Editorial: Against slander, libel and defamation: why truth needs to be rescued even if by means of justice

Editorial: Against slander, libel and defamation: why truth needs to be rescued even if by means of justice

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL A hurricane of false statements, fake news and irresponsible accusations can do much more damage to the truth that any other form. Currently there are two elements in Albania that need to be addressed for the sake

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Greek-Albanian Relations in Greek and Albanian Historiography of the 2000s

Greek-Albanian Relations in Greek and Albanian Historiography of the 2000s

By Konstantinos Giakoumis* … I am glad to report that our project proposal was finally accepted by the General Assembly of … I presented the project on the first day and was badly attacked by the … [a national] delegate… The

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Editorial: Justice and governance need to work independently for the good of both

Editorial: Justice and governance need to work independently for the good of both

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL The saga of the videos allegedly incriminating the brother of the Minister of Interior Affairs in narco-trafficking is going on. Despite the brother being actually sent to Italy in haste to carry out his sentence of jail,

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Editorial: ‘Straight out of ‘Gomorrah’: the story of an abused girl and what is wrong with Albania

Editorial: ‘Straight out of ‘Gomorrah’: the story of an abused girl and what is wrong with Albania

To the follower of novels or drama series such as ‘Gomorrah’ or ‘Narcos’, the story that has gripped the Albanian political and public debate in the last days would seem extremely familiar. The script writers of every mafia show out

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Day of German unity: Albania, a reliable partner for over three decades

Day of German unity: Albania, a reliable partner for over three decades

By Susanne Schütz* On this 3rd of October, 28 years ago, German reunification was sealed and brought to an end the painful division of Europe into East and West. For Albania, too, this meant the end of decades of dictatorship

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‘The Munich Agreement is 80 years old’

‘The Munich Agreement is 80 years old’

By Alexander Karpushin* An “agreement” that went down in history as the “Munich Betrayal” of the four powers – Germany, Italy, Britain and France, was concluded in Munich 80 years ago on September 30, 1938. This act not only played

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“The Balkans begin at the Rennweg”

“The Balkans begin at the Rennweg”

By Johann Sattler “The Balkans begin at the Rennweg (street in the center of Vienna)” – there is hardly any Austrian that doesn’t know this phrase, which is attributed to former Austrian Chancellor Metternich in the 19th century. Since then,

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Editorial: Reversing demographic decline takes more than baby rewards

Editorial: Reversing demographic decline takes more than baby rewards

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL After commenting for a long time that massive migration is normal and natural and even circular, the Albanian government seems to have caught up with the demographic decline and its potential destructive impact, proposing this week baby

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For the EU, the Western Balkans always a geopolitical competition issue

For the EU, the Western Balkans always a geopolitical competition issue

By Alba Cela Jan Claude Juncker has come a long way in these few years from the first time he took over the Commission and delivered a Bush-patterned ‘read my lips- no more enlargement’ statement. In the latest EU State

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Editorial: Kosovo and Serbia: the grim return to ground zero

Editorial: Kosovo and Serbia: the grim return to ground zero

The idea of discussing new ‘corrected’ borders between Kosovo and Serbia, in an alleged attempt to reach a final solution to the most complex issue in the region, has been the subject of so many news and analysis everywhere these

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

A hurricane of false statements, fake news and irresponsible accusations can do much more damage to the truth that any other form. Currently there are two elements in Albania that need to be addressed for the sake of safeguarding as much as possible truthful and responsible protection of a sane narrative:

First of all defamation by media is not a crime. Given the unregulated environment ripe with thousands of forms of media, anybody can make all sorts of statements hurting or promoting all kinds of causes and most importantly whomever they decide to make subject of their interest. That can be everyone else. Albania has much more traditional and online media that the market warranties. It is public knowledge that these media are financed by either politicians or business that are keen to promote their own agendas. The remaining few are owned by reckless lunatics who want to shock the public if they can.

The idea of regulating the online media scene by law requiring as a first step the registration of portals has been received with skepticism and cries of silencing free speech. However, the fact is that this scene is a daily and hourly generator of misinformation, fake news and shady political agendas. It is not serving free speech, it is serving irresponsible media actors who want to be in the spotlight or even worse political infighting. The public is not helped by it on the contrary. It is disoriented and pushed and pulled into a million directions, never offered hard facts to make up his mind.

Second, politicians are used to being able to say whatever they want without taking any responsibility about it. The deluge of accusations, offenses and claims that one side makes about the other, even providing details of alleged crimes, alleged collaboration with mafia gangs, etc. More often than not these are proved to be thin air. This has created a dangerous climate when any statement is not credible. Any accusation is seen as the product of polarization and not facts. There is simply no accountability. So much chaos is only weaving darkness and not transparency.

The other related proposal of the executive is to take to court every accusation made that they believe it is defamation. If done properly and judged by a responsible justice system this will set an important model of paying attention to the truth and really increasing accountability of elected officials. By clearing up the ocean of lies, all political actors will be forced to think twice and back up their words with evidence. If this happens then the courts can come up with the much sought after indictments of corruption and abuse of power much quicker than predicted by the actors of the justice reform.

The devil in the details for this issue is the seriousness with which they are proposed. A former analysis of libel cases in the past undertaken by the High Court reveals that the winning side is always the majority. The same people that are accused and punished when they are a minority turn into accusers and winners immediately once they come into power. That is why the success of the justice reform is decisive in this area as well. No matter what modification the laws undergo, if there is no independent professional juridical body to make the final decision they will always be seen as a one sided witch hunt.

This paper deplores the idea that in today’s Albania everyone in front of a screen, or writing for a third rate paper can become an instant slanderer and destroy someone’s life, career or public service and get away with it. This has nothing to do with freedom of speech. Truthful, accountable political declaration alongside accurate fact-checked information and reporting are the best allies of truth and freedom of speech.
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                    [post_content] => By Konstantinos Giakoumis*

… I am glad to report that our project proposal was finally accepted by the General Assembly of … I presented the project on the first day and was badly attacked by the … [a national] delegate… The Academy of [capital city of a Balkan state] does not accept the term “pre-modern” or any term different to the term “post-Byzantine,” although it is not willing to participate in the project. We had a discussion and I convinced the other delegates that the latter term is just an expression of a Balkan anachronistic nationalism, not a scholarly argument. The vote for the new projects was on the last day and … [the very national delegate] used that period to oppose me and to find people on his/her side. I kept answering indirect questions and made a lot of clarifications. Finally, at the time of vote, the ad hoc Committee presented the project in a positive way, and even [the very national delegate] voted us, but surprisingly the … delegate [of a western European state] voted against. So, the project was triumphally accepted and I was congratulated a lot by many colleagues from all over the world. The … delegate [of a Balkan state] refused to support me in the last day, because the … Academy [of the very Balkan state] is …

This anonymised report, whose extract is quoted above carefully edited with square brackets, could well have been an extract from the lobbying meetings at the side of negotiations ahead of the Treaty of Lausanne, had it not been for the terms “project,” “pre-modern” and “post-Byzantine” pointing to contemporary times. In reality, the text above was reported on the basis of a recent meeting of an international scientific event for the purpose of evaluating a number of research project proposals. As is implied, the outline negotiations involve a number of Balkan states, including Greece and Albania. This event is not the least isolated; to quote only one type of such events, many times international scientific events have fallen prey to Greek boycott on account of how the neighbouring state of FYR Macedonia is reported. Without entering into the essence of the name issue, the self-exclusion from events aimed at bringing together scientists who are potentially to drive the change of hostile public perception towards the Other is much telling. It is therefore understood that in some ways the past continues to haunt the Balkan present and its scientific circles, especially those employed at state institutions. In this context, the aim of this paper is to outline the evolution of the Greek and Albanian historiography in matters pertaining to Greek-Albanian relations in the course of the 2000s and how these are conditioned more by ideological proclivities than by the intensity and quality of contact of Albanian and Greek historians with each other or by the generation of historians.

Questions pertaining to the ideological orientation of Greek and Albanian historiography even after the 2000s remain highly controversial for a number of reasons. The scientific politics and ideologemes brought forward by both sides are more often than not based, originate or are attributed to early twentieth century inertial remnants (Tsitselikis & Christopoulos 2007, 9). In the course of the past century several generations of Albanians (including Albanian historians) were nationally nurtured with the image of the Greek as an enemy (Giakoumis and Kalemaj 2015 & 2017; Kalemaj and Giakoumis 2015) while the same generations of Greeks were raised with the morale of the irredentist political notion of “Northern Epirus,” popularized in nationalist songs, like “ I have a little sister, truly a doll; her name is Northern Epiros and I love her…” (Tsitselikis & Christopoulos 2007, 17). Hence, dealing with the multifaceted aspects of Greek-Albanian relations has inevitably borne the ideological charge and arsenal that such perceptions of the ethnic Other has inherited.

In the past, matters related to the ideological orientation of Greek and Albanian historiography were deceptively upheld as self-evident truths in the service of political agendas which were set out in advance of research on historical material. Blatsiotis has demonstrated how the principal ideologeme of Greek policy that Albanians constitute no nation, but rather a volatile ethnic group has transformed in various periods of time (2003, 46-50), also imparting scholarly works of quite some merit (e.g. Malkidis 2007, 1-80). Conversely, Greek irredentist claims over Northern Epiros, entangled, as they were, in the period they were raised, acquired a quasi-inherent trait of the Greeks as the ethnic Other and was consequently projected by the Albanian popular and scientific historiography into the ancient past to uphold the national myth of permanent victimization (e.g. Ministria 1959, 6).

In pre-war Balkan scholarship, but also thereafter, historical problems and phenomena were separated from their wider, international context and were studied from the narrow sight of national ideology in an attempt to construct their alleged ‘national’ character. For example, the long 19th century’s passage from the empire as a political entity to the nation-state was viewed in a linear fashion, thereby failing to distinguish processes of hybridization in the process of constructing national identities, whereby empires imagined they could transform to nation-states (Ottomanism) and nation-states envisaged their future as empires (the Greek ‘Great Idea’ and the Serbian ‘Nacertaniye;’ Stamatopoulos 2018, Introduction). I have elsewhere demonstrated how the instrumentalization of the Albanian language question in the process of constructing a national identity led to historical exaggerations and distortions with regards to the stance of the Orthodox Patriarchate towards Albanian language and its use in liturgical services (Giakoumis 2011). It is therefore evident that such ethno-centric constructs are profoundly both methodologically problematic and research-distorting.

Such biases in Greek and Albanian historiography could, in theory, provide partial answer to the question why education does not always lead to prejudices reduction in Albania, contrary to the conclusions of intergroup communication theory scholars. An increasing body of literature presents evidence that more education leads to less intergroup prejudices. However, as Peshkopia et al. has presented (2017), this conclusion, drawn on the basis of evidence from western countries applying multicultural education, does not apply to most Balkan countries which, alike Albania, set primary goal of their educational systems to instil a sense of national identity and belonging, in view that enduring notions of national identity are believed to form in the course of primary socialization years as also indicated by the US paradigm (cf. Giakoumis & Kalemaj 2017). In his survey, Peshkopia has found that, contrary to the expectation that more education leads to less intergroup biases, in the case of Albania, more education leads on the one hand to prejudice reduction towards homosexuals, but on the other hand to prejudice increase towards Greeks, i.e. a group targeted as the hostile Other by ethno-nationalist narratives (Peshkopia et al. 2017). While Peshkopia’s research has not been conducted in Greece to draw useful conclusions, Papakosta’s work (2009; 2013) certainly indicates similar prompts from the side of Greek historiography.

Not surprisingly, the subjects of historical research from both academic and non-academic milieus were dominated by subjects related to dominant national(ist) narratives, occasionally alternated with topics of political and diplomatic history. One also notes the parallel development of a non-academic literature on the same matters (e.g. Dalianis 2000 & 2008; Isufi 2002; Karkasinas 2014; Litsios 2008; Mandi & Jovani 2013), not bound by rigorous scientific methods and interpretative apparatus. Such literature more often than not promotes nationalist agendas. Especially after the turn of the 21st century, public history initiatives play an increasingly important role, on occasion leaving noteworthy traces (e.g. Tzimas 2010). The availability of archives has significantly facilitated research, although the declassification time of archives after 25 years, in the case of Albania, and 30 years in regard to Greece is only nominal as in reality fewer documents have been declassified and prepared for historical research to the official declassification time (cf. Skoulidas 2015). It should be noted, however, that the number of documentary evidence published or utilized from Albanian archives (Boçi 2008, 2009, 2010 & 2012; Dervishi 2009; Dushku 2012; Gurakuqi 2011; Meta 2009, 2010, 2012a, 2012b & 2013; Naska 1999; Puto 2011; Tritos 2003) is greater than the number of published Greek sources of the like (Baltsiotis 2009; Karakitsios 2010; Kollaros 2015; Koltsida 2008; Kondis 2004; Kouzas 2013; Manta 2004 & 2005; Margaritis 2005).

For the historical period from before Albania’s independence until World War II dominant topics in the Albanian and Greek post-2000 historiography relate to matters of territory, minority rights, the establishment of the Autocephalous Church of Albania and the so-called “Cham” issue. The delimitation of the new state’s borders was studied from a variety of perspectives. Most scholars include matters related to territory in wider studies pertaining to Greek-Albanian relations (e.g. Gurakuqi 2011; Dushku 2012; Meta 2013) and the subsequent claims of an unsolved “North-Epirotan” issue (Barkas 2016; Skoulidas 2015 & 2012; Baltsiotis & Skoulidas 2013; Triadafilopoulos 2010; Malkidis 2007; Baltsiotis 2003). Another preferred subject for the Greek historiography relates to the ethnic Greek minority in Albania and its rights, a topic that has been touched in political (e.g. Baltsiotis 2009; Barkas 2016; Anastasopoulou 2013; Dalianis 2000 & 2008; Karakitsios 2010; Tsitselikis & Christopoulos 2003), geographical (Kallivretakis 1995), linguistic (e.g. Barkas 2016), cultural (e.g. Karkasinas 2014; Litsios 2008; Mandi&Jovani 2013; Pappa 2009) and educational (Barkas 2016; Giakoumis&Kalemaj 2017; Ismyrliadou 2013; Karakitsios 2010; Koltsida 2008; Kouzas 2013) perspectives. The matter of the Orthodox Church of Albania and its Autocephaly was dealt with in a lesser number of monographs [Glavinas 1996; Katopodis 2001; Giannakou 2009; Simaku 2011; Bido 2016]. Last but not least, a significant number of works have been devoted to Chameria and its inhabitants. This is a primarily legal matter related to the properties of the exiled Cham Muslims who were forced to flee out of Greece towards Albania after World War II, after the collaboration of certain individuals of this community with the Nazi occupation forces in Greece, but it also bears political ramifications. Such works were written from an Albanian (Naska 1999; Isufi 2002; Dervishi 2009; Meta 2009, 2010, 2012a; Puto 2011; Elsie & Bejtullah 2013), and a Greek (Tritos 2003; Manta 2004; Margaritis 2005; Ktistakis 2006; Papatheodorou 2007; Baltsiotis 2009) perspective on the matter.

Although one would have expected that, after many years of Greek-Albanian exchanges at all levels, Albania’s integration to NATO and the EU, where Greece is already a member and Albania’s supporter, a certain postnationalistic (Bennett 2001) or internationalistic trend would emerge, in fact, nationalist discourses and related stereotypes demonstrate an outstanding endurance. This is partly owed to the fact that very few scholars speak the language of the ethnic other. Michael Tritos’ brief treatise on the Chams (2003), for instance, cites no Albanian bibliography, while the Albanian perspectives considered by Malkidis (2007) are solely in English, thereby imparting the author’s ability to pass more informed judgements on the matters he raises. This is not an exclusivity of Greek historiography. Writing about minorities and the construction of national identity in Albania a year after his election as a member of the Albanian Academy of Science (2012), Beqir Meta (2013) did not consider any newer Greek bibliography to Lazarou’s 1986 book on the Vlachs of the Balkans and their language. His books on Chams (Meta 2010) and the Greek-Albanian tension from the outbreak of the World War II (1939) to the end of the Greek Civil War (1949) (Meta 2012a) includes no Greek scholarship after 1997, while even the Albanian works considered were published no later than 2000 and 2001 respectively. One could attribute this to personal hastiness, as his book on Greek-Albanian relations in 1949-1990 (Meta 2012b) has no bibliographical updates after 1997, had it not been for scholars of a younger generation who conducted part of their studies in Greece using a rather outdated bibliography, as is the case of Sonila Boçi’s work on minorities in Albania from 1939-1949 (Boçi 2012), whose last consulted work in Greek bibliography was Manta’s monograph (2004). It is surprising that Ktistakis’ authoritarian, purely legal work on the properties of Chams and Albanians in Greece and the lift of the war status from a domestic and international legal standpoint (Febr. 2006) has been entirely neglected in Albanian bibliography, as far as I know.

The absence of an international perspective from the majority of historiographic works produced in Greece and Albania after the year 2000 is also an approach entangled in past, ethnocentric perceptions and narratives. Hence, while Ardit Bido’s monograph (2016) is very well-informed in terms of Greek and Albanian bibliography, the author’s monoscopic perspective of the relations of the Ecumenical Patriarchate with the Orthodox Church of Albania falls short of understanding how developments analysed and discussed in his work were conditioned by wider political power reconfigurations that shaped the frame in which the Ecumenical Patriarchate could move, such as developments with the Romanian and Bulgarian Churches, etc. (cf. Giakoumis 2011). Sonila Boçi’s (2012) well-researched and overall balanced monograph on minorities in Albania between 1939 and 1949 reproduces uncritically an older thesis of Albanian historiography, stereotypically repeated by the older generation of Albanian historians (e.g. Meta 2013, 51-8), that the Greek-speaking population in Southern Albania were metics settled during the second half of the 18th century to work the lands of the rich land owners (formerly called feudal lords) of Gjirokastra and Saranda, a thesis that has long been reviewed (cf. Giakoumis 2003). The dominance of ethnocentric, monoscopic and rather localistic interpretative apparatus is apparently not a trait of some Albanian historiographical works (cf. Xhufi 2009; Karagjozi-Kore 2014), but also of Greek historiography (e.g. Koltsida 2008; Koltsidas 2008; Pappa 2009; Karakitsios 2010; Xynadas 2012; Ismyrliadou 2013; Karkasinas 2014). It is interesting to note that such proclivities are very evident to select historiography produced by members of the Greek minority in Albania (Barkas 2016).

The studies of scholars substantially trained internationally offer insights of wider interest. The historiographical value of the work of Ilir Kalemaj (2014) is good evidence of how substantial exposure to international scholarly environments can provide original insights of interest beyond the narrow focus of a study. While Kalemaj’s study did not focus exclusively on Greek-Albanian relations, his study of real versus imaginary territoriality of Albania also touches on Greek-Albanian relations. Kalemaj developed a two-by-two matrix, one of whose axis related to domestic political pressures regarding Albania’s actual and should-be borders, while the other to international pressures vis-à-vis Albania’s borders. His findings that high international pressure lowered claims of imagined territories and that low international pressure resulted in augmented domestic political claims over imagined borders can be applied in wider contexts. The works of Ridvan Peshkopia and his colleagues (Peshkopia & Voss 2016) can be classified in the same category of studies by internationally trained scholars dealing with matters related to the history of Greek-Albanian relations and how these affect current attitudes towards the other. Peshkopia & Voss’ work on the role of ethnic divisions in the attitude of ethnic majorities or minorities toward the death penalty (2016) draws conclusions of universal interest in such matters. Though about an entirely different period and setting, I think that Margaritis’ stunning comparative study of both Jews and Chams as “undesired fellow-patriots” (2005) can also be classified to the interpretative apparatus of viewing multiple perspectives of a single matter for safer conclusions.

[1]Assoc. Prof. Konstantinos Giakoumis, Ph.D., European University of Tirana

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

The saga of the videos allegedly incriminating the brother of the Minister of Interior Affairs in narco-trafficking is going on. Despite the brother being actually sent to Italy in haste to carry out his sentence of jail, the majority claimed the whole video was a montage and produced some evidence from a person who claimed he was paid to imitate one of the voices. In response the opposition produced another video here the same person says he was forced to do so, to claim he was an impersonator, buy none other than the Chief of Albanian Police.

In the meantime the institution of the Prosecution against Serious Crimes has issued arrest warrants for the journalist that produced the first video and the main character in it.  The story becomes even more difficult to comprehend because of the multiple political accusations from both sides.  The leader of the executive has been extremely vocal in denying the video’s authenticity and claiming that the professional examination of it would reveal it was a farce. As it turns out the examination is inconclusive.

While the Albanian soap opera of secret videos, or so called ‘Babale’ issue, rages on it is becoming increasingly difficult to see through the smoke and listen through the noise. The only strategy to get some clearance is to try and stick with the few facts:

First and foremost, the brother of the Minister of Interior Affairs had a valid jail sentence for trafficking of narcotics from Italy which he started to serve only after it was exposed in Albania and became part of the heated public debate. He stands accused by one side that he was continuing his trafficking in Albania, but before these accusations had a chance to be investigated properly he was sent to serve the jail time in Italy. The brother is in a prison, that’s the first fact.

If the Prime Minister or other members of the executive continue the practice of being attorneys, judges, forensic experts that distinguish one real video from a montage, that know the results of an investigation before the justice system does, then the justice reform does not stand one chance of succeeding. This ugly game needs to stop if any credibility in the new justice system is to be built. By purposefully raising hail and storm around every court case that touches upon their interest, politician will once again undermine the justice sector. The same is valid for the opposition, whose unserious and inconsistent approach is not winging any public points for them. The separation of powers is a fundamental feature of modern democratic and functioning states. The justice system needs to be given space and time to do its job, otherwise we will be back to ground zero. This is the second fact.

By consuming so much time, effort and energy with this noise, the executive is not focusing on governance which needs to be its primary job. Albania is not short of governance and development problems, on the contrary.  It is offensive, deplorable and utterly cruel to subject ordinary Albanians to this charade of ridiculous, revolting actors inside the videos and outside, who have spun webs of lies around dark truths.

Most Albanians need real economic growth, need real improvements in their lives, need more reasons to stay then to leave.  This is not helping. And this is the third, final and most important fact.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Justice and governance need to work independently for the good of both
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                    [post_date] => 2018-10-05 10:48:57
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                    [post_content] => To the follower of novels or drama series such as ‘Gomorrah’ or ‘Narcos’, the story that has gripped the Albanian political and public debate in the last days would seem extremely familiar. The script writers of every mafia show out there should take notes from the Albanian stories, they might like the colorful details for lack of a better word. The plot however remains the same: strong and complex links between organized crime and politics, especially visible at the local level which generate absurd, dark and twisted realities for those governed.

A simple village girl, whose father has died long ago, goes to the police to denounce the violence that her former boyfriend has exerted. Hardcore physical violence as attested by medical reports which take note of multiple hematomas and some cigarette burns on the skin. She is turned away from multiple police stations until a police officer takes her testimony. The saga continues. The psychologists sees no violence, the prosecutor does not issue a warrant, the whole thing is left aside.

The boyfriend in question is the son of a strongman that has made it to the ranks of the MPs, on the governing side no less. Has made it or has been promoted there. Strongmen generate desirable votes and can swing entire districts to one party’s favor. Party leaders have learned this lesson.

The story resurfaces. The police officer is now seeking asylum abroad. The political parties fight and the cynical, unprofessional and captured media harnesses clicks and audience. Instead of any form of reflection the party in power, sees this as an opportunity to flex their muscle, show their teeth. They will haunt the police officer. They will draft anti-libel laws.

The boyfriend is arrested. Finally after months, the medical expertise act reaches the right hands. The judicial sector springs in action. Outside the court stairs, the boy threatens the opposition leader. His threat is the sentence with which the mafia show series would have ended their episodes on a dramatic and symbolic note: “You shall see me in the next elections!”

The story of this unfortunate Albanian girl is the story of the Albanian state, institutions and society. In order to harness the maximum amount of power, political parties spearheaded by the Socialist one in power are systematically making space at the higher level of political representation for figures that come from the dark and dangerous world of organized crime. These so-called MPs cement then their position as local lords, encapsulating all institutions within their grip. They become more and more untouchable, unpunishable. For rape, for beatings, for anything. Even for murder.

The state police, the state prosecutors are just useless tools and pongs in the hands of a few. They can be intimidated, they can be silenced and advised ‘for their own good’ to quit. Even the lines are sadly familiar of the Godfather films. No creativity needed there.

The ugly sadistic link between politics and media erodes the public’s opinion to seek accountability. Political spin doctors hand in hand with incompetent and abusive media actors twist and turn the story, chew the facts, spit out multiple interpretations, accusations and allegations until it all becomes an ugly sham. We are seeing the apex of a well-structured system that has interlinked criminal, political, media and commercial interests to such a degree that untangling it becomes completely impossible.

Who can any longer count the examples that we have been witnessing in the last years? What else needs to happen? What more shall it take? The responsible segments of Albanian politics need to assume the task to weed out these criminals, to resist the temptation to hire their electoral services. Otherwise the society needs to move and punish them.

What the ‘Gomorrah’ and ‘Narcos’ series tell us is that with time these models of silent acceptance of the politico-crime corporations render all dissent voices obsolete. People become increasingly cautious or passive and submitted to their fate. They lower their voices and their heads, they become accomplices. The people of Naples, of Medellin, of Cidad Juarez. I this the ultimate fate of the people of Nikla and Kruja and Shkodra and Elbasan? Now it is time for every Albanian needs to consider whether we have already reached this doomed point. Some have done it and have left. What about the rest of us who are staying?
                    [post_title] => Editorial: 'Straight out of ‘Gomorrah’: the story of an abused girl and what is wrong with Albania 
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                    [post_date] => 2018-10-05 10:17:45
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                    [post_content] => By Susanne Schütz*

On this 3rd of October, 28 years ago, German reunification was sealed and brought to an end the painful division of Europe into East and West. For Albania, too, this meant the end of decades of dictatorship and isolation and the return of your country into the midst of the European family of states.

I am delighted that we are also celebrating a very special anniversary this year: 30 years ago, in June and October 1988, just a few months after the re-establishment of our diplomatic ties, the representatives of our two countries signed the agreements about "Development of Economic, Industrial and Technical  Cooperation  "and"  Technical Cooperation ". In doing so, they laid the foundations for the close and trusting German-Albanian cooperation, which with over 1 billion € in the past thirty years has made Germany the largest bilateral donor of your country.

Albania is today a rapidly changing country in Europe with a young, dynamic population, and is a stabilizing factor for the Western Balkans region and beyond. I am pleased that we have contributed to this development with financial means, but above all also with German know-how. With the help of our implementing agencies GIZ and KfW, we have consistently supported Albania as  a  reliable partner for over three decades in key areas: for example: by building a modern and competitive agriculture, by providing clean drinking water, by building power transmission lines to connect Albania with its neighbors, by developing tourism in the North and South of Albania, or by investing in practice-oriented dual vocational training. These are just a few examples of our nationwide commitment. Out of the 100 villages that the government has identified as a special focus, we are already active in more than 50 with one or more projects.

One thing is clear: this is all about contributing to sustainably  improve  people's  living  conditions,  giving them a perspective here in their Albanian homeland and making Albania fit for its integration into the European Union.

Albania has already achieved remarkable progress on this way into the European Union. However, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that the member states of the European Union will agree to the opening of accession talks in the coming year. A clear priority, above all for the people of Albania, but also for foreign investors, is the creation of reliable legal framework conditions, legal certainty and institutional reliability, free of nepotism and corruption.

The German Foreign Minister,  Heiko  Maas,  confirmed during his recent visit here in Tirana that Germany will continue to advocate a reliable EU perspective for Albania and will continue to support your country in establishing the rule of law, but also through economic cooperation. In November of this year, we will agree further projects together with the Albanian government, for which the Federal Government will again provide a record sum.

Before concluding – apart from our close political and economic ties - I would also like to mention our cultural relationship. Thus, cultural exchange will once again be at the center of the "German October” with a wide variety of interesting events already beginning this week. You are all invited to these events!

---------------------------

*The Author is the Ambassador of Federal Republic of Germany to Albania
                    [post_title] => Day of German unity: Albania, a reliable partner for over three decades
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                    [post_date] => 2018-10-05 10:15:28
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                    [post_content] => By Alexander Karpushin*

An “agreement” that went down in history as the “Munich Betrayal” of the four powers – Germany, Italy, Britain and France, was concluded in Munich 80 years ago on September 30, 1938. This act not only played a tragic role in the fate of Czechoslovakia, having sanctioned the beginning of its capture by Fascist Germany, but also became one of the key events that triggered the beginning of World War II.

Having trampled upon the norms of international law the participants of the Munich meeting betrayed interests of Czechoslovakia and incited Hitler’s Reich to territorial expansion in Europe. It should be noted that Czechoslovakia, having the population of 14 million people, possessed a developed industry, including the military one, and was a large exporter of weapons in 1938. That is why, to a great extent, after the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria in March 1938, Hitler started implementing a plan of seizing Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland under the pretext of protecting the Sudeten Germans.

Only Soviet Russia attempted to protest, but the others preferred not to hear it. The West sacrificed Czechoslovakia without regret, believing that it would be able to live beside Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. That is exactly why the Munich Agreement is both a symbol of shameful betrayal and an example of startling hypocrisy and short-sightedness of the leading European states.

A large number of archival documents show that the general outlines of the West’s collusion with Hitler were prepared in advance. Back in early 1934 E.Сarr – one of the heads of the Southern Department of the Foreign Office – stated that the “German solution” was more preferable for Britain and that it “should strive for a deal with Germany, since its victory is inevitable”. In fact, the British had already worked out the key points of the Munich program by then: a deal with Hitler at the expense of Austria and Czechoslovakia, the directing of Hitler’s aggression towards the borders of the Soviet Union, etc.

After the Anschluss of Austria by Germany in March 1938, Soviet Russia addressed itself to Britain, France and the USA with an appeal to create a common front for the protection of Czechoslovakia from possible armed aggression. However, this proposal was not supported. On the contrary, on behalf of their governments, the ambassadors of Britain and France in Prague warned Czechoslovak Foreign Minister K.Krofta that “if an armed conflict arose because of Prague’s obstinacy, London and Paris would not render assistance to Czechoslovakia”. Knowing this, Hitler started preparing an operation to dismember Czechoslovakia and approved a plan for a war against Czechoslovakia (“Fall Grün”) on May 30, having announced the order for its execution not later than October 1, 1938.

During the next months of the year 1938 the Western states made significant efforts in carrying out the so-called “appeasement” of the Hitler regime and in inclining the Czechoslovak leadership to the voluntary transfer of the Sudetenland to the Führer.

Then, everything went in this way: on September 21 the envoys of London and Paris issued an ultimatum to the Czechoslovak leadership, which was accepted by President E.Benesh showing no willpower. On September 22, this time the Polish and Hungarian governments delivered an ultimatum to Prague: it was demanded to transfer the territories inhabited by the Polish and Hungarian minorities to Poland and Hungary. W.Churchill made a remark in this regard: “Poland with greed hyena appetite took part in the robbery and destruction of the Czechoslovak state”.

On September 25, delivering a speech in Berlin Sportpalast, Hitler demanded that the Sudetenland be transferred to Germany not later than October 1, 1938, otherwise Germany “would achieve it by force”.

At that time, the allies of Czechoslovakia were the USSR and France. Immediately after the Germany’s ultimatum, France refused to support the Czechs. But even without the French support, the USSR declared its readiness to fulfill its obligations to defend Czechoslovakia. Prague was offered a plan of assistance, which provided for the use of ground forces and the transfer of fighter aircrafts to strengthen the capabilities of the Czechoslovak military aviation. Rifle divisions, tank units, aviation and air defense troops of the USSR were put on combat alert at the south-western and western borders.

However, Poland and Romania declared that under no circumstances they would allow the Red Army’s units to pass through their territories. The Poles even warned of delivering a strike on the flank in case of the Soviet troops’ advancement as well as of destroying any aircraft that would appear in the Polish airspace. Reiterated Soviet proposals to discuss collective support to Czechoslovakia through the League of Nations were blocked by London and Paris.

The US government also played an active role in the preparation of the collusion. Back on September 20, 1938, the Americans warned the French government through their ambassador in Paris W.Bullitt that if Germany’s demands towards Czechoslovakia were not satisfied and the situation worsened, France would not receive “a single soldier” and any credit from the USA. US Secretary of State C.Hull made it clear to the German ambassador in Washington that the United States “had a favorable attitude to giving Germany a “free hand” in Southeast and Eastern Europe”. The American ambassador in London assured the British government that President F.Roosevelt “decided to follow N.Chamberlain in the Czechoslovak issue”. And the latter, in his turn, assured Hitler that he could get everything “without a war and without delay”.

On September 27, 1938, US President F.Roosevelt made several appeals: to Hitler to convene a conference of the interested parties on the Czechoslovak issue, to J.Stalin to support this American initiative. The latter replied to F.Roosevelt that the USSR agreed to participate in the conference “in order to find practical measures to counter aggression and save the world through collective efforts”. Moscow did everything diplomatically and militarily to show a serious attitude to solving the problem by peaceful means. Meanwhile, Hitler hurried to invite only B.Mussolini (Italy), N.Chamberlain (Britain) and É.Daladier (France) to Munich. Czechoslovak representatives were not allowed to discuss the agreement. The participation of the USSR was rejected. On September 29, the conference began its proceedings.

At 1:00 a.m. on September 30, 1938, N.Chamberlain, É.Daladier, B.Mussolini and A.Hitler signed the Munich Agreement. After that, the Czechoslovak delegation was admitted to the hall.

The document enacted to transfer the Sudetenland and the areas bordering on the former Austria with all the property, including weapons, to Germany. Czechoslovakia was to abandon the territories being seized (41,098 sq. km. with the population of 5 million people) within October 1-10. The agreement also prescribed the separation of a number of regions in favor of Poland and Hungary. Having got acquainted with the paper, the Czechoslovak representatives voiced their protest. However, they were forced to put their signatures under the pressure from Britain and France. In the morning, the Czechoslovak president accepted this agreement and decreed its execution. Already on October 1, Poland delivered an ultimatum supported by the Nazis to Prague, demanding to transfer Cieszyn Silesia to it.

The Munich Agreement became an example of betrayal committed at scales of a whole country, the highest point of the British “policy of appeasement”. At the suggestion of N.Chamberlain, in Munich on September 30, Germany and Britain signed a declaration on mutual non-aggression and peaceful settlement of all arising controversial issues. On December 6, a similar document was signed by France and Germany. Obviously, N.Chamberlain and É.Daladier believed that by concluding these agreements they averted the threat of a Germany’s attack from Great Britain and France and turned the aggression in the direction they wanted – to the East, against the Soviet Union. The Western powers gave the Czechoslovak lands to Hitler for this purpose.

Under the terms of the Munich Agreement, in addition to the territory, Germany significantly increased its raw material and industrial potential, having received various enterprises, metallurgical and chemical plants, mines, communication lines and facilities as well as weapons. All this made it possible to additionally arm 9 infantry divisions and to fully equip 5 of 21 Wehrmacht tank divisions with tanks of the Czechoslovak production by 1941.

However, assistance of the Western countries to the aggressor was not limited by this. On October 13, 1938, following the Munich Agreement, the US company “Standard Oil” and the German concern “IG Farbenindustrie” signed an agreement on establishing an American-German society that monopolized patents for the production of synthetic gasoline, in which the Hitler army felt a great need. This document became a kind of “Munich Agreement” in the economic field, giving Germany the opportunity to prepare its armed forces for combat operations.

On his return from Munich to London, N.Chamberlain said at the airstairs: “I brought peace to our generation”. É.Daladier was greeted at the airport by a crowd shouting: “Viva Daladier! Viva the peace”. Meanwhile, W.Churchill gave a different assessment of the outcome of the Munich meeting in his speech delivered in the British Parliament: “The partition of Czechoslovakia under pressure from England and France amounts to the complete surrender of the Western Democracies to the Nazi threat of force. Such a collapse will bring peace or security neither to England nor to France. On the contrary, it will place these two nations in an ever weaker and more dangerous situation. ... The belief that security can be obtained by throwing a small State to the wolves is a fatal delusion. And do not suppose this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning.” In fact, it turned out in this way.

As a result of the occupation of Czechoslovakia, one of the forces in the center of Europe, which could potentially serve to defeat the fascists, disappeared. Germany strengthened its strategic and military-political positions and got all the opportunities for an attack on Poland, which imagined itself till the last moment to be an ally of Berlin, actively participating in the partition of Czechoslovakia.

On October 3, 1938, W.Churchill predicted: “England was given the choice between war and dishonor. It chose dishonor and it will have war”. Perhaps, this is why the West is trying to forget the events in Munich, whereas the young generation perceives it as an occurrence that has already become outdated. However, without taking into account the mistakes of the past, a peaceful future is impossible. As the history has repeatedly proved, all behind-the-scenes decisions about the fate of nations, which are made without taking into consideration the interests of these people, inevitably lead to a global tragedy.

The Munich Betrayal is a classic example of disastrous consequences, to which  disregard of the norms of international law, belief in one’s own exclusiveness and infallibility, reliance on national egoism can lead. The lessons of this event should serve us all as a warning, especially in view of the realities existing at the current moment. It is obvious that genuine security can be only equal and indivisible and rely on the fundamental principles of international life specified in the UN Charter: respect for the sovereignty of states, non-interference in their internal affairs, peaceful settlement of disputes.

Russia will continue to contribute in every possible way to the strengthening of global and regional stability, to the search for collective responses to numerous challenges and threats of our time. As Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stressed, we are open to close cooperation with everyone, who demonstrates mutual readiness to conduct affairs on the basis of equality, respect for each other and the search for a balance of interests.

 *The author is Russia’s Ambassador to Albania 
                    [post_title] => ‘The Munich Agreement is 80 years old’
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                    [post_date] => 2018-09-28 09:54:52
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                    [post_content] => By Johann Sattler

“The Balkans begin at the Rennweg (street in the center of Vienna)” - there is hardly any Austrian that doesn’t know this phrase, which is attributed to former Austrian Chancellor Metternich in the 19th century. Since then, this statement has been cited frequently to illustrate Austria's geographical, historical, economic and cultural ties with the Balkan region and to show the mediating role that Austria has played throughout history as a bridge between the Balkans and Central and Western Europe. Support for the establishment of the Albanian state is a good example of Austria-Hungary’s role in Southeastern part of Europe. Austria aims to also play this role during its EU Council Presidency, which comes at a time when Europe is facing major challenges and political changes. During the six months of our Presidency, we will do our best to be a bridge between EU countries and beyond, in order to reduce tensions within and to contribute to a more powerful Europe.

1. Presidency priorities

With the start of the Austrian EU Presidency (July 1st - December 31st), under the motto “a Europe That Defends", there is the opportunity and the challenge of playing the mediating role between the contrasts that characterize the European Union: economic issues and refugees, the need for internal restructuring and strengthening of the EU, the implementation of national agendas and the maintenance of unity, the negotiation of the Brexit, but also when it comes to EU enlargement. We aim to act and interact within a Europe with different dynamics and in this interaction of forces, the Presidency's focus lies on three key priorities:

 
  1. Security: The Austrian Presidency aims to strengthen the external borders of the European Union, by fighting illegal immigration, strengthening ‘Frontex’ and working on a Common European Asylum System.
  2. Prosperity: Ensuring prosperity and competition through digitization is another priority. To maintain the competitiveness and sustainability of the European economy in the future, Europe needs an intelligent digital transformation policy.
  3. Stability: Stability takes shape and structure when there are no major dangers and threats in the European geographic area. Therefore, a very important priority for Austria will be a credible EU perspective for the Western Balkans. The integration process, with its unique transformative power, will remain the driving force for fostering reforms in the region. It is in the economic and security interest of the EU and the region that the Western Balkans becomes part of the EU. This region has proven to be a reliable partner on migration and other important issues and it is an essential part of Europe also regarding our close historic and cultural ties.
  The Western Balkans in the focus of the Austrian Presidency 2018 began with the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council, leaving the floor during the second half of the year to the Austrian Presidency and to continue next year with the Romanian one. It is indeed a good opportunity for the Balkans having three consecutive EU Presidencies with a focus on the Western Balkans, thus ensuring that, despite the geopolitical challenges Europe is facing, the Western Balkans stay in the spotlight. In this context, Austria has been and remains one of the most committed countries in favor of integrating the Western Balkan states into the EU under the assumption that the EU is not complete without this region and that these countries do not merely deserve a European prospective but EU membership, once conditions are fulfilled. It should be noted that the Western Balkan countries have moved important steps forward. Macedonia and Albania have received a provisional green light for opening negotiations with the EU next year, although Austria along with other European countries wanted this to have happened this year. Albania's priorities in the new political season – ‘A little less conversation, a little more action’ It is important for Albania that it maximally utilizes this period of less than a year by devoting itself to the technical part of the screening process, but more importantly, to rigorously push forward the key reforms especially in the field of the rule of law, in the fight against corruption and organized crime  and on the electoral reform. To fulfill these tasks, Albanian citizens expect their country’s political leaders, the government and the opposition, and all elected representatives, to put their sleeves up and give their best. This will take a government that tries to close the gaps rather than deepens them and that is oriented towards inclusion and humility rather than exclusion. On the other hand, an opposition is needed whose action has as a basic principle the rigorous control of the work of the government and the presentation of realistic alternative policy proposals within the legal institutions, in order for it to compete in the upcoming elections. And both sides, when it comes to matters of national importance that need unity, should set aside party rhetoric and reach a compromise that will benefit the country. In my opinion, priorities for this new political season are issues such as the establishment of institutions like the HPC, the HCJ and the SPAC, the approval of the Magistrate's Law, and cooperation on the electoral reform, taking into account the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations. Starting from this, both political sides should use the electoral campaign that will begin for the local elections to introduce trustworthy concepts and candidates, including new faces, rather than accusing each other. Albania is one of the countries with the youngest population in Europe and the country would benefit from a political facelift, especially when it comes to those who are the closest to the daily concerns of the citizens, that is the mayors. What the country does not need is to adopt in a hurry and without proper scrutiny controversial laws, or to boycott or be mostly absent in parliament. On the contrary, Albania needs a focused political course in the citizens’ interest. So, in short, using Elvis Presley’s famous line, "a little less conversation, a little more action, please!" To achieve this democratic maturity is not easy, not only in Albania but also in other European countries including Austria. It is a daily endeavor, it takes time and patience and it requires the will for compromise. But is an essential process, especially in Albania, where the political polarization is particularly strong. The contribution of civil society, students and interest groups in this process is as indispensable as that of independent media. Austria's commitment to Albania's  integration process in EU  Despite changes in the historical, economic, or geopolitical context of the two countries, the core of Austrian-Albanian relations has remained the same: we are and remain a strong and trusted partner for Albania and one of the most committed supporters of Albania's EU path. On the other side, Albania has included Austria as one of the country's four strategic partners, which emphasizes convincingly the special bonds between our nations. Within the Berlin’s Process framework, Austria has been a very active participant since the beginning, initiating a number of regional projects, also infrastructure related ones such as the Peace Motorway (Nish - Prishtinë - Durrës). Furthermore, we have also been very active in trying to overcome bilateral disputes, culminating in signing of two border agreements and we have undertaken initiatives for civil society’s involvement in the Berlin Process projects. In this context, in the course of its engagement, Austria, within the Presidency of the EU Council, will undertake a number of initiatives focusing on the Western Balkans and its integration in the EU. Among them, let me mention the Gymnich meeting (Aug. 31, 2018) between the Foreign Ministers of EU countries and the candidate countries, where one of the most important points was the integration of the Western Balkan region. Also, Tirana will be in the focus of our Western Balkans policy through two ministerial conferences: the Conference of Ministers of European Integration, focusing on the mutual support in the accession process (4 October) and the Conference of Ministers of Interior and Justice, which will have in focus the cooperation on issues such as data exchange and migration (4/5 October). This does not only highlight the importance of the Balkans and Albania to Austria, but also shows that Austria has managed throughout its Presidency to place the Balkans at the center of EU policy. Furthermore, we expect a host of official visits: besides Foreign, Justice and Interior Ministers, the Federal Chancellor of the Republic of Austria Sebastian Kurz is expected to visit Tirana, as well as the Speaker of Parliament, Wolfgang Sobotka. The highlight of Albanian dignitaries in Vienna will be President Meta's visit to Austria at the end of October. 1. Europe’s role in the world Since its founding, the European Coal and Steel Community and then the European Union has provided continuous peace and prosperity for its citizens, but also exporting stability them to the surrounding countries. The European Union offers its citizens the best system of social protection and is by far the largest contributor of development aid in the world. However, as President of the European Council Donald Tusk said during his speech at the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome: “to build a free world, it takes time, great efforts and sacrifices are needed, and Europe has made it. But nothing can be taken for granted. Europe as a political entity will either exist united or will not exist at all.” The EU needs ongoing work and commitment to support the most successful peace project ever experienced in Europe's history. Europe finds itself at a time of challenges and change, in a turbulent world, at a time when increasing insecurity is coming from the US, when China and Russia are emerging increasingly powerful and more confident but whose model is fundamentally different from that of the EU. Tensions within the European Union have increased. With the Brexit, the EU experienced for the first time the will of a nation wanting to leave the EU. But Europe should see Brexit as an opportunity, as a model agreement for a very close partnership with the EU beneath the threshold of membership. Pro-Europeans are challenged in providing clear and concrete responses to the implementation of their policies. So, it is time to defend with conviction what Europe has achieved so far; the time of lukewarm European supporters is over.  Deepening and widening  The internal reform of the EU has been boiling down frequently to one question: more subsidiarity (leaving more competences to member states) or deepening of integration (more competences for Brussels). The need for EU reform does not necessarily have to exclude one of those principles. Further integration among member countries does not necessarily go against the principle of subsidiarity; rather they can be implemented side by side through agreements between the EU and member countries. Austria, under the slogan "less, but more efficient" supports the internal reform of the EU simultaneously in these two directions. The extension of EU’s competences is as necessary in some areas, as its detachment from some other areas is. For this reason, the discourse within the EU should be oriented about which areas are needed to deepen the EU's competences and in which areas national/local decision-making would be more efficient. In our view it would make sense to increase the role of member countries in decision making when it comes to health, culture, tourism, education, sport, youth, inclusion etc. On the other hand, further integration among member countries would be needed in such aspects as the protection of external borders, internal and external security, representation of Europe in the world, as well as in the fields of research, innovation and digitization. EU reform in these two parallel directions would be an attempt to balance the interests of the EU and its member countries. On the one hand, this would lead to a more efficient and more focused Europe and, on the other hand, to the increase of subsidiarity. However, subsidiarity is difficult to be put in place and implemented in practice.  For this reason it is important to look at the approach of member countries' parliaments regarding this principle. The underestimation of this principle by the EU was used by Brexit supporters against the EU itself. But so far, what has been done by the EU in this respect were “ad-hoc” adaptations. Given this policy debate, there have been better times for EU enlargement. But it would be short-sighted from our side if we lost sight of the Balkans region. This would lead to increased insecurity in this vital part of Europe as countries would lose momentum in their modernization quest and would come under the growing influence of third parties. At the same time, the countries in the region should continue to forcefully make their case, and the most convincing arguments are real reforms, real results in fighting organized crime and corruption and real steps in consolidating democracy by reducing polarization and increasing accountability. So in a nutshell: it takes two to tango. The Balkans should not miss this opportunity, but also the EU should not lose sight of this region.    *The author of this article is the Austrian Ambassador to Albania [post_title] => “The Balkans begin at the Rennweg” [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-balkans-begin-at-the-rennweg [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-28 09:57:30 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-28 07:57:30 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138649 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138642 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-09-28 09:30:33 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-09-28 07:30:33 [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL After commenting for a long time that massive migration is normal and natural and even circular, the Albanian government seems to have caught up with the demographic decline and its potential destructive impact, proposing this week baby bonuses for couples that will have children in the future. Currently a meager amount of about 40 euro is given to couples who increase their families. The reward is set to go up at more than 300 euro for the first child and incrementally higher for the next children. The Finance Ministry is also aiming to modernize the system distributing maternity leave payments, making it finally digital. For the moment the archaic mechanism through which new mothers need to move to get their modest allowances is simply medieval. Albania has lost so much of its population and the trend is ongoing. The first and most important reason for this is not the decline in the birth numbers, although it also plays a part. However the elephant in the room is migration. According to the latest polls, in the present days as much as 70 percent of Albanians still want to leave their country. The majority of them are of course young and vital. Exactly the kind of people likely to have kids.  Albanians make up 3 percent of all asylum seekers in the European Union this year only. A country of less than 3 million people and which has not been in war for half of a century, has at least 8000 asylum seekers knocking on EU’s door.  The numbers of asylum seekers cannot not even be compared with the hundreds of thousands applying for the US Lottery program or to the spiking numbers of the students and professionals who are learning German with the sole purpose of starting a new life there. The vocational development agencies updating the skills and teaching German to the future IT specialists and nurses of Germany are functioning as the de-facto Labor Ministry of Albania now that there is no institution under this name. Unfortunately they are the most successful labor recruitment offices. Words aside the number of returnees from these programs is extremely low. The repercussions of this massive flight on the already dire pension scheme in Albania on the wider labor market dynamics, on the frail healthcare system as well as on the social fabric of the country cannot be overstated. Increasing the baby bonuses is a step that was necessary and should be saluted. However it is going to take much more serious effort on the die of Albanian institutions. This should start with an honest and thorough examination of what should be done to counter the reasons of this flight. Some of the reasons, including lack of hope, are difficult to target since they can be seen as subjective. One thing which is objective is that as long as the model for successful professional and financial development is going to be based either on political cronyism or organized crime lordship, or worse both, there are going to be always more people leaving than returning. However lets return to other reasons which are painfully clear. The lack of access to the public services and the bad quality of the latter are a key reason that surpasses poverty in the decision of Albanian couples to have and raise children elsewhere. There is no bonus high enough to offset this. Continuing to see Albanian educational and healthcare sectors as stories of success is poking yourself in the eye, when it comes to this issue. Maybe the Albanian government is limited in its capacity to generate economic growth, stimulate investment and employment. However it is less limited in guaranteeing that all Albanian children receive a qualitative education and that even kids in rural and remote areas have access to it. It is much less limited to change the corruptive PP scheme that is placing hospitals in the hands of oligarchs and driving the middle class citizens to seek service in the private healthcare sector. The latter has also major problems with accountability for its failures. A baby bonus is just a tiny a baby step. A comprehensive social policy is necessary to address this looming reality. [post_title] => Editorial: Reversing demographic decline takes more than baby rewards [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-reversing-demographic-decline-takes-more-than-baby-rewards [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-28 09:49:52 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-28 07:49:52 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138642 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138570 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-09-21 11:15:36 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-09-21 09:15:36 [post_content] => By Alba Cela Jan Claude Juncker has come a long way in these few years from the first time he took over the Commission and delivered a Bush-patterned ‘read my lips- no more enlargement’ statement. In the latest EU State of the Union Address he spoke just a few words about the Western Balkans and their perspective but they hit home: “Europe can export stability, as we have done with the successive enlargements of our Union. For me, these are and will remain success stories – for we were able to reconcile Europe's history and geography. But there is more to be done. We must find unity when it comes to the Western Balkans – once and for all. Should we not, our immediate neighborhood will be shaped by others.” This statement is crucial as it comes in the last address before the elections in May of 2019 where EU voters will shape the next EU Parliament. In electoral times skepticism about enlargement or anything remotely similar to it peaks. Calling for both caution and courage at this time is the right thing for the EU, which needs to be a real powerful actors in shaping the dynamics in its immediate vicinity. Recognizing the return of geopolitical games and influence calculations in the Balkans is something Brussels has not been very good or quick at. Third actors such as Russia, Turkey, China and others have been present lately in many forms: investments, political maneuvers, and religious agenda to say just the main components. The EU has taken strong steps only in the last two years, primarily resolving the double democracy and name crisis in Macedonia and urging Albania to complete the justice reform. Both these achievements have come with the significant help from the US. Geopolitical developments though are also intensifying. The latest talked about potential plan to resolve the Kosovo-Serbia issue with land swaps is a key test for the stability of the region. Key member states are not on board but many others seem to view this as a unique opportunity to put the hottest conflict point in the region at a final rest.  The discussion brings Russia and China to the table automatically as members of the UN Security Council. With Brexit kicking in soon, France is the only EU voice in that platform. The wait to achieve significant milestones in the region is getting longer, burdensome and more discouraging every year. Reforms are advancing at a snail pace. Young people are leaving in droves to the Western EU member states.  This reality should also be present in the EU’s thinking about the region in addition to the right geopolitical concerns. Yes other actors should not be given ample sphere to influence. But neither should that space be taken by poverty, autocracy and the pervasive lack of hope for youth or economic stagnation. It is true that out of all EU institutions, the Commission has been the most eager to advance the integration agenda for the region.  Member states have been skeptical and worried mostly for their domestic reaction.  One can only hope that like the Head of the Commission they will also recognize the new realities and make up their minds. [post_title] => For the EU, the Western Balkans always a geopolitical competition issue [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => for-the-eu-the-western-balkans-always-a-geopolitical-competition-issue [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-21 11:15:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-21 09:15:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138570 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138322 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-09-18 10:00:06 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-09-18 08:00:06 [post_content] => The idea of discussing new ‘corrected’ borders between Kosovo and Serbia, in an alleged attempt to reach a final solution to the most complex issue in the region, has been the subject of so many news and analysis everywhere these last hot summer days. Serbian President Vucic and his counterpart Thaci seem intent and content with a proposal that is shaking the status quo to the core. Translated in broad terms, the idea is to design some sort of territorial exchange in which Serbia would gain the communes of North Kosovo (Mitrovica) and in return Kosovo would get the Albanian populated areas of Preshevo valley. This would mean recognition of Kosovo’s independence by Serbia and therefore substantial better chances of Kosovo being part of the UN and the EU. This article wants to suggest that this is a bad idea, its core elements are unjust and dark, its implications are dangerous and finally the way the interested parties are conducting themselves around it is undemocratic. First of all, this proposal is the complete undoing of the Ahtisaari plan, which is the ultimate legal and international consensus basis for the independent, multi-ethnic state of Kosovo. Based on this plan, major international powers, alongside roughly 100 other states, recognized Kosovo. The Ahtisaari plan has respected to the letter the administrative borders that Kosovo had under the Federation of Yugoslavia. The same borders have been the final ones for all the other countries which were members of the Federation. Reopening the issue of borders means going back to ground zero for the whole status of Kosovo issue, including its international recognition. Borders are a fundamental issue, unlike the long list of technical issues that were the content of the EU sponsored dialogue so far. Undermining the process with a radical, upheaval inducing idea poses several questions. Reopening the issue of borders, or correcting them, is something usually done between two states that recognize each other and therefore have all the institutional guarantees that they will respect the deal. The independence of Kosovo was decided by the international community, which means that any substantial issue like this brings it back to the United Nations Security Council. The presence of Russia and China there will make sure that Serbia’s list of demands will be prioritized. The need for a new agreement that would transcend Ramboulliet will definitely re-gather all major powers, which is frighteningly reminiscent of the conferences of the start of the last century, which decided about countries in our region. Either way it removes it from the hands of Western powers and makes it subject to the new context of international relations. The objectives that this supposed deal are to reach are very questionable. If the objective is the dark one of achieving state functionality by creating ethnic homogenous states, then the counterargument is clear. In a region like the Balkans the ethnic composition resembles that of a leopard skin. Violent experiments to reach ethnic purity have been the most dramatic and destructive for the region’s history.  In fact, the tension-ridden reaction from other countries in the region testify to this sad past. They also ring loud alarm bells about the implications this idea has on regional stability. The territorial and population exchanges not only bring back harrowing memories and scratch painful wounds. They also reopen dark options for many nationalistic and extreme actors on the ground, especially in Bosnia and Macedonia. From the functional point of view there are multiple glitches that need to be mentioned. From the functionality perspective of Kosovo, the Ahtisaari plan has already accommodated the political participation of the Serbian communities, giving them ample powers which sometime even determine the government’s formation. This “new borders” idea does not solve the need of accommodating Serbian minority in the South, or even worse it implies the possibility of some sort of ethnic cleansing (complete with the move of those Albanian families that still hang on in north Mitrovica). Additionally it takes for granted the willingness of Albanian communes in Serbia, which have been part of Serbia constitutionally for quite some time, to join Kosovo. This might come as a surprise to some, however Albanian citizens in these communes are already mentioning regular pensions and visa free travel, benefits that they enjoy now under Serbian administration. Now on to the most important question of the debate. It is very unclear what the proposal is trying to reach especially for Kosovo. It seems that the proposal stems mostly from personal power reasons. In the case of President Thaci it resembles an investment in his personal freedom now that the risk of him being investigated by a special Court for potential crimes during the war is more than just a hypothetical option. The way President Thaci is going forward with this is beyond the current constitutional design of the country which makes Kosovo a parliamentary and not presidential republic. Thaci is pushing forward by engaging the accumulated underground powers, ignoring the opposition and Prime Minister, refusing to make this issue subject of an inclusive debate. More than anything it is a testimony of how badly Kosovo has been led in all these years and an explanation of its current backward isolated situation. For President Vucic the personal credit of even just reopening this issue, so unthinkable before, is already materializing. With maybe a Nobel Peace prize in sight, but at least a consolidated historical record at home, Vucic is the most interested party in this discussion. The Serbian institutions have already started an effort to prepare their public that taking back Kosovo in its entirety may not be possible but a nevertheless ‘sweet’ deal is within reach. However a few lines are necessary to examine the reaction from the Western countries which so far has enabled this debate to move at an undesirably quick pace. It seems the west is uninterested to protect its own major project: a free and multi-ethnic Kosovo. The realities of the new American administration are glaring for most of observers. It is an entirely different context which Kosovo should come to terms to very fast. The Trump administration through the words of security advisor John Bolton have shown disdain for the risks of this proposal. The new actors may be on to different aims, perhaps even accommodating Serbia so it does not slide in favor to Russia. Whatever their stakes, it is frightening to imagine a decision upon this issue just by a tweet so one even hopes the White House chief will be indifferent about it. Sadly the European reaction is no better. It seems we are back in the days when European countries despite having this hot issue just in their front yard are either unwilling to deal with it or worse ignorant of the danger it poses.  With the exception of a single statement from Germany, the EU seems positive about this option and willing to include it in the dialogue. They may be making their biggest foreign policy mistake. The EU needs to step up and protect a safe, multi-ethnic Kosovo. This is not done by closing an eye to likely experimental disasters but by adding efforts to sustain the dialogue as well as quicken its process of integration. The silence from Albania is deafening as well. For many it implies some sort of tacit acceptance which would be completely unforgivable. So far only Albanian President Meta has dismissed it as a populist trick. PM Rama, so eager to comment on anything from Trump’s election to Markel’s reelection, is curiously silent. Albania should be the first to recognize the implicit dangers of the idea and encourage the comeback of the attention and efforts of the Western countries to the table. The only long-lasting solution to the Kosovo-Serbia dispute is reconciliation. And reconciliation cannot be achieved with shock and awe single measures however revolutionary they may seem. It requires durable commitment, gradual healing, and overarching communication. Talking about borders in today’s context of Serbia and Kosovo means going back to the 19 century, not embracing the 21st.   [post_title] => Editorial: Kosovo and Serbia: the grim return to ground zero [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-kosovo-and-serbia-the-grim-return-to-ground-zero [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-18 10:15:52 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-18 08:15:52 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138322 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 138888 [post_author] => 281 [post_date] => 2018-10-19 09:32:05 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-10-19 07:32:05 [post_content] => TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL A hurricane of false statements, fake news and irresponsible accusations can do much more damage to the truth that any other form. Currently there are two elements in Albania that need to be addressed for the sake of safeguarding as much as possible truthful and responsible protection of a sane narrative: First of all defamation by media is not a crime. Given the unregulated environment ripe with thousands of forms of media, anybody can make all sorts of statements hurting or promoting all kinds of causes and most importantly whomever they decide to make subject of their interest. That can be everyone else. Albania has much more traditional and online media that the market warranties. It is public knowledge that these media are financed by either politicians or business that are keen to promote their own agendas. The remaining few are owned by reckless lunatics who want to shock the public if they can. The idea of regulating the online media scene by law requiring as a first step the registration of portals has been received with skepticism and cries of silencing free speech. However, the fact is that this scene is a daily and hourly generator of misinformation, fake news and shady political agendas. It is not serving free speech, it is serving irresponsible media actors who want to be in the spotlight or even worse political infighting. The public is not helped by it on the contrary. It is disoriented and pushed and pulled into a million directions, never offered hard facts to make up his mind. Second, politicians are used to being able to say whatever they want without taking any responsibility about it. The deluge of accusations, offenses and claims that one side makes about the other, even providing details of alleged crimes, alleged collaboration with mafia gangs, etc. More often than not these are proved to be thin air. This has created a dangerous climate when any statement is not credible. Any accusation is seen as the product of polarization and not facts. There is simply no accountability. So much chaos is only weaving darkness and not transparency. The other related proposal of the executive is to take to court every accusation made that they believe it is defamation. If done properly and judged by a responsible justice system this will set an important model of paying attention to the truth and really increasing accountability of elected officials. By clearing up the ocean of lies, all political actors will be forced to think twice and back up their words with evidence. If this happens then the courts can come up with the much sought after indictments of corruption and abuse of power much quicker than predicted by the actors of the justice reform. The devil in the details for this issue is the seriousness with which they are proposed. A former analysis of libel cases in the past undertaken by the High Court reveals that the winning side is always the majority. The same people that are accused and punished when they are a minority turn into accusers and winners immediately once they come into power. That is why the success of the justice reform is decisive in this area as well. No matter what modification the laws undergo, if there is no independent professional juridical body to make the final decision they will always be seen as a one sided witch hunt. This paper deplores the idea that in today’s Albania everyone in front of a screen, or writing for a third rate paper can become an instant slanderer and destroy someone’s life, career or public service and get away with it. This has nothing to do with freedom of speech. Truthful, accountable political declaration alongside accurate fact-checked information and reporting are the best allies of truth and freedom of speech. [post_title] => Editorial: Against slander, libel and defamation: why truth needs to be rescued even if by means of justice [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => editorial-against-slander-libel-and-defamation-why-truth-needs-to-be-rescued-even-if-by-means-of-justice [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-10-19 09:44:32 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-10-19 07:44:32 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=138888 [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] => 817 [filter] => raw [cat_ID] => 30 [category_count] => 817 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Op-Ed [category_nicename] => op-ed [category_parent] => 0 ) [queried_object_id] => 30 [post__not_in] => Array ( ) )

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