Editorial: The protest that determines the fate of the opposition

Editorial: The protest that determines the fate of the opposition

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL The Albanian opposition led by the Democratic Party has announced a large national protest to be held this week on the 16th of February. In fact the opposition has more than enough material to use in legitimizing

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Editorial: A foreign policy all over the place

Editorial: A foreign policy all over the place

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL There is a big and important difference between a foreign policy of 360 degrees- a comprehensive, strategic point of view that seeks to have an open collaborative approach to all partners with the aim of increasing potential

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Editorial: Elections, the need for fighting impunity

Editorial: Elections, the need for fighting impunity

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL This week brought new revelations into the now exposed and painful topic of the connections between Albanian politicians and organized crime. The latter seems to be a fountain of resources, votes and local influence from which skilled

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The Highland Warrior – Samurai of Northern Albania

The Highland Warrior – Samurai of Northern Albania

By Christopher Tushaj The Kângë Kreshnikësh, or Songs of the Highland Warriors, are a fragile, living library of ancient Indo-European oral tradition of folk tales, myths, and legends in the highlands of Northern Albania. With the aid of the one-stringed lahuta

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Editorial: Lessons on how to escape political responsibility

Editorial: Lessons on how to escape political responsibility

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL Examining the performance of the chief of the executive and his new cabinet members, by now it is clear that 2019 will be the year spent on designing mechanisms, choosing people and perfecting styles on how to

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‘Escobar of the Balkans’  and the destructive legacy of narco-influence in politics

‘Escobar of the Balkans’ and the destructive legacy of narco-influence in politics

It is often said that although art is supposed to be ‘life in extrems’, real life very frequently surpasses art in its exotic extremes. One of these times happened this week for Albanians who watched Klement Balili turn himself in

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Editorial: A caretaker government of one

Editorial: A caretaker government of one

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL Seeing that the President of the Republic, Ilir Meta, did not bulge from his decision to reject the proposed name of Gent Cakaj as a Foreign Minister, Prime Minister Rama designated himself as an acting Foreign Minister.

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Editorial: A foreign minister that cannot be the face and the voice of Albania in the world

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL The newly appointed Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania, the 28 years old boy from Kosovo who has three Bachelor degrees and two masters, cannot represent Albania in the world. He cannot be the face

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The Prime Minister burns down his house

The Prime Minister burns down his house

NEWS ANALYSIS  In an unprecedented move which was planned to shock and awe, the Prime Minister used the last days of 2018 to bring down his cabinet, removing and replacing the key members of his cabinet. The change in the

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‘Cultural Assistance’ of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the gratitude of Albanians

‘Cultural Assistance’ of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the gratitude of Albanians

By Dr. Genci Luarasi During the middle of the 19thcentury, Albania was culturally backward, due to the fact that there was no written alphabet of our mother tongue. In fact, during the 18thcentury, Theodor Haxhifilipi of the Greek school started working

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL 

The Albanian opposition led by the Democratic Party has announced a large national protest to be held this week on the 16th of February. In fact the opposition has more than enough material to use in legitimizing and powering the protest. The popular discontent is palpable and high. There have been many unearthed corruption scandals with fictitious tenders, fraud documents as well as quit a few wrongfully calculated political and public moves.

The Rilindje governance model has been destroyed and no effort of replacing the cabinet with anonymous servants or painting facades with glossy propaganda can any longer salvage its reputation. The discontent has spread from the supporters of the opposition into the larger public and even among the ranks of the Socialist Party especially those who don’t feel represented by the new guard of the loyalist to the chief of the cabinet.

The protest’s declared objective is to make possible the change of government since the opposition does not trust that this one can even hold free and fair elections. This extremely ambitious objective has an embedded element of fallibility in it. Achieving it might require a level of aggressiveness and lawlessness which is all but certain to turn into a boomerang. Not achieving it will decrease the legitimacy and trust in the opposition to a degree that it renders it obsolete.

Herein lies the biggest question of how the opposition believes and plans to materialize the objective.

First, they can opt for a violent scenario, confronting with the police, charging at the state offices. That would destabilize the country at least in the short term and cause irreparable harm both domestically and in the international area. Moreover it has a strong potential not only to backfire by losing to a large degree the popular support. Indeed all sides, especially the state police, must show maturity and moderation and have the protest as a completely free and democratic practice of the citizens devoid of any dangerous exercise of violence.

Alternatively the opposition can chose to re-establish their ‘tent’ camped in front of the Prime Minister’s Office, which secures a long term pressure. It is questionable though what exactly this might achieve given that the DP has declared it will not boycott the local elections in June. They can use it to exert some pressure on the international community on the eve of the decision about opening the negotiations. However it is now almost public knowledge that that specific outcome depends much more on the dynamics within the EU and especially on the relevant EU Parliament elections in May.

Finally the protest might be a massive peaceful gathering that disperses at the end of the day.  It can succeed to convey the considerable scale of popular revolt but go no further. In this case the opposition would face the problem of media and the public questioning its long term strategy and legitimacy. It would deepen the already visible cracks within the opposition, between its two major parties and with other smaller allies.

The decision taken for the conduct of this protest will determine the long term course of the Albanian opposition: whether it will steer slowly towards the next general elections or upset the status quo profoundly in order to seek new power arrangements. The protest will also be decisive for the position of the leader of the DP and his vision for the next 2-3 years. Saturday will be a day to watch very closely.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

There is a big and important difference between a foreign policy of 360 degrees- a comprehensive, strategic point of view that seeks to have an open collaborative approach to all partners with the aim of increasing potential benefits while respecting norms and a foreign policy that is all over the place- a scattered ad hoc array of hasty actions, improvisations and performances.

The latter seems to be now the reigning approach for the Albanian executive who is currently everywhere, moving speedily and chaotically, with no clarity or mature objectivity in sight: one day it is trying constantly to borrow legitimacy and credit by hastily following and even taking to extremes policies and stances perceived as backed by the current administration in the United States, the other day its already on to a spectacularly curated visit to Saudi Arabia. The Prime Minister, haunted by his past life comments on then candidate Trump, rushes to recognize the new President of Venezuela even before major EU countries do so, as if the Albanian recognition would determine their fate, then it holds speeches in the Parliament presenting   himself as the mediator who picks the calls of advisor Bolton.

This kind of foreign policy resembles a big circus tent where uncoordinated actors perform clumsily under the alleged management of the 28 year old Kosovo-born ‘brilliant book reader turned into minister’ Gent Cakaj when he takes a break from reshaping the Balkans’ history or finding fresh jokes of rebuttal to Ivica Dacic.  In fact it is under the de-jure and de-facto rule of the Chief of the Executive who is juggling many balls in the air and risks to drop them all.

These are decisive times for the European future of the region. The Republic of North Macedonia just signed the accession protocol with NATO. In a couple of month the EU Council will decide upon the accession negotiations for both countries, Albania and Macedonia. It is the time for clarity and focus and not scattered attempts at buying diversions from domestic problems, winning special credit for being aggressive with policies that are in fact much debated in the EU itself such as hardline anti-Iran measures and most importantly toying with ill-timed nationalism.

These unpredictable patterns and moves are unproductive and moreover even confusing to all the important allies and partners. This paper has argued before that Albania cannot realistically play the giant in international relations and in the global arena therefore it should not do so. By trying to do is just making itself look unreliable and even ridiculous at times.  In addition when talking on behalf of Kosovo, Albanian politicians are repeating mistakes that legitimize Serbian narrative against Kosovo’s distinct independent statehood and bother the Kosovo political class.

Albania can and should benefit from keeping on its toes, scanning potential assistance and investments from trusted partners all over the globe, respecting commitments to alliances while being creative in it economic and cultural diplomacy. This is 360 degrees foreign policy. What we are witnessing with the conduct of the key foreign policy players today is not it. They just seem to be all over the place.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

This week brought new revelations into the now exposed and painful topic of the connections between Albanian politicians and organized crime. The latter seems to be a fountain of resources, votes and local influence from which skilled politicians draw especially during local electoral campaigns and to which they have to give back in multiple forms of protections, favoritism and lucrative deals with public funds. During general elections when matters get bigger and more decisive politicians have to enlist in this crime coalition also the bigger serious guns, the monopolies, oligarchs and media (often merged into each other.)

One important matter is the ongoing investigation on the alleged links between the Avdylaj crime syndicate and the current mayor of Durres, Vangjush Dako. The list of telephone intercepts that verifies his numerous conversations, dinners, lunches and exchanges with the two Avdylaj narco-brothers is damning at least and if the prosecution makes the case very gravely incriminating.  The narco-group seems to extend its tentacles all over various areas in Kavaja and Shijak in addition to Durres and count in their special friends’ list many directors of local government offices and national agencies.

Of course the Durres mayor is not alone in this mega dark enterprise. Part of the same topic are also the facts discovered in the manipulations of local elections in Dibra where again strongmen and political parties join hands effectively in overturning historical trends of voters with the right kind of pressure.

This list of now public interceptions is a clear and uncontested piece of evidence of electoral fraud at a large scale. From these facts the model is clear: Organized crime syndicates in many Albanian localities are fully in charge of managing the electoral process, controlling its stakeholders and eventually determining the winners. In this process they have in fact mined the entire premises of a modern democratic system which relies fully on free and fair elections. The facts brought forward by a domestic investigation have been republished by the Voice of America outlet, which have vested them even with more legitimacy.

This case merits quick and effective justice and full punishment. This case is the perfect example that needs to show the most dire consequences and harsh verdicts in order to urge political parties to depart from this dark and destructive symbiosis that has captured the state and paralyzed any form of development both political and economic. Otherwise the perception of impunity will wash away all remaining hope and sense of civic responsibility among voters who will again fall prey to these tactics of vote buying, coercion and manipulation.

Another process is approaching fast, the local elections at the end of June 2019. The polarization and lack of political dialogue between the two main parties so far has impeded the talks on electoral reform despite many urges form the international organizations. So far there are no additional rules in the process that would increase control and accountability. However the justice structures have enough clear and credible materials at hand to make a decisive step in steering this future electoral process and the other ones after it into the right direction.

Finally the case needs to be made over and over again that citizens also should be empowered to refute this model, no matter their vulnerabilities against the system. Elections are the genesis point and is they are comprised all what follows cannot guarantee their security, wellbeing and development. On the contrary it will be the first obstacle.
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                    [post_content] => By Christopher Tushaj

The Kângë Kreshnikësh, or Songs of the Highland Warriors, are a fragile, living library of ancient Indo-European oral tradition of folk tales, myths, and legends in the highlands of Northern Albania. With the aid of the one-stringed lahuta (lute), a bard is tasked with keeping alive the memory of exemplary men and their heroic deeds in epic form, lauding the maintenance of the sacred values of besa (oath), burrni (chivalry), and trimni (bravery) expressed in their Kanun (tribal law). The Highland Warrior, a character inspired by the heroic archetype, is challenged through his journey to uphold his Albanian code of honor in the face of insurmountable odds. The listener is carried to a metaphysical world where the warrior wills through thick and thin for the protection of his most valuable possession: his identity and spirit. Regulated by his commitment to his moral character and devotion to the sacred tenets of the Albanian ethical value system of the Kanun: a strict code of chivalry that fuses elements of ancient pre-Christian European pagan traditions and religious tenets: righteousness, heroism, respect, honesty, self-sacrifice, fraternity, loyalty and honor. A Highland Warrior once taken this Besë, is expected to keep his oath. Shqiptaret vdesin dhe besen nuk e shkelinAlbanians will die before they break their honor “Ta jap shpirtin, ta fali djalin, por mbi besë nuk shkeli...” I’ll give you my soul, and my own son, but I’ll never break my word.

The Highland Warriors Epics are an incredibly emotional, powerful and dramatic depiction of a contemporary society with ancient European cultural and linguistic roots. It gives a time, place, rhyme and reason to the origin, inspiration and reality of the Albanian people. The imagery representing the collective Albanian unconscious, formulates the basis of our traditional societal structure, the hierarchy and obligations to the shpi (home), vllazni (brotherhood) and fis (tribe). These stories speak to our deepest psychological motivations, our inner archetypes, helping others to bridge the gap between the virtues of myth, legend and man. They transmit the will, heroic resilience and determination of the Albanian spirit and grant the listeners a guide to righteousness during the trials and tribulations in our often-difficult history. These characters mirror the fading ember of a once roaring fire for their identity, a source of great pride and self-respect.

The Kenge Kreshnikesh communicates the accounts of people, ordinary and extraordinary, mythical and legendary, who lived true to this faith, even to the point of their own demise. In contrast to the Samurai, pertaining only to a middle and upper warrior class who accompanied the elite in Feudal Japan, principles of the Highland Warrior, applied to all members of Albanian society: men, women and children. In this case, the Highland Warrior could be a cousin, uncle, brother or father (and in many cases, women, lest us not forget the story of Nora from the Kelmend tribe). These songs mirror real life events as well: what about the young boy, conscious of his duty to uphold his personal and family honor, sacrificed his life to save a Jew who was at gunpoint by the Nazis during World War II? What about the father in Kadare’s book who murdered his own son, honoring the sacred covenant of protecting the guest at any cost? The list goes on and on, and the Kenge Kreshnikesh are exist to immortalize these for generations to come.

The Highland Warriors hold the potential to be perfect role model for Albania’s international recognition, on par with the strong associations of Western mantras when uttering the words ‘Ancient Greece’ (birth place of democracy). The Kenge Kreshnikesh, like the Homeric Epics of Iliad and the Odyssey, mirrors true the structure of a pre-state tribal society both within and outside of the oral tradition. Albania is now on the road to being recognized as the crucible for the infancy stages of modern democracy. Kazuhiko Yamamoto, Japanese medical doctor, professor of medical anthropology and author of the Ethical Structure of the Albanian Customary Law, proposes that the ethical structure of the Kanun to be the original foundation of ethics in human society today, noting that the structure of the Homeric society (oath, honor, guest, blood, and food) consists found in the Iliad and Odyssey belongs to the same category of societal ethics without state power.

Even the tongue of the Highland Warriors speaks truths about Albania’s connection to its’ pre-Greek Homeric antiquity. Academic study of Albanian morphology and Proto-Albanian can highlight and analyze the rare, archaic morphological features of the Gheg dialect preserved in the Highland Epics, possibly revealing groundbreaking information for historical linguists engaged in the reconstruction process of Proto-Indo-European (PIE), the mother tongue of over 440 languages stretching from China to Europe. Conducting research on last glimpses of authentic performances of the Highland Epics in the Gheg dialect (the oldest dialect of the oldest surviving Indo-European language in Europe) can help validate Albanians as a people as being recognized as an integral part of their undeniable European identity. Albania’s cultural recognition relies upon a concise narrative by which fully encompasses all of the Albanian people, what makes them Albanian, and the highland epics have this potential. It can serve for many functions: towards integration into European Union, strengthening our ability of custom tailored rule of law, governance and democracy development projects within Albania. The Kângë Kreshnikësh, the oldest surviving syncretic art form in Europe, has valuable potential for awakening our consciousness to an invaluable cultural wealth, that is, the power of belief and faith to make a change for one’s self and their future. This cult of heroes has persisted through obscurity and over millennia, but this ancient art form, along with its spiritual connection, are hanging on by the small threads of the memory of a time once before. This tradition, along with its beloved ethical value system, are under renewed threat and dying in front of modern challenges: it is safe to say that an essential part of the Albanian identity and an intangible piece of world cultural heritage is set to be lost forever.
                    [post_title] => The Highland Warrior - Samurai of Northern Albania
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

Examining the performance of the chief of the executive and his new cabinet members, by now it is clear that 2019 will be the year spent on designing mechanisms, choosing people and perfecting styles on how to escape and evade any form of responsibility, either legal or political, from the many scandals that marked the end of 2018.

One way to do it is to appoint loyal entrusted employees who take the slack and bear the brunt with ease since they were not elected to do anything.

Lest just take this week’s example. The new minister of Infrastructure and Energy, or as one jokingly could call Lady Guillotine, is having multiple conferences per day to announce resignations and firings of the directors of key departments: the port of Durres, the National Agency of Roads and transportation, the transmission systems operator, etc.

Another form of escaping is the new legislative proposal discovered this week that aims at putting an end to the dubious procedure of allowing businesses to approach the government with unsolicited road projects which are the favored in the respective tender procedures. This so-called end of the Road PPPs, foreseen in July of 2019, with which this government has been in a symbiotic relation of at least 1 billion euros might be surprising but it’s a good tactical move. The legislative proposal has been legitimized with the recommendations form international financial institutions conveniently ignoring the citizens’ pressure against them. But fear not as PPS will be allowed in many other sectors such as energy, air transport and as of yesterday to implement the pact for the university therefore construction of campuses and auditoriums.

And finally the grand gesture of complete disregard of responsibility came in in the ceremony of transfer in the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs. Immediately after former Minister Bushati finished his speech Rama came up to the podium, and said that this would be the shortest speech in his life. He transferred all the power of the Ministry and the duty to represent Albania in the international arena to Gent Cakaj, who was refused blatantly by the President of the Republic for the very same task and who gathered the ire and contempt of experts across the board with the lack of proper credentials. His beaming smile today in his first speech, disturbed by all the storm and yet still defiant to his own real shortcomings, showed that the contempt was well deserved.

This government has by now lost all sense and purpose of the role of an executive as a body that derives legitimacy from the majority vote and which keeps them accountable by their political programme. They move chaotically motivated by the desire to prolong their power life, struck by their own corruption and meddling with crime, struck by the popular discontent and struck a million times by the   infinite greed of the oligarchs they have chosen to serve instead of their constituents.

With all that is going wrong with them one can acknowledge the only merit left: that right now they might be giving some textbook lessons on how to escape their political responsibility.
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                    [post_content] => It is often said that although art is supposed to be ‘life in extrems’, real life very frequently surpasses art in its exotic extremes. One of these times happened this week for Albanians who watched Klement Balili turn himself in to the police after allegedly negotiating with them for quite a few weeks. Klement Balili was nicknamed by Greek media as the ‘Escobar of the Balkans’ and his latest move surely did justice to this designation as it eerily resembled the most famous televised series whose subject was the real Pablo Escobar’s life. He also turned himself in to the authorities after negotiating his way up to a personal luxury prison.

Klement Balili was the  notorious one the ‘most wanted’ list of Albanian law enforcement. The middle aged savvy drug trafficker had upset the political balances of the ruling majority since the first mandate. He was mentioned frequently by high level diplomats, most notably the former American ambassador, who lamented publicly the failure of Albanian police to bring him in so he could face justice.

Truth be told Balili’s first political connections date back to the Socialist Movement for Integration however as every successful drug lord he knew better than remain limited just to one access point to power. His beaming face figures in many photos next to Albanian politicians who were very keen to visit his splendid Saranda resort. Apart from anecdotal evidence, nothing else but political connections and corruptive links to police and justice explain his success of escaping numerous operations for his capture without ever leaving the territory of Albania. That and a strong dose of popular support in his home area of Delvina where he is rumored to be something of a charity man. Exactly like Escobar.

The attempts of the Interior Minister and State Police to call his turning in a success for police operations caused some good laughs among citizens who were quick to fill up social media with memes and jokes. Indeed how can you call a success the fact that the most wanted drug trafficker hides in plain sight for years and then negotiates his own capture with the very Director of the State Police and walks in the police offices after saluting his family? Among those that get a final greeting, the mayor of Delvina who just happens to be the next prisoner’s nephew.

It is starting to painfully resemble the movies and the series a bit more and more every day. Every detail, every move, every calculated timing and even the style of the media coverage. The most troubling legacy of narco-influence in politics is starting to be normalized, mainstreamed, televised and slowly accepted as a sad fact but a fact nevertheless. The show is now open for all those interested to see.

The international community was quick to laude this ‘achievement’. The fact that this development happened parallel to the visit of the foreign ministers of Italy and the Netherlands, two countries which rank the first as a supporter and the second as a skeptic of EU enlargement, also was very convenient. However most of the questions that surrounded Balili’s activities, connections and criminal network remain as pertinent as ever. His lawyers team has on board former attorney generals and others who are confident of the lack of incriminating evidence.

Albanian citizens-turned-spectators would not be surprised if Balili walks free. It happens so often in these kind of movies. And as we said, real life does not lag behind with these guys.
                    [post_title] => 'Escobar of the Balkans'  and the destructive legacy of narco-influence in politics
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

Seeing that the President of the Republic, Ilir Meta, did not bulge from his decision to reject the proposed name of Gent Cakaj as a Foreign Minister, Prime Minister Rama designated himself as an acting Foreign Minister. This as he says until a new Constitutional Court can strike Meta’s decision down. Rama, just like few predecessors, and most notably like the communist dictator Hoxha, now carries both tasks.

Yet Rama has the most legitimacy out of all the new cabinet members, most of whom are technical figures, half of them unknown to the public and the other half known for, let’s say, not the right reasons. A quick scan of them points out several issues that are problematic: the new Minister of Education has the same problems that derive from not being grounded genuinely in the social and political life of Albania as well as from the fact that the student protests are far from resolved. Besa Shahini from Kosovo has been giving many press conferences lately, yet no one seems to hear her. She is not fit to lead the Education Ministry, at least at this stage, and it is unfair also to her to carry the weight of the failed Law on Higher Education, a weight of a political party that she does not belong to.

The new minister who will take charge of the supernova Ministry of Infrastructure and Transportation, with its gargantuan budget and power over key contracts is on the other side a bit more grounded that necessary in the heart of unresolved political and even other issues in Albania. Having led first the communications team during Rama’s time as a mayor and then AlbControl, the national traffic agency, which manages the airspace, Belinda Balluku has been at the heart of media storm about investigations about air radars. Most recently media reported that she threw a lavish end of year party for her company at the most expensive hotel in Tirana, involving exotic dancers. That’s quite some style coming in for the Ministry. Balluku is outspoken, aggressive and loyal to Rama. She will stand in to face the remaining brunt of the scandal of the tender procedure for the Ring Road of Tirana yet she is also a nonpolitical figure which has no responsibility over the voters’ trust.

The new Minister of Culture, Elva Margariti, will be another Rama advisor formerly engaged with the project of the ‘100 touristic villages’ and known for just a few media appearances  that supported the decision to destroy the building of the National Theater. Another name of political anonymity, executive loyalty and readiness to face remnant scandals and conflicts with the right lack of political legitimacy and gravitas.

These are the members of the caretaker government that is taking over this year. Caretaker governments are in fact limited in their scope and powers by both custom and convention. However this specific one designed by Rama and serving the unique purpose of elongating his political life, now in shambles, will not fit this description. This caretaker government, especially in the context of a judicial system in disarray, is designed to have unchecked executive powers. Whereas caretaker governments are provisional, leading and preparing towards something decisive, a next stage, this particular one has one sole objective package: preserve the status quo, evade responsibility, divert attention, secure power.

This caretaker government of de-facto one person, the Prime Minister, is yet another example of a government that lingers while its system of governance has shattered.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: A caretaker government of one
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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-10 13:48:28
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

The newly appointed Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania, the 28 years old boy from Kosovo who has three Bachelor degrees and two masters, cannot represent Albania in the world. He cannot be the face of Albania in the meetings, conferences, summits and consultations where Albania takes part in the global arena. Gent Cakaj cannot be the voice of Albania in the delicate and complex negotiations with neighbors, regional countries or global powers. It is wrong to place this person at the helm of the country’s effort to join the European Union. He is simply not a minister who can represent our country in the right way in all the foreign policy developments and events around the world.

That said, we need to proceed with the reasons why.

First and foremost, the figure of the Minister of Foreign Affairs needs to encompass the genuine and therefore native language, culture, concerns, aspirations and archival knowledge of the country’s diplomacy. In this context the newly naturalized Cakaj’s uneasiness and accent, perceived lack of real connection with the issues of Albanian foreign policy and relative lack of experience is a true problem. He might have pursued several degrees and might have read all the relevant books, he is still deeply inappropriate. That is because countries chose to have at the top of their foreign policy a figure that can best summarize the whole country in one face and one voice. Cakaj is not that person. He might be brilliant but in this field he is still an amateur.

This year Albania will hold the chairmanship of one of the most important organizations in the worlds, the OSCE. Albania will celebrate its 10th anniversary of NATO membership. It will intensify its lobbying at the EU tor reach a positive decision at the Council in June for the opening of accession negotiations. Albania needs to restart the pending talks with Greece as well as pursue the Prime Minister’s ambitious agenda of Schengen dynamics with the immediate neighbors.

Considering the gravitas of this year and the symbolic and real weight of all these developments, one would expect that at the head of foreign policy the Prime Minister would either leave the former minister or appoint a figure of the most excellent background. Furthermore this figure would ideally generate some kind of consensus even on the side of the opposition since he or she represents the whole country in the international arena.

To step aside from all this responsibility and perform a magic trick, to shock and awe Albanians by choosing a random and anonymous however talented young boy with severely limited genuine knowledge of Albania and with a total lack of legitimacy since he is not a member of the Socialist party, is the worst act of political spectacle.

The Prime Minister said that he despises and pities those who are against this appointment on the grounds that Cakaj is from Kosovo. This is a cheap shot at playing the ostrich, hiding your head in the sand. Cakaj’s problems and deficiencies do not originate only form his origins which still play a part. Furthermore it would be an additional liability for Cakaj if the media comments that this a figure which stands behind a potential plan for the corrections of borders as a way to reach a Serbia-Kosovo solution, are true.

To assign a foreign minister just so there will be no objection to a plan that is still obscure, severely contradictory and controversial and about which the major powers still do not have a consensus or a concrete agenda is another faux pass of the government leader.

Albania is at one of the most vulnerable cross-roads of its transition path and its aspiration of EU membership, with all the complex challenges of foreign policy it entails and which require excellence, experience, grounding, leadership, communication and presentation skills. And if one watches the few videos that are available of Mr Cakaj performance, we might have just shot ourselves in the foot.

In this context, the President of the Republic has taken the right decision and with the right elaborate and serious motivation to refuse his appointment. One is left only with the hope that the Parliament will show the same thoroughness and not a knee-jerk reaction by overthrowing this decree as they have done in the past. This is the last call for reflection for the PM to find a minister that can be truly and deservedly the face and voice of Albania in the world.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: A foreign minister that cannot be the face and the voice of Albania in the world 
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                    [post_content] => 
NEWS ANALYSIS 
In an unprecedented move which was planned to shock and awe, the Prime Minister used the last days of 2018 to bring down his cabinet, removing and replacing the key members of his cabinet. The change in the key Ministries of Energy and Infrastructure, that of Europe and Foreign Affairs as well as Education, Culture and Agriculture indeed brought surprise to everyone. In addition, Rama replaced also the Deputy Prime Minister.
 
These are radical changes that come only one year after the Socialist Party received a popular mandate to govern. They come in the context of several key developments:
 
First and foremost the student protest that rocked the main university towns and the capital were massive and despite their refusal to be politicized their requests had to do with major changes about the way the Rama cabinet was governing. This is due to the fact that students asked and still are asking for the annulment of the Law on Higher Education, one of the most trumpeted so called achievements of this government. In essence, the student movement of December tore right through the heart of the large scale facade that the propaganda machine had painted with neon colors.
 
Additionally these protest were held alongside other perhaps smaller but still considerable protest from groups of the society which were hit hard by polices of the government in favor of the now famous PPP or concession beneficiaries. These protesters are in fact deprived or impoverished due to the fact that the government through mainly corruptive practices such as that unearthed in the case of the Tirana Outer Ring Road segment construction, are favoring the enrichment of a handful of oligarchs and monopolization of key sectors.
 
Indeed the scandal uncovered by the media in the case of the company that had forged documents to get the tender for the construction of the Ring Road part is one of the most abhorrent cases of flagrant corruption, of arrogance and impunity. This was a state- sponsored theft of no less than 45 million euro to give out to three companies without any competitive procedure to build less than 2.5 kilometers.
 
The state thieves’ enterprise used all their bag of tricks to expel any potential foreign companies from the tender procedure by dividing the segment of 2.2 kilometers into three parts so that the value would be less than 18 million euro for each, therefore exempting foreign capital from competition. At the same time the alibi of the tender was provided by a ridiculous offer of 0 lek by a ghost enterprise. The arrogance of pre-selection was open and did not take long to uncover the fraud company that had not shied away from forging documents from none less than the state of Delaware in the United States.
 
Dig a little deeper as investigative journalists did and the real deal behind it were unveiled to be one of the richest oligarchs’ company that has benefitted from other multiple construction tenders. Law enforcement was hesitant to proceed with investigation until the United States authorities opened its own inquiry. The government’s own explanation was that such forgeries could happen to anyone. In a cabinet rumored to check and assign even grants of 3000 euros it is ridiculous to believe that the control mechanism failed to catch inconsistencies in a 30 million project that would go to the same company that just months ago was allocated more than 450 million euro for a road connecting Tirana to the north.
 
Amidst these scandals, protest and palpable discontent of large social groups the Prime Minister brought down his key ministers therefore de-facto burning down his house in order to fight the pests that was risking his very power. Disregarding blatantly all the party institutions such as the leadership group and the spirit of consultation the Prime Minister did this in a show fashion during the Assembly meeting. The ministers’ reactions made it quickly clear that they had no forewarning and learned simultaneously with the public. This was unjustifiable as a political maneuver deprived of any trace of seriousness. It resembled in all details to the public processes where dictators would converse with the people and blame all ills on the administrators rather than on themselves. Even dictators had a better feeling of formal respect for party institutions. 
 
Right now it is painfully clear that the Socialist party is in its last gasps of breath and the Rilindje (Renaissance) movement which exists due to Rama and exclusively for him has taken over in every cell of political life of the majority.
 
Additionally and maybe most importantly the outgoing ministers are replaced with anonymous, unexperienced and unfit individuals which have no stature to hold these posts. They have no connection to the Socialist Party and the legitimacy it bestows upon the governance. The only exception is the deputy Prime Minister which realistically holds no executive power and not even any budget. The record of some of them as administrators of public companies is deeply concerning. The lack of record for some others such as the new Minister of Foreign Affairs is alarming.
 
In drawing this lifeline to himself and his power the Prime Minister is actually bleeding dry any form of experienced governance that even before this move was deeply troublesome. Rama will likely survive. However his governance has shattered. 
[post_title] => The Prime Minister burns down his house [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-prime-minister-burns-down-his-house [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-09 13:46:15 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-09 12:46:15 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=139980 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 139974 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2019-01-09 10:37:49 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-01-09 09:37:49 [post_content] => By Dr. Genci Luarasi During the middle of the 19thcentury, Albania was culturally backward, due to the fact that there was no written alphabet of our mother tongue. In fact, during the 18thcentury, Theodor Haxhifilipi of the Greek school started working on creating an alphabet that did not pass the experimental stage. Petro Nini Luarasi, a teacher and journalist, was the one who opened the first Albanian language school, despite the obstacles created by the GreekChurch. The first Albanian school was opened in Qestorat, Gjirokastra during the ‘80s of the 19thcentury, whilst after 1878, the Albanian teacher secretly taught students Albanian in Turkish schools. The first official school was opened in 1886 in Korça, and after that many other schools were opened all over Albania. In 1879, the League of Prizren set up a commission for creating an alphabet for the Albanian language. Writing in Albanian was first developed in Bucharest through publishing journals and Naim Frasheri’s writings. In 1891, the patriotic and cultural society “Deshira” operated in Sofia, Bulgaria, and in 1896 it established a printing house, with the patriot, Kristo Luarasi in charge. Apart from furthering his education, he also acquired the profession of the typist and he worked at a Bulgarian printing house in Sofia. During the night, he printed books in Albanian, while during the remaining period of time he worked as one of the leaders of “Deshira” society. Later on, he managed to buy a printing machine, and bit by bit bought the other machinery, hence becoming independent from the Bulgarian printing houses.1) In order to carry out education, academic, literary and journal publishing, a financial basis was required. These investments were initially provided by foreigners in their areas of influence. According to archive sources, it results that during 1903-1908, in this area, Austro-Hungary had subsidised the publication of “Drita” newspaper, owned by journalist, Shahin Kolonja, printed at Kristo Luarasi’ printing house “Mbrothesia”. Important data are provided on the type of subsidising, its product, control and the aspects of the organisational “conditions” for maintaining relationships with Austro-Hungary and Turkey. The most important amongst them were: 1.The establishment of a mutual information “onsite centre” by the Austro-Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During years 1903 – 1908, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Vienna was governed by the ministers: Count Von Golluhovski and Baron Von Ehrenthal, whilst the source information activity on field was carried out by the Consulates in the respective cities, according to the interested object. Consuls in Sofia by periods were Forgah, Otto von Czern, Turn, Shezho, and Kral in Shkodra and Manastir. What needs to be mentioned is that for the mentioned issues, Sofia and Shkodra were the main centres, thus combining their information and actions. 2.The object of the correspondence between the “centre andonsite”. The documents available provide data on the relationship between the Austro-Hungarian consulate in Sofia, Manastir, and Shkodra related to giving financial subsidies for the publication of “Drita” newspaper at the “Mbrothësia” printing house. The records show their trust in the figures of Shahin Kolonja and Kristo Luarasi, based on their personality. Some of the issues that attract attention are the financial administration of the subsidised related to fund governance, the loyalty of their usage, the documentation and mutual relationships in implementing the termsgiven. On the other hand, the information was combined so that credibility be as high as possible! Shahin Kolonja was the person that kept “Drita” newspaper alive. He travelled wherever there were Albanians, like Greece, Egypt, Romania 2) and found the materials needed for publication, the accuracy of the information, with figures included in the Albanian issue and found the required financing for publication, due to the fact that donors were few in number because people thought that the publications were sponsored by Gjin Aladro Kastrioti, an unreliable figure. Thus, donors withdrew. Furthermore, the Italian and Montenegrin policy was not in favour of Albanians, and that is why they expected “good things” to come from Austro-Hungary. Meanwhile, Kristo did not leave the printing house. He not only printed the books, but he also functioned as the editor of “Drita” newspaper, it was authorised that on the ground, financial actions were carried out by Kristo, with legal documents and they were to be sent to the centre and the available documents were to be declared. In fact, the binomial Shahini-Luarasi functioned very good and the centre always kept in mind the excellent origin of Shahini, his high position as anofficial of the Turkish administration, who would sacrifice everything for the patriotic purposes. Thus, Consul Kral valued the role of Shahinbey, and considered Luarasi as an influential editor, able of all the literary issues of their noble and clean job. He suggested that the subsidising continued, in order for “Mbrothësia” printing house to continue publishing, mostly for the large problem of unifying the Albanian alphabet, through compensating the work and character of its two collaborators. He stated that the financial assistance from the Minister would represent their gratitude for publishing the newspaper.3). According to the 1908 records, the Consul Kral informed the centre on the work carried out by the publishers for publishing in accordance with the terms of the agreement that functioned as a basis for the subsidy. 4), 5), 6),7). In 1908, Baron Von Ehrenthal was the Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Consul Kral sent him a thorough record of the cooperation issues with the editors of “Drita” newspaper and “Mbrothësia” printing house. During 1907, both editors informed the Consulate on the financial difficulties of the publications, in other words the need to continue with the subsidies, with a higher bill, presenting the argument that Shahini was ill, and on the other hand they were not able to guarantee the required assistance from their fellow Albanians, Bajo Topulli and his friends. On the other hand, Kristo presented the difficulties in publishing, due to the fact that Shahini was not able to pay the newspapers, and the obligations of “Mbrothësia” printing houses, and also the need for Kristo to buy a house where he could settle his family and the printing house, coping for many years with the physical and material privations, thus not achieving the estimated incomes, due to the fact that during this period he had published many books. It is one of the most successful printing houses, but this is not reflected in its financial status. However, Consul Kral praises Shahini’s work, despite criticising him for letting go of himself a bit. On the other hand, his newspaper is very successful thanks to his work, but he has exaggerated it with unnecessary attacks towards the figure of the Sultan, which Shahini should not have repeated. Regardless all these, Count Kral recommends that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs continues with the subsidies of “Drita” newspaper, although during 1907 there were delays in the publishing of its issues, but measures were to be taken in case the obligations of Shahin Kolonja, as a publisher were neglected: the value for the proper publication of the newspaper was to be reduced, also, the figure of the Sultan was to not be mentioned. Furthermore, articles in Turkish were to be published, because this way it would be more appealable to the Muslim Albanians, due to their knowledge of the Turkish language, this way increasing the value of the assistance and respect towards Austro-Hungary. This would be implemented step-by-step during 1909. In addition, the Istanbul Office would be informed for these measures 8).  Apart from this, Count Kral from Shkodra, announces the submission of the certificates to the centre, as a pedantic administrative chorus of its order 9). In April of that year, information praising especially the work of Kristo Luarasi was sent to Consul Forgah in Sofia. The letter praised his work as the director of the publishing house “Mbrothësia”, who apart from being a director, also worked as the editor of “Drita” newspaper, by maintaining its programme. Thus subsidies will not be given until Shah bey returns, but they will be liquidated with Kristo Luarasi, who will provide them with the payment bill. Regarding the issues with Shahini, they shall not be discussed10). The Ministry sent a report to Count Kral in Shkodra and to Count Turn in Sofia, regarding the assessment of the editors’ duties with Austro-Hungary. This report is substantially divided into two parts:
  1. For publishing “Drita” newspaper, approves the opinion and request of the Consul Kral on the situation in Sofia, for continuing the financial support, openly expressing the request for additional information from the DiplomaticAgency for the Printing House activityin Sofia, for making the payment bills official and for sending them to the centre.
  2. On the other hand, the centre accepts the Consulate control, which in other words criticises its work and reproaches Shkodra and Sofia: a) Seeing that Shahin has started to drink alcohol, he has neglected to respect the deadlines for the newspaper publication. The editor is Bajo Feim Topulli.
  3. Kristo Luarasi has settled down quite properly. He has bought a house (according to the memoirs of Polikseni Luarasi he bought it with a loan). The Centre requires full, but discreet information 11). Following the verifications, Count Otto Cerni in Sofia confirms what the centre has already highlighted. 12). Thus, in the reply given to the Foreign Minister of Austro-Hungary, the situation of Shahin Kolonja is affirmed and the subsidies are suggested. In addition, it has been affirmed that Kristo Luarasi has bought a house with a price of 10.000 Francs, with the address Car Simeon Street. No. 63, and it is promised that “Drita” newspaper will continue to be published 13). Meanwhile, the Vienna administration continues to subsidise the work of “Drita” newspaper journalists, Shahin bey and Kristo Luarasi, attested with the receipt of the payment bills 14).
However, despite continuous assistance, on the 21st of October 1908, Consul Kral notified Minister Von Ehrenthal that on the 6th of October of the following year, editor Shahin Kolonja had suspended the publication of “Drita” newspaper, thus further subsidising was no longer necessary, and it was suggested that the funds be deposited, because they would be required for following publications of the newspapers! 15). The conclusion was that Austro-Hungary supported the Albanian press in serving the nation. Despite all his flaws, Shahin Kolonja was considered as one of the most important figures of the National Renaissance. The same consideration was given to Kristo Luarasi, the director of “Mbrothësia” printing house, whose work guaranteed trust, and he was appreciated for his professional and managerial work. In fact, in her book “Albanian Renaissance press in Bulgaria”, Bulgarian author, Bojka Sokollova emphasised that Austro-Hungary never did anything without having an interest, and it wished to maintain some of those interest in the Balkans at the expense of the peoples of the Ottoman empire and by competing with Italy. 16).     Documents: The History of Albania, polish authors J.Hauzinskiand J. Lesni, 1992 pg.194-197
  1. No.24 secret, Sofia 16.4.1903               information from Consul Forgah.
  2. No.76 secret, Manastir  10.7.1903        information from Consul Kral
  3. No. 763 secret, Vienna 5.7.1905           report from Minister Von Golluhovski
  4. No . -- secret,   Shkodra 25.9.1905       information from ConsulKral
  5. No. 1344 secret, Vienna 7.12.1905      information from Minister Golluhovski
  6. No. 1 secret, Shkodra   12.3.1906        information from Minister Von Ehrenthal
  7. No. 11 secret, Shkodra 17.1.1908        report from Consul Kral
  8. No. 17 secret, Shkodra 11.2.1908        information from Consul Kral
  9. No. 390 secret, Vienna 9.4.1908           report from Minister Von Ehrenthal
  10. No. 479 secret, Vienna 17. 4. 1908      report from Minister Von Ehrenthal
  11. No. 26 secret,   Sofia 7.5.1908             information from Otto Cerni
  12. No. 26/G secret, Sofia 7.5.1908            information from Consul Shezhon
  13. No. 920 secret, Vienna  9.10.1908       information from Minister Von Ehrenthal
  14. No. 112 secret, Shkodra  21.10. 1908   information from Consul Kral.
  15. Albanian Renaissance National Press in Bulgaria, author Bojka Sokollova, 1979,
  16. 128 - 138
  [post_title] => ‘Cultural Assistance’ of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the gratitude of Albanians [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => cultural-assistance-of-the-austro-hungarian-empire-and-the-gratitude-of-albanians [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-11 13:08:49 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-11 12:08:49 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=139974 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 140550 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2019-02-15 12:05:53 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-02-15 11:05:53 [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL The Albanian opposition led by the Democratic Party has announced a large national protest to be held this week on the 16th of February. In fact the opposition has more than enough material to use in legitimizing and powering the protest. The popular discontent is palpable and high. There have been many unearthed corruption scandals with fictitious tenders, fraud documents as well as quit a few wrongfully calculated political and public moves. The Rilindje governance model has been destroyed and no effort of replacing the cabinet with anonymous servants or painting facades with glossy propaganda can any longer salvage its reputation. The discontent has spread from the supporters of the opposition into the larger public and even among the ranks of the Socialist Party especially those who don’t feel represented by the new guard of the loyalist to the chief of the cabinet. The protest’s declared objective is to make possible the change of government since the opposition does not trust that this one can even hold free and fair elections. This extremely ambitious objective has an embedded element of fallibility in it. Achieving it might require a level of aggressiveness and lawlessness which is all but certain to turn into a boomerang. Not achieving it will decrease the legitimacy and trust in the opposition to a degree that it renders it obsolete. Herein lies the biggest question of how the opposition believes and plans to materialize the objective. First, they can opt for a violent scenario, confronting with the police, charging at the state offices. That would destabilize the country at least in the short term and cause irreparable harm both domestically and in the international area. Moreover it has a strong potential not only to backfire by losing to a large degree the popular support. Indeed all sides, especially the state police, must show maturity and moderation and have the protest as a completely free and democratic practice of the citizens devoid of any dangerous exercise of violence. Alternatively the opposition can chose to re-establish their ‘tent’ camped in front of the Prime Minister’s Office, which secures a long term pressure. It is questionable though what exactly this might achieve given that the DP has declared it will not boycott the local elections in June. They can use it to exert some pressure on the international community on the eve of the decision about opening the negotiations. However it is now almost public knowledge that that specific outcome depends much more on the dynamics within the EU and especially on the relevant EU Parliament elections in May. Finally the protest might be a massive peaceful gathering that disperses at the end of the day.  It can succeed to convey the considerable scale of popular revolt but go no further. In this case the opposition would face the problem of media and the public questioning its long term strategy and legitimacy. It would deepen the already visible cracks within the opposition, between its two major parties and with other smaller allies. The decision taken for the conduct of this protest will determine the long term course of the Albanian opposition: whether it will steer slowly towards the next general elections or upset the status quo profoundly in order to seek new power arrangements. The protest will also be decisive for the position of the leader of the DP and his vision for the next 2-3 years. Saturday will be a day to watch very closely. 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