From Kosovo crisis to Albanian hiking: the impressions of a Danish ambassador in Albania

By By Alba ȥla The appointment of HE Ambassador Niels Severin Munk coincided with that of he Albanian Ambassador in Denmark, Aferdita Dalla, a former advisor of former Foreign Minister Mustafaj. This higher step that follows previous lower diplomatic representation

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Russia Benefits From Kosova

By Janusz Bugajski Russia’s delaying tactics in United Nations Security Council decisions over Kosova are motivated by several strategic ambitions. The Putin regime is determined to raise Russia’s stature as a major international player in competition with the United States,

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Scaring away real money and the fines law

By Alba 覬a There is a huge debate being carried out in Albania about the fines law proposed and approved by the Economy Commission that obliges businesses to pay the full amount of fines given by tax authorities prior to

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Presenting the other Iran

By Alba ȥla The diplomatic relationships between Iran and Albania started off in 1992 and saw a steady development in all fields. The Iranian presence through investments, diplomatic presence and the cultural foundation Saadi Shirazi is noticeable even now. Albania

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European Enlargement After Fifty Years

By Janusz Bugajski Fifty years after the birth of the European Union, the question of further enlargement remains uncertain. The EU is struggling with three fundamental questions: its depth, breadth, and clout. Regarding depth, the failure to pass the Constitutional

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Albanian Airlines: Towards both European destinations and standards

When Christian Heinzmann left his position at LuxAir, Belgian air company he knew he needed a change. Among the different job offers from worldwide companies he had to make a choice. Prior to accepting a leading position with Albanian Airlines,

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Historical turning points and the return of memory

By Piro Misha Some time ago Blendi Fevziu told me about the surprise he had felt when, while he was interviewing people in order to gather material for a TV program, he found out that a significant part of them

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The dream of 24 hours: new head, same challenge

There is no specific reason why one should even believe, let alone get enthusiastic by a political promise especially when made in an electoral context. Yet there is this one single statement that strikes right to the heart of every

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Belgrade Threatens Conflict

Serbia has only two cards left in the ongoing struggle over Kosova – Russia’s resistance to independence and the threat of conflict. As Moscow’s reaction remains uncertain, the prospect of conflict is becoming Serbia’s primary argument in trying to delay

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On the perks of being an art lover in Albania

Pamela G. Griffin is the Executive Director of the Foundation for Albanian Visual Arts Across Borders (FAVA). She is also member of the development Board of the Albanian National Gallery of Arts. Pamela and her husband have been in Albania

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                    [post_content] => By By Alba ȥla

The appointment of HE Ambassador Niels Severin Munk coincided with that of he Albanian Ambassador in Denmark, Aferdita Dalla, a former advisor of former Foreign Minister Mustafaj. This higher step that follows previous lower diplomatic representation is though an exception in the general framework of the diminishing Danish aid presence in Albania, which according to Ambassador Munkshould also be seen as a good sign of progress in Albania. The ambassador spoke to Tirana Times about his first visit during the Kosovo crisis, the latest initiatives promoting economic regional cooperation and the pleasures of hiking in the Albanian mountains. 

Albania and Denmark
The first thing that we discuss with ambassador Munk and his consul, Christian Andrew Deloughery, is the similarities between Albania and Denmark. Both are relatively small and located in strategic geographic crossroads, which in a historic perspective are a blessing in terms of trade routes and a potential curse in terms of neighboring ambitions. Denmark has a traditional good experience in bridge and infrastructure engineering. In the contemporary world, architecture and furniture design are  fields where Danish people have excelled internationally. J
                    [post_title] =>  From Kosovo crisis to Albanian hiking: the impressions of a Danish ambassador in Albania 
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                    [post_content] => By Janusz Bugajski
Russia's delaying tactics in United Nations Security Council decisions over Kosova are motivated by several strategic ambitions. The Putin regime is determined to raise Russia's stature as a major international player in competition with the United States, to divide the NATO Alliance, and to drive wedges between Europe and America.
The pending decision on Kosova is reminiscent of the Cold War when European security was ultimately determined by relations between Washington and Moscow. The major difference with the Cold War is that more opportunities are available to undermine the Western alliance because Russia poses as a benign global power and not an ideological and militaristic empire. 
Russia's proposal to send a UN Security Council mission to Kosova this month is part of its grand plan to discredit Martti Ahtisaari's plan for final status and to launch a new process of negotiations without time limits. The Kremlin calculates that this can split the EU and weaken the U.S. position. As a bonus, it may also provoke violence in Kosova that will reinforce Moscow's assertions that you cannot give independence to people incapable of governing themselves.
The Bush administration will face a stiff test to gain unanimous Security Council agreement on the Ahtisaari plan. It intends to uphold the original timetable by which a new UN resolution on Kosova is issued by the end of May. The Security Council can simply declare resolution 1244 invalid or fully accept the Ahtisaari package and pass a new resolution. Either scenario would be acceptable to Washington.
However, as Moscow applies other delaying ploys, Washington may become more desperate and offer Putin concessions and advantages in other arenas as the price for approval or abstention in a Security Council vote. There are several quid pro quo arrangements that Moscow may be calculating as the price for Kosova's status. They revolve around three issues: Russia's regional influence, strategic capability, and economic benefit.
Moscow is intent on restoring its regional dominance in the former USSR. The key battleground with Washington has been in Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova. All three states are to be brought under firmer Russian control. To accomplish these objectives, Moscow will insist on a diminished American role among these states.
It may also demand a permanent postponement of NATO membership for all three republics, non-interference in the "frozen conflicts" inside Moldova and Georgia, no condemnations of Russian military incursions into Georgia, and the long-term prolongation of Russian military bases in Georgia and peace-keeping units in Moldova. Moscow may also require Washington not to support President Viktor Yushchenko in the escalating power struggle with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine. 
Russia's regime operates according to zero sum calculations whatever pleasant sentiments are issued about international cooperation and strategic partnerships. In this vein, Kremlin propagandists have latched on to the planned U.S. missile defense system in Central Europe as an alleged threat to Russian national interests. To block development of the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, Russia is provoking disputes within the EU and between America and Europe. In return for greater accommodation over Kosova, Russia may seek to benefit from America's anti-missile technology while modernizing its own nuclear arsenal.
Regarding economic benefits, Russia may demand a faster track to World Trade Organization (WTO) membership with full U.S. support. Moscow can also seek increasing access to Western markets, especially in key areas such as energy and telecommunications, without opening up strategic elements of its own economy.
Noone should be surprised by Moscow seeking advantages from Kosova. The major question is whether Washington is willing to make concessions elsewhere in order to gain Russia's support in the Security Council. Rather than surrendering to Russian political blackmail, Washington can simply bypass the UN process by supporting Kosova's declaration of independence, recognizing the new state, and encouraging its allies to follow suit. 
                    [post_title] =>  Russia Benefits From Kosova 
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                    [post_content] => By Alba 覬a
There is a huge debate being carried out in Albania about the fines law proposed and approved by the Economy Commission that obliges businesses to pay the full amount of fines given by tax authorities prior to any legal contestation. Businesses have raised a protest to demand their right to have a chance to claim that the fine is not regular.
Business Associations have gathered and signed protests. The media is portraying daily the desperate efforts of the representatives from the business community to make the government acknowledge the abuse potential this law gives birth to.
The government on the other side is justifiably concerned about the budget harm that unpaid debt causes, estimated by current Finance Minister Ridvan Bode to loom around 45 million euro.
The debate has been eventually politicized and charged with conspiracy theories. Folk theories abound around loud tragic calls: The government is trying to promote monopolies! It targets the demolition of specific businesses!
Beyond this debate one has to focus on a purely economic reasoning. What is the projected effect of this measure on a sector that practically feeds the Albanians: small and medium size businesses? 
The simple answer was given by former Finance Minister and currently opposition member, Arben Malaj in a TV interview: It scares away real money! 
Malaj argued that the informal money, and by that meaning the entire criminal world operating behind it, will definitely find ways to cope with the novelty and circumvent the penalties. These players will simply adjust their strategies as the rules of the game change. 
Real money on the other hand will be left bewildered and unprotected at the mercy of corrupted tax authorities and unfair competition pressure. Indeed many businesses fear complete cessation of their activity given the threat upon their liquidity. A fine to be paid immediately costs a business an entire cash flow reversal even if it is applied at the ameliorated level of 25 percent. Employees registered with the Shkodra Labor Union are even more farsighted. Anticipating the loss of their job in such a scenario they predict protests and strikes.
One is left to wonder then at the persistency of the government to approve such a law. 
First there is no coherent model that would fit the European standards in the future harmonization of the legal framework. The only model resembling this fine paying scheme is the Serbian one, a leftover of communism.   
This urgency is also unsupported by the government's previous rhetoric. An administration that has boasted a budget surplus to be dedicated to investments cannot claim that such a drastic measure is rightly timed. 
The administration has also been deaf at the proposals of its own moderate individuals that have suggested facilitated conditions for business. No consideration has been given to the establishment of a special court for businesses or even shorter legal procedural timeframes that would curtail the ways business can cheat upon the government.   
Finally the fight against corruption and fiscal evasion should start in the government own house: tax administration authorities, customs offices. The evidence supporting the fact that these sectors generate financial losses is definitely more substantial that the one blaming unpaid debt from business. It is definitely telling that the report "Corruption- Perceptions and experience" of the Institute for Development Research and Alternatives (IDRA) shows clearly that the public opinion holds customs officials to be the most corrupted social actors and tax authorities as second most corrupted category. 
Hence there is ample room for a reexamination of the law. Since it has been approved already in the parliament there are only a few alternatives left for those who don't want it to become a reality shaping their daily dynamics. The Constitutional Court will have to decide upon the law' legitimacy even before the public has finished questioning its rationality. But that will be no news in this country.
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                    [post_content] => By Alba ȥla
The diplomatic relationships between Iran and Albania started off in 1992 and saw a steady development in all fields. The Iranian presence through investments, diplomatic presence and the cultural foundation Saadi Shirazi is noticeable even now. Albania on the other hand still does not have an embassy in Teheran. This has not impeded the two countries to develop a relationship of collaboration that cuts across many fields such as economy, culture etc. His Excellency, Alibeman Eghbali Zarch, the ambassador of Iran is definitely happy to be in a place where "weather, mentality and hospitality" make him feel at home. He talked to Tirana Times about pleasantries such as poetry ad the musical Persian languages and also "un-pleasantries" such as nuclear power and global disputes. 

On culture
The ambassador is proud to confirm that the Persian cultural influence goes a long way back in Albania. Some of the best writers like the Frasheri brothers, Vexhi Buharaja, Hafez Ali Korca used to compose poetry in the Persian language. In urban centers like Elbasan, Persian was a second language two centuries ago. Indeed the ancient civilization has had an important influence on the world literature and philosophy through its main figures like Hafez, Saadiu, Kajam, Ferdus, etc. Mr. Eghbali Zarch shares the opinion of many Albanian and Iranian personalities who consider culture to be the most important and reliable capital over which to develop the relationship between the two countries.
Iranian culture is present in Albania also through the publication of the Perla magazine, a publication of the foundation "Saadi Shirazi", which features parts of the works of the best writers form both the countries. "There has been a natural preservation of the cultural links between Albania and Iran and now you can see some translations in Persian of the most contemporary Albanian authors," the ambassador explains. 

Economic Investment
Iran is a fast growing economy with powerful energy, chemical industry, handcrafted products and hospitality sectors. The ambassador explains the recent economic progress of his native country with impressive attention to detail. Large exports and a significant construction nexus including ship building, road network construction etc are indicators of a booming economical situation with the potential to invest significantly abroad. 
It has also been experimenting successfully with new sectors in car industry, launching its own cars like "Samand", and projecting other ones like "Tondar" and "Sarir". Important novelties and technological progress have made this country be self-sufficient in the medical and pharmaceutical fields. Theoretically there is the potential to have an import-export relationship between Albanian and Iranian traders. Both can benefit form the unique products that might be not available domestically. Iran produces and exports some food products of high quality, but Albania can also take advantage of its geographical Mediterranean position.
Iran according to Mr. is one of the ten leading countries in the building of hydro power and thermo power plants and could use these capacities and expertise to help Albania which has faced several power crises due to very low domestic producing capability. 
 "I certainly hope that in the context of our increasing economic ties with Europe, our trade volume with Albania as well as bilateral investments will reflect this as well. This requires a better knowledge about the reciprocal capacities and stronger collaboration will," the ambassador adds. To him it would not be surprising that Albanians would want to invest in Iran since he has a vision of this economic relationship as reciprocal. His impressions on the regional context are generally positive. He sees the Balkans moving steadily toward progress and integration and wishes for sustainable stability.

The nuclear hot potato
We could not avoid the topic of nuclear power and the presence of Iran's government in the headlines of global press as well as the heated controversy over the purposes for which Iran can exploit the nuclear capacities it is developing. The ambassador explains that to him, the image of his country is victim of a "unilateral propaganda." The ambassador explains that in the past Iran has made several efforts to become a committed party of the anti proliferation treaties. Nevertheless, countries like USA, Germany, France and large multinational corporations invested heavily in Iran to build nuclear power facilities through contract with the previous regime. When the regime changed (when the Islamic Republic was proclaimed) they left their investment unrealized. Such is the example of the Bushheri power plant.  Hence Iran approached Russia to have this plant completed. Iran's aims the ambassador confirms are completely peaceful and the use of nuclear power has been targeted for domestic purposes to generate electricity, help agriculture and the oil refineries. "It was the Scientific Institute of Stanford which predicted first Iran's need for nuclear energy," the ambassador claims, "and recommended a plant of 200.000 megawatts to be done until 1994." Since then Iran's nuclear energy progress has been halted given the conflicts in the region. As a member of the NPT (nuclear proliferation treaty) Iran has never benefited form it's just right to get technological assistance in developing its capacities.
What to the ambassadors seems unjustified is the politicization of a technical issue.  

Middle East peace and Iran's role
The assertions that Iran and Saudi Arabia are at heads about Iran's regional impact is according to the ambassador the product of manipulative media. He stresses that Iran has a commitment to respecting and assisting Muslim countries. This has been proved through current high-level delegation visits and continuing cooperation efforts. 
The Gordian knot of the Middle East conflict can be approached through a sincere treatment of democratic values, the ambassador surprisingly explains. Part of the international community has not respected the Palestinians' electoral will that resulted in the election of Hamas. Iran believes that only cooperation at the largest scale can solve something like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has proposed in this regard a referendum. Safety and stability in the region can not be achieved if the people who live thera re not given a chance to be the decision makers of their own fate.
This is also valid for Iraq, which by virtue of being Iran's immediate and large neighbor makes the latter be interested in the Iraq's lasting stability.  The halt of civilians suffering and killing and the respect for the people' elected government are the two pillars of Iran's stance toward Iraq.
It causes him sadness that his country has been recently listed alongside Israel as two countries which are trying to bring havoc to the world (BBC poll). The ambassador explains that the best summary of the Iranian culture and civilization essence can be found right at the entrance of the UN where the famous lines of Saadi Shirazi are inscribed in the wall:

Of one Essence is the human race,
Thusly has Creation put the Base;
One Limb impacted is sufficient,
For all Others to feel the Mace. 

The verses tell the story of people that love peace and have a strong feeling of solidarity and humanity. As an example he brings the hospitality of Iran towards millions of Afghani and Iraqi refugees.

Gratitude to Albania
The ambassador is grateful to have found in Albania people whose values are so close to those back home: peace loving, hospitality, civilized behavior. He has only one desire: to add a successful chapter in the long book f the history of cooperation between two nations that are far away in geography but very close in values. 
                    [post_title] =>  Presenting the other Iran 
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                    [post_date] => 2007-04-06 02:00:00
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                    [post_content] => By Janusz Bugajski
Fifty years after the birth of the European Union, the question of further enlargement remains uncertain. The EU is struggling with three fundamental questions: its depth, breadth, and clout. 
Regarding depth, the failure to pass the Constitutional Treaty have cast doubts on the strengthening of Union institutions. This also has an impact on both clout and breadth. Regarding clout, a credible foreign and security policy cannot develop in the absence of institutional consensus. Regarding breadth, several older EU members are opposed to further enlargement until integration intensifies. Such postures may further divide the Union between enlargers and restricters. 
Restricters argue that the EU cannot handle further expansion, either institutionally or politically. It would be unwise to incorporate states that will become a major burden on the Union. Restrictors also point out that once countries enter the EU there are no longer sufficient controls to ensure that reforms are implemented. 
Enlargers contend that the prospect of inclusion has been the Union's most effective foreign policy tool. Without the target of membership, there is little incentive to consolidate reforms. If blocked from entry, several states may backslide in their democratic development. Moreover, enlargers argue that the EU must be consistent to be credible. It cannot make the rules for entry more stringent because of current political calculations.
The most realistic prospect for inclusion concerns the West Balkans, where Stabilization and Association Agreements (SAA) imply eventual membership. The combined population of the seven candidates is under 20 million. Their size will not greatly affect absorption capacity although it would require an expansion of existing representative institutions. 
Moreover, these states are already surrounded by the EU and they are committed to joining. Even without a valid constitution, changes can be made in the EU's institutional structure that will accommodate new members from the West Balkans.
There are three pan-European interests in the continuation of enlargement. First, the EU needs security along its borders in order to focus on integration. By bringing in the remaining West Balkan states, security is enhanced for the EU itself much as it was with the inclusion of recent members in the eastern Balkans.
Second, the EU needs workers as the economically active population is aging and economies are slowing down. Further enlargement will help reinvigorate the European economies.
And third, the EU needs to be a global player to succeed in its "soft power" projection. An exclusivist Europe that has defined its limits will weaken its own global role. Scope means clout. The exclusion of the West Balkans would expose the EU's fragility and international weakness. 
A freeze on enlargement will have other negative consequences for the EU. In the worst-case scenario, it would precipitate the rise of populism and isolationism. Internal and cross-border conflicts could unsettle the EU's outlying states. 
Restrictors argue that enlargement will increase risks of political instability, provoke conflicts within EU institutions, and slow down the deepening process. Enlargers argue that inclusion in the EU would enable Union institutions to better handle political and economic backsliding. There are certain controls that the Union can impose on members so they do not veer away from EU norms. 
For example, it will be instructive to see how the newest members Bulgaria and Romania are monitored in the areas of justice and corruption. Where appropriate, the European Commission has equipped itself with "safeguard measures" to restrict a country's access to financial benefits if it backslides on specific reforms. Membership controls over club members may be more effective than sanctions inflicted on non-members.
Furthermore, to effectively pursue its national interests, each EU member needs to engage in flexible multi-national coalitions, whether on economic, security, or foreign policy. This process helps to tie each capital into cross-cutting interest groups within the EU and provides some predictability in their behavior. Clearly, the debate on Europe's future will continue for the next fifty years.
                    [post_title] =>  European Enlargement After Fifty Years 
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                    [post_content] => When Christian Heinzmann left his position at LuxAir, Belgian air company he knew he needed a change. Among the different job offers from worldwide companies he had to make a choice. 
Prior to accepting a leading position with Albanian Airlines, he decided to come and see the situation in Albania. The only things he knew about the country were impressions from visitors that had either been here during communism or in the worst transition period and found it poor and dangerous. Before making a risky choice for him and his family he wanted to see with his own eyes the situation and then make a decision. What he found surprised him in the most positive sense. Motivated hard working loyal staff that was working for a company that had a future, despite the rough time it faces even now.
He took up the challenge to transform Albanian Airlines into a company that meets all European standards.  This week he spoke to Tirana Times about the impressions, difficulties and dynamic challenges of living as a foreign businessman in the country, the air market characteristics and his esteem for Albanian coworkers. 

TT- What was the situation you found Albanian Airlines when you first took up the manager position in November and what do you believe is your challenge with the company?
CH- The problem with Albanian Airlines is the direction it took for many previous years. We have to put the company back on track, and look at it with a European point of view. I would like to put Albanian Airlines in a European track, which means to make it a respectable, well-organized company that respects all European regulations. We can get there if you succeed with a lot of work that we have in front of us. My challenge is to make this company a high-level, recognizable European one. 

TT -Except the internal factors such a management, external factors such as the business climate affect a lot the performance of a company and its chances for success. How would you comment on the conditions that business have to face in Albania?
CH- Albania is a country that is emerging. It is a new world that is opening up. I see a tremendous future for this country. You have beautiful landscape, natural resources. I have been a bit around so I have seen it myself.  I think there is a good potential for tourism. The only thing that is really missing is infrastructure. I was very disappointed at first with the roads network. I have very good friends with businesses in Germany and I try to convince them to open up businesses here. What scares them is the lack of infrastructure. It is very difficult to travel around Albania, the roads are very bad and often dangerous. The country is beautiful and Albanian people are very accommodating and hospitable.  Traffic on the other side is scary. What I would like to see in five years, when this country will most probably be a massive tourist attraction site, is serious work on infrastructure.
Albanian airlines targets at linking Tirana to other important European business cities. Albania is planning to become an EU member and has an interest to be linked to cities like Brussels with which we are staring a new flight.

TT - What are the features of the air market in Albania. How have you found domestic competition in your industry?
CH- Well we have seen a few airlines disappearing like Albatross. I believe that this is a free market and everybody has the right to enter it. I would like Albania though to combine respect for free competition with consideration for market capacities. For example doubling capacities for a single destination makes all market actors lose. Its nice to be low-cost or having an extra opportunity. But when you create too much offer and still face too little demand problems are bound to happen. Limitations are imperative in order to avoid this disequilibrium while respecting free competition.
This is not unique to Albania. I have seen it throughout my experience in the field while in London, Amsterdam, Luxembourg, etc.  
The Kharafi group believes very strongly in the future of this country and is ready to invest more.  I have seen more positive changes in the infrastructure projects. I often think of Albania as a country of contrasts. There are very beautiful things and very ugly things. You have to try to introduce an average.

TT - There have been some changes related to the air industry such as the new terminal inaugurated some weeks ago. How do you see the recent developments?
CH - The airport is an example of new investments coming to Albania and of course I welcome that. I would like to criticize though the monopolistic situation created in the airport now. A nice airport is an attraction for the country because it acts like a showcase. Still it has to stay fair in its management. I think that whenever a monopoly situation is created there are a lot of abuse possibilities. Procedures and rule and regulations should monitor the new developments there because it might have the tendency to get out of price affordability.

TT - What are your relations to the Albanian authorities you work with?
CH- Through our company lawyer, Bujar Hazizi, I have been lucky to get in touch with the authorities that we need to coordinate our operations with. I was very happy to meet the Minister of Transportation Lulzim Basha. He is very devoted person I am grateful for his assistance. The great thing about our communication is that we speak the same language because he studied in Holland. He speaks Flemish quite fluently and it is very easy for me to communicate. I am also very happy with the civil aviation authorities who are our partners and friends and that have done a lot to help us. 

TT- Do you find Albanians to be good co-workers?
CH- I was very impressed with the staff's high motivation and qualifications. I think in the whole of Europe you hardly can find people like this. With the salaries they make they have a great surge. 

TT - Walking into these offices one can hear Greek, Italian, French, English being spoken besides Albanian? How international is Albanian Airlines?
CH - It is true that there are quite a few foreigners here but that is just because for some qualifications and experience requirements you have to look at foreigners. Nevertheless, my target is to employ more and more Albanians. We are guests in this country and it is normal to hire more Albanian people if they meet the requirements. If I can find a qualified candidate for ay job in this labor market I will get from this market.

TT- Taking this interview as an opportunity to announce anything to your customers, what is the news from Albanian Airlines?
CH- What we need to do is to compete with the tools we posses today. I would like to improve our standards, safety, image, quality, customer service. The next thing is to offer new destinations. We will start Brussels in May second because it's important to link Tirana to the capital of Europe. Next thing we are going to look at our pricing which at the present is not flexible enough.  Punctuality and flexibility together with reliability of operations are the fronts we are focusing at. We will invest in new equipment and in new aircraft. We would like to become a reputable company with a recognizable name brand.
                    [post_title] =>  Albanian Airlines: Towards both European destinations and standards 
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                    [post_date] => 2007-04-06 02:00:00
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                    [post_content] => By Piro Misha
Some time ago Blendi Fevziu told me about the surprise he had felt when, while he was interviewing people in order to gather material for a TV program, he found out that a significant part of them (and especially the young) showed a shocking lack of knowledge and indifference vis-ஶis our history, including the communist period. At first sight, this would seem to contradict the impression one gets when one notices how much space our press dedicates to the debates on history, or the so-called "memoirs". I do not want to rush into drawing conclusions on such a complex phenomenon as this, which requires detailed political, as well as psychological and sociological analyses, but of course, when confronted with such a fact, one cannot help raise a number of questions, starting with: Is this to be blamed on the way history is taught in our schools? Or is this evidence of a deepening gap between the so-called elites and the interests of the ordinary people? Are we dealing with a generation gap? Nevertheless the indifference and skepticism with which most Albanians view history now days cannot be seen as unrelated to the way in which history has been dealt with during the last fifteen years.   
During this period of transition, the past/history has occupied a very substantial part of the Albanian public arena. However, the issue should be divided into two parts: on the one hand there is our stand towards the recent communist past and secondly, our attitude towards history in general. As far as the problems of confronting the communist past are concerned, the Albanian experience of these fifteen years, on the whole, does not differ all that much from the experience of other post-communist countries, and perhaps even from that of a series of other countries which have had to confront dramatic and traumatic pasts over the last decades such as Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, El Salvador, Greece after the Colonels, Spain after Franco, and including countries like Ethiopia and Cambodia. Facing up to such pasts has been agonizingly difficult everywhere. It should also be noted, that in almost every case, it is legal experts, human rights activists, political researchers, and, most certainly, politicians who have been involved in this issue to a much greater extent than historians. In fact, this problem has generally been treated as if it had been part of the so-called political "transition" from dictatorship to democracy. In the course of the broad debate that has accompanied this process almost everywhere, at times it has been the moral arguments that have been stressed; at other times psychological, or political arguments have come to the fore and even more commonly there has been a combination of all of them. When I speak of political arguments, I am not referring to the use of the past by the politics for its immediate interests, but to the idea articulated in the well known expression of George Santayana, that has been repeated so often as to seem stale, "Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it."
However, if one looks at this issue from a broader historical point of view, then one can understand that the dilemma which accompany this process, are not really all that new. During the whole of known history, there have been just as many advocates of memory, in other words, people who have believed that the truth about the past must be confronted irrespective of the price paid, as there have been others who have defended the opinion that there are moments when it is better for society to forget. One can quote many examples from history, beginning with Cicero, who, only two days after the slaying of Caesar, declared before the Roman Senate: "Oblivione sempiterna delendum," in other words, "let every memory of mortal dissension be cast into eternal oblivion". Moving forward in time one can mention the French Constitutions of the years 1814 and 1830 or the multitude of examples following 1945. Thus in the aftermath of the initial onslaught of purges of Nazi collaborators, the post-war Republic of France, was, in fact, built, to a certain degree, on the basis of a conscious substitution of the painful memory of collaborationism of the Vichy Government, with the unifying Gaullist myth of a France that had come together around an anti-Nazi resistance. The truth of the matter is that a large part of the Western democracies, after the War, were constructed on similar foundations: recall Christian Democrat Italy or the Austria of Kurt Valdheim, that, with the help of the allies successfully managed to present itself as an innocent victim of Nazi aggression. Likewise, one might recall Adenaur's Germany of the 50s, or post 1975 Spain, when there was what Jorge Semprun calls, "a voluntary and collective amnesia", in short a conscious strategy of no looking back, which is now known as the Spanish approach towards a difficult past.
However, there are, without a doubt, innumerable examples to the contrary too. Suffice it to mention the example of Germany, which within the last half of the previous century was twice confronted with its own past - the first time during a de-Nazification process, the second time during a de-Communistification process, that was more radical than elsewhere.
As we know, Albania too went through a de- Communistification process, particularly during the first half of the nineties. Over the past decade, there has been a great deal of debate and much has been said on the Communist period, which, in the final account is something that cannot be avoided when you bear in mind not only its all-engulfing brutality, but above all, the dramatic consequences it left behind. But, can one say that the Albanians have managed to liberate themselves from the burden of this period? Have they managed to analyze and grasp the complex reality of the dictatorship, and - even more importantly - of its dramatic consequences for post-Communist Albania?
I believe that the absence of a serious debate on Communism, which has led to the grotesque trials now known as the "coffee cup trials" of the former Political Bureau members, or the "who shot Mehemet Shehu or did he commit suicide" police type scoops, often reduced the de-Communistification process to an outright anti-Communist rhetoric, which the incoming government needed in order to legitimize itself. However, what makes Albania a special case is the decision to seal the archives of the Party of Labor of Albania for twenty five years, thus hampering any serious research, and which in the best of cases leaves everything wide open to subjectivism, or in the worst, to speculation.
Furthermore the process of de-Communistification was complicated even further by the shifting of a good part of this debate away from the period of Communism to that of World War Two, which has the side effect of creating a non-critical glorification of the non-Communist past. The Right, now back in office, (under the influence of the anti-communist Diaspora, in search of its legitimacy and position in the Albanian political life), frequently moves the political debate back by half a century to the point where it seems as if the Albanians, (fortunately, this time only in the world of imagination and politics), must fight this war once again, divided in two camps, in order to produce new victors, who after having regained their moral legitimacy, can then take the fate of the nation in their hands. The consequence of this conditioning and linking of the confrontation with the communist past with the efforts of moving the search for political legitimacy or illegitimacy as far back as the times of the War, was not merely an unnecessary shifting of attention away from the forty five year period of Communist rule, but sometimes this compromised the de-Communistification process itself, because of the open proclamation of the aim to rehabilitate movements and elements which had been genuinely anti-Communist and nationalist, but who were at the same time collaborationists. This brought about the disenchantment of a large part of the population, who, while seeking a clean break with the Communist past, were not willing to replace it with these musty old remnants that belonged to a period of the distant past and with whom people have no real links. We only need to recall here for example, the heated debates in Romania aimed at rehabilitating the figure of Antonescu. But, going back to our case, it must be stressed that this insistence on the discussions about the war period, actually gave a rather trivial character to the debate, which, moved ever further from the real interests and concerns majority of the population. One of the best known examples of this triviality are undoubtedly the drawn out parliamentary debates aimed at establishing the date of the country's liberation. 
The Result: Whereas during the first part of this fifteen year period there has been a revision of history aimed at the rehabilitation of debatable figures of the anti-Communist nationalist Right, during a second period, - partly as a result of the abuses and arrogance manifested in the beginning of the nineties - in the Albanian media there has gradually emerged a tendency (which is becoming prevalent) to rehabilitate and legitimize the figures of Communism. This is also where what one could call daily revisionism, enters the game - daily revisionism meaning those cases which have now become quite common, where certain individuals fight hard to re-write their biographies and those of their parents or relatives, by concealing, forgetting, changing or re-writing the past, or parts of the past, in search of a new biography or a newly found protagonism. Newspapers are full of such memoirs, in which, former Interior Ministers are presented as dissidents, or even victims. Subsequently, the complex experience of Communism, starts to be reduced and simplified bit by bit, thus laying the blame for Communism and for everything else on one individual, Enver Hoxha, the dictator, and forgetting the very important truth that Vaclav Havel speaks of when he says that a very large mass of people, at various levels, contribute to propping up a dictatorial regime, both through their compromises and through their every day conformism.

* * *

Like everywhere else, the revisionism of history did not stop with the period of Communism. By casting a shadow of doubt on the official version of history believed up to that time, the collapse of Communism naturally produced a general trend towards the revision of history on the whole. It brought about a debate on many of the pages of history on which total silence had been maintained before. The sole possible discourse of the time of Communism - when all dissent was prohibited - now is multiplied, fragmented, and contested by a series of other discourses, by spokesmen of various interests, and by different visions and memories which sometimes go against each other. As a result we have at the same time a crisis of memory and of the pluralism of memories.
In fact, we are dealing with the phenomenon explained by Ernest Gellner: continuity and change are components of the same process. Because, whilst it is true that during these years there have been a series of interesting debates, which express a natural trend towards investigating into the darkest corners of history, attempting to establish new relations with the past, and building a national memory which is free of the old taboos and myths, on the other hand, one has but to read the history schoolbooks to see just how little things have changed. If we exclude the removal of some parts that were purely ideological; and if we exclude the artificial balancing - in other words where five partisans are mentioned, two or three more nationalist forces are added (or, the opposite, depending on who is in office) - in essence the approach towards history is the same as in the period of Communism: simplified to the level of naivety. It is selective and manipulative. Entire chapters of history are minimized, or are even cast into oblivion, at a time when - in a typical Balkan's fashion - many of the myths, the clich고and the simplified, romantic images of the 19th Century, continue to exist, in one form or another.
The so-called nationalization of history or in other words, the perception of history as a part of the so-called national propaganda continues. The Albanians remain a people who have "blazed their trail through history, sword in hand." The stereotype image of Albania as a fortress encircled by enemies continues to exist. This syndrome, according to which we were always the victims of others and never responsible for our own deeds, that was inherited from the XIX Century, was strengthened even further following the events of 1913, when delayed independence, combined with the arbitrary division of territories, left almost half of the Albanians outside Albania's borders at a time when the neighboring countries continued to have territorial claims towards Albania too. Nevertheless, regardless of the historical reasons that account for such a pre-modern mentality that would explain many pages of our modern history - including a few pages of the Albanian autarchic version of communism - the fact remains that their persistent continuity in school text books, is unacceptable. History continues to be treated from an ethnocentric point of view. And if we look somewhat beyond the textbooks themselves, history continues to be exploited in favor of the so-called functionalism of history (or pseudo-history), which in the majority of cases is fuelled by the given political interests of the day.
This situation has produced an extreme and irresponsible confusion, an example of which is the naming and re-naming of the streets of Tirana. The streets are full of names that no one recognizes. And do not think for a moment that there is some special mechanism at work recreating memory. The truth is ordinary. I will never forget one day towards the end of the nineties, when quite accidentally I found myself in a meeting organized by the Municipality of Tirana, where for hours on end I witnessed history being remade with the greatest ease possible; where all kinds of names were extracted from the moldy old trunks of native Tirana families and which were then sanctioned on the spot by the then Mayor as a part of history. No more than 150 meters away from the statue of Scanderbeg, there appeared - where one would have least expected it - the statue of a Turkish Commander, that up to then no one had ever heard off. Apparently, sometime during the 17th Century he was given Plain of Tirana as his feud by the sultan, as a reward for having fought in faraway Persia! Is this history?
In fact the official national ideology, is now subjected to a series of competing influences, because, now days the fragmentation of the discourse and the functionalizing of history is not only done in order to be of service to the immediate interests of political legitimacy, but also in order to build up the image of friend or foe and to legitimize various different projects and interests that aim towards determining the geo-political orientation of the country. Albania is in the epoch of globalization. Whence from here: Europe, West or East? Different projects seek their legitimacy in history. History is being placed at the service of legitimizing the visions and various interests that exist currently in the Albanian arena, for the present and the future.
Recall the debates of the recent weeks and months. On the one hand, emphasis continues to be placed on the fact that we are an organic part of the European civilization, regardless of the very long period of time that divided us from it. On the other hand, there is a demand for the complete revision of history, by rejecting many of the myths, symbols and policies on which previous structures were built, as well as the very symbol of  our national existence - Scanderbeg.
In conclusion: Our return to the flows of history without doubt calls for a critical re-reading of history, finally freeing it not only from superfluous clich고and myths of the past, but also from the manipulations of the present. Establishing new relations with the past is part of the process of European integration. Naturally, many things require time. Take the example of France. It took thirty years for the new generation of the elite to become capable of  seriously coping with the clich고and taboos of the past. But, in the meantime, we don't have the time. The huge backwardness we continue to have in relation to the other peoples of Europe, should be inciting us to make haste. Whereas, on the other hand, the inflation, confusion, banality, manipulation, folklore-isation of history in the eyes of the young, also risks in making them even more disinterested in history. And this does not at all mean that a generation is forming, freed from the past. Something like that would be nothing but an illusion.
                    [post_title] =>  Historical turning points and the return of memory 
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                    [post_content] => There is no specific reason why one should even believe, let alone get enthusiastic by a political promise especially when made in an electoral context. Yet there is this one single statement that strikes right to the heart of every Albanian as the ultimate dream to be realized: 24 hours of electric power for everyone!
You would think that with the deep structural problems of the Albanian power generating and distributing system, with the aggravated financial troubles of KESH and the inconsistent strategies of imports, politicians would refrain from using this statement as an electoral mana. However wise this logic may sound to the common-sense, there is a deep antagonism in Albanian politics towards the general practice of refraining. Why refrain if your rival will definitely play the quasi-biblical promise as a magic card?
I will be the first to admit it, there is something magic about this promise. I almost fall for it very single time. The absurdness of a power-crisis and the pure despair it causes to our economic and social life is so unbearable that one cannot refuse to place some hope in this statement. Perhaps with the right management, KESH could restructure its organization, improve the revenue collection, design a proper import scheme and at least avoid full-swing crisis.  Every business-school student knows that for a big complex corporation, management could never be overstated. It's the key to success or the determinant factor to loss. Examples of decent performance do not lack even in this case. Albanians remember fondly the good times of lighter energy starvation for example when Andis Harasani was head of KESH. Yet when you have a corporation that administers a system on the verge of a collapse, you have to calculate very well your expectations.
First the excess reliance on hydro-power ties up our energy consumption to unreliable and uncontrollable factors such as weather and specifically rainfall.  Measures to reduce this dependency have been at best clumsy and scandal-ridden such as faulty tenders for thermo-power facilities and inconsistent encouragement of similar projects.
Second, the distribution system is outdated. The rate with which it collapses is daunting. There is a mysterious lack of proper investment to secure safer transmission lines. 
Third, the privatization of the corporation is being assaulted by an illness common to all privatization projects in Albania: procrastination. Without the right restructuring of the departments, a process which is ongoing as we speak, one cannot place a safe bet on the desirability of this firm.
Finally, the import strategies are perplexingly different every year. Either the statistics of estimated consumption are incorrect or the claims of severe corruption related to energy purchase are well rooted in factual reality. 
Throw in the whims of neighboring countries that regulate the energy transfers through their lines and the picture gets even more disappointing. 
The latest strategies of the government include the replacement of Andi Beli, accused as one of the major responsible people for the crisis, by Gjergj Bojaxhi, the creation of a separate agency to administer the energy sector and finally the concessions given for small hydropower units. Concessions are also being given to build thermo-power plants. The tenders for the purchase of energy will be regulated by more transparent procedures. The problem is that we have heard this before. Hence the mantra of '24 hours of energy' should not sound so appealing again. 
                    [post_title] =>  The dream of 24 hours: new head, same challenge 
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                    [post_content] => Serbia has only two cards left in the ongoing struggle over Kosova - Russia's resistance to independence and the threat of conflict. As Moscow's reaction remains uncertain, the prospect of conflict is becoming Serbia's primary argument in trying to delay the process of Kosova's statehood. 
Serbia is depending either on Russia's UN Security Council veto or on a long delay, as Moscow demands more discussions over the Kosova plan. In sharp contrast, Washington is banking on Russia to abstain rather than veto Ahtisaari's solution.
Behind all its rhetoric, Belgrade knows that it cannot depend on Russian support. It is therefore focusing attention on the specter of instability. In meetings with EU and U.S. representatives, Serbian officials recite three areas of allegedly looming conflict: within Serbia, in Kosova, and in the wider region.
Belgrade claims that Kosova's independence will lead to major instability in Serbia. Allegedly, the followers of Milosevic in league with ultra-nationalists will attempt to overthrow the government. Indeed, the deputy leader of the Radical Party, Tomislav Nikolic, has threatened a popular uprising similar to the one that unseated Milosevic in October 2000.
Such sensationalist arguments indicate that Serbia cannot be a consolidated democracy if extremists present a constant menace to the country's progress. This will deflate prospects for Serbia's EU accession, regardless of the whereabouts of indicted war criminal Ratko Mladic. It will also increase calls for containing Serbian expansionism and strengthen calls for Kosova's permanent separation from Belgrade.
The second scenario of instability depicted by Serbian officials is Kosova itself. While one leader of Kosova's Serbian minority, Oliver Ivanovic, has warned of the possibility of another Serbian exodus, more radical voices have called for the secession of the Serb-dominated north once Kosova gains statehood.
Such a scenario is clearly containable if NATO and the EU are serious about maintaining stability and security in Kosova. Preventive measures are necessary by both organizations to ensure proper policing, the disarming of militants, and keeping roads and other lines of communication open. 
The border with Serbia must be closely monitored by NATO troops and Belgrade must be warned that any attempts to unsettle northern Kosova will elicit a strong international response. Preparations must also be made for accommodating any Serbs who wish to leave Kosova despite assurances of extensive minority rights in an independent Kosova.
In the third scenario, Belgrade is again focusing on the broader Balkan "powder keg." While all of its neighbors have tried to change the image and reality of the Balkans as a part of the European mainstream, officials in Belgrade seem to thrive on the specter of ethnic conflict, territorial disputes, and border wars.
By claiming that Kosova's independence will serve to unravel Bosnia-Hercegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro, Belgrade is in effect threatening its neighbors. Such alarmist warnings should be resolutely condemned by the countries concerned and by international players. Instead of behaving as a positive and stabilizing force in the region, Serbian officials prefer to act as spoilers seeking to reverse the evolution of stable states in the region.
During the final talks in Vienna, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica delivered a bitter statement expressing outrage that Serbia could end up losing 15 percent of its territory, thereby "endangering the foundation on which international order is based." He only omitted to mention that Kosova's independence would herald the end of civilization as we know it and the imminent extinction of the human species.
Serbian hyperbole is well known and widely documented. But breast-beating and emotional victimhood have little mileage in international politics and are no substitute for constructive policy. Threats of conflict and violence will further retard Serbia's stated ambitions to join the Euro-Atlantic institutions or to improve the economic conditions of its citizens. Moreover, overkill by Serbian officials will certainly not obstruct Kosova's road to independence and sovereignty; it may actually assist the process. 
                    [post_title] =>  Belgrade Threatens Conflict 
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                    [post_date] => 2007-03-23 01:00:00
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                    [post_content] => Pamela G. Griffin is the Executive Director of the Foundation for Albanian Visual Arts Across Borders (FAVA).  She is also member of the development Board of the Albanian National Gallery of Arts. Pamela and her husband have been in Albania for five years.
Jeffrey Griffin is the President and CEO of Albanian-American Enterprise Fund. I meet her in front of our office and we decide to go for coffee. She is very busy trying to handle the Gala dinner she co-organizes annually. The TIA airport is also inaugurating soon the new terminal, and she has to be present in the important day for her husband who is in the Administrative Board. You can see that she is very fond of her job and has a great passion about arts. She pulls out her bag numerous brochures of several artistic activities happening that relate to her friends and to the work of the Gallery.
She confesses to Tirana Times her impressions and her challenges as an arts lover in Albania.

PG - I have been to Albania for five years now and I have seen some wonderful changes. I came from Washington D.C and have worked with what you call NGO-s. I worked more on the administrative side. So when I was asked to help with the NGA I thought maybe I could bring something to help them both in that way and also in fundraising which is a new thing here but very valuable. I believe we brought a new tradition that we started: the Board of Development, composed by 8 people, mostly Albanians. We meet once a month. I believe we have started this concept that the successful businesses in Albania can support the arts. They are doing this and it is wonderful.  It started with this Gala dinner. They come to this event and they know they are supporting arts with this dinner. They have been coming now for 4 years and with the funding we were able to do things like restoration. Our focus is on preservation and we try to help the artists and this is why we have this auction in the dinner every year, to try to help Albanian artists. 

AC - What are some of the perks of your job? 
PG - Well for me its meeting Albanians, meeting the artists, and understanding the culture which always is harder to grasp. I have been just wonderfully exposed to some of that. I would say that for me it's my main perk. And to see progress, offering solutions, trying to make new strategies, setting goals

AC - You have worked with Albanians for a long time now. Do you find them to be good co-workers? And what about Albanians as friends?
PG - Wonderful friends that I hope I will always keep because of course I won't live forever in Albania. I hope that I can help promote them when I go back, especially some of the artists. One thing I have noticed is that people here have a hard time cooperating and collaborating and its something I always try to help facilitate. It takes time ad it is not something that comes overnight. Now I my work it has been wonderful, I have seen progressively more and more collaboration. I hope very much that it will continue. In the Gallery we also have something called The Special friends of the Gallery. It's about 35 people, Albanians and Internationals who work together to make the gallery a friendly place, a place that people want to come visit, to socialize. We are trying to get more young people interested in that. We have promoted different things like Arts in the Corporate Office. We are going to do a Zef Kolombi exhibit with both music and poetry. We have worked with friends of Music here. In everything that we do we try to collaborate, even with smaller galleries. When I first came here somebody said to me "Ok Pam but we can't work with us because you work for the Gallery!" and I said "but why not?" we ca find ways to work together.

AC - When you consider difficulties in working with arts in Albania, which one irritates you the most? Is there a structural impediment that should be overcome soon?
PG - I would say it is structural. Of course there is a lot of need in the gallery for structural changes: for roles to be defined, for goals to be set, for strategizing in general. What I find frustrating though is that there is a lot criticism no matter what one does. It seems that artists want to criticize each-other all the time. No criticism is good as long as it is constructive and as long as people look forward. For sure criticism is good. But negative criticism that does not add anything is for me very frustrating. 

AC- What is FAVA and what are the activities it organizes?
PG - FAVA was established so that we could be more independent in terms of when we fundraise how to give to specific projects. FAVA gives not only to the National Gallery but also to other galleries. It tries to play a significant role in cross-border artistic collaboration.  One of the exhibits that we had for instance has been this one called PRESENT which was last June in the National gallery. It was by some of the professors of the Arts Academy here together with an American professor of Arts, Caroline Whitefeather. Now that collaboration is continuing, this is what we wanted. Najada Hamza (one of the artists whose work will be in the Gala auction) will be going to new York State to have a show there. Sometimes we have helped small galleries. We like galleries that are community-galleries. The community does not have to have just another restaurant but a cultural center. 

AC - What are your comments on the cultural life and the arts scene in Albania?
PG - I think it is very rich but it is a question of having more aces to overseas. That's terribly important to be exposed to what's happening in the global arts scene. I think the Biennale of this year is going to be fabulous for Albania because that's true exposure. Young artists will get exposed in that place. The American curator of the show is also the director of a museum in Miami, that brings another person that had never been to Albania before. She came for three days and was impressed with some of the artist here. I think she will open up some doors. 

AC - In the context of the image of Albania how do you se our art promoting the country abroad?
PG - Artists are ambassadors of the country. They are showing all kinds of work, and providing exposure all over. It's a wonderful time because a lot of European countries know Albania but where I come from, the States, many people do not know. So when they get to see the art work they go "Wow!" I have also had friends visiting that were impressed. When they se the art works people want to come visit.

AC- Who have been your main partners in the coordination an important event like the annual Gala Auction dinner?
PG - We have had five constant and committed sponsors for four years which I would really like to thank: Vodafone, Sigal, Sheraton Tirana Hotel and Towers, Raiffeisien Bank and Edil Al-It. And there is also a long list of other contributors that have helped in many ways including the AAEF.  

AC - Are you looking forward to the dinner?
PG - Yes, definitely! Because it's not only an auction and a diner but since last year we have started with a whim but it was s successful, this little fashion show. It's not particularly professional but the fashion is designed by the Arts Academy students. Its fabulous what they come up with. This year we have called it the heritage collection so it is gong to be a modern version of your beautiful costumes. We get professional models to show the works. It takes around 15 minutes but the students love it because they don't get a lot of opportunities to show their work. And we love it too because it's so much fun and makes the dinner more vivid.
                    [post_title] =>  On the perks of being an art lover in Albania 
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            [post_date] => 2007-04-30 02:00:00
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            [post_content] => By By Alba ȥla

The appointment of HE Ambassador Niels Severin Munk coincided with that of he Albanian Ambassador in Denmark, Aferdita Dalla, a former advisor of former Foreign Minister Mustafaj. This higher step that follows previous lower diplomatic representation is though an exception in the general framework of the diminishing Danish aid presence in Albania, which according to Ambassador Munkshould also be seen as a good sign of progress in Albania. The ambassador spoke to Tirana Times about his first visit during the Kosovo crisis, the latest initiatives promoting economic regional cooperation and the pleasures of hiking in the Albanian mountains. 

Albania and Denmark
The first thing that we discuss with ambassador Munk and his consul, Christian Andrew Deloughery, is the similarities between Albania and Denmark. Both are relatively small and located in strategic geographic crossroads, which in a historic perspective are a blessing in terms of trade routes and a potential curse in terms of neighboring ambitions. Denmark has a traditional good experience in bridge and infrastructure engineering. In the contemporary world, architecture and furniture design are  fields where Danish people have excelled internationally. J
            [post_title] =>  From Kosovo crisis to Albanian hiking: the impressions of a Danish ambassador in Albania 
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