Power Struggle Keeps Albanian Socialists Divided

By Urim Bajrami After a hot summer, during which the Socialist leader, Edi Rama, refused to back his predecessor, Fatos Nano, in his failed bid for Albania’s presidency, the country’s main opposition party now appears to be heading for an

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Albania and BSEC

By Agim Pasholli Soon after the fall of the Berlin wall, Europe was facing a delicate situation, with drastic geopolitical changes, occurred mainly due to the collapse of the Soviet block and of the communism (in general) as a political

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History! History for all!

By Maklen Misha* It is often said that history is written by the victors, but what happens when there is no winner? This is the question Albania has been grappling with since the end of the Communist regime. It would

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Invest in Albania 2007: opportunity or paradox?

By Alba ȥla The 2nd Albania Business and Investment Summit kicked off today at the luxurious ambiances of Hotel Sheraton in Tirana. Serious companies with representatives in smart suits and black suitcases filled air-conditioned halls where video projected presentations gave

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European integration and journalism, the Spanish experience

By Alba ȥla Speaking to a group of Albanian journalists gathered at a training hall of the Albanian Media Institute, Xavier Vidal-Folch, Deputy Editor in Chief of “El Pais”, the leading daily in Spain was at ease. His knowledge and

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Moscow’s Anti-Western Offensive

By Janusz Bugajski In its determination to re-establish Russia’s great power status, the Kremlin oligarchy has launched a series of policy thrusts against Western interests. According to state propaganda, the West is intent on weakening Russia and capturing its neighbors

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Frans Timmermans on Albania

It is a great pleasure for me to experience Albania’s famed hospitality once again. I have visited your country several times in the past. This time, I am visiting in my capacity as Dutch Minister for European Affairs. I am

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Albania’s implementation record one year after signing the SAA

Ambassador Helmuth Lohan: “We have noticed progress in the fight against organized crime but the measures taken against it should continue relentlessly”. Mr. Ambassador, how serious is the Albanian government in implementing the SAA, while the parliaments of EU member

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Interview: Professor Bernd J. Fischer

Professor Bernd J. Fischer, a history professor at the University of Indiana, Fort Wayne, gives his expert views on matters of interest to Albania and region, such as the case of Kosovo and democracy & development in Albania. Proff. Fisher

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Russia’s Win-Win Situation in Kosovo

By Berat Buzhala By blocking Kosovo’s independence, Russia reminds the world of its new power; it creates a gulf between Serbia and the West and slows the integration of Southeast Europe into the EU and NATO. Serbia may end up

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                    [post_content] => By Urim Bajrami
After a hot summer, during which the Socialist leader, Edi Rama, refused to back his predecessor, Fatos Nano, in his failed bid for Albania's presidency, the country's main opposition party now appears to be heading for an icy winter.
The chill winds were ushered in by ex-Prime Minister Nano, who announced last week that he was setting up a new Movement for Solidarity with the aim of rebuilding and reforming the Socialist Party, PS. Nano's new organization is widely seen as a platform to help him regain the party chairmanship which he gave up after the Socialists lost the parliamentary elections in July 2005.
The rift between Rama and Nano and the expected struggle for power within the PS pose a threat to the party that is as serious as any since it was formed in 1991 to become the successor to the communist Albanian Workers' Party of the late dictator, Enver Hoxha.
Even the departure of ex-Prime Minister Ilir Meta, one of the party's most active leaders, in order to form the Socialist Movement for Integration in 2004, was not worse in its impact than the current struggle for power within the Socialists' ranks.
If Rama wins the battle to consolidate his control over the PS, he would have to deal with a divided political organization. In the best of scenarios for the party, Nano and his supporters would depart to form a new political organization of their own. In the worst-case scenario, they would remain a strong force inside the party, pushing ahead with the struggle to take over its leadership.
In either case the party would be at loss to provide the kind of strong, well-functioning opposition that Albania so desperately needs. Even worse, it could deteriorate into a political organization whose principal goal would be nothing more than to pass the electoral barrier.
Albania is undergoing a prolonged transitional stage, during which the stabilization and strengthening of its institutions remain a critical requirement to progress toward European integration. 
The rivalry in the PS between Rama and Nano exacerbates a situation of political uncertainty at a time when a series of reforms vital for the country's future require broad cross-party cooperation between government and opposition. 
Though, politically weaker than before, Nano still has a strong base in the party and its leadership, a part of which was promoted through the ranks by his patronage. He managed a come-back against former Prime Minister Meta before, similarly he may be able to upstage Rama also. However, this time round his chances seem slimmer. 
Since he became PS Chairman, Rama has institutionalized his slogan, "A new kind of politics", as the political platform of his party. He has branded Nano, the party's previously long-serving leader, and his supporters as representatives of the "old politics," a sharp contrast that reflects the fact that there is very little chance of reconciliation between them.
For now neither of the rivals is showing signs of being prepared to come out of the trenches of political warfare. While rallying his supporters in Tirana when he set up his new movement last week, Nano, accused Rama of authoritarian traits of leadership and of disregard for party institutions.
The former leader has turned a personal row with his successor into a struggle to remove Rama and his supporters from the party. Although it was Nano who had helped catapult Rama into top jobs, first as minister of culture and then as his candidate for mayor of Tirana, the two politicians have not got on well for years, particularly since Rama became the PS leader. 
A pattern became established in which Nano was trying to make life difficult for his successor, who initially had little support within the party's organization, while Rama was determined to exclude his predecessor from a role in the PS leadership.
Relations between the two have gone from bad to worse this year. Nano met his arch-rival, Prime Minister Sali Berisha of the Democratic Party, PD, in January to secure his path to the presidential palace. Five years earlier a deal between the two - when Nano's Socialists were in government - resulted in the PD being allowed to nominate a candidate, Alfred Moisiu, who was then duly elected president by Albania's parliament.
This time, however, the refusal of Rama to make Nano the official candidate of the opposition, dealt a heavy blow to the presidential aspirations of the former Socialist leader. Rama's strategy was to try to block the election of a president - Berisha's PD-led coalition lacked the required majority in parliament to push through its own candidate - and to precipitate early elections for parliament.
To ensure that Nano's faction among the PS deputies would not join the governing majority in a deal to get the former Socialist leader elected as president, Rama organized an opposition boycott of parliament. In the first round of voting Nano was easily beaten by the coalition government's candidate, Bamir Topi, who, however, failed to get the 60 per cent of votes needed to be elected.
Nano was eventually thrown out of the presidential race after the head of the small Democratic Alliance Party, Neritan Ceka, joined the contest, and pushed the former prime minister into third place.
Disappointed by Rama's lack of support, six of Nano's supporters ignored their party's boycott of parliament and in the third, and final, round voted for Topi, ensuring his election.
Rama accused Nano's allies of a deal with Berisha, thereby disregarding party interests, which for him are also linked to the interests of the country. The six MPs who broke with party discipline were subsequently thrown out of the PS. That started a new phase in the feud between Rama and Nano, who has now responded with the formation of his new movement inside the party.
The fiasco over the presidential race has brought out into the open the rifts within the Socialists. On one side there are the MPs who have lined up behind their former leader, and who know that Rama will never ever back them for another term if they want to stand for parliament again. On the other side there are the PS leaders' supporters who have a clear idea that, given the chance of a return to power within the party, Nano would show no mercy towards them either.
Squeezed between Rama, Nano and their respective blocs, the Socialists risk losing their position as a viable alternative to the current government. That would be to the detriment not only of the PS, but also of Albanian politics which are badly in need of a strong and united opposition.

Urim Bajrami is Deputy Editor in chief of the daily newspaper Shqip. Balkan insight is the online publication of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network. 
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                    [post_content] => By Agim Pasholli
Soon after the fall of the Berlin wall, Europe was facing a delicate situation, with drastic geopolitical changes, occurred mainly   due to the collapse of the Soviet block and of the communism (in general) as a political system.The vacuum in democratic values, in political and economical reforms, in many countries was very evident and problematic. Many top officials and leaders from various governments of the newly sovereign states, in Eastern, Central and Northern Europe, started to discuss and exchange views among themelves. The battle horse of such consultations was the issue of an existing very weak regional cooperation. The main attention during such formal/informal meetings was mostly given to the idea of finding the ways to gather/invite the countries in transition   to the market economy into a regional structure/forum or initiative. On the other side, they  were of the opinion that   the  participation  also from countries  of Western Europe with uninterrupted experience and history in  market economy, should be  encouraged and considered  to be an advantageous one.
Albania is one of the founder countries of the regional initiative called Black Sea Economic Cooperation-BSEC. While, in principle, my country   was not a country "wet" (with the Black) by the sea, with its membership to BSEC, the Albanian intention was to show to the other countries in the region that it is very much interested to forge good neighborhood relations, to strengthen the economic ties with all the countries in this region, in brief to be a serious regional partner.
We are counting and appreciating the benefits of our membership to the regional initiatives in a satisfactory manner and we   attach particular importance to all   regional initiatives in the areas close to our country. So far we are member to the CEI, AII, SECI, SEECP, SP, MARRI and BSEC. During 2006 we had the chairmanship -in -office in the CEI (Central European Initiative) and AII (Adriatic and Ionian Initiative).We believe that one year period for each of the above mentioned chairmanship was a very good occasion for us to manage, moderate and guide   the activities and projects of these initiatives.
From  1992, the initial phase  of the BSEC history , begun an engagement of the Albanian institutions expressed  not only with the   participation  in various fora but also with  an active role and with their goodwill    to reach consensus in many debates that take place within BSEC. It has fulfilled the usual obligations deriving from such membership, starting from the mandatory financial contributions going to the fulfillment of chairmanship With a constructive spirit of cooperation, Albanian participants started to contribute to the issues of common concern/interest and to work closely with other colleagues from different BSEC Member States. As a Member State, our country has showed that (IT)has a real interest to work at regional context especially in some very important domains such as Energy, Transport and Security matters.
Albania considers that its own main strategic objective, the European Integration, is   coinciding with the main target of the majority of the BSEC Member States.
We think that the future  EU integration of our region, as a strategic action, is the only one to be chosen,  and this is the best way we should go further and progress.
Today the composition of the BSEC organization consists of 12 Member States in different stage of the democratic reforms and different phase of membership vis-ஶis European Union. The case of having inside the organization   also three E.U.  Members, we believe is special opportunity to share the positive experiences of applied reforms and constant actions on sustainable development.
Our country in 2006 signed SAA agreement with EU and we are very much engaged to go further more towards the process of European Integration.
We are happy to see that BSEC is also playing a positive role towards such a target
Everybody agree that an important progress of regional cooperation within the framework of BSEC is achieved. And we are glad for that the organization is now trying to define the skeleton for a continuous dialogue and cooperative action between the BSEC and the EU. This action/cooperation needs to be mutually beneficial and result -oriented one.
We are convinced that the cooperation we are doing and we are trying to strengthen in the form of sub-regional or regional cooperation is a stepping stone towards the integration in general and a sin e qua non condition for the integration into EU in particular. This process as a whole is a school and it serves, in addition, as a training ground.
While our goal is to speed up the process of our European integration, Europe is targeting to transform itself into a stronger global player. Better then before, the new century we entered some years before, seems to be the century of challenges towards integrations and globalization.
For the majority of BSEC Member States, one important way to be followed for European Integration should be through strengthening the role of the regional cooperation, making it more vital. Strengthening of this key role in our region means, that his tool, should better contribute for a lasting peace, reconciliation, improvement and development of civil society, for the improvement of the economic situation in our countries, to the creation of new job opportunities, adoption of strategies for a sustainable development, better use of the potentials of our region, protection of the environment,  etc.
Now let us take into consideration   now the fact that the EU target for this decade is to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world. For reaching such goal, the European institutions   are formulating better policies; they are stepping up the process of structural reform and modernization of European social model.
The Member States of the BSEC region need have the same attitude and not invent the wheel. The formulation of   concrete, short term targets for this process of integration is a must for us. Our engagement at national level should be combined with that one at regional level and altogether should be targeting at European standards and European structures.
Among the objectives that we may put in our path to be paved towards European integration could be a proper combination between cooperation and competition at regional and European level, Another  objective could be the  possible involvement of BSEC Member States to participate to  the respective European Working Groups,With proper objectives, the cooperation in our region should be undoubtedly a key factor to contribute to a deeper and quicker regional integration of our countries, to the prosperity and well-being.
The actual trend in Europe is the expansion process of European Union. This process has entered a special phase with last two wages of enlargement:  the first during the year 2004, when ten new members joined the EU and the second by 1st January 2007, when   two BSEC Member States, Bulgaria and Romania followed them. That is why today many people perceive Europe mostly as a work in progress rather than a defined territory or/and an economic / political structure/grouping
But what is the specific role that BSEC is doing nowadays.(?) As you all know, BSEC is a full-fledged regional economic organization being at the same time the only one acting in our region. It is a well structured and institutionalized organization.
BSEC is a very good example among the similar regional   grouping   and initiatives, which possesses   proper (adequate) mechanisms and instruments of cooperation like it is the case of Project Development Fund .With the mandate given at the BSEC Summits BSEC has expanded its activities beyond the usually explored issue of regional economic cooperation.BSEC has approved an important document called The Platform for Cooperation between BSEC and EU. And now has arrived the time when BSEC is trying to update it entirely.
A constant ambition of the BSEC is the action to increase the credibility of BSEC in the Black Sea region and beyond and to facilitate the presence of EU in this region.
The BSEC's main compass for its prospects is the BSEC Economic Agenda-For the Future-Towards a More Consolidated, Effective and Viable BSEC Partnership. This basic document, seen as a strategy oriented to reach BSEC common goals need to be constantly revised and updated. This Agenda should equip BSEC Member States with a forward-looking approach and highlights the need for the adoption of a regional strategy for sustainable development, identifying regional, national and sectoral comparative advantages. One of the main pillars of the Agenda is to offer a better economic integration of its Member States as a precondition for inclusion of the BSEC region in a broader European economic space.
There is also a very important fact: admitting or not, today we are living in a world whose main distinguished tendency is the globalization.
The next  Turkish Chairmanship in  BSEC will be a very good opportunity  for Turkey to show its ability as a  capable regional  actor  to boost  regional cooperation   by moderating dialogue, managing the work  of the various  meetings, promoting projects of  common interest etc. We believe that Turkish chairmanship will be a splendid one, not only due to the fact that Turkey is hosting the headquarters of the organization, but also because this chairmanship   is coinciding with the 15.th anniversary of the organization.

The author is Director on the Department of Multilateral Initiatives, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Albania
                    [post_title] =>  Albania and BSEC 
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                    [post_content] => By Maklen Misha*
It is often said that history is written by the victors, but what happens when there is no winner? This is the question Albania has been grappling with since the end of the Communist regime. It would be a difficult enough situation in any case but matters are made even worse when politicians join in the discussion. Then one can safely claim that the situation is impossible. Making them all agree on how Albania's history should read is no easy task. Making them understand that it is none of their business in the first place is even harder.  
Through some ironic accident of history the end of Communism, unlike other revolutions or changes of regimes, brought no real winners or losers in Albania. Former Communists, Socialists, Democrats, Republicans, supporters of the Monarchy and a whole host of others, to their chagrin, have to coexist in a pluralistic political system. They all have their own political agendas and given that most believe in the definition of history as a weapon they all have their interpretations of it too, which are almost always determined by their agendas. Thus historians have been pushed out of the scene and politicians have taken over. "We have come to discuss history as politicians, of course!" remarked a well known politician and close partner of the prime minister in a TV debate on the subject of history without even realizing how strange that statement sounds. It is though to some extent understandable that politicians - given the fact that being one requires high levels of self confidence - see nothing wrong in fashioning themselves historians overnight.  
Historians however do. The quality of research and historical studies will suffer for one. Politicians are by definition no great friends of truth; it comes with the craft. And when something as serious as history - from where their political legitimacy derives - is at stake one can hardly expect them to be objective and present balanced views. One has but to look at the discussions on the crisis of 1997 and the radically different views and explanations presented by the two sides of Albanian politics to realise that. Or again if one looks at the collapse of the Communist regime and the advent of democracy and the Democratic Party: not even 17 years have passed and no one seems capable of saying what exactly happened. Of course, historians, given the chance to conduct their research and studies unimpeded by political pressure would arrive at some more or less objective and balanced interpretation. Unfortunately they cannot. Politics won't let them. And when historians - or any other academic types for that matter - are as foolish as to go head to head with politicians in Albania, it is they who loose. How could it be otherwise?!
Of course history in Albania needs to be rewritten. The Communist version of it simply does not hold water anymore and it never did: it presented its own reading to the exclusion of all else and one challenged it at one's peril. But as in many other cases during Albania's transition, the rewriting of history has been perceived as a free for all. Everything is up for grabs. Every group can present its own view and so can all sorts of charlatans. If one does not like a certain aspect of the country's history because he/she or their families are not portrayed in a good light, or just for the heck of it, well, that can easily be remedied. Just write an article or two, portray yourself as a victim of the regime, a dissident or at the very least as a crypto-Communist, season it all with some choice anti-Communist slogans and you bought yourself a new past. Because as in Communist history writing the same concept seems to guide the new attempts at rewriting the country's history too: to have a new present or future one needs a new past.  
This principle can be seen in the choice of the parts of history that are subject to rewriting. The discussions have focused not so much on the decades of Communist rule as on the World War Two period and the regime that preceded the Communists, that of King Zog. The choice of subject is strategic indeed. The fight against Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany is where the Communists derived their legitimacy from; it also where the Monarchists and Nationalists lost much of theirs. Of course the Communists exploited this period too for their own political gains and portrayed their defeated adversaries purely in terms of traitors and quislings. But as in many other former Communist countries - most notably Croatia, Serbia - the new right-wing political elites often had their roots in those defeated adversaries. History therefore had to be rewritten in order for their legitimacy to be on a sound basis. On the other hand the Albanian left tries its best for history not to be changed so that their legitimacy does not suffer. The merits of the arguments of both sides go way beyond the scope of this paper, but one thing must be said: they are both extremely manicheist in their conception. After all it would have been simply impossible for the Communists to have been 100% bad and have enjoyed no popular support and win the war. Conversely it would have been impossible for the Nationalists and Monarchists to have been such good souls and enjoyed such support and loose. Then there is the argument about King Zog which is even stranger. While criticising one cruel dictator, Enver Hoxha, many nowadays try to glorify Zog who was after all just another petty dictator. Not just that but he had the audacity to proclaim himself king!  
But instead of looking at these periods of Albanian history and the figures that shaped them in their entirety, instead of looking at the complex circumstances that enabled them to achieve what they did, the debate has degenerated to the same level as that of opposing football fans: my team is better because!  You cheated! All the inconvenient facts are simply pushed aside. (For instance no self-respecting Albanian Monarchist dares ask or answer the most obvious question about King Zog: Who died and made him King?) 
In order to get around these thorny issues these self-made historians and politicians are using some age old tricks. One consists in the choice of subject. For instance any study concentrating exclusively on the crimes or wrongs, committed by a given regime runs the risk of becoming nothing more than a propaganda instrument. Then there is the other trick which consists in choosing a starting date for the study. After all even identical historical narratives can have very different connotations depending on what one takes as the starting date of the narrative. As Bernard Lewis once remarked the history of the war between the US and Japan would look very different if one took Hiroshima as the starting point rather than Pearl Harbour.  
To make a long and complex story short one can say that Albanian politicians, and groups of interest are doing all they can to rewrite history. Rewriting history is a necessity for Albania not just in light of the new evidence and facts, but also because of the newly found freedom to do so without risk of persecution. However what is not justified are the attempts at distortion and fabrication motivated by political aims which are then presented as the sacrosanct truth. Such endeavours have nothing in common with the craft of history writing. An historian has to look at the how-s and why-s of any given period but he/she has to do so as objectively as possible. After all it is not history that changes but what we make of it.   
-------------
The author is Director of Resarch at the Albanian Institute International Studies
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                    [post_date] => 2007-09-21 02:00:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2007-09-21 02:00:00
                    [post_content] => By Alba ȥla

The 2nd Albania Business and Investment Summit kicked off today at the luxurious ambiances of Hotel Sheraton in Tirana. Serious companies with representatives in smart suits and black suitcases filled air-conditioned halls where video projected presentations gave a picture of the opportunities to invest in the country. 

Discussing foreign investment in Albania comes at a good timing, given the priority of this administration to bring economic development. Albania does not lack the assets to lure foreign investors. Unexploited but rich mineral resources can serve to attract industrialists while tourism industry has an even higher margin of success with the wonderful Albanian nature, the rich cultural and historical heritage and the Mediterranean friendly climate and sunny days. On the other hand countries in the region seem to be doing far better in attracting foreign investors with aggressive marketing strategies and offering facilities for setting up new businesses. According to an OECD report the FDI stock in Albania is the lowest in the region. 

Such initiatives coupled with good will have not lacked on the Albanian side as well. Lowering the number of days required to set up a new activity with the National business Registration center as most importantly launching the "Albania 1 euro" project, the Albanian administration is trying to be creative. The problems that remain to be identified and solved for foreign investors to seriously consider Albania as a potential site for their money though need a less creative and more efficient approach. 

Among the reasons that the OECD report identifies on why foreign investment is still lacking in Albania the most important are: High level of taxes, Lack of sufficient transparency and consistency in tax and custom offices; Corruption in tax and custom offices; Unfair competition from the unofficial economy; Poor road infrastructure; Telecommunication problems; Energy; Policy instability. While taxes have been slashed by the government to a historical low of 10 percent luring even global financial magazines to declare Albania a heaven for tax haters, the other significant issues remain. Energy and road infrastructure seem to be the cancers that have grown deep roots and are paralyzing all chances of Albanian economic development. In an interview with Managing Director of Albanian Airlines, Christian Heinzmann, he confessed that every time he wanted to tell his German business men friends about chances to invest in Albania they brought up the same wall of excuses: bad roads, no electricity! With an ongoing crisis and power shortages as high as 8 hours in urban centers, can anyone blame them?

Policy inconsistency and corruption are also plagues related to bad governance and identified in subsequent reports form international organizations, reports which serve as reliable sources of information to any serious investors interested in Albania. Regarding informality, although the administration has waged a fierce war against it, the results are yet to come. 

Two other issues remain to be addressed: problems related to ownership in Albania are still not resolved and give grim expectations to any investor. The usual nightmare scenario of someone investing here is that one day the legal owner of the land will claim it, after the investor who has been deceived that he has done everything regularly will have to close down or pay a significant cost. The ALUZINI national agency has been trusted the responsibility to resolve al property claims and issues but the process is complex and will need serious efforts as well as time to be resolved in the long term. The second issue is labor costs. One of the main attractions that bring foreign investment in Albania is cheap labor. Even those are increasing with the administration forcing a higher minimum wage and stricter regulations of social security contributions. The contradiction here is that while fighting informality through formalizing labor the unintended consequence of driving wages up is the loss of competitive advantage. The situation draws close to a "Damn if you damn if you don't" paradox. 

While Albania still needs international exposure and media coverage, hence Summits like these are welcomed opportunities to present the country's economic potential, which is not lacking. On the other hand the calculations and expectations of foreign investors are made in much more coo-headed context, considering all the potential risks associated with their projects. Thus while the structural impediments persist one can not avoid considering the enthusiasm of such events with a grain of skepticism.
                    [post_title] =>  Invest in Albania 2007: opportunity or paradox?  
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                (
                    [ID] => 102812
                    [post_author] => 68
                    [post_date] => 2007-09-21 02:00:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2007-09-21 02:00:00
                    [post_content] => By Alba ȥla 

Speaking to a group of Albanian journalists gathered at a training hall of the Albanian Media Institute, Xavier Vidal-Folch, Deputy Editor in Chief of "El Pais", the leading daily in Spain was at ease. His knowledge and expertise originated from a hands-on 6 years long engagement in Brussels for European Union related coverage and constant devotion tom political and economic information in his 30 years long career in journalism. His informal yet thoughtful style was eloquent enough to let us know that the content did not aim any audience, but his colleagues, the people roaming newsrooms in the eternal journalistic quest for the simple truth. In a global world where physical boundaries shift and merge, the importance of media is ever growing. And in the face of the enormous power stands, according to Vidal, a greater responsibility: to be cautious and independent. 

El Pais

 The leading national newspaper in Spain, widely read and with different editions for the diverse ethnic cantons in the country can rightly boast about its success. It was founded n 1976, after the death of Dictator Franco. Back then it was the symbol of new independent press and that remains the key to this popularity, according to Mr. Vidal, its financial and political independence. The newspaper also has a very good record of collaboration with other leading media outlets in Europe as well as being part of a large multimedia group in Spain. The newspaper has covered Albania frequently, mostly relate to "the position of Albania in major crisis such as regional stability, Kosovo or even Iraq. 

Albania: visit number 2

 Mr. Viral first came to Albania for the Kosovo crisis in 1999. Then the things that would leave him a strong impression were the refugee camps and Albanians' solidarity with their ethnic kin, in welcoming them to their homes. What he can notice right now in Tirana is the "the feel, the smell and the colors" of a city that is changing and developing. Albania has caught some good speed in its progress and Mr. Viral has been happy to discover in his conversations with academics, decision makers and colleague journalist that there is a group of willing leadership in Albania to further reforms. "The thing that I most appreciate here, is the density of the pro European stance of this country. This will add a very good value to the future of the integration of this country," he says, adding that a lot of countries in the region and surprisingly even member countries have not had such positive levels of popular support to integration. 

Being a journalist in Brussels

 According to Mr. Vidal there is an obvious need for any serious media of a candidate or aspiring candidate country to have its own correspondents in Brussels. When this is not feasible the frequency of meetings between journalist and media structures in Brussels should be as high as possible. The press people in Brussels are very efficient despite being a little bit bureaucratic in his perception. All journalists should become familiar with the mechanism of communication and information in Brussels. 

 His work there has awarded Mr. Vidal with interesting observations about the work of his colleagues form different countries in Europe. While some journalists keep staying together "like sheep, as in the case of Italians," others take advantage of "the cooperation opportunities with colleagues from other nations," he observes. This is made easier by the absence of competition which is higher in the case of journalists coming from the same country. Hence Brussels is an interesting place to experience the dynamics of the European melting pot even in terms of its effects on the media 

EU expansion: walking 

a tight rope between skepticism and enthusiasm

 In a conversation with the Albanian Speaker of Parliament Mr. Vidal was cited as saying that in the beginning he was skeptical about EU enlargement and then when he saw the results s he changed his mind and thought the output was wonderful. I could not rest the temptation to ask his reasons for being skeptical. "More than being a skeptic, I was afraid," he rightfully explained. There is a perennial dilemma between the importance of growing larger and that of reaching deeper. The European Union can benefit from enlargement only if that process is accompanied by serious comprehensive reforms, internal institutional democracy and continuous efforts to create a common all-encompassing identity. Mr. Viral is a fierce opponent of what he calls the British approach to Europe, a dry economic concept of a free common market. He is joined in his opinion by the Spanish Ambassador who is quick to remind us that the United Europe is mankind's first experiment with unity without the prior use of force and conquest. Hence it's a purely voluntary club, with rules and regulations, the first social contract ever since Rousseau conceived it. It is the supporters of the British view who were first pro expansion since they believed it did not entail any obligations 

The growing fourth power

"I think that the media has to use cautiously, I wouldn't say its power, but its capacity of influence. I think they have to be cautious about themselves. Independence of journalism starts by being independent not towards other powers but towards journalism itself." Then he eloquently explains that this does not mean that a journalist should not have ideas, passions, inclinations and beliefs but that he should no try to impose those on the readers. As a journalist, a citizen and human being you are entitled to an opinion, but as he stresses, "you should not let your own opinion damage the golden rule of this profession which is: always verify, check the information. We are not the owners of information." This is the basis of the journalism duty: to report information while at the same time giving an opportunity to others who don't think like we do to have their own interpretation of it.

                    [post_title] =>  European integration and journalism, the Spanish experience 
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            [5] => WP_Post Object
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                    [ID] => 102792
                    [post_author] => 68
                    [post_date] => 2007-09-17 02:00:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2007-09-17 02:00:00
                    [post_content] => By Janusz Bugajski

In its determination to re-establish Russia's great power status, the Kremlin oligarchy has launched a series of policy thrusts against Western interests. According to state propaganda, the West is intent on weakening Russia and capturing its neighbors under the cover of democracy building. The West has thereby become Russia's principal adversary.

Moscow has launched several offensives to undercut Alliance unity and effectiveness. In the military sphere it has unilaterally placed a moratorium on compliance with the CFE (Conventional Forces in Europe) treaty, asserting that there should be no ceilings on Russian deployments. At the same time, the Kremlin has condemned Washington's planned anti-missile defense system, claiming that it is intended to neutralize Russia's nuclear capabilities and dominate Europe.

Russian leaders allege that the defensive network to be built in Poland and the Czech Republic, together with U.S. military basing in Bulgaria and Romania, constitutes a direct threat to Russia. To counter such American "encirclement," Russia develops alliances with regional powers that can challenge U.S. interests, including China and Iran.

Other diplomatic moves are intended to undermine Western leadership and unity. In denying Kosova's statehood by vetoing the Western plan for independence in the UN Security Council, the Kremlin asserts that Russia is the primary defender of multilateralism and international legality. Kosova now forms part of a broader strategic agenda enabling Russia to elevate its international position by claiming to counterbalance alleged U.S. hegemony.

Russia has pumped its substantial oil and gas revenues into prestige military projects designed to demonstrate its muscular revival. These include deploying new RS-24 long-range ballistic missiles, threatening to target countries that host U.S. troops, planning to locate nuclear weapons in Belarus and Kaliningrad, restoring its long-range strategic air squadron to challenge NATO preponderance in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and raising the importance of the Collective Security Organization (CSO) as a counter-balance to NATO.

On the economic front, Russia continues to manipulate energy as a strategic weapon, whether by using subsidization to promote political dependence or purchasing energy infrastructure in neighboring countries to increase political influence. Even Germany has been targeted by the Kremlin. The recent cutback of scheduled oil deliveries from Russia is intended to extract higher prices from Berlin and enable Lukoil, the major supplier, to acquire stakes in German refineries

Russia monopolizes gas and oil supplies from Central Asia to European customers, thus keeping Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan in a colonial stranglehold by paying below market prices for their resources. It also pursues control over the Arctic shelf claiming the region's vast energy resources as Russian property. This policy will bring Moscow into collision with the U.S., Norway, Denmark, and Canada.

In the Balkan arena, Moscow wants a string of weak or neutral states through which it can exert influence and counter the American and NATO presence - including Moldova, Serbia, Kosova, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and Montenegro. A major role in the Balkan economies will benefit Moscow in three ways: financial profit, political influence, and strategic advantage by either stifling each country's qualifications for NATO and the EU or weakening their position in both organizations.

Each of the "front-line" state in Russia's European strategy face serious challenges to their independence and national interests. If Moscow cannot use countries such as Bulgaria or Hungary as proxies within both NATO and the EU then it will seek to neutralize and marginalize them so they do not join Poland, Romania, and the Baltic states in an "anti-Russian bloc."

However, as members of both the Alliance and the Union, the Central European now possess stronger options than during the Cold War when they were susceptible to Russian control. In order to uphold their interests they must form strong alliances with governments who understand and resist Russia's strategy. They must closely monitor Russian investment in their economies and prevent political interference. And they must maintain a strong relationship with the U.S. in order to protect their security.
                    [post_title] =>  Moscow's Anti-Western Offensive 
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            [6] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 102745
                    [post_author] => 68
                    [post_date] => 2007-09-11 02:00:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2007-09-11 02:00:00
                    [post_content] => It is a great pleasure for me to experience Albania's famed hospitality once again. I have visited your country several times in the past. This time, I am visiting in my capacity as Dutch Minister for European Affairs. I am keen to learn personally about developments in Albania, especially those connected with European integration. 

Albania stands at a crucial point in its development. After a long period of almost total isolation from the world stage, your country has turned itself around. Your outlook is no longer only inward, it is also outward. And as an outward-looking country, you are seeking membership of the EU and NATO. 

When Albania signed the Stabilisation and Association Agreement in 2006, it moved significantly closer to the EU. Your country has committed itself to political, economic, and legal reform. You have invested substantial human resources in amending legislation as a basis for the necessary reform programmes. But legislation alone is not enough. Implementation and enforcement are at least as important - and in these respects, Albania still faces many challenges. But your country does not stand alone. The international community is also reaching out to the Albanian people in tailoring its programmes as closely as possible to your needs and priorities. 

The Netherlands, for instance, has for some years been running a development programme in Albania to promote good governance and improve the environment. 

There is more to the growing ties between Albania and the EU than closer contact between Tirana and other European capitals. Personal ties have also grown between Albanians and EU citizens. The agreement on visa facilitation that will enter into force at the end of the year will give a new momentum to the exchange of ideas and experience. The Netherlands attaches great importance to such contacts, because they can help improve the negative image from which Albania unfortunately still suffers abroad. This image has its origins in communist isolationism and the pyramid crisis in the late 1990s. Albania is one-sidedly associated with trafficking in drugs and human beings and regarded as a country where everyday life is dominated by corruption and organised crime. 

Your tourism industry, which is growing modestly, gives you a chance to improve that image. Too few people have encountered Albania's rugged natural beauty and rich historical and cultural tradition. The Albanian government rightly promotes it with the slogan 'Yours to discover'. 

More tourists and foreign investors will be inclined to make that journey of discovery as Albania implements the European reform agenda. 

To do so, your government and opposition need to cooperate constructively to decide which European standards have the highest priority. These standards exist in many areas, from elections, public administration, and equal rights for men and women to environmental management and the quality of drinking water. 

Your government and opposition need to work together more energetically if Albania is to be taken seriously as a candidate for EU membership. But EU integration is not only a matter for politicians. It is at least as important that Albanians themselves become aware of the full meaning of EU integration. A public debate on the subject, conducted via the media, may help develop this awareness. EU integration means more than freedom for Albanians to travel more easily to EU member states. It also means that Albania has to meet the conditions for democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. The transition can be laborious and painful. To create wide public support for difficult decisions, it is essential to involve the population - via civil society or individually - in the decision-making process. Closer ties with the EU offer Albanians tangible benefits, like better public services, but they also depend on stricter rules and regulations than Albanians have been accustomed to. 

For the Netherlands, it is of the highest importance that agreements be kept. Albania certainly has the prospect of EU membership. But in the Netherlands' view, EU integration is not an automatic process: Albania will also have to keep its agreements. Your country will accede to the EU if it meets the conditions for accession laid down in Copenhagen in 1993. The Netherlands favours strict compliance with these conditions, but it also favours actively helping applicant countries comply. 

In the same spirit, I hope to see fair play in the game between our national football teams in Qemal Stafa Stadium this evening. May the best team win!
                    [post_title] =>  Frans Timmermans on Albania 
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            [7] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 102736
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                    [post_date] => 2007-08-28 02:00:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2007-08-28 02:00:00
                    [post_content] => Ambassador Helmuth Lohan: "We have noticed progress in the fight against organized crime but the measures taken against it should continue relentlessly". 

Mr. Ambassador, how serious is the Albanian government in implementing the SAA, while the parliaments of EU member states ratify it?

Albania has regularly fulfilled the obligations for trade in terms of the Interim Agreement. Thus, it has implemented the SAA, but there are other areas in which, by means of its legal procedures, it needs to consider more the obligations that come or will come from the SAA; such as issues related to the media, or tax administration. I believe the political class certainly understands the importance of the integration program and has the necessary will to turn, or has turned this programme into its own. Surely, the procedures for the road to integration are very complex and difficult and surely, they will themselves learn during the implementation of its terms. 

Which are the areas where Albania has marked the clearest progress in terms of the fulfillment of the standards well-determined by the EU?

Albania has made progress in the area of trade relations. This is a very important fact; important for the Albanian economy and it is an important initial step towards making use of the powerful supply of the EU's internal market. Albania is making progress in the economic area. We have seen a great number of legislatures that have been adopted in the last years that have helped in bringing Albania closer to the EU in terms of the standards required to participate in the internal market. I see a clear progress here, but I also see progress in the management of the Albanian economy. 

The government says that it has successfully fought organized crime and illegal trafficking. Do you share the same optimism?

We have noticed progress in the fight against organized crime but the measures taken against it should continue relentlessly. Organized crime and corruption are important from two fundamental perspectives. First, they damage economic progress and Albanians' welfare. Second, they affect the EU states' perceptions about Albania. Recently, I saw in an important Belgian newspaper a two-page article concerning organized crime in Albania and its connections with Belgium. This certainly affects public perceptions and country image. We are trying hard to support these endeavours with assistance programmes. 

In more concrete terms, what does this assistance of the EU for Albania consist of?

We are financing a programme that will help the Albanian police become more efficient in the fight against organised crime. It supports the police data communication system with a sum of 4.7 million euros. We will bring equipment for the transmission of police data. Another project of assistance for the police is the one currently being implemented and that will be extended via another contract at the end of 2007. This again consists of 4.7 million euros. The European tax-payer is investing in this area, but in order for this assistance to be translated into results, a great cooperation is needed from the benefiting Albanian authorities, the Ministry of the Interior and the Police. We are confident. 

Among the main criticisms to the authorities is the need for reform of the judiciary. More concretely, what do they consist of and where are the changes to occur?

The judiciary reform is part of what we can call the rule of law. I would like to give you an example. In the recent report concerning deceit and corruption in the judicial system Albania was ranked among the countries where more than 30% of the citizens were obliged to give bribes to judges or officials of the judicial system in order to receive 'fair' treatment of their causes. Undoubtedly then, much work needs to be done with respect to the status, independence and constitutional protection of judges. For this sector also we have initiated assistance programmes to support the efforts that need to be undertaken. 

The SAA demands the implementation of reforms in the area of property rights. It seems this issue is always at a standstill. Would you agree?

This is truly an area that needs intensive reforms. It is very clear that the legal procedures related to the right to property are fundamental conditions for a fully-functioning economy. Buyers and sellers need to know that the land they are buying belongs to someone. This is why, once again, the procedures in this area need to be accelerated in terms of the determination, the identification compensations, for the rights to property are fundamental for future development. 

EU reports write optimistically on the achievements in the fight against corruption but ask for more rhythm and quality. What is your opinion Mr. Ambassador?

This is very true. The fight against corruption is not a fight that will end within a year. There is no doubt that there should be more consensus with regards to the actions that need to be taken. However, I would like to emphasise another aspect. We are all citizens who need to deal with public administration and its officials. Basically, corruption means giving money out of my pocket and vice versa; and this idea of good faith also means that citizens rely on the functioning of the institutions. Institutional functionaries are people and they ought not to feel the need for bribes. I think there are numerous things that need to move simultaneously such as the prevention of corruption, its repression but also a change in the general mentality. 

EU leaders have criticized the greatly problematic climate between the ruling majority and the opposition. How would you explain this very delicate issue?

In my experience since last September, I have observed real difficulties in the political culture and especially during the local elections in February. I believe that the time has come for the political class to demonstrate that it is capable of reaching consensus on fundamental issues and that it is willing to show international observers that the impressions they may have created during the elections are not very accurate.
                    [post_title] =>  Albania's implementation record one year after signing the SAA  
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            [8] => WP_Post Object
                (
                    [ID] => 102692
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                    [post_date] => 2007-08-21 02:00:00
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                    [post_content] => Professor Bernd J. Fischer, a history professor at the University of Indiana, Fort Wayne, gives his expert views on matters of interest to Albania and region, such as the case of Kosovo and democracy & development in Albania.

Proff. Fisher is the author of several books such as Albania at War, King Zog and the Struggle for Stability in Albania, and the most recent one, Balkan Strongmen, Dictators and Authoritarian Rulers of Southeast Europe. He is currently writing a chapter on Albania for a book to be published by the Cambridge University Press and is also working on longer-term projects including a book on the Balkans during the Second World War and a biography of Enver Hoxha.

The exclusive interview was given to Alba ȥla of Tirana Times. 

 What is your opinion about the stalemate in the process of Kosovo's status right now? What are the implications of this for Kosovo and the region?

 This delay in the movement towards independence, which I still consider to be inevitable, is regrettable and potentially disasterous. Kosova has been more than patient and Russia is playing a very dangerous game which certainly could destabilize the entire region. Kosovar politicians, who promised independence last year, are slowly losing the ability to control internal developments and moderates are clearly being marginalized. I only hope that Kosova can made it through the hot summer without any serious incidents, which might delay the process even further.

 How do you explain Russia's stance in t his matter? What about Europe's indecision?

 Russia, in my mind, is pursuing a completely irresponsible policy and likely cares little for Kosova or for Serbia. I believe that Russian policy is simply an attempt to divide the European Union in its renewed struggle with the United States. Should Russia achieve its goals with the United States - including progress on the missle shield controversy - I believe that Russia would be more than willing to abandon Serbia. The European Union of course needs Russian natural resources and is hoping that Russia and the U.S. can resolve the Kosovar issue and the missile shield issue quickly and without extensive EU involvement. The future of Kosova very much depends on the U.S. and Russia. The anticipated Slovenian EU presidency might help, but new talks between Belgrade and Pristina will likely achieve as little this time as they did last time. The breathing space that the talks will provide for more U.S.-Russian negotiations might be seen as a positive, but the danger of an explosion in Kosova in the meantime seems very real. I certainly think that a unilateral declaration of independence on the part of Kosova would not be helpful.

 Ahtisaari plan, worth to stick with it or should the relevant actors come up with something new?

 I believe that the Ahtisaari plan will ultimately become the basis of Kosova's future but the plan under its current name and in its current form is unfortunately associated with divisiveness and failure. Cosmetically it might be useful to call it something else and search for a new chief negotiator. Hopefully the Contact Group will come up with something similar but again this will depend upon U.S.-Russian behind the scenes negotiations - which will be quite difficult. President Bush has so few foreign policy successes, if he is seen to back down on the missile shield and other policy priorities over Russian objections, the move will simply be interpreted as yet another defeat. Both Bush and Putin, through bluster and an unwillingness to compromise, seem to have backed themselves into separate corners and the Kosovars are paying the price.

 How do you see Albania's democratic development recently? What was your impression from the process and the solution of the presidential crisis here?

 The Albanian political process is developing but certainly still has considerable room for improvement. The February elections were a disappointment and a step backwards when compared to the elections of 2005. Prime Minister Berisha still seems to have a problem conducting reasonable elections. The long crisis over the presidency, too, was most unfortunate but I am very pleased that a new national election, for which Albania was not prepared, was avoided. I join in congratulating President Topi and believe he has significant potential. I am sorry that the election process could not have been consensual. One wonders - was there not one prominent Albanian that both of the major parties could have agreed upon? I believe that President Topi's success will in part be judged by how often Prime Minister Berisha complains about President Topi's policy direction. I note that the NGO Freedom House downgraded Albania's "democracy score" in June. I believe that this may be justified and is certainly troubling. One hopes that the new president will act concertedly, in the spirit of conciliation, to help turn this around.

 We have seen a revival of some issues pertaining to Albanian history such as the tcham protests last month. What can we say about the Albanian question right now?

 I believe that the Albanian question very much hinges on the independence of Kosova. If an acceptable final status is achieved soon, all of the other aspects of the Albanian question, Montenegro, Southern Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, will be resolved peacefully through negotiation and the mutual acceptance of incremental improvements. If the current situation in Kosova is allowed and linger and fester, I believe there is potential for other aspects of the Albanian question to be radicalized and we may witness the growth of an unhealthy form of nationalism, as we see developing in Serbia. I see Kosova as the key.

 You are already the author of some very successful books on Albanian history; do your future plans include anything else in this aspect?

 Thank you for your kind comment. I certainly am continuing with my studies of Albania and the region. I have just published a book called "Balkan Strongmen, Dictators and Authoritarian Rulers of Southeast Europe" published by C. Hurst in London, for which I am currently seeking an Albanian publisher. The book includes chapters on Zog and Hoxha, along with pieces on other authoritarians like Tito and Milosevic. I am currently writing a chapter on Albania since 1989 for a book to be published by Cambridge University Press and am also working on longer-term projects including a book on the Balkans during the Second World War and a biography of Enver Hoxha. I am also still hoping that some cooperative projects with some of my Albanian colleagues can progress.

 In your objective view, is the west Balkans region progressing in its European integration path?

Absolutely. The process could be moving more quickly but Albania has the legacy of Enver Hoxha to overcome - and this is quite complex. Albanians are justifiable tired of having foreigners tell them what to do, but in terms of integration it is the foreigners who make the rules and set the standards. I believe that Albania has a problem with its political culture. Politics is highly confrontational and neither of the major parties has yet to develop the concept of a "loyal opposition" without which democracy cannot fully function. When one party takes power the other tends to focus on undermining its opponent and the people suffer because little substantive is accomplished. One crisis, however artificial, simply leads to another and the business of government is hampered. The two parties would do better by cooperating on critical institutional reform, particularly in the judiciary. In my mind Albania would also benefit from some social justice. While certain aspects of the economy seem to be functioning well, the benefit tends to accrue to only the few, while far too many are left is poverty. This is not a healthy situation and will make internal stability more difficult to achieve. But having said all of that, I am quite optimistic and believe that Albania will not only find domestic peace but will continue to provide stability for the Balkans as a whole.
                    [post_title] =>  Interview: Professor Bernd J. Fischer 
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                    [post_date] => 2007-08-03 02:00:00
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                    [post_content] => By Berat Buzhala 

By blocking Kosovo's independence, Russia reminds the world of its new power; it creates a gulf between Serbia and the West and slows the integration of Southeast Europe into the EU and NATO.

Serbia may end up paying a high price for its efforts to save its sovereignty over Kosovo - gradually surrendering much of its own sovereignty in the process. 

It could well prove impossible for Serbia to continue keeping one foot in Brussels and the other in Moscow while Russia and Europe, from a political and diplomatic standpoint, move further and further apart. 

While trying to retain Kosovo, Serbia must decide whether to continue on the road towards deeper integration in Euro-Atlantic structures, or, as Europe's expansion commissioner, Olli Rehn, recently said, enter the bear's womb. 

The question is who stands to benefit most from the latter scenario - Serbia or Russia - and also whether Russia is really so adamantly against Kosovo's independence, or is merely unwilling to see Serbia join a club that it is increasingly at odds with. 
In fact, Russia current position allows it to deal with both those issues. Strategically, the current impasse over Kosovo is highly favourable for the economically resurgent Russia. 

After years of economic gloom, rising oil prices on world markets are allowing Russia once again to project the image of a superpower.

Under these circumstances, and without needing to invest a single penny, Russia has the chance to take a stance that will bring it substantial rewards without incurring any cost. 

By blocking Kosovo's independence it can show the world how much its gas production has given it back its former international muscle. 

At the same time it is rekindling the lost admiration of the Slavic states in the Balkans, which turned their backs on Moscow after the collapse of communism. 

Finally, perhaps most importantly, Russia has succeeded in upsetting the EU wagon by putting a steel spoke through its wheels, and so causing maximum damage where it hurts the most to the integration process of the ex-communist countries of Southeast Europe.

It is all very different from 1999, at the time of the NATO air war against Serbia over Kosovo, when Boris Yeltsin's Russia was unable to help Serbia over Kosovo, or prevent the deployment of western troops here. 

This time, help comes at a cheaper price, and things that Serbia cannot achieve by its own force, Russia can. 

However, Serbia should realise that in the end, Russia has neither the ability nor the intention to stop anybody from recognizing Kosovo as a sovereign state outside the context of the UN. For Vladimir Putin, it is important only to satisfy Serbia by not letting Kosovo gain a seat at the UN. On the other hand, Serbia will then be in Russia's debt for this contribution. 

Thus, anytime that Russia is in the position to say no to Kosovo's independence, it will do so - whether in the so-called Contact Group, or back in the UN Security Council. The reason is easy and understandable: by doing so, it is creating a gulf between Serbia and EU, which will be hard to bridge in the near future.

Therefore, Moscow will not hold back its rhetoric of support for Belgrade. Indeed, this rhetoric will gain in power and rhythm every time good news from Belgrade is received in Moscow, such as the sale of a Serbian airline to a Russian one, the granting of permission to Gazprom to undertake full and unlimited operations in Serbian land, or other such contracts.

Serbia is not a big enough state to satisfy the needs of all the world's companies at the same time. Accordingly, every time Serbia needs to give a "yes" to a Russian company, it will have to say "no" to a Western one.

This way, as well as politically, Serbia will also become economically tied to Russia. And once such a deep relationship of interdependency as this is cultivated with a state such as Russia, Belgrade will find it very hard to abandon the chosen path. 

Belarus made just such attempt last winter, with almost heartrending results. This dictatorial state - long under the guardianship of Moscow - in January 2007 tried to challenge its great ally by enforcing certain conditions on the proposed Russian gas pipeline route running through Belarusian territory. 

The response from Moscow was simple: they would bypass Belarus altogether and build other pipelines through other countries. Belarus's dictatorial President, Alexander Lukashenko, had no choice but to back down, having long ago cut his ties to Brussels. Such attempts at blackmail are almost invariably exposed as bluffs, of which nobody in Russia is afraid anymore. It was perhaps this that pushed Olli Rehn to warn Serbia few months ago that it was in danger of being suffocated within the womb of the proverbial Russian bear. 

So far, however, such threats have not impressed anyone in Serbia. On the contrary, a few days ago Tomislav Nikolic, the vice-president of the opposition Serbian Radical Party, the country's largest single party, openly declared that Serbia could not continue to maintain relations with NATO and at the same time seek Russian help over Kosovo. 

When he asked for the country to take a clearer position on the matter, he meant taking a more pro-Russian stance.

Berat Buzhala is editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Express. Balkan Insight is BIRN's online publication.
                    [post_title] =>  Russia's Win-Win Situation in Kosovo 
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            [post_date] => 2007-10-06 02:00:00
            [post_date_gmt] => 2007-10-06 02:00:00
            [post_content] => By Urim Bajrami
After a hot summer, during which the Socialist leader, Edi Rama, refused to back his predecessor, Fatos Nano, in his failed bid for Albania's presidency, the country's main opposition party now appears to be heading for an icy winter.
The chill winds were ushered in by ex-Prime Minister Nano, who announced last week that he was setting up a new Movement for Solidarity with the aim of rebuilding and reforming the Socialist Party, PS. Nano's new organization is widely seen as a platform to help him regain the party chairmanship which he gave up after the Socialists lost the parliamentary elections in July 2005.
The rift between Rama and Nano and the expected struggle for power within the PS pose a threat to the party that is as serious as any since it was formed in 1991 to become the successor to the communist Albanian Workers' Party of the late dictator, Enver Hoxha.
Even the departure of ex-Prime Minister Ilir Meta, one of the party's most active leaders, in order to form the Socialist Movement for Integration in 2004, was not worse in its impact than the current struggle for power within the Socialists' ranks.
If Rama wins the battle to consolidate his control over the PS, he would have to deal with a divided political organization. In the best of scenarios for the party, Nano and his supporters would depart to form a new political organization of their own. In the worst-case scenario, they would remain a strong force inside the party, pushing ahead with the struggle to take over its leadership.
In either case the party would be at loss to provide the kind of strong, well-functioning opposition that Albania so desperately needs. Even worse, it could deteriorate into a political organization whose principal goal would be nothing more than to pass the electoral barrier.
Albania is undergoing a prolonged transitional stage, during which the stabilization and strengthening of its institutions remain a critical requirement to progress toward European integration. 
The rivalry in the PS between Rama and Nano exacerbates a situation of political uncertainty at a time when a series of reforms vital for the country's future require broad cross-party cooperation between government and opposition. 
Though, politically weaker than before, Nano still has a strong base in the party and its leadership, a part of which was promoted through the ranks by his patronage. He managed a come-back against former Prime Minister Meta before, similarly he may be able to upstage Rama also. However, this time round his chances seem slimmer. 
Since he became PS Chairman, Rama has institutionalized his slogan, "A new kind of politics", as the political platform of his party. He has branded Nano, the party's previously long-serving leader, and his supporters as representatives of the "old politics," a sharp contrast that reflects the fact that there is very little chance of reconciliation between them.
For now neither of the rivals is showing signs of being prepared to come out of the trenches of political warfare. While rallying his supporters in Tirana when he set up his new movement last week, Nano, accused Rama of authoritarian traits of leadership and of disregard for party institutions.
The former leader has turned a personal row with his successor into a struggle to remove Rama and his supporters from the party. Although it was Nano who had helped catapult Rama into top jobs, first as minister of culture and then as his candidate for mayor of Tirana, the two politicians have not got on well for years, particularly since Rama became the PS leader. 
A pattern became established in which Nano was trying to make life difficult for his successor, who initially had little support within the party's organization, while Rama was determined to exclude his predecessor from a role in the PS leadership.
Relations between the two have gone from bad to worse this year. Nano met his arch-rival, Prime Minister Sali Berisha of the Democratic Party, PD, in January to secure his path to the presidential palace. Five years earlier a deal between the two - when Nano's Socialists were in government - resulted in the PD being allowed to nominate a candidate, Alfred Moisiu, who was then duly elected president by Albania's parliament.
This time, however, the refusal of Rama to make Nano the official candidate of the opposition, dealt a heavy blow to the presidential aspirations of the former Socialist leader. Rama's strategy was to try to block the election of a president - Berisha's PD-led coalition lacked the required majority in parliament to push through its own candidate - and to precipitate early elections for parliament.
To ensure that Nano's faction among the PS deputies would not join the governing majority in a deal to get the former Socialist leader elected as president, Rama organized an opposition boycott of parliament. In the first round of voting Nano was easily beaten by the coalition government's candidate, Bamir Topi, who, however, failed to get the 60 per cent of votes needed to be elected.
Nano was eventually thrown out of the presidential race after the head of the small Democratic Alliance Party, Neritan Ceka, joined the contest, and pushed the former prime minister into third place.
Disappointed by Rama's lack of support, six of Nano's supporters ignored their party's boycott of parliament and in the third, and final, round voted for Topi, ensuring his election.
Rama accused Nano's allies of a deal with Berisha, thereby disregarding party interests, which for him are also linked to the interests of the country. The six MPs who broke with party discipline were subsequently thrown out of the PS. That started a new phase in the feud between Rama and Nano, who has now responded with the formation of his new movement inside the party.
The fiasco over the presidential race has brought out into the open the rifts within the Socialists. On one side there are the MPs who have lined up behind their former leader, and who know that Rama will never ever back them for another term if they want to stand for parliament again. On the other side there are the PS leaders' supporters who have a clear idea that, given the chance of a return to power within the party, Nano would show no mercy towards them either.
Squeezed between Rama, Nano and their respective blocs, the Socialists risk losing their position as a viable alternative to the current government. That would be to the detriment not only of the PS, but also of Albanian politics which are badly in need of a strong and united opposition.

Urim Bajrami is Deputy Editor in chief of the daily newspaper Shqip. Balkan insight is the online publication of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network. 
            [post_title] =>  Power Struggle Keeps Albanian Socialists Divided 
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