Letter to the editor: The double standards in Albania’s diplomatic service

Letter to the editor: The double standards in Albania’s diplomatic service

Shortly after the Socialist Party came to power, they decided to change the law on diplomatic service. A group of Albanian diplomats with a long history in foreign diplomatic service whose names were better left unknown then and are still

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Editorial: With transparency concerns, Albania-Greece sea border deal enters danger zone

Editorial: With transparency concerns, Albania-Greece sea border deal enters danger zone

Concerns over transparency in negotiations between Albania and Greece on a new maritime border agreement are growing to the point that when a new deal is reached, it might be so contested domestically in Albania, it could become dead on

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Editorial: Albania and the EU: A tougher road ahead

Editorial: Albania and the EU: A tougher road ahead

The European Union has decided to postpone a decision on whether it will open accession negotiations with Albania — neither supporting nor rejecting the European Commission’s recommendation for an unconditional opening of these negotiations. The European Council, made up of

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EU-Albania:  the winners and losers of June 28!

EU-Albania: the winners and losers of June 28!

By Lufti Dervishi  48 hours prior, and yet no one can say for sure what the decision of the European Council regarding the possibility of opening the negotiations for Albania and Macedonia will be. To date, at least 3 stances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Albanian-Greek relations are moving backwards

Why Albanian-Greek relations are moving backwards

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

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

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

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

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Welcome to the beach of Himara mayor!

Welcome to the beach of Himara mayor!

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

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

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

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

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                    [post_content] => Shortly after the Socialist Party came to power, they decided to change the law on diplomatic service. A group of Albanian diplomats with a long history in foreign diplomatic service whose names were better left unknown then and are still better left unknown now - sent the following e-mail to a number of EU, US and German representatives through third parties:

“Our diplomatic service is facing a deadly blow with the new draft law due to be passed on Thursday by the parliament majority. The law puts the foreign service completely under political control. The hitherto law foresees 20% of the ambassadors as political appointees. The new law removes this figure thus enabling 100% political appointments; not just ambassadors but also other diplomatic posts. Even some MPs like Arta Dade have failed to avoid that from happening. It's not strange that even the opposition keeps silent about it. They can use the law politically, too, when back to power. Such practice goes against EU practices, even though, as candidate EU country we are supposed to make legislation according to EU standards. There is serious concern and despair among career diplomats who see no future for their career under the new law and we feel powerless about it. Years of investment in the service could be rendered useless. This never happened before, at least injustice was never legalized.”

Unfortunately, our warning fell on deaf ears and, for the last years, we’ve seen a number of our predictions come to life and seriously harm competitiveness, fairness and a chance at a career.

While any "street man" may become an ambassador, it takes at least 14 years for a career diplomat to be posted as ambassador.

Most of the current Albanian diplomats serving abroad have little or nothing to do with the foreign service and often have no experience at all. A "street ambassador" is supposed to have 10 years of work experience dealing with foreign relations in what is a very broad and abusive definition. Meanwhile, a career diplomat must serve not less than 14 years in the foreign ministry to get the title of counsellor, let alone ambassador, a paradox a normal country diplomat would never believe.

But, instead of speaking generally, let us refer to some concrete cases that had us compile a second letter and make it public.

The Albanian Ambassador to Stockholm for starters, is a former retiree who has been renamed in service, although he was once only a presenter at the Albanian National Radio-Television during communism. Similar is the case of Belgrade, where the ambassador is a retiree, while the Albanian Ambassador to Vienna had to return home after reaching his retirement age.

These kind of double standards have even devalued the altered law, bringing it down to new lows. Some ambassadors, such as the ambassador of Albania to the OSCE, don’t even fulfill the base requirements, such as the “ten years of foreign work experience.”

In Ankara, the ambassador is a former Socialist Party financier, while the head counselors in Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Bari, Milano and Istanbul have little to no connection with the diplomatic service. In Washington, too, the serving ambassador is a political appointment, someone with no connection to the diplomatic service at all. The same applies to the cases of Switzerland and the Netherlands.

In other, even more flagrant cases, such as those of Middle East countries, the embassies are run by ambassadors who have even been involved in corruption cases, while the Vatican is lacking an ambassador altogether, for the least five years.

According to sources, an ambassador who has run an embassy in an Arab country, and who was fired for being involved in a sensational criminal case in Albania, has been appointed secretary in another embassy in a European country.

This has brought about some worrying effects - the most worrying of all being that “street diplomats” are leading career diplomats - the people who have been in the service for 10, 15 and even 20 years and who have acquired the skills of diplomacy by actual experience.

In Ernest Geller’s notion called “tyranny of cousins” one can see a lot of Albania - by definition, the tyranny of cousins describes a primitive stage of society, one still ruled by the power of the tribe and by family ties, a phenomenon Albania is still unable to shake after years of communist rule.

Today, this tyranny of cousins has come to include more harmful things - political ties, economic ties, interest ties - leading to a tyranny of incompetence, which has been supported by law for the last three years and which will continue to harm Albania if our warning calls keep falling on deaf ears.

 

 

 
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                    [post_content] => Concerns over transparency in negotiations between Albania and Greece on a new maritime border agreement are growing to the point that when a new deal is reached, it might be so contested domestically in Albania, it could become dead on arrival. 

The opposition says it and the relevant parliamentary institutions have neither been consulted nor informed on the negotiations. Some politicians, like former Prime Minister Sali Berisha, have warned a new conflict between Albania and Greece could be the result if the deal is reached without transparency.

Albanian institutions, with the exception of the government, and the public at large are getting more information from Greek news media than Albanian officials involved in the talks. 

Diplomatic sources told Tirana Times that in fact the agreement was negotiated as early as last year and as late as the first two months of this year. However, according to the official record, these negotiations officially started only a month and a half ago, when the government received the official permission to negotiate from the President of the Republic. Moreover, diplomatic sources confirmed that the Albanian side was given a new agreement with some partial and technical corrections from the Greek side, which were nonnegotiable, and the rest of what appears like negotiation is just for show. 

Officially, three rounds of negotiations concluded last month between Albania and Greece to reach a new maritime border agreement to finally divide the sea shared by the two countries. 

The Albanian public simply got a rubber stamp press release, saying the last meeting was “constructive and it developed in a positive, friendly and cooperative climate.” 

As a result, the Albanian public has had the Greek media as a main source of information on how the delimitation of the maritime border will take place.

Similarly, the Socialist-led government has completely excluded the possibility of consulting with the opposition, much like its predecessor, the Democratic Party. The ruling SP doesn’t even need the opposition MP numbers in parliament to seal the deal. 

Instead clarifying what Albania will get from the sea border dispute, the Albanian government has been much more open in declaring as “wins” issues included in the “package of negotiations,” such as the recognition of Albanian driving licenses and apostille stamps, as well as the removal of the Law on the State of War.

Although these are agreements that will benefit a number of Albanians living in Greece, foreign policy experts have said it is wrong to include them in the same package of negotiations as the maritime border agreement, as their benefits to citizens will only be peripheral.

Albania does not have a good history with these agreements. DP’s own 2010 agreement was rendered useless by Albania’s Constitutional Court for violating the country’s interests and the constitution. However, at this time, Albania’s Constitutional Court is frozen due to lack of judges -- as the judicial reform takes place -- thus placing a great question mark on who will ultimately have a say on the constitutionality of the latest deal.

If the deal is hurried through parliament without further wider consultations, and without the Constitutional Court filter, the deal could enter a dangerous zone in terms of the Albanian public opinion and its legality under domestic and international law. 
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                    [post_content] => The European Union has decided to postpone a decision on whether it will open accession negotiations with Albania -- neither supporting nor rejecting the European Commission's recommendation for an unconditional opening of these negotiations.

The European Council, made up of member state foreign ministers and heads of governments, decided that negotiations with Albania and Macedonia could open in June 2019, if the two countries show progress in reforms. 

There were no guarantees of automatic opening of the talks next year. The European Union member states put in place a number of conditions related to the further implementation of the justice reform, the fight against organized crime, the electoral reform -- all fundamental to further steps on the road to Albania’s European integration.

The European Union will look at how these conditions are met and evaluate a new report prepared by the European Commission in the coming spring. Under these conditions, even in the most optimistic scenario, a decision will be taken next year and then the actual talks will start in the spring of 2020.

The latest decision at first looks better than the worse case scenario: an indefinite time frame on whether to negotiate or not. In that sense, we now know that the EU will consider the issue of opening negotiations with Albania and Macedonia in a year’s time. A positive decision is difficult, but not impossible. 

Yet the EU future of Albania and Macedonia has now taken a trajectory that is unsafe and quite unpredictable. This is because following elections for the European Parliament next year, all the institutions that will evaluate the next steps for Albania could be revamped in the light of the election and the potential increase representation of Eurosceptic forces in the European Parliament. 

The decision not to take a decision on the opening of negotiations for Albania and Macedonia is an error on the part of the EU in the geopolitical context and it makes little sense to toughen up on enlargement on two out of six states that are part of an island surrounded by EU member states. 

Because in view of the enlargement policy and in a geopolitical context, the European Union has weaker and more indecisive than ever, it faces many uncertainties that will affect Albania’s chances and time frame of membership. These include issues related to the future of functioning the EU and the reform process within the EU. The French perspective for the future is also essential as is the role that France is crafting for itself within the Union.

In addition, due to the issue of migration, EU cohesion is at one of its lowest points ever. Italy’s interior minister, the leader of the Eurosceptic Lega Nord Party, said this week the EU might not exist in a year’s time if the migration issues persist.

Moreover, right-wing and Eurosceptic parties are growing in strength across the continent, emboldened by Brexit, the threat of terrorism as well as migration issues. 

So EU’s decision not to take a decision leaves Albania at the mercy of an unsympathetic audience. In addition, the one-year timeframe set in the delay might not be enough to showcase achievements and impress new EU institutions, governments and leaders produced by the upcoming elections. 

Lastly, but more perhaps more importantly, we need to look at the political response in Albania, which has been divisive, with the government trying to sell the EU decision as a big win while the opposition projecting it as huge failure of the government.

None of this is new in Albania’s harsh political landscape, but this newspaper hopes there will some deep reflection by the political class and a renewed understanding that only through working together domestically will Albanians ever stand a chance in EU’s new hostile environment. 

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Albania and the EU: A tougher road ahead
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                    [post_content] => By Lufti Dervishi 

48 hours prior, and yet no one can say for sure what the decision of the European Council regarding the possibility of opening the negotiations for Albania and Macedonia will be.

To date, at least 3 stances have been delineated: A) France, which places the EU’s internal reform first and has nothing "personal" with Albania and Macedonia. B) The Netherlands, which thinks that Albania and Macedonia are not yet ready to open the negotiations. C) Germany, which seems to be in favor, BUT...

In the middle of the three positions stands the European Commission, which has recommended the opening of negotiations without any conditions. The Council has granted the Commission the authority to be the “priest", but it seems that this time it is also trying to “shave" its beard.

This spring, the Commission also published the EU 2025 Strategy for the Region; a strategy that reaffirmed the Union's commitment, just like it did 15 years ago, – at the Thessaloniki Summit of 2003 – that the future of the region is in the EU.

It is thus very difficult to understand in Tirana or Skopje the “problem" of opening the negotiations in relation with the EU’s internal reforming. From the opening of negotiations to taking a decision about membership it will take at least one decade (based on experience). Each EU Member State has endless possibilities to block / require the candidate countries to go 350 times deeper into each of the 35 Chapters.

Albania has 1001 problems, Macedonia probably as much, but their solution is in the EU. (And only the EU has the power to transform the region, despite temptations and interests of other global and regional actors).

Only connecting and working with each of the 35 Chapters will mark the beginning of a radical transformation for Albania and lead to a qualitative improvement of life for every Albanian.

Historically, in every decade of its life, the EU has walked and has "grown up" amidst the most unimaginable problems. Brexit and current problems with immigration, terrorism and economy are not issues that are solved in one or ten years. They will be here for a long time.

Also, the Balkans will not move (at least geographically). The region has been here and it is here where it will stay. The genetic lottery has located the Balkan people within the EU, not in the northern borders of Africa or in the Middle East, but in Europe.

A promise was made to the Balkans - it's time to keep the word.

Another opinion that has recently circulated is that (North) Macedonia will be granted the negotiations based on conditions. As for any other decision, there is no shortage of arguments: changing the regime and putting the 25-year old dispute with Greece into the rails of a solution.

In this version of the story, Albania remains the black sheep of the region. The Slavic neighbors (Montenegro, Serbia, and Macedonia) continue their approximation process with the EU. Albania? Albania will take a “No”, but the wording can be as beautiful as the Macedonian “Yes” will look way too poor.

Albanians, and not only in Albania, will feel excluded and like they are treated unfairly. The mantra "We will join Brussels" - used by all the political elites in Tirana – would take the overtones of a joke and political forces in both Kosovo and Albania that see Brussels as a problem rather than as a solution will certainly gain more space. Tirana has been constantly congratulated for its constructive role in the region. What role will Tirana play in the region if Albanians alone will feel themselves excluded, while Kosovo’s population is the only people in the region excluded from the visa-free regime?

The loss of the EU perspective will do what the Albanians have been doing for 3 decades – individually demand EU membership. So far, 1/3 of the population currently living in the EU member states has done it (Albania is the second country in the world for the largest number of emigrants produced in the last 3 decades).

A “No” or a postponement of the decision to open negotiations until the Greek calends shall mean a loss for the Albanians. And any loss faces the winners. The big winners will be the politicians and the authoritarian leaders that will do whatever they like. The problem in Tirana, Skopje, or in the capitals of the region is that if you ask: Where the power lies, the answer will be the same: the Prime Minister. The age of the leaders is greater than the age of the new institutions; the transition from strong leaders to institutions is only made possible with the EU and on the road to the EU. The rule of law, the market economy, media independence, independent institutions and competition will get no support, but perhaps receive a blow because the so much desired reforms will no longer be led by Brussels’ complicated machinery, but by the will of the populist leaders of the region.

A “No” from the EU PMs is not without consequences for the individuals and the populations. The vision, the perspective of people, the purpose and the focus of the reforms will be questioned. There is nothing more dramatic than human beings without purpose, without vision and without focus; the same goes for nations.

 
                    [post_title] => EU-Albania:  the winners and losers of June 28!
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                    [post_content] => Anna Miszewska, the head of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, has called on Albania to become the 39th country to join their project in preserving the physical remains of the Memorial for future generations through financing conservation projects.
“Auschwitz-Birkenau represents the nightmare of the genocide – we should all take responsibility for its future. We have 2 million visitors from around the world coming to the Museum each year. It’s a chance for all of us to teach young generations about what war really means,” she tells Tirana Times in an interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there any number or evidence of Albanians in Birkenau?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
                    [post_title] => ‘The lesson from Auschwitz is that kindness is the real strength’ 
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                    [post_content] => A debate has been taking place in Albania after international media revealed proposed plans to create massive camps in Albania for non-European refugees and migrants aiming to reach the European Union’s wealthy member states. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Albania as EU’s migrant camp: A price too high
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                    [post_date] => 2018-06-22 09:35:10
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                    [post_content] => By Bashkim Zeneli*

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

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

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

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

The Greek Minority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Maritime Border Agreement. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The state of War, The Cham Issue”

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

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

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

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

The issue of the cemetery of Greek

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Albanian in Greece

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the end the reaction of the entire society is also necessary. Albanians have refused such murky exchanges in the past, for example in the case of the Syrian chemical weapons that were planned to be neutralized on Albanian territory. The government and civil society should be ready to refuse once again.
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Thanks but no thanks! - Refusing murky deals in exchange for integration
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_137070" align="alignright" width="300"]Nikollaq Neranxi, the head of the Association for the Protection of Traders and Market of Albania  Nikollaq Neranxi is a former MP who heads of the Association for the Protection of Traders and Market in Albania[/caption]

By Nikollaq Neranxi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a matter of fact 'No', you were wrong; apparently that has been caused as the Mayor, Jorgo Goro has 'treated' you with the zones' fecal discharged into the sea as a welcoming gesture. Because Goro has another program; today he is working for power's oligarchs how to plunder our lands and properties and invest there. He does not have time to care for the zone and carry out his duty. So you will get sick as long as Goro & Co will be very busy filling their pockets insatiably and shamelessly by going back on his promises to the community which cast the vote for him, and putting a very bad stain on a zone as ours which has always known to maintain and care for that natural wealth given by God to us but which is being destroyed by the barbarians in power.
                    [post_title] => Welcome to the beach of Himara mayor!
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                    [post_date] => 2018-06-08 08:05:14
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                    [post_content] => BY JERINA ZALOSHNJA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: I am a Muslim, but Albania is not a Muslim country
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    [post] => WP_Post Object
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            [post_date] => 2018-07-06 10:23:14
            [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-06 08:23:14
            [post_content] => Shortly after the Socialist Party came to power, they decided to change the law on diplomatic service. A group of Albanian diplomats with a long history in foreign diplomatic service whose names were better left unknown then and are still better left unknown now - sent the following e-mail to a number of EU, US and German representatives through third parties:

“Our diplomatic service is facing a deadly blow with the new draft law due to be passed on Thursday by the parliament majority. The law puts the foreign service completely under political control. The hitherto law foresees 20% of the ambassadors as political appointees. The new law removes this figure thus enabling 100% political appointments; not just ambassadors but also other diplomatic posts. Even some MPs like Arta Dade have failed to avoid that from happening. It's not strange that even the opposition keeps silent about it. They can use the law politically, too, when back to power. Such practice goes against EU practices, even though, as candidate EU country we are supposed to make legislation according to EU standards. There is serious concern and despair among career diplomats who see no future for their career under the new law and we feel powerless about it. Years of investment in the service could be rendered useless. This never happened before, at least injustice was never legalized.”

Unfortunately, our warning fell on deaf ears and, for the last years, we’ve seen a number of our predictions come to life and seriously harm competitiveness, fairness and a chance at a career.

While any "street man" may become an ambassador, it takes at least 14 years for a career diplomat to be posted as ambassador.

Most of the current Albanian diplomats serving abroad have little or nothing to do with the foreign service and often have no experience at all. A "street ambassador" is supposed to have 10 years of work experience dealing with foreign relations in what is a very broad and abusive definition. Meanwhile, a career diplomat must serve not less than 14 years in the foreign ministry to get the title of counsellor, let alone ambassador, a paradox a normal country diplomat would never believe.

But, instead of speaking generally, let us refer to some concrete cases that had us compile a second letter and make it public.

The Albanian Ambassador to Stockholm for starters, is a former retiree who has been renamed in service, although he was once only a presenter at the Albanian National Radio-Television during communism. Similar is the case of Belgrade, where the ambassador is a retiree, while the Albanian Ambassador to Vienna had to return home after reaching his retirement age.

These kind of double standards have even devalued the altered law, bringing it down to new lows. Some ambassadors, such as the ambassador of Albania to the OSCE, don’t even fulfill the base requirements, such as the “ten years of foreign work experience.”

In Ankara, the ambassador is a former Socialist Party financier, while the head counselors in Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Bari, Milano and Istanbul have little to no connection with the diplomatic service. In Washington, too, the serving ambassador is a political appointment, someone with no connection to the diplomatic service at all. The same applies to the cases of Switzerland and the Netherlands.

In other, even more flagrant cases, such as those of Middle East countries, the embassies are run by ambassadors who have even been involved in corruption cases, while the Vatican is lacking an ambassador altogether, for the least five years.

According to sources, an ambassador who has run an embassy in an Arab country, and who was fired for being involved in a sensational criminal case in Albania, has been appointed secretary in another embassy in a European country.

This has brought about some worrying effects - the most worrying of all being that “street diplomats” are leading career diplomats - the people who have been in the service for 10, 15 and even 20 years and who have acquired the skills of diplomacy by actual experience.

In Ernest Geller’s notion called “tyranny of cousins” one can see a lot of Albania - by definition, the tyranny of cousins describes a primitive stage of society, one still ruled by the power of the tribe and by family ties, a phenomenon Albania is still unable to shake after years of communist rule.

Today, this tyranny of cousins has come to include more harmful things - political ties, economic ties, interest ties - leading to a tyranny of incompetence, which has been supported by law for the last three years and which will continue to harm Albania if our warning calls keep falling on deaf ears.

 

 

 
            [post_title] => Letter to the editor: The double standards in Albania’s diplomatic service 
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