulfilling the 5 conditions posed, monitored and evaluated by the institutions of the European Union and therefore it’s factually correct. Naturally the connotation given in the statement by highlighting the respect for minorities is not encouraging but the statement does not convey at all a certainty that a decision to block has been taken.

On the other side, many Greek politicians have not hesitated to come forward with strong support declarations in the time when the decision to grant Albania the official EU candidate status was being deliberated. Just before the meeting of the EU Council of Ministers, where the decision about granting Albania the EU candidate status was eventually postponed, the Geek ambassador to Tirana, Leonidas Rokanas, emphasized Greece’s firm support for Albanian’s EU integration. This statement was followed recently by another one that was made this time by the Greek Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Evangelos Venizelos, who reaffirmed Greece support and stated that “Albania should get the candidate status in June”.[12]

 

Not taking things for granted 

Through the timeline of Albania’s integration process, Greece has not been an obstacle or a delaying factor, on the contrary, it has been a de facto supporter. The gap that exists between the specific perceptions about its stance on Albania’s integration and the performance so far is a direct result of heated political declarations, faulty media coverage and lack of communication between other important social actors.

That said there are of course no guarantees that things will not go south. The rhetoric in the last months, mirrored by a media frenzy has been mostly negative. Integration is coming up again and again as a keyword for addressing how relations can become worse, instead of improving. The last declarations of President Pavlopoulos, that Albania does not seem to have a European perspective since it is infringing upon minority rights are an alarm bell since he is not considered an extreme voice. [13]

The risk that Greece can use its voice and decision making power to impede Albania’s goals or even veto its milestones is a real possibility. Indeed the most recent political class in Greece has been less patient and more aggressive with its rhetoric. Whereas in the past, Albanian politicians could count on matured and familiar political actors such as those from PASOK or New democracy, the relative new players are definitely more challenging. In this context the need for better communication becomes even more pertinent.

Communication challenges should be seen and targeted by a strategic approach that goes beyond the occasional friendly meetings, lunches and so on. The latter often do more to confuse the public than to reassure it that dialogue is on the way to resolve outstanding issues. The contrast between the way these symbolic milestones are presented (with outmost enthusiasm) and the subsequent or even parallel messages that come from the neighbors.

Improving communication both at the political and public level requires a long term investment also on key actors such as media which has been missing entirely. While there are several attempts of organizing regional exchanges with reporters and editors, or even bilateral from Albania and Serbia, the experience has not been replicated in the case of Albania and Greece.

Conclusions 

It is not just symbolic that the most public commitment taken by the Union to this region regarding its European future has been during the famous Thessaloniki Summit, albeit many years ago. The Stabilization and Association Agreement was signed with Albania in June 2006 and entered into force in April 2009. Albania became an official candidate country in 2014 and the next step is the opening of negotiations. The road has been long and will continue to be arduous. Albania largely benefits from having the support of Greece in this process and should be committed to preserving and deepening this support.

On the other side, the European future of Albania is also a desirable goal for Greece. A northern neighbor which is safe and stable, integrated in the Union and further developed represents a positive outcome for Greece, its politicians, investors and citizens.

The mutual support becomes even more necessary in a context where the internal developments in the EU itself have seen the enthusiasm and commitment to the enlargement policy weaken substantially and there is now a clear split between skeptical countries and countries that have been pushers of integration. Albania recently secured the public support from Italy to open negotiations[14] and should it get the same support from Greece it would send an unmistakably positive signal to European institutions to go forward with this step.

Both sides can and should do more to improve the official and public discourse when it comes to their collaboration in the context of European integration, this also includes an effort to refrain from emotional short term responses to occurring events in order to safeguard long term achievements  on both sides. The primary responsibility rests with the political class which needs only to keep in mind the long term mutual benefits of the process and use that framework when dealing with specific issues.

Media in Albania and Greece should be provided with information and opportunities to further explore the positive aspects of partnership in this regard rather than focus on sensational events that create misperceptions.  One illustrative example is the Cross Border Program between Albania and Greece financed by IPA funds, which best portrays the potential of European integration to assist the border regions and strengthen bilateral bonds. Successful project examples and their socio-economic or environmental impact need to have more highlight and presence alongside the inescapable political coverage.[15] Similarly there is a recent project that assist the Parliament of Albania to fine tune its role in the process of European integration, assisted specifically by the counterparts in Italy and Greece. [16]

Finally civil society on both sides has taken important steps to improve the communication and have genuine discussions even on difficult matters. CSOs should keep up the work done in the aspect of bilateral relations and therefore needs financial and technical assistance to continue increasing dialogue, awareness and collaboration between different social groups.

European integration should be the key positive realm of improving, developing and sophisticating bilateral relations between Albania and Greece. Unless the level of maturity in political and other forms of communication increases significantly we all risk to lose out on this enormous potential.

[1] “Albanian Greek relations from the eyes of the Albanian public – perceptions 2013”, A. Cela; S. Lleshaj http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/albanien/10896.pdf

[2] “Joint Declaration Adopted by Western Balkans Foreign Ministers in Vienna – Countries Will Not Obstruct Neighbours’ Progress in EU Integrations”, http://balkanfund.org/2015/08/joint-declaration-adopted-by-western-balkans-governments-representatives-in-vienna-countries-will-not-obstruct-neighbours-progress-in-eu-integrations/ Accessed on August 29, 2017.

[3] http://top-channel.tv/lajme/artikull.php?id=363977#k1

[4] http://top-channel.tv/lajme/english/artikull.php?id=13663&ref=ml#.WcN149VL-M8

[5] http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/eu-commissioner-caught-in-between-albania-greece-hot-topic-09-29-2016

[6] “Albanian Greek relations from the eyes of the Albanian public – perceptions 2013”, A. Cela; S. Lleshaj http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/albanien/10896.pdf , pg 31.

 

[7] “Albanian Greek relations from the eyes of the Albanian public – perceptions 2013”, pg 19, http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/albanien/10896.pdf .

[8] “Albanian Greek relations from the eyes of the Albanian public – perceptions 2013”, pg 36-37.

[9] All results of the poll undertaken in Grece in 2013 are available at “he Greek Public Opinion towards Albania and the Albanians Social attitudes and perceptions “, Ioannis Armaklosas, ELIAMEP http://www.eliamep.gr/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/The-Greek-public-opinon-towards-Albania-Final-report-Dec-2013.pdf. Cited numbers are in page 8.

[10] “Greece and the Albanian-Greek relations in the Albanian printed media 2014”, pages 10-11,  http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/albanien/11319.pdf

[11] Media coverage examples with titles saying Greece will block the European integration of Albania:

[12] Tirana Times, (2013). Albanian-Greek relations: Beyond the status quo. Tirana Times. (2014). Greece to support Albania’s EU integration process. www.tiranatimes.com

[13]“ Greek president uses harsh voice, conditions integration”, Ora News 8 September 2017  http://www.oranews.tv/vendi/presidenti-grek-ashperson-tonet-ndaj-shqiperise-kushtezon-integrimin/

[14] Tirana Times: “Gentilioni promises support for opening of the EU talks “ http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=134135    (Prime Minister Rama official visit to Italy)  13 October 2017

[15] Recommendations also form the research study on Albanian media also pinpoint the fact that more articles of economic and social nature are needed to change perceptions on both sides. “Greece and the Albanian-Greek relations in the Albanian printed media 2014”, pages 10-11,  http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/albanien/11319.pdf

[16] https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/pdf/albania/ipa/2015/20160126-eu-integration-facility.pdf
                    [post_title] => Albania-Grece relations in the context of Albania’s EU integration: gap between reality and perception 
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => albania-grece-relations-in-the-context-of-albanias-eu-integration-process-gap-between-reality-and-perception
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-05-25 10:34:49
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-05-25 08:34:49
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137269
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [8] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137277
                    [post_author] => 29
                    [post_date] => 2018-05-25 07:10:17
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-25 05:10:17
                    [post_content] => By Robert Butler* 

The recent occurrence of the violent reactions to the payment of tolls for the A1 motorway in northern Albania brings to the forefront the whole question of who should pay for road transport infrastructure; the provision of new roads, their management, operations and maintenance.

In the past all forms of transport infrastructure was predominantly built, owned, and operated by government institutions and departments. None of them more so than road networks. Roads have always been the original form of communication and as such their development and usage has been assumed as an indubitable right of the public with no direct costs or payments. The provision and use of roads traditionally assumed to be a public service obligation that was the responsibility of governments for all their citizens.

Other forms of transport, civil aviation, maritime and rail have however, increasingly become recognised as transport for which ‘the user pays’, with commercial air and ferry services leading the way towards the privatisation of infrastructure provision, management, and operations. Correspondingly, the management and commercial operations of the supporting infrastructure of airport and port facilities has increasingly passed over to the ownership of private sector commercial companies. The case in many countries with developed economies.

Even rail services are becoming progressively commercialised and private operators more prevalent in the provision of dynamic services, initially on commercial rail transport but also for passenger traffic. Generally, for the moment at least, rail infrastructure has been leased from government but the cost of rail tickets sold by the private rail transport companies also contains charges for track and station use.

Although In the past two decades in the transport subsectors of civil aviation, maritime, and to a certain extent rail, have required the user to pay in some form for the management and operations of the supporting transport infrastructure,[1] the road sector is the last subsector in transport to move towards the ‘user pays’ concept. Given the international trend however, it is inevitable that in future road users will pay directly for road use. Payments possibly based on amount of use. Albania cannot be an exception. New high speed efficient road infrastructure has to be paid for by the users, either in the form of tolls or indirectly in the form of road funds or vignettes[2].

The concession on the A1 motorway in the north of the country may have been a step in the right direction as this section of the road network will demand very serious maintenance and upkeep expenditures in the coming years and the traditional government department approach will not be appropriate for such a modern and sophisticated road link. It is therefore arguably only fair that those who make use of this particular road facility, either commercially or for private and social reasons, should pay some direct contribution for the use of the link.

Many motorways throughout the world, with their provision of fast, direct travel and time savings, are tolled. Many of them however are increasingly built through private financing, not government, with the original constructor retaining the responsibility of maintenance under a concession arrangement. In such cases, where the builder is also the investor, the constructor has a legal right to make a profitable return on his investment over a given period of time. This return on investment and risk is generally achieved through tolling. The concessionaire undertaking the public service obligations of government and being paid for this service provision in differing arrangements, on a commercial basis, part by the direct toll receipts and part by government subsidies.

During this time however, the concessionaire/developer also accepts full responsibility under the concession agreement for maintaining the facility at an agreed level of service; the level of service to be agreed with government as the client, agreed on behalf of the travelling public to levels that support safe and reliable travel.

In the case of the A1 motorway to Kosovo it was always known that the low traffic volumes would probably never make a tolling system a self-sufficient system of financing on this link, it would always require some form of additional financing from government, the concession being based on a single road model, i.e. just the motorway.

Single road concessions however have to retain certain characteristics to make them viable as a concession; namely higher than average usage and traffic volumes. The A1 motorway to Kosovo does not approach these financially viable traffic volumes when calculated annually. This situation will not change in the foreseeable future.

 

Possible alternative road sector concession arrangements better suited to Albania

In past studies in the country alternative forms of commercialised maintenance were considered a better option for the road networks of Albania. Successive governments were developing new roads as international transport routes and these were being constructed to the latest design and construction standards in line with international models. The study specialists were of the opinion therefore that the traditional maintenance service provision, as supplied by the General Roads Department[3], was not appropriate to fulfil the needs required from the new modern highways being built or existing roads that were being improved; the recently completed 1500 kms of rural roads is subject to a non-standardised maintenance approach and unknown management future. Modern road networks demand the application of sophisticated business systems to maintain them safely, the traditional maintenance approaches in the country were considered to be non-responsive to the needs of such networks.

Although the original GRD is now the Albanian Road Authority, the modus operandi of the department has not ostensibly changed, the authority still retains a public-sector approach to road management. Business systems and market driven innovations for better quality outcomes are not the core qualities of the authority. Going forward the authority has to see itself solely as a client-based organisation and no longer the service provider.

As with much infrastructure, whether transport related or not, the modern trend is for build operate and transfer under commercially viable business management models. A significant amount of modern town centre infrastructure in developed cities is maintained on behalf of the owner by the original constructor. The logic is self-evident, the builder knows the building and its peculiarities and special considerations better than anyone else. It is also considered a value-added approach to the provision and management of quality i.e. if the constructor is to take on the additional risks associated with maintenance of the facility over a given lengthy period, he will take extra care with the quality of construction of that facility at the time of construction, wishing to avoid the risk of costly and untimely and un-envisaged repairs or interventions at his own cost under his maintenance contract. It is generally acknowledged that this same principle applies to new roads.

The best models emerging world-wide for road management therefore are aimed at harnessing the inherent knowledge and experience of the road construction industry, contractor and knowledge-based companies, for the maintenance of the built facility. Modern roads and bridge stocks require the most modern approaches; a combination of innovative solutions and business management systems that are cost-effective. Only market driven enterprises can supply such business-like outcomes. Managing modern road networks is a business activity.

In the case of the A1 motorway to Kosovo however, the investor was the Albanian government; the road was built under contract by international contractors and the constructor did not have a long-term maintenance contract.

The newly released maintenance concession therefore is based on a clear commitment to operate and maintain a facility that has been financed and built ‘by others’. The risks of any inadequacies of quality are therefore transferred to the maintenance concessionaire. It can be assumed that the concessionaire would have a clear understanding concerning the ‘as built’ condition of the road and therefore the envisaged maintenance interventions and the risks associated with his projected financial planning and programming. The concessionaires setting of the toll tariffs for the road link would have to have include risk mitigation elements in the tolling targets and forecasts. And may to a certain extent point to the setting of higher than expected tolls, as it occurred. The concessionaire will have calculated the corresponding returns that would result as a result of different toll pricing scenarios to fund the needs of different levels of maintenance interventions.

The whole toll tariff pricing process would be based on varying levels of financial risk and this is something that both government and the concessionaire have to calculate. The government invariably having to provide some assurances for subsidising any shortfalls in available finance for maintenance in the case where the traffic volumes do not generate the required funding. The Government’s wish to keep their contribution to a minimum may also have influenced the toll pricing for the A1 to be fixed on the higher side; the higher the acceptable toll, acceptable to the road user that is, the less is the subsidy that the government budget has to contribute.

Concessions let on single road links, unless the roads concerned have significant average traffic volumes, when calculated over an annual period, are usually not the best concession option for the road owner. In such circumstances the government concerned may have to commit themselves to significant levels of subsidisation to make up the shortfall that is calculated as necessary to fulfil both the required level of service (to provide the public service obligation) and the agreed profitable returns for the concessionaire to take responsibility for the risks. The concession has to be profitable in order for concessionaire to undertake the considerable risks involved.

The alternative approach proposed during a capacity building project in the Ministry of Transport circa 2007 was for the use of a Management Agency Contract (MAC) form of concession. This is a more modern and holistic type of concession that is best suited to the case where a supporting feeder network that was historically provided by government, is gradually declining in service level due to the lack of applied investment strategies. Investment strategies that could benefit through the use of commercial business management processes and systems. The management of constrained budgets by traditional road departments lack policies that support innovation and asset management strategies to optimise available funding. Only the application of commercial business models can provide value for money in the management of the built environment.

The MAC type of concession involves the government letting the concessionaire manage and operate all the roads within a region or agreed area. The government correspondingly aggregating all the maintenance budgets that it provides for this complete network and making this aggregated funding available for the maintenance concession.

The MAC contractor takes responsibility not only for delivering an agreed service level of maintenance across the whole network but also undertakes the added responsibility for modelling and forecasting the future annual programmes of period maintenance interventions and minor improvements. Something that it can be argued is not carried out at the present time. The improvements to include the identification of improvements to safety as the concessionaire is also responsible for improvements associated with road safety programmes.

The programmes of continuous improvements provide an inbuilt profitability to help offset any losses or lack of financial returns from routine maintenance, helping the MAC to provide a full set of maintenance provisions.

The MAC model is increasingly becoming the model of choice by governments that require a guaranteed level of service across the complete public road network for their constituents and enables the policy makers to highlight the measurable improvements in road network provisions that the government provides.

The same consultant that recommended the MAC, made a recommendation to divide the country into three separate road network zones and consider letting three separate MAC concessions, one for each zone.

Whilst the government of the day accepted the recommendation of the consultant for dividing the country into 3 zones – they were created - the concessions that were contracted out only took in some of the network in each of the zones. This has limited the effectiveness of modelling of the overall network in terms of obtaining value for money from the overall road maintenance budgets that are available; benefits on all roads, local and national.

This part adoption of the recommendations, made a decade ago, left significant budgets available for road maintenance outside of a transparent system of road sector business management. A regularised and accountable system that could provide creditable returns for all road users no matter which class of road they used most or was beneficial to them. It could also, as this article mentions above, balance out the need for unacceptable toll levels on single road links.

 

The advantages of the MAC form of concession;

- The government obtains a given level of service across the whole network that is contract guaranteed;

- The concessionaire is customer focussed, the level of service confirmed in customer satisfaction surveys;

- The profit margins for the concessionaire are network based and do not depend from a profit for a single road;

- Network management through concession uses the latest models in order to be competitive and market based;

- The concession provides a programme of continual improvements for the road user that is market driven;

- The concession agreement provides for public consultation between concessionaire and local communities;

- The customer feels an integral part of the concession arrangement with his views reflected in outcomes;

- The Government can deliver their public service obligations without the overheads of larger public departments;

- The system is cost effective as it reduces the wastages in funding that are associated with government services;

- The whole programme is transparent as the concessionaire has to publish the annual network programme;

- Government overheads and direct involvement and commitments are reduced to a minimum.

 

The MAC form of contract, if applied to the northern region of the three regions that the government have adopted, would mean that through considerations on the profitability of the whole northern MAC economies of scale could underpin the costs of maintaining the motorway. The concession could evaluate and apply the lowest of profit margins on the motorway when balancing the returns on this road link against the overall business model and profitability of the complete MAC network.

A non-optimal profit target on the motorway link, when placed inside the whole profitability of the MAC, could still provide the required profit to set against the risks of the concessionaire, but importantly, for the Government, it would allow significant flexibility when agreeing to and setting the toll charges on the motorway.

Perhaps allowing the setting of what could almost be a ‘token toll’ with a break-even scenario. It could be significantly lower than the original toll that caused the upset for road users.

 

Going forward

There is a need to get the concessions in the road sector right, future BOT investors will be put off by a vision of toll booths in Albania being set on fire and destroyed. They will stay away and the country’s development aspirations will be set back. Viable road networks provide major contributions to any country’s development.

Additionally, the public will have to accept that the ‘user pays’ concept will inevitably have to come to the road sector as it has to the civil aviation and the maritime sector.

This correspondent does not believe that the government have considered enough the options that were presented for the road sector when concessions were just entering the diction of government policy. A re-visit to more suitably and internationally favoured models for road network management and operations is necessary. The experience of others can be adopted directly without the need for the present road administration to set out on a programme of ‘experimentation’ under the existing management status quo. Experimenting with the reduced budgets that are available is not an option given the less than best results from the past and current administrative set up; i.e. non-sustainable outcomes when external technical assistance is withdrawn. The ultimate loser has been and continues to be, the road user.

The use of MAC contracts across the whole network as the concession option, one applied separately in each of the three zones originally recommended and accepted by government, should be seriously re-considered as the most suitable model for a small country like Albania.

This concession option can be accomplished through concessions awarded to local contractors and without the need, initially at least, to majorly increase road maintenance budgets or use outside funding or loans. The aggregated road maintenance budgets available through the various funding mechanisms for roads, are sufficient to hold the serious deterioration of road asset values if they are placed in a transparent and accountable system. Concessions are always subject to publication and scrutiny in the public interest and transparent accountability. Where there are considered loopholes, these can be soon highlighted.

There is a general opinion in the profession that over the past two decades the overall performance of road maintenance budgets has been far less than optimal under the public-sector administration systems that exist; approaches and structure that have been bought forward from the past. The delay in real reform is hurting the country and its economic development, poorly maintained roads are a considerable hurdle to development.

The days of big government road departments are a thing of the past[4]; they cannot compete in a market-based environment and in many countries with developed economies have been re-structured as small, client-based units. Traditional road sector departments are too inefficient and expensive in terms of productivity and are not capable of introducing competitive environments as ‘the service provider’. In advanced countries the roles and responsibilities of previous road department is constrained to that of service manager. All road products and services being provided by commercial companies that utilise financially efficient business management systems.

Maintaining the status quo of the traditional public-sector service provider road department in Albania, as it exists at the present time, is not in tune with the leading European models; the existing departments carry too much historical baggage, with too many approaches that are not only not fit for purpose and as long as they remain they are facilitating a very visual and increasing deterioration of roads and road asset values across all classes of road. Many such examples are now very apparent to the road user both at national and local level.

The main problem in the road sector does not revolve around the setting of the correct tolls on the A1 motorway, the systemic problem is the lack of much needed and overdue major reforms of the whole sector.

The country will be a contributor to the overall European road network and European standards of both management and operations are therefore required as part of this transition.

The current overall depleted condition of the national and local road networks, especially the newly constructed roads and highways that have been built over the past 10-15 years, reflects the non-responsiveness of the current administrative setup for the management of the sector.

It is not question of ‘why’ were the toll booths on the A1 motorway trashed that should be debated in the press and televised media, the problem runs much deeper. The debate should be asking what model of road administration is best suited to Albania’s development needs and to provide efficient and effective use of available human, technical and financial resources and turn road round the current deteriorating condition of the network?

Adopting modern commercial and technically advanced international road management models, as continually recommended by the government’s lending partners, will again prove to be unsustainable and ineffective if government policy and the country’s road sector institutions are not re-orientated and restructured respectively.

 

*Robert Butler is a British-Albanian who has over 40 years of civil and municipal engineering experience of which over 38 years have been spent in developing/transitional countries.

Mr Butler is also an international athlete, representing Great Britain and Albania in Triathlon [Age Group] at World and European level for the past several years.

 

[1] Included within the cost of an airline or ferry ticket are taxes or charges for the airport or port services.

[2] Vignette is a form of road pricing imposed on vehicles, usually in addition to the compulsory road tax, based on a period of time instead of road tolls that are based on distance travelled. Vignettes are currently used in several European countries.

[3] Now the Albanian Road Authority (ARA)

[4] A generally accepted yardstick for modern public-sector management staff levels is 1 or 2 staff per 100 kms of road in the network.
                    [post_title] => Concessions in road sector management and operations – a contrasting view
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => concessions-in-road-sector-management-and-operations-a-contrasting-view
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-06-01 15:57:45
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-06-01 13:57:45
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137277
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

            [9] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 137160
                    [post_author] => 281
                    [post_date] => 2018-05-18 07:17:20
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-18 05:17:20
                    [post_content] => Optimism for anything happening fast on Albania’s bid to join the European Union has long evaporated, but even for the few remaining optimists that hoped to get a date on the decade-long horizon at a key summit in Sofia this week were disappointed. 

Touted as a way to refocus EU’s attention on the Western Balkans, the summit showed instead that the EU itself remains divided on how it sees enlargement and the region. 

This time the problem was not Brussels itself. The EU’s bureaucrats have gotten the message that if nothing is done to show the Western Balkans some actual light at the end of the tunnel, the bloc risks losing the region to instability, autocrats and meddling actors on the continent’s periphery and outside it. However, key member states like France, Germany and the Netherlands -- perhaps reflecting the feelings of their societies -- seemed to want to push the breaks rather than the accelerator on the EU membership bids of Albania and other states in the region. Others, like Spain, are projecting their own internal problems to the international stage by being as harsh on Kosovo as Serbia and Russia. 

Back to Albania’s issues, there is no logic in not opening negotiation in June, as the EU’s executive has recommended the move, and Albania has done enough reforms to warrant the opening of negotiations. 

Even Albania’s warring main political parties agree on this one thing: that opening negotiations should happen and that it will be good for the country. 

Of course, the reasoning differs. Prime Minister Edi Rama has tried to reflect legitimate opposition concerns about corruption and organized crime as mud slinging that helps those who want to stop Albania’s EU bid. Opposition leader Lulzim Basha of the Democratic Party, on the other hand, says the negotiations need to open so there can be stronger light on the government’s ills and change things for the better. 

In fact, Albania’s political class in general knows that it has failed to meet the expectations of the Albanian people in terms of the joining the EU, which an overwhelming majority of Albanians support. Much blame is placed on Brussels, Berlin or Paris, perhaps righteously so, but there is a fair amount to be shared among Albanian political elites as well. If they had done their jobs better, perhaps the country would be wealthy and modern in enough to be attractive rather than scary for EU member states. At the end of the day, local ownership is the only way forward. The EU owes the region nothing. Change should and must come from within first and foremost. 

Sadly, the new normal for Western Balkans in general is that what was once believed to be a process that would move at constant pace forward is now a process that can freeze for years and even move backwards. While the words of EU’s commitment to having the Western Balkans as member states have not changed in 15 years from Thessaloniki to Sofia, a broken record does not make for nice music to the ears of the region’s people. 

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: New uncertainties hit Albania’s EU bid
                    [post_excerpt] => 
                    [post_status] => publish
                    [comment_status] => closed
                    [ping_status] => closed
                    [post_password] => 
                    [post_name] => editorial-new-uncertainties-hit-albanias-eu-bid
                    [to_ping] => 
                    [pinged] => 
                    [post_modified] => 2018-05-18 09:59:01
                    [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-05-18 07:59:01
                    [post_content_filtered] => 
                    [post_parent] => 0
                    [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137160
                    [menu_order] => 0
                    [post_type] => post
                    [post_mime_type] => 
                    [comment_count] => 0
                    [filter] => raw
                )

        )

    [post] => WP_Post Object
        (
            [ID] => 137635
            [post_author] => 29
            [post_date] => 2018-06-22 14:16:13
            [post_date_gmt] => 2018-06-22 12:16:13
            [post_content] => Anna Miszewska, the head of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, has called on Albania to become the 39th country to join their project in preserving the physical remains of the Memorial for future generations through financing conservation projects.
“Auschwitz-Birkenau represents the nightmare of the genocide – we should all take responsibility for its future. We have 2 million visitors from around the world coming to the Museum each year. It’s a chance for all of us to teach young generations about what war really means,” she tells Tirana Times in an interview

Your visit to Albania is considered a good omen as Remembrance is still a hot topic in Albania. What are the challenges facing your institution with remembrance and what is the Polish government’s attention to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation activity?

-We all need to be very careful when it comes to remembrance – we need to stick to the facts and resist the temptation to choose narratives coherent to current political agendas. This applies not only to countries and their governments but to everyone who is interested in the past. Auschwitz is a sacred place – it’s a symbol of the Holocaust and a place of martyrdom of many Poles, Roma and Sinti and many others. Our project, which involves preserving the physical remains of the Memorial for future generations through financing conservation projects, has had a lot of support from Polish government since the beginning. We have 38 countries that have decided to donate funds to our Endowment. Poland is among our biggest donors with contribution of €10 million. The Polish Ministry of Culture is responsible for maintaining day-to-day expenses of the Museum.

Your government has drafted a law regarding the legacy of Auschwitz-Birkenau and its confession to foreigners. Can you explain that more clearly to the Albanian public?

-Personally I don’t think that there is much sense in regulating historical truth by the acts of law and from what I understand our legislators will be rethinking this idea. Their notion was not to undermine the suffering of any nation but to make it clear that Poland was not responsible for the Holocaust. Of course it was not. The Polish government in London opposed Nazi’s actions towards Jewish citizens of Poland and it was the Polish underground that informed the allies about the situation in ghettos and that there were death camps. The government is not responsible for the actions of individuals, but we as a society need to remember that most of us remained indifferent to the tragedy that came upon our Jewish compatriots. Some 25 percent of all the people who were granted the title of ‘Righteous among Nations’ come from Poland – that is a lot but we need to appreciate their heroism and remember that their attitude was exceptional.

What is your Albania visit focusing on? Is there anything special?

-We would like Albania to be the 39th country to join our project. Auschwitz-Birkenau represents the nightmare of the genocide – we all should take responsibility for its future. We have
2 million visitors from around the world coming to the Museum each year. It’s a chance for all of us to teach young generations about what war really means.

Is the younger generation leaving behind the dark legacy of Nazism? Do you think that all this process is organized by structures that are interested in keeping away and forgetting Auschwitz 's legacy?

-We live in the times of uncertainty – the world is changing really fast and the political situation in many countries is unstable. This can lead to the rebirth of dangerous tendencies among young people. It is our job to make sure that they know that being afraid of “the other” will not fix the problems of contemporary world – it will for sure create new ones. There will always be people who will take pride in hatred and they will appear strong to young people. The lesson from Auschwitz is that kindness is the real strength.

Even Holocaust revisionism has remained on the periphery of public awareness since the 19th century (in Germany, revisionists refer to the Holocaust as Auschwitz-Lüge or the Auschwitz lie) and over the last decade revisionists have popularized their cause in a series of spectacular court cases in Germany, France, Canada and the United States. Why is this happening right now in your opinion? 

-Holocaust denial is a serious issue but I don’t think that we should treat denialists seriously. These people look for controversy and fame. They should not be a part of the main discourse. But they can be influential. This is why we treat all the objects, we preserve them as memorabilia of course, but we also remember that that is proof of genocide. The conservation team’s main goal is to protect the authentic tissue of Auschwitz – so that no one will ever be able to say that we cannot prove that Holocaust happened. Yes we can. Of course that happened.

There is probably no more appropriate single location than Auschwitz-Birkenau to grasp the scope of the Nazi horror. But the unprecedented and unparalleled nature of that horror makes it somewhat inappropriate as a useful lesson for preventing genocide today. When you’re waiting for something that looks like Birkenau, it’s almost too easy to say, "never again." From what your Foundation is doing, have you carried out any scientific research about the future prospects of Auschwitz?

-I’m not sure if I understand the question correctly – our Foundation has just one goal – to preserve physical remains of Auschwitz, but the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum has an excellent scientific department. People who work in this department are still learning new facts about how the camp functioned, they still find new stories. When it comes to Auschwitz being a place of education – yes it can be perceived as a controversy to teach on the cemetery. But we don’t have a choice because it is also a necessity. If we have a chance to show younger generations that hatred, anti-Semitism and xenophobia lead to gas chambers it is our duty to do it, otherwise the death of millions would go to waste.

Have you heard of about Albania's case of remembrance?

-I know that Albania is very respectful of its past – especially the times of Hoxha’s regime. There are important places like the Spaç prison that also need to be preserved because the story they tell needs to be heard and not only in Albania but throughout the world. I wish more people know how many Albanians were involved in saving Jews during II World War.

Is there any number or evidence of Albanians in Birkenau?

-We know of a few victims from Albania, but we have little to no information about them. Only 10 percent of the German archives survived.

Is it difficult for your Foundation to find a common language with donors when it comes to Birkenau?

-No, our donors understand our mission and want to be a part of it. The toughest work that our Foundation is doing is carried out in Birkenau. This part of the camp, unlike Auschwitz which was established in the preexisting building, was built by the prisoners with second-hand materials that were not supposed to last 75 years. Our donors know that if we want the future generations to be able to come and pay homage to the victims, we need to act together and we need to act fast.

In your opinion, why don’t Auschwitz's bitter messages forbid this repression policy that seems to take endless lives in Syria and around the world?

-It is terrifying that after what happened during World War II, we still allow innocent people to suffer. We all know that’s wrong, but we will not take time to act against it. I urge all readers to do their part, even the smallest contribution to humanitarian organizations or your presence at protests will make the world a little better. The strong voice of Bulgaria’s public opinion saved the lives of 50,000 people! We need to be vocal in our disagreement also because today there’s Syria and Myanmar, but anybody can be next in line. If we don’t show compassion to those who suffer today, we have no right to expect solidarity when hatred knocks on our doors.

Do you think that Albania can learn from your Foundation's experience of remembrance?

-I think we can learn from each other. Although much different both the history of Albania and Poland is very complex. I think there is a great value in sharing our history with all its dark and shameful spots so that we have a better understanding of the world we live in.

 
            [post_title] => ‘The lesson from Auschwitz is that kindness is the real strength’ 
            [post_excerpt] => 
            [post_status] => publish
            [comment_status] => closed
            [ping_status] => closed
            [post_password] => 
            [post_name] => the-lesson-from-auschwitz-is-that-kindness-is-the-real-strength
            [to_ping] => 
            [pinged] => 
            [post_modified] => 2018-06-28 15:45:27
            [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-06-28 13:45:27
            [post_content_filtered] => 
            [post_parent] => 0
            [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=137635
            [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] => 771
            [filter] => raw
            [cat_ID] => 30
            [category_count] => 771
            [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